Training Camp Battles That Affect Fantasy Football

by Mike Tagliere | @MikeTagliereNFL | Featured Writer
Jul 10, 2018

Geronimo Allison is going to skyrocket up draft boards if he wins the starting wide receiver job

We are coming up on the time of the year where you’ll hear that everyone looks great and that they’re making their way up the depth chart. You know what I’m talking about – training camp. There’ll be veterans who decide not to show up or develop some phantom injury, but they aren’t the ones who are fighting for their roster spot.

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It seems now more than ever, we have competition for starting jobs at each position. Whether it be a No. 1 overall pick competing with a seasoned veteran, or a complete overhaul of the receiver corps where nobody is locked in to any spot on the depth chart. Whatever the case, you’ll know which battles you should be watching this preseason after reading this article where I’ll break down which ones have the most impact on your fantasy season.

Quarterbacks

Tyrod Taylor vs. Baker Mayfield (CLE)
This one has fantasy implication in a few ways, as Taylor has been a top-16 quarterback in each of the last three seasons with little help around him, and Mayfield possesses Russell Wilson-type upside. Their battle affects everyone else around them (wide receivers, running backs, and tight ends), because if Taylor wins, they’re likely to go a bit more run-heavy. My expectation: Taylor

Sam Bradford vs. Josh Rosen (ARI)
According to the beat writers out of Arizona, the Cardinals are open to starting Rosen out of the gate if he beats out Bradford in camp, but that’d be an expensive $20 million backup quarterback. While I don’t expect Braford to start the whole season, he should be under center Week 1 to give the rookie time to acclimate. My expectation: Bradford

Joe Flacco vs. Lamar Jackson (BAL)
I put this in here because everyone would yell at me if I didn’t. If Jackson were to win the job, he’d be a fantasy starter right out of the gate, but I don’t see that happening at all this year. That’s right, I believe the Ravens will give Flacco one last hurrah with new weaponry around him while the Ravens “try to figure out how to use Jackson.” It’d be a shock to see Jackson start more than a few games at the end of the year. My expectation: Flacco

Josh McCown vs. Teddy Bridgewater vs. Sam Darnold (NYJ)
This one is likely just between McCown and Bridgewater, but I suppose Darnold has a chance if he really impresses (don’t see them going that route at all). Bridgewater has received some hype during mini-camp workouts, but that could be from the Jets because they may end up releasing McCown or Bridgewater. With the way McCown played for them last year (7.4 YPA, 2:1 TD to INT ratio), it’s hard to see them going in another direction. My expectation: McCown

Nathan Peterman vs. A.J. McCarron vs. Josh Allen (BUF)
This one doesn’t matter all that much for fantasy, as the Bills offensive line has been decimated and they don’t have many weapons in the passing game. If any of them could surprise, it’d be Allen who has solid athleticism, but his passing would likely ruin whatever he did on the ground. You shouldn’t be shocked if all three quarterbacks play this year. My expectation: McCarron

Running Backs

Carlos Hyde vs. Nick Chubb (CLE)
This is one of the premier battles to watch during preseason, as it’s proven veteran versus the franchise’s future running back. Most don’t realize that Hyde was signed to what was essentially a one-year deal with the Browns despite it being reported as a three-year contract. My guess is that they’ll somewhat share the workload, but with Hyde getting the bulk of it instead of putting unnecessary wear and tear on their future back. My expectation: Hyde

Devontae Booker vs. Royce Freeman (DEN)
I’ve said this on our podcast multiple times: The Broncos played C.J. Anderson over Booker the entire 2017 season because he was the superior player. They then cut Anderson this offseason. They then drafted Freeman at the top of the third-round. Does this equation say they have any confidence in Booker? He isn’t the future of this franchise and they’ve told us that already, but some seem to believe he’s going to start because he’s the veteran. Let’s just say I disagree. My expectation: Freeman

Rex Burkhead vs. Sony Michel (NE)
Some will call this a competition, but my belief is that they’ll play different roles on the team. Instead, this will be a battle of who ends up with more touches. Can Michel pass up the sturdy veteran who has earned Bill Belichick’s trust? My take is that you don’t take a running back in the first-round if he isn’t going to play at least half the snaps. Did you know that Dion Lewis played more than 35 snaps just twice all season? This is a battle to watch closely because one of them is going to score a lot of fantasy points. My expectation: Michel leads in touches

