With training camp in full swing for all 32 teams and just a week away from the Hall of Fame game between the Falcons and Broncos, I wanted to take a look at the biggest position battles going on for every team throughout practice and a lot of times most of the preseason. Some of these may be very close two-man races for a specific spot, others include several candidates looking to crack the starting lineup. Some of them may be sexier when it comes to quarterbacks, while others are about offensive guards putting in the work up front. However you want to turn it, these are what I think the toughest battles going on right now and only competition will determine the winners.
As I am starting to project how teams might do in 2019, where they improved and which areas are still question marks for me, I came up with a few squads, who I think are tough to judge and could go a few different ways. I chose three teams from each conference that I think have the biggest volatility, meaning the differential I could see in terms of their win-loss ratio. Some of these might be due to uncertainty at specific positions, while others are about explosive personalities or injury concerns. Therefore, I did not include up-and-coming teams like the Browns and 49ers, who I think very highly of, and no teams that I expect to bounce back after bad 2018 seasons – like the Jaguars and Falcons.
A few weeks into the black hole of the offseason, which is filled with overblown reports from OTAs and media analysts coming up with crazy ideas for discussions, I had the time to go back and analyze which moves teams have made to improve a specific area of their football team. However, this is not about the most improved team overall, such as the Browns who added on several fronts, and I won’t name any teams that only added one superstar at a position and nothing else. This list is more about how these front offices made it a priority to invest into a unit that either needed to get better anyway or might have been solid to this point, but could be a true strength for them in 2019. These are the ten position groups I came up with and I added a few units at the bottom, who didn’t quite make the cut.
After putting out the biggest areas of need for the 16 teams in the NFC, we switch over to the AFC side of things. Once again, this list is about improving all teams as much as possible for this upcoming season by addressing one area of the roster, not building for the future necessarily. That may be just a distinct role player, adding depth at a rather thin position group or even the need for an actual premium at some spot. Like I said when talking about the other conference last week, I am happy that none of these teams are in desperate need for an actual starting quarterback for now and we can focus on other areas.
As I do every year once free agency and the draft are wrapped up, I wanted to take a look at every team in the league and point out their biggest remaining area that could use some improvement. This could be a need for a top-end starter, a specific role player or simply depth at a position. To specify this a little bit, these are the most important additions the teams should still make to win this year, not necessarily for the future. So I am not considering having to find replacements for older players or some guys a team might not be able to afford a year or so down the road – simply that one hole they need to fill to be more competitive this season. For the first time ever this list does not include a single starting quarterback since I think pretty much all 32 teams are set at that spot at least for the upcoming season – even though I might disagree with them long-term.
We have spent a lot of time talking about the NFL draft, handing out grades and pointing out steals from that weekend. With that being said, even after 254 picks there still was a lot of talent left out there and some prospects, who I had rated pretty high, never heard their names called on those three days. Instead they are now entering some team’s practice squad, looking to prove themselves and carve out a role. These ten names I think have the talent and/or are in a situation where they could contribute early on and be valuable pieces for their respective franchise. Every year there are some undrafted free agents I see making an early impact, who actually end up doing so – Phillip Lindsay and J.C. Jackson in 2018 for example.
In the NFL there is constant competition at pretty much every position. Front offices try to find replacements for aging players or those, who will soon demand contracts they can’t afford. That creates an environment, where every man is working as hard as they can to earn a starting spot. Only competition gets the best out of football players and it is vital for a team’s success. I picked out the eight positional battles that will be most interesting to watch through training camps and beyond. So here they are: