Training Camp Job Battles
By: Jason Thornbury
Cardinals RB – Andre Ellington is entrenched as the starter and set to receive 20-22 touches per game, but that leaves the potential for double-digit touches split between Stepfan Taylor and Jonathan Dwyer. As a more complete player, Taylor should draw the majority of that work, but Dwyer has reportedly impressed coach Bruce Arians in offseason workouts.
Falcons RB – Fourth-round pick Devonta Freeman has been added to the mix along with Jacquizz Rodgers for the job of 30-year-old starter Steven Jackson‘s backup – a position with a lot of upside, considering Jackson’s age and penchant for injury. Rodgers is undersized, has underwhelmed when given starting nods and has not been a hugely productive rusher in his career, with a composite 3.6 YPC. Freeman’s also on the smaller end, but he’s built more powerfully and is just as skilled a receiver. Rodgers’ veteran knowhow will keep him in the backup role, but don’t be surprised if it’s Freeman who sees starter’s touches when Jackson inevitably misses time.
Falcons TE – Second-year man Levine Toilolo is expected to step into the void on the depth chart left behind by Tony Gonzalez’s retirement and should prove a legitimate fantasy asset with opposing pass defenses more concerned with stopping Julio Jones and Roddy White. The rest of the depth chart is comprised of journeymen and undrafted free agents, so Toilolo has a great opportunity.
Ravens RB – Ray Rice is going to be hit with a multi-game suspension due to his offseason legal issues, leaving a bit of a mess for the season’s first few games. Bernard Pierce is coming off shoulder surgery and a disappointing 2013 but is presumably the frontrunner to start in Rice’s place (and perhaps retain a bigger role even when Rice returns). He’ll compete with rookie fourth-rounder Lorenzo Taliaferro, an impressive physical runner who has an offseason legal issue of his own, but otherwise may offer more upside. The low-mileage, but injury-diminished 28-year-old Justin Forsett is here too.
Ravens WR – The Ravens signed Steve Smith this offseason to be the No. 2 man to Torrey Smith, but Marlon Brown‘s huge advantage in height – he has five inches on Torrey and eight on Steve – means he should be heavily considered near the goal line this year and could also cut significantly into the workload of Steve, who at age 35 is in the twilight of his career, coming off arguably his worst NFL season. And Jacoby Jones … well, he’s still a good kick returner.
Ravens TE – The Ravens have a two-headed monster at tight end now with Dennis Pitta and Owen Daniels, but although that duo is talented, it combined to play in nine games last season. Pitta has the trust of the coaching staff, but Daniels figures to also be heavily utilized by new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, who coached him in Houston. This situation will severely limit both tight ends’ fantasy value unless one gets hurt.
Bills RB – Yep, C.J. Spiller owners, Fred Jackson‘s still here, with one foot in the grave and the other one on Spiller’s fantasy ceiling. Bryce Brown is a distinct third fiddle who could see more than the typical quantity of backup’s touches if one of the oft-injured Spiller-Jackson duo goes down.
Bills WR – It’s presumed to be a near-certainty that first-round pick Sammy Watkins will step right into the No. 1 receiver role for Buffalo. What comes after him is anyone’s guess. The Bills, a run-reliant team, don’t seem terribly likely to produce two fantasy-relevant receivers, but Mike Williams and Robert Woods (both of whom have been limited by injuries in OTAs and minicamp) are the frontrunners to serve as the No. 2 to Watkins. Speedster Marquise Goodwin is the super-deep upside play.
Panthers RB – The DeAngelo Williams/Jonathan Stewart Mutually Assured Destruction of Fantasy Value Tour (that’s DWJSMADFVT for short) is set to press forward this year, as the long-injured Stewart has reportedly finally returned to full health and should once more be set to split carries with the 31-year-old Williams. They’re the clear top two, but an injury to either would open the door for Kenjon Barner to prove himself. And yeah, Mike Tolbert‘s still around to frustrate owners of Williams, Stewart and Cam Newton by taking away goal-line carries.
Panthers WR – Newton’s fantasy owners beware – this is one of the ugliest depth charts you’ve ever seen. With Steve Smith, Tedd Ginn and Brandon LaFell gone, newly imported Jerricho Cotchery is the presumptive No. 1 receiver for Carolina, but Cotchery is more of a slot receiver than a go-to guy on the outside. Rookie first-rounder Kelvin Benjamin is going to make or break this group – if he can step in and take firm hold of a starting spot, it’ll go a long way toward making Newton feel comfortable in the pocket. Benjamin’s big and rangy, a good fit for Newton’s game. Jason Avant and Tiquan Underwood aren’t about to make opponents scheme around them, while Tavarres King and Marvin McNutt are projects and depth guys at best. Kick returner Kealoha Pilares has also reportedly looked good as a receiver in camp and has a roster spot nearly locked up.
