NFL Training Camp Battles

With training camps opening up in just a few weeks there will be plenty of notable training camp battles that will be relevant to your fantasy team. Don’t worry if you’re keeping Julio Jones, David Johnson, or Antonio Brown. They don’t have much competition. But there are plenty of other noteworthy battles that are plenty relevant to your research leading up to the draft.

Cincinnati RB Battle

This is equivalent to a triple threat match. Hell, you might even say it’s a 2-on-1-handicap match with the “1” being Joe Mixon as the favorite of the group. That’s right the highly touted rookie out of Oklahoma is projected to overtake a majority of the touches on offense in 2017. Mixon was a guy who was going in the 11th-13th rounds of mock drafts in late April after being taken by Cincy, and his stock as steadily risen since then and he’s now being drafted in the 3rd and 4th rounds. Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill? They’re going between rounds 10 and 14.

This may not be as much of a “battle” as it is a changing of the guard really. Mixon brings the pass-catching abilities of Gio with Hill’s size. And even then he’s still a very talented runner. With both Hill and Gio averaging under 4.0 YPC last year with a decent offensive line, the Bengals went into the draft looking for an explosive weapon on offense and they landed one with Mixon who could easily be the #1 back in Cincy come season’s end.

Injuries hit the running back position more than any other in football so Gio and Hill are still worth drafting as handcuffs or for positional depth on your roster. Lastly, a big concern with Cincinnati is their offensive line. The Bengals lost Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler in the offseason and didn’t have much luck in finding suitable replacements for them. This alone shouldn’t deter you from drafting any of these guys, but Cincy could struggle to establish the run early in 2017.

Update (8/30): Well that's that. Jeremy Hill got the start in the Bengals third preseason game and suffered an ankle injury after rolling it in the first quarter. The injury isn't believed to be too serious, but this certainly opens the door for Joe Mixon. The rookie will likely get the start in Cincy's 2017 season opener, but don't rule out Giovani Bernard. The injury to Hill could cement Bernard into the third-down RB role if the team is hesitant to have Mixon in there for all three downs. Don't rule out Hill either. The injury hurt his ADP in mock drafts and he is a nice target in the later rounds considering there's a chance Mixon struggles behind a poor offensive line.

Steelers WR’s

If you haven’t noticed, the Steelers offense leans heavily on Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown. That’s some hard-hitting analysis right there. Martavis Bryant leads the pack for the WR2 job. He’s coming off a 1-year suspension after he missed all of 2016. Even after missing a full year, his ADP is currently sitting in round 4. Even with Brown and Bell getting most of the work, Bryant still had 9 games (including the playoffs) where he had at least 8 targets in 2015. Including the postseason he played in 13 games total. With Markus Wheaton now in Chicago, Bryant is the clear favorite for the WR2 job, but he’ll have plenty of competition with Eli Rogers, Sammie Coates, and most notably 2017 2nd-round pick JuJu Smith-Schuster, who could get plenty of targets if he’s put in the slot. There is plenty of depth at WR on the Steelers roster and the three previously mentioned players are certainly worth drafting in the later rounds.

Update (8/30): It's evident that Martavis Bryant is the clear #2 receiver in Pittsburgh. That's been in the bag since his reinstatement. In the third preseason game Eli Rogers and JuJu Smith-Schuster made their cases to be the third option in the Steelers passing attack. They each had at least five targets and both looked pretty solid. Rogers was a little bit better and is probably the better option in deeper leagues. Don't rule out Sammie Coates who had just one catch on four targets. 

Minnesota Backfield

Adrian Peterson missed a majority of the 2016 season and has since departed for New Orleans. The Vikings went out and signed Latavius Murray and drafted Dalvin Cook with a 2nd-round pick. The Vikings also welcome new offensive coordinator, Pat Shurmur to the fold in 2017. What’s great about Shurmur is that he has a history of relying more on one guy in the backfield rather than a committee. Murray, recovering from offseason surgery, hasn’t been able to participate in OTA’s or minicamp like Cook has. Murray has acknowledged being behind, but he expects to get the ball once he’s healthy.

Good news for the Vikings offense is that they invested heavily in the offensive line this past offseason. They went out and drafted Pat Elflein and Danny Isidora as well as signed Mike Remmers and Riley Reiff. So there’s a clear onus on protecting Sam Bradford while also improving on the run game. Cook enters training camp with a leg up, but he’ll have to officially strip the job from Murray as well as Jerick McKinnon.

