NFL Training Camp Battles: Wide Receivers

As the NFL offseason draws to a close, teams are sorting out their depth charts and finalising the rosters. Every year there are rumours of who is a surprise performer. Teams also come out either praising a rookie, or criticising them in the hopes of motivating them. What it all comes down to is who wins the battle at positions up for grabs.

When it comes to Wide Receivers, most teams have two or three on the field at once, and sometimes four. While the WR1, WR2 and WR3 usually play slightly different roles, there is still competition to be the WR1. Additionally, due to the higher numbers of Wide Receivers on the field, most teams are also sorting out the depth chart, and who could make plays later in the season. These are the top ten most interesting WR position battles this offseason.

10. Chicago Bears

The Bears brought in a lot of WR talent last offseason, but nobody had a consistent year and established themselves as the top dog. Allen Robinson, Anthony Miller and Taylor Gabriel each had strong outings, but not week in, week out. Then, in 2019, the Bears also added Riley Ridley in the draft and Cordarelle Patterson in Free Agency. The Bears need more consistent play from their WRs, and better chemistry with Quarterback Mitch Trubisky, if they are to take another step towards the Super Bowl.

The battle for WR1 should be between Robinson and Miller, with Ridley becoming an understudy. Patterson figures to be mainly a Special Teams player, but could also get snaps as a deep threat, something Gabriel has been used for in the past. Ridley and Gabriel could also be competing for the WR3 spot, and could share time in that role. While Robinson, Miller and Gabriel have the head start due to their time in Chicago last year, Ridley and Patterson will push them to take hold of their spots. The other WRs currently on the roster will seek to fill spots on the depth chart.

9. Buffalo Bills

The Bills had one of the worst WR groups in the league last year with Zay Jones leading the way with 652 yards. Robert Foster began to make plays late in the season and showed some rapport with rookie QB Josh Allen. Rather than add talent through the draft though, the Bills brought in Free Agents John Brown and Cole Beasley.

Brown looks to be an immediate candidate to become either WR1 or WR2 as a deep ball specialist, suiting Allen’s strong arm. Foster also can’t be ignored after his play last season. Beasley is a slot receiver, and should take over for Jones.

Despite all this, the Bills can’t afford to gift Beasley or Brown, or even Foster, a starting spot. Their WR production was so poor last season, that they need to put the best players on the field, regardless of contract size. If Ray-Ray McCloud or rookie David Sills are better options, they should start. With all WR spots open in Buffalo, this competition has a bit more going on than some others.

8. Carolina Panthers

The Panthers WR corps has the potential to be sneakily productive this season. DJ Moore showed promise in his rookie season, and with further progress, should lock down the WR1 spot. Who will be on the field alongside him, however, is much more interesting.

Last year’s additions Torrey Smith and Jarius Wright each carved out specialty roles for themselves. Yet neither was capable of being a reliable WR that would draw attention from Defences. 2017 draftee Curtis Samuel also began to improve his production, but similarly looks limited to being a role-player on the Offense, rather than a dynamic game-changer. FA Chris Hogan, who averaged 500 yards and 4 TDs in his time in New England, could step in as a steady WR2 to play across from Moore. Rookie Terry Godwin figures mainly to replace either Wright or Samuel if needed, working mostly out of the slot.

With Moore’s position largely decided, the Panthers need to find someone else who can be more than just a part-time contributor. If Samuel shows further improvement, he should be able to emerge as that player. However, Hogan could add a bit more talent, experience and reliability than the Panthers are getting out of Wright or Smith. This Panthers WR competition is intriguing, as it will tell us if each WR will have a specific role, or if they are able to field a more dynamic group that opens up the Offense.

7. Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars WR battle is less about who will be the WR1, and more about who will develop the best chemistry with new QB Nick Foles. Dede Westbrook and Marqise Lee have been developing over the past few seasons as the top WRs in Jacksonville, especially after Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns both left as Free Agents. Last year’s rookie DJ Chark needs a clearer role with his speed, and he may again take a backseat of this can’t be determined.

Competing with Westbrook and Lee, however, are FA additions Chris Conley and Terrelle Pryor. Pryor had a strong 2016 in Cleveland, but has struggled to return to that form since. Conley was a WR3 in Kansas City, and has a good chance to increase his role in Jacksonville.

But none of this matters unless they can connect with Foles. Westbrook has shown enough promise that he should lock down one of the WR spots. Lee, Conley and Chark are the best bets to land the other two. Pryor will need to wind back the clock to make it work, and will likely lose a depth spot to Keelan Cole, Chark or Conley. While there are some presumptive favourites, all of it could be turned on its head depending on how the Offense is designed around Foles.

6. San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers WR contest is much like the Bills’ one, but with less clarity. Marquise Goodwin has tried to make himself the top target in his two years in San Francisco. But between sub-par QB play, and his own limitations, he looks best suited to a WR2 role. Elsewhere on the roster, Jordan Matthews was added in the offseason. He will look to be a short-medium route WR, but has never been a centrepiece of an Offense. Dante Pettis is primarily a return specialist, leaving space for rookies Jalen Hurd and Deebo Samuel to step in as potential starters.