Bengals RB – Giovani Bernard is the guy to own, that’s for sure. But the situation behind him remains a bit muddled, with BenJarvus Green-Ellis still around and rookie second-rounder Jeremy Hill seemingly well on his way to displacing him. Bernard is an explosive runner, but the Bengals need either Hill or Green-Ellis to serve as his physical complement. My money’s on Hill winning the “backup” job (which could easily be good for as much as 40 percent of the carries) and Green-Ellis ending up getting traded somewhere during camp for a late draft pick.
Bengals TE – This year’s set up to be just like the last one, with boring vet Jermaine Gresham taking too many snaps for high-upside second-year man Tyler Eifert to realize his potential. Both have been dealing with offseason injuries that kept them out of offseason workouts, with Gresham recovering from hernia surgery and Eifert slowed by a minor shoulder injury. This is a situation that we should get much more clarity on during training camp, but Eifert is the guy you should be rooting for unless you own Gresham in a dynasty league.
Browns QB – We all know Johnny Manziel is the Browns’ future; the question is whether he’s also their present. From the look of their receiving corps, it seems like it’d be a good idea for Cleveland to “hide” Manziel this year and give him time to develop rather than throwing him into the mix with no real receiving threats (assuming a Josh Gordon suspension) outside of tight end Jordan Cameron. At the very least, the Browns will keep him on the bench for as long as they’re able to. And thus, brave Ohioans, enjoy watching Brian Hoyer in his comeback from ACL surgery.
Browns RB – The Browns overhauled their running backs over spring and summer, signing Ben Tate and using a third-round pick on record-setting runner Terrance West out of Towson. Those two will battle it out through training camp for the No. 1 job, and especially if West still looks as good as he has over the offseason, there’s a chance they could end up in a 1-and-1A situation, with Dion Lewis just cleaning up the scraps.
Browns WR – Josh Gordon‘s nose for trouble has lately made it even more likely that he’ll be suspended for the season, leaving the Browns with a group of veterans who have a lot of questions, but also a lot of experience that could help Manziel if he wins the job. Sometimes-explosive ex-Bengal Andrew Hawkins will find himself in a featured role, but he’ll see most of his action in the slot. The outside, meanwhile, is a bit up in the air. In Cleveland’s utopian vision, Miles Austin resurrects his career while Nate Burleson proves healthy and productive. In reality, it’ll be unsurprising if the two vets struggle with injuries and ineffectiveness, opening the door for journeyman Anthony Armstrong or undrafted rookies Chandler Jones, Kenny Shaw and Willie Snead.
Broncos RB – While Montee Ball is heavily favored to be the starter, second-year runner C.J. Anderson is reportedly going to get a legit shot at winning the job. Nonetheless, Ball will probably be the starter unless his fumbleitis resurfaces, and he reportedly looked good as a receiver in minicamp, which means he could end up being a true three-down back rather than ceding third-down touches to Ronnie Hillman, who might then be bumped to third on the depth chart.
Lions WR – The Lions signed Golden Tate to a five-year deal to serve as the jelly to Calvin Johnson‘s peanut butter, and now we’ll have to see whether Tate can increase his production with Detroit’s more pass-happy offense. The dark horse is the perpetually injured, but incredibly talented Ryan Broyles, who’s coming off a ruptured Achilles’ tendon that ended his 2013 campaign. The other guys probably aren’t going to have their names called too often.
Lions TE – Tight end was already a strength for Detroit, but now it has a bit of an overflow. The Lions signed Brandon Pettigrew to a four-year deal in March and already had intimidating red-zone target Joseph Fauria, then spent the 10th overall pick on North Carolina’s Eric Ebron. So how this shakes out is anyone’s guess. Pettigrew has to be first on the chart now, largely by virtue of his experience and contract, but it’d be unsurprising to see him pushed into more of a blocking role that allows Ebron to flourish as a pass-catcher. That makes the talented Fauria once again a victim of the depth chart.
Packers TE – With the once-promising Jermichael Finley gone, the Packers have an impressive crew of nobodies battling for reps at tight end. Andrew Quarless looked useful at times, but is ultimately more of a blocking tight end than a reliable pass-catcher. The upside play, such as it is, is third-round selection Richard Rodgers, an athletic receiver who drew some attention for his play in OTAs after an underwhelming college career. Undrafted free-agent Colt Lyerla has some promise as well, with his combo of size and speed. Then there’s Brandon Bostick, who had a few nice moments for Green Bay last year and also stands a chance of emerging from this group.
