While every fantasy season brings us breakouts and superstars that went unnoticed in the preseason, training camp battles can often help predict future fantasy success. This is especially true when the battles are occurring in systems that are potential fantasy honey pots; listed below are TEN of the most intriguing training camp battles for fantasy owners:
1) Chicago Bears Backup QB
This specific job is intriguing because Marc Trestman has shown the ability to turn average to below average signal callers into verifiable fantasy gold with a wave of magic playbook. You can also factor in that Jay Cutler has not been the poster child of a reliable/healthy athlete (He’s missed five or more games two of the last three seasons). Finally, sprinkle in the absolute beasts that comprise his skill position players, possibly the best quad grouping in the NFL, Forte at RB, Marshall and Jeffrey at WR and Bennett at TE, it is a full-on fantasy gold mine. It is not interesting from the vantage point of Palmer or Clausen being a bottled up super star in waiting, it is interesting because I think Marc Trestman can turn an average back up into a player that could very well help you win your league.
2) Houston Texans Backup RB
Three things stand out to me in this battle:
-1- Arian Foster is always recovering from some nagging soft tissue injury it seems, and you wonder how much his heart is in football anymore (he openly discussed retirement in the off season).
-2-New coach Bill O’Brien cut his teeth under Bill Belichick, and if we have learned anything from slick Bill it is that the only thing he wants from a RB is consistent production, name value means very little. Add to that the fact the O’Brien has no personal stake in Foster while personally drafting blue and promoting Grimes. What does this tell us, it means that he understands how many carries Foster has had recently and if either of these “backups” show stronger on the field they could potentially push for at least a semi-committee role. The argument has been made that Grimes will have a strangle hold on this back up job until Blue proves ready. Remember, Grimes literally has less than 25 CAREER carries. He is basically a hop, skip and a jump away from being a rookie himself. This battle will be won be the better back, seniority or prior stance on the team will have little to nothing to do with the end result.
-3-While Blue and Grimes have potentially a small leg up being the choices either by draft or by simply being retained do not discount Brown and Powell. Though neither have made major contributions in a while, Powell was actually out of the league last year, the addition of them following the jettisoning of recently signed Andre Brown should tell you that after Arian Foster, this backfield is wide open.
3) Patriots Committee RB’s
Referencing a bit from the previous battle Bill Belichick simply doesn’t care who runs for him so long as they produce and hold on to the ball. Ridley is hands down the closest thing to a typical grinder back, but he seems to always find a way to feed the turf the ball at the most inopportune times. Vereen is hands down the most dynamic and explosive player of the bunch but he appears to always be one shot away from a four week injury. Last but not least is White, the Patriots 4th round pick this year. While he is not as physically imposing as Ridley or as dynamic in space as Vereen he seems to be the only stand out RB at Pats training camp. He is a nice blend of the two aforementioned backs with a little speed and a little power and let’s not forget that a 4th round pick in today’s NFL is a player that they expect to play within a season or two at most.
4) Rams WR’s
This entire situation fascinates me. I am fairly confident that if you comb the entire rams’ roster the only semblance of a number 1 WR that you would find is Kenny Britt A la three seasons ago. The have basically drafted similar WR in stature and metrics for over half of the WR corp, and up to now, none have panned out. I do think that you can potentially find value here for two reasons: One, the Rams are going to lose a fair amount of games and if you are the other team wouldn’t your primary focus be stopping Zac Stacy (meaning passes are going to be thrown and caught). Two, The price for which ever piece you decide to hitch your wagon to is going to be bargain basement. If Britt, for instance, was actually as close to healthy as he has been in years his upside is top 20 with a downside of say top 36. That means you could potentially land a number 2-3 WR in the 14th or 15th round, unparalleled value when you compare the rest of the draft.
5) Browns Starting QB
Johnny Manziel Vs. Brian Hoyer
Thirty days ago if you had asked me if this would have even been on the “radar” as a tight battle I would have scoffed. But it is not thirty days ago and it seems the combination of Johnny not devoting enough time to learning a complex NFL playbook (remember he never really had a conventional playbook in college), and Brian Hoyer playing well enough to garner the support of most of his teammates (even producing a Tom Brady comparison from Tackle Joe Thomas) is just enough to turn this into a legitimate competition. It is not so much that I think Manziel has no chance at starting, more I think that there is a legitimate shot that he is holding a clipboard for the first few weeks of the regular season. Cleveland’s defense has again taken huge strides forward and the offense is at least as good as it was last year; there is value to be found here, the question is who will be leading the charge.