Update (8/30): Dalvin Cook's snaps were limited in game three of the preseason largely because the coaching staff wanted to give Latavius Murray some reps with the first team. Neither player really stood out, but Cook is more familiar with the offense at this point and will likely see a majority of the carries with Murray being brought in as well. It's not out of the realm of possibility for Cook to see 15 touches per game to start. He's clearly the top RB in Minnesota.

Cleveland Browns QB

Go ahead, laugh it up. The Cleveland Browns feature a QB carousel on a weekly basis. They acquired Brock Osweiler in the offseason, presumably as a salary dump/acquisition for the Texans and Browns, but Osweiler has put in the time to improve this offseason. Take it with a grain of salt as typical coach talk, but he’ll get the chance to earn the job. As will DeShone Kizer, Cody Kessler, and Kevin Hogan. The Browns don’t have great receiving weapons outside of Kenny Britt and Corey Coleman. BUT the offensive line is much improved with the acquisitions of J.C. Tretter and Kevin Zeitler so Cleveland should be able to establish the run game, which could open things up for the passing attack. That’s a lot of moving pieces and general (hopeful) assumptions, but it’s entirely feasible that the Browns QB could serve as a nice streaming option and maybe, just maybe develop into a startable player in a 2-QB league.

Update (8/30): DeShone Kizer has won the starting QB job in Cleveland and the Browns are currently trying to shop Brock Osweiler and his awful contract. Good luck with that. Neither Kizer nor Osweiler looked great in the preseason, but Kizer clearly had more success. Kizer won the starting job after going 6-for-18 on his pass attempts with an interception against Tampa Bay. He's very raw, but the coaching staff prefers to develop him over wasting time with Osweiler, who didn't even play in the third preseason game. Luckily for the Browns they should be able to run the ball, which might open things up in the passing game. Alas, don't get your hopes up for Kizer.

Joe Williams vs. Carlos Hyde

Kyle Shanahan enters his first season as head coach of the 49ers and during the draft in April he was adamant about selecting Joe Williams out of Utah in the 4th round. That’s not a condemnation of Carlos Hyde by any means. If anything it sounds as if Shanahan could be molding the 49ers running backs to parallel the backfield he had in Atlanta with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. If that’s the case then both players hold significant fantasy value. But right now the job is still Hyde’s to lose and if he can just string together a healthy season he’ll easily eclipse 1,000 yards for the first time in his career. But Shanahan will want to work Williams in as well and that could cut potentially cut into Hyde’s workload. If you want a dark horse candidate for touches if either player gets hurt, then keep an eye on Matt Breida. He’s an undrafted rookie out of Georgia Southern who has really impressed the coaching staff in OTA’s and minicamp with his speed.

Update (8/30): Carlos Hyde is easily the top running back in San Francisco. Surprisingly the 49ers offense looked pretty good against the Minnesota defensive starters. The running game wasn't great, but Carlos Hyde had three catches for 45 yards. He might be a nice fit in Kyle Shanahan's offense after all. Unfortunately Joe Williams hasn't looked good in the preseason. As far as 2017 is concerned he could get mixed into the fold with Matt Breida and Tim Hightower on the depth chart.

Trevor Siemian vs. Paxton Lynch

This is mostly a QB battle worth watching if you’re in a super deep league or play in a 2-QB format. Siemian got 14 starts last year and managed to throw barely over 3,400 yards with 18 touchdowns and 10 picks. He had only 3 games all last season where he scored 16 or more points. Since QB’s are easy contributors for points, you need much more than that. The Broncos drafted Lynch with their 1st-round pick in 2016 and will likely want to see what they have with him in his 2nd season. Lynch certainly had his struggles last year, but it was a very small sample size. He possesses a bigger body and much better arm. He’ll certainly need to earn the job out of camp, but it seems like that he gives the Broncos and fantasy owners a better chance at winning over Siemian.

Update (8/22): This battle is officially over as Trevor Siemian was announced as the winner of the Denver QB job. It's still somewhat baffling as Lynch is bigger and has a stronger arm. But Siemian will once again open the season as the starting QB, but it remains to be seen if the organization will keep him on a short leash.

