Training Camp

NFL training camp: Ten most important position battles to track in 2022

On Saturday, July 30, NFL Network will present Training Camp: Back Together Saturday. Beginning at 9 a.m. ET, more than 50 analysts, reporters and team correspondents will provide 13 hours of live coverage from training camps across the NFL -- plus, check out NFL Films-produced wired sound of players and coaches in action.

Training camp 2022 has arrived. Finally, it's time to battle for jobs.

Throughout spring workouts, coaches often preach about setting a foundation. Questions about position battles are dismissed as something to be addressed later in the summer, when camps begin.

Well, we've made it.

No more dodging the questions. No more putting it off until later. The hunt starts now.

With all 32 teams hitting the practice field this week, the position battles will begin in earnest. While contact restrictions take some of the spunk out of the competitions -- i.e., offensive line battles are better scrutinized when we get to preseason games -- every rep will matter to coaches in deciding who will win key jobs ahead of the season.

Certain positions lend themselves to more obvious competition. Quarterback is the most glaring for teams without an established starter. Receivers vie to see who will take reps in "11" or "12" personnel groupings. Beyond the starter gigs, backfield players will compete for third-down or goal-line roles. There is a plethora of starting offensive-line gigs up for grabs around the league. With rotations on defense, fights for starting edge rusher jobs are fewer -- if a club has three good edge rushers, they're all sure to see heavy usage. Similarly, an increase in nickel and dime deployment for defensive backs lessens the number of battles for starting gigs.

Every club -- even those returning most of their starters from last season -- will conduct competitions for jobs up and down the roster. But here, as we kick into training-camp gear, are the 10 position battles I'm keeping the closest eye on:

Baker Mayfield vs. Sam Darnold


The Panthers talked up Darnold earlier this offseason as an improved signal-caller ready to make strides in Year 2 in Matt Rhule's system. Then they went out and traded for Mayfield. Actions speak louder than words. Team brass insists this will be an open competition, but it will take flawless play from Darnold in camp to win the gig. (Third-round pick Matt Corral and backup P.J. Walker figure to face even longer odds.) When healthy, Mayfield, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, has been the superior quarterback to Darnold, drafted two picks later by the Jets. Darnold's propensity to take bad sacks, turn the ball over and miss the big plays has characterized his time in the NFL. Can he wipe all that out in one offseason? Mayfield isn't a perfect QB, but a change in surroundings should be good for the former Brown. The biggest impediment for Mayfield will be learning the playbook and building chemistry without spending a full offseason in Carolina.

QUARTERBACK

Geno Smith vs. Drew Lock


Smith enters training camp with the edge over Lock after filling in for Russell Wilson last season. Smith played well in three starts, generating a 108.4 passer rating. He can run the type of offense Pete Carroll prefers and knows the system. But the upside isn't there with the 31-year-old. That's where Lock, 25, acquired from the Broncos as part of the exchange for Wilson, could make up ground, if he shows the ability to cut down on errors, processes more quickly than he did in Denver and creates explosive plays. The 2019 second-round pick owns the talent to sling the ball but lacks consistency. This competition will ultimately come down to who Carroll trusts better to guide the offense and not make the big mistake.

Mitchell Trubisky vs. Kenny Pickett


During spring workouts, Pickett took the third QB reps, behind Trubisky and veteran Mason Rudolph. Coach Mike Tomlin said this offseason the rookie will get his chance to earn the starting gig. How Pickett, chosen 20th overall by the Steelers, performs in those opportunities will decide whether he can win the Day 1 job. Trubisky, selected second overall by the Bears in 2017, petered out in Chicago due to accuracy and consistency issues. Did his one season as a backup in Buffalo cure those concerns? One thing I want to see in camp: how the QBs do stretching the field. Trubisky struggled with that in Chicago, some of his deep balls sailing out of bounds over receivers' heads. Pickett finished fifth in the FBS with 1,299 deep passing yards in 2021, per Pro Football Focus. The Steelers' offense was restricted in 2021, Ben Roethlisberger's final season. Can either Trubisky or Pickett consistently stretch the field with weapons like Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool?

RUNNING BACK

Devin Singletary vs. Zack Moss vs. James Cook


What will the pecking order look like as we get deeper into camp? Neither Singletary (a 2019 third-round pick) nor Moss (a 2020 third-rounder) has latched hold of the job, opening the door for Cook (a second-rounder this year). Singletary is coming off his best season, but consistency has been an issue. Moss, meanwhile, hasn't proven he's more than a role player. Cook's pass-catching ability could tip the scale in the rookie's favor. The Bills RBs accounted for just 73 catches and 520 receiving yards in 2021, both in the bottom 10 among running back units. If Cook can prove he can be a solid pass-protector and a dynamic factor in the Bills' pass-first offense, he could carve out a sizable place for himself in Year 1.

