With NFL training camps set to kick off for every team, we assess each NFC club’s most interesting storyline.

NFC I AFC (Tuesday)

Arizona Cardinals – Replacing Chandler Jones

With Kyler Murray now signed to a long-term deal, Arizona’s biggest storyline is how its pass rush will function without the franchise’s all-time sack leader, Chandler Jones. Though Jones didn’t have the best year of his career in 2021, he still racked up 41 tackles, 10.5 sacks, and six forced fumbles. Plus, he was one of the main leaders of the Cardinals’ locker room. Arizona has a few candidates to replace him now that he’s with the Las Vegas Raiders, but none of them come without questions.

Markus Golden, who amassed a team-high 11 sacks opposite Jones last season, will presumably be Arizona’s No. 1 edge rusher. That leaves Devon Kennard, Myjai Sanders, and Cameron Thomas competing for snaps on the other side. Kennard appeared in 15 games last season but didn’t register any sacks, while Sanders and Thomas are third-round rookies. This front seven, which lost veteran linebacker Jordan Hicks in the offseason, also features former first-round linebackers Isaiah Simmons and Zaven Collins, as well as lineman J.J. Watt. Watt was solid when healthy in 2021, but he played only seven games and has missed 18 regular-season contests since 2019.

Atlanta Falcons – How will the rookies fare?

Don’t be surprised if several rookies earn prominent roles with the Falcons. Atlanta doesn’t roster many proven standouts, which leaves the door open for its strong 2022 draft class to shine. Desmond Ridder, for example, could create a quarterback competition with Marcus Mariota if the third-rounder continues his strong minicamp performance.

Atlanta also drafted a new starter in receiver Drake London and a potential Day 1 contributor in running back Tyler Allgeier. Defensively, the Falcons addressed big needs with pass-rushers Arnold Ebiketie and DeAngelo Malone, as well as linebacker Troy Andersen. Ebiketie is expected to start in 2022, while Malone and Andersen provide immediate depth as well as the potential to become key contributors in the near future.

Carolina Panthers – Baker Mayfield or Sam Darnold?

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Perhaps the NFL’s most intriguing quarterback battle will take place in Carolina. Darnold had chances to prove he was the right guy in his first year with the Panthers but struggled. That’s why Carolina traded for 2018 draftmate Mayfield, who’s coming off a down campaign but is only two years removed from his best season with the Cleveland Browns. If Mayfield stays healthy and plays as he did in 2020, he could make the Panthers’ offense – which features explosive weapons and an improved offensive line – better than many expect.

This depth chart also includes veteran P.J. Walker and third-round rookie Matt Corral. Corral isn’t ready yet, but his development will become a bigger topic if Mayfield’s and Darnold’s struggles continue.

Chicago Bears – Who’ll protect Justin Fields?

Bears fans can’t wait to see how Fields will perform in his second NFL season, but Chicago’s poor job at putting together a strong supporting cast for the young quarterback raises a lot of questions. Although the team’s receiving corps looks really unimpressive, we chose the Bears’ offensive line as our main storyline because it offers better starting battles. After Chicago allowed the most sacks per pass in 2021, first-year head coach Matt Eberflus recently said “all combinations are open.”

There seem to be only two locks on the depth chart, with Cody Whitehair at left guard and free-agent acquisition Lucas Patrick sliding in at center. Following a strong minicamp, fifth-round rookie Braxton Jones is in line to take over the starting left tackle job. Many believed that spot would belong to Teven Jenkins, but the 2021 second-rounder has worked with the second-team offense behind Larry Borom this offseason after struggling so far in his career. Chicago might move Jenkins around to give him a chance to compete for other roles. That includes right guard, where Sam Mustipher seems to have an edge.

Dallas Cowboys – Dak Prescott’s weapons

All eyes will be on the Cowboys’ skill position players over the next few weeks. It starts with the wide receiver depth chart, which doesn’t feature Amari Cooper and Cedrick Wilson anymore. CeeDee Lamb gives Dallas a solid No. 1 option, but the rest of the group has questions. Michael Gallup is still recovering from a torn ACL, which means James Washington and third-round rookie Jalen Tolbert have to step up from Day 1. But Washington and Tolbert missed part of the offseason program due to injuries and need to get more work with Prescott, Lamb, and the rest of the offense.

It’s worth monitoring Dallas’ backfield, too. Granted, the running back depth chart didn’t change much. But Ezekiel Elliott battled a knee injury last year and wasn’t the best version of himself. He hasn’t played at a Pro Bowl level for consecutive seasons, so there’s a lot of pressure on him in 2022. However, Dallas also needs to give Tony Pollard, one of the team’s most explosive weapons, more touches. Although the Cowboys seem unwilling to increase Pollard’s workload at Elliott’s expense, Pollard’s versatility as a slot receiver could be on full display with Dallas trying to have both on the field together more often.

