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2023 NFL training camps: First-stringers who could lose starting jobs

Now that most NFL teams have transitioned to practicing with pads, the true training camp battles can begin in earnest. Here are 12 veteran players who might be in danger of losing their starting roles in 2023.

Davis Mills
Houston Texans · QB

This one can't be much of a surprise given where the Texans drafted C.J. Stroud (No. 2 overall). The question is more of whether Mills can even hold off Stroud to begin the season for the starting QB job in Houston. In the early days of camp, the two have been splitting reps fairly evenly. 

Does Mills have a future in Houston? His salary-cap numbers are ideal for a backup QB, and his 26 starts over his first two seasons give the Texans a nice safety net behind Stroud whenever the rookie takes over full time. But there might be some trade possibilities elsewhere if another team finds itself shorthanded at QB. Houston, perhaps not wanting to carry three QBs into the season, might also decide that Case Keenum should be the backup and could make the inexpensive Mills available.

Michael Carter
New York Jets · RB

Carter remains a de facto RB1 for now, having started 10 of his 16 games last season and appearing atop the initial depth chart in advance of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game. But anyone who has perused the Jets' RB situation has to know that Carter needs to impress to keep a steady role in this offense.

A lot of his projection will depend on what eventually happens with free-agent RB Dalvin Cook, along with the health of Breece Hall, who remains sidelined coming off a torn ACL. If Hall isn't ready for the early season and Cook doesn't land in New York, Carter might be forced into an early role out of necessity. 

But following a disappointing second season, Carter really must be sharp with Zonovan Knight (who looked better than Carter at times late in 2022) and 2023 fifth-rounder Izzy Abanikanda breathing down his neck.

Cordarrelle Patterson
Atlanta Falcons · RB

It has to have been a strange offseason for Patterson, who first watched the Falcons take a running back with the eighth overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft (Bijan Robinson) and then in May saw the NFL's kickoff rules altered dramatically. Both moves could affect Patterson's livelihood and standing in Atlanta.

On the one hand, Patterson is a locker-room and fan favorite, and he provides depth at three spots -- running back, receiver and returner. But with Robinson opening eyes early in camp (and taking some kickoff returns in practice), plus Tyler Allgeier coming off a strong rookie season, there might not be a huge role for Patterson on offense. 

It's possible he could be used more at receiver, but one way or another, his volume appears to be dwindling, especially after a midseason knee injury in 2022 spawned a less impactful version of Patterson.

Patrick Ricard
Baltimore Ravens · FB

In February, the fullback celebrated his fourth straight Pro Bowl appearance -- a pretty remarkable achievement for an undrafted defensive lineman out of Maine -- as a dirty-work run blocker and unsung hero for the Ravens. He's filled multiple roles and increased his offensive snap count in each of the past four seasons.

But with former offensive coordinator (and Ricard fan) Greg Roman gone, that role might no longer exist. Ricard is nearing 30 years old, remains on the PUP list following hip surgery this spring and might not be a perfect fit in new coordinator Todd Monken's system, which traditionally hasn't used a lot of two-back sets or hulking, blocking-heavy tight ends.

Robert Woods
Houston Texans · WR

There's a case to be made, especially if QB C.J. Stroud wins the Week 1 starting job, that having the veteran Woods running routes for a rookie quarterback is a smart development plan. The Texans likely knew they'd be drafting a quarterback high in the draft when they signed Woods, and he has earned respect in multiple locker rooms throughout his career. 

However, Woods is coming off a shockingly inefficient season in Tennessee, even if there was plenty of mess around him on that Titans offense. It's possible that Woods being another year removed from his 2021 knee injury springs some more life back into his game, but it's fair to wonder how much juice the 31-year-old has left.

Woods being replaced as a starter still requires some others to improve, though. But there have been enough encouraging early returns on rookies Nathaniel "Tank" Dell and Xavier Hutchinson and sophomore John Metchie III -- after a leukemia diagnosis forced him to miss the 2022 season -- to feel OK about the young options. Nico Collins and Noah Brown also offer more youth and size than Woods does, so it might not be essential for the veteran to be starting unless he proves worthy of it with his play in camp and the preseason.

Sterling Shepard
New York Giants · WR

After adding half the slot receivers in America to the roster this offseason, the Giants have some serious competition inside this season. Injuries -- and a lack of separation -- killed the WR unit last season, and Shepard has been limited to 10 games total (eight starts) over the past two seasons. 

Shepard is back at practice now and cleared to play, but so are a ton of other inside options: Wan'Dale Robinson, Jamison Crowder, rookie Jalin Hyatt and others. Staying healthy has been a big concern for Shepard over the past few years, and he really hasn't been all that consistent in terms of production since 2018. The competition for Shepard's job likely will run well into August, but it's very much ripe for the taking if others can step up.

