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.
Chicago Bears: Running Back
With David Montgomery leaving in free agency, the spot for the top running back spot on the Bears is now up for grabs. At a quick glance, it would appear to be Khalil Herbert, who has been on the team since being drafted by Chicago in the sixth round of the 2021 NFL Draft. Over the two seasons so far, Herbert has had 232 attempts which he has turned into 1,164 yards and six touchdowns. Herbert has the familiarity, but then the Bears went out and signed D’Onta Foreman, who has shown more of the ability to be a workhorse back in the league coming off a season in which he had 203 attempts that he turned into 914 yards and five touchdowns. Herbert had Foreman beat when it came to the receiving aspect of things, but to make things even more competitive, the Bears drafted a running back in Roschon Johnson who can do both. Even being the second running back behind Bijan Robinson, Johnson had a 2,190-yard, 23 touchdown rushing career, and a 420-yard, three touchdown receiving career in college. Each running back brings a different element to the offense, either way it is going to be a battle to watch.
Minnesota Vikings: Cornerback
The secondary has long been an area the Vikings have struggled to solidify. In the 2022 NFL Draft it looked as if the improvement was going to start when drafting Andrew Booth Jr., and Akayleb Evans. Both had shortened rookie seasons though due to injury. So, to ensure depth in the secondary, the Vikings went out and brought in Byron Murphy, while also drafting Mekhi Blackmon and Jay Ward within the first four rounds of the 2023 NFL Draft. Murphy will secure one of the starting spots, which creates a multitude of battles. This could include between Booth and Evans, or they could both find themselves being challenged by Blackmon and Ward. Blackmon is coming off a season in which he missed only two tackles, allowed only 30 receptions on 63 targets for 286 yards and one touchdown while creating eight pass breakups and three interceptions. Ward is a bit more of a work in progress, but did only allow 27 receptions on 41 targets for 283 yards. Blackmon is more fluid in coverage, but Ward still plays with great recognition and uses his size well to disrupt plays. If he can continue that in camp, Ward could make this competition overall extremely interesting between the four.
Detroit Lions: Safety
After allowing 4,179 yards and 26 touchdowns through the air in 2022, the Lions completely revamped their secondary in the offseason. Most notably, they signed C.J. Gardner-Johnson at safety, but he will most likely play in the slot. The competition begins behind him, starting with Kerby Joseph, the third round rookie from 2022, who had a decent rookie season allowing only 290 yards in coverage over 20 receptions, but did allow five touchdowns and missed 10 tackles. Then there is Tracy Walker, who is going to be coming off a torn Achilles he suffered in Week Three against the Minnesota Vikings. So to ensure stability on the backend, the Lions drafted Brian Branch. Branch with his versatility to play deep or in the box, his top-tier closing speed, and overall range to make a play against the pass and run is something that will add a major boost to the Detroit defense. He finished his college career with 20 pressures, only four missed tackles, 9.0 yards allowed per reception (96 allowed), and created 15 pass breakups. Battle is a starting caliber player, and could very well earn it in camp.
Green Bay Packers: Tight End
Entering the draft, tight end was a massive need as Josiah Deguara was atop the depth chart at the position. So, Green Bay addressed tight end and drafted not one, but two. Luke Musgrave and Tucker Kraft were both drafted within the first three rounds, showing how highly the Packers think of both and how they can contribute. Musgrave dominates athletically with his route running and speed to threaten defenses down the field, but he isn’t necessarily the best blocking as his pad level is off and limits his effectiveness. On the other hand, Tucker Kraft provides Green Bay with a tight end who has good athleticism, alignment versatility, the size to fight for yards after the catch, and can block. This battle will be important throughout training camp to see who secures the top spot, or to even see how frequently the Packers plan to have them both on the field together.
For more NFL content, check out the links below!
–2023 NFL Draft Steals: NFC North Division
–Why the Detroit Lions Will Make the NFC Championship Game