Like the NFC, the AFC is filled with intriguing position battles that could possibly change the landscape of the conference. A couple of quarterback competitions are certainly ones to keep an eye on, but they’re not the only ones to watch as we approach the start of the regular season. Beginning with the AFC East, these are the top camp battles to follow for each team.
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Buffalo Bills: Right tackle
Jordan Mills (pictured) started the final five games of the 2015 season at right tackle, and he’s looking to continue that trend this year. The former Bears lineman is getting the majority of the first-team snaps in camp and has a leg up on disappointing 2014 second-round pick Cyrus Kouandjio. Mills has had a difficult time sticking with one team -- he’s played for three in three seasons -- but he seems to have found a home in Buffalo.
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Miami Dolphins: Running back
The Dolphins lost Lamar Miller to the Texans this offseason, leaving them with a gaping hole at running back. They didn’t exactly address the position after Miller’s departure, only adding the raw Kenyan Drake in the draft and the oft-injured Arian Foster. Jay Ajayi (pictured) is the incumbent starter, but Foster will challenge him for that role. Adam Gase said Foster will get first-team reps, but he’s coming off of an Achilles' injury that isn’t easy to return from. It will be interesting to see how reps are split between Ajayi and Foster leading up to Week 1.
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New England Patriots: Guard
Aside from injuries, one of the main reasons the Patriots failed to reach the Super Bowl last season was the offensive line. The interior of the line is particularly questionable at this point, with a bevy of players battling for jobs. Shaquille Mason and rookie Joe Thuney will likely duke it out at left guard while Jonathan Cooper (pictured) will have to hold off Tre’ Jackson on the right side. The Patriots shuffled the line often in 2015, so it will come as no surprise to see them do the same in camp.
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New York Jets: Edge rusher
The Jets didn’t bring back Calvin Pace, a starter at outside linebacker for 13 games in 2015. His production dropped off greatly, and he gave away snaps to Lorenzo Mauldin (pictured), who showed flashes of being a dynamic pass rusher. Now, Mauldin will battle a rookie in Jordan Jenkins on the edge, in addition to Trevor Reilly. The Jets seriously lack an edge rusher to pair with their dominant defensive line.
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Houston Texans: No. 2 receiver
DeAndre Hopkins will be Brock Osweiler’s favorite target this season, but it remains to be seen who will line up on the other side. Jaelen Strong (pictured) had a rough first year in the NFL, but he’s vying for the No. 2 receiver job alongside Cecil Shorts and rookies Will Fuller and Braxton Miller. Fuller is the most talented of the bunch, but he needs to prove he can be more than just a deep threat. Strong may complement Hopkins’ game best if he wins the job.
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Indianapolis Colts: Safety
The Colts no longer have Dwight Lowery (Chargers) at safety, and his presumed replacement, Clayton Geathers (pictured), is recovering from a foot injury. That moves rookie T.J. Green up the depth chart as he vies for increased snaps next to Mike Adams. Green is raw but has great speed and athleticism. When Geathers returns, he’ll battle Green and Winston Guy for the second safety spot. The Colts desperately need a playmaker in the secondary to go along with Adams and Vontae Davis.
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Jacksonville Jaguars: Left tackle
This will be one of the biggest battles of camp, pitting Luke Joeckel (pictured) against Kelvin Beachum. Joeckel, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2013 draft, has struggled in his first few seasons and is in danger of losing his starting spot. Beachum is still recovering from a torn ACL, but if all goes well he should be protecting Blake Bortles’ blind side on Sundays.
Kendall Wright is atop the depth chart, as is Harry Douglas. Beyond that, the Titans have a handful of players vying for snaps in three-wide sets. Rookie Tajae Sharpe has exceeded expectations thus far in camp and has a legitimate shot at being the No. 3 receiver when the season begins. He’ll need to hold off a couple of receivers who have had off-field issues in Dorial Green-Beckham (pictured) and Justin Hunter, though, in addition to offseason acquisition Rishard Matthews and veteran Andre Johnson. The Titans have exceptional depth at the position, which might make it hard for Sharpe to win the job.