Detroit Lions – Aidan Hutchinson’s impact

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The Lions added the most important piece of their rebuild after drafting Hutchinson second overall this year. The Michigan product immediately becomes a cornerstone of Detroit’s defense due to his absurd talent, work ethic, and leadership qualities. On paper, the Michigan native and the Lions are a match made in heaven.

Training camp will be Hutchinson’s first big opportunity to prove he’s as good as advertised in the NFL. Things will get even more interesting given that Detroit will be featured in this year’s “Hard Knocks.” The Lions have had one of the league’s worst defenses in recent seasons. They particularly struggled at taking down quarterbacks in 2021, ranking only 30th in sacks. Hutchinson will immediately fix that issue while impacting all levels of this defense if he shines.

Green Bay Packers – Sorting out the WR depth chart

Is this the worst group of pass-catchers Aaron Rodgers has ever had since he became Green Bay’s starter? The Packers’ wide receiver depth chart presents a mix of unproven players and veterans past their primes after the team traded Davante Adams. Randall Cobb is Green Bay’s only wideout who’s topped 750 receiving yards in a season over the last five years (828 with Dallas in 2019).

Alongside Cobb are Allen Lazard, Sammy Watkins, Amari Rodgers, and rookies Christian Watson, Romeo Doubs, and Samori Toure. The Packers are hoping Watson will step up, but is the second-round pick ready to be the No. 1 guy? Having Rodgers under center helps soften the roster uncertainties, but training camp will show us who’ll emerge from this crowded room.

Los Angeles Rams – Cornerback depth chart

The reigning Super Bowl champions have interesting battles on both sides of the ball, but none is more important than their cornerback competition. The Rams are thin at the position after Darious Williams’ departure and with All-Pro corner Jalen Ramsey having had shoulder surgery in June. He’s expected to return by the season opener, but his rehab will be a topic of concern considering his value to L.A.’s defense.

Trading for Troy Hill was a solid move that brought back an experienced starter to the group. With Hill playing in the slot, the main question is who starts opposite Ramsey. David Long is the favorite for the job, though he was inconsistent last season. Second-year corner Robert Rochell is expected to be Long’s main competitor, but the Rams also drafted fourth-rounder Decobie Durant and sixth-rounder Derion Kendrick.

Minnesota Vikings – Kevin O’Connell’s new offense

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Minnesota fans can’t wait to see what the offense will look like under coach O’Connell. The Vikings, who’ve had the eighth-most rushing attempts since 2019, are moving away from a run-first scheme and prioritizing the passing game more in 2022. The expectation is that the 37-year-old O’Connell will put together an electric, unpredictable system after he worked for two years with one of football’s brightest minds in Rams coach Sean McVay.

However, we should still expect running back Dalvin Cook to be a big part of the offense. In fact, O’Connell has lined up Cook as a wideout at times during the offseason. The coach also wants to make things simpler on the field for quarterback Kirk Cousins, whom he previously worked with in Washington. The new offensive system already turned heads in the offseason program, with veteran receiver Adam Thielen saying he’s never had to work harder to learn a playbook. Changes are coming for the Vikings, and training camp will give us a good first look at all of them.

New Orleans Saints – Getting the stars healthy

Dennis Allen begins his New Orleans tenure with an eye on the injury report. The main questions are around quarterback Jameis Winston and receiver Michael Thomas. Winston suffered a torn ACL in November, but recent reports indicate he’ll be fully available at camp. New Orleans, which finished 2021 9-8, was 5-2 in the games Winston started.

There’s also optimism that Thomas, who’s played only seven regular-season games since 2020 due to ankle issues, will return soon. However, he’ll begin camp on the physically unable to perform list. The 2019 Offensive Player of the Year was also expected to play most of last season before a setback sidelined him for the entire campaign. Additionally, it’s worth monitoring defensive end Marcus Davenport, who’s also on the PUP list. Davenport’s status is murky after he underwent shoulder surgeries and had part of his pinky amputated in June.

New York Giants – Figuring out the passing game

Head coach Brian Daboll and his new staff have a lot of work to do on both sides of the ball in their first training camp. But the top priority should be figuring out the Giants’ passing game, one of the league’s least productive in recent years. The main topic will be quarterback Daniel Jones, who hasn’t lived up to being the No. 6 overall pick in 2019. Daboll, the Buffalo Bills’ former offensive coordinator, previously helped Josh Allen turn his career around and go from one of the NFL’s most criticized passers to an MVP candidate, so many believe he can do the same with Jones.