Theo Riddick vs. LeGarrette Blount vs. Kerryon Johnson (DET)
I’ve purposely left Ameer Abdullah out of the equation because the Lions have appeared to give up on him and it wouldn’t shock me if he was cut (though I’d explore a trade partner). Riddick and Blount do completely separate things, while Johnson does everything well. It’s hard to assume that they’d sign Blount to not use him, and it’s hard to see them going away from Riddick in the passing-game because he’s been so good. Still, you don’t take a running back at the top of the second-round if you don’t involve him in the gameplan. My guess is that Riddick becomes someone like Ty Montgomery, while Johnson winds up with the most touches. My expectation: Johnson leads in touches

Dion Lewis vs. Derrick Henry (TEN)
This is likely the hardest to pin down, as most are expecting a timeshare between the two. Here’s the issue… Matt LaFleur came over from the Rams to be the offensive coordinator and he was under Sean McVay’s tutelage. We all know that Todd Gurley was a one-man wrecking crew and that he was used a lot in the passing-game. That’s where Lewis gains the clear edge, though I still expect Henry to get 8-12 touches per game. My expectation: Lewis

Jamaal Williams vs. Aaron Jones (GB)
We’ve already had Mike McCarthy come out and flat-out tell us that this is going to be a timeshare, yet some insist that it’s Jones’ job. I’d argue that Williams is the one who will be starting as of right now because of how much McCarthy values pass-protection. This is likely to wind-up as a hot-hand situation and one that’ll be frustrating in fantasy. Hopefully, we can have one of these two impresses in the preseason to get a better idea of what the timeshare will actually be, though Jones getting suspended for the first few games gives Williams the edge. My expectation: Williams starts, hot-hand after that

Marlon Mack vs. Robert Turbin vs. Jordan Wilkins (IND)
If Andrew Luck is back to being close to the quarterback he was before his shoulder surgery, this backfield is going to produce some fantasy points. Unfortunately, new head coach Frank Reich comes from the Doug Pederson tree and appears to be assembling a backfield similar to that of the Eagles. Mack may be the Jay Ajayi, Turbin may be the LeGarrette Blount (though he’s now suspended for the first four games), Nyheim Hines may be the Darren Sproles, and Wilkins is the backup who can do it all. This is likely to be a mess in fantasy football. My expectation: Mack leads the timeshare in touches

Bilal Powell vs. Isaiah Crowell vs. Elijah McGuire (NYJ)
This is one backfield that’s surely to be a timeshare, but you’d like to see which running back comes out on top. Powell knows the offense but is an aging veteran, McGuire is young and flashed a little bit last year, but they also felt the need to sign Crowell early in free agency. Now that Crowell is away from Hue Jackson, I’m guessing he’s no longer the favorite. On top of all this, the Jets running backs coach compared McGuire to LaDanian Tomlinson the other day. This is surely one to watch because one of them will have value. My expectation: Powell

Marshawn Lynch vs. Doug Martin (OAK)
This seemed to be a battle that most had Lynch pegged as the starter, but Martin’s hype-train is gaining steam as he impressed the coaching staff in mini-camp. While you have to take those reports with a grain of salt, we’re talking about a running back who has multiple 1,400-yard rushing seasons on his resume who is competing with a 32-year-old running back who has back issues. While Lynch likely starts, I wouldn’t write Martin off just yet. My expectation: Lynch

Chris Carson vs. Rashaad Penny (SEA)
Another running back gaining steam throughout the offseason is Carson, who did have an impressive stretch in 2017 before going down with a season-ending injury. But when the Seahawks drafted Penny with their first-round pick, it was likely the end of his starting possibilities. The one caveat is that he plays for Pete Carroll, who once benched Matt Flynn, a quarterback they had just signed for big money in the offseason because he wasn’t the best player on the field. My expectation: Penny

Wide Receivers

Chris Godwin vs. Adam Humphries (TB)
Most only heard that Godwin “is a starter” this offseason, but it was taken out of context. The Bucs wide receivers coach said that Godwin has “earned the right” to be a starting wide receiver, which has an entirely different meaning. Considering Humphries played the slot on 82.2 percent of his snaps last year, Godwin would have to be a bit more versatile in his second year, as he played just 19.4 percent of his snaps out of the slot last year. My expectation: Godwin

Amara Darboh vs. Jaron Brown (SEA)
You may scoff at this battle, but you shouldn’t considering 20 of Russell Wilson‘s 34 touchdowns from last year have left via free agency. Darboh was drafted last year, while Brown was signed this offseason. My guess is that Darboh wins due to being around the offense for a year, but Brown was said to be underappreciated in Arizona. Whoever wins this one will likely be a bye week-type player in fantasy. My expectation: Darboh