RUNNING BACK

Chase Edmonds vs. Raheem Mostert vs. Sony Michel


The Dolphins imported Edmonds, Mostert and Michel via free agency this offseason, making for a crowded backfield with Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed. The battle for snaps and back-end roster spots should be feisty. Edmonds profiles as the lead back to start the season, based on his contract (two years, $12.6 million, with $6.1 million guaranteed). The former Cardinal proved he could be a weapon when given the opportunity. Mostert is familiar with coach Mike McDaniel's system from their time together in San Francisco. The recent declaration by the back, who missed most of 2021 with a cartilage injury that required surgery, that he's been medically cleared answers one question. Will the backs share early down carries if all are healthy? Will Edmonds be the primary pass-catching back? Who will get the goal-line touches?  

James Washington vs. Jalen Tolbert


Michael Gallup's status for the start of the season coming off an ACL tear remains hazy at best. That means Washington and Tolbert won't just be battling for the WR3 job, but to potentially open the season opposite CeeDee Lamb in two-wideout sets. Trading Amari Cooper and losing Cedric Wilson in free agency opened up question marks about the Cowboys' depth at the position. Washington, who signed with the Cowboys after four years with the Steelers, was underutilized in Pittsburgh and could shine with an expanded role. But missing offseason workouts due to a foot injury isn't a good start. Meanwhile, Tolbert, a third-round pick, has received praise for picking things up quickly. The Cowboys will need one -- if not both -- to play a prominent role early in the season.

Christian Watson vs. Sammy Watkins vs. Allen Lazard vs. Randall Cobb vs. Amari Rodgers vs. Romeo Doubs


There is no one-for-one replacement for Davante Adams on the Packers' roster in the wake of the two-time All-Pro's trade to the Raiders. The camp question is, who steps to the forefront to earn Aaron Rodgers' trust, particularly in three-receiver sets? Watson, a second-round pick, owns the talent to hit the ground running, but Rodgers' history with rookies isn't exactly sterling. Can Watkins, who missed 10 games over the past two seasons, finally stay healthy? (UPDATE: The Packers placed Watkins on the active/non-football injury list Tuesday.) Is Lazard more than a third fiddle? Can Cobb, 31, find the fountain of youth? Will Amari Rodgers develop into a playmaker in Year 2? Is Doubs, a fourth-round pick, a wild card to earn more reps as the season progresses? Camp is where we'll be able to start to pare down the questions.

PASS CATCHERS

We know Denver has a talented wide receiver quartet in Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton, Tim Patrick and K.J. Hamler (who is recovering from a torn ACL). The question is, how will new coach Nathaniel Hackett deploy his wideouts? Will Patrick take more slot snaps this season? Will Jeudy move outside after spending the bulk of his snaps in the slot last season? Who gets the majority of the red-zone snaps? Which two are first in line when Denver goes to "12" personnel? Elsewhere in Denver, we'll keep an eye on the tight-end pecking order. Rookie Greg Dulcich took first-team reps earlier this offseason before being shut down by an injury. A good pass-catcher, the third-round pick should push Albert Okwuegbunam for TE1 duties in Russell Wilson's offense.

OFFENSIVE LINE


There are several offensive line battles going on in camps around the NFL, but the ones I'm keeping the closest eye on are in Vegas. The Raiders have big questions at guard and right tackle. Brandon Parker and Alex Leatherwood are fighting to be the starting RT; if Leatherwood, the 17th overall pick last year, doesn't win the tackle bid, he could kick inside. The guard positions are now both in question after the team placed Denzelle Good on the reserve/retired list Monday. Lester Cotton Sr., who has taken the starting snaps at right guard, will likely earn that job, now that Good has retired. At left guard, John Simpson opened camp with the 1s, but rookie Dylan Parham rotated in. The third-round pick could push for snaps at either guard spot with a sterling camp. But the battle at right tackle is the key one in Vegas this offseason. The Raiders boast an array of explosive weapons, and it'd be brutal if offensive-line struggles kept this team from fulfilling its potential.

OFF-BALL LINEBACKER

Nakobe Dean vs. T.J. Edwards vs. Kyzir White vs. Davion Taylor


The entire Eagles linebacking corps could be determined by how ready Dean is to step in and where the staff determines his best spot to be. The rookie, who fell to the Eagles in the third round of the draft amid medical concerns, worked at the middle and weak linebacker spots during spring workouts. If Dean earns reps at middle linebacker, that could push Edwards, who stabilized the spot last season. Philly could also use Dean next to Edwards even after signing White this offseason. There is no question that the Eagles' linebacking corps looks significantly upgraded on paper after years of issues. How the playing time shakes out will come down to Dean.

Follow Kevin Patra on Twitter.

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