The NFL circle of life is such that non-superstar players or those who line up at positions of perceived lesser value are almost always looking over their shoulders entering training camp. The reason is simple: teams always hope to draft more affordable fill-ins who can contribute immediately for three to five years before needing to pay them commensurate to their market value.
With that in mind, here are some upcoming training camp battles involving rookies -- quarterbacks not included -- that could result in the rookie either starting or receiving noticeable playtime in Week 1:
The Falcons selected University of Texas running back Bijan Robinson eighth overall in the 2023 NFL Draft. That makes him the highest-drafted player at his position since the Giants took Saquon Barkley, now a two-time Pro Bowler, second overall in the 2018 NFL Draft. There's a good reason why: Robinson is special. He became the first player in the Pro Football Focus era (since 2006) with more than 100 missed tackles forced in a single college season (104 in 2022).
That would make it seem like Robinson is guaranteed the lion's share of the carries right away. However, to quote the great Lee Corso, "Not so fast my friend!" Tyler Allgeier, the Falcons' 2022 fifth round pick out of BYU who racked up 1,035 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns on 210 carries, was one of the NFL's most valuable running backs last season. Atlanta averaged 159.9 rushing yards per game last season, the third-most in the NFL, and Allgeier's 12.1 offensive rushing expected points added (12.1) led all running backs with 100 or more carries in 2022. That means his value to the Falcons offense last season in terms of its chances to score when he ran with the football were the best among any running back with at least 100 carries in 2022.
In fact, Allgeier was noticeably ahead of five Pro Bowl rushers in this metric last season, including the NFL's rushing yards champion Josh Jacobs.
Highest offensive rushing EPA in 2022 season*
|Player||Offensive rushing expected points added (EPA)|
Tyler Allgeier (ATL)
Miles Sanders (PHI)
Christian McCaffrey (SF)
NIck Chubb (CLE)
Aaron Jones (GB)
Josh Jacobs (LV)
* Minimum 100 carries
Allgeier wasn't much of a receiving threat out of the backfield, but he made the most of his chances in that area in 2022, hauling in 16 receptions for 139 receiving yards and a touchdown on 17 targets. That may be a function of Atlanta's lack of consistency in the passing game between quarterbacks Marcus Mariota and Desmond Ridder last season, but that could be an area where Robinson could come in right away and shine. However, he'll face some stiff competition from Allgeier when it comes to being the team's leading ball-carrier.
Seahawks running back Kenneth Walker III, their second-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, led all rookies in carries (228), rushing yards (1,050), and rushing touchdowns (nine) last season. However, head Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider still decided to draft another second-round running back in the 2023 NFL Draft: Zach Charbonnet. He had a productive final season at UCLA in 2022, ranking fourth in the FBS in rushing yards per game (135.9) and yards/carry (7.0).
The difference between Walker III and Charbonnet could be pass-catching ability. Walker III wasn't much of a factor in Seattle's aerial attack last season, catching 27 passes for 165 yards on 35 targets. Meanwhile, Charbonnet hauled in 37 passes for 321 receiving yards (tied for the seventh-most among FBS running backs last season) on 44 targets in college. Carroll went out of his way to praise Charbonnet's receiving process post-draft back in May. Those two will be a in a nip-and-tuck fight for the rights to be the Seahawks RB1 in 2023.
"He's [Charbonnet] so versatile," Carroll. "He just will fit in and be a great addition, and really, we're gonna find out how far he can take it in terms of the receiving part of it. We know he's really good at it. But so is Kenneth, so those guys will be battling."
Miami Dolphins: De'Von Achane vs. Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr.
In head coach Mike McDaniel's first season as the Dolphins' head coach after five years with the 49ers, he made sure to bring both Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr. with him.
Mostert racked up a career-high 1,093 scrimmage yards along with five touchdowns in 2022, the now-31-year-old's return from a knee injury that caused him to miss all but one game in 2021. Wilson, who the Dolphins added around the trade deadline, is more of the thunder to Mostert's lightning in their backfield tandem. The 27-year-old, who turns 28 on Nov. 16, also totaled over 1,000 yards from scrimmage, a career-high 1,045, and six scrimmage touchdowns while splitting the season between the 49ers and the Dolphins.
