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5 NFL Training Camp Battles That Will Dramatically Impact Fantasy

NFL Training Camp Battles That Will Impact Fantasy Football

“Success isn’t owned. It’s leased, and rent is due every day.” – J. Watt

[the_ad id=”63198″]As the summer of 2016 continues to progress at a relentless pace, hopefully you have had the opportunity to enjoy these proverbial dog days, and become immersed in all of the life enriching experiences that are so engrained with this time of year. But there is another highly anticipated phenomenon that has been steadily gaining momentum in our collective consciousness.

That of course would be the increasingly imminent Week 1 of the NFL season, which will soon deliver yet another concoction of gratifying ups, and appalling downs for all of us who assemble fantasy rosters. This realization has most likely initiated the launch sequence toward preparation for your upcoming drafts. If you have smartly been participating in mock drafts this summer… and especially if you’ve been mocking often… then you already have a feel for how your actual drafts could flow. And for those of you who have already participated in those real drafts, you have already become more entrenched in knowing specific players that you plan to target, and others that you have pledged to avoid. Some of your potential options will enter training camp with their roles at least somewhat unresolved. As a result, a handful of critical camp battles will determine the value of these potentially impactful players, which will alter the current fantasy landscape.

Devonta Freeman vs. Tevin Coleman

Atlanta Falcons Running Backs

Devonta FreemanThe competition between Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman will be among the most intriguing battles. Although it could also be disastrous for those who have invested a late first round or early second round selection on Freeman, if he is unable to sustain a massive percentage of the tandem’s workload. His current ADP of 18 underscores the confidence that many have placed in him after he generated 1,634 total yards in 2015. Conversely, Coleman’s ADP of 104 leaves him available until Round 9. It was just one year ago that Coleman was selected before Freeman in 2015 fantasy drafts, and began his rookie season as Atlanta’s starter. He rushed for 80 yards during his NFL debut, and scored his only rushing touchdown of the season in Week 2, before suffering a rib injury in that same game.

That elevated Freeman into the starting slot, after he had managed a paltry 43 yards on 22 attempts during Atlanta’s initial two contests. But he exploded for 193 total yards and three touchdowns in Week 3, which ignited a six-game stretch in which he produced 111 YPG and eight scores on the ground, while supplementing it with 48 YPG on 33 receptions during that span. But, he was sidelined by a concussion in Week 11, and could not replicate his previous level of production following his return. Still, he ultimately finished sixth with 1,061 rushing yards,  and led all backs with a combined 14 touchdowns.

Meanwhile, after attaining 29 carries in the Falcon’s first two contests, Coleman was allotted a mere 14 touches until Week 11 when Freeman’s injury forced him from the lineup. The speedy rookie then burst for 110 yards on 18 attempts in Week 12 (6.1 YPC), although dropped passes and fumbles tainted his brief tenure as the Falcons’ feature back. It is reasonable to expect that Coleman’s usage will expand the season. As Atlanta’s coaching staff appears inclined to provide him with more opportunities, and the organization’s investment of a third round pick in 2015 should not be discounted. However, even though Coleman will secure a larger role in Kyle Shanahan’s attack, Freeman will still retain a sizable workload. Coleman has not demonstrated that he is capable of matching Freeman’s proficiencies as either a receiver or blocker, and Freeman’s accomplishments last season simply cannot be dismissed. But even though Freeman will remain Atlanta’s RB1, and could approach his 2015 reception total (73), it is unlikely that he will reach last season’s total of 264 carries.

Jeremy Langford vs Jordan Howard

Chicago Bears Running Backs

Jeremy LangfordIn Chicago, second year runner Jeremy Langford enters camp as the incumbent, and will attempt to hold off rookie Jordan Howard to become the Bears’ primary back. Although it is questionable just how firm his status as the frontrunner truly is. A large number of owners are satisfied that Langford will capture the feature back role, as his current ADP of 47 makes him the 19th running back to depart the draft board. Even though Langford entered Week 8 with only 15 carries, Matt Forte’s MCL injury thrust him into an expanded workload, and he amassed 14 attempts per game during Chicago’s next nine contests. While he averaged just 3.6 YPC on his 148 carries for the season, he did run for six touchdowns, while collecting 22 receptions for 279 yards and an additional score. Those receiving numbers were boosted sizably by his output in Weeks 9-11, as 19 of Langford’s 42 targets for the season occurred during that three-game span. He also assembled 13 catches for 196 yards and his lone touchdown in those contests. Which allows Langford proponents to make the case that he can supply favorable numbers as a receiving weapon with greater frequency, now that Forte has migrated eastward. However, while his performances were respectable, they were hardly awe-inspiring. Plus, his inadequacies as a runner have been widely discussed within the fantasy community.

