BEARS WR: Devin Hester is the No. 1, but after that nothing is even close to certain. Earl Bennett, Rashied Davis and rookies Juaquin Iglesias and Johnny Knox enter training camp battling for the next two spots. Bennett has a nice rapport with new QB Jay Cutler dating back to their Vanderbilt days, but Davis has more experience. Iglesias comes from a powerhouse program at Oklahoma, and also returns kicks and punts, something he could end up doing in Chicago. Knox impressed coaches during OTAs and mini-camp with his hands and athleticism.
BILLS RB: Starter Marshawn Lynch will be suspended for the first three games of the regular season due to a February arrest, so Fred Jackson and Dominic Rhodes will fight for key September playing time. After that, Jackson will probably be worked into the offense regularly and steal away a few touches from Lynch.
BRONCOS RB: There are few jobs more dangerous than being a Denver running back . After using a cast of thousands last year, the team brought in free agents Correll Buckhalter, LaMont Jordan and Darius Walker to compete against first round draft pick Knowshon Moreno, the man who many consider the best running back in this year's class. Ryan Torain and P.J. Hillis are the only holdovers from last season, but Torain is still hurt and Hillis will most likely go back to his natural fullback position. While Moreno likely has the upper hand for the starting job, he still doesn't have a contract, and if he misses any time in camp, he could be in trouble for playing time early in the season. Jordan played for new coach Josh McDaniels last year in New England, so he should have a better understanding of the playbook than Buckhalter.
BRONCOS WR: While the starting wide receiver spots are set with Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal, Marshall has a few things hanging over him: a) he wants to be traded, b) he has already missed practice recovering from hip surgery and c) he may be suspended pending the outcome of an August 13 trial. Former Patriot Jabar Gaffney will compete with Brandon Stokley and Brandon Lloyd for the No. 3 job, but with the questions surrounding Marshall, one of them could be starting at some point this season.
BROWNS QB: Going into 2008, Derek Anderson had a Pro Bowl season under his belt, so while Brady Quinn may have been the fans' choice as top signal caller, it made sense for Anderson to get the nod. It's 2009 now, and the Browns may be ready to hand the franchise over to Quinn. He'll have to earn it with a strong preseason, but Quinn will be given every opportunity to do so.
BROWNS WR: While the Browns hope that Braylon Edwards bounces back from a disappointing 2008, the man some are expecting to start opposite him, Josh Cribbs, is threatening to sit out the season if he doesn't get a new contract. Cribbs is an exciting returner, but he certainly hasn't proven himself as an offensive force yet. There could be an opportunity for David Patten, Mike Furrey, Brian Robiskie, or Mohamed Massaquoi to win a starting job out of camp. Donte' Stallworth is still a name to keep in mind, but he is suspended indefinitely, and may not see the field this year.
BUCCANEERS QB: The job is Luke McCown's to lose, but he's not exactly Johnny Unitas. McCown is a career backup who is already 28; if he were going to be a star it would have happened by now. Byron Leftwich is McCown's main competition and is the only QB in camp with significant NFL experience. Rookie Josh Freeman should get some snaps this summer as well.
BUCCANEERS RB: New Buc Derrick Ward will share the load with Earnest Graham, with neither expected to emerge as “the guy,” so this isn't likely to change much in camp. Cadillac Williams, who suffered a torn ACL in December, could figure into the mix, but the injury prone back is a long shot to play a key role this season.
CARDINALS RB: With Edgerrin James finally out of the picture, Tim Hightower, Beanie Wells and Jason Wright will compete for Arizona's carries. Hightower has the early lead in this battle, but with only 2.8 yards/carry last season, he may be used only in goal-line situations once Wells proves he's ready for a full load. However, Wells missed the OTAs and hasn't yet signed, so Wright is primed to steal carries early in camp. Look for Hightower to begin the regular season as the starter, though he isn't likely to get 20+ carries a game because of the Cardinals' offensive philosophy and the fact that Wells and Wright are the picture.
CHARGERS RB: Some prognosticators have speculated Darren Sproles could see more action this year, thanks to LaDanian Tomlinson's advanced age and Sproles' nice new contract, but Coach Norv Turner expects LT to have a big year and for Sproles to make most of his contributions in the return game rather than the offense.
