NFL Training Camp Battles: Who’s Coming Out on Top?

Kizer going through drills
By Erik Drost (Wiki Commons) CC License

For star players, and anyone who’s cemented a role as a starter, the preseason serves as a dress rehearsal. It’s a time to reacquaint with the team’s systems and get familiar with the new faces so you’re not rolling into Week 1 completely cold. For the majority of the league, however, the preseason is an audition. It’s a chance to prove that you can handle the speed of the league and that you deserve snaps. Through Week 3 of the preseason, many of the training camp position battles have been decided;¬†Blake Bortles, Trevor Siemian, and Tom Savage have all been named the Week 1 starter for their respective teams. Others, however, press on.

Here are a list of the most notable camp battles that are/were taking place, along with the odds of who will win the starting job (where that’s still in doubt) and statistical props (for those that have a winner).

Browns QB: DeShone Kizer

Hue Jackson and the Cleveland Browns caught the attention of the football world when they traded for $72-million man Brock Osweiler in the offseason. Taking on the hefty contract was a brilliant move, considering Houston was willing to part ways with a second-round pick to obtain the cap relief. But when the Browns began prepping Osweiler to be their starting QB, the slight optimism budding in the fan-base dissipated.

Fortunately for Browns fans, Osweiler was predictably unproductive in the first two preseason games with the starting offense (12/22 for 67 yards and one interception), which prompted Jackson to give promising rookie DeShone Kizer his opportunity with “the ones” in Week 3. Though Kizer had his worst appearance of the preseason (6/18 for 93 yards and one interception), the second-round pick proved he has more upside than Osweiler. As a result, Cleveland announced Kizer would start Week 1 against the Steelers.

Kizer is still far from a finished product, so don’t expect him to light the world on fire as the Cam Newtons and Andrew Lucks have in the past. Here’s what you can expect from the rookie and his team this year.

Over/under total passing yards for Kizer in 2017: 3,200.5
Over/under total TDs for Kizer in 2017: 25.5
Over/under Kizer’s passer rating in 2017: 80.5
Odds Osweiler is a Brown in Week 1: 4/5


Texans QB: Tom Savage

After the Texans gave the Browns a second-round pick in 2018 to take Brock Osweiler off their hands, they continued stocking the shelves in Cleveland by handing over their first-round pick in 2018 to switch places in the draft and grab Deshaun Watson.

But Bill O’Brien’s intentions — to start Tom Savage in Week 1 — have remained consistent. Watson had a strong preseason debut (15/25 for 179 yards and one rushing TD), but followed it by showcasing all the flaws in his game, completing only 14/31 passes for 218 yards and one INT in the final two preseason games.

DeShaun Watson at the draft
By Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire

Though Savage isn’t going to shoulder an offense and win you a Super Bowl, he has won O’Brien’s trust with his reliability. Having the final preseason game cancelled due to Hurricane Harvey certainly doesn’t help with Watson’s development, either.

Over/under total starts for Savage in 2017: 8.5
Over/under Savage’s passer rating in 2017: 81.5
Over/under week of Watson’s first start: 6.5


Jaguars QB: Blake Bortles

When the Jaguars finally tried to do the right thing and sit Blake Bortles on the bench, Chad Henne went 8/14 for 73 yards and took three sacks with the starting offense in Week 3 of the preseason. I guess he doesn’t want to give up the warm spot he’s made for himself on the bench.

Thanks to Henne’s abysmal play, Bortles has been named the Jags’ starting QB for Week 1. But if the fourth-year signal-caller commits some early turnovers, don’t expect Doug Marrone and Tom Coughlin to hesitate in making a switch (again). And you shouldn’t be surprised if they skip over Henne’s name on the depth chart.