The six-foot, 230 pound Howard was effective as a workhorse at the collegiate level, even though he did miss four games last season due to injuries. He should be the goal line and short yardage specialist, and could conceivably become Chicago’s primary back. Provided that John Fox can locate a comfort zone with the concept of utilizing the rookie in such a significant role.  Fox’s potential hesitation to entrust a first year runner that extensively might be a concern for anyone who considers drafting Howard, although the longtime HC has proven that he will choose a committee approach when employing his stable of backs. While either Langford or Howard could distinguish themselves beyond expectations during August, they should enter Week 1 sharing the workload. That will enable the Bears to benefit from the power of Howard, and the fleetness of Langford. If Howard can earn anything remotely resembling a 50/50 split, or can actually capture the majority of touches, then his stock will elevate considerably. As will the level of distress for those who burned the fourth round pick on Langford.

 

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Markus Wheaton vs. Sammie Coates

Pittsburgh Steelers Wide Receivers 

Markus WheatonWhile Antonio Brown will soon be resuming his relentless torture of opposing defensive backs, the narrative concerning Pittsburgh’s WR2 situation is far less definitive. Martavis Bryant certainly appeared to be firmly established as the Steelers’ most productive complement to Brown, but his one-year ban for failing multiple drug tests has opened a cavernous hole at this critical position. With three-year veteran Markus Wheaton and second-year wideout Sammie Coates primed to be the primary competitors for the vacated slot.

Wheaton has failed to capitalize on his previous opportunities to seize a more substantial role within the offense. Including 2014, following Emmanuel Sanders’ relocation in Denver. Not only was Wheaton unable to replace Sanders production, but Bryant was far more effective as a rookie, assembling eight touchdowns in just 10 contests. Meanwhile, Wheaton only scored twice in 16 games, despite being second on the team with a snap count of 67%, and being targeted 87 times. Last season, his 65% snap percentage was second once again, and easily led Bryant’s 47.5%. Yet, Wheaton still trailed Bryant in targets, receptions, yardage and touchdowns for the year. His season totals of 44 catches for 749 yards and five scores would look significantly worse if not for his nine reception – 201- yard performance in Week 12 against Seattle. But despite Wheaton’s underwhelming resume, he enters camp with the inside track to line up opposite Brown.

Coates will pose a challenge to Wheaton for snaps and targets, even though he will need to rise beyond both Wheaton and Darrius-Heyward Bey on the depth chart in order to collect them. But Heyward-Bey’s limitations, and Wheaton’s apparent statistical ceiling, could enable Coates to become a consistent contributor for the Steelers. He caught just one pass for 11 yards during the 2015 regular season, although he did register two receptions for 61 yards during Pittsburgh’s postseason loss to the Broncos. Coates does appear far more capable of stretching the field than Wheaton, and his superior speed should be an enticement for Mike Tomlin and OC Todd Haley to give him an extended opportunity to become the Steelers’ WR2.

That factor could tilt the competition in Coates’ favor. Because Ben Roethlisberger can launch an aerial assault more effectively if he possesses a deep threat to open space for the incomparable Brown, the gifted Ladarius Green, and the exceptional Le’Veon Bell. Coates must perform proficiently during camp. But if he accomplishes that, his current ADP of 140 will skyrocket. While Wheaton’s present ADP of 92 will drop precipitously.

Chris Ivory vs. T.J. Yeldon

Jacksonville Jaguar Running Backs

[the_ad id=”58837″]The storyline behind this running back tandem is somewhat different. As both rushers saw extensive action in 2015, and more is known about each member of the duo heading into training camp, in comparison to the other battles that have been discussed. Ivory is entering his seventh season, having just completed his most productive year as a pro. While Yeldon accumulated 869 total yards on over 200 touches last season, as he performed as the unquestioned feature back for the Jaguars. His role as the primary ball carrier provided owners with rare certainty at a position in which that is not easily found.

