2014 NFL Training Camp Battles Won, Lost & Ongoing
With training camps coming to a close, teams whittling down their rosters to the 53-man maximum and Week 1 of the NFL regular season kicking off in just a few days, it’s time to re-visit some of those training camp battles we checked out in the 2014 Fantasy Alarm Draft Guide. Some of the battles have been won or lost, some are ongoing and then we even see a few new developments that may not have been the two or three months ago, but are certainly evident now. Those of you who haven’t drafted yet will want to pay strict attention here while those who have should probably get their waiver priorities in check.
While Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd remain the top two receivers on this offense, the battle for the No. 3 spot has been fierce this summer. Ginn will always warrant a look by his coaches in the preseason, but just like the 49ers did for all those years, the Cardinals are likely to use him almost exclusively as a return man. He may see a target or two on random occasions, but the No. 3 job has come down to John and Jaron Brown. No relation there, folks. Pretty common name. It would appear that John, the rookie, is the one who has the edge as he’s looked dynamic this spring and has game-breaking speed. Jaron, has done a good job, but the team feels that John has the higher ceiling and will likely slot him in as the No. 3. While it’s tough to call him a sleeper given that Fitz and Floyd will likely see the majority of targets, there’s definitely a chance that his role increases as the season progresses.
It would appear that Taylor has lost his hold on the back-up job to Andre Ellington as the snap counts and number of touches have seemingly favored Dwyer. In fact, the Cardinals have even leaned towards using Dwyer as the goal-line back as evidenced by the last two preseason games. The problem though, is that we saw Dwyer make attempts as both the lead back and the goal-line back in Pittsburgh last year and he failed miserably. This season may start out with Dwyer as the No. 2 guy, but it just doesn’t seem like it will stay that way after a few weeks.
We can immediately remove second-round pick Troy Niklas as he’s not going to have a prominent role in the passing game this season. That leaves a banged up veteran in Carlson and a banged-up youngster in Housler. The Cardinals depth chart lists Housler as the starting tight end, but neither guy has really asserted himself during the preseason. It is believed that Housler has the higher ceiling and that could give him the edge, but with neither guy impressing, head coach Bruce Arians could have them share snaps until one pushes the other out of the limelight.
While most pundits are putting their money on Freeman, Falcons coach Mike Smith hasn’t quite made up his mind just yet. Given the way the starting roles and carries have gone since Steven Jackson got banged up, it is very possible that Rodgers opens the year as the primary back-up once again, but he is more likely to start sharing carries early as Freeman and Smith establish themselves. We’ve all seen Rodgers’ ceiling over the last few years as he’s never quite been able to do much with any opportunities given, no matter how big or how small. Freeman seems to have the most upside of the three and remains a dark horse candidate for breakout player of the year.
While this actually isn’t a training camp battle per se, the suspension of Rice for the first two games opens the door quite wide for Pierce to lay claim to a significant number of carries this year. Of course, Pierce need to get past the minor concussion he’s currently dealing with, but he was apparently back on the practice field Friday. Should Pierce find a groove and the Ravens are successful over the first three weeks of the season, then they aren’t going to just yank the ball away from him. Rice will see his touches, but there’s a distinct possibility that the split ends up a little more 50/50 than most expected. Of course, Pierce could go into the tank for the first three games too which would completely devalue him, but that seems to be the long shot. We see Rice taking over come Week 4 and seeing at least 60-70-percent of the carries still.
So many of the “sleeper hounds” were insisting that this was the year Brown was going to break out. But not only have they been ignoring the attention Steve Smith has gotten in camp, but they seem to have also overlooked Jacoby Jones. Over the final two preseason games and the weeks leading up to them, Jones has been working as the No. 3 receiver with the first-team. We’re not saying that the Ravens will stick with this pecking order all season long, but for at least the first several weeks, Smith will be the No. 2 opposite Torrey Smith while Jones will enter the season as the No. 3 guy. The likelihood of Smith being an every-down player seems a little small, so the Ravens could split up some of his reps between both Jones and Brown. However, that’s obviously no guarantee and it’s certainly not something upon which to rely.
