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Preseason Job Battles: Who will Move Up the Depth Charts?

Kenn Ruby

Kenn has been writing and editing for RotoWire since 2003. Though he attended Northwestern with the co-founders of RotoWire, he is not considered a made member of the RotoWire Northwestern mafia, as he can't trace back all of his ancestors to Dan Okrent.

With training camps starting up soon, here's a look at some of the job battles we'll be watching:

After Matt Forte struggled to match the success of his rookie campaign last season, the Bears brought in Chester Taylor during the offseason to help the rushing attack. New offensive coordinator Mike Martz has stated that Taylor and Forte will be the team's "two starters" who will "share duties" this season. At this point, it's tough to determine how touches will be apportioned among them, though both will see significant action.

The Bears will go into battle in 2010 with the same leading quartet of receivers they had last year: Devin Hester, Johnny Knox, Devin Aromashodu and Earl Bennett. Hester and Knox are the leaders for starting jobs, though Hester could be used as more of a slot receiver if Aromashodu gets into the starting lineup. He was the best receiver in Chicago down the stretch last season, recording 22 catches for 282 yards and four touchdowns in the team's last four games. This time last year, much was made of Bennett's supposed Vanderbilt connection with Jay Cutler. Given that Cutler struggled throughout the year, Bennett never totally got the chance to shine. If Cutler regains his form, he might bring Bennett along with him.

With a new offense and new coaching staff in Buffalo, anyone can win the three-way battle as top signal caller. Trent Edwards has the most experience and is probably the leader, but a strong camp from Brian Brohm or Ryan Fitzpatrick could change all that.

Fred Jackson is the incumbent, and with more than 2,500 all-purpose yards in 2009, he'll be tough to unseat, but there's plenty of competition. Marshawn Lynch (the problem child with the world of talent) and C.J. Spiller (the No. 1 back in the draft with unlimited potential) could make the Buffalo backfield frustrating from a fantasy perspective, and the three backs could all cancel each other out. It's likely, however, that Lynch gets dealt this summer, which will clear things up nicely.

Kyle Orton was named the starter heading into camp, but the Broncos will give plenty of looks to Brady Quinn and Tim Tebow. Tebow is a long shot, but Quinn will have every opportunity to win the job. This should be a tight battle through training camp.

Eddie Royal was awful last season, but with Brandon Marshall gone, he may be the top dog in Denver this year. He'll compete with Jabar Gaffney and Demaryius Thomas for starting jobs, with Brandon Stokley, Eric Decker and Brandon Lloyd on hand farther down the depth chart. First-round pick Thomas appears to be recovered from the foot injury he suffered in February.

Coach Eric Mangini likes the idea of using Jake Delhomme as more of a pocket passer and Seneca Wallace as a scrambler to give some different looks on the offensive side. It's unclear at this point how often they plan on mixing up the two, but safe to say, health-permitting, Delhomme will take the bulk of the snaps in 2010. Fans likely will clamor for Colt McCoy, but he's not quite ready yet.

Cleveland drafted Montario Hardesty in the second round this year, which probably means the Browns are ready to give him the ball. Hardesty already appears to be ahead of James Davis on the depth chart, and it's possible he can even pass incumbent Jerome Harrison as well. Harrison exploded down the stretch last season – including a 286-yard game – and he can catch the ball too, but he's probably not a long-term option as an every-down back.

While Mohamed Massaquoi is the top wide receiver on the roster, he may be the worst No. 1 receiver in the league, catching just 36 percent of his targets last year. Josh Cribbs, Chansi Stuckey and Brian Robiskie will compete for playing time, with all being given a chance to emerge.

Seemingly every year the Bucs audition a cast of thousands for their receiving roles, and this year is no different. However, the Bucs went after two big-time college receivers early in the draft – Illinois' Arrelious Benn and Syracuse's Mike Williams – and the talented receivers could both end up starting this year. Veteran Reggie Brown or second-year man Sammie Stroughter could leapfrog one or the other, while Michael Clayton, who started 11 games for Tampa Bay last year, will struggle to even make the team. Maurice Stovall is also in the mix to start. Stroughter, with size, quickness, and hands, seems ideally-suited for the slot, so although his job with the team is safe, he's not as likely to start.

Tim Hightower heads to camp atop the depth chart, just like he was most of last season, but Chris Wells could overtake him as the featured back. This could be significant, as the Cardinals shift to a more balanced offense this year with Kurt Warner retiring and Anquan Boldin in Baltimore. Regardless of whether he starts or comes off the bench, Hightower proved last year that he can catch a pass or two (or 63), so he should remain valuable.

LaDainian Tomlinson is gone to the Jets, but Darren Sproles isn't getting promoted to L.T.'s old starting job. The Chargers like having him as a change-of-pace back, so they went with Ryan Mathews out of Fresno State in the first round of the draft. Mathews is expected to hold the starting job this year, provided he can hack it during the preseason.

