Evan Silva

Position Battles

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Depth Chart Week Drama

Friday, August 14, 2009


Depth chart week in the NFL causes something of a stir, especially when elite talents like Brandon Marshall and Dwayne Bowe are listed as backups because their coaches are trying to send a message. You're probably smart enough to know this, but I just want to make sure: For the most part, the depth charts don't mean a lick. Please, do not downgrade Dwayne Bowe before your fantasy draft. Chiefs coach Todd Haley is well aware that he won't win a game if Devard Darling and Terrance Copper are his starting wideouts.

Still, there are certain instances when a team's depth chart is strongly indicative of how a coaching staff has begun viewing a position battle. Let's take a look at five of those:

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Dolphins No. 2 Wide Receiver
Greg Camarillo vs. Davone Bess vs. Patrick Turner


Current Dolphins Depth Chart

Perhaps because he still isn't fully comfortable running on his reconstructed knee in live practice, Camarillo has lost the momentum he gained at non-contact OTAs. Even receivers coach Karl Dorrell would admit Bess is best suited for a slot-type/third receiver role. Bess has hands of gold and is fearless in traffic, but doesn't project as much of a red-zone or vertical threat due to size and speed limitations. However, he's running with the first team in scrimmages and listed ahead of Camarillo at flanker. That means Bess is on track to be an every-down receiver. He'll see plenty of slot work in three-receiver sets when Camarillo enters outside, so the Fins aren't worred about Bess' role. He's an outstanding late-round PPR target, but continue to track this battle.

Vikings No. 2 Wide Receiver
Sidney Rice vs. Percy Harvin vs. Bobby Wade


Current Vikings Depth Chart

Considering how much praise the Vikings have heaped on Harvin, his third-string listing is clearly a formality. But Rice's slotting over Wade, who's started 26 games over the last two seasons to Rice's seven, shows a few things. First, Rice is healthy after knee woes ruined his 2008 season. Second, it looks like the Vikings want him to win the flanker job. Third, it hints that Harvin will spend most of his time in the slot. Harvin passing Wade on the depth chart (he probably already has) is a given. At that point, Harvin will be on the second team and the first receiver off the bench when the Vikes go three wide. Harvin will end up playing more than most "No. 3s" because he's also the Vikings' QB in the Wildcat package, will get carries, and is the first-team kickoff returner. But Rice appears poised to start outside, even if Harvin gets more touches.

Buccaneers No. 1 Running Back
Derrick Ward vs. Earnest Graham


Current Buccaneers Depth Chart

We fully expect Ward to see the most action in this backfield. He is a better threat than Graham to break into the open field and make people miss, much smoother in the passing game, and an absolutely ideal fit for coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski's zone-blocking scheme. The front office also has more money tied up in Ward. But a foot sprain cost him some practice time, and Graham was taking first-team carries even before then. Unless Ward lights up the preseason, Graham is the likely opening-day starter. Many of the coaches have stayed from the Jon Gruden era, and they'll lean to Graham's tenure in the organization. Keep an eye on goal-line carries in exhibition games. It's realistic to think that Ward will emerge as the Maurice Jones-Drew to Graham's Fred Taylor, siphoning all scoring chances and passing-down snaps, even as Graham starts.

Raiders No. 1 Running Back
Justin Fargas vs. Darren McFadden


Current Raiders Depth Chart

Here's another battle in which the "backup" will see fewer touches than the starter. Fargas is still running with the first unit, and just about all signs point to it staying that way into Week 1. The Raiders value his no-nonsense style, selfless attitude, and reliability in blitz pickup. McFadden's second stand-out summer hasn't been enough for the coaches to demote Fargas. Fargas will start, McFadden will rotate in for "explosion" packages, and Michael Bush will see spot duty in power formations. Which brings us to perhaps the biggest issue here: Who gets the goal-line carries? At 6'2/240, Bush is clearly the most imposing option. McFadden was an efficient short-yardage back at Arkansas, but scored just four times on 140 touches as a rookie and the Raiders may want him off goal-line duty to keep him fresh and his yards-per-touch average high. It's hard to imagine getting too excited about McFadden when he won't start or score, but his preseason debut was quite promising.

Cardinals No. 1 Running Back
Chris Wells vs. Tim Hightower


Current Cardinals Depth Chart

The Cards' run blocking is still terrible, but Hightower tightened his grip in this derby by rushing six times for 24 yards in Thursday's preseason opener, just days after being listed first on Arizona's "unofficial" depth chart. Wells is still sidelined by ankle issues, which were also problematic for him at Ohio State. Hightower's game is nearly complete. He's got the pass catching and pass blocking parts down. He can be a powerful runner, has adequate open-field moves, and keeps his feet moving through contact. Hightower just needs to stop dancing behind the line to be a quality starting NFL back. Promisingly, he wasted no steps against Pittsburgh Thursday. It's also worth noting that Hightower looked way better than Rashard Mendenhall.


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



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