So many mouths to feed, so few footballs. Such is the story in many NFL cities this time of year, when injuries are few and hope overflows.
NFL teams added to their offensive skill-position groups this offseason, and the result has given us a number of units that look pretty crowded on paper. Training camp has a way of whittling those groups down quite a bit, but that doesn't mean there aren't some fierce positional battles that could result in vastly different-looking depth charts in a few months' time.
Here is a look at some of the deeper, more hotly contested skill-group battles. I've listed each team's most likely contributors based on projected touches (from most to fewest).
I reserve the right to amend this if Dalvin Cook ends up in Miami. But if he doesn't, the Dolphins likely will be leaning on a pair of veterans in the backfield, while one intriguing rookie could crash the party.
As things stand now, Raheem Mostert is coming off a season in which he led all Miami players with 212 touches, though he and Jeff Wilson Jr. virtually split the workload after Wilson came on board via midseason trade. Mostert and Wilson were both healthy for seven games last season (Weeks 9-10, 13-14, 16-18), and Mostert started all of them but had slightly lower numbers than Wilson in carries, rushing yards, rushing average, receiving average and total snaps.
Third-round pick De'Von Achane, meanwhile, averaged 6.8 yards per touch in college and is a blur. Salvon Ahmed and Myles Gaskin also are on the roster.
If I had to guess now, with Cook out of the picture, the Dolphins might end up with something of a 40-40-10-5-5 split, with Mostert and Wilson earning the majority of touches, Achane chipping in as a speed complement (possibly mostly as a receiver) and the others rounding out the mix.
The Falcons led the NFL in rushes and ranked third in rushing yards last season. Then they used the eighth overall pick on one of the best RB prospects in recent years, Bijan Robinson.
How Arthur Smith plans to divvy up the carries is anyone's guess. On one hand, it's hard to imagine Smith won't integrate Robinson early -- and in a big way, given that he was drafted higher than any back since 2018. Yet, the Falcons can't ignore Tyler Allgeier, either. All the fifth-round pick did as a rookie last season was average 4.9 yards on 210 carries -- rolling at a clip of 5.6 yards per carry from Week 9 on. The Falcons also have do-it-all dynamo Cordarrelle Patterson, who averaged almost 13 touches per game.
I can envision Allgeier perhaps shouldering more of the load early, with Robinson increasingly earning more work over time. Robinson and Patterson also figure to be primary receiving options; while Robinson was underused as a receiver at Texas, he shined at catching passes when he got chances, and Patterson excels in that area of the game, as well. Allgeier could receive a similar number of carries as Robinson, but Robinson could surpass Allgeier in total touches. With Patterson now 32, he looks like the third wheel here -- but being in that role could help preserve him. Caleb Huntley gets whatever is left over.
With Devin Singletary off to Houston, nearly 60 percent of the backfield's touches from last season are now up for grabs.
The Bills used a second-round pick on James Cook last year, and he ended up with about 30 percent of the RB workload after bouncing back from a first-touch fumble in Week 1 that had him parked on the bench temporarily. Cook's piece of the pie is expected to increase notably this season. But just how much of the share should a 190-pound back be handling? That's a real question. If we simply assume Cook will step into Singletary's role and come somewhere close to Singletary's 215-touch tally from a year ago, it's worth mentioning that outside of Austin Ekeler and Phillip Lindsay, there aren't too many similarly sized backs who have endured that many touches in recent seasons.
The Bills signed ex-Patriot Damien Harris, who often did the dirty work in New England, and added Latavius Murray after the draft. Neither is a star, but both had multiple 20-carry games in recent seasons, with each capable of load-carrying duties. Cook is the best receiving threat, so he should lead the way there in the backfield. If he proves up to the task, he also could receive the most handoffs, too.
Even while we await news of DeAndre Hopkins' eventual destination, the Patriots have plenty to figure out at receiver. Following the departures of Nelson Agholor and Jakobi Meyers, the two most established Pats receivers are DeVante Parker and Kendrick Bourne, but they've each only logged one 100-yard game during their time in New England. It's fair to say neither is a true go-to target. Free-agent signee JuJu Smith-Schuster is the most logical candidate for the WR1 role right now, coming off a very solid season in Kansas City, during which he logged eight games of five-plus catches. But the Patriots were reportedly cautious with his knee this spring, keeping him out of practices.
Tyquan Thornton is a candidate to step up in Year 2, filling the speed role in that offense, but he remains a semi-unknown. Sixth-rounders Kayshon Boutte and Demario Douglas (plus the undrafted Malik Cunningham, transitioning from QB) are intriguing options.
