Monday, August 15, 2022

Biggest 2022 NFL training camp battles involving rookies: Chris Carson, Zach Ertz among vets to be pushed

NFL teams often target positions in the draft to replace veterans as a cost-cutting measure. Those plans can take a few years to materialize and that leads to a healthy competition in training camp.

Not all training camp battles are created equally, however. For example, the Eagles drafted two young players (center Cam Jurgens and defensive tackle Jordan Davis) who are talented enough to earn longer looks, but the two veterans ahead of them — Jason Kelce and Fletcher Cox, respectively — have so many skins on the wall that it is difficult to envision Philadelphia not starting them. It is more likely that Cox starts and splits snaps with Davis.

Here are some upcoming training camp battles involving rookies (quarterbacks not included) that could result in the rookie starting in Week 1: 

Seahawks RB Kenneth Walker III vs. Seattle’s running backs 

Rashaad Penny has played in 10 games or less each of the past three seasons. When available, he did not look like the player who enticed the team to use a first-round selection on his talents. Chris Carson has missed 17 games over the past two seasons. Both are entering the final year on their contract. The inherent nature of the running back position is that teams often use more than one, so the starter designation is less important. However, Walker’s talent and availability should make for a swift rise up the depth chart. 

A running back competition could also play out elsewhere in the NFC West. San Francisco’s selection of Tyrion Davis-Price on Day 2 given their limited draft capital was noteworthy. It suggests the franchise values his talent and think he could be a contributor on a Super Bowl caliber roster. 

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Colts LT Bernhard Raimann vs. Matt Pryor

The Eric Fisher experiment appears to be over after an injury-shortened season. Pryor, the fourth-year veteran out of TCU, is expected to compete with the rookie from Central Michigan. Raimann was viewed by some during the pre-draft process as a first-round caliber talent. As an older prospect new to the position, let alone the game, Raimann faces a steeper learning curve coming into the league. The Austrian-born player, a former tight end, did not make the position change to the offensive line until 2020. There is no doubting the athleticism that Raimann possesses.  

If Raimann is able to supplant Pryor as the starter, Indianapolis’ entire starting offensive line will be comprised of linemen drafted by the team. 

Buccaneers LG Luke Goedeke vs. Robert Hainsey, Aaron Stinnie  

Tampa Bay’s offensive line was under construction this offseason. Ali Marpet announced his retirement while Alex Cappa opted for the rich pastures of Cincinnati. Shaq Mason was acquired in a trade with New England, but that left the other vacancy open to competition between Goedeke — a right tackle at Central Michigan projected to transition inside — as well as Hainsey, who was last year’s third-round selection, and Stinnie. 

Tampa Bay was one of a few franchises with a couple of position battles worthy of making this list. In addition to the offensive guard competition, eyes will be focused on tight ends Cade Otton and Cameron Brate. A few years ago, Brate was viewed as an expendable luxury when the team added Rob Gronkowski to play with O.J. Howard and Brate. Now, he is the elder statesman in a room that includes the fourth-round pick out of Washington. 

Commanders DT Phidarian Mathis vs. Daron Payne

Washington drafted yet another defensive lineman from Alabama and the latest selection could ultimately unseat his former teammate. Mathis was taken in the second round and will be competing with the former No. 13 overall selection. Payne is entering the final year of his rookie contract and it sounds as though the team is already bracing for his departure. 

The Commanders have already paid a hefty sum to interior defender Jonathan Allen. Edge rushers Montez Sweat and Chase Young will be eligible for extensions in the next few years as well. It is difficult to envision Washington meeting Payne’s contract demands knowing that larger entanglements are on the horizon. For those reasons, the coaching staff may be inclined to give Mathis a longer look during the regular season. 

Cardinals TE Trey McBride vs. Zach Ertz

Arizona gave Ertz a surprising contract this offseason prior to drafting the winner of the John Mackey Award, given to college football‘s best tight end. The nearly 32-year-old Ertz could be experiencing deja vu because Philadelphia previously drafted Dallas Goedert in the second round, which ultimately led him to part ways with the organization. McBride is a fairly balanced tight end who should earn favor with the coaching staff through his ability to block.

Raiders iOL Dylan Parham vs. Andre James, John Simpson, Denzelle Good

When Las Vegas drafted Parham, the assumption was that he would be playing offensive guard. However, he is being cross-trained at center thus far and could push Andre James. Whether it is competing with John Simpson and Denzelle Good at guard or James at center, it is likely that the Memphis product will lock down a starting assignment by Week 1. 

Chiefs OT Darian Kinnard vs. Lucas Niang, Andrew Wylie

Kinnard was one of the more effective offensive tackles in the SEC. Known for mauling defenders in the run game, the Kentucky product was projected to move inside at the next level. Kansas City provides an opportunity for him to compete at right tackle, however. Wylie’s past features a lot of exposure to the interior offensive line whereas Niang’s has been defined by inconsistency. His senior season at TCU was ended prematurely due to a torn hip labrum. He accepted the NFL‘s offer to opt out of his rookie season in 2020. Earning his first meaningful playing time in nearly two years, Niang made nine starts.

Honorable mention: Titans CB Roger McCreary, Patriots WR Tyquan Thornton, Giants WR Wan’Dale Robinson, 49ers EDGE Drake Jackson and Ravens OT Daniel Faalele 

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