10. New York Jets’ Safeties
Candidates: LaRon Landry, Yeremiah Bell, and Eric Smith
Rundown: Believe it or not, Mark Sanchez, Tim Tebow, and Darrelle Revis are not the only players on the Jets’ roster. The safety position was easily the weakest link in the 2011 edition of Rex Ryan’s famed defense, and it was heavily addressed in the offseason. The Jets brought in both Bell and Landry this spring to compete with each other and the incumbent, Smith, for the two starting positions. Landry is the most talented, highest paid, and scariest (see photo above) of the three, but Bell is coming off a season where he was one of the only players worth mentioning on the Dolphins (107 tackles).
Prediction: Landry and Bell get the start in week one, but Smith will definitely see the field all season. Don’t be surprised to see all three on the field at once.
9. Dallas Cowboys’ 2nd Cornerback
Candidates: Morris Claiborne, Orlando Scandrick, and Mike Jenkins
Rundown: The Cowboys were also very active in adding pieces to their secondary this spring. They first signed free agent cornerback Brandon Carr to a big deal, and then traded up in the draft to snag Claiborne with the sixth pick. In a division with so much talent at wide receiver, one lock down corner is not enough. Carr will definitely be starting, but Claiborne, Scandrick, and Jenkins are left to battle for the second spot. Jenkins was solid two seasons ago, but he and Scandrick both battled injury and poor play in 2011.
Prediction: I’ll be very surprised if Claiborne isn’t the starter week one. It’s the Cowboys, they’re flashy, and the super talented rookie will be on the field. We’ll see how he fares opening night against the New York Giants Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz.
8. Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Starting Running Back
Candidates: LeGarrette Blount and Doug Martin
Rundown: We have all seen Blount’s punishing runs and right hooks. He is an extremely talented running back with a massive upside. The problem is that he has had some off the field problems, accompanied by some issues holding on to the rock last season. Martin is one of the Bucs’ two first round draft picks. He is an all-purpose back that probably has better hands than Blount out of the backfield, and immediately drew comparison to Ray Rice after being picked by former Rutgers coach, Greg Schiano.
Prediction: The Bucs have two solid options here, and the truth is that Blount and Martin will likely split carries all season long. However, I see Blount getting the nod, at least on opening day.
7. Miami Dolphins’ Quarterback
Candidates: David Garrard, Matt Moore, and Ryan Tannehill
Rundown: Word on the street is that this is Tannehill’s job in the future, but he will not be starting this year. What better way to begin a guy’s career than by having him learn from David Garrard and Matt Moore? Good luck, Ryan, but at least you still have your hot wife to go home to. So between Garrard’s experience and Pro Bowl past, and Moore’s mediocrity and few bright spots in 2011, Miami is left with two pretty sh*tty options at QB.
Prediction: Sorry if I’m being harsh on the Dolphins, but they’re one of my early picks to be the worst team in the league this season. This one is tough because while I personally would go with Moore, signing Garrard this offseason would be a total waste of money if he doesn’t play. For that reason alone I’ll go with Garrard.
Good for you, Ryan.
6. Atlanta Falcons’ Cornerbacks
Candidates: Brent Grimes, Asante Samuel, and Dunta Robinson
Rundown: This one is not as much of a battle as it is a question of what to do with a lot of talent in the Atlanta secondary. Grimes has emerged as the top corner on the Falcons and one of the top corners in the NFL. He’ll be starting. Samuel’s style of play did not fit in Philadelphia, allowing the Falcons to get him for pretty cheap. Even though his level of play is not where it used to be, there is no question that he can improve a defense. As for Dunta Robinson, just ask DeSean Jackson.
Prediction: Grimes and Samuel will be the starters for Atlanta against the Chiefs in week one, but Robinson is too talented to be left on the sideline. I see the Falcons using a nickel set a lot this season, with all three corners on the field.
5. New England Patriots’ Center
Candidates: Dan Koppen and Dan Connolly
Rundown: Tom Brady had been feeling up Dan Koppen’s butt for 8 seasons before the center went down with an injury in week one last season. Connolly stepped in immediately and was the guy that snapped the Pats to a Super Bowl loss. Both guys were free agents this spring, and surprisingly both were signed to multi-year deals. Connolly is the more versatile of the two as he can play both center and guard.
