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 the preseason. Check out which ones we believe you should be paying attention to throughout August!
Von Miller, the hipster godfather of the Broncos’ defense, obviously has nothing to sweat as their captain and best edge rusher. But they’ve got a stacked group of edge rushers without room for everyone. Beyond Miller, the 2018’s first defensive rookie draft pick, Bradley Chubb, will be making more than O-tackles uncomfortable with veterans like Shane Ray and Derek Wolfe hoping to keep their playing time despite Chubb’s arrival. Shane Ray, who will be competing directly with Chubb for the right OLB spot, missed half of last season with a nagging wrist injury, and he recorded one sack in the eight games he played, a huge drop off from the eight sacks he had in 2016. Ray’s not expected to miss any regular season time this year, but he has a tough road ahead of him to keep his playing time with his injury and with the star rookie looking to take his spot.
Prediction: Once a first-round draft pick himself, Shane Ray’s time in Denver is coming to an end soon
Written by: Perry Griffith IV
Kansas City Chiefs
Edge Rusher #2
hink the Chiefs pass rush is going to make a noticeable jump this coming year, and it’s most likely going to come from whoever solidifies playing time across from Justin Houston. The current crop of Dee Ford (2014 1st round), Tanoh Kpassagnon (2017 2nd), and Breeland Speaks (2018 2nd) possess more than enough potential to be able to produce a solid-to-strong enough pass rush.
Ford is entering a contract year and is essentially playing for market value considering it is highly unlikely that KC resigns him. He has shown flashes in the past (see 1st half of 2016), but his inability to stay healthy has made him a difficult candidate to believe in. Kpassagnon is someone I’m intrigued in seeing throughout this preseason. In his one real game of playing time last season in week 17 against Denver, he had seven tackles and two sacks. I understand the caliber of talent he was facing that night wasn’t exactly adept, but anytime a player can flash that type of production it warrants further observation. Speaks will be a strong Frank Zombo replacement, which features a strong motor and being around the ball often. However, I think his value will come from a more rotational piece as opposed to a consistent starter.
Overall, I believe this defense will function optimally with a steady rotation of not only personnel but formation as well. I believe Ford will be the starter for as long as he can stay healthy, KPass will consistently find playing time both outside and in, and Speaks will be a hustle player that will come up with some stable value off the bench.
Prediction: Ford as the starter, with KPass as a rotational guy, and Speaks coming off the bench.
Written by: Ashton Moore
Los Angeles Chargers
I could go down the list and make a case for a more exciting positional battle for the Chargers. Whether it’s Linebacker, backup RB, the replacement Tight End (until Antonio Gates returns at least), or even how the CB2 spot will shape up now that Jason Verrett has gone down with an unfortunate Achilles injury, the Chargers have a number of spots that are up for grabs and each will most likely be more enjoyable from a fan’s perspective throughout this next month of glorified scrimmages.
However, none of the spots above have as much value to the Chargers success than the Kicker position. The entire fanbase is aware of the disastrous performances provided by the Kickers from 2018, and the effect it had on the overall results of the team. Ignoring the Butterfly Effect of hypotheticals, it is almost assured that the Chargers would have made the playoffs in 2018 if not for a league average performance on special teams. Alas, LAC did not receive that. Coming in last in 2018 in field-goal percentage (66.7) and 37 0f 42 in extra points (3rd worst), this is no longer a position that can be ignored since it by most measures can be recognized as the team’s weakness. The two candidates for the job this year is former Eagles/Dolphins kicker Caleb Sturgis, and 2016 2nd round bust for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Roberto Aguayo.
Now let me tell you now, I apologize for insisting that you keep track of a Kicker showdown, but as a fan, I implore you to take notice of it due to the sheer importance of there being some consistency and efficiency at this position. If we see a repeat of last year in this performance, we are likely seeing a repeat in overall outcome for the Chargers, which will be another missed postseason.
Prediction: Sturgis solidifies the job he was brought in to take, but Aguayo makes things interesting with a few long kicks.
Written by: Ashton Moore
The Oakland Raiders secondary was abysmal last season. First-round pick Gareon Conley missed most of the year due to a shin injury. Starters Sean Smith, David Amerson, and T.J. Carrie have all been given their walking papers after underperforming while being overpaid. With the arrival of Oakland fan favorite and former/new head coach Jon Gruden, it’s out with the old and in with the new. A complete overhaul of the entire defense has brought in a plethora of secondary competition via the draft and free agency.
Outside of Gareon Conley, who’s expected to be the number one corner, the team brought in Rashaan Melvin, Daryl Worley, and drafted Nebraska’s, Nick Nelson. Rashaan Melvin had a career year in 2017 as the Indianapolis Colts top corner, ranking as PFF’s 17th best cornerback. Daryl Worley was second on the Panthers depth chart last season before being traded to the Eagles in exchange for Torrey Smith. Worley was arrested for a DUI and multiple other charges shortly after being traded to Philadelphia, leading the Eagles to cut him. Oakland didn’t hesitate to pick up the run supporting CB regardless of a pending suspension and hopes to still get him on the field in 2018.
Fourth-round pick Nick Nelson led the nation in pass defenses in 2017 with 21 but failed to land a single interception while in college. He’s primarily a press-man corner who lacks the elite quickness to excel in zone coverage but is another physical run stuffer that Gruden loves to see out of his corners. I’d assume that Conley will top the depth chart, followed by Rashaan Melvin, while Nelson and Worley battle it out for the third slot on the roster.
Prediction: Rashaan Melvin
Written by: Jack Bourgeois