Dante Pettis vs. Trent Taylor (SF)
It seems as if second-year wide receiver Kendrick Bourne could be moving up the depth chart, but I don’t think there’s any competition between him and Pettis or Taylor. The 49ers traded up to select Pettis in the second-round, so they obviously view him as more than a return guy, which is something he does very well. The question is whether or not he can beat out Taylor for the slot job. Another way Pettis can get on the field is if Pierre Garcon plays a bit more slot in 2018, because Taylor is essentially slot-only. My expectation: Pettis

James Washington vs. Darrius Heyward-Bay (PIT)
There’s been a lot of rookie wide receivers who were supposed to make an impact for the Steelers, but count me as one who believes Washington is the real deal. He’s fighting for the vacated spot that Martavis Bryant left and his skill-set allows him to do just that. While Heyward-Bay has been around forever and knew the offense, the Steelers have a new offensive coordinator after firing Todd Haley. My expectation: Washington

Terrelle Pryor vs. Jermaine Kearse (NYJ)
A battle between two veterans and you can actually say that the competition extends further down the depth chart, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Kearse cut if Pryor beats him out for the job. Kearse is due $5 million, but the Jets would take no cap hit to release him, while Pryor signed a $3 million contract with $2 million in guarantees. Money talks in this business, even if Kearse deserves the job after the way he played last year. My expectation: Pryor (due to contract, not play)

Jordan Matthews vs. Everyone (NE)
I didn’t list a single wide receiver alongside Matthews because it’s pretty much versus everyone not named Julian Edelman and Chris Hogan, who are locked into their roles. If Matthews gets time with the first-team offense in the preseason, expect him to start the first four weeks while Edelman is suspended and make a big impact. If he’s not with the ones, well, grab the guy who is. My expectation: Matthews

Albert Wilson vs. Danny Amendola (MIA)
Some have tried to say that Amendola will start over Wilson, but the difference in price they paid for the two slot receivers is massive. While Amendola got a two-year deal worth $12 million, Wilson got a three-year, $24 million deal with $14.5 million guaranteed, which is more than double what Amendola got. The signing of both make no sense, but they’ll both be on the roster, competing for one starting spot, the one left by Jarvis Landry who saw 161 targets last year. My expectation: Wilson

Donte Moncrief vs. Dede Westbrook vs. Keelan Cole vs. D.J. Chark (JAX)
If there’s one depth chart that’s wide open at wide receiver, it’s the Jaguars depth chart after Marqise Lee, who is entrenched as the No. 1 option. It wouldn’t shock anyone to see Westbrook at No. 2 or No. 5 and the same goes for the others, though Moncrief’s one-year, $10 million deal likely gives him the pole position to the No. 2 job. My expectation: Moncrief as the No. 2, Cole as the No. 3

Keke Coutee vs. Braxton Miller vs. Bruce Ellington (HOU)
Most didn’t think Coutee even had a chance when he was drafted, but I did. He’s someone I compared to Tyreek Hill with the on-demand speed he’s got. Miller and Ellington are not game-changers by any means, so expect this to turn into a legitimate competition and one that I’d suspect Coutee wins. My expectation: Coutee

Geronimo Allison vs. J’Mon Moore vs. Equanimeous St. Brown (GB)
There are a lot of analysts shooting down my idea that Allison can finish as a top-30 fantasy wide receiver, but nobody has told me who else the Packers would start as their No. 3 wide receiver. Yes, they drafted three wide receivers this year, but did you know they drafted two wide receivers in the same area of the draft last year? Most don’t know the names of DeAngelo Yancey and Malachi Dupre because they didn’t play. I also wouldn’t be shocked if they signed Dez Bryant, which would obviously change things. My expectation: Allison

Courtland Sutton vs. Carlos Henderson vs. DaeSean Hamilton (DEN)
It appears that it may be Hamilton’s job as of now, unless the Broncos decide to move Emmanuel Sanders into the slot nearly full-time. Unless they do that, the slot-role is the only one available, and Sutton won’t play there. Henderson is missing more time with injuries, making it difficult for him to even beat out a rookie. My expectation: Hamilton

