NFL Camp Battles 2015
With the dust from the NFL draft settled and offseason workouts beginning, it’s time to turn our collective attention toward the NFL camp battles that will decide our fantasy seasons before they even start. Maybe it’s not that dramatic, but you get the idea. The better your understanding of who’s competing for which spots on a team, the better you’ll know who to draft. Perhaps more importantly, if you keep up with a close camp battle, you’ll be the first to know which player will take over should the starter gets injured.
With the well-publicized departure of DeMarco Murray this offseason, the Cowboys find themselves with a true open competition at RB. Will the starter be Joseph Randle, a speedy and elusive running back that showed potential in limited time last season or Darren McFadden, the fourth overall pick from 2008?
It maybe hard to remember, but McFadden won the 2007 Walter Camp Award, as the nation’s best player and was the runner-up for the Heisman Trophy two years in a row in 2006 and 2007. McFadden hasn’t lived up to his NFL potential with a laundry list of nagging injuries but does get a fresh start in the big D and has the most to prove out of any of the RB’s in house. Ryan Williams will also get a shot at the starting job, a high draft pick from years past who has been dealing with injuries as well.
Of course, we do face the scary possibility that this true competition will result in a true RBBC (running back by committee), which could work well for the team but would be frustrating for fantasy owners.
One final note: Lance Dunbar is a skilled player, but he’s more of a receiving back than anything else, and won’t be seriously in competition with the other three for lead back duties.
Prediction: McFadden will have a productive September but his history of injuries will continue to haunt him. Randle looks to be the better long term investment and could serve and a nice late sleeper to target in your fantasy draft.
Tennessee WRs and TE
One of the biggest stories at the draft turned out to be the Tennessee Titans keeping the second pick to select 2014 Heisman Trophy winner, Marcus Mariota.
The Titans have their quarterback but don’t have any delusions about Zach Mettenberger challenging for the starting spot. Mind you, it’s not often the second overall pick in an NFL Draft rides the bench for a second-year vet.
Quarterbacks needs targets, and the Titans have a surprising collection of them. Delanie Walker should be a quality tight end choice once again, after finishing 9th last season. He’s also durable, having missed more than one game in a season just once in his career.
The WR position here is crowded to say the least, with Kendall Wright, Justin Hunter, Hakeem Nicks, Harry Douglas, and rookie Dorial Green-Beckham in the mix.
Wright is the safest bet, but while he’s a solid PPR choice, the points in standard leagues haven’t been there in the past. Don’t anticipate Wright becoming something he’s never been, but keep an eye on Green-Beckham and Hunter to see who starts helping Mariota make big plays. This could be Hunter’s last chance to prove he can reach his often-praised potential after his disappointing 2014 season ended on IR.
Prediction: Wright and Walker will be the only players worth owning outside of extremely deep leagues. Hunter will not emerge, the aging vets won’t regain relevancy, and Green-Beckham needs more time to acclimate to the pros. Mariota will perform well enough to make Walker a top-five tight end.
St. Louis RBs
The Rams spent their first pick on the RB gem of the draft in Todd Gurley, and proceeded to spend their second and third picks on offensive linemen. Do you think, maybe, Jeff Fisher wants to run the ball this season?
Make no mistake about it, Todd Gurley can and should be the guy in St. Louis that they drafted him to be. He looked tremendous before his injury last season, posting an impressive 7.4 YPC. Don’t make the assumption, however, that he will be that guy right away. By all accounts his recovery is going smoothly, ACL tears are no walk in the park and it will take a little time. The Rams do have another good RB in Tre Mason. Mason finished last season as the 25th-best RB, averaging a respectable 4.3 YPC, but floundered against tougher defenses. Keep an eye on this situation to see whether Gurley will start right away and how he will share carries when he does.
Gridiron Experts’ founder, Mike Rigz, believes the rookie running back with the better situation in 2015 is actually the Chargers’ first-round pick, Melvin Gordon. You can find out why on Fantasy Factor Podcast: Episode 1.
Prediction: Gurley heals well, but is limited in preseason action as the Rams play it safe. Jeff Fisher limits his workload until around Week 4, when Gurley takes over as the workhorse back in St. Louis and shows why he was a first-round pick. Be warned, though; if you want Gurley on your team, you’ll have to take a risk, as his ADP will climb as the season approaches.