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Baltimore Ravens: Running back
Justin Forsett (pictured) probably didn’t think he’d be in a position where he’d be forced to hold off a convoy of running backs after the year he had in 2014. But after missing most of 2015 with an injury, he’s no longer the surefire starter. Buck Allen and rookie Kenneth Dixon are both players who can be workhorse backs, and they’ll be looking to be exactly that in 2016. Forsett, given his experience, likely has a leg up on the rest of the backs, but don’t be surprised if his carries drop significantly this season.
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Cincinnati Bengals: No. 2 receiver
The Bengals lost two huge weapons on offense in Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones – both of whom were terrific complements to A.J. Green. Now, it’ll be up to Brandon LaFell (pictured), Brandon Tate, rookie Tyler Boyd and a handful of others to assume their now-vacant roles. LaFell had one great season in New England and a handful of decent ones with the Panthers, but he was unreliable in 2015 due to drop issues. If he wants to be the second target next to Green, he’ll need to prove that he can be trusted by Andy Dalton. Otherwise, Boyd could swoop in and take his snaps.
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Cleveland Browns: Quarterback
It’s Robert Griffin III (pictured) versus Josh McCown. Who would have thought we’d be saying that about the Browns’ quarterback situation a year ago? RG3 is the better fit in Hue Jackson’s offense and should pull ahead in camp, but McCown has showed before that he can be a quality starter. Jackson said he’s close to naming a starter, and it will most likely be Griffin, which could signal the end of the McCown era in Cleveland. Until then, this job is still up for grabs.
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Pittsburgh Steelers: No. 2 receiver
Martavis Bryant’s year-long suspension puts the Steelers in a tough spot here as they’ll be forced to find a receiver to pair with Antonio Brown. Markus Wheaton (pictured) is a big-play threat, and Sammie Coates has untapped potential after just one year. Neither is a particularly strong option, but that’s what happens when a guy like Bryant is suspended. Regardless of who wins out, the Steelers’ offense will still be as explosive as any in the league.
Denver Broncos: Quarterback
Mark Sanchez (pictured), Trevor Siemian or Paxton Lynch? That’s the question of the Broncos’ offseason after losing their two quarterbacks from 2015. Sanchez appears to be leading the competition, though Siemian surprisingly has a legitimate chance as the only one with experience in Denver’s system. Lynch, the team's first-round pick, still appears to be the third-stringer as he still needs more time to develop. There’s a chance he gets some time under center at some point this season, but it likely won’t be to begin the year. Expect Sanchez to start the Super Bowl rematch with the Panthers in Week 1.
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Kansas City Chiefs: Cornerback
Marcus Peters has cemented himself as the team’s top corner, especially after the departure of Sean Smith. Who will play on the other side of the field still has to be determined. Phillip Gaines (pictured), Steven Nelson and rookie KeiVarae Russell are the likeliest candidates to start at right cornerback, and though there’s a glaring lack of experience in that group, there’s potential. Russell is the third option at this moment, but he has a chance to swoop in and take the job if Gaines and Nelson falter.
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Oakland Raiders: Right tackle
The Raiders will have one of the best offensive lines in 2016 – and that’s without knowing who will start at right tackle. Menelik Watson (pictured) and Austin Howard are the two players battling it out for one spot in the starting lineup with both being starting-caliber linemen. Watson was expected to be the guy last season, but a torn Achilles in the preseason derailed that. Howard stepped in and performed well, but he’ll have to prove he can repeat that performance once again.
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San Diego Chargers: Cornerback
Casey Hayward was a reliable player for the Packers, and he’ll now join the Chargers’ battle for the second cornerback spot. His competition is Brandon Flowers (pictured), who started 10 games in 2015. Both should get plenty of playing time in nickel packages, but the Chargers need to figure out who will be out there in base sets. Flowers likely has the advantage given his experience in the scheme, though he had a down year last season.