Brandon Marshall will slot nicely into that No. 1 receiver spot, but after that, Chicago doesn't really know its main options. Johnny Knox may end up missing the entire season after undergoing back surgery over the offseason. That most likely leaves Earl Bennett, who the Bears just extended, to fight for that No. 2 spot at receiver. However, if he doesn't impress, Devin Hester, Eric Weems, and Alshon Jeffrey, a stud at South Carolina who Chicago took in the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft, could move in and end up getting time either on the outside or in the slot.
Mohamed Sanu, Marvin Jones, Jordan Shipley and Andrew Hawkins will fight for the two receiving spots behind A.J. Green, who's coming off an impressive rookie season. Drafted two rounds earlier, Sanu might have the advantage over fifth-round pick Jones entering camp. Hawkins is a second-year receiver, who pulled in 23 receptions from Andy Dalton last season. Shipley is recovering from a torn ACL and works best out of the slot. His chances of becoming a No. 2 receiver on the outside are slim-to-none, but he could end up fitting in nicely as a receiver on the inside.
Willis McGahee is the clear-cut No. 1 running back for the Broncos entering 2012. However, his backup is still a question. Knowshon Moreno was a 2009 first-round pick, who missed the final nine games of last season after tearing his ACL. With three disappointing Moreno years in the books, Denver selected Ronnie Hillman in the third round of this year's draft. Hillman is a small, shifty runner who elicits comparisons to Darren Sproles. In his two years on the field at San Diego State, the 5-foot-9 back totaled 3,243 rushing yards and 36 touchdowns. If Moreno's comeback is delayed, Hillman should take over the No. 2 running spot by default. If not, he could still end up winning the spot from Moreno on merit.
Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker have the No. 1 and No. 2 spots to themselves in 2012 after strong 2011 campaigns, but the third spot is relatively open. Denver signed Andre Caldwell away from the Bengals this offseason, which might give him an edge. Brandon Stokley was a Bronco a few years ago, and, most important, he was a Colt before that. His best seasons came with Peyton Manning behind center, including his career-best 2004 in which he was one of three Colt receivers to rack up more than 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns. Matt Willis hasn't played much in his time in the NFL, but showed last season that he can be a big-play threat (three receptions for more than 20 yards in only 18 total catches). Assuming Manning is healthy and not rusty from a year off, whoever lands the No. 3 WR job could be in line for regular production.
Neither Joel Dreessen (Texans) nor Jacob Tamme (Colts) was in Denver last year, but both could be legitimate contributors to this year's club. Dreessen is dangerous in the red zone, as he totaled six touchdowns on only 28 catches in 2011. Tamme played with Peyton Manning in Indianapolis and had his best season in 2010 with a career-high 67 receptions and four touchdowns. Dreessen and Tamme both possess different skill sets and could be used in different situations. It's possible that Denver often goes with a two tight-end set and uses Dreessen and Tamme together. In a one tight-end set, however, Tamme might have the advantage going into training camp if only because he already has that established chemistry with Manning.
Colt McCoy is entering his third year in the league. Brandon Weeden is the rookie. Usually that means Weeden takes the back seat and learns from McCoy, except in this case, the rookie is three years older than the incumbent. Weeden knows life as an athlete outside of college; he was a minor league baseball player for five years. The rookie from Oklahoma State now has a chance to displace McCoy as the Browns starting quarterback. The real question here is not if Weeden will start, but when will he take over. Weeden might not start in Week 1, but when you take a 28-year-old in the first round, you better hope he is nearly NFL-ready. Once Weeden starts to grasp NFL life, the job will be his - the only thing the Browns need to figure out is how long that will take.
Josh Cribbs had a career year as a receiver in 2011, but he might not see a heavy load of plays considering he is also the kickoff and punt returner. That would leave the No. 3 receiver spot to either second-year receiver Jordan Norwood or the rookie from Miami, Travis Benjamin. Both receivers are undersized but quick and could fit nicely into the slot role. The Browns also have to pick a quarterback. Once Cleveland actually establishes its starter, it might have a better idea of which of receiver will work best as the third WR.
LeGarrette Blount isn't a Pro Bowler, but he's put up respectable numbers his first two seasons in the league. Yet, despite that, and having more pressing needs, the Buccaneers traded up to pick Doug Martin out of Boise State in the first round of this year's draft. The two backs complement each other well. Blount is a burley 6-0, 247-pound monster, while Martin is a shifty, 5-9 back better at going around defenders than through them. Tampa has yet to announce a plan for its running-back tandem, though a thunder-and-lightning platoon looks likely.