6) Minnesota Vikings Starting QB
Teddy Bridgewater Vs. Matt Cassel
The fact that I leave Christian Ponder off this list only shows that this truly is a two horse race. In one corner you have one of the strangest journeyman QB’s I can ever recall, Cassel didn’t start a game in college or the pros till Brady got hurt. On the other side we are looking at truly one of the great draft day slides in the last several years. Bridgewater was a no-brainer lock to be the number one pick 180 days prior to the draft. The arguments were about who was going to slot in after him because his going number one was a virtual certainty. Reports out of camp have been positive on both sides; Norv Turner’s offense tends to do that to skill position players. And whoever comes out victorious has explosive fantasy upside as they will be spearhead an attack that includes Adrian Peterson, underappreciated Greg Jennings, young Phenom Cordarrelle Patterson and break out year special Kyle Rudolph. It is an offense that could be incredibly enticing for fantasy owners and the man calling the signals there should be relatively cheap, this is one to watch, especially if it looks as if Bridgewater is going to get the call.
7) 49’ers Backup RB
This position clarified significantly with the unfortunate injuries to Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James. Though James will be back this season, it is unclear how long it will take him to get back into “football” shape or how much contact they plan on exposing him too initially. Keep in mind this is James’ 3rd elbow dislocation in his career, and they are injuries that seem to become more of a reoccurrence risk with each incident. Lattimore is on the list out of respect to his talents, but it appears he is still not ready to resume full football activities (he may never be) and that this is really Hyde’s job for the taking. A power back with surprising quickness Hyde is a real threat to take significant carries away from a RB in Gore who has swatted down younger challengers for the better part of a decade. If indeed Hyde can cement himself as the heir apparent to Gore and the goal line back it is conceivable that he reaches 8-10 rushing TD’s this year rather easily.
8) Steelers #2 WR
Markus Wheaton Vs. Martavis Bryant Vs. Darius Heyward-Bey
It became clear towards the final stretch of last season that if the Steelers were intending on putting themselves in contention anytime in the near future they would do so behind the power of a no-huddle offense; A no huddle offense that features an arm like Big Ben’s can spell fantasy jackpot if you make the correct wager. Wheaton comes out as the favorite as he has had a year in this system and also has shown flashes of brilliance in extremely limited time. Bryant is a real threat to steal red zone targets, but he is also a rookie and historically they do not fare well at the WR position. DHB comes from a one year stop in the Colts system that saw him again spotlighted for doing what he has done best up until now in his NFL career, drop catchable passes. Whoever lands this gig will flirt with WR3 value as the Steelers still do not have the defense to prevent teams from hanging points on them.
9) Giants Starting RB
Rashad Jennings Vs. Andre Williams
What we learned from the Hall-Of-Fame game was absolutely nothing. Williams and Jennings each toted the rock 7 times, along with Hillis grabbing 7 carries too. What was visible was that each had moments of explosive plays, and that Williams will clearly be leaned on inside of the red zone. This job is intriguing because with the unfortunate sudden retirement of David Wilson this really leaves all the carries on one of the NFL’s most run heavy teams up for grabs. Whether or not Williams is handed the reins outright he should still have substantial value, as Giants RB’s are top 3 in the NFL in TD’s over the last 3 seasons. And if somehow the rookie does upset the favorite people will have scored a potential top 12 RB with a pick after the 7th or 8th round.
10) Cardinals #3 WR
This is as much a battle for position as it is for player. The Cardinals 3rd wide receiver has traditional flirted with WR 3/4 numbers every season. The system throws a ton, they basically ignore the TE and defenses find themselves really focusing on Fitzgerald and now Floyd. That leaves the 3rd WR running matched up with a nickel corner or some other piece meal defensive back. Ginn has the experience but has a history of making huge plays on special teams and being essentially a non-factor in the receiving game. Brown is a rookie, but a rookie that has been making all sorts of noise in preseason activities. Though Brown has been slowed occasionally by soft tissue strains, if he wins out he could be in for a sneaky good season.