Written by: The Blitz Team
The NFL regular season is almost here! Over the next month teams will be going through practices and preseason games to help determine who will be on their roster during opening week. Not only will players be battling for roster spots, but they will also be fighting for their position on the depth chart so they can see the field as much as possible. For this edition of the All32 series, the Blitz Team takes a look at the biggest position battles that will be going on during preseason. Check out which ones we believe you should be paying attention to throughout August!
The Buffalo Bills find themselves in a unique quarterback battle. The team thought they saw some potential in last year’s 5th round pick Nathan Peterman, but he threw 5 interceptions in 2 quarters of football last season when filling in for Tyrod Taylor and quickly found himself back on the bench. The Bills signed AJ McCarron this offseason to what most people consider a ‘bridge quarterback’ type of deal, and it was thought that he would be the Week 1 starter. Prior to signing McCarron, Buffalo traded away Taylor to the Cleveland Browns, which started their climb in the draft to potentially find their franchise quarterback.
After trading all the way up to the 7th pick, the Bills selected Josh Allen to be their future at the position. However, most feel that he isn’t quite ready to be on the field early in his career. I am a believer in Allen’s potential, but he does need to address some areas before he can start. After making the playoffs the previous year fans will have higher expectations for the Bills, so they can’t afford sub-par play from their quarterback to open the season. I think they may just have to throw Allen into the fire and let him evolve on the field.
Peterman and McCarron will need to show that one of them can at least be a game manager if they want to hold off Allen. But after seeing Peterman and McCarron in action when they were given opportunities in the past, there isn’t much that makes me believe that they can win the job. I think Allen’s overall talent and potential will shine throughout training camp and the preseason. Bills fans might be seeing their franchise quarterback earlier than expected.
Prediction: Josh Allen
Written by: Cody Manning
There seems to be three guys that are vying for the team’s lead back role in Miami’s training camp: Kenyan Drake, Kalen Ballage, and Frank Gore. For the sake of this article, we can assume that the Dolphins will probably be leaning on Frank Gore more for leadership than anything else. That means the competition will come down to Drake and Ballage.
Last season, Drake burst onto the scene for the Dolphins after the team traded Jay Ajayi. Drake only started 6 games, but he managed 644 yards rushing and 3 touchdowns on only 133 carries. He also chipped in 32 catches for 239 yards. I believe that he cannot be given a full workload, mostly due to the fact that he has never had to be the main guy in a backfield since high school. He does flash some intriguing potential though. Drake showed the ability to make plays in all facets of the game, and he is probably considered the leader for the RB1 slot after the first few days of camp.
Ballage was one of my favorite running back prospects in the draft for a variety of reasons. I love his vision and his nose for the endzone. During his junior season, Ballage rushed for 14 touchdowns while also catching 44 balls for 469 yards. That is some serious versatility. His touchdown numbers and receptions fell off mightily in his senior season, but I think that was mostly due to a scheme problem. Obviously the Dolphins believed in him since they picked him with the 131st selection of the 2018 NFL Draft. I still think Drake is the favorite to start, but I would not be shocked to see Ballage get a bunch of carries this season.
Prediction: Kenyan Drake
Written by: Jake Leicht
New England Patriots
At age 40, Tom Brady had one of the greatest passing performances we’ve ever seen in Super Bowl LII. He fell just short however, having little support from his backfield. New England tried to fix that this offseason by signing Jeremy Hill and drafting Sony Michel, adding to a fiery running back competition. Running back has always been a mystery under coach Bill Belichick. Only 2 of New England’s top 10 single season rushing attempt leaders have been under coach Belichick. But both Sony Michel and Jeremy Hill have carried the ball a ton. Michel attempted 590 rushes in just 47 games in college, a stat that would place him 15th on the Patriots all-time career rushing attempt leaders. Hill also had a large number of touches, with 704 in just 54 games. That would put him tenth on the all-time list if he had spent those years with the Patriots. James White and Rex Burkhead, the other two main competitors for the top spot, combine for 264 rushes, all in 99 games. That doesn’t even add up to three rushes a game. Dion Lewis, last year’s top rusher for New England, ran nearly 200 times, but he left for a better deal with the Titans.
These stats aren’t everything, but they show who is ready to carry a load. Jeremy Hill and Sony Michel can rush for a team all day. James White can come out of the backfield like nobody else (hence his Super Bowl record 14 receptions), but he’s inconsistent, only starting nine games compared to Hill’s 43. Rex Burkhead doesn’t fit anywhere in particular but can do a bit of everything. He’ll make the team, but not the top spot. Sony Michel would have a chance, with Georgia teammate Isaiah Wynn possibility starting at tackle, but Bill Belichick has never been shy about his position on rookies, commenting several times on how they need time to learn the system. Jeremy Hill brings something new to the Patriots a runner that can go in for an entire drive and bring it home. He is both speedy and powerful, and can shock some teams that underestimate him.
Prediction: Jeremy Hill
Written by: Pat Pryor
New York Jets
The Jets are going to enter the season with three different quarterbacks that they would feel comfortable with leading the team. Josh McCown was last year’s starter, and prior to suffering a season-ending injury, he was playing some of the best ball that he has in recent years. The Jets signed Teddy Bridgewater to a 1-year deal during free agency and he has been very impressive in training camp thus far. If he performs well enough during preseason, he could possibly be a trade candidate if a team suffers an unfortunate injury to their quarterback. But that all depends on the next player in this heated competition.
The Jets made a move up to the third spot in this year’s NFL Draft and when it was their turn, they selected Sam Darnold. Darnold definitely has the talent to win the job, but with the team bringing back McCown and signing Bridgewater, I don’t believe that they are in a rush to get him out onto the field. I do believe that we will see Darnold take over as the guy at some point this season, but I don’t think we will see him in Week 1. I think this ends up coming down between McCown and Bridgewater as the Week 1 starter.
I believe the Jets brought back McCown to be more of a leader in the quarterback room and help develop these younger guys. Bridgewater was more of insurance incase whoever they ended up drafting wasn’t ready to take over quite yet. If Bridgewater doesn’t get traded, I think we will see him as the Week 1 starter. The organization can show him off and try to land a trade partner if Darnold is having a faster development than expected.
Prediction: Teddy Bridgewater
Written by: Cody Manning