If the Patriots don't sign Hopkins, they could be in for another season of committee ball when it comes to the pass game. Bill O'Brien's return as offensive coordinator should improve the overall distribution and passing production.
The reintroduction of Calvin Ridley to the NFL will be fascinating. He hasn't played a game since 2021 after serving a suspension for violating the league's gambling policy, but he could end up as the top receiver in an emerging Jaguars passing game. Last we saw Ridley, he was struggling somewhat during a trying campaign in Atlanta. But the year prior, Ridley was spectacular, catching 90 passes for 1,374 yards (with eight 100-yard games) and nine TDs. Theoretically, he should be primed for a big year at age 28, and the Jaguars -- who acquired him last November -- have so far raved about what they've seen.
The interesting part is that the Jaguars return two 80-catch receivers (Christian Kirk and Zay Jones), along with a 70-catch tight end (Evan Engram) and an emerging receiving talent in the backfield (Travis Etienne). Assuming the blocking holds up, Trevor Lawrence might go on a Wonka-like feeding frenzy this season.
Our best guess: Ridley will play the X receiver spot and be Lawrence's go-to option, Kirk is the Y slot receiver (and is next in the pecking order) and Jones (or Engram) predominantly will be the third option as the Z on the other side. We can't overlook Jamal Agnew, who had a two-TD game at Philly last year, or promising sixth-rounder Parker Washington, but they're way down the depth chart for now.
For a second straight season, we're guessing how Patrick Mahomes' receiving corps will shape up. All the hand-wringing about this topic from a year ago looked retroactively silly when Mahomes carried the Chiefs to another Super Bowl title. Still, there are roles to iron out here again.
There's ample hope that Kadarius Toney can develop into a WR1 type, though tight end Travis Kelce remains the big dog until proven otherwise. One way or another, Toney's game-changing ability as a runner, receiver and returner should give him a far expanded role from what he was asked to do after Kansas City traded for him in 2022, especially after a few huge plays in the Super Bowl.
Skyy Moore also flashed late last season after some trying rookie moments and figures to receive more opportunities. He seems to be earning Mahomes' trust as time goes on and could benefit most in the slot following JuJu Smith-Schuster's departure. Marquez Valdes-Scantling likely has done enough to earn a role as a deep threat outside, and second-rounder Rashee Rice will be in the mix in some regard -- the question is just how much, how fast. There are enough other intriguing in-house options to call this a good group, whether or not the Chiefs add a veteran between now and Week 1.
After getting by with spare parts at receiver by season's end, the Giants added talent, depth and competition at the position this offseason. Most notably, they've become faster.
Based on Isaiah Hodgins' late-season flourish, we shouldn't be surprised to see the former sixth-round pick not only on the roster but possibly starting. Speed isn't his thing, but Hodgins showed toughness and a clutch gene in an impressive breakout after being claimed off waivers from Buffalo last November. Likewise, they might not be the most exciting options on paper, but Darius Slayton and Parris Campbell appear to be roster locks and in the mix for top-four WR roles.
The biggest questions come with third-round pick Jalin Hyatt and three players coming off injuries: second-year pro Wan'Dale Robinson and veterans Sterling Shepard and Jamison Crowder. If Robinson shows he's fully back from his torn ACL, he deserves a shot to prove he can be a difference maker, likely inside. Shepard (who also tore his ACL with the Giants last season) and Crowder (who suffered a broken ankle in Buffalo) might be up against it, but they also deserve a chance. And if Hyatt proves his speed translates from college, where he was one of the best deep-ball specialists last season, he absolutely should have a role catching moon shots from Daniel Jones.
As things stand, the Packers will enter the season with zero wide receivers possessing more than a year's worth of NFL experience -- all while breaking in a new starting quarterback. They've selected seven wideouts, including four in the first four rounds, in the past three drafts. From a roster-building perspective, this Green Bay experiment is utterly fascinating. But will it work?
Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs overcame some rookie lumps to build chemistry and develop last season as rookies with Aaron Rodgers. It remains to be seen how it'll work with Jordan Love at QB, but both Watson (on short stuff and long balls) and Doubs (working the underneath and middle) have cemented major roles.
Can rookie Jayden Reed win the slot job? That's certainly the hope. His biggest competition might be 2022 Seahawks draft pick Bo Melton, unless the Packers opt to go bigger inside. But Reed seems to have a good shot to be a fairly productive rookie there.