It's looking more and more like Vincent Jackson will miss a big chunk of the season holding out after his three-game suspension ends, so Malcolm Floyd will move up to No. 1. Legedu Naanee, who has been rehabbing foot surgery during the offseason, will probably step into the starting lineup, but he'll face some competition from Josh Reed (who will probably man the slot) and Craig Davis.

Jamaal Charles came on like gangbusters late last season, helping win this writer the 2009 RotoWire Vegas League championship. To reward Charles for his strong play last year, the Chiefs signed veteran Thomas Jones, who still has some gas left in the tank. Expect Charles to remain the primary back, but Jones will take away valuable carries, especially if Charles gets complacent in the preseason.

Miles Austin appears entrenched as the No. 1 receiver. Behind him are Roy Williams, rookie Dez Bryant and Patrick Crayton. The Cowboys traded up for Bryant, which didn't sit too well with Crayton, who could be dealt, and possibly signals the end of Williams' days as a starter. Williams will start for now, but Bryant could overtake him soon.

Miami was desperate for a strong wide receiver last year and have found him in 2010 with the acquisition of Brandon Marshall. Behind Marshall, however, is still the same old mess. Davone Bess is the next best receiver, but the Dolphins like him more in the slot, leaving Brian Hartline and Greg Camarillo potentially battling it out for the right to start. Patrick Turner is still around, but he's been a disappointment and in the wake of his offseason back surgery, he might be cut.

Michael Jenkins has started opposite Roddy White the last five years and has averaged 51 catches a season over his last three, but he doesn't get in the end zone much, and he dropped several passes last year. Harry Douglas, who missed all of 2009 with a knee injury, is reportedly healthy and will push Jenkins throughout the preseason. If his speed is still intact, he could be the game-breaker Atlanta needs to play with White.

Brandon Jacobs should remain the starter, with Ahmad Bradshaw the valuable backup, but the real battle will be who gets more touches (and stays healthy) throughout the year. Training camp likely won't have a major impact on it, but if one player were to get hurt, the other will, of course, shoot up in value.

Thomas Jones and Leon Washington are gone, which should have cleared the way for Shonn Greene to reach fantasy stud status. But the Jets brought in one of the greatest fantasy running backs of all time. Sure, LaDainian Tomlinson isn't as good as he once was, but his presence on the roster will make things difficult for Greene to become an elite running back this year. The Jets also drafted Joe McKnight to become the next Washington.

The pecking order is clear in Motown: Kevin Smith, Jahvid Best and Maurice Morris. However, Smith doesn't appear to be all the way back from the torn ACL he suffered in December, and Best hasn't signed yet, so Morris has the potential to be the starter on day one.

Carolina drafted two big-time college quarterbacks, Jimmy Clausen and Tony Pike, and it's easy to see why when you look at the rest of the depth chart at the position. Matt Moore, who won four of five starts last year, is No. 1 and the only Panther quarterback with NFL experience. Behind him is Hunter Cantwell, who probably has the best arm on the team. It's expected that Clausen will overtake Cantwell sometime during camp, and it's possible that Clausen could even move up into Moore's neighborhood. Regardless of who wins the job, the Panthers will be a run-first team again in 2010.

The only sure thing, Steve Smith, recently broke his arm playing flag football. He's expected to be ready for the season opener, but his injury may be a blessing in disguise as other candidates will get extra reps during training camp. Dwayne Jarrett is the leader for the No. 2 spot, and he certainly has the edge in experience over the contenders, but he's been inconsistent in his three years in the league. Kenny Moore will start along with Jarrett in the preseason but remains a question mark. The Panthers drafted three wideouts this spring: Brandon LaFell, David Gettis and ex-QB Armanti Edwards. They'll all get a shot to unseat Jarrett.

The recipients of Tom Brady's passes are always good names to know, and as usual, Randy Moss and Wes Welker will lead that crew this year. However, with Welker likely not ready for the start of the season due to a torn ACL, a past-his-prime Torry Holt, acquired in April, could be in line for a lot of catches. Julian Edelman is expected to take Welker's spot in the slot, which gives him excellent upside. All four receivers should provide good value this year.

It's a toss-up between Darren McFadden and Michael Bush. Oakland first said it wanted one player to take charge and then said the two players would share the job, so it's probably just some combination of the two. Our best guess: McFadden gets most of the work between the 20s while Bush gets the rock at the goal line.

A.J. Feeley is the starter – for now – due to his familiarity with the system. However, Sam Bradford, the top pick in the 2010 draft, will have the job eventually. How soon that will be is anyone's guess, but it's possible he can win it with a strong preseason.

