Draft Prep: Position Battles and Depth Chart Changes For Preseason Week 2
Rosters are always changing and it can be difficult to stay on top of things. You can assume most players involved in position battles are not going to be huge contributors early in the season. However, the foundation may be laid for unexpected production after a few weeks of adjustment.
Oh, how things change. The Cleveland Browns acquired Brock Osweiler in order to bring in the Texans’ 2018 2nd round pick, his contract was hardly a concern. Originally believed to be an easy cut, Osweiler has gained the support of the Browns locker room and played well enough to warrant a likely Week 1 start. He faltered in the team’s preseason game against New York where the job was there for the taking, but DeShone Kizer is certainly not ready to line-up behind center just yet.
Hardly a surprise, but Trevor Siemian has been given the nod at quarterback in Denver. Paxton Lynch underwhelmed in the team’s second preseason game converting nine passes for only 39 yards. Siemian cemented himself with the first team in posting a 128.2 rating and a touchdown on his 11 attempts. The position in Denver is far from secure long-term, and the receiving corps offers upside, but one of the more unattractive quarterbacking groups in football has left much to be desired.
New York Jets
Christian Hackenberg came out and said he was impressed with how the Lions prepared for him and the Jets’ offense. Matthew Stafford simply claimed they barely prepared. Hackenberg continues to look uncomfortable behind center and finished his second outing 2-for-6 (14 yards) while taking two sacks (-17 yards). Bryce Petty was the feature quarterback otherwise with 24 attempts, but he looked almost as incompetent as Hackenberg. Josh McCown aligns at starter almost by default.
Houston appears ready to prep Deshaun Watson for a starting job, but the rookie hardly looks prepared. He has impressed enough in camp to warrant some of the first team reps originally directed to Tom Savage. Savage offers greater production at game speed: (vs. NE) 8/9, 98 yards and 1 TD. Watson saw nearly the same amount of opportunity, but finished with a 30% completion rating and yardage stats skewed by a Bruce Ellington catch and run. Savage is in line for the Week 1 start, and unless he is losing Houston games, is unlikely to be replaced.
Terrance West has been seen as one of the more underrated starters coming into this season following a strong season in 2016. Part of him being overlooked is the crowded backfield around him. The introduction of Danny Woodhead as a third down back threatens West’s 34 receptions. More pressing is the conflicting preseason from Javorius Allen. The third-year back impressed during training camp, though he’s rushed 18 times for 61 yards during two exhibitions. Maintaining a strong practice reputation may earn extra carries now, but disappointing execution will lead to missed opportunity later.
Cincinnati has been a nightmare running back situation for the past couple of seasons with Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard playing off each other as complementary backs. Joe Mixon is now in the equation. Some argue that Mixon was a first round talent and is the heavy favorite to take over a bell cow role. History says that Marvin Lewis will ride his veterans in their respective roles while Mixon may carve out his own niche. Hill appeared better than Mixon against Kansas City (6 carries, 28 yards vs. 6 carries, 16 yards), but neither has made a strong play for the starting position. Hill is the favorite as the incumbent with the next game having clear weight in the decision.
Green Bay Packers
Wide receiver turned running back Ty Montgomery entered 2017 as the favorite to take Green Bay’s starting backfield position. He impressed in opportunity last year and is a dangerous weapon for Aaron Rodgers in the passing game. However, a leg injury has left the door open for Jamaal Williams in practice and many believe he may make a run at Montgomery’s spot. That being said, his seven carries for 12 yards against the Redskins failed to make an impression. The entire team struggled with the ground game, but Williams will need to make plays for himself if he is to unseat Montgomery while he’s away.
Kansas City Chiefs
Recent history suggests there is always talent to be had in the Kansas City backfield. Predating Andy Reid, the tradition has continued without the injury-prone Jamaal Charles (who is now in Denver). Spencer Ware has a current hold on the starting position, but there is little guarantee about his reps come regular season. Charcandrick West (7 carries, 113 yards) and rookie Kareem Hunt (8 carries, 40 yards) both made impressions against the Bengals. Ware was handed only one carry, but if he is outplayed next week the team may consider testing the waters early in the year.