CHIEFS TE: Filling the shoes of future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez won't be easy, and offseason favorite Brad Cottam was unable to seize the job during OTAs, opening the door for a five-way competition in training camp. Sean Ryan and Tony Curtis are the strongest challengers to Cottam, though neither has caught more than eight passes in a season, which means even rookies Tom Crabtree and Jake O'Donnell have a shot. Of note is that Curtis worked with new coach Todd Haley in Dallas and could push Cottam with a strong camp. The Chiefs obviously won't go to their tight end as often now as they have in the past, but the winner of this competition could be worth rostering this year.
COLTS RB: The Colts named Joseph Addai their starter, but how many carries will first-round draft pick Donald Brown get? Addai was constantly banged up last year and had just 544 yards on 3.5 yards/carry, so it might be a time for a changing of the guard in Indianapolis.
COWBOYS RB: Felix Jones was a trendy fantasy pick last year, and while he averaged an unreal 8.9 yards/carry, he did it on only 30 carries and missed most of the season with a toe injury. Even without Jones breathing down his neck, Marion Barber was a big disappointment last season, and while he should still be the workhorse this year, we could eventually see a timeshare in Dallas.
COWBOYS WR: Terrell Owens is gone to Buffalo, which means there are a lot of receptions and touchdowns to be had in Big D. Roy Williams will be one half of the starting tandem, and Patrick Crayton will probably start opposite Williams. Miles Austin and Sam Hurd could also win the job with strong camps, so Crayton has some work to do.
DOLPHINS WR: The Dolphins are still not sold that Ted Ginn can be the No. 1 they're looking for. Davone Bess took over the No. 2 position after Greg Camarillo tore his ACL last season, but Camarillo is now healthy and looking to get his starting job back. Rookie Patrick Turner could also be considered, but will have a tough time cracking the top three immediately.
EAGLES WR: Despite drafting the exciting Jeremy Maclin this year, the Eagles appear set at wideout with Kevin Curtis and DeSean Jackson. Curtis, nearly recovered from an offseason hernia operation, currently sits atop the depth chart, but Jackson could turn out to be the more-productive fantasy asset. Jackson had 62 catches for 912 yards and two TDs last year, but he should find the end zone more frequently in 2009. Maclin, if he works out his contract issues soon, should be the No. 3 receiver, and if last year is any indication, the Eagles aren't shy about throwing passes to a talented rookie. Reggie Brown will fill in should Maclin fail to sign.
49ERS QB: The competition between Shaun Hill and Alex Smith is even heading into training camp. Coach Mike Singletary has been pretty vague about the timetable for when he will decide on his starter, saying "hopefully by the third preseason game.” Hill's grasp on the starting position appears to be loosening as time goes on, and if Smith continues to outplay Hill like he did in the OTAs, it wouldn't be surprising to see him overtake Hill.
49ERS WR: Based on his history and experience alone, Isaac Bruce is expected to retain his starting flanker spot over newly-acquired Brandon Jones. Rookie Michael Crabtree should eventually be the starting split end, but Josh Morgan, who showed flashes at times last season, may have a few things to say about that. Crabtree has as much upside as any young receiver in the league, but he has been dealing with a foot injury during the offseason and may not see a lot of action early in camp, particularly if he doesn't get his contract issues resolved. For now, Morgan is the starter.
GIANTS RB: Ahmad Bradshaw is the favorite to spell Brandon Jacobs, but the team drafted Andre Brown, a virtual clone of the departed Derrick Ward, to compete with him. Ward managed to rush for over a 1,000 yards backing up Jacobs last year, so there are carries to be had playing behind Jacobs.
GIANTS WR: Domenik Hixon is the team's No. 1 and Steve Smith is No.2, but that could change in camp. The Giants struggled last year with Hixon and Smith after Plaxico Burress went down, and they drafted Hakeem Nicks in the first round and Ramses Barden in the third as a result. Nicks could push Hixon, while Barden (who's as big as Burress) is likely more of a project. Mario Manningham and Sinorice Moss could also be in the mix. Smith's role as the No. 2, or at the very least a heavily used No. 3 is safe. Moss could work in the slot or on the outside should he have a strong camp.