Prediction: This will come down to whomever Brady is more comfortable with, but I don’t see the Pats paying Koppen $3 million the next two years to be a back-up center. I think the veteran gets the nod week one. This leaves Connolly to fill in wherever he’s needed, and eventually take over as the long-term center.
4. San Francisco 49ers’ Skill Positions
RB- Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter, Brandon Jacobs, and LaMichael James
WR- Randy Moss, Michael Crabtree, Mario Manningham, A.J. Jenkins, and Kyle Williams
Rundown: The Niners are one of the popular Super Bowl picks early on. We already knew about their filthy defense, and now with all the offensive talent they brought in, it’s all up to Alex Smith. At running back Gore is the obvious number one, but from there anything could happen. Even though Hunter, last year’s fourth round draft pick, tallied almost 500 yards as a rookie, the team signed Jacobs then selected Oregon speedster James in the second round.
A go-to wide receiver was the one thing San Fran lacked in 2011. They decided to address that by trying to revive Randy Moss’ career, signing Super Bowl hero Manningham, and drafting Jenkins in the first round of the draft. With the beast that is Vernon Davis already out there, nobody can say Smith does not have enough targets this year.
Prediction: I have no clue how Jim Harbaugh plans on getting all of these guys the ball, but I’ll give it a shot. Besides Gore, I see Hunter getting the majority of the carries, then James, then Jacobs. I don’t believe any 49er receiver will exceed 75 receptions this year (Davis may). Manningham, Moss, and Crabtree will lead the way, with Jenkins getting his fair share of action, and Williams being the odd man out.
3. Arizona Cardinals’ Quarterback
Candidates: Kevin Kolb and John Skelton
Rundown: This is the best classic, 1-on-1 quarterback battle of the summer. Kolb is the guy that’s making the money, but Skelton is the guy that led the team in 6 of their 8 wins last season. Kolb has slightly better numbers, but Skelton may have the better skill set, and again, he won more games. The Cardinals are a team with talent everywhere, but are in desperate need of a franchise quarterback. Remember, they went to the Super Bowl a few years back with Kurt Warner, who wasn’t exactly the future.
Prediction: The Cardinals either have to believe that Kolb is the guy they paid for, or swallow their pride and give the team its best chance to win. They should just let Larry Fitzgerald decide in all honesty, but I think it’s Kolb week one.
2. Seattle Seahawks’ Quarterback
Candidates: Matt Flynn, Tavaris Jackson, Russell Wilson
Rundown: Jackson is the incumbent and has shown he can be a productive NFL quarterback, but this is Flynn’s job to lose. A similar story to Kevin Kolb in that he was signed after only a couple starts in Green Bay, Flynn’s lack of game experience is made up for by his disgusting week 17 performance in 2011 and his four-year apprenticeship under Aaron Rogers. Russell Wilson is looking good in camp so far, but I can’t think Pete Carroll would actually start him over the other two guys.
Prediction: The free agent moneymaker will beat out the incumbent and the rookie to be the Seahawks’ signal caller in September.
1. New York Jets’ Quarterback
Candidates: Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow
Rundown: This is almost too cliché to have as the number one battle but it is exactly that, so sorry. Mark Sanchez recently sat down with us and he really is a cool guy, but there is no denying he is going to face an absolute firestorm of media attention at camp. Whether the defense led the way or not, he has taken the Jets to two AFC Championship games already, and has shown at times that he can be a very good NFL quarterback. The problem is that too many times he has shown he may not be a very good QB at all. When Tim Tebow is brought in to “back you up,” the mistakes only get magnified. Every single throw is going to be looked at, and Sanchez will be working hard to keep his starting job.
Prediction: Sanchez will keep his job through training camp, as the Jets will continue to try to make us believe that Tebow will be playing other positions than quarterback. That being said, Tebow will only be praying for interceptions until around week 5 or 6, when he gets plugged in as the starter.
Other Battles Worth Mentioning:
- Matt Hasselbeck vs. Jake Locker for the Titans' Quarterback job
- Brandon Weeden vs. Colt McCoy for the Browns' Quarterback job
- Chad Henne vs. Blaine Gabbert for the Jaguars' Quarterback job