Every AFC team's most intriguing position battle in training camp
With NFL training camps set to kick off, we assess each team's most interesting position battle.
AFC I NFC
Baltimore Ravens - Left guard
Contenders: Ben Cleveland, Ben Powers, Ben Bredeson
Three Bens will battle for the starting left guard spot, but only one will emerge victorious after the Ravens moved Bradley Bozeman to center. Cleveland appears to be the favorite with his 6-foot-6, 357-pound frame. Powers will look to push the third-round rookie after starting seven games in 2020, while second-year pro Bredeson could also make some noise.
Buffalo Bills - Running back
Contenders: Devin Singletary, Zack Moss, Matt Breida
With a year of seasoning under his belt, Moss is poised to threaten Singletary for the starting job. Singletary played more snaps than the then-rookie Moss in 2020 (621 to 403), but Moss could flip the script this season. Moss has physical advantages over Singletary, though the latter has the edge as a receiving option. Free-agent signing Breida could make things interesting as he fights for his share of the workload with the loser of the starting competition.
Cincinnati Bengals - Guards
Contenders: Quinton Spain, Michael Jordan, Jackson Carman, Xavier Su'a-Filo
The Bengals' top priority this season is keeping Joe Burrow clean, and that task starts with the guys up front. The offensive line, which resembled five turnstiles last year, has two spots up for grabs with both coming at the guard positions. Spain, Jordan, and Su'a-Filo are the experienced competitors, but don't count out rookie Carman, who has a real chance of starting at right guard on opening day. Carman will be looking to make the transition from tackle to the interior for Cincinnati.
Cleveland Browns - Linebacker
Contenders: Anthony Walker, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Jacob Phillips, Malcolm Smith, Sione Takitaki, Mack Wilson
Cleveland has a large puzzle to piece together when it comes to its starting linebackers. Perhaps no linebacker comes into camp with more buzz than Owusu-Koramoah, who the Browns selected in the second round in what could be the steal of the 2021 draft. The Notre Dame product excels in coverage and will challenge Phillips. Look for free-agent signee Walker to occupy a top spot, leaving Smith, Takitaki, and Wilson to duke it out for the last opening. It's a good problem to have, as the position is oozing with resources.
Denver Broncos - Quarterback
Contenders: Teddy Bridgewater, Drew Lock
Barring a late trade for Aaron Rodgers, the Broncos' starting quarterback in Week 1 will be Lock or Bridgewater. While neither option is particularly exciting, both QBs are essentially battling for their futures. Time is running out for Lock to prove he's a franchise-caliber quarterback, while Bridgewater is at risk of falling from fringe starter to permanent backup.
Houston Texans - Running back
Contenders: David Johnson, Phillip Lindsay, Mark Ingram
The Texans are looking to a trio of misfits for their starting running back job. Johnson was shipped to Houston from Arizona last offseason, while Ingram and Lindsay were released earlier this year by the Ravens and Broncos, respectively. None of the three veterans are short on experience, as they've combined for 13,693 career rushing yards. It's a crowded depth chart, but Houston will need all the help it can get on the ground with Deshaun Watson's future still up in the air.
Indianapolis Colts - Quarterback
Contenders: Jacob Eason, Sam Ehlinger
Carson Wentz will be the Colts' starting quarterback - that's obvious. What isn't clear is whether he will remain under center for the entire 2021 season. Plagued by injuries and poor play in recent years, there's more than a slight chance the newly acquired passer finds himself on the bench at some point. That makes the battle for the backup spot between Eason, a promising prospect in his second season, and Ehlinger, a sixth-round rookie, all the more important.
Jacksonville Jaguars - Running back
Contenders: James Robinson, Travis Etienne, Carlos Hyde
You don't want to miss the main event in the Jaguars' running back room. Robinson and Etienne go head to head and took very different paths to get to this moment. Robinson had a marvelous rookie season after going undrafted in 2020, rushing for over 1,000 yards. But that won't guarantee him anything in 2021 after the Jaguars used a first-round pick on Etienne. Head coach Urban Meyer said after the draft that he envisions Etienne as a third-down back, but with such a big investment attached to Etienne, it doesn't seem like it'll be long before the ACC's all-time leading rusher takes the reins in Jacksonville.
Kansas City Chiefs - Right tackle
Contenders: Mike Remmers, Lucas Niang
The Chiefs had high hopes for Niang as a backup tackle before he opted out of the 2020 campaign. Now, he's back and focused on winning the starting job with Mitchell Schwartz out of the picture, although Remmers currently stands in his way. Remmers filled in after Schwartz went down last season and was re-signed to a one-year deal reportedly worth up to $7 million - an amount that foreshadows a starting role. Niang faces an uphill climb but will have his fair shot to show the Chiefs that they were right to use a top-100 pick on him last year.
