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Baker Mayfield, Tyrod Taylor

Top 10 NFL training camp position battles

NFL training camp is always filled with intriguing storylines and crucial position battles, and this year is no different. Here are ten contests to keep an eye on this preseason.

10. Josh McCown vs. Teddy Bridgewater vs. Sam Darnold

Sam Darnold, Jets

The New York Jets have needed a franchise QB every since Mark Sanchez fell off the face of the earth after two straight AFC Championship losses. Former second-round pick Christian Hackenberg was released earlier this offseason having never played in a regular season game for the team.

New York signed former Viking Teddy Bridgewater as a bridge QB to start over the rookie they would take with the third overall pick, presumably Baker Mayfield. However, the Jets ended up with Sam Darnold.

Josh McCown was the starter for 13 games last year and had a surprisingly solid season, throwing for 2,926 yards and 18 touchdowns. Darnold is definitely the future of the franchise, but it is best for him to sit and learn early on, as he is only 21 and led the FBS in turnovers last year with 25.

Darnold had a solid preseason debut, although he made some mistakes almost identical to those he made in college. With McCown and Bridgewater having a history of injuries, Darnold could very well play this season, but it’s unlikely that he’ll be the Week 1 starter.

9. Isaiah Wynn vs. Trent Brown

Isaiah Wynn

The New England Patriots made improving their offensive line a priority this offseason, spending a first-round pick on Isaiah Wynn and trading a third-rounder to San Francisco for the hulking Trent Brown. With Nate Solder gone, Wynn and Brown will compete for the starting left tackle spot.

Wynn has everything a team looks for in an elite tackle, except he is undersized. Brown has all the physical talent in the world, but h4 has a reputation for being a lazy player. Whoever wins the battle will have to overcome their weakness to earn the privilege and pressure of protecting Tom Brady’s blindside.

8. Caleb Sturgis vs. Roberto Aguayo

Roberto Aguayo

Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Chargers’ kicker situation has been poor since they parted ways with Nick Novak in 2014, to say the least. The Chargers have the distinction of being the “1” in the Cleveland Browns’ 1-31 record over the past two tears, due to a missed field goal.

There are currently two kickers on the roster: Caleb Sturgis and Roberto Aguayo. Sturgis has been an average kicker for the duration of his career, while Aguayo is famous for being selected in the second round by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and being released a year later.

Aguayo  was one of the most prolific kickers in college football history, but he has not adjusted to the NFL mentally. Sturgis hasn’t helped himself out in camp thus far, missing five kicks to Aguayo’s two, and he missed a field goal in Los Angeles’ first preseason game. Based on performance this year, it looks like Aguayo will get another shot.

7. A.J. McCarron vs. Nathan Peterman vs. Josh Allen

Josh Allen, Bills

ClutchPoints

Tyrod Taylor led a subpar Buffalo Bills team to the playoffs last season, and he was rewarded for it by being traded to the Cleveland Browns in the offseason. Now, a three-way race to replace him is a neck-and-neck contest.

A.J. McCarron was a career backup for the Cincinnati Bengals, nearly traded to Cleveland at last year’s trade deadline. His claim to fame is a solid performance in relief of Andy Dalton in a playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Nathan Peterman, a fifth-round pick last year, is known for throwing four interceptions in a half when he was started over Taylor against the Chargers.

Josh Allen, the seventh-overall pick in this year’s NFL Draft, is the QB of the future. For Bills fans, hopefully that future doesn’t come until next year, because even though Allen is one of the most physically talented quarterbacks to enter the league ever, he is also incredibly raw and shouldn’t see the field at all this year in a perfect world.

Unfortunately, his competition is weak. Allen’s talent alone could earn him the starting job, and that would be disastrous. The Wyoming product made some impressive throws in his preseason debut, but he also had some headscratchers. No matter how strong his arm is, he is not ready to face a starting NFL defense.

6. Tyler Matakevich vs. Jon Bostic

Jon Bostic

It will be impossible for the Steelers to replace Ryan Shazier, but a new starter at inside linebacker needs to be found. The newly signed Jon Bostic seems to be in the lead after a strong camp and a good performance in the presesaon opener, but both players will see playing time in Pittsburgh’s 3-4 defense.

5. Cam Erving vs. Parker Ehinger

Cameron Erving

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The fact that Cam Erving has even an outside chance at starting should horrify Chiefs fans, as the first-round bust has earned the nickname “the human turnstile” for a reason. He has kept a spot in the NFL due to his athletic potential despite his performance as one of the league’s worst offensive lineman. If Parker Ehinger cannot beat him out, Pat Mahomes is in trouble.

4. Vernon Hargreaves vs. Carlton Davis

Vernon Hargreaves

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

While Vernon Hargreaves shouldn’t be considered a bust, he has not lived up to the expectations he gained after being selected 11th overall in 2016. Brent Grimes continues to defy age, but he can’t be relied upon forever.

Hargreaves needs to improve, but he may have to do that in the slot this year, as rookie Carlton Davis could steal his starting spot outside. Davis played at Auburn and stands 6-foot-1 and 203 pounds, an ideal size for a cornerback in today’s game. Perhaps having some competition will motivate Hargreaves to have the best season of his career.

3. Sony Michel vs. Brandon Bolden vs. Mike Gillislee vs. James White vs. Rex Burkhead vs. Jeremy Hill

sony michel

Brian Fluharty/USA TODAY Sports

The Patriots have at least six players who can make the team at running back, but they will likely only keep three. First-round pick Sony Michel is all but guaranteed a roster spot and should be the starter once he recovers from injury. Super Bowl hero James White has a very good shot at locking up the backup role, but that leaves four players to battle for third string.

Brandon Bolden’s special teams prowess will help him out, while Jeremy Hill is the most talented of the four. There is no proven star of the group, but New England may end up having one of the deepest running back stables in the NFL.

2. James Hurst vs. Orlando Brown Jr.

Baker Mayfield, Orlando Brown

Ron Jenkins/The Associated Press

James Hurst started all 16 games last season for the Baltimore Ravens, but he now finds himself locked in a battle for the starting right tackle spot with rookie Orlando Brown Jr. At Oklahoma, Brown was one of the nation’s best offensive lineman, not giving up a single sack in 2017 while using his massive 6-foot-8, 350-pound frame to dominate in the run game.

An abysmal combine tanked his draft stock, and the Ravens benefited from that, as they were able to take him in the third round. He has played well in Baltimore’s first two preseason games and could very well open the season as the starter.

1. Tyrod Taylor vs. Baker Mayfield

Baker Mayfield, Browns

Icon Sportswire/Getty Images

For a team that hasn’t had a good quarterback since Derek Anderson in 2007 (and that season was the definition of a fluke), a player like Tyrod Taylor is a Godsend for the Cleveland Browns. He is a dependable veteran who won’t make fatal mistakes.

Taylor should open the season as the starter and play out all 16 games. But, if history is any indicator, Hue Jackson’s word isn’t the most reliable.

Taylor went 5-5 with a touchdown in Cleveland’s preseason win against the Giants. The problem is that first overall Baker Mayfield also had a fantastic game, albeit against backups. He threw two touchdowns, exhibiting perfect ball placement on both of them while using his legs to convert some crucial third downs.

It’s only one preseason game, but Mayfield looked like a legitimate NFL QB, something Cleveland hasn’t had in a while. Taylor will likely start, but at the first sign of trouble, there will no doubt be calls for the Browns to turn to Mayfield. It’s up to Jackson and Todd Haley to resist them, as keeping Mayfield on the bench is best for the team now and in the future.