A year after trading for Kevin Kolb and then handing him a contract with $20 million guaranteed, the Cardinals are wondering if they didn't have the right guy on their team all along: John Skelton. While neither quarterback blew away the competition last year, Kolb's 9:8 touchdown-interception ratio was an improvement on Skelton's 11:14 ratio. Kolb seemed to own the better numbers in most other passing categories, as well. However, Skelton had the stat that mattered most to coach Ken Whisenhunt: 5-2 as a starter. Skelton will have a chance to win the starting job entering 2012, so Arizona isn't being stubborn about that Kolb deal, which already looks like one they might regret.
Chris Wells finally had his breakout season in his third year in the league with Arizona. The Cardinal running back ran for 1,047 yards and 10 touchdowns, both career highs, in only 14 games in 2011. Arizona, however, is high on Ryan Williams, its 2011 second-round pick. Williams missed the entirety of his rookie season after rupturing the patellar tendon in his right knee in preseason. If Wells shows up looking more like he did in his first two years in the league, Williams has a chance to take the starting spot from him. If not, Wells probably begins the season at No. 1 on the depth chart with Williams getting a chance to exhibit his skills in more of a third-down role.
After Pro Bowler Larry Fitzgerald there is a serious logjam at receiver in Arizona. The rookie Michael Floyd, whom the Cardinals took with the 13th overall pick in April's draft, is the favorite to earn the spot as the No. 2 receiver. Floyd works well on the outside and has the speed, size and hands to fit well into that role. After Floyd, Early Doucet and Andre Roberts will fight for the role in the slot. Doucet played 16 games for the first time in his career last years after missing 22 games in his first three NFL seasons. Roberts, who is two years younger than Doucet, had slightly worse numbers than his injury-riddled teammate in 2011, but could stand to make a bigger leap in 2012, as last year was really the first time in his career that he managed to get consistent playing time throughout the season. Both Doucet and Roberts fit better into the slot than Floyd, who figures to work better on the outside; so it seems as if that third-receiver spot will come down to those two.
Joseph Addai now in New England, Donald Brown and Delone Carter will compete to be the lead back for the Colts. This might be Brown's best chance to start since joining the Colts in 2009. Although he only carried the ball 134 times last season, he averaged 4.8 yards per carry and scored five touchdowns. And Carter's 5-9, 225, frame might make him a better option as a third-down and short-yardage back. This spot should be Brown's, but Carter will have the opportunity to win the job in training camp.
The Dolphins enter camp with a three-way battle for the starting quarterback job. Matt Moore looks like nothing more than backup, though the Dolphins actually played well with him at the helm down the stretch last season, winning six of their final nine games. David Garrard has been a Pro Bowler, but sat out last season after he was released by the Jaguars. Then there's Ryan Tannehill, the eighth overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. Newly hired offensive coordinator Mike Sherman was Tannehill's coach at Texas A&M, so perhaps that gives him an advantage. Most likely, the Dolphins will sit Tannehill for the 2012 season and let him learn from Moore and Garrard. It won't be surprising, though, if Tannehill gets a chance to start if/when both Moore and Garrard struggle during the season.
Reggie Bush is the starter, but the No. 2 spot, which has more potential fantasy value than most backup jobs because of the ongoing health concerns of Bush, is up for grabs. Daniel Thomas saw 165 carries last season as a rookie but failed to score. He reportedly added muscle mass this offseason, mainly in his upper body, hoping that extra strength will carry into the regular season. He will compete with Lamar Miller and Steve Slaton, two runners with completely different pedigrees. Slaton was a superb rookie with the Texans in 2008, totaling 1,282 rushing yards, 50 receptions and 10 touchdowns. Miller, a rookie out of Miami, could actually be used as a receiver in the slot. If he has a strong training camp, the No. 2 spot on the depth chart might be his to lose.
Yes, Brian Hartline, Davone Bess, Legedu Naanee or Clyde Gates is going to be a No. 1 receiver for an NFL team in 2012. You can thank the Brandon Marshall trade for that one. Bess' 51 receptions and Hartline's 549 yards lead all returning Dolphin receivers. Gates is coming off a rookie season in which the only thing he seemed to receive was no playing time. Meanwhile, Miami signed Naanee, Cam Newton's No. 2 receiver last season, away from Carolina. He has shown the ability to be a deep threat at times, but probably isn't going to do much more than that, and for someone with that style of play, only four career touchdowns isn't promising. Whoever becomes the No. 1 target doesn't figure to have much fantasy value, especially considering the quarterback situation in Miami.