Goodwin could become the top WR to start the season, with Matthews and Samuel likely to be the other two seeing regular playing time. But nothing is certain, and QB Jimmy Garoppolo needs to stay healthy too. In Head Coach Kyle Shanahan’s Offense all of these guys could be used in different ways. But fundamentally, someone needs to step up and be the guy that Defenses target.

5. Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens’ approach in the offseason was clear: build a WR group that is fast and works with QB Lamar Jackson. They brought in bigger-bodied guys in Michael Floyd, Seth Roberts and Miles Boykin, speed in Marquise Brown, shiftiness in Antoine Wesley, and chemistry with Jackson in Jaylen Smith. The Ravens need WRs that can block, get open, and also run a range of routes. This WR competition is less about who will get regular snaps, but more about the identity on Offense.

First round pick Marquise Brown should be one of the top WRs when it’s all said and done. He will be used to open up the field and make plays after the catch. Despite going undrafted, Smith played with Jackson in college and has good rapport with him, giving him a competitive edge. Likewise, Willie Snead also has developed a good understanding with Jackson and should be a starter. Floyd, Roberts and Boykin are most likely to be helpers in the running attack due to their size. The other WRs on the roster will be backups for each of these roles.

Unlike Carolina, however, the WRs that Baltimore go with are more than just role-players. They will each do multiple things, and even depth players like Jordan Lasley will be asked to contribute. Where this battle draws all the attention, essentially, is which players will be nominated as starters, as this will indicate who can do the most for the Offense and Jackson.

4. Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs’ WR battle has been one of the dominant offseason storylines. With Tyreek Hill’s status uncertain, likely facing a suspension, the Chiefs need a new top target for QB Patrick Mahomes. While many see rookie Mecole Hardman as a logical successor due to similar abilities, Sammy Watkins needs to also be an important figure.

Watkins, a former first round pick, has struggled to put himself in the conversation as one of the league’s top receivers. If he can overcome this and finally make the leap, the Chiefs’ Offense will have a smoother transition. It would simultaneously take the pressure off Hardman, who does look to be destined to be a starter. The other starter is likely to be Demarcus Robinson.

Yet if Hardman can’t make it work with Mahomes, or nobody else on the roster can step up, the Chiefs’ season is in jeopardy. This WR competition will tell us about the progress of each of these players. But more importantly, it will indicate how the Chiefs will fare this season.

3. Arizona Cardinals

After struggling to find much success in the air last season, the Cardinals drafted three WRs, each looking to win a starting job. Throw in Kyler Murray and Kliff Kingsbury’s much talked-about Offense, and this competition is very exciting. There are also questions about how veteran Larry Fitzgerald will fit in, and if last year’s draftee Christian Kirk still has a place.

Andy Isabella, Hakeem Butler, and KeeSean Johnson were drafted in the second, fourth and sixth rounds respectively. Isabella and Butler both can operate on the outside as downfield receivers, although it’s unclear if both will get to start. Johnson also had a productive college career, and shouldn’t be overlooked. If not for Fitzgerald, it’s very possible all three would be the starters, with Isabella and Johnson being the inside receiver.

The competition in Arizona is fun because it also informs us of how Murray is progressing, but is unique in the chance for multiple rookies to become instant contributors. With Fitzgerald’s guidance and stability, this competition could dictate a dangerous Offense for years to come. Or, it could mean the team has a lot to overcome still.

2. Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks have needed greater depth at WR for years, and that problem was compounded with Doug Baldwin’s injuries this offseason. Seattle need to find their WR1, and may also look to upgrade Tyler Lockett, Jaron Brown and David Moore. To do this, they drafted three WRs and added another as an UDFA.

The first of these, DK Metcalf, was chosen to step in right away as Baldwin’s replacement. He can do a range of things as a receiver, whereas Lockett and Moore are a bit more limited. Gary Jennings, John Ursua, and Terry Wright are each looking to become a WR3 at best. But with strong short and intermediate route running, could become a WR2.

Like other teams on this list, the Seahawks need their WR1 to emerge so that their identity on Offense is clear. If Lockett is forced to be the dependable WR, Seattle will have a tough time trying to score points. Metcalf needs to be the guy they drafted, and any of the other rookies stepping up is a bonus. How the Seahawks replace Baldwin though, is the question that needs answering.

1. New York Giants

For the first time since 2014, the Giants are without Odell Beckham Jr. While they have plenty of other weapons on Offense, none are as talented as Beckham Jr. His departure leaves not only a sizeable hole to be filled, but also a starting spot. While Sterling Shepard has been a favoured target for QB Eli Manning over the past two seasons, he hasn’t shown himself to be a WR1 yet.

Likewise, FA Golden Tate has been in battles before to become a WR1. In Detroit, Seattle and to an extent in Philadelphia, he was a prominent part of the Offense, yet never carried it. In each situation he was a WR1A to someone else as WR1B. He and Shepard could complement each other in that way, but the Giants still need another WR to contribute, especially as a downfield receiver.

Corey Coleman will look to be the WR3, but will need to beat out Bennie Fowler and Cody Latimer. Whichever of these three can prove themselves in training camp will step in, but needs to be able to play a bigger role than the Giants’ WR3 of recent years. Losing Odell Beckham Jr, with a declining Eli Manning, puts extra pressure on not only the WR3, but also the other starters.

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