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Depth Chart Watch: Key Job Battles Around the League

Chris Liss

Chris Liss

Chris Liss is RotoWire's Managing Editor and Host of RotoWIre Fantasy Sports Today on Sirius XM radio.

NFL Job Battles - A look at the key roles up for grabs around the league.

Patriots WR - Danny Amendola should see 140-plus targets so long as he's healthy, and the running backs and tight ends (pending Rob Gronkowski's return) should see another 200. That still leaves 200-250 targets from an all-time great QB up for grabs among the remaining receivers. Second-round rookie Aaron Dobson has the size and speed to produce should he earn half of those targets. Other candidates include Josh Boyce, Kenbrell Thompkins, Michael Jenkins, Julian Edelman and Kamar Aiken.

Jets RB - Chris Ivory is the favorite for now, but he's battling a hamstring injury and has struggled to stay on the field his entire career. He's a powerful downhill runner, but not much of a threat in the passing game. Mike Goodson has been an effective runner for the Panthers and Raiders and can make plays out of the backfield through the air, but is not in camp due to weapons and drug charges stemming from a traffic stop in May. Bilal Powell, who was serviceable down the stretch last year, is getting more reps with the first-team as a result.

Jets WR - The ostensible No. 1, Santonio Holmes, is still struggling to come back from a serious foot injury, and it's unclear if or when he'll be ready to play. Athletic freak Stephen Hill should start on the outside, but keep in mind after a good Week 1, Hill battled injuries and otherwise did nothing all last year. Jeremy Kerley was an effective slot option last year, but is neither big nor fast and has very little upside. Newly signed Braylon Edwards has size and speed but is now 30 and hasn't been relevant since 2010.

Jets QB - Rookie Geno Smith and Mark Sanchez will compete to start in Week 1. It's almost certain Sanchez will give way to Smith at some point even if Sanchez does prevail in the preseason. Smith has more upside in any event, given his mobility.

Colts No. 2 WR - Darrius Heyward-Bey and T.Y. Hilton are battling to start opposite Reggie Wayne in what could be one of the league's top passing offenses. Heyward-Bey sprained his knee Sunday, and if it's serious that will resolve the competition, but otherwise the two are likely to compete for downfield targets all season long. It might not even matter who's officially named the No. 2 as both figure to be on the field often if healthy.

Jaguars QB - Blaine Gabbert is returning from an early-camp ankle injury and competing with Chad Henne for the top job. Henne was the better option last year, but Gabbert was the former first-round pick who still has room to grow on a rebuilding Jaguars team.

Broncos RB - As of August 4th, last year's second-round pick Ronnie Hillman is running with the first team, ahead of this year's second-round pick (and presumed starter Montee Ball), who's listed as second on the depth chart, and last year's late-season starter Knowshon Moreno. Hillman is fast and an able receiver out of the backfield, but the team trusted the more plodding Moreno ahead of him last year in pass protection. Ball is the most rugged between-the-tackles option of the three and should have every chance to win the job if he shows himself competent in blitz pickup. The bottom line, this is Peyton Manning's team, so pass protection is a prerequisite for the job. If more than one back can handle that aspect, then it'll go to the best runner, likely Ball.

Giants RB - Expect a roughly equal split early on, with Andre Brown getting the short-yardage and goal-line work. Of course, Brown has been injured often during his short career, and Wilson's athletic and fast enough to win a bigger share of the job for himself as training camp and the season go on. But Brown actually averaged more yards per carry (5.3) last year than Wilson (5.0), displayed better ball security and was more trusted in pass protection.

Eagles No. 2 WR - With Jeremy Maclin out for the year, Arrelious Benn and Riley Cooper are the likely front runners to start opposite DeSean Jackson in Chip Kelly's fast-paced offense. Both have size and speed, though Benn's been injury prone and Cooper is currently away from the team after being caught on tape using a racial slur. Damaris Johnson (5-8, 170) is also in the mix, but is probably too small especially given Jackson's lack of size (5-10, 175), and the sluggish Jason Avant is better suited as a passing-down possession option than a starter.

Eagles QB - Michael Vick is probably the front runner given his experience and ability to excel on running plays, but Nick Foles is also getting first-team snaps and is probably more accurate on mid-range throws, a hallmark of new coach Chip Kelly's offenses.

Packers RB - James Starks sits atop the depth chart for now, but it's hard to see that remaining the case given his injury history and track record of mediocrity, especially when the team used two picks on running backs. Second-round rookie Eddie Lacy was photographed from an unflattering angle recently, adding to speculation he showed up to camp out of shape, but Lacy looked effective in the team's recent scrimmage and is the likely frontrunner for the job. Fourth-round rookie Johnathan Franklin is the team's most versatile back and holdovers Alex Green and DuJuan Harris (out with a knee injury) are long shots.

Lions No. 2 WR - Nate Burleson (foot) is ostensibly No. 2 on the depth chart, but Ryan Broyles (knee) is a far better receiver at this stage, but is himself coming back from a torn ACL. The Lions threw the ball more than any team in league history last year, so there are a lot of single-coverage targets to go around even after you subtract Calvin Johnson's 175 double coverage ones.

Rams RB - Daryl Richardson beat out speedster Isaiah Pead last year, and all that's changed is Pead was suspended for Week 1 for substance abuse. Bruising rookie Zac Stacy (5-8, 216) is also in the mix and could emerge as the preferred option in short-yardage and goal-line situations.

Rams WR - No. 8 overall pick Tavon Austin could lead the team in targets, but he's going to be active in the return game and could fill more of an all-purpose role, with carries, short catches from the slot and some action on the outside. Speedster Chris Givens, who had a strong rookie year, should continue to run deep routes and has upside in Year 2 should his role grow. Austin Pettis could start opposite Givens, if he can hold off last year's disappointing second-round pick, Brian Quick. Newly-signed tight end Jared Cook is likely to siphon some targets away from this group, however.

49ers No. 2 RB - LaMichael James is the most explosive back on the team, and he added 10 pounds of muscle to boost his effectiveness between the tackles. Kendall Hunter is also in the mix, but coming off a torn Achilles' tendon, and it's unclear whether he'll be ready for Week 1.

Seahawks WR - With Percy Harvin out for the year, Sidney Rice should be the team's No. 1, but Rice himself has an extensive injury history, and despite his playing all 16 games last year, his knee bothered him enough this summer that he went to Switzerland for treatment last week. After Rice, Golden Tate - who was an effective big-play threat last year - would likely be Russell Wilson's top target, and Doug Baldwin, who had a disappointing and injury-riddled sophomore season, could also have a bigger role. Tight end Zach Miller, who broke out last year's playoffs, could be a significant factor too, provided he gets over his current foot injury.