St. Louis doesn't really have a No. 1 wideout, but Donnie Avery likely will hold the job by default. Brandon Gibson, who was acquired from Philadelphia last year, manned the No. 2 spot for the majority of his nine starts, but Laurent Robinson (the No. 2 WR to start 2009), Keenan Burton and Brooks Foster were hurt. They're healthy now, and with rookie Mardy Gilyard and versatile Danny Amendola in the mix, it looks like anyone could emerge and become a legit fantasy threat, especially if Sam Bradford steps up and proves to be a franchise-type quarterback. That said, the battle is so close that none of the receivers (save Avery) are worthy of a draft pick unless one really tears it up in preseason.

This looks like a situation to stay away from. Three once-strong running backs -- Clinton Portis, Larry Johnson and Willie Parker – are competing for touches. Portis likely will be the lead back and play most third downs as well. Johnson should be the goal-line back, but it's anyone's guess as to how Parker fits in here. A lot can change between now and September, especially when an injury-prone running back like Portis is involved. Even fourth-stringer Ryan Torain could see some action.

While the Washington backfield is chock full of talent, the receivers leave something to be desired. Only Santana Moss is anything resembling a sure thing, and considering he had offseason knee surgery and faces a possible suspension, it's easy to see why his hold on “sure thing” is tenuous. Behind him are Devin Thomas, Malcolm Kelly, Bobby Wade, Joey Galloway and Mike Furrey – a bunch of has-beens and never-weres. Thomas in particular has been a disappointment in Washington, but he could have an increased role this year.

Coach Sean Payton has shown that he prefers to deploy a three-headed monster at tailback. With both Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush secure in their roles, the real question is who will assume the role as a short-yardage specialist vacated by Mike Bell's departure. The two most likely candidates are Lynell Hamilton and P.J. Hill. Hamilton was effective, but far from spectacular, when filling in for Bell late in the year. Hill, as a rookie out of Wisconsin, spent most of last year on the Saints' practice squad. While Hamilton likely has the upper hand in the competition, both players are bruisers and the winner will see a fair share of the carries in the Saints' offense, including plenty of goal-line touches.

There's no reason for New Orleans to change what worked last year, so the Saints go into camp juggling the same lineup at wide receiver. Marques Colston is the one sure thing. The most-likely candidate to start opposite Colston is Robert Meachem, who was a fantasy MVP in the second half of 2009, snagging seven touchdowns in the team's final nine regular season games. Meachem, however, had offseason toe surgery and will face tough competition from both Devery Henderson and Lance Moore. Henderson still has elite speed, but is plagued by inconsistency and a penchant for dropped balls. Moore is truly the wild card of the group. Two years ago, he grabbed 79 passes for 928 yards and 10 touchdowns, but injuries limited him significantly in 2009. He'll likely start the year as a dynamo out of the slot position.

The Seahawks brought in LenDale White and Leon Washington in the offseason to muddle things up in Seattle, but they've already rid themselves of White, so they're nearly back to the status quo of last season: Justin Forsett and Julius Jones in a timeshare. Forsett should have a larger share of the carries than he did last year, but he still isn't going to be a 25-carry runner. Washington, who has a metal rod in his leg after a gruesome compound fracture last year, is supposed to be ready for training camp, so it'll be interesting to see how he gets used in Seattle.

This one is really wide open. Coach Gary Kubiak has always wanted a two-back system, and he might get one in Steve Slaton and Arian Foster. Slaton, a first-round pick in many fantasy leagues last year, just could not hold onto the ball in 2009, and it ultimately cost him his job. If he can hold onto the ball this summer, he'll likely begin the year as the starter. Foster, who started last season on the practice squad, lined up with the first team during OTAs, but that was largely due to injuries to Slaton and Ben Tate. The Texans clearly like Foster's attitude, and he's a big no-nonsense back that runs downhill, so he offers a nice complement to Slaton. Tate was a second-round pick in the 2010 draft, but he didn't make it on the field until the last few days of OTAs. He and Foster are much bigger than Slaton, so it's possible that the battle is between the two of them with Slaton taking on the third-down duties.

The Texans want Jacoby Jones to emerge more in the offense, but he'll have to establish a certain level of consistency – and maturity – if he's to wrest the No. 2 job from Kevin Walter. Jones had just 27 catches last season, but six found paydirt. He's more of a downfield threat than Walter, but Walter is more sure-handed. More important, Walter just signed a five-year deal with Houston, so he'll have a leg up in the battle to start opposite Andre Johnson. Regardless, both Jacoby and Walter should have some value in the pass-happy Houston offense.

Kenny Britt started six games last year as a rookie and figures to be the top receiver this time around, overtaking the disappointing Nate Washington. While it's true that Washington led all Tennessee wideouts in receptions and touchdowns, he also had problems with drops. Justin Gage is steady and has started in the past, but he's rarely seen as more than a No. 3 receiver. Damian Williams, the rookie out of USC, has the potential to be better than them all, but he's been slowed by a hamstring injury and figures to be fourth on the depth chart. Britt has struggled so far in camp and has even been nicknamed "Question Mark" by his teammates, so his job is far from safe. Any of this quartet can emerge this year.