While Atlanta didn’t make moves to improve its offensive line in the draft, the Falcons did pick up rookie Tevin Coleman in the third round. Devonta Freeman might technically be ahead of him on the depth chart right now, but Coleman should get every opportunity to pass Freeman for the starting job.
Will it be a feature back role, or a majority share of a RBBC?
Coleman plays hard and fast – just look at his 228 yard performance against Ohio State last year – and has good pass-blocking ability, a valuable commodity for rookies. He has the talent, but it could take longer than expected for him to secure the lead role if he doesn’t have a strong camp. Thankfully for him, Freeman didn’t wow in his freshman campaign. Even with a subpar rushing attack, the Falcons never really turned to Freeman to light a spark, giving him just 65 carries on the year. Seventeen of those carries were in the last four games, so it’s not like he took over the role late, either.
Prediction: Despite his talent, Coleman doesn’t secure lead duties until late in the season thanks to a strong preseason push by Freeman and inexperience in pass protection. Except as a late-round gamble, don’t take the risk on a murky backfield situation unless something significant changes before your draft.
With Reggie Bush moving on to San Francisco, Joique Bell seemed poised to take a workhorse load in Detroit with Theo Riddick serving as the complementary back. Then the Lions went and drafted Ameer Abdullah in the second round and threw a wrench into everything.
Don’t get too cute; Bell is still the man to beat in Detroit, after finishing 2014 as the 14th best fantasy RB. However, Detroit believes in using multiple running backs, as Reggie Bush (and Riddick in Bush’s absence) continued to factor in games last year. The Lions believe Abdullah is a capable runner, but will he be Bell’s backup, play a complementary role ahead of or behind Riddick, or serve some other purpose?
Frankly, we don’t know. Pride of Detroit says Abdullah projects as a Darren Sproles-type, but will be the most talented back in training camp. Mike Rigz sang Abdullah’s praises on the second episode of the podcast (and explained why he loves the three-cone drill), while Jody Smith expressed concern about his pass-blocking skills and fumble issues. Detroit’s crowded backfield merits a close watch.
Prediction: Abdullah quickly overtakes Riddick to become the two in Detroit’s one-two punch with Bell. He has a few fantasy relevant games and shows good promise, but doesn’t provide enough consistent production to merit more than a bench spot unless Bell goes down.
As some grumpy Colts fans will remind you, Indianapolis selected wide receiver Phillip Dorsett out of Miami in the first round. Regardless of whether you agree with the Colts’ decision to bolster the offense rather than focus on defense, Dorsett is a big talent who just became a wide receiver for the second-best fantasy QB of 2014.
The question then becomes, how frequently will he get the ball in such a crowded receiver group? The Colts have their locked-in number one in T.Y. Hilton; the aged but formidable Andre Johnson; everyone’s favorite breakout candidate, Donte Moncrief; two talented tight ends in Fleener and Allen; and Dorsett himself.
Hilton is the only safe bet here after finishing 12th among receivers last season. We don’t know how Johnson and Andrew Luck will play together. We don’t know if Moncrief or another wideout will hog reps. Dorsett will probably only see the field in four-receiver sets, at least in the beginning, but there’s no way of knowing in May. Watch how Indy uses the young player this summer, so you’ll know whether he’s worth a late flier or an injury replacement option this season.
Prediction: Dorsett and Moncrief never become rosterable in 2015. Hilton puts up another WR1 campaign, and Johnson has a resurgent year across from him, breaking 1,000 yards and 6 TDs. The tight ends combine for respectable numbers, but neither finishes the years higher than eighth overall.
Jacksonville has worked hard this offseason to improve its offense. The brought in free agents Jeremy Parnell and Stefan Wisniewski to bolster the offensive line and used the 36th overall draft pick T.J. Yeldon to add into the RB mix.
We’re still not even a year removed from the Toby Gerhart fever of 2014. I use the word fever in the literal sense as it was a fever that made you throw up and stay home sick if you had him. Can you learn to trust a Jacksonville RB again so soon?
The answer is…maybe. The camp battle bears watching, with Yeldon, Gerhart, and Denard “Shoelace” Robinson in the mix for carries. Season-long battles with injuries and a shoddy offensive line kept Gerhart from relevance, and Shoelace had a few good weeks midseason before faltering. Will Yeldon be different? The Jaguars invested a lot in their rookie by spending such a high pick on him, and Robinson’s 3.18 YPC over the last four games of the season against unimpressive run defenses won’t stop the coaches from looking Yeldon’s direction early.