Broncos Running Backs

After two straight injury-shortened seasons Jamaal Charles joins his former rivals, the Denver Broncos. The Broncos will have a three-headed monster of sorts with Charles, C.J. Anderson, and Devontae Booker. The team also drafted De’Angelo Henderson out of Coastal Carolina, but he’ll be pretty far down the depth chart. Last season didn’t see either Anderson or Booker seize the opportunity to be the top running back in Denver. They both excelled and complimented each other nicely, but neither could maintain the workload if the other was out. It’s highly unlikely the Broncos will want to lean heavily on Charles who will turn 31 in December and as mentioned before he tore his ACL in 2015 and the injury lingered long enough to cut his 2016 season short as he never fully healed. It’s likely this will be a backfield that features three players in a committee, but training camp will be worth monitoring in case one of them emerges as the clear cut starter.

Update (8/30): It appears C.J. Anderson is the starting running back in Denver, but how much of a grip he has on the position is still in question. Jamaal Charles did look pretty good so he's worth a late round flyer if you want to take a chance on a guy. Devontae Booker and De'Angelo Henderson are in play if either Anderson or Charles get hurt.

Kansas City Backfield

Jamaal Charles’s former team may take a similar approach to the Denver running game this upcoming season. Between Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West, the former was clearly the lead runner last year, but even Ware experienced his share of inconsistent play. There were moments like in Week 1 where he collected 199 total yards from scrimmage, but there was also a crucial three-week stretch in December where he failed to average 4.0 YPC. West didn’t fare much better as he averaged 3.3 yards per carry on the year. In the 2017 draft the Chiefs traded up in the third round to acquire Kareem Hunt and he could potentially be the #1 guy in the KC backfield once the season starts. For now, Hunt is still third on the depth chart but his progress will be worth monitoring once camp opens.

Update (8/30): By now you've heard the news that Spencer Ware's season is done. Kareem Hunt is skyrocketing up draft boards and is going in rounds four and five, even in round three in some drafts. Hunt will likely see a healthy amount of touches to start the year with Charcandrick West getting reps when Hunt needs rest. C.J. Spiller might get the occasional touch every now and then, but he's a shell of his former self.

Jaguars WR’s

The Jacksonville receiving unit is loaded with potential headlined by Allen Robinson who experienced a pretty big dropoff from 2015 to 2016. Despite catching only 7 less passes from the prior year, there was a 517-yard drop off and he caught 8 less TD’s. He was a big candidate for regression in 2016, but he’s also a name to keep an eye on to bounce back in 2017. Despite the regression Robinson is still a WR1 candidate for fantasy. The rest of the group is fighting for that WR2 status. Allen Hurns, Marqise Lee, and rookie Dede Westbrook will all fight for targets in training camp. Hurns, like Robinson, experienced heavy regression in 2016. Lee actually made great strides last season and could see an increase in work based off his 2016 breakout. But a big name to keep an eye on is Westbrook who finished 4th in last year’s Heisman voting. Westbrook was virtually a steal for Jacksonville in the 4th round of this year’s draft and he’s a big threat to the workloads of Hurns and Lee. His impressive speed makes him an intriguing deep threat that the Jaguars have been looking for, but he’ll really need to impress the coaching staff in training camp to earn snaps and targets on the field.

Update (8/30): The Jaguars are reluctantly going with Blake Bortles as their starting QB in 2017 and the receiving group will have it's up's and down's. The Up's will mostly come in garbage time, with the Down's coming a lot more often. Allen Robinson is still the top receiver, but his ADP is falling into the 5th-6th round range so he's a pretty good value right there. Allen Hurns had a good game against Carolina, but it wouldn't be too surprising if Dede Westbrook became the WR2 in Jacksonville this year. As it stands right now, Robinson might be the only one worth drafting.

Ravens Backfield

There’s a lot to make about the Ravens backfield for 2017. Kenneth Dixon is suspended for the first four games of the year for a PED violation. Danny Woodhead was brought in and will likely be featured in the passing game. Terrance West returns after a 2016 season where he totaled 1,000+ all purpose yards. And of course Javorius “Buck” Allen returns for training camp after only touching the ball 12 times last year.