Frank Gore's injury history makes the backup job in San Francisco worth paying attention to. Free-agent acquisition Brandon Jacobs has the best chance for fantasy value as he could be used as the goal-line back even if Gore stays healthy. Second-year back Kendall Hunter likely is next in line, though at this point he looks like the change-of-pace back. Second-round pick LaMichael James had a hugely productive college career at Oregon, but his opportunities might be limited to the return game. Third-year player Anthony Dixon is also in the mix. Jacobs looks like the safe pick for Gore's backup entering camp.
When the Giants took David Wilson in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft after releasing Brandon Jacobs, it seemed like Wilson would most likely be the immediate backup to starting running back Ahmad Bradshaw. However, coach Tom Coughlin has a propensity to ease his rookies into the NFL, as opposed to simply giving them big roles right off the bat. While Wilson is probably the favorite to win the second spot on the depth chart, Da'Rel Scott or Danny Ware could end up giving him a run for his money with a good preseason.
The Giants are suddenly looking a little thin at receiver. Mario Manningham left for San Francisco, and Hakeem Nicks broke his foot in an offseason workout. Nicks is questionable for training camp, but if his injury lingers, whoever wins the third spot becomes Eli Manning's No. 2 target to start the season. Domenik Hixon has the most experience of the contenders, but he's had injury problems of his own in his short career. Because of that, Ramses Barden, Jerrel Jernigan or Rueben Randle might be able to move into the third spot. Jernigan did nothing in his rookie season, but some still project him as a potential slot receiver. Meanwhile Randle, the Giants' second-round pick in 2012, is considered to be an NFL-ready receiver. Watch the battle in training camp because the position could emerge with decent fantasy value depending on Nicks' health.
The Jags renovated their receiving corps in the offseason, drafting Oklahoma State Cowboy Justin Blackmon with the fifth overall pick and signing free agents Laurent Robinson and Lee Evans. Robinson and Blackmon will probably be Nos. 1 and 2 on the depth chart, which leaves the third spot open to competition for the new guy, Evans, and the incumbent, Mike Thomas. Evans is coming off a four-reception year in nine games, so he doesn't seem to be a large threat to Thomas, the leading returner receiver who already has a rapport with quarterback Blaine Gabbert.
This isn't a battle in the traditional sense, as Mark Sanchez is the starter, but Tim Tebow could take snaps away from Sanchez at the goal line and in the wildcat. That could impact Sanchez's fantasy value. The Jets initial plan is to play Tebow 20 snaps a game in the wildcat. That's a significant loss for Sanchez. Watch Tebow's use in training camp, and adjust Sanchez accordingly.
With LaDainian Tomlinson gone, Joe McKnight seems next in line to inherit the No. 2 running back spot behind Shonn Greene. McKnight has little competition for the job. Bilal Powell barely saw the field in his 2011 rookie season, and Terrance Ganaway, New York's 2012 sixth-round pick out of Baylor, will have to fight to make the roster.
The fight to start at running back in Detroit might just be decided by who is left standing come Week 1 of the regular season. The battle of injury-ridden backs pits Jahvid Best against Mikel Leshoure, both of whom are expected to be healthy after seeing their seasons end last year to injury. After a strong start last year in six games before his injury, Best holds the advantage entering training camp. But he's no lock, and Leshoure might be able to steal some carries, or the job, if he proves healthy and effective.
The battle for the No. 2 receiver role could have sizable fantasy value in one of the NFL's strongest passing attacks. Nate Burleson has been a consistent, possession receiver and is coming off a season of respectable numbers (73 receptions, 757 yards). Titus Young is probably the better big-play threat. On top of that, he has what his name implies – youth – while Burleson is a brittle veteran of 10 years. It wouldn't be surprising if Matthew Stafford prefers the young receiver with upside.
James Starks is already the guaranteed starting running back, but considering he only had 133 carries last year in a platoon with Ryan Grant, he doesn't have a strong a hold on that starting spot. With Grant gone, Brandon Saine and Alex Green will be waiting in the wings to fill that hole. Not a traditional lead back, Starks will need to be spelled and that means more time for Saine or Green. Similarly-sized with comparable quickness, Green may actually hold the advantage over Saine because he is more of a receiving weapon out of the backfield. However, this battle remains wide open heading into training camp.
As Cam Newton looks to build on his impressive rookie campaign, he must figure out who exactly he'll throw to, other than Steve Smith. David Gettis and Brandon LaFell are young, tall receivers who are big-play threats, especially LaFell, who averaged 17 yards a catch in 2011. With the departure of Legedu Naanee, whichever of these two does not in the No. 2 spot will still see the field plenty. Fourth-round pick Joe Adams likely will figure into the competition as well.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis' departure leaves a hole to fill in the Patrios backfield, though the the team has suggested it might lean toward role-specific jobs for each of its running backs. In any event, Danny Woodhead, Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen and Joseph Addai figure to be in the mix, unless someone separates himself. Woodhead likely will continue his change-of-pace role. Addai has twice rushed for more than 1,000 yards in a season, though he's battled injuries the last couple years. Ridley played 16 games last season to Vereen's five. If the Patriots lean on one back, that probably favors Addai, who has the most experience. But the job figures to be a committee. However, the runner who wins the goal-line work could have fantasy value – Green-Ellis had 11 touchdowns last season.
