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2016 Fantasy Football Training Camp Battles

2016 Fantasy Football Training Camp Battles
Will Mark Sanchez hold off Paxton Lynch for the Broncos' starting quarterback job?

Will Mark Sanchez (pictured) hold off Paxton Lynch for the Broncos’ starting quarterback job?

With NFL Training Camp a few short weeks away, minds that weren’t fully focused on fantasy football suddenly become interested. It’s a time when jobs are won and lost, rosters are set, reset and locked; a time when longshots take on established veterans. It is truly one of the most interesting periods of the year.

There is a host of position battles that require our close attention when it comes to fantasy football. Below are six of the most intriguing that prospective fantasy owners should monitor, to judge the value of the players mentioned and/or their teammates that could be propped up or dropped down based on their performances. Look in, take note and enjoy.

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Broncos Quarterback

Mark Sanchez vs. Paxton Lynch
Sanchez was acquired from the Philadelphia Eagles for a conditional seventh-round pick back in the spring, and all indications seem to point towards the former Jets starter beginning 2016 as the Broncos’ signal caller. This is despite the team investing a first round pick in Lynch.

Lynch, who himself admitted during the draft process that he would probably benefit from sitting behind a veteran and learning the ropes, has tantalizing tools that seem to make him a perfect fit for a Gary Kubiak offense. Kubiak himself wants one of the QBs to seize the job, and if Sanchez (or God forbid Trevor Siemian) faceplant during the preseason, Lynch could propel himself into the starting job a lot earlier than planned. The Broncos QB would seem to offer little value this season, with the team likely to lean on a strong ground game and a solid defense.

This is good news for presumptive starter C.J. Anderson, but it does cloud the issue when it comes to receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. Kubiak offenses have statistically held up one receiver for fantasy purposes, and players seem to think that one will be Thomas. He is currently the 16th wide receiver off the board, according to the FantasyPros ADP chart, and going in the third round of 12 team drafts. Sanders, who is entering a contract year, is still on the board entering the sixth.

Titans Running Back

DeMarco Murray vs. Derrick Henry
All reports out of Nashville would seem to point towards Murray being the main man for the Titans, with head coach Mike Mularkey stating that the team has big plans for him. But the simple fact of the matter is that Murray just might not have “it” anymore. After his monstrous 449 touch campaign of 2014 (392 carries, 57 receptions), Murray fell off a cliff with the Eagles last season.

His 193 rushes produced 702 rushing yards at 3.6 yards per clip, and his receptions fell from an average of 3.6 per game to under three. Henry, the 2015 Heisman Trophy winner, averaged 6.0 yards per carry during his college career and rushed for 2,219 yards last season. There is every chance that he will pass Murray on the Titans’ depth chart and emerge as the lead back, giving him the potential of outperforming his ADP of RB38.

He didn’t show much as a receiver in college, however, finishing his time with the Alabama Crimson Tide with just 16 receptions over three seasons. The continuing presence of receiving back Dexter McCluster, and the very real possibility that the Titans won’t be very good, should force owners to temper their expectations when it comes to selecting players from this team.

Browns Running Back

Isaiah Crowell vs. Duke Johnson
If Hue Jackson can do anything well, and to his credit, he can do a lot of things well, he can coax production from his running backs. 2015 was the first time Jackson has called an offense, as either head coach or OC, since 2007 that didn’t finish at least seventh in all three categories of rushing attempts, yards and touchdowns (the Bengals finished 13th in yards).

Given the lack of established veterans at the skill positions, it seems logical that the Browns under Jackson will look to establish a ground game. Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson both played in all 16 games last season, with the Crow starting nine and the Duke seven. Crowell paced the team with 185 rushing attempts for a pedestrian 706 yards (3.8 yards per carry), while Johnson attempted just 104 rushes for 379 yards at 3.6 yards per clip.