This was considered somewhat of a position battle early on in the summer as there was a distinct possibility that the two tight ends could see fairly similar targets this season as the Ravens employed more two-TE sets. But Pitta has re-emerged as the clear-cut No. 1 in this offense, and while Daniels should still see a fair amount of looks, it will be Pitta leading the way. Now some might speculate that it only looks that way because Daniels was injured over the final two weeks of training camp, but the handwriting was already on the wall prior to his injury.
Santonio Holmes vs Josh Morgan
Obviously Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery are the top two options, but when Marquess Wilson broke his collarbone, the Bears were in dire need of a legitimate No. 3 receiver. They could have gone with either the hapless Josh Morgan or return-specialist Michael Spurlock, but neither of those options were too appealing. Then along came Santonio; all 5-foot-11 of him. Freed from the nightmare of being a Jet, Holmes has a new attitude and seems to be jelling nicely with the Bears offense. Morgan has seemingly taken a backseat to him and Spurlock is back on the return train where he belongs. It’s difficult to think that Holmes is going to have any more value than a potential bye-week replacement as a WR3 given the number of targets going to Marshall, Jeffery and even tight end Martellus Bennett, but deeper league owners should probably have him on their watch-list, at the very least.
The expectations were that, one day, the Bengals would part ways with Gresham and unleash the fury that is Tyler Eifert as a No. 1 tight end. But a shoulder injury has kept the youngster on the bench over the last couple of weeks while Gresham, who battled a hernia earlier in camp, has been on the field, seeing targets and making plays recently. Obviously Eifert has the superior overall talent and the expectation is that, one day, he will be the No. 1 guy. But for now, they should be considered fairly even with respect to their roles in the offense. Obviously a separation could develop during the season, but for at least the first few weeks, neither has a clear-cut edge.
In what could have been the dumbest succession of moves and decision this summer, Browns head coach Mike Pettine finally took his head out of his ass and announced Brian Hoyer as the team’s starting quarterback. Everyone knew that it was the decision to make and while he can laud him for eventually coming to the right decision, he caved to the ignorant masses and went from, “There are no special packages designed to incorporate Manziel into the offense this season” to “Of course there are specially designed packages to incorporate Manziel into the offense this season.” If we can somehow agree that ‘moronical’ is actually a word, we’d like to throw it around at Pettine. In any event, whether there are or there aren’t special, secret plays set up for Manziel, the pecking order is Hoyer, Johnny Football and then Rex Grossman acting as the Wade Garrett to Manziel’s Dalton.
Who Won the Seven-Man Battle Royal?
It was quite the ugly cast of characters entering the ring as the Browns waited for the inevitable full-season suspension bomb to fall on Josh Gordon. Actually listing all seven would likely give you the dry heaves or just be so hideous that you’d turn to stone…much like all of their hands. Long story short, Miles Austin and Andrew Hawkins emerged victorious and will have the ne’er reliable Travis Benjamin as the team’s No. 3 option. Gone is Nate Burleson whose body is so fragile that you would have thought him a glass figurine or something. Again, it’s not pretty by any means, but there might be some late-round value to be had once you start rounding out your team’s depth.
This one is for the deeper league owners or for those who believe that the plate of scrambled eggs that resides inside the skull of Wes Welker will just prove to be too difficult to play with. Demaryius Thomas owns the top spot. Emmanuel Sanders should prove to be a solid No. 2…or at least as gratifying as one when you get to be my age. But should Welker either not make it back or get knocked out with his 43rd concussion early on in the season, it looks as if Latimer could be the guy to own. Peyton Manning has shown an affectation for Caldwell in the past, but Latimer has looked strong this preseason and seems to be a quality rote –runner and a trustworthy guy with good hands. Nothing to act on right now unless you’re playing in a 16-team league, but definitely something to keep in mind.
Theo Riddick vs Mikel Leshoure
Quick and simple here as Riddick is being hoisted on the shoulders of all the young, hopefuls just looking to make their way in the NFL while Leshoure heads to the unemployment line wondering what went wrong. Reggie Bush and Joique Bell are obviously the two main characters in this ground game plot line, but Riddick’s strong performance this summer has earned him the No. 3 job and perhaps a limited number of actual carries early on. Given the potential for injury for Bush, and Bell also, actually, Riddick could carve out a solid niche for himself in the ever-evolving offense.
Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate occupy the top two spots on the depth chart, but the No. 3 seemed to be fairly wide open. Ogltree showed some minor yet fleeting success back when he was with Dallas, but he was only a two-week waiver savior before you needed to drop him. Broyles was last season’s sleeper darling for many, but his inability to stay healthy turned any potential value to something you’d find stuck to the bottom of your shoe. And then there’s Ross who…well….ok yeah, and then there’s Ross. Bottom line is that none of them have stood out this preseason and the Lions will walk into Week 1 with two really strong options and a couple of question marks. You as a fantasy owner need only care about the first two.
Adams, a rookie out of Fresno State, was drawing a lot of attention from numerous pundits and started to emerge as a late-round flier with high upside. But while his reputation amongst the fantasy community was growing, Boykin just quietly earned his stripes with strong play throughout camp. Boykin has seemingly won the job as the team’s No. 3 receiver and those who remember what James Jones did before exiling himself to Raider Nation are now hopping on the Boykin bandwagon like Titanic passengers racing to the lifeboats. Adams remains a strong play in dynasty leagues, but his value as a useful wide receiver this year will only grow if injury should befall one of the men before him.
This job has been one of the hottest topics of the preseason, obviously because of what Aaron Rodgers has done for his tight ends over the years. If we’re going by who was starting during preseason games, then Rodgers, Richard that is, looks like he’s the guy. However, Quarless doesn’t really seem to be too far behind him. Targets could be spread out between the two which could devalue them both, so drafting one or the other might not be the best of moves. You can get your waiver trigger finger ready should one step out over the other through the first few weeks, but just keep in mind that by the time that happens, Bostick could be back in the mix and turning this duet into a trio.
For most, it’s not a question of if Arian Foster gets hurt, but when. And when it does happen, who’s the guy to go with? Who’s the handcuff? While Blue is listed ahead of Grimes on the Texans’ depth chart and got the start in the last preseason game, it was Grimes who out-performed his counterpart and looked like he could be a sensible choice. The Texans are being non-committal here which is fine as they don’t want to admit that they are likely to lose their starting back for at least a few games, but if faced with the decision of which one to grab as the handcuff, the lean here is towards Blue.
Not for now, but for down the road, this could become more of a battle should Henne not pull his weight. Bortles has looked strong this preseason and suddenly those who mocked the Jaguars for taking him too early in the NFL Draft are quieting down and doing much more listening than talking. The leash on Henne should be fairly lengthy so there shouldn’t be any immediate concern. However, should the team struggle and find themselves in need of a jolt, it is very possible that a switch is made. The surrounding weapons aren’t strong so both QBs sit at a disadvantage and that could actually favor Henne more should the team not want to throw their soon-to-be rising star to the wolves.
While Fasano remains atop the team’s depth chart, it was Kelce who led the team in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns this summer. Given the lack of competent wideouts, the Chiefs should employ a lot more two-TE sets and utilize both of them as receivers. We like Kelce as the upside play here, but Fasano has been a favorable red zone target for Alex Smith as well. It’s not really a situation upon which you’d choose to rely, but if you’re drafting in a deep league and there’s no one else, Kelce should be a solid option.
The bottom line here is that in a Bill Belichick-run offense, who the heck knows? Vereen seems like the sexy option as Brady’s pass-catching back with Ridley as the grinder and Bolden as the poacher. Given the number of backs here and the mind that is Belichick, it seems hard to believe that too much trust is going to go into the rookie, White. About the only “safe pick” here is Vereen in a PPR league. The rest will leave you scratching your head.
There’s so much hype on Cooks that many are just sleeping on Stills this summer and just bypassing him altogether. Maybe it’s the quad injury that has hindered him recently, but given what we know about rookie wide receiver performances in the past, it seems a little silly to just dismiss Stills at this point in time. The beauty of this being the Saints offense though is that Drew Brees throws so often that each one of them could end up with enough work to keep fantasy owners happy. The upside and youth pick for dynasty leagues screams Cooks, but in re-draft leagues, the sensible money could be a Stills pick a good five rounds later.