Terrance West was trusted with 193 rushing attempts last year and 45 targets. Even after missing the first month of the season, Dixon didn't cut into West’s workload all that much. In 12 games he had 88 rushing attempts to go with 30 receptions, but they did utilize him more as the season progressed. 2017 will have a similar start with Dixon missing the first four games, but with so many targets opening up with the loss of Steve Smith Sr., Dennis Pitta, and Kamar Aiken the Ravens will turn to their running backs for a lot of short passes. West and Woodhead are likely good names to target for the first four weeks, but training camp will at least allow Dixon to get into the good graces of the coaching staff so that they use him right out of the gate when he comes back from suspension.

Update (8/30): This backfield is just so ugly right now. This whole team seems doomed for 2017. Too many injuries, and Terrance West hasn't looked great in the preseason. Sure there will be plenty of opportunities for West and Woodhead, but even "Grit Master" Danny is dealing with an injury heading into the season. Sure they'll both get drafted based on the opportunity. Woodhead is going way too high especially in PPR drafts at around 60th overall. The offensive line is weak and this team looks destined for failure this year. Avoid this backfield at all costs.


Carolina Backfield

When a team drafts a player in the first round, especially a running back, they expect that player to make an impact Year 1. The Panthers took Christian McCaffrey with the 8th overall pick. Jonathan Stewart was certainly a serviceable running back with 824 total rushing yards, but only 60 receiving yards. He did collect 9 touchdowns on the ground, but the passing attack was a glaring weakness for Carolina. McCaffrey helps that problem right away in that he’s a dynamic pass-catching weapon that can line up in the slot, but he’ll likely take some carries away from Stewart. Heading into training camp Stewart will carry the upper hand, as McCaffrey was only able to participate in one day of OTA’s and minicamp due to a CBA rule that held him out until Stanford’s academic year came to an end. Stewart has finally reached the dreaded 30-year-old mark for running backs and will have to hold off a much younger, agile McCaffrey.

Update (8/30): Christian McCaffrey will clearly get most of the touches on offense. He will play a big role in moving the ball between the 20's. But the big concern remains, how much will he be used in the red zone? In PPR his catches will bump up his value and compensate if there's a lack of touchdowns. But with Jonathan Stewart still on the team he could be in line for more goal-line reps than McCaffrey. McCaffrey could still have a successful rookie campaign, but the touchdowns could be very scarce and that really hurts his value in standard formats.

Hunter Henry vs. Antonio Gates

Hunter Henry, by all accounts, had a nice rookie season. He caught 36 passes for 478 yards and 8 touchdowns. The frustrating part was the constant need for the Chargers to get Antonio Gates his touchdowns to become the all-time leaders in TD’s for a tight end. He’s currently tied at 111 with Tony Gonzalez so the record is not yet his. He’ll surely get it this season. The battle for targets won’t just be between these two. There are a lot of mouths to feed in the San Diego passing game with Keenan Allen, Tyrell Williams, Travis Benjamin, and Mike Williams (once he’s healthy). In terms of Henry vs. Gates, the former will need to develop strong chemistry with Philip Rivers in camp if he wants to see an increase in targets in his second year.

Update (8/22): It's unlikely that this is a battle anymore. The Chargers may try to move forward utilizing both guys in the offense. It could still be a breakout season for Henry, but Philip Rivers has great chemistry with Antonio Gates. The confusion surrounding this duo is actually keeping Henry's ADP relatively low so he makes for a nice TE grab in the 9th-10th round.

Green Bay Backfield

Green Bay’s backfield was a disaster last year. Eddie Lacy was yet again a disappointment, James Starks finally wore out, and Christine Michael was claimed off waivers and yet he disappointed. So the Packers turned to Ty Montgomery, a former running back in college that became a receiver for the NFL. But desperate times called for desperate measures and the Packers really needed a running back. Thought he averaged 5.9 yards per carry, the Packers went and drafted Jamaal Williams, Aaron Jones, and Devante Mays so it’s clear they don’t want to lean too heavily on Montgomery. Williams seems to be the most likely candidate to earn the most work out of all the rookies. Montgomery could resume the same role he had last year as a hybrid RB/WR, but Williams is worth keeping an eye on during training camp and Mays is a pretty nice dark horse.