Samori Toure flashed as a rookie last season and could stick. Day 3 2023 picks Dontayvion Wicks and Grant DuBose have the physical skills to make it, too. The hot name in minicamp was Malik Heath, but he and the other wideouts are in a numbers crunch there.
The Panthers made a franchise-altering decision to trade up to the No. 1 overall pick to take Bryce Young. Early on, he’s made a strong impression. But trading for Young came at a cost -- one that could directly impact the new quarterback.
Carolina gave up its WR1, D.J. Moore, in the deal, and I don’t believe there’s a clear-cut, one-for-one replacement here. That’s not to say there isn’t some firepower to fill the void collectively, but it’s far from guaranteed.
If the Panthers go the veteran route and provide Young with the most experienced options, the starters outside figure to be DJ Chark Jr. and Adam Thielen. Chark has been plagued by injuries the last couple years, but he has size and speed. He registered a few big games down the stretch in Detroit last year. Thielen will be 33 in Week 1 and is almost strictly a chain mover/red-zone target now, but he caught 70 passes in 2022 and has a very low drop rate.
The potential breakout options are Terrace Marshall Jr. and Jonathan Mingo. Marshall has been a low-volume, big-play threat in two disappointing seasons since being drafted 59th overall in 2021. He has the talent to break out, but hasn’t yet put it all together. Mingo has the height-weight-speed chops to make an instant impact if he can add more polish to his game.
Shi Smith, Laviska Shenault Jr. and Damiere Byrd round out this unit. There’s some decent size and playmaking potential in the group, but I’m not quite ready to get too excited about it.
There was a notable change to the depth chart here, with the Cowboys drafting Luke Schoonmaker in Round 2 after Dalton Schultz signed with the Texans in free agency. But will Schoonmaker step into Schultz’s role and run with it? It might not be that simple.
Schultz quietly finished second in receiving yards (577) on the team behind CeeDee Lamb last season, and even with trade acquisition Brandin Cooks expected to take on some of that production, the Cowboys figure to use their tight ends regularly in the pass game. I just think we’re more likely to see a collective effort than one player dominating the playing time.
The top four tight ends all contribute in their own way. Jake Ferguson is a functional blocker, a good option underneath and can threaten the seam. Schoonmaker gives great blocking effort and is surprisingly fast. Peyton Hendershot had some impressive catches in limited chances. Sean McKeon was very competent on special teams and as a run blocker.
Schoonmaker figures to earn a regular role here, but this looks like a very solid group top to bottom and could end up being quite the quartet.
As is the case with the Packers’ receivers, the tight ends are a very inexperienced group. They took the fascinating approach of drafting two -- Luke Musgrave in Round 2, Tucker Kraft in Round 3 -- to form the brand-new duo atop the depth chart.
Tight ends are notoriously slow-developing in this league, but the Packers could throw both into the regular mix right away. Musgrave is short on starting experience, but he's physically gifted enough to man the in-line spot regularly, while Kraft can showcase his skills in the slot. But the beauty of this pairing is that each could be asked to play both the “F” and “Y” spots. They could appear together in 12 personnel packages.
Holdover Josiah Deguara figures to be the primary H-back, lining up in numerous spots as the jack of all trades. He also can hold his own at the other two spots. Tyler Davis might be the fourth option again as a solid contributor.
How the young guys fare is going to be a fun storyline to chart this season in Green Bay. Jordan Love doesn’t have much experience in his pass-catching targets, but the collective talent level is undeniable.
With all the wide receiver talent the Jets have collected, tight end might not be a featured position in the pass game for Aaron Rodgers. But I would be surprised if Rodgers didn’t form a connection with at least one player at the position. Even with all the great wideouts at Rodgers’ disposal over the years, a Packers tight end posted 30 or more catches 13 times in Rodgers’ 15 seasons as the starter in Green Bay.
Tyler Conklin, the top receiver of the Jets’ tight end group a year ago, is the clubhouse leader to be that option again. But don’t count out 2022 third-rounder Jeremy Ruckert, who was an underrated receiver at Ohio State, even after his one-catch rookie season.
C.J. Uzomah could function much like Marcedes Lewis did for Rodgers in Green Bay -- a tough, dirty-work guy who is rewarded with the occasional goal-line gift. Also, I wouldn’t write off seventh-rounder Zack Kuntz and his rare athletic gifts, even if he has a lot of maturing needed in his game and probably won’t win over Rodgers if that process is slow going.