Michael Gallup vs. Deonte Thompson vs. Terrance Williams (DAL)
It seems that Allen Hurns has the No. 1 job all locked up, though if given the chance, I think Gallup is the superior talent. Still, the Cowboys aren’t going to immediately push Gallup into the starting lineup. Williams is a coaching favorite because of his ability to block (no, I’m not kidding) and was starting over Brice Butler, who continually flashed in his time with the Cowboys. Then they say they’re impressed with Thompson as well, meaning even the Cowboys don’t know who is winning this battle. My expectation: Williams

John Ross vs. Brandon LaFell (CIN)
There wasn’t a competition with these two last year, as Ross was hurt seemingly all offseason and then fumbled the only touch he got. This offseason, however, Ross has been training with former Bengals Pro Bowl wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh while LaFell is going to be 32 years old in a few months. This should be an interesting one to watch play out. My expectation: LaFell (though it’ll change quickly)

Christian Kirk vs. J.J. Nelson vs. Chad Williams vs. Brice Butler (ARI)
Outside of Larry Fitzgerald, I don’t think anyone can correctly predict who will fall where on the depth chart. Rookie wide receiver Kirk is looked at as a slot-only type player by most, while Williams didn’t get on the field at all during his rookie year, and then you have the two veterans in Nelson and Butler fighting for seemingly one spot. The Cardinals have said they will play Kirk, and I believe them. The next question is who plays in 3WR sets, but the fact that Nelson has been around the team for a while, he’s likely the one. My expectation: Kirk and Nelson

Tight Ends

Geoff Swaim vs. Rico Gathers vs. Dalton Schultz vs. Blake Jarwin (DAL)
Here’s a competition at tight end that might produce more targets than most. With the losses of Dez Bryant and Jason Witten, the Cowboys have an extra 200-plus targets to disburse. Gathers was going off last preseason, but then suffered a concussion and was placed on IR, which is concerning for his outlook anyway. Schultz was drafted in the fourth-round this year, while second-year tight end Jarwin ran as the No. 1 tight end during mini-camp. Swaim likely gets the edge because of the fact that he’s a veteran. It’s clear that, again, the Cowboys don’t know what they’re doing yet. My expectation: Swaim

Jack Doyle vs. Eric Ebron (IND)
At first, I laughed at the notion that Ebron could be the higher-scoring tight end of this group, but the more I thought about it, it’s possible. Frank Reich is coming from Doug Pederson’s offense where they use two tight ends a lot – one blocking, one aligned in the slot – and Doyle’s been the better blocker to this point. Still, it’s virtually impossible that one offense produces two fantasy options at tight end. My expectation: Doyle

Tyler Higbee vs. Gerald Everett (LAR)
What would the fantasy community do if Sean McVay turned this offense on its head and targeted the tight end position 150 times this season? While not likely, Everett has a chance to kick Higbee to the sidelines, which would clear up another 35-40 targets for himself. Meanwhile, I don’t think there’s a chance Higbee kicks Everett off the field for good. My expectation: Everett

A.J. Derby vs. Mike Gesicki (MIA)
It’s not often that I’d suggest a rookie takes the starting job over a veteran, but when you’re a rebuilding franchise, getting your future superstar on the field for some reps is never a bad thing. On top of that, Derby is just a depth chart guy who doesn’t excel at everything. My expectation: Gesicki

Jesse James vs. Vance McDonald (PIT)
One of the mistakes I made last year was believing in McDonald and Sammy Watkins, who both went to new teams late in the offseason, which made it really difficult to learn the offenses and develop any chemistry with their quarterbacks. This offseason, however, McDonald is rumored to be much more involved. He’s one of the better athletes at the position and the Steelers reportedly want to run more no-huddle, which would benefit McDonald. My expectation: McDonald

Nick Vannett vs. Ed Dickson (SEA)
Most are simply giving this job to Dickson, but what for? He’s a soon-to-be 31-year-old tight end who’s been a career backup. Is that what this team needs? They drafted Vannett with a third-round pick two years ago and he’s now had time to develop some chemistry with Russell Wilson. I have a feeling the Seahawks tight end is going to produce more than most think in fantasy. My expectation: Vannett

O.J. Howard vs. Cameron Brate (TB)
Everyone already knows about this one, and while it was Brate last year, it could just as easily be Howard’s job this year. Brate’s extension he got could be the telling sign, though if you look a bit closer, you’d see that almost all the guaranteed money comes this year, and that he can be released without a cap hit next offseason. Howard was drafted with Brate on the roster, so I’d assume they want Howard to win the starting spot. My expectation: Howard but they continue to split time


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Mike Tagliere is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Mike, check out his archive and follow him @MikeTagliereNFL.

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