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All-32 Series: NFC North’s Position Battles Going On During Preseason

Updated: Aug 2, 2019

Artwork by Robert Robinson, @badasskidsent

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!

Chicago Bears

Wide Receiver Corps (WR1, WR2, WR3)

The Bears looked primed to take a leap under new head coach Matt Nagy, who was the Chiefs’ offensive coordinator before accepting the job with Chicago. With a young but talented roster, Nagy will be working closely with Mitch Trubisky to prepare him for his sophomore season. Their roster is deep with many different position battles, but the one to watch comes from the receiver room. The Bears added Allen Robinson on a 3 year, $42 million deal to a receiving corps already featuring former first round selection Kevin White, slot receiver Taylor Gabriel, 2018 second round pick Anthony Miller, and sleeper candidate Tanner Gentry. This is an intriguing and talented room that features loads of potential with breakout candidates.

Allen Robinson has the number one spot locked up, but the depth chart becomes hazy there after. Kevin White’s career can be summed up with one word: injuries. Taylor Gabriel was a productive receiver in Atlanta, but he never was more than the third option in the passing game. Anthony Miller has a ton of potential, but he will need to have an explosive camp in order to jump the other receivers on the roster and receive the opportunities to be a consistent presence in their offense, and Tanner Gentry is an undrafted free agent with upside but a lot to prove. Kevin White, now healthy, has a chance to prove that he isn’t a bust after going 7th overall in the 2015 NFL Draft. If he fails to succeed, that label will be the title in front of White’s name. The entire group presents that upside that should get every Chicago fan excited, and it will be interesting to see how the competition unfolds. Who will gain favor as the second option for Mitch Trubisky? This is one of the more intriguing training camp stories heading into the 2018 season.

Prediction: WR1- Allen Robinson, WR2- Anthony Miller, WR3- Taylor Gabriel

  • Jason Feiner

Detroit Lions

Running Back

The Detroit Lions haven’t had a 100-yard rusher since 2013 and are looking to hopefully find an answer for their running back woes. Detroit’s new head coach, Matt Patricia, comes from New England, where they are known for using a running back by committee to help get the job done. I wouldn’t be surprised if the same thing ends up happening in Detroit. LeGarrette Blount was brought in via free agency and he should help make an immediate impact on the position. The team also drafted Kerryon Johnson with their 2nd round pick in this year’s NFL Draft. Since he was a high investment, Johnson should see plenty of opportunities to win a majority share of the touches.

The Lions still have Theo Riddick and Ameer Abdullah on their roster, who will be looking to find their way onto the field as well. Riddick should be able to continue with his role as a third-down back and be on the field during passing situations. Abdullah is the odd man out in this group, as he has failed to live up to expectations since being selected in the 2nd round of the 2015 NFL Draft. I think the main battle will be between Blount and Johnson as to who will end up as the lead back in their backfield.

If the Lions decide to go with Blount, he has the experience of being the lead back and has played on winning teams, so he knows what it takes to be successful at this level. Johnson offers the team fresher legs at the position and he was selected to potentially be their answer long-term. I believe Blount will open the season as the lead back, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Johnson takes over at some point during the season.

Prediction: LeGarrette Blount

  • Cody Manning

Green Bay Packers

Running Back

The simple fact is that each Packers running back has the ability to start. Te problem becomes forecasting who will get the bulk of the backfield work. Each of the three backs in Green Bay have different skill sets that make them unique. Aaron Jones is the best pure rusher. Ty Montgomery is a transitioned wide receiver, so he clearly is the best pass catching back. Jamaal Williams is the best pass blocker of the trio.

With each of these skills comes a set of problems as well. Montgomery isn’t built to take the pounding that comes with a being a lead back, as evidenced by his long list of injuries last season (chest, wrist, and ribs). Aaron Jones was the most consistent of all three backs, posting 448 yards at 5.5 YPC, but ended last season with a knee injury. While he bulked up this off season to help make himself more durable and a stronger pass blocker, he also will miss the first 2 games of the season due to his suspension for violating the NFL substance abuse policy. Jamal Williams was just flat out not efficient with his opportunities last season, rushing for 556 yards at only 3.6 YPC. I think the pass blocking abilities earn him the first crack at earning this job the first 2 weeks of the year, but if he doesn’t make the most of it he could be buried on the depth chart quickly.

Truth be told, I am having a hard time projecting carries for any of the 3 of them. I could just as easily see them finish with 500 yards a piece. I think Montgomery has a guaranteed role in the offense no matter who ultimately takes “lead back” status, and even though Williams does have those first 2 weeks to show he is worthy, I just feel that Aaron Jones is the all around best back on the roster and wins this job easily by the quarter point of the season. If I were to put numbers on my predicted distribution of carries, the percentages would be 40% Jones, 40% Montgomery, 20% Williams.

Prediction: Aaron Jones

  • Robert Robinson

Minnesota Vikings

Nickel Corner

In 2017 the Minnesota Vikings had one of the best defenses in the NFL and in 2018 the Vikings look to continue that trend. With the second best pass defense in 2017 and a defense with very few weaknesses, there is one position that Mike Zimmer and his staff will need to figure out by Week 1. The Vikings have one of the best CB tandems in the NFL with Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes, but the nickel corner position is wide open for the upcoming 2018 season.

Mackensie Alexander is a former 2nd round pick from Clemson that has yet to step up despite plenty of opportunities last season. The Vikings brought back veteran Terence Newman who will be playing in his 16th season at the age of 40. Newman is without a doubt a Mike Zimmer guy after spending most of his career being coached by him. The Vikings would like for a young guy to step into the nickel role, but if someone doesn’t step up they know they can count on Newman. If you look at rookie Mike Hughes, you can see a prototypical nickel corner just by his size (5’11 190), but he actually primarily played outside corner while he was at UCF. The Vikings spent their first pick in the 2018 NFL Draft on the UCF product hoping he can fill that void. After having an impressive minicamp we will see if Hughes can follow that up in training camp. One dark horse to keep your eye on is Horace Richardson from SMU; he spent the 2017 season on the Vikings practice squad. This should be a really interesting training camp battle for the Vikings that will likely continue throughout the season. If the Vikings can get a player to step up in the nickel role, expect their defense to mirror what they did last season.

Prediction: Mackensie Alexander

  • Austen Reed



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