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NFC position battles: QBs under pressure in West

We projected the 20 most intriguing position battles in NFC one month ago. With the regular season approaching, let's check in to see which players have earned starting gigs.

1) 49ers quarterback: Blaine Gabbert vs. Colin Kaepernick

It was not a great sign for Gabbert that he hasn't locked up the job despite Kaepernick missing all of OTAs and San Francisco's first two preseason games. Gabbert's preseason efforts could be described somewhere between nondescript and discouraging, depending on whether or not your glasses are tinted metallic gold. Still, Kaepernick had too much ground to make up before the third week of the preseason and his relatively brief appearance didn't help.

2) Rams quarterback: Jared Goff vs. Case Keenum vs. Sean Mannion vs. Jared Goff

Goff was listed twice in this space back in July because he was battling expectations. He's losing. While the No. 1 overall pick has shown flashes of talent, he hasn't been proficient enough at the finer points of his position. He's struggled with fumbles, play calls and lining his team up in time. He also had to leave two of his three outings early after taking big hits. Keenum, meanwhile, has exceeded expectations with a clean month. It would be a big surprise at this point if Keenum isn't starting in Week 1.

3) 49ers No. 2 receiver: Lots of players you don't know

Coach Chip Kelly is being asked to perform miracles with this offense, although slot receiver Bruce Ellington has plenty of potential. Quinton Patton has held off a rag-tag field to start on the outside, although Ellington could wind up earning more snaps if he recovers from a hamstring injury suffered in the third preseason game. Offseason fascination DeAndre Smelter could join CFL import Eric Rogers on injured reserve.

4) Panthers cornerbacks: Life after Josh Norman?

This was a potential battle in more innocent times. A groin injury kept Cruz off the field for the first two preseason games. After an uninspiring showing in practices before that, Cruz needed to show something down the stretch of the preseason just to make the team. He took a big step forward by playing in the third preseason game without incident, although he only had one catch for four yards. New York's absolute lack of depth at the position should help his chances.

5) Seahawks running back: Thomas Rawls vs. the field

Christine Michael's Awakening has been one of the stories of training camp. Michael's emergence allows coach Pete Carroll to bring Rawls back into the lineup slowly. It looks like Rawls will not take any preseason snaps, but he will be ready for Week 1. That's good because Seattle's rookie trio (C.J. Prosise, Alex Collins and Zac Brooks) have mostly failed to make an impact in August for various reasons.

6) The entire Seahawks offensive line

The Seahawks re-shuffled their entire line before camp, then kept moving pieces around in August. Rookie first-rounder Germain Ifedi and left guard Mark Glowinski are starters, while Justin Britt looks good at center. An experiment to move Garry Gilliam to left tackle was short-lived, so he's back on the right side with Bradley Sowell protecting Russell Wilson's blind side. This group looks better than a year ago, but we'd still expect Wilson to be scrambling too much to escape pressure off the edge.

7) Cowboys defensive line: Who fills in for suspended players?

The Cowboys are no closer to knowing who will start in place of suspended defensive ends Demarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory. Benson Mayowa, signed from Oakland, has a chance to start once he fully recovers from knee surgery. Shaneil Jenkins came out of nowhere to make noise in the preseason, but then he was also hurt. No one has particularly stepped up out of Ryan Russell, Jack Crawford and David Irving.

Linebacker is more clear. It would be a surprise if suspended middle linebacker Rolando McClain ever plays for the team again. Anthony Hitchens has taken over in the middle, with Kyle Wilber a starter on the outside. Translation: Tony Romo and friends might need to score 35 points each week to win.

8-9) Cowboys backup quarterback and running back

Oh, late July. Back when we were dumb enough to criticize the Cowboys for not building up their quarterback depth. The only remaining question with rookie Dak Prescott is whether his NFL MVP award this season will be unanimous or not. Unfortunately, now the Cowboysneed to find a backup for Prescott.

