The month of May is almost over and June is right around the corner. With that, the time until training camp starts is counting down now. After free agency and the NFL Draft, each NFL team has one biggest training camp battle that stands out the most, and this series will highlight them! Starting today with the NFC North.
Cincinnati Bengals: Wide Receiver
The Bengals roster is one of the more complete in the NFL, leading to not exactly many big camp battles on the horizon for starting spots. Where there is a camp battle though lies at wide receiver. The top three are Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, and Tyler Boyd, but after the NFL Draft, the depth behind them is where the competition is. At the fourth wide receiver spot currently is Trenton Irwin, who made his impact known when on the field with 231 yards and four touchdowns over 15 receptions. Even with that, the Bengals went out and drafted not one, but two wide receivers on day three of the draft. The first is Charlie Jones, who in his first season with Purdue after transferring from Iowa had 1,361 yards and 12 touchdowns while averaging 2.7 yards per route run. He wins with his savvy technique to leverage defensive backs in his routes, and uses his size well to block out defensive backs. With Jones, his time on special teams helps as well with averaging 15.6 yards per kick return, and 6.3 yards per punt return.
Then there is Andrei Iosivas, who will provide a major downfield playmaker over his time on the field. Iosivas finished 2022 with 924 yards and seven touchdowns, 343 of those yards and four touchdowns came on passes of 20-plus yards. He is able to do so with his quick first step off the line, and when accelerating downfield uses his 6’4, 200 pound frame to get past defenders with ease. Both have big playmaking ability, and will be competing against each other and Irwin for that fourth spot, making this the top battle to watch.
Baltimore Ravens: Left Guard
Ben Powers was the left guard for the Ravens, taking every snap there in 2022. He is now gone as he left in free agency, creating an open spot on the line for competition. The projected starter is Ben Cleveland, who the Ravens selected in the third round of the 2021 draft. Cleveland since being drafted has played 462 snaps, and during that time has allowed only one sack and 11 pressures. He has struggled with consistency though, and will need to improve that to be a starter. If he can improve with his pass blocking technique even more to match his mauler mentality when run blocking, the Ravens may have something with him. If not, there is John Simpson who is involved in this battle. Simpson is coming from the Las Vegas Raiders, where over 1,622 snaps he allowed only four sacks and 58 pressures. Between the two, the Ravens will need to see who fits best in between Ronnie Stanley and Tyler Linderbaum to ensure Lamar Jackson has reliability from that spot on the line.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Cornerback
After allowing 3,779 yards and 29 touchdowns over just 332 completions, the Steelers needed a change in their secondary. They signed Patrick Peterson, and have a solid second cornerback in Levi Wallace, but behind them the room wasn’t really jumping off the page. Pittsburgh then went on to draft Joey Porter Jr., and Cory Trice. Peterson will slot in most likely in the slot, while Porter will take one outside spot, leading to the competition being between Trice and Wallace. Yes, Wallace only allowed 39 receptions on 71 targets, but they went for 615 yards and an average of 15.8 yards per reception. He was prone to giving up big plays, and Trice has the potential to stand out in camp and challenge for the starting spot. In 2022, Trice was targeted 44 times to allow only 21 receptions for 220 yards and one touchdown. Over his entire college career, he used his length extremely well to disrupt passing lanes and cause 16 pass breakups, and wrap up tackles. He diagnoses pass plays quickly, and run plays as well, and gets to where he needs to be to make a stop. Trice has starter potential, and that causes this to be something to watch in training camp.
Cleveland Browns: Wide Receiver
With Deshaun Watson now under center, the Browns appear to want to incorporate more passing into their offense based on the receiver moves they made. First was trading with the New York Jets for Elijah Moore, then signing Marquise Goodwin, and finally drafting Cedric Tillman. Amari Cooper will be the de facto top receiver, but all the added receivers in addition to David Bell and Donovan Peoples-Jones could very well be competing for the other two spots on the field. Bell, out of the 16 other rookie receivers he was drafted with in 2022, ranked 15th in yards per route run (0.71) and 15th in target rate per route (11.6%). He will need to massively use this camp to improve if he wants to see playing time this season. Moore will be looking to get back to showing the production he did in weeks one through six, when he averaged a depth of target of 15 yards. Then there is rookie Cedric Tillman, who plays with exceptional body control and can excel downfield with his tracking skills and speed. Overall, the Browns have options at wide receiver, and who they decide to go with remains unknown at the moment.
For more NFL content, check out the links below!
–2023 NFL Draft Steals: AFC North
–Top 10 NFL Pass Rushers Heading into 2023