This would induce some to believe that Crowell will be the starter in Cleveland, and make him the back of choice in fantasy. But if the Browns stink (which never seems to be an outcome too hard to fathom) and are forced to abandon the ground game and play catch up, Johnson’s case for extending playing time is hard to ignore. Johnson saw 74 targets last season, fourth on the team behind Travis Benjamin (now with the Chargers), Gary Barnidge and Brian Hartline (unemployed), and his 61 receptions were the second-most among all rookies in 2015.

He is no slouch as a runner, finishing his college career with more rushing yards for the Miami Hurricanes than any other back (3,519). Should Jackson make him the lead back, his current ADP of RB33 would make him an intriguing pickup.

Ravens Running Back

Justin Forsett vs. Kenneth Dixon vs. Javorius Allen
Despite offensive coordinator Marc Trestman enjoying a reputation as a pass-happy play caller, he this week insisted that the Baltimore Ravens are a “run first” ball club. Given the recovery of their quarterback Joe Flacco from a serious injury, major question marks over the health and effectiveness of their wide receivers and a tight end group in which the presumed starter introduced himself to the team by reporting them to the players union over pads in practice, this is probably a wise move. At least, it would be if there was real clarity among which back the team will entrust with the work.

Forsett, one of the feel-good stories of 2014, was lost after ten games and 641 rushing yards last season, leaving Javorius “Buck” Allen to shoulder the load. Allen saw 95 carries after Forsett was lost, claiming 332 yards (3.49 YPC), but he also reeled in 37 passes (49 targets). In his two seasons with the Bears, and one with the Ravens, Trestman’s main running back has seen 15% of his team’s total passing targets.

This severely hampers the value Forsett can have, with the vet averaging just over five yards per reception as a Raven. Dixon, a rookie taken with the 134th pick in this spring’s draft, was effective as both a receiver and a rusher with Louisiana Tech. He finished his college career with a school-record 4,483 rushing yards (5.6 YPC) and an additional 969 yards from 87 receptions.

His 15 touchdown grabs are good for ninth in school history. If Forsett and Allen are unable to make a strong claim to the starting job, Dixon’s ADP of RB53 could be seen as a steal.

Jaguars Running Back

T.J. Yeldon vs. Chris Ivory
The Jaguars’ offense is one of those units that every fantasy owner should want some piece of. The Jaguars seemed loaded considering they have a quarterback who finished tied for second in touchdown passes and seventh in passing yards in Blake Bortles and a pair of wide receivers in Allen Hurns and Robinson, who both topped 1,000 receiving yards and double-digit touchdowns. Plus, they had a tight end in Julius Thomas who has been “unstoppable” in spring practice.

And so it is at running back, which presents an annoyance to fantasy players. After a promising rookie season that saw him lead the team in rushing yards (740) and finish with more receiving yards than wideout Marqise Lee. Many thought T.J. Yeldon was primed for a breakout sophomore campaign. This changed somewhat after the team signed Chris Ivory to a five-year, $32m contract after he left the Jets.

Only six running backs are earning more on average per season than the $6.4m Ivory will be getting, a financial factor that would indicate that the Jags are going to give him the bulk of the snaps. He should be more effective in the red zone than his young stablemate, given his seven total touchdowns inside the opposition 20-yard line last season (six rushing, one receiving) compared to the two scored by Yeldon (one of each), but he will certainly cede touches to Yeldon in the passing game. While most experts believe the Jaguars young defense will be much improved on last year, there is just as much chance that they will continue to struggle, and leave the Jaguars’ offense to carry the team.

Yeldon had 36 receptions as a rookie, while Ivory has 53 in six seasons as a pro. There is also a question mark over Ivory’s durability, given that he has played in all 16 games just once in his NFL career, and never started more than 14.

The money seems to be swaying fantasy owners at present, with Ivory coming off the board at RB28 and Yeldon four later at RB32, both going in the seventh round. With neither likely to be entrusted with your RB1 duties, it could be seen as wise to take whichever one is available after someone else takes the other in your drafts.

Neil Dutton is a correspondent at FantasyPros. To read more from Neil, check out his archive and follow him on Twitter @ndutton13.

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