NFL Training Camp Battles to Monitor
As someone who stood on the sidelines for every single Houston Texans training camp snap last season, I can tell you that each snap is valuable to dozens of players on every NFL team. There are only so many hours of practice each team is allowed, and starting jobs and even roster spots can swing wildly from day to day.
In fantasy football, determining the winners of offensive skill positions can be crucial to determining how to approach your draft or auction. Knowing what position competitions are open, having an idea of who might win and monitoring the daily developments are all essential elements to have a successful fantasy football draft or auction.
Here are some of the important training camp battles you’ll want to monitor in August, and how they can potentially affect your upcoming fantasy draft.
Running Back – The Ravens led the NFL with 679 pass attempts last season and brought in a pass catching specialist in Danny Woodhead, so we should probably expect more of the same in 2017. Kenneth Dixon will miss the 2017 season with an injury. Dixon was Baltimore’s best runner late last year. As it stands now, Terrance West is likely to begin the year as the primary runner but offers limited upside. For now, PPR drafters should steer clear of West and nab Woodhead, whose ADP is creeping up, but is still an excellent bargain.
Prediction: Committee, with Danny Woodhead leading team in RB scoring.
Wide Receiver 2 – The Bills were 31st in the NFL in passing yards and are woefully thin at receivers. Sammy Watkins is the clear WR1, but the team declined his fifth-year option, meaning Watkins will be a free agent following the 2017 season. Someone on the Bills is going to have to step up, starting with second-round rookie Zay Jones, who should start opposite of Watkins in Week 1. The Bills traded up to select Jones, who set the FBS record with 158 receptions in 2016 for East Carolina. Watkins has missed 11 games in the past two years, so Jones has the potential to put up WR1 numbers if Watkins is sidelined. There’s not a lot of value in Corey Brown and Andre Holmes as the WR3/4.
Prediction: Zay Jones dominates the WR2 battle and leads Bills in receptions.
Running Back – The Panthers didn’t spend the No. 8 overall pick on dynamic Christian McCaffrey to be a part time player. While incumbent Jonathan Stewart is expected to retain a prominent role on first-and-second down, Stewart offers nothing as a receiver– an area where McCaffrey excels. Stewart, 30, has also declined as a runner in three straight seasons. Overall, I don’t like the current ADP for McCaffrey but think Stewart is a nice bargain, even if he ends up in a committee.
Prediction: Stewart starts, but cedes larger role to McCaffrey.
[the_ad id=”72106″] Wide Receivers – Cameron Meredith enters camp as the favorite to take over as WR1 for Alshon Jeffery, who left for Philadelphia. Behind Meredith, the Bears have a group of veteran castoffs who will vie for playing time in what looks to be one of the league’s lesser passing attacks. Oft-injured Kevin White should win the WR2 role but has missed 28 of his first 32 games. Markus Wheaton, Kendall Wright, and Victor Cruz will compete for slot receiver duties, but aren’t on the fantasy radar.
Prediction: Wheaton wins the WR3 job
Wide Receivers – Superstar A.J. Green is entrenched as the WR1, and many expect No. 9 pick John Ross to immediately start opposite of Green. But the Bengals just re-signed veteran Brandon LaFell, who was the fantasy WR34 last season, to a two-year deal and Ross missed all of OTAs with a shoulder injury that may not be healed until well into August. Ross could miss valuable reps throughout the first few days of training camp, which are crucial reps for rookie receivers. Tyler Boyd caught 54 passes as a rookie and should have the WR3 job locked down.
Prediction: LaFell opens the season as the WR2 and John Ross could have trouble getting on the field.
Quarterback – The Browns once again enter an NFL season completely undecided at quarterback and will have an open competition between Cody Kessler, DeShone Kizer, and newly-acquired Brock Osweiler. Kessler enters camp as the de facto starter but had mixed reviews during OTAs. Osweiler has reportedly looked decent, but was a disaster in Houston and was acquired as the Browns simply “bought” Houstons 2018 second-round pick for Osweiler’s albatross of a salary. Second-round rookie DeShone Kizer has drawn praise from head coach Hue Jackson and offers the most upside for the Browns.
Prediction: Kessler may start in Week 1, but Kizer will soon take over and become Cleveland’s franchise QB.
Quarterback – With a new coaching staff, we can expect an all-out open competition for the Broncos. Trevor Siemian was more consistent last season and enters training camp as the starter. Depending on what you read, Siemian has the early advantage, but others have reported that Paxton Lynch has overtaken him for the clubhouse lead. Lynch offers more athleticism and enters training camp with a lot of momentum. This could be a true competition that wages throughout Denver’s preseason schedule.
Prediction: Paxton Lynch wins the job.
Running Back – The Broncos also have to sort out their backfield. C.J. Anderson is the clear favorite but is an unknown in the new blocking scheme that Vance Joseph and Mike McCoy will develop. Devontae Booker disappointed as a rookie but should fit the scheme. Depending on his health, Jamaal Charles could play his way from starter to camp casualty. Charles’s long track record of being a fantasy star assures he’s worth a late-round dart throw. Sixth-round rookie De’Angelo Henderson has a good chance at earning a roster spot and could even get into the mix for early playing time.
Prediction: C.J. Anderson wins the job and has his best pro season.
Quarterback – Like the Browns, the Texans just haven’t been able to get the most important position on the field correct. But unlike Cleveland, the Texans have managed to stay contenders thanks to a dominant defense. Bill O’Brien will try once again, this time turning the reigns of his offense over to four-year veteran Tom Savage and No. 12 overall pick Deshaun Watson. Savage went 1-1 as the starter last season but has yet to throw his first NFL touchdown. Watson has an outstanding pedigree, tremendous work ethic, and elite athleticism.