Tyquan Thornton
New England Patriots · WR

Thornton started nine of his 13 games as a rookie and offered occasional flashes of intrigue. All in all, it was an indication that he still required some development, but there was a belief that Thornton could get a fresh start with new play-caller Bill O'Brien and still fill an important role this season as a deep threat and gadget guy.

Right now, it's not clear if those hopes remain quite as high, especially as sixth-rounder Demario Douglas has been an early standout in camp. Douglas appears to be primarily a slot receiver, and Thornton only played about a third of his snaps inside. But assuming Douglas takes ownership of that role, would Thornton suddenly be taking major snaps away from JuJu Smith-Schuster and DeVante Parker, both of whom received new money this offseason? 

The Patriots also have TEs Hunter Henry and Mike Gesicki as pass catchers who should see decent volume, along with RB Rhamondre Stevenson, who caught 69 passes a year ago. Thornton might have some ground to make up to carve out steady work in this offense, even with his tempting home-run potential.

Mekhi Becton
New York Jets · OT

Is it wrong to call Becton, who has missed all but one game over the past two seasons, a first-stringer? In the Jets' convoluted OT situation, I lean toward no. Becton had reported to camp looking quite svelte, too, and with Duane Brown still sidelined on the PUP list, there was an open road for Becton to reclaim a starting job outside. 

It just hasn't happened so far, and it's beyond fair to ask if it will ever happen with this team. Becton struggled with the second-team O-line in the Jets' first padded practice and remains on a pitch count as he continues healing the knee injury that caused him to miss all of 2022. Right now, he's running behind Billy Turner and Max Mitchell for reps, so Becton is going to need to show something quickly. Four preseason games and two joint practice sessions help, but the clock is ticking fast.

Lawrence Guy
New England Patriots · DT

Guy reported to camp after skipping June minicamps, reportedly upset with his salary, but it's still unclear if he'll get the new contract he desires -- or even if he'll keep his starting gig. He's been a reliable serviceman for Bill Belichick's defense, missing only five games over six seasons and handling a thankless role pretty well. But Guy hasn't been much of a playmaker in his career, is 33 years old and suffered a shoulder injury that cost him three games last season.

With Christian Barmore back healthy, it wouldn't be shocking to see Guy slide into more of a reserve role in 2023.

Adetokunbo Ogundeji
Atlanta Falcons · OLB

Ogundeji has been a starter for the Falcons since Week 6 of his 2021 rookie season, missing only two games to injury since then. Perhaps the dearth of pass-rush talent was one reason why Ogundeji started, but there's an excellent chance one of Atlanta's offseason pickups pushes him out of a role.

The Falcons brought in Bud Dupree, Calais Campbell and Zach Harrison this offseason, adding to an edge group that also includes Lorenzo Carter, Arnold Ebiketie and DeAngelo Malone. Ebiketie is a player on the rise, and I believe Harrison has the makeup to be a more impactful player in the NFL than he was in college. It's hard to see a major role for Ogundeji on Atlanta's refurbished front.

Malcolm Rodriguez
Detroit Lions · LB

The 2022 Hard Knocks star and 15-game starter as a rookie -- who ranked third on the team in tackles -- has found himself in a far different place than he was a year ago: mostly running with the second-team defense. 

Part of that has to do with the fact that the Lions added first-round pick Jack Campbell, who has seen regular snaps with the first team early in camp. There's also the improvement of Derrick Barnes, which has been a pleasant development. The depth at linebacker just looks better now.


I don't believe this has much to do with Rodriguez's performance, and Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn has warned the media not to read too much into training camp reps -- including who is starting and who isn't -- while Detroit works through all its different personnel combinations. But with Alex Anzalone's starting job feeling secure and the Lions likely to deploy a lot of two-LB groupings, it's hard to see Rodriguez starting the majority of games now barring an injury or two.

Kareem Jackson
Denver Broncos · S

The 35-year-old Jackson has been a steady presence in the Denver defensive backfield the past four seasons, and he returned on yet another one-year deal. Perhaps that experience is appealing to new head coach Sean Payton. Or perhaps Payton wants to shake things up and add new blood to his defense.

Third-year pro Caden Sterns has his eyes set on taking away that starting job. He had a promising rookie year, highlighted by chasing down Lamar Jackson, and even in an injury-plagued second season, Sterns had a two-INT game against the Colts before landing on IR. Assuming his hip holds up, Sterns has the ability to unseat Jackson for the starting role next to Justin Simmons.

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