Colts RB – Trent Richardson was, in two words, a train wreck after being traded to Indy last year. But the Colts are making noises like they believe in him (which reminds me of a manager giving his struggling closer the ol’ vote of confidence, or maybe it’s just still baseball season), and he does have the pedigree and receiving skills to be a productive three-down back. Vick Ballard certainly isn’t going to come take his starting job away, and it’s questionable how many carries ostensible backup Ahmad Bradshaw will be able to handle with his surgically repaired neck. Undrafted rookie Zurlon Tipton’s name is cool enough for to be mentioned, and he could actually be a dark horse to make the roster and contribute to some degree, considering their injury/ineffectiveness issues at this position.
Colts WR – Indy imported Hakeem Nicks to play opposite Reggie Wayne this offseason, a move that doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in T.Y. Hilton, who just caught 82 balls for 1,083 yards last year. Nicks is very talented, but is also often banged up and hasn’t exactly produced much the last couple years. So although Nicks is in as the No. 2, it wouldn’t be surprising if Hilton were to outproduce him out of the slot.
Colts TE – Coby Fleener‘s the favorite, but a healthy Dwayne Allen could give him some competition. Much of this is going to hinge on how well Allen’s hip holds up; he said he’s 100 percent healthy, which means this job could end up close to a 50-50 split.
Jaguars WR – Cecil Shorts is in line to serve as the No. 1 with Justin Blackmon‘s status up in the air – it’s unknown when he’ll be allowed to return from his suspension for substance abuse. Second-round rookie Marqise Lee and undersized sophomore Ace Sanders will compete for the No. 2 job.
Chiefs WR – Dwayne Bowe is certainly the No. 1 for K.C., and Donnie Avery appears relatively entrenched as the No. 2 man. That leaves the unproven trio of A.J. Jenkins, Junior Hemingway and Kyle Williams to compete for the third-string role in what should be a Jamaal Charles-centric offense. Oh, and 29-year-old rookie Weston Dressler, signed out of the CFL. It’s like that.
Chiefs TE – Boring 30-year-old Anthony Fasano is the nominal starter, but Travis Kelce might emerge as the top tight end for the Chiefs, assuming he makes a successful return from microfracture surgery on his knee that made him miss all 2013.
Dolphins RB – It sounds like the Fins will get free-agent import Knowshon Moreno (knee) back in time for preseason action, so he’ll probably end up rolling as the Week 1 starter in his new home. Lamar Miller has practiced with the first-team offense and seems to be holding onto his position, to which we will from now on refer to as “not being Daniel Thomas.”
Patriots WR – In New England, just being on the receiving depth chart is a good thing, as Tom Brady likes to spread the ball around. But the role of third option behind Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola is up in the air, with Brandon LaFell my personal favorite for the role. Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Tompkins will compete with him.
Saints RB – Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram appear set to share starting duties at running back this year, but Khiry Robinson will factor into this mix and could end up stealing carries from one (probably Ingram). A rare backfield where everyone’s healthy.
Saints WR – Marques Colston is still himself, and Kenny Stills seems to be firmly in as the No. 2 man (and my candidate for most fantasy-relevant Saints WR). But there’s more interest than that when Drew Brees is throwing the ball. The Saints spent the 20th overall pick on Brandin Cooks, a burner who could end up catching a lot of the short passes that used to go to Darren Sproles and Lance Moore. He has a solid line on the No. 3 gig, but he’ll have to prove himself worthier than the likes of Nick Toon and Robert Meachem.
Giants RB – Rashad Jennings is set to start in New York this year, but the 29-year-old has never shouldered a starter’s workload and has dealt with injuries throughout his career. That makes his backup valuable, and David Wilson will contend with rookie Andre Williams for that role. If his surgically repaired neck proves healthy, Wilson could even channel Jennings if he can show enough explosiveness. Peyton Hillis is around too, and could vulture some touchdowns here and there.
Giants WR – The G-Men drafted Odell Beckham 12th overall, and they didn’t draft him to sit. It seems likely that Beckham will line up opposite Victor Cruz, but Rueben Randle will get to make a case for a starting role as well. Jerrel Jernigan and Mario Manningham are also technically in this competition, but seem pretty likely to be the No. 4 and 5 receivers.
Giants TE – Adrien Robinson is a project player, but he’s atop the list for the Giants. Kellen Davis, Daniel Fells and other fringy players don’t figure to offer strong competition.
Jets RB – Chris Johnson is nearly healthy following offseason surgery for a meniscus tear, and assuming he continues coming along nicely, he should draw the role of top dog in the Jets’ backfield. But it’s no sure thing – Chris Ivory will be there to provide complementary power to Johnson’s shiftiness, and knowing the Jets, there’s no way to know how the touches will break down from week to week. Bilal Powell’s proven unworthy of starting but is still kicking around this roster. The Jets also picked up Daryl Richardson over the offseason – an intriguing move, but he’s going to have trouble finding carries unless injuries strike.