JAGUARS WR: Torry Holt is ensconced as the Jags' top wideout, but Jacksonville has little in the way of experience behind him. Most of Jacksonville's 2008 contributors are gone: Reggie Williams and Matt Jones were unceremoniously released, TRoy Williamson may be next, and Dennis Northcutt was traded to Detroit. That leaves the No. 2 job tenuously in the hands of third-year wideout Mike Walker, but rookies Mike Thomas, Jarrett Dillard and Tiquan Underwood enter camp with lots of talent and without Walker's injury history. Expect Thomas and Dillard to push for playing time, as Thomas is blessed with 4.40 speed, and Dillard boasts some of the surest hands of the 2009 rookie class.
JETS QB: The Jets traded up to snag Mark Sanchez at fifth overall in the draft, and they weren't doing that so he can sit on the bench. Kellen Clemens may have a bit more experience, but playing behind Brett Favre last year cost him a year of development. It should be a good battle in camp, but the Jets will do everything they can to make sure Sanchez is a success…
JETS WR: ...except for giving him good receivers to work with. Jerricho Cotchery becomes the No. 1 receiver with Laveranues Coles now in Cincinnati, but there isn't much behind him. Chansi Stuckey and Brad Smith are the only other wide receivers on the roster with any experience. Even if Sanchez wins the job, it looks like he'll be handing the ball off most of the time.
LIONS QB: The smart move seems to be to go with Daunte Culpepper over No. 1 draft pick Matthew Stafford, as the Detroit offensive line has been atrocious the last several season, and the Lions can use a veteran that will be used to the pressure. For what it's worth, the Detroit media, and reportedly the coaching staff, are smitten with Stafford and think he can start come Week 1. Officially the Lions have been tight-lipped, so it wouldn't be surprising to see them drag this all the way through the preseason - and likely even beyond.
PANTHERS RB: It's not often a player with 20 touchdowns in a season ends up on lists like this, but DeAngelo Williams will feel a few footsteps from Jonathan Stewart this year. While Williams is clearly the top choice on the team, Stewart had 10 TDs of his own last year and is still just 22. If anything were to happen to Williams this year, Stewart could be a top-10 running back.
PATRIOTS RB: Things got so dire in New England last year that BenJarvis Green-Ellis started a few games, but with Fred Taylor now in town and Laurence Maroney, Kevin Faulk and Sammy Morris all healthy, Green-Ellis may struggle just to make the team. The upside plays are Taylor and Maroney simply because they both possess game-breaking ability, but until there's some clarity, and it's doubtful there will be much until injuries hit, neither is a safe fantasy pick. By season's end, there will be a must-own New England back, but it's going to take a few games (at least) for that to shake out, and don't forget that with Tom Brady back, the team will pass plenty.
RAIDERS RB: Justin Fargas is listed as the starter, but the team will undoubtedly try to get Darren McFadden more involved in both the running and receiving parts of the offense. Michael Bush will also challenge for playing time, and the Raiders will have a tough time trying to split the carries among the three. From a fantasy perspective, McFadden easily has the most upside among the three, but he'll have to win the job first.
RAIDERS WR: Javon Walker will be the team's No. 1 receiver provided he can stay healthy, but that's always a fuzzy proposition. The battle for the next few spots is very much up for grabs. Chaz Schilens is currently listed as the starter opposite Walker, but there's no guarantee Darrius Heyward-Bey doesn't beat him out with a strong training camp. Johnnie Lee Higgins and Louis Murphy will likely be the other two players to make the final roster, but the depth chart is unsettled right now.
RAMS WR: With Torry Holt now in Jacksonville, there are plenty of opportunities in St. Louis for the right receiver. Donnie Avery steps into Holt's shoes, with the battle for No. 2 between Keenan Burton, Laurent Robinson, and new acquisition Ronald Curry. Curry is the veteran, but he hasn't exactly distinguished himself so far in his career, so it's not a done deal that he'll beat out Burton or Robinson. Derrick Stanley, the club's primary return man, could also be in the mix if he's fully recovered from offseason knee surgery when camp opens.