The Raiders might miss Michael Bush more than they thought. Mike Goodson, Taiwan Jones and Lonyae Miller combined for 16 carries in 2011, all coming from Jones. Goodson didn't see the field last year after being hampered by nagging injuries the whole season, but he was a legitimate contributor in Carolina in 2010. Miller, a 2011 undrafted free agent, spent his rookie season in Dallas and also didn't see the field. This backup spot could cause some serious issues in Oakland as starter Darren McFadden has shown a propensity to get hurt, missing 19 games in his first four NFL seasons. That means the winner of this competition could end up seeing more time as a starter than the average backup. Goodson is the favorite heading into camp, but he's far from certain.
Injuries dominated the Rams' wideout ranks last season. The good news is the depth-chart hierarchy is up for grabs, especially with the departure of Brandon Lloyd to New England. The Rams drafted Brian Quick in the second round, and he'll get a shot at one of the top two receiver spots. Danny Amendola missed most of least season with an injury, but he figures to be in the starting conversation, as does Brandon Gibson, the leading returning WR. Steve Smith, Danario Alexander, Greg Salas and fourth-round pick Chris Givens are also in the mix. The Rams should be improved offensively in 2012, as it can't get much worse than last season, and Sam Bradford has passing skills. So, however the receiving log jam shakes out, there could be fantasy value here.
The Redskins signed Pierre Garcon as the No. 1 receiver, but that leaves a fight for the No. 2 spot. Santana Moss is the veteran of this group, but struggled last season and is not guaranteed a starting spot heading into 2012. If he does lose that No. 2 receiver position, it could be to Josh Morgan, who spent the last four years in San Francisco. Second-year receiver Leonard Hankerson and third-year receiver Anthony Armstrong will also be given chances to win a starting role. Armstrong had only seven receptions in 14 games last year, but put together a strong rookie season, showing off his big-play ability with a 19.8 yards per catch average on 44 receptions. Hankerson is a bigger, more physical receiver, who played in only four games as a rookie, but finished on a strong note, ending his season with an eight-catch, 106-yard game at Miami.
Seattle's three-way quarterback battle could end up be a battle in name only as the team didn't sign Matt Flynn to a $19.5 million contract to hold a clipboard. But coach Pete Carroll loves competition, so Flynn will have to win the job from incumbent Tarvaris Jackson and rookie third-round pick Russell Wilson. Unless he falls flat Flynn should win the job with Jackson kept on in case of injury and Wilson in a learning role as the third quarterback.
Rashard Mendenhall tore his ACL in Week 17 last season and isn't expected back for the start of 2012. That makes Isaac Redman the starting running back. Redman has the most experience of any of the contenders to replace Mendenhall and performed well in last season's playoff game at Denver when he rushed for 121 yards on 17 carries in place of Mendenhall. Jonathan Dwyer showed promise in an October game in Tennessee (11 carries, 107 yards), but only had five carries the rest of the season. The rest of the position is filled with college stars, Wisconsin's John Clay and Florida's Chris Rainey. Both likely will add depth, unless injuries hit. Redman could get a heavy workload while Mendenhall is out.
It's the everlasting question: Do you try to build on a 9-7 season in which you just missed clinching a playoff birth or do you scrap that and build for the future. The Titans are somewhat stuck in no-man's land, trending somewhere between the realm of contender and cellar-dweller. Matt Hasselbeck actually had a solid season in 2011 (3,571 yards, 18 touchdowns), but Jake Locker was the team's first-round pick only a year ago and performed well in limited time last season (four touchdowns, zero picks). The Titans plan to take their time making a decision, waiting for one to emerge in camp.
Jerome Simpson's suspension opens the door for a receiver to climb the depth chart. After Percy Harvin, the WR depth chart looks fluid. Simpson could be overtaken if either Michael Jenkins, Devin Aromashodu or Greg Childs has a big first three games while Simpson is out. Jenkins was the team's second-leading receiver last season behind Harvin. Childs, who spent the last two seasons battling injuries at University of Arkansas, was Minnesota's fourth-round pick in April's draft. His 34-inch wingspan and 4.55 40-time at the combine showed he might be fully recovered.