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!
#2 Wide Receiver
The Falcons in the past have been at their best when they are able to spread the ball around to many receivers other than Julio Jones. With the acquisition of Calvin Ridley, this now becomes a more cloudy picture. Will he be able to unseat the incumbent Mohamed Sanu.
Justin Hardy was expected to be someone who helped out last year, but he didn’t exactly step up to the plate. The return from Sanu, over the past couple of years hasn’t exactly been great. The Falcons need someone who can be explosive and polished to succeed in Steve Sarkisian’s system.
Ridley fits that mold to a tee. He is one of the most polished route runners, and when given the chance to succeed, Ridley has produced. He also comes in with knowledge of the offense, having had Sarkisian as the Offensive Coordinator at Alabama in 2017
Prediction: Calvin Ridley
The departure of guard Andrew Norwell this offseason leaves a gaping hole on the left side of the Carolina Panthers’ offensive line. The all-pro leaves huge shoes to fill which is why the position of left guard is the one to watch in training camp. The competition is now left up to four names. Right now, the front-runner and player who has been taking most of the first-team reps at camp has been 6-year veteran Amini Silatolu. The 2012 second-round pick has been a career backup but seems like the most logical choice with 47 games under his belt.
The next logical choice would have been second-year player Taylor Moton. Moton, a natural tackle, would have benefited from moving inside in to get some experience before swinging outside to tackle. Unfortunately starting tackle Daryl Williams went down with a knee injury and Moton is his replacement, knocking him out of contention for the left guard job.
The two other names in contention are UDFA and former Penn State guard Brendan Mahon & Tyler Larsen, a four-year veteran, and backup center. The former is a tough-nosed and smart lineman who Panthers GM Marty Hurney has been quoted as calling “His guy”. The latter is a former center who has the most experience, snaps-wise, than any of the players mentioned above. With Moton moving over to tackle the job seems to be Silatolu’s to lose. Unless the other two gentlemen have an outstanding camp or barring an injury expect Silatolu to start this year.
Prediction: Amini Silatolu
New Orleans Saints
№2 Running back (During Mark Ingram Suspension)
The Saints are fortunate enough to have two starting running backs on their roster in Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram. But unfortunately, Mark Ingram is out for the first four games of the year due to a suspension, leaving the highly utilized RB2 position in a Sean Payton offense wide open for at least four games that is.
In the recent weeks, the Saints have signed veterans Terrance West and Shane Vereen to compete for the position. West brings more of a physical aspect to the running game, while Vereen has made his mark as a receiver out of the backfield, two contrasting skill sets from the veterans.
The other three on the roster are Jonathan Williams, Trey Edmunds, and rookie Boston Scott. Williams was on the Saints last season but was never active in a game. Edmunds is a former UDFA who made his mark mostly on special teams last year. And rookie Boston Scott is a sixth-round pick, who is great at catching the ball and has looked great so far in camp.
My bet is that two of these guys make the roster and split duties as the RB2. My best guess would be Terrance West assuming the role of a bruiser, while Scott spells Kamara in the passing game.
Prediction: Terrance West
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Now that the Doug Martin Experiment is over, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a position battle on their hands between the team’s 2018 2nd round pick Ronald Jones and an undrafted rookie out of Auburn Peyton Barber. Two polar opposites at the position. Barber is a smooth, between the tackles, power back; while Jones is a shifty, one cut slasher, home run hitting type back, who has breakaway speed compared to Barbers 4.64 forty-time. Could we see another thunder and lightning one-two punch duo, or will one of these guys become the clear-cut starter? Let’s dig a little deeper and find out.
As a USC Trojan in 2017, Rojo had 275 total touches for 1737 yards and 20 touchdowns. He averaged 6.1 yards per carry and 9.4 yards per reception in college but was quite underutilized in the passing game. While playing for the Auburn Tigers in 2016, Peyton Barber had 249 total touches for 1129 yards and 13 touchdowns. He averaged 4.3 yards per carry and 10.2 yards per reception throughout his short collegiate career. In 2017, Peyton Barber showed some promise as a lead back, averaging another 4.3 yards per carry in weeks 12–16, including a 100+ yard performance against Green Bay. He finished the season with 124 touches, 537 combined yards, and three touchdowns.
I expect Ronald Jones to slightly edge Barber in 2018 due to the explosive element he brings to the offense, which is something Tampa Bay has been missing for quite some time. Peyton Barber is going to have a role in the offense regardless; he brings a bruising nature to the team that will help wear out defenses later in the game. Rojo will wind up at the top of the team’s depth chart but expect Koetter to go with the hot hand from week to week.
Prediction: Ronald Jones