At running back, Alfred Morris has run all month like he wanted to make the Redskins regret letting him go. He's on his way. With Lance Dunbar on the mend and rookie Darius Jackson looking like he belongs, Jerry Jones could potentially attempt to trade Darren McFadden.

10) Eagles quarterback: Carson Wentz vs. Week 12 Sam Bradford

This metaphysical battle never quite took place. Wentz's debut performance was uneven and ended with a hairline fracture in his ribs. He might not make it back for the preseason finale, which gives coach Doug Pederson every excuse possible to redshirt Wentz all season. That will be tougher to follow through with if Bradford struggles with the starting job.

11) Eagles starting cornerbacks

Jim Schwartz shook up the Eagles' defense. Old buddy Leodis McKelvin is the new No. 1 cornerback, while Ron Brooks is the nickel back. Nolan Carroll hung on as a starter, while last year's second-round pick Eric Rowe is buried on the depth chart. This group could hold back an otherwise impressive-looking Eagles defense.

12) Bears outside linebacker: Lamarr Houston vs. Willie Young vs. Leonard Floyd

Everyone is a winner here. Young signed a two-year extension with the team and Houston enjoyed a healthy preseason. Floyd is playing as a situational pass rusher and has created pressure in both preseason games. All three players could be in line for more snaps if the team's best defensive player, Pernell McPhee (offseason knee surgery), isn't healthy in time for the season.

13) Packers No. 3 WR: Jeff Janis vs. Davante Adams vs. Ty Montgomery

14) Giants No. 2 wide receiver: Victor Cruz vs. Sterling Shepard

This was a potential battle in more innocent times. A groin injury kept Cruz off the field for the first two preseason games. After an uninspiring showing in practices before that, Cruz might have to show well over the next week just to make the team. New York's absolute lack of depth at the position should help his chances.

15-16) Saints No. 2 wide receiver and backup running back

Willie Snead has solidified his role in the offense after his surprising rookie year. Brandon Coleman, on the other hand, was called out for a "pedestrian" effort throughout camp by coach Sean Payton. That opened the door for rookie Michael Thomas to all the starter snaps in the third preseason game after being a Vine All-Star all month.

C.J. Spiller, meanwhile, has showed "juice" in his legs throughout the preseason. He entered camp on the roster bubble and now looks headed for a big role as the team's passing down backup. Tim Hightower may not be a roster lock anymore behind Mark Ingram.

17) Vikings cornerbacks: The young bucks vs. the trusty veterans

Xavier Rhodes and Terence Newman have both dealt with injuries, allowing Trae Waynes time with the starting unit. He's had mixed results and occasionally been the target of coach Mike Zimmer's ire. Zimmer is higher publicly on rookie Mackensie Alexander, who still has an uphill battle to take out veteran Captain Munnerlyn for the slot cornerback job. Zimmer has to be pleased with the depth here.

18) Seahawks linebacker: Who will replace Bruce Irvin?

Sixth-year veteran Mike Morgan out of USC has been with Pete Carroll longer than most marriages last. The longtime special teamer is looking like the team's Week 1 starter.

19) Falcons rookies vs. veterans

It's the rookies in an upset. We love that coach Dan Quinn was so decisive moving linebackers Deion Jones and De'Vondre Campbell into the starting lineup. Throw in first-round safety Keanu Neal and this defense is much faster and more fun to watch. Unfortunately, though, Neal left Thursday night's game with a knee injury and now he's out three to four weeks.

20) Buccaneers tight end: Austin Seferian-Jenkins vs. Cameron Brate

This battle has had twists and turns throughout the offseason, starting when Seferian-Jenkins was kicked out of practice in June. Brate, the Harvard product who went undrafted in 2014, was No. 1 on the depth chart early in camp. Seferian-Jenkins' strong preseason has the two players back on equal footing. With poor wideout depth on the Bucs, look for both players to get plenty of snaps.

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