Both will get their touches, but Achane, a third-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, will likely factor into the mix heavily. His blazing speed is evident between his 4.32 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine and his two kickoff return touchdowns in college. Achane can also contribute as a pass-catcher, accumulating 457 receiving yards and four receiving touchdowns on 60 receptions across his final two seasons at Texas A&M. The Dolphins only had four picks in the 2023 draft, but they chose to make Achane their second pick of the four-man class and their first offensive player selected. McDaniel may have big plans for the rookie in 2023 despite the presence of Mostert and Wilson Jr.
Terrace Marshall Jr., the Panthers' 6-foot-2, 200-pound second-round pick from the 2021 NFL Draft, has accumulated just 628 receiving yards and one receiving touchdown in his two-year career. The organization has shown its lack of faith in him and other players they had in-house at wide receiver by signing veterans D.J. Chark Jr. and Adam Thielen this offseason. They followed up those signings by drafting Ole Miss wideout Jonathan Mingo in the second-round of the 2023 NFL Draft, providing first overall pick Bryce Young plenty of new options to choose from in 2023.
Mingo, the 39th overall pick who stands 6-2, 220 pounds, represents the Panthers' highest-drafted wide receiver since taking D.J. Moore 24th overall in the 2018 NFL Draft. Marshall Jr. has been put on alert by Carolina's front office, opening up a healthy competition between he and Mingo for the third starting wide receiver spot in 2023.
Second-year wideouts Christian Watson -- whose nine scrimmage touchdowns were tied for fourth-most in the NFL among all wide receivers in 2022 -- and Romeo Doubs, the team's second- and fourth-round picks in the 2022 NFL Draft, have the first two starting spots locked down.
The third is up for grabs between 2022 seventh-round pick Samori Toure, who was buried on the depth chart last season behind Watson and Doubs as well as new-Jets Allen Lazard and Randall Cobb, and rookie Jayden Reed, the Packers' second second-round selection (50th overall pick) in the 2023 NFL Draft. Toure totaled just one touchdown, a 37-yarder against the Buffalo Bills in Week 8 last season on "Sunday Night Football." That play accounted for most of his five catches for 82 receiving yards last season. Toure versus Reed is a legitimate battle to be Green Bay's starting slot wide receiver, and Reed will likely receive plenty of chances to earn that spot.
Kelvin Beachum, the Cardinals' 34-year-old, 11-year veteran, has held down their starting right tackle spot in each of the last two seasons. However, the contract he was just re-signed on, a two-year, $5.2 million deal, doesn't scream commitment. Beachum also called out franchise quarterback Kyler Murray in March, challenging his 25-year-old starting quarterback to " "
Stack those facts on top of Arizona trading up in the 2023 NFL Draft to select Ohio State offensive tackle Paris Johnson Jr. sixth overall, and it looks like there's an open competition at right tackle with Pro Bowler D.J. Humphries handling left tackle duties.
The Jets re-signed their 30-year-old center Connor McGovern to a one-year, $1.9 million contract with only $500,000 of it guaranteed this offseason. He's been their primary starting center for each of the last three seasons, but Gang Green looked for opportunities to upgrade the front five that will be tasked to protect Aaron Rodgers in 2023. They did so given the team's 35.9% quarterback pressure rate allowed in 2022, the seventh-worst in the NFL last season.
An opportunity to improve arose in the second round of the 2023 NFL Draft when New York selected Wisconsin center Joe Tippman 43rd overall. Like a typical Badgers offensive lineman, Tippman was steady in college, allowing only one sack in his 590 pass-blocking snaps across the last two seasons. He also represents the Jets' highest-drafted center since selecting Nick Mangold, seven-time Pro Bowler, 29th overall in the 2006 NFL Draft.