Prediction: Yeldon easily wins the starting job and provides low-RB2 value, never missing a game. Gerhart fades entirely from fantasy relevance, and Shoelace slides into a more natural role as a gadget player rather than an every-down back. Depending on how ADPs look in august, Yeldon could be a solid value overlooked for the flashier first-round rookies.
It looks like the Dolphins have officially decided their best quarterback since Dan Marino is here to stay. Ryan Tannehill signed a 6-year, $96 million extension on May 18, and the front office has worked hard to provide the franchise QB a few new weapons this season.
Free agent acquisitions Greg Jennings and Kenny Stills will provide some veteran leadership to an otherwise very young group that includes Jarvis Landry, the LSU product who had about of quiet as a breakout rookie season last year as a receiver can have, and the 14th overall selection in the 2015 draft, DeVante Parker.
Jennings and Stills project to play on the outside with Landry in the slot, but teams don’t spend a mid-first rounder on a player without expecting immediate contributions. Parker will need to carve out a role for himself in this talented group, and fantasy opportunities will inevitably crop up for at least one of the vets as well.
Prediction: Landry and Parker outshine the vets early. Landry easily eclipses 1,000 yards, but disappoints in the TD department, and Parker just barely misses the mark with over 900 yards himself. Greg Jennings holds some bye week fill-in value and averages around 4 receptions per game, while Stills never makes an impact on the fantasy landscape.
New York Jets RBs
If you want to take a stroll down benched-RB lane, take a look at the Jets’ RB depth chart. Chris Ivory, Stevan Ridley, Zac Stacy, Bilal Powell and Daryl Richardson have all gotten the starting nod at one point or another, and all have failed to secure that spot for the long run for one reason or another.
Does this mean you should avoid this situation altogether? Maybe, if you’re a risk-averse fantasy player, but the Jets do have a capable running game somewhere in this mess, so someone is going to get fantasy points out of it.
The race really comes down to Ivory and Ridley, though, as recognizable as some of these other names are. Ivory’s career 4.7 YPC is impressive, and anyone who has played fantasy since 2012 has wanted to see a coach commit to Ridley for a repeat of his 1,200-yard, 12 TD performance three years ago. With surprisingly little tread on their tires, both backs have the potential to punish defenses in 2015.
Prediction: Ivory and Ridley battle back and forth for the starting gig, and each averages over 10 carries per game. Bilal Powell returns to his 2013 form as the pass-catching back. If either Ridley or Ivory suffers an injury, snatch up the other, because this Jets offense (even after Rex Ryan) is going to run, run, run.
San Diego Everything
San Diego won’t be evoking memories of the Tomlinson days with 2015’s squad, but Philip Rivers has an excellent complement of players to work with this year. A deep receiving corps of Keenan Allen, Malcom Floyd, Stevie Johnson and Jacoby Jones will work alongside a backfield of Melvin Gordon, Branden Oliver and Danny Woodhead. In addition, Antonio Gates continues to be one of the best TEs in the game.
What does this mean for you? Well, it means this offense will live and die by its quarterback more than ever, even with the addition of Gordon at RB. Outside of Gordon, these running backs are experienced pass catchers, Woodhead primarily so. Even then, Gordon’s 19 receptions last season was a huge leap from his prior years, indicating he’s been working on that facet of his game.
The one thing this offense seems to lack is a true deep threat, as Malcom Brown is the closest thing San Diego has to a downfield guy. Volume will be the name of the game here, and there will be a lot of it. The question now becomes, who will stand out this summer to rack up those points we’ll all need this fall?
Prediction: Gordon has an OROY-worthy campaign at running back, allowing Rivers to provide some fantasy relevance to his receivers. Keenan Allen’s touchdowns and yardage both climb back up as his numbers resemble 2013’s more than 2014’s, but Antonio Gates’ numbers suffer a bit as he fails to record double-digit TDs again. Floyd, Johnson, and Jones all have decent years, but none find enough consistency to merit a bench spot in fantasy.Don’t forget to sign up for our mailing list… you can’t miss it, it’s the monster blue banner below this article!
Preston has lived all around Texas, and his loyalties always lie with his Texas Tech Red Raiders and Dallas Cowboys. He lives with his fiancée, Cheyenne. When he’s not busy winning fantasy football championships, he enjoys reading detective novels and taking naps.