Update (8/30): Ty Montgomery is still the top running back. Even after all the running backs the Packers took in the draft, none have stepped up and taken the job from TyMon. It's unclear who is even the backup in this offense. It could be Aaron Jones as he performed the best in the team's third preseason game, but a lot of players will likely still draft Jamaal Williams despite his poor play. But Montgomery's job is secure. Will he just change his damn number now?!

Cameron Brate vs. O.J. Howard

Cameron Brate emerged as a tight end sleeper last year as he collected 57 catches for 660 yards and 8 touchdowns. After the breakout season, the Bucs went out and drafted O.J. Howard, a very promising tight end. In training camp, this may be more of a committee to monitor than an actual battle. The addition of DeSean Jackson could open things up in the middle of the field for Tampa’s two big tight ends to haul in some catches and move the chains. Brate could see a reduction in touchdowns, but could still find relevance despite the addition of Howard.

Update (8/30): Although it was mentioned about a week ago that Brate and Howard would be in a committee and line up in two-TE sets, Brate did have six targets against Denver compared to Howard's two. It's not a bad mark on Howard. Rookie TE's rarely make a fantasy impact, which is why Brate is probably the safer bet, but they will try to feature both hoping to take this offense to the next level.

The Jets Quarterback Carousel

The Jets currently bolster a QB group of Josh McCown, Christian Hackenberg, and Bryce Petty. They’re not exactly the sexiest of fantasy stars, but they’ll all be vying for the opportunity to start in September. Head coach Todd Bowles recently revealed that Josh McCown is the likely top candidate with Hackenburg and Petty following. McCown’s experience and familiarity with the system are what put him in a good position, but with the Jets apparently tanking this year they’ll consider all options at QB and it’s possible everyone gets an opportunity to start at some point in 2017. The Jets may be in rough shape, but this is about as wide open of a race as there is for a starting quarterback job in the NFL.

Update (8/30): Josh McCown was named the Jets starting quarterback for 2017 after the Jets gave Christian Hackenberg another underwhelming chance at being the starter. McCown didn't even play in the third preseason game so it appears the Jets didn't want to risk him getting hurt. With a team in a freefall like the Jets, why would you even want to draft any of these guys? McCown is a GPP play in DFS contests and that's about it.

The Seahawks Run Game

The Seahawks signed Eddie Lacy away from the Green Bay Packers and have made sure to keep his weight in check by giving him bonus incentives throughout the offseason for each time he makes weight. So far he’s done quite well and the organization is pleased with his progress. Thomas Rawls has proven that he can’t stay healthy enough to assume a full workload, and pass-catching threat C.J. Prosise showed flashes of brilliance last year, but ended the season with an injury. The health and workloads of Prosise and Rawls will be worth monitoring through training camp as well as Lacy’s weight. Despite investing very little in the offensive line, the Seahawks want to get back to establishing themselves as a run-first offense.

Update (8/30): So if Thomas Rawls is healthy he's the top RB option in Seattle's offense. Currently he's not 100% but he could still start for Seattle in week 1. Chris Carson continued to impress so he's earned a spot on the roster. Eddie Lacy looked okay in Seattle's third preseason game, but Carson has been the nicer story coming out of camp. Lacy and Rawls are going relatively close to each other according to Fantasy Football Calculator with Carson going in the later rounds. The offensive line is still very weak so keep that in mind if you are targeting this backfield.

Honorable Mention: Deshaun Watson vs. Tom Savage

It seems the Texans are most likely going with Savage as the quarterback to start 2017. Head coach Bill O’Brien has gone on record saying that Savage is currently the #1 guy heading into training camp, but he has praised Deshaun Watson’s progress and work ethic along the way. The Texans made the playoffs last year with Brock Osweiler as their QB most of the year so there’s enough talent to once again win the division in 2017, but a significant improvement at QB could allow this team to make the next step. Watson will continue to fight for the job in training camp, but is probably going to start the year as the backup.

Update (8/22): Bill O'Brien made it a point on Tuesday to note that Tom Savage is still the starter for the Texans and went so far as to say that Savage has great control of the offense. That's great and all, but they invested a 1st-round pick on Deshaun Watson. The Texans can win now with a competent QB. They made the playoffs last year in a weak division without Watson. Now the Titans are the likely favorites to win the AFC South and Watson could give them the best chance to compete for a playoff spot this year. Unfortunately, O'Brien feels differently.