It's game on between the rookie and the vet for the right to snap the football to Rodgers in his first Jets season.
The Titans offensive line was one of the worst in the NFL last season. They allowed a quarterback pressure rate of 39.7%, the third-worst in the NFL, and as a result, Tennessee had to cycle through three different quarterbacks in 2022: starter Ryan Tannehill, third-round rookie Malik Willis, and journeyman Josh Dobbs.
Naturally, the team made multiple upgrades in both free agency and the draft. First, they signed former Eagles first-round pick Andre Dillard to a three-year, $29 million contract and offensive guard Daniel Brunskill to a two-year, $5.5 million deal. In the draft, they selected Northwestern offensive tackle Peter Skoronski 11th overall and Maryland offensive lineman Jaeyln Duncan 186th overall in the sixth round.
Dillard lost his starting left tackle spot with the Eagles due to injuries. The 6-foot-5, 315-pounder missed the entire 2020 season with a torn biceps muscle he suffered in a training camp practice. He also missed five games in 2022 with a fractured forearm suffered in training camp. That led to the Eagles' seventh-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, Jordan Mailata, and his steady play in Dillard's place knocking the former first-round selection out of his spot. Now, Dillard faces Skoronski, who stands 6-4 while weighing 313 pounds, for the right to protect Tannehill's blind side.
Skoronski was named a 2022 Unanimous All-American after the two-time First Team All-Big Ten lineman allowed just one sack on 457 pass-blocking snaps. That body of work led to Skoronski earning the highest PFF pass-blocking grade in college football last season (93.0). The Titans' left tackle battle will be one of the more tightly contested across all NFL training camps. The loser in this race likely moves inside to left guard.
Lions second-year linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez came out of nowhere last training camp as the 2022 sixth-round pick out of Oklahoma State soared up the depth chart to earn a spot in the starting lineup. Unfortunately for Rodrigo, as head coach Dan Campbell affectionately named him on HBO's "Hard Knocks," the Lions then had a horrific year defensively, allowing 392.4 total yards-per-game, the most in the NFL.
Lions defense in 2022 season
Total YPG Allowed
Pass YPG Allowed
Pass Yards/Attempt Allowed
Passer Rating Allowed
The disappointing performance across the entire unit led general manager Brad Holmes to overhaul the secondary through free agency -- signing cornerbacks Cameron Sutton (three years, $33 million), Emmanuel Moseley (one year, $6 million) and safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson (one-year, $6.5 million, co-led NFL with six interceptions) -- and selecting the 2023 NFL Draft's top safety, Alabama's Brian Branch, in the second round (45th overall). He also selected Iowa inside linebacker Jack Campbell 18th overall with the Lions' second first-round selection, putting Rodriguez's job in danger.
Campbell won the 2022 Butkus Award as the top linebacker in college football. His 92.9 PFF coverage grade was the best among linebackers in the FBS last season. Head coach Dan Campbell preaches competition, and this battle will certainly be fierce.
Cincinnati Bengals: Jordan Battle vs. Nick Scott and Dax Hill
The Bengals' two mainstays at safety in Jessie Bates III (who signed a four-year, $64 million contract with the Atlanta Falcons) and Vonn Bell (who signed a three-year, $22.5 million deal with the Carolina Panthers) departed in free agency this offseason. That opens up two starting spots, and the Bengals have three contenders: 2022 first-round pick Dax Hill, 2023 free agent signee Nick Scott (signed a three-year, $12 million contract with $3 million guaranteed), and 2023 third-round pick Jordan Battle.
Conventional wisdom would say Hill and Scott will start given they have more NFL experience than Battle, but Hill only has two career starts under his belt in 15 games played, and Scott only has 17 career starts in four seasons. Battle provides plenty of versatility given he lined up as a free safety, strong safety, and nickel corner under Nick Saban at Alabama. Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo enjoys utilizing three safety looks, so there's a chance for all three to get significant playtime. However, don't be surprised if Battle edges out Scott or Hill for a starting spot.