The NFL season is nearly here and all eyes have turned to individual team training camps. The competition will come to define the next two weeks as players will look to solidify their place on their team’s depth chart and roster before preseason cuts begin. While much of this competition will boil over into preseason games, the battles for these spots begin at training camp right now. Instead of looking at each team, below find our five favorite training camp battles and projected winners that will come to define respective teams going into the regular season.
Carolina Panthers’ Starting Quarterback: Baker Mayfield or Sam Darnold?
Is it safe to say that the 2018 NFL Draft produced two studs and three duds at quarterback? Taking a second look at a quarterback class that featured two Hesiaman trophy winners, two of the best PAC-12 quarterbacks in recent memory, and a gunslinger from Wyoming, one may find themselves thinking of what could’ve been. While it is safe to say that Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson “panned out,” the first three quarterbacks taken, Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, and Josh Allen, all certainly did not. With the exception of Josh Rosen (who, let’s face it, never truly got a great shot either), Mayfield and Darnold’s respective careers were both ultimately handicapped by being picked by two of the most dysfunctional organizations in football.
With Darnold thrown to the fire that was the Adam Gase New York Jets and Mayfield thrown to the side for Deshaun Watson, despite being the first playoff-winning quarterback the Browns have had in decades, the two former top 2018 picks now find themselves battling it out to be the Carolina Panthers’ starting quarterback. Because Darnold has been acclimated to the Panthers for at least a year, he may have the leg-up on Mayfield for now, but expect that to change. From a pure talent standpoint, there is no question that Mayfield is a better signal-caller than Darnold. Comparing the numbers, Mayfield’s stats trump Darnolds in passing yards (14,592 to 10,624) and passing touchdowns (96 to 54) even when you account for the fact that Darnold has played ten less games. Also, with the Panthers trading a fifth-round pick for Mayfield, it seems as though the writing is on the wall and that Mayfield will be the starter by the end of preseason.
Miami Dolphins Running Back Situation: Starter or Committee?
No team made a bigger free agency splash offensively than the Miami Dolphins did this offseason. After acquiring wideouts Tyreek Hill and Cedrick Wilson, the Dolphins added to their running back corps and signed former starters in Chase Edmonds, Raheem Mostert, and Sony Michel. Adding three former starting running backs to a team in one offseason is definitely an indictment on former starter Myles Gaskin’s inconsistencies over the past few seasons but it doesn’t necessarily mean that Gaskin will be the odd man out.
The question remains whether new head coach Mike McDaniel plans on utilizing all of these backs or if one will face the chopping block by the end of the preseason. If we were to rank the backs in projected depth order, Edmonds would edge out Mostert while Michel would round out to third as his pass-catching ability should put him slightly ahead of Gaskin. Because of his familiarity with McDaniel’s system however, Mostert could easily be the starter by day one. While we won’t know exactly what McDaniel’s offense will look like until we see it, expect a running back by committee approach and a potential trim at the position by way of Gaskin and/or projected fourth-stringer Salvon Ahmed.
Green Bay Packers’ New #1 Receiver: Who Replaces Davante Adams?
Buckle-up. The drama-filled rollercoaster that is the Green Bay Packers’ strenuous relationship with back-to-back MVP Aaron Rodgers is gearing up for another edition. This season – like others before it – concerns itself with Rodgers’ wide receivers. With names on the roster that include old reliables in Randall Cobb and Allen Lazard, unproven players in Christian Watson, Amari Rodgers, and Romeo Doubs, and free agent signee Sammy Watkins, the Packers didn’t seem to do enough to fill the main hole left by Devante Adams’s departure. Despite this talented, deep group, none of the aforementioned wide receivers ‘scream’ number one option.
While the Packers and Rodgers seem to have high hopes for Watson and Doubs, the ‘ceiling’ on the rest of the group seems to already have been established as Watkins is perpetually injured, Cobb is 31 and past his prime, and Lazard has only ever been a third option. But because of his youth, physique, and familiarity with Rodgers and Lafelur’s system, Lazard has the highest probability of turning to the guy for the Packers offense this season. With Devante Adams and Marquez Valdes-Scantling gone, expect Lazard’s numbers to jump up from last season’s total of 40 receptions for 513 yards and 8 touchdowns.
Seattle Seahawks Replacement Signal Caller: Drew Lock, Geno Smith, or Other?
Whoever the next Seattle Seahawks’ quarterback is will have big shoes to fill given the departure of Super Bowl-winning QB Russell Wilson. Dealt in the trade for the Super Bowl signal-caller, former Broncos starter Drew Lock is facing off against former Jets’ starter Geno Smith in one of the most interesting battles amongst all NFL training camps. While Smith has years of experience as both a starting and backup quarterback, Lock has only been in the league for three years but he has shown flashes as the former Broncos’ starter. That being said, Lock lost out to Teddy Bridgewater in last year’s Broncos training camp and may never be a true franchise quarterback in the NFL.
While recent reports suggest that Smith may be leading the race to be the starter heading into camp, don’t expect the Seahawks to shrug off rumors of potentially adding a new quarterback further down the line. Smith makes the most sense for the Seahawks now though because of his familiarity and relative success with Pete Caroll’s offense.
When Wilson went down with a finger injury last season, Smith stepped in and went 1-2 as the starter as he passed for 702 yards (68% completion-rate), 5 touchdowns, and only 1 interception. Comparing those numbers to when Lock stepped in for an injured Bridgewater on the Broncos last season, it becomes clearer that Smith is the better option for the Seahawks right now, as Lock went 1-4 as the starter, passing for 787 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions.
Pittsburgh Steelers Quarterback Timing: Now or Later with Mitch Trubisky and Kenny Pickett
The Pittsburgh Steelers seem to have gotten their heir to Ben Rothlisberger’s quarterback kingdom in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft in Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett. The question remains whether Pickett should start now or later though, as the Steelers signed Mitch Trubisky to a two year deal in free agency before the draft. After a brief stint as the Bills back-up, Trubisky will undoubtedly be vying to regain a starting position after losing the Bears’ starting job several seasons ago. A good runner and decent game-manager, Trubisky has the natural tools to beat out Steelers’ back-up Mason Rudolph. But can Trubisky maintain his position if Pickett shines throughout camp and preseason?
Odds are yes, Trubisky will. The Pittsburgh Steelers’ front office tends to shy away from short-sighted moves, so don’t expect them to throw Pickett to the ‘fire’ just to keep Mike Tomlin’s record of never having a losing season with the team alive. The team will most likely look to repeat last year’s formula of pounding the rock via Najee Harris but now with Trubisky under center instead of an aged Rothlisberger. Look for Trubisky to be the starting quarterback for this season and this season only