However, Ivory’s arrival has made forecasting how Jacksonville’s backfield workload will be distributed far more complicated. He established new career highs in rushing yards (1,070), touchdowns (8), receptions (30), and receiving yards (217) last season. His 247 carries were 49 more than his previous best, and his reception total occurred after he had only caught 23 passes in his first five seasons combined. Ivory also functioned as the preferred choice among Jet rushers near the goal line. Only six backs received more carries inside the red zone last season, and he converted on 62% of those attempts. He also scored on 85% of his league high 17 attempts from inside the five.

As Ivory was taking advantage of his opportunities near the goal line, Yeldon was operating within a Jacksonville offense that ranked ninth in red zone scoring attempts per game, but largely eschewed its ground game upon entering the red zone. 25 backs were allotted more rushing attempts than Yeldon inside their opponents 20, and Jaguar running backs only generated three touchdowns on the ground throughout the entire season. Yeldon did manufacture 740 yards on 182 attempts (4.1 YPC), while missing four contests due to knee and groin issues. He also garnered 36 receptions for 279 yards, without any legitimate competitor for touches.

There is virtually no chance that either back completely loses fantasy relevance this season, provided that injuries do not emerge as a factor. The Jaguars did not just sign Ivory to a five-year contract in order to exclude him from the game plan. And Yeldon is a former second round pick, who performed sufficiently to merit a respectable number of touches once again in 2016. Ivory’s ADP of 83 is only marginally lower than Yeldon’s 91, which is a consequence of the uncertainty surrounding this situation. It is currently unclear which back will receive the early down work, and who will collect the majority of targets. But the tandem should receive close to a 50/50 split, Ivory will capture the goal line carries, and should ultimately be the better option for your lineups.

Justin Forsett vs. Javorius Allen vs. Kenneth Dixon

Baltimore Ravens Running Backs

Justin Forsett FantasyIn Baltimore, a murky situation has emerged. As veteran Justin Forsett must contend with both Javorius “Buck” Allen and Kenneth Dixon for touches the season. Technically, Lorenzo Taliaferro, Terrance West, and Trent Richardson are also candidates for carries. But the true competition will involve Forsett, Allen and Dixon.

Once their roles have been determined, it will be imperative that the Ravens improve their ground game, which dropped from eighth in 2014 to a lowly ranking of 26th last season. The team was led by Forsett, although the 30- year old rusher managed that feat by generating only 641 yards. When a broken arm sidelined him for the Ravens final six contests, Allen ascended into the starting role, and amassed 514 yards on 137 attempts.

As a result, there is currently no clear favorite for the starting slot. Forsett will attempt to reignite the level of effectiveness that he achieved in 2014, when he was the NFL’s fifth leading rusher with 1,266 yards, while producing eight touchdowns. Those were career bests in both categories by a significant amount, and it compelled owners to draft him 10th among all backs in PPR leagues last summer. But he was unable to sustain his success from the previous year, as his YPC dropped from 5.4 to 4.2, then his season reached an abrupt conclusion.

With Forsett turning 31 in October, and Dixon becoming adjusted to the NFL in his first season, Allen could have an advantage over his competitors. Providing that he performs effectively during camp and the preseason. His 3.8 YPC last season was hardly stellar, but he did garner 45 receptions for 353 yards and two touchdowns, while performing adequately as a target from the backfield. Having one year in Marc Trestman’s system should benefit him, in his efforts to secure a significant workload.

However, Allen isn’t generating massive appeal among owners to this point. As his ADP of 132 places him just nine spots ahead of Dixon. Conversely, the rookie has been generating sizable hype among many analysts. In great part because the prowess that he demonstrated as a rusher and receiver at the collegiate level should eventually be displayed as a member of the Ravens. Not only does he possess a burst which enhances the elusiveness factor, but he refuses to shy away from contact, as his high level of competitiveness enables him to take on defenders

There is a distinct possibility that once both training camp and the preseason have ended, the Baltimore backfield will be operating with some semblance of a three-way split between the trio of runners. Obviously, that is not a scenario that fantasy owners are going to embrace. If that occurs, there is also a legitimate chance that the fluid situation will evolve more favorably as the season progresses. Which would keep Dixon entrenched as an enticing option, since his comfort level with the offense should continually improve. Do not be surprised if he eventually becomes Baltimore’s primary back. Just do not expect it to take place by Week one.

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