Evan Silva

Position Battles

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Running with the Ones

Monday, August 11, 2008

This was depth chart week in the NFL. Though many teams ranked players in order of seniority (and in some cases even alphabetically), coaching staffs at least gave us a small glimpse of what they're thinking. Some surprises included Ronald Curry and Drew Carter as "co-starters" in Oakland, Eddie Royal as Denver's direct backup for Brandon Marshall, and Jackie Battle ahead of Kolby Smith and Jamaal Charles at tailback in Kansas City.

For roughly the next month (the season opens on Thursday, September 4 when the Giants host the Redskins), I'll update key skill position battles around the league. Gregg Rosenthal already previewed 50. His top 20 can be found here. Camp battle previews 21-50 are here.

Now we examine 12 key competitions that have begun to take shape, but still must be tracked over the next four weeks.

Giants No. 1 Tailback
Competitors: Brandon Jacobs, Ahmad Bradshaw, Derrick Ward, and Reuben Droughns

If you've bought and read the 2008 Rotoworld Draft Guide, you already know the Giants face the toughest schedule for running backs in the league. With a committee potentially on the horizon, any one back here could struggle to maintain consistent week-to-week production. But the Giants will score touchdowns because their offense is explosive and Steve Spagnuolo's pressure-heavy defense will keep chances coming. The top three backs have shared first-team reps so far in camp and the Giants say they'll ride the "hot hand," but Jacobs is their best early-down option because at 6'4/264 with unusual speed, he is capable of pounding defenses before the shiftier, quicker Bradshaw capitalizes as a change of pace. Ward is a poor man's Jacobs with better hands, but has a role waiting if injuries strike. Droughns could be cut.

Current Leader: None
Projected Week 1 Winner: Brandon Jacobs

Bears No. 1 Tailback
Competitors: Matt Forte/Kevin Jones/Adrian Peterson/Garrett Wolfe

Lovie Smith is an old school coach who always requires rookies to earn their jobs, but he's made an exception with Forte. Chicago listed its second-round draft choice first on the initial training camp depth chart, proving just how impressive Forte has been. Jones (knee) has yet to practice since joining the club on a contract for the minimum, leaving Peterson as Forte's primary backup and Wolfe third string. Jones may start the season on PUP, which would cost him the first six games and make him undraftable in 12-team leagues. Forte has emerged as the clear frontrunner without a viable handcuff. He should lead all rookies in carries this season.

Current Leader: Matt Forte
Projected Week 1 Winner: Matt Forte

Lions No. 1 Tailback
Competitors: Tatum Bell/Kevin Smith/Brian Calhoun

It hasn't been reported much, but Bell missed a sizable chunk of OTAs and early training camp for "personal reasons." He's present now and running with the starters, but Smith has also seen first-team action and appears to be nipping at Bell's heels. While he isn't a good bet to hold up after taking 450 carries in 14 games as a college junior, Smith is already ahead of Calhoun and figures to be heavily involved early in the year, even if Bell takes the field first. Calhoun is a third-stringer at the moment, but the best natural pass catcher of the three with the most special teams experience. He's likely headed for the passing-down role with a Smith-Calhoun committee possible by midseason, assuming either is still healthy by then.

Current Leader: Tatum Bell
Projected Week 1 Winner: Kevin Smith

Broncos No. 2 Receiver
Competitors: Keary Colbert/Darrell Jackson/Eddie Royal

Keep in mind that this could actually be the Broncos' No. 1 receiver while Brandon Marshall is suspended, although TE Tony Scheffler should be the main beneficiary of Marshall's absence. Jackson currently tops the depth chart, with Colbert behind him and Royal second at Marshall's position. If the season began today, Royal and Jackson would probably comprise the first team with Brandon Stokley in the slot. Colbert is the best run blocker of the group and could rotate in outside, but his inability to get open will likely hurt him when the final depth chart is set and playing time is decided.

Current Leader: Darrell Jackson
Projected Week 1 Winner: Darrell Jackson

Update: Royal has pulled ahead of Jackson on the depth chart and is now officially a starter. Jackson has fallen to fourth behind Marshall, Royal, and Stokley and could even be cut because he has less situational value than Colbert.

Bears No. 1 Receiver
Competitors: Devin Hester/Marty Booker/Brandon Lloyd/Earl Bennett

We'd bet on Greg Olsen finishing as Chicago's leading receiver, but the favorite here by the end of camp will be worth a flier. Mark Bradley would've been our pick had he stayed healthy, but Bradley has been limping on the practice field and running third string after May knee surgery. He's in danger of missing the cut. While the Bears put "co-starters" at each receiver position on their preliminary depth chart, Hester and Lloyd are the favorites to start in Week 1. The Bears may use a timeshare either way, but Booker runs the best routes and has the best recent production, so we'd bet on him seeing the most targets on opening day, even if it's from the slot.

Current Leader: Devin Hester/Brandon Lloyd
Projected Week 1 Winner: Marty Booker

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Evan Silva is a senior football editor for Rotoworld.com. He can be found on Twitter .
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