Over/under total pick-sixes for Bortles in 2017: 1.5
Over/under total starts for Bortles in 2017: 10.5
Over/under Bortles’ passer rating in 2017: 81.5
Odds Brandon Allen starts a game in 2017: 4/3


Bears QB: Mike Glennon

Mitchell Trubisky has been the most impressive rookie QB this preseason. The second-overall pick has completed 34/48 passes for 354 yards and three TDs in the Bears’ three preseason games and, importantly, hasn’t tossed a single pick.

However, the organization paid good money ($18.5 million guaranteed) in the offseason to bring in free agent Mike Glennon. Though the 27-year-old got off to a rough start in Chicago (2/8 for 20 yards and a pick-six against Denver), he has gotten better each week. The Bears will listen to the money to start the season, but their Week 9 bye will be a great opportunity to prime Trubisky to take over.

Over/under Glennon’s passer rating in 2017: 83.5
Over/under week of Trubisky’s first start: 9.5
Odds Glennon is a Bear in 2018: 3/2


Broncos QB: Trevor Siemian

While most camp battles have gone the way the organizations preferred at the outset, that wasn’t the case in Denver. The Broncos’ 2016 first-round pick, Paxton Lynch, was supposed to rise up and win the starting gig. But instead the second-year pivot was timid in the pocket and indecisive with the football.

On the other hand, Denver’s seventh-round pick from 2015, Trevor Siemian, has looked calm in the pocket and poised under pressure. Lynch couldn’t even keep the battle going into Week 3, as the Broncos announced Siemian would be the starter prior to their game against the Packers.

Siemian proved once again he is the best QB on the Bronco roster, but there are many doubters who don’t believe the team can win a Super Bowl with Siemian under center. Unfortunately, Lynch injured his shoulder in Week 3 and is expected to miss a handful of weeks. Denver GM John Elway has not ruled out filling the backup QB spot with Colin Kaepernick.

Over/under total starts for Siemian in 2017: 15.5
Over/under Siemian’s passer rating in 2017: 90.5¬†
Odds Siemian starts Week 1 of 2018: 5/4
Odds the Broncos sign Colin Kaepernick in 2017: 5/2


Bills QB: OPEN?

This “battle” isn’t really a battle, even though Tyrod Taylor has looked awful at points in the preseason. This is a battle by default because Taylor suffered a concussion in Week 3 and remains in concussion protocol, meaning rookie Nathan Peterman may have to start the Bills’ season-opener.

By Keith Allison (Flickr) CC License

Though Peterman impressed in the first two weeks of the preseason, there’s nothing to see here. When Taylor is healthy, he will regain the starting job. But 2018 could be a much different story.

Odds Taylor starts Week 1: 1/1
Over/under total starts for Taylor in 2017: 14.5
Over/under Taylor’s passer rating in 2017: 83.5
Odds Taylor is a Bill in 2018: 1/1


Chiefs RB: Kareem Hunt

After generating a ton of buzz in training camp and shining in the preseason, it was believed third-round pick Kareem Hunt would eventually become the Chiefs’ feature back in 2017. “Eventually” came early when Spencer Ware tore his LCL and PCL last weekend against the Seahawks.

Hunt will assume feature-back duties and will be spelled by Charcandrick West and CJ Spiller.

Over/under total yards from scrimmage for Hunt in 2017: 1,700.5
Over/under total TDs for Hunt in 2017: 14.5


Bengals RB: OPEN?

Last season, neither Jeremy Hill nor Giovani Bernard averaged more than 3.8 yards per carry. The Bengals realized they needed a more complete back, one who has between-the-tackles size (like Hill) and explosiveness in space (like Bernard). The Bengals search stopped at former Oklahoma RB Joe Mixon. The talented back fell in the draft due to off-field issues, which include assaulting a woman while in college. But the Bengals overlooked his issues and awarded Mixon a second-chance, grabbing the first-round talent in the second round of this year’s draft.

Though Cincinnati proclaimed that Hill would begin the season as the starter, many pundits believe it’s only a matter of time before Mixon takes over. And with Hill leaving the Week 3 game against Washington with an ankle injury, the rookie may not have long to wait before becoming the lead-back.