Jets WR – Eric Decker arrived in free agency to be the No. 1, but the strength of this unit will depend on Stephen Hill, a special physical talent who’s failed to establish himself in the league thus far. However, offseason reports on Hill have been glowing, and if he can stay healthy – something that’s been an issue for him in his first two seasons – he could establish himself as the clear No. 2. If not, the Jets have a couple intriguing rookie receivers in Shaquelle Evans and Jalen Saunders. Jeremy Kerley will work out of the slot, as is his wont, but the more explosive Saunders could press him for snaps too.
Jets TE – The Jets snagged Jace Amaro in the second round of the draft, and they appear set to make him the top tight end in passing situations. Jeff Cumberland was only occasionally productive for the Jets last year, but appears headed to a more blocking-centric role.
Raiders RB – Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew are set to split touches in the Oakland backfield, with Latavius Murray occupying the third chair. Those top two tend to get hurt, of course, meaning Murray – who sat out all of his rookie year due to an ankle injury – will see his share of touches if he can stay on the field.
Raiders WR – One of the more unsettled depth charts, Oakland’s theoretically features ex-Packer James Jones and Rod Streater out wide, with Denarius Moore and Andre Holmes fighting for looks behind them. But there’s a strong argument to be made that Moore’s the most explosive receiver in this crew, and Holmes made an impression as a big-play guy last year. This foursome could shake out in almost any combination.
Eagles WR – After missing all last season with ACL surgery, Jeremy Maclin‘s back, and with DeSean Jackson gone, he’s the Eagles’ No. 1 receiver. But the Eagles will need tall, speedy rookie Jordan Matthews to make an instant impact, lest they be stuck with the inconsistent Riley Cooper as their No. 2 receiver. Third-rounder Josh Huff will be in the mix as well, and seems he could be the Eagles’ best fit for the slot.
Steelers WR – Markus Wheaton saw starter’s reps in OTAs, and appears set to step into the Steelers’ void No. 2 receiver position opposite the entrenched Antonio Brown. Lance Moore and rookie fourth-rounder Martavis Bryant will factor into the mix as well, with Moore seemingly the best bet to see consistent work out of the slot.
Seahawks WR – Percy Harvin is set to finally become the Seahawks’ No. 1 receiver after being limited to one regular-season game last year, returning in time to showcase his explosiveness in the Super Bowl. They’re apparently ready to set up Doug Baldwin in the No. 2 role with Golden Tate gone, and Jermaine Kearse is the third-stringer. Sidney Rice is still kicking around (at least as much as his knee will let him), but they’ve wisely moved on from considering him a starting receiver.
49ers RB – Frank Gore is still topping a Niners depth chart that’s overstuffed with talent, and at age 31 with his stats in decline, his backups are of some interest. Kendall Hunter, Carlos Hyde and Marcus Lattimore – super-talented runners all – will try to outshine each other in camp to win the role of top backup and starter-in-waiting. Whoever that is, he should see decent work behind Gore. Hunter’s done nothing to lose the role; Hyde and Lattimore are just that good.
Rams RB – Zac Stacy is the presumptive starter, but the Rams are planning to give Benny Cunningham, Isaiah Pead and rookie Trey Mason shots at pushing Stacy for carries. Whoever impresses the most out of that group will see decent touches, especially in the pass game, but Stacy’s the only one who offers any certainty.
Rams WR – Chris Givens and Tavon Austin figure to head up this crew, with Austin Pettis as the No. 3, but the upside play is the potential of a career turnaround for Kenny Britt, who couldn’t stay healthy in Tennessee.
Buccaneers QB – The Bucs signed Josh McCown to be their starter after he put up a 13:1 TD:INT in place of the injured Jay Cutler in Chicago last year, and he’d presumably have to fall on his face in camp to be beaten out by Mike Glennon, even though Glennon played a fairly competent brand of quarterback for Tampa Bay after taking over for Josh Freeman last season.
Buccaneers RB – Offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford doesn’t intend to use Doug Martin as a workhorse, meaning some combo of Bobby Rainey, Mike James and electric rookie Charles Sims will find their way into the rotation. This is a battle to watch in camp after Martin missed 10 games last year with a torn labrum in his shoulder.
Buccaneers TE – Brandon Myers (fantasy-relevant in Oakland two years ago), Timothy Wright (fantasy-relevant at times last year) and rookie second-rounder Austin Seferian-Jenkins (possibly the most fantasy-relevant this year) will compete in camp to be the top pass-catching tight end for, well, whoever plays quarterback for Tampa.
Titans RB – Shonn Greene is coming off knee surgery and, well, he just isn’t that good. Second-round draft pick Bishop Sankey is still technically considered the backup, but it seems only a matter of time before the talented 21-year-old leapfrogs Greene into the starting role.
Redskins WR – Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson are locked into the top two roles, while Andre Roberts, Santana Moss and Aldrick Robinson should compete for the No. 3 role in a training-camp battle that should impact few fantasy rosters.