Jones’ supporting cast also has question marks. Wide receivers Kenny Golladay, Kadarius Toney, and Sterling Shepard struggled in 2021, and all of them were limited at minicamp due to injuries. New York still rosters second-round rookie Wan’Dale Robinson and Darius Slayton, who’ll likely compete for snaps with Richie James and C.J. Board, among others. There’s also a close battle at tight end, as Evan Engram’s departure set up a competition between Ricky Seals-Jones, Jordan Akins, and rookie Daniel Bellinger, who starts camp on the PUP list due to a quad ailment.

Philadelphia Eagles – Is Jalen Hurts the QB of the future?

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There’ll be interesting roster battles in Philly during training camp, but Hurts’ play will steal most of the headlines. This is a make-or-break season for the third-year quarterback after the Eagles acquired A.J. Brown in the offseason. Hurts, who made plays with his legs but didn’t impress as a passer last year, now has a top duo of receivers in Brown and DeVonta Smith, as well as a solid offensive line around him. Finding chemistry with Brown will be crucial for Hurts to prove he’s Philly’s long-term answer under center after recording 16 touchdown passes and an 87.2 rating in 2021.

Eagles fans have big expectations going into head coach Nick Sirianni’s second year. Philadelphia made the playoffs in 2021 despite starting the season 2-5, having a rookie coach, and having limitations in the passing game. But after an offseason in which Philly addressed its main needs, there are no more excuses.

San Francisco 49ers – The Trey Lance era begins

Every starting quarterback change is big, but San Francisco going from Jimmy Garoppolo to Lance in 2022 is even more interesting given the differences between those passers. Lance offers an athletic ability that his predecessor doesn’t have, so adjustments must be made during training camp.

Is the 22-year-old Lance ready to become the starter? Even two 49ers legends disagree on that. Lance’s skill set – highlighted by the ability to make plays with his legs – is fascinating and explains why San Francisco drafted him third overall last year. But his inexperience – he only started two games as a rookie and logged just 19 appearances at North Dakota State – could be an issue.

While the 49ers make sure that the transition from Garoppolo to Lance is as smooth as possible, they also have to make a final decision on Garoppolo, who was recently given permission to seek a trade as he enters the final stages of his offseason shoulder surgery rehab.

Seattle Seahawks – Drew Lock or Geno Smith?

The Seahawks kick off training camp trying to figure out who’ll succeed Russell Wilson, the most prolific passer in franchise history. The first candidates up are Lock and Smith. No pressure. Lock joined Seattle this year as part of the Wilson trade after unimpressive seasons with the Denver Broncos. He’s started 21 games over the last three years, but Smith is more familiar with the system after having been Seattle’s backup since 2020.

Neither option is enticing in the short or long term, which is why the club was linked to multiple veteran quarterbacks like Mayfield and Garoppolo. Though it’s more likely we’ll see Lock or Smith start Week 1, the Seahawks reportedly have discussed the possibility of adding Garoppolo.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Todd Bowles takes over

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It was an eventful offseason for the Bucs. Quarterback Tom Brady retired before eventually coming back, while Bruce Arians stepped down as head coach and named Bowles his replacement. Bowles was Tampa Bay’s defensive coordinator for three seasons, so we shouldn’t expect drastic changes. Still, any change in leadership is significant, especially for a team with major expectations. Though the circumstances were different, Bowles posted a 24-40 record as the New York Jets’ head coach from 2015-18.

Bowles will have important decisions to make in his first training camp at the helm in Tampa Bay. Rob Gronkowski retired, leaving Cameron Brate, Kyle Rudolph, and rookies Cade Otton and Ko Kieft in the tight end mix. There’s a similar situation at left guard, as second-round rookie Luke Goedeke and second-year lineman Robert Hainsey will compete with veteran Aaron Stinnie to replace the retired Ali Marpet.

Washington Commanders – Searching for chemistry

Training camp will be crucial for the Commanders to get their new faces on offense on the same page. It starts with quarterback Carson Wentz – who’s on his third different team in as many seasons – and his receiving corps. Wentz didn’t work with Terry McLaurin at minicamp, as the star receiver held out amid stalled contract talks. Wentz also needs more reps with first-round rookie Jahan Dotson and Curtis Samuel, whose participation at minicamp was limited as a precaution after his injury-ravaged 2021. Finally, Logan Thomas is rehabbing from a torn ACL, which leaves second-year tight end John Bates in line for a more significant workload.

Chemistry may also be an early issue for the offensive line. The unit, which has been one of the NFL’s best in recent years, is expected to have at least two new starters after losing guards Brandon Scherff and Ereck Flowers. Veterans Trai Turner and Andrew Norwell are in line to take over those spots. Left tackle Charles Leno, right tackle Sam Cosmi, and center Chase Roullier are back with the team, but Roullier’s unlikely to be on the field for the start of training camp as he recovers from a fractured fibula.

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