While Cumberland is the sensible incumbent, a sore Achilles has seemingly opened the door for Amaro to put his pass-catching skills on display. While Cumberland has been out, Amaro has displayed decent blocking abilities, solid route-running skills, and best of all, strong, trustworthy hands. We get the whole ‘rookie tight ends tend to struggle’ thing, but with Eric Decker seeming to be the only legitimate target on this offense, the potential for Amaro to see some extra targets come his way could be the start of something big; something that the Jets haven’t seen since the days of Mickey Schuler.
Oakland Raiders QB
This could actually make my “Bold Prediction” pick of Schaub being the first QB to lose his job an instant success. The former Texan was disappointing to open the preseason and now elbow problems are hindering any chance he may have had to redeem himself. Meanwhile Carr has shaken off a mild concussion and a rib injury to suddenly push his way into a potential Week 1 start. Raiders coach Dennis Allen says that he will make his decision Monday, September 1 as to who will start and while it always seems to be a mistake to give the rookie the reins right from the start, the Raiders may not have much of a choice.
With James Jones and Rod Streater locked into the top two receiver spots, we’ve seen quite the battle for the No. 3 job that just might tilt the opposite way from how most fantasy owners were leaning just a few short weeks ago. Most expected Holmes, a late-season waiver darling last year, to emerge as even a potential No. 2 opposite Jones. But Moore, the former No. 1 on this team a year ago, has stepped up his level of play recently and is now the favorite for the No. 3 job thanks to quality performances during the preseason games. Of course, given the quarterback situation now, all of these receivers could be a rough play.
Similar to the situation in Cincinnati, the old stalwart and the young upstart are trying to coexist in the same offense while both trying to be productive. Many have Ertz tabbed for a breakout season, but the fact remains that Celek, who has been a reliable pass-catcher and even a red zone threat, is still very much in the picture. Eventually, Ertz will outshine him to the point where no one even knows who Celek is, but for the immediate future, putting all your eggs into Ertz’ basket might not be the best idea.
Let the jokes fly. These two knuckleheads deserve it. Handcuffing running backs? They see the running lanes real well because they don’t have glaucoma? Whatever joke you’d like to make at their expense should really be fair game. But talking from a fantasy point, this situation in Pittsburgh has suddenly become a whole lot uglier than it was just a few weeks ago. While Bell is supposed to be the lead back in the offense, Mike Tomlin announced that Blount would be the short-yardage and goal –line back. Say whaaaaat? Come on, Mike! Yer killin’ us here! Bell was considered a solid, late first round option in most drafts, but with this carry-poaching, goal-line opportunity steal clown Blount in the mix, it seems like you have to downgrade Bell. Not by a huge margin, but certainly a little bit. Conversely, Blout, who wasn’t even an afterthought in most drafts, now popes up on the late-round flier radar.
Since when does three touchdowns in six games and two 80-plus yard games out of 16 mean that you’ve surpassed one of the best tight ends to ever play the game on the depth chart? Never. Because while so many people are salivating over Greene and drafting him far earlier than he should go, Gates is still considered the No. 1 tight end in San Diego and still a very capable receiving threat and red zone target magnet. Have his numbers suffered lately? Yes. But not to the point where you write him off and suddenly elevate Greene to a level on which he doesn’t belong. Let this serve as a warning, folks. Gates is the guy to own in San Diego. Can Greene emerge as more of an option? Of course. But rein in that enthusiasm, buddy.
There’s no denying that Sankey is the future of this franchise’s ground game. He’s a talented runner and when he gets out into space, he can turn on the jets and fly down the field. But right now his wings are getting clipped and the Titans are sticking with Greene as the primary back with McCluster starting to emerge as a change-of-pace guy. That doesn’t mean that Sankey won’t get his share of the carries, because he will, but he still appears to be more of a ”between the 20s” guy who will be eased into being an every-down back rather than someone who will be given the green light from the word go.