There are 360 players on AFC East rosters, and that number will be down to 212 by the time training camp is over. While some position battles will determine who makes and does not make the roster, others will determine positioning on the depth chart as either a starter or a backup.
These are the battles we'll be watching most closely within the AFC East. Next
Manny Lawson vs. Jerry Hughes: With the news coming down that the Bills have released defensive end Mark Anderson, there’s a wide-open job at outside linebacker. The competition should consist primarily of edge defenders Manny Lawson (pictured) and Jerry Hughes.
Lawson has played outside linebacker in both the 3-4 and the 4-3 defense. His best season came in 2009 in the 49ers 3-4 defense, when he logged 6.5 sacks and three forced fumbles.
Hughes has underperformed to this point, logging just five sacks in his three-year career. He doesn’t have quite the versatility or experience that Lawson has, but the Bills saw some potential in him to generate pressure off the edge and traded for the former first-round pick.
Neither player was on the Bills roster last season. Now, they will likely compete for major playing time.
Ras-I Dowling vs. Logan Ryan: Ras-I Dowling has played eight combined games over the past two years, missing 24 games with a torn tendon in his leg and a torn quadriceps. He’s looked good when he’s been out there, but he’ll need to prove he can stay healthy and that he’s improved, especially with former Rutgers cornerback Logan Ryan (pictured) breathing down his neck on the depth chart.
Dowling is seen as more of a prototype man-corner for his length and speed, but Ryan fits the hybrid look the Patriots have targeted for years, and could work the slot.
Although the two are different corners, they could compete for playing time, especially early on in the season if Alfonzo Dennard misses time due to suspension following his DUI arrest. If Dowling wins out, expect Kyle Arrington to move to the slot; if Ryan is the victor, Arrington may kick outside once again. Next
Jake Ballard vs. Daniel Fells vs. Michael Hoomanawanui vs. Zach Sudfeld vs. Brandon Ford: It’s hard to make heads-or-tails of the tight end battle for the Patriots right now. This entire group is a question mark, made even more questionable by Rob Gronkowski’s shaky status for Week 1.
Gronkowski will start training camp on the PUP list, opening the door for Ballard (pictured), Fells, Hoomanawanui, Sudfeld and Ford to make their impact felt.
Fells and Hoomanawanui were the primary backups last year, but Sudfeld turned heads at OTAs. Ford is a dark-horse candidate for the roster, but his abilities as an H-back could make him an intriguing compliment to the rest of the depth chart.
Kevin Kolb vs. EJ Manuel: EJ Manuel may have been the first quarterback taken in the draft, but nothing will be handed to him. The Bills are in no rush to get Manuel on the field, and Kolb presently looks like the front-runner for the starting job, but Kolb has played in just 22 games over the past three years.
Even if Manuel doesn’t win the job in camp, he could earn his first NFL start as a rookie.
Marquise Goodwin vs. T.J. Graham: In drafting Marquise Goodwin (pictured) in the third round of April’s draft, the Bills added yet another speedster wide receiver with questionable football skills. They drafted T.J. Graham in the third round the year prior, and he was moderately successful as a rookie with 31 catches for 322 yards and a touchdown.
With wide receivers Stevie Johnson and Robert Woods already on the field, it’s not likely both Goodwin and Graham will get significant playing time, so they’ll be competing to fill the same spot.
Lamar Miller vs. Daniel Thomas: The Dolphins allowed running back Reggie Bush to walk in free agency after two years of solid production, and while the Dolphins may employ a backfield-by-committee, someone’s going to be the lead back.
Will it be Lamar Miller, who averaged 4.9 yards per carry after being drafted in the fourth round in 2012? Or will it be Daniel Thomas (pictured), the team’s second-round pick in 2011 who has averaged a paltry 3.5 yards per carry?
Miller seems to be the better candidate as the more versatile back, and has a skill set more comparable to Bush’s with his quickness and burst, but according to reports, the job is very much up for grabs.
Jamar Taylor vs. Richard Marshall: The Dolphins secondary struggled last year on its way to being burned for 3,974 passing yards and 60 pass plays of 20 yards or more. Thus, it wasn’t much of a surprise that they completely gutted their depth chart at cornerback.
Richard Marshall played just four games last year, missing the remaining 12 with a back injury. Reports indicate he is on the mend and will be ready for the beginning of the season, but he’ll have to hold off rookie Jamar Taylor for the starting job opposite Brent Grimes, signed by the Dolphins as a free agent.
Taylor (pictured) has an injury of his own to recover from, after he went under the knife to repair a sports hernia earlier this offseason. He was drafted in the second round for a reason, though, and the Dolphins clearly admire the ball skills he showed with six interceptions and 21 pass defenses over the past two years.
The loser of this battle will likely be moved to the slot, which isn’t too much of a loss at all, considering slot corners are typically starters in today’s NFL.
Dion Sims vs. Michael Egnew: The Dolphins were hoping to get a solid pass-catching H-back when they drafted Michael Egnew in the third round. What they got was someone who ended up being a punch line throughout training camp, with his struggles chronicled on national television on “Hard Knocks.” Those struggles have continued in the first few days of Dolphins training camp.
Now, fourth-round tight end Dion Sims (pictured) could pose a threat to Egnew’s status as the backup behind Dustin Keller. Sims has already begun taking reps with the first-team offense. He’s more of a blocker than Egnew, but he does have some natural pass-catching ability and his skill set could pose a complement to Keller’s.
Dee Milliner vs. Kyle Wilson: Just three years after drafting Kyle Wilson in the first round, the Jets were back to selecting a top cornerback with the ninth overall pick in Dee Milliner (pictured).
Wilson moved to the outside when Darrelle Revis tore his ACL, ending his 2012 season, but he’s been primarily a nickel cornerback in his career to this point. He has resumed the slot role during offseason workouts, but could make a push to start if there are any lingering effects of Milliner’s offseason shoulder surgery.
Geno Smith vs. Mark Sanchez: Without a doubt, this is the battle that will get the most attention in the AFC East, and is among the most compelling battles in all of the NFL. With a new offensive coordinator, new running backs and new offensive guards, the Jets are starting fresh all over the offense. Will they start fresh at quarterback, too?
The Jets could turn back to Mark Sanchez, choosing to give him one more chance after two tumultuous years full of turnovers — 52, to be exact. Sanchez has the second-worst passer rating of any quarterback in the NFL to start at least 20 games over the past two years.
They could also start over with Geno Smith, the second quarterback off the board in the 2013 draft. He thrived throwing short, rhythm passes at West Virginia, but he has much work to do in improving his drop-backs and will see much more complicated defenses in the NFL than anything he saw in the Big East/Big 12.
Right now, Sanchez is the front-runner for the job, but Smith could make a push during training camp, and his prospects of becoming the starter could get better if the Jets struggle early on in the season.
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