Thomas Rawls burst onto the scene as a rookie with 5.6 YPC and appeared to be a lock as the Seahawks’ future running back. Injuries derailed him last season and he is again missing time due to an ankle injury. In his absence newly acquired Eddie Lacy has similarly failed to impress despite optimism regarding his ability to meet weight requirements. Completing a trio of backs who have failed to remain on the field, C.J. Prosise remains a threat in the Seattle backfield, but he is nursing yet another injury (groin) which always appears to be the case. The team currently views Rawls/Lacy as a 1A/1B situation, and that ambiguity may leave room for Alex Collins to sneak onto the roster as a fourth back. At the end of the day, the healthiest back may simply be the favorite.
Bears’ fans will find their team in a precarious situation as the team’s wide receivers appeared to be quantity over quality entering this year. Now a couple weeks into the season, the numbers are no longer there. Reuben Randle is out for the season and Markus Wheaton (slated for the third/fourth spot) has a broken finger. At the top of the depth chart stand Cameron Meredith, who impressed last season, and Kevin White. Assuming they remain healthy, those two will see the lion’s share of targets. Behind them are a run of uncertain receivers who should only garner attention when/if White goes down with an injury or underwhelms after so many missed games.
A lot of offseason noise has many excited about the receiving corps in Tennessee despite no evidence to prove the team has made actual strides. Fifth overall pick Corey Davis has been sidelined with a hamstring injury and has missed vital adjustment time against NFL speed. Mike Mularkey affirms that he will appear in the preseason. Beyond Davis are Rishard Matthews and Eric Decker who should offer reliable options for Marcus Mariota on the outside and in the slot respectively. Neither has made much of an impression in the preseason (expected for Decker), while Tre McBride may play his way into a more involved role.
Week 1 might just require an open tryout at the current pace for Buffalo. Jordan Matthews was injured in his first practice and Anquan Boldin decided he didn’t want to spend time losing and retired. Matthews is expected to be ready for the regular season, but that may not be the case for backup Rod Streater who is facing a knee injury. Zay Jones has defaulted his way into being the present number one option until Matthews proves he is back. Given the team’s uncertain standing, Andre Holmes and Corey Brown both remain in the mix for influential roles in the offense. Holmes is presently ahead after drawing five targets against the Eagles.
Not necessarily unexpected, but Vernon Davis has been relegated to a backup role following the return of Jordan Reed. The team’s star tight end was activated from the PUP list (toe) and is ready for the heavy workload that awaits him. That being said, Reed has spent his fair share of time on the sideline which would heighten the importance of the team’s third tight end spot currently belonging to Niles Paul.
Tight end has been an offseason mystery for the 49ers. Kyle Shanahan walked into a team with two tight ends (Vance McDonald and Garrett Celek) who both hovered around 25 receptions, 350 yards, and 3 touchdowns last season. The team proceeded to draft George Kittle (3 receptions, 33 yards and a TD vs. DEN) in the fifth round and signed Logan Paulsen away from the Bears. While none have exactly proven to be regular game changers, Shanahan has hinted at the possibility of keeping all four. Clarity is still needed as to who will emerge, but the tight end position shows promise in San Francisco as it drew over a third of the team’s targets against Denver.
Not considered to be much of a battle at this point, the introduction of Roberto Aguayo at least cast doubt over Connor Barth’s position. Aguayo was an easy waiver claim for the Bears after his release from Tampa Bay. They’ve also seen why he was released in the first place. Both players had an opportunity against the Cardinals. Barth converted on a 42-yard field goal while also making both extra points. Aguayo subsequently missed a 49-yard attempt before converting on a point after. Something drastic will need to occur for Barth to be unseated.
Minnesota has been a hidden position battle as the team lacks any of the key names in special teams. With questions at both kicker and punter, there are not expected to be any concrete changes until final cuts. Veteran Kai Forbath is the present favorite following his success with the team last season. He’s delivered on two field goals and an extra point in the preseason. Rookie Marshall Koehn has pressed the issue with a perfect preseason as well (one field goal, two extra points), though he has lost ground in practice rather than games. An underrated situation, Minnesota ranked 28th in red zone touchdowns last season.