Prediction: Savage wins the job, but Watson takes the job by the halfway point.
Running Back 2 – It looks like 34-year old Frank Gore will return for a final NFL season and all indications are that the Colts still view him as their starter. But Gore has 3,379 career touches and faded last season. He’ll be spelled liberally by Robert Turbin and fourth-rounder Marlon Mack. Turbin caught 26 balls last season and was good in short yardage, rushing for seven touchdowns on only 47 carries. Mack is an intriguing dynasty pick and would be the favorite to have a large role if Gore missed time.
Prediction: Gore retains job but Mack makes a solid, late-round handcuff.
Running Back – This is one of the most highly-anticipated August camp battles. Andy Reid running backs can generally be counted on for solid fantasy production. Spencer Ware enters camp as the presumptive starter but will be pushed by Toldeo third-rounder Kareem Hunt, who offers elusiveness along with plus skills as a pass catcher. Charcandrick West caught 28 passes in 2016 but will be hard pressed to get on the field much this year.
Prediction: Kareem Hunt wins the starting job
Wide Receivers – The Rams’ receiving corps has been a staple of this list for multiple years, and while 2017 is no different, perhaps a new staff and crop of youngsters will finally stabilize the position. Tavon Austin is miscast as a conventional WR1, but is expected to be more of an outside deep threat under Sean McVay, which should help his overall fantasy value. Robert Woods signed a mind boggling five-year, $34 million deal and will line up opposite of Austin. Third-round rookie Cooper Kupp should win the slot receiver job, with youngsters Josh Reynolds and Pharoh Cooper likely to fill out the rest of the receiving corps.
Prediction: Austin and Kupp are both values at their current ADP, but Kupp leads team in catches.
Running Backs – The Vikings probably regret signing Latavius Murray to a $15 million deal since they got dynamic Florida State runner Dalvin Cook in the second round. Cook’s stock dropped due to some concerns over low SPARQ scores and an iffy combine showing, but on film Cook was at times dynamic and offers way more upside than the plodding Murray, who averaged only 4.0 yards-per-tote behind one of the NFL’s top offensive lines. The Vikings have one of the league’s lesser lines, so it’s hard to see Murray doing much beyond a short yardage role.
Prediction: Cook leads the Vikings in rushing and breaks some long touchdowns.
Running Backs – No team has scored as many rushing touchdowns as the Patriots over the past half dozen seasons. Newly-signed Mike Gillislee, who led the NFL in yards-per-attempt and was an excellent short yardage runner, is the favorite to take over LeGarrette Blount’s role that led to Blount scoring an NFL-leading 18 touchdowns last season. But Bill Belichick rarely does what we expect, so Rex Burkhead, who is an excellent blocker, pass catcher and underrated runner, could also be heavily involved in New England’s offense. Super Bowl hero James White caught 60 balls last season and has surpassed Dion Lewis as the passing down specialist.
Prediction: Gilislee leads the Patriots in rushing scores, but cedes plenty of work to Burkhead and White. Don’t discount the chance that New England could deploy a frustrating committee.
Running Backs – Annually, the New Orleans backfield almost always finishes as one of the top-5 scoring groups in fantasy. Mark Ingram was excellent last season, posting his first 1,000-yard season and becoming the only player in the entire NFL with more than 10 red zone targets to catch every pass. By several accounts, Adrian Peterson has wowed teammates in OTAs and has plenty of motivation to prove to his proponents that he is still an all-time great. The assumption is that Tennessee third-rounder Alvin Kamara will take over as the passing down back, but it’s entirely possible that Peterson could dominate first-and-second down carries, forcing Ingram, who is very good as a receiver, into more third down work and limiting Kamara’s snaps.
Prediction: Adrian Peterson rushes for 1,000 yards and Mark Ingram exceeds 1,000 total yards and catches 50+ passes.
QB, RB and WR – Whoa boy- this is gonna be ugly. The Jets spent the offseason jettisoning pretty much all fantasy-viable players and look to be entering 2017 on a mission to secure the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NFL draft. With a quarterback rotation of journeyman Josh McCown, Bryce Petty, and Christian Hackenberg, it’s hard to have any interest in New York’s passing game. Quincy Enunwa projects as the WR1 and Robby Anderson could be in for an expanded role. Alabama rookie ArDarius Stewart has some sleeper appeal but will be limited by subpar quarterback play all season. Perhaps the lone bright spot for the Jets offense is RB Bilal Powell, who should lead the backfield in carries and receptions and has RB2 value if he can stay healthy. Matt Forte is also undervalued as a late-round target.
Prediction: Bilal Powell finishes as an RB2 Quincy Enunwa catches 70+ passes
Running Backs – Kyle Shanahan is a master at getting the most out of his players and adjusting his scheme to fit their strengths. Shanahan inherited a dynamic runner in Carlos Hyde, but Hyde at times has looked ill-prepared to fit into the outside zone-blocking scheme favored by Shanahan. The Niners also apparently love Utah fourth-round rookie Joe Williams, who at times has been rumored to have a chance to unseat Hyde from Week 1. Shanahan is a smart coach, and I believe he’ll alter his offense to feature Hyde, but Williams and Tim Hightower could be heavily involved as pass catchers.
Prediction: Hyde remains the starter
Curious about other camp battles or just want to talk football, follow me on Twitter: @JodySmithNFL
Senior Writer Gridiron Experts. 2012 FantasyPros Most Accurate Fantasy Expert. Member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. 26-year fantasy football veteran. Featured on NFL.com, Fantasypros, Football Diehards annual magazine, local AM sports radio, podcasts everywhere and SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio. Once scored 4 touchdowns in a single game for Polk High School.