Las Vegas Raiders - Cornerback
Contenders: Casey Hayward, Damon Arnette
The Damon Arnette experiment didn't get off to a great start as the cornerback was limited to just nine games and seven starts in Year 1. The Raiders brought in a proven cornerback in Hayward in case Arnette can't turn it around in 2021. Hayward, who'll be 32 by the time the season kicks off, is likely far removed from his Pro Bowl form in 2016 and 2017. However, he's still an adequate starter. Both candidates have a lot on the line in the battle of youth against experience for the Raiders' second cornerback spot; Arnette to prove the team right for their first-round investment and Hayward to show he can still produce at his age.
Los Angeles Chargers - Wide receiver
Contenders: Jalen Guyton, Tyron Johnson, Josh Palmer
Keenan Allen and Mike Williams have the Chargers' top two spots at receiver locked down, but the No. 3 role is up for grabs. Guyton and Johnson each averaged at least 18 yards per catch last season, with the former finishing the year with more receptions and yards. They were expected to compete for a spot again in 2021, but Los Angeles made things more interesting by adding Palmer to the mix; the third-round rookie is the most well-rounded option of the three. Don't be surprised if offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi changes his rotation of pass-catchers weekly based on his opponents, but it'll be interesting to see who helps quarterback Justin Herbert the most.
Miami Dolphins - Safety
Contenders: Eric Rowe, Jevon Holland, Brandon Jones
The Dolphins have focused a lot of attention on the back end of their secondary in recent drafts, selecting Holland and Jones over the last two years. They're projected to be Miami's safety tandem of the future, but that day could come sooner than many expected. Holland may slide into a ball hawk role after Bobby McCain exited this offseason, while Jones may challenge Rowe for the other safety spot. Jones held his own in four starts last season, but Rowe's consistency has been unmatched over the last two campaigns. The two starting safety positions will come down to a combination of these three.
New England Patriots - Quarterback
Contenders: Cam Newton, Mac Jones
For a fan base that has become accustomed to great quarterback play, 2020 was a weird year in New England. Newton struggled mightily through the air and was benched multiple times but was brought back this offseason and is expected to start Week 1. However, his grip on the starting spot won't be as tight as last season after the Patriots drafted Jones in Round 1. Jones is coming off a tremendous final year at Alabama, and while he won't be throwing to his old Crimson Tide receiving group, he's a technical passer who can be counted on. While Newton has a big lead on the starting job, you can bet that every throw from each of these quarterbacks will be put under a microscope in the coming weeks.
New York Jets - Running back
Contenders: La'Mical Perine, Tevin Coleman, Michael Carter, Ty Johnson
Any of these backs could be lining up behind Zach Wilson in Week 1. Coleman, a free-agent pickup, might have the inside edge due to his connection with new offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur. Both came over from the 49ers this offseason, and Coleman fits LaFleur's offense to a tee. However, Coleman has struggled with injuries in recent years, casting his reliability into doubt. As for the other backs, Johnson played well in 2020 and reportedly made a strong impression in minicamp, while Perine failed to leave his mark during his rookie campaign. Carter excelled at North Carolina and brings a nice blend of athleticism and playmaking ability, so he shouldn't be counted out.
Pittsburgh Steelers - Center
Contenders: B.J. Finney, Kendrick Green, J.C. Hassenauer
The Steelers have a huge hole to fill at center following Maurkice Pouncey's retirement. Finney may have a slight edge coming into camp due to his experience and familiarity with Pittsburgh. Green is raw, but the rookie center's athleticism is unrivaled among his competition. It's hard to envision Hassenauer winning this one despite the fact he started four games for the Steelers last season. The winner will need to do two things very well: keep Ben Roethlisberger clean and open gaps for first-round running back Najee Harris.
Tennessee Titans - Right tackle
Contenders: Kendall Lamm, Dillon Radunz, Ty Sambrailo
Second-round pick Radunz represents the future, but the Titans are facing big questions when it comes to the present shape of the right tackle position. The rookie figures to be in the mix, but Tennessee also brought back Sambrailo and signed Lamm as a free agent. Sambrailo started five games at left tackle last season, showing he's got what it takes for the gig on the opposite side. Lamm is a journeyman, making 27 starts over the last six seasons, though 13 came in 2018. Radunz is waiting in the wings, but it's possible Lamm or Sambrailo holds him off.