We’re still less than a week into NFL training camp, but some tight position battles have already begun to emerge at the skill positions. These competitions are important to watch for fantasy owners and well as real-life football fans, as many of the players involved could wind up being real contributors for their teams this coming season.
While we have to remember that preseason positions battles aren’t the end-all-be-all—many of these players will wind up splitting snaps once the real games start—they give us our first indication of which players entered camp prepared to win a starting spot and which guys sat on their laurels in the offseason.
Without further ado, here are the most important position battles to monitor as training camp progresses.
Tennessee Titans WR – Kendall Wright, Damian Williams
A position battle has emerged for X receiver role in Tennessee after Kenny Britt had a tumultuous offseason to say the least, having been booked for a DUI just days after receiving his third knee surgery in 10 months. While Z receiver Nate Washington proved to be Matt Hasselbeck’s favored receiver last season, the starter opposite him could see increased targets especially if Jake Locker wins the job over Hasselbeck in the preseason. Williams is the incumbent and even admitted to being used as more of a utility receiver who can fill in at either spot, and he did a decent job filling in for Britt for most of last season. A rookie out of Baylor, Wright is viewed as the likely starter yet remains one of two unsigned first round picks, and we all know you can’t win the job if you’re not at camp. If Wright can report soon the job should be his, but it’s always dangerous for unproven rookies to give veterans a chance to steal their role in the preseason.
Washington Redskins WR – Pierre Garcon, Josh Morgan, Santana Moss, Leonard Hankerson
While most casual fans would assume Santana Moss will retain his No. 1 receiver role in Washington, the offseason changed a lot of things for the veteran. Amidst talks that the ‘Skins would cut Moss and his bloated contract, the team added Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan, both of whom are penciled in as starters right now, pushing Moss to the slot. While Garcon seems locked into the starting X receiver role, Morgan will likely have to compete to hold off Moss and Hankerson, which may prove a difficult task. Having watched the physically-gifted Morgan underperform in San Francisco, he might find it difficult to hold off a motivated veteran like Moss. Even if he doesn’t win a starting role, it’s not hard to imagine Moss putting up decent numbers with more rest out of the slot, which could eventually earn him back his starting gig as the season progresses.
Tampa Bay Bucs RB – Doug Martin, LeGarrette Blount
Early reports haven’t been good at all for Blount, who has reportedly made a habit of showing up late or falling asleep during meetings. That’s never a good sign for a veteran with a hungry rookie hot on their tail. Martin seems to fall completely on the other side of the coin, impressing coaches as one of the “stars of camp” thus far. Martin will surely get snaps from the outset due to his superior receiving ability, which gives him a bit of an edge with new coach Greg Schiano. Schiano has no previous allegiance to the incumbent Blount, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Martin wins his job outright during camp and the preseason.
Detroit Lions RB – Kevin Smith, Mikel LeShoure, Jahvid Best
Early reports are that Smith is in line to win this role, if only by default. LeShoure’s NFL career has gotten off to a nightmarish start; he tore his Achilles in the preseason last year, was arrested twice this offseason for marijuana possession, and has already struggled with minor ankle and hamstring trouble going into this season, for which is suspended for the first two games. Best is struggling with concussion issues, and while the Lions are confident he will be cleared this season, his health will be iffy throughout. If LeShoure or Best can get out on the practice field soon, they will have a chance to earn some looks in a backfield that would prefer to spread out its touches rather than leaning on one lead back.
Cleveland Browns WR – Greg Little, Josh Gordon, Mohammed Massaqoui
There’s plenty competition amongst Browns’ camp between the wide receivers, with as many as six or seven receivers battling for snaps in multi-receiver sets. While there could be a lot of rotating going on, the most intriguing position battles remains at the top, where one word best describes the members of the competition: enigma. Little and Gordon are two young receivers who have had disciplinary issues in the past, but certainly have the skill set to win starting jobs opposite each other. While Little is penciled in as the starter after a rookie season where he showed his athleticism but didn’t break out, Gordon will likely have to unseat the incumbent Massaquoi for the right to catch passes from fellow rookie Brandon Weeden. However, the Browns are raving about supplemental pick Gordon early in camp, even comparing his abilities to those of Randy Moss. If Gordon stays on the straight and narrow going into the preseason, he should edge out Massaquoi based purely on his spectacular athletic ability.