Odds to lead the Bengals in carries in 2017

  • Joe Mixon: 6/5
  • Jeremy Hill: 2/1
  • Giovani Bernard: 15/4

Odds to have the most touches in 2017

  • Joe Mixon: 1/1
  • Jeremy Hill: 5/2
  • Giovani Bernard: 7/2

Odds to have the most TDs in 2017

  • Joe Mixon: 4/3
  • Jeremy Hill: 13/7
  • Giovani Bernard: 11/3

Packers RB: Ty Montgomery

Last season, converted wide receiver Ty Montgomery was used as a running back out of necessity. Both Eddie Lacy and James Starks were injured, and Knile Davis offered very little. Montgomery surprised us all, averaging 5.9 yards per carry and showing the toughness to run between the tackles.

However, the Packers didn’t want to rely on Montgomery repeating that production and drafted three RBs in the mid-to-late rounds of the 2017 draft. Of the new crop, fourth-round pick Jamaal Williams was expected to compete with Montgomery for the early-down work.

However, Williams has not had much success in the preseason running the ball, totaling just 30 yards on 14 carries. Looking strictly at numbers, fifth-round pick Aaron Jones has enjoyed the most success:(11 carries for 57 yards).

Montgomery had three carries in the Packers’ first preseason game, then missed Week 2 with a leg injury before storming back in Week 3 with three carries for 31 yards and one TD, ensuring he is the alpha of the group heading into the regular season.

As long as Montgomery’s pass protection on early downs doesn’t become too much of an issue, he will dominate the work in Green Bay’s backfield.

Odds to lead the Packers in carries in 2017

  • Ty Montgomery: 4/5
  • Jamaal Williams: 13/7
  • Aaron Jones: 21/5

Odds to have the most touches in 2017

  • Ty Montgomery: 2/3
  • Jamaal Williams: 7/3
  • Aaron Jones: 9/1

Seahawks RB

After Christine Michael led Seattle in rushing yards last season — with a whopping total of 469 — the Seahawks knew they needed to address the position. Thomas Rawls and CJ Prosise have proven productive when on the field, but that hasn’t been often. The former has only played in 22 games over his first two seasons, and the latter was only on the field for six games in his rookie season last year. Seattle’s answer came in the form of free agent Eddie Lacy.

By Keith Allison (Flickr) CC License

The former Packer was supposed to bring a punishing running style back to Seattle and create stability at the position. Though he has only totaled 51 yards on 14 carries in the preseason, the 27-year-old looked noticeably more comfortable in Week 3 (four carries for 21 yards).

However, seventh-round pick Chris Carson has stolen the show in the preseason. Thanks in part to injuries, the rookie has worked his way up the depth chart; unlike Henne in Jacksonville, he seized his opportunity in Week 4, racking up 90 yards on ten touches while playing mainly with the first-team offense. Carson has at least done enough to earn a roster spot, if not a significant role in the offense in 2017.

It wouldn’t be unheard of for the Seahawks to carry five backs, but with their offensive line in shambles, they may need to carry an extra lineman. The odd-men out appear to be Mike Davis and Alex Collins.

Odds to make the Seahawks’ 53-man roster in 2017

  • Thomas Rawls: 1/49
  • Eddie Lacy: 1/19
  • CJ Prosise: 1/9
  • Chris Carson: 1/4
  • Alex Collins: 3/2
  • Mike Davis: 5/3

Odds to lead the Seahawks in carries in 2017

  • Thomas Rawls: 2/1
  • Eddie Lacy: 5/2
  • Chris Carson: 3/1
  • FIELD: 13/2

Odds to have the most touches in 2017

  • Thomas Rawls: 7/3
  • Chris Carson: 3/1
  • Eddie Lacy: 3/1
  • FIELD: 4/1