RAVENS RB: With Willis McGahee perpetually hurt and last year's leading rusher Le'Ron McClain moving back to fullback, Ray Rice has shot to the top of the depth chart. McGahee will use training camp to prove he's healthy, and he thinks he has what it takes to beat out Rice. McClain should see a lot of goal-line carries, and Rice should improve upon his modest rookie numbers from 2008, so McGahee may not have a lot of fantasy value unless he dramatically outplays Rice in camp.
RAVENS WR: When Derrick Mason abruptly announced his retirement a few weeks ago, he left a huge hole in the Baltimore offense. Assuming the Ravens can't get Mason to return, Mark Clayton is the top receiver by default, and there's a whole lot of nothing behind him. Demetrius Williams, Marcus Smith, Yamon Figurs and Kelley Washington will duke it out for the honor of catching passes from Joe Flacco. Williams is a nice vertical threat, but he's had problems staying healthy. He clearly has the edge over the others heading into camp.
REDSKINS WR: Second-year receivers Malcolm Kelly and Devin Thomas will compete with veteran Antwaan Randle El for the privilege of starting opposite Santana Moss. Kelly and Thomas were both disappointments last season, though Kelly at least could blame his health. If neither steps up in camp, the incumbent Randle El will keep his job.
SAINTS RB: The departure of fan-favorite Deuce McAllister leaves the Saints without a proven short-yardage back, but the hope is that Pierre Thomas, who added a great deal of muscle to his legs during the offseason, can fill that void. Mike Bell might instead be used as a short-yardage back if Thomas isn't up to it. Thomas should already be the every-down back, as he passed the exciting-but-disappointing Reggie Bush on the depth chart last year. Bush will still be an important part of the passing game, but most of the carries will go to Thomas. If Thomas proves he can run around the goal-line, he could be a top-five back this year. That's a big if.
SAINTS WR: Like last year, Lance Moore, Devery Henderson and Robert Meachem enter camp competing for right to start opposite Marques Colston come fall. Moore, coming off shoulder surgery, should be full speed by Week 1. He was the Saints' go-to guy last year while Colston and Jeremy Shockey were sidelined, but due to his excellent hands and small stature, he's best suited as the team's slot receiver. Henderson, with his blazing speed and habit of dropping passes, is quite the opposite. He's a legitimate threat in the vertical passing game and was rewarded with an extension, making him the favorite to start beside Colston. Meachem is the sleeper of the group. While he's probably behind Moore and Henderson, there are a lot of targets to go around in New Orleans.
STEELERS RB: Willie Parker's starting job may not be in jeopardy, but he's in the final year of his contract, and speculation is that Rashard Mendenhall will be given plenty of touches to see how he holds up with an increased workload. Additionally, Mendenhall should get the ball around the goal line, so even if Parker wins the job as expected, Mendenhall could be a nice fantasy sleeper. For what it's worth, Parker came into spring camp in great shape ("I'm getting that speed back like I had two or three years ago") and has been working on catching the ball out of the backfield.
TITANS QB: Vince Young has publicly aired his frustration with being the backup quarterback, but after the season Kerry Collins had last year (not to mention the contract extension he received) the job is Collins' for the foreseeable future. The Titans also signed Patrick Ramsey in the offseason, who has started in the past and could conceivably battle Young for the backup spot.
VIKINGS QB: Brett Favre decided to stay retired... at least for today. That means the Vikings go into camp with the tandem of Tarvaris Jackson and Sage Rosenfels. Jackson was the starter last year, which gives him the edge over Rosenfels, but given the rather public recruitment of Favre during the offseason, it's clear that the Vikings don't love having Jackson behind center. Don't count out John David Booty yet either.
VIKINGS WR: After Bernard Berrian, the battle is wide open between Sidney Rice, Bobby Wade and first-round draft pick Percy Harvin. The rookie has the most upside, but he's already dealt with a few minor illnesses since he was drafted and hasn't yet signed. Rice, if his knee is healthy, should win the job and be a red zone threat, but Wade could slip past him with a strong camp.
Article first appeared 7/28/09