Depth Chart Watch: Training Camp Battles

Fantasy Football Fantasy Football Strategy

By Andrew Fiorentino 

Cardinals RB – Neither Stepfan Taylor nor Jonathan Dwyer had a good first preseason game, which should make Andre Ellington owners even happier. Taylor’s probably still the better No. 2 option, but it looks increasingly like neither is going to be much more than a change of pace from Ellington.

Cardinals WR – Speedy rookie John Brown made an instant impression in the Cardinals’ first preseason game, taking the opportunity afforded him by injuries to Michael Floyd and Ted Ginn to catch five balls for 87 yards. The team is extremely high on its third-round pick, and he could leapfrog Ginn and Jaron Brown into the No. 3 receiver role in what should be a relatively busy passing game. And, well, Larry Fitzgerald isn’t getting any younger.

Falcons RB – Fourth-rounder Devonta Freeman made a great impression in Atlanta’s first preseason game, ripping off 50 yards on 10 carries as well as a 57-yard reception. He should easily surpass Antone Smith on the depth chart and is a legitimate threat to overtake the backup job held by Jacquizz Rodgers – who, as usual, failed to average much yardage per carry. Steven Jackson, meanwhile, is now 31 and nursing a hamstring injury. That makes Freeman one of the best lottery tickets you can buy this year.

Falcons TELevine Toilolo worked with the first-team offense, as he has been, in Atlanta’s first preseason game, but caught just two passes for 19 yards. There are no other pass-catching threats in this group, so Toilolo is pretty much it.

Ravens RBBernard Pierce has reportedly been the Ravens’ best runner at camp, though he produced a relatively modest 37 yards (and a touchdown) on 10 carries in the first preseason game. Ray Rice was more efficient, rushing for 17 yards on just three carries before taking a seat, but Rice will be suspended for the first two games of the season. And, true to my expectations, Lorenzo Taliaferro looked mighty strong, ripping off 71 yards on 13 carries. Justin Forsett was productive too, but he profiles like a backup, not a potential starter.

Ravens WRJacoby Jones slotted as Baltimore’s No. 3 receiver in the first preseason game, but I just don’t see that situation persisting – for all his return skills, Jones has never profiled as a frequently used receiver. Marlon Brown was marginalized in that first preseason contest, but I suspect he’s going to be the one who ends up starting alongside Torrey Smith to give this passing game an injection of life. I give the Ravens three weeks before they realize Steve Smith is just about washed up, and Jones just isn’t going to produce enough.

Ravens TEDennis Pitta and Owen Daniels each caught one pass in the Ravens’ first preseason game. Pitta’s reportedly looked back to his pre-injury form, while Daniels has looked slow off the line; advantage Pitta.

Bills RBFred Jackson looked slow in the first preseason game, but you gotta figure the old legs take a little while to get going. Bryce Brown took full advantage, turning in an impressive game (11 carries, 64 yards). Because the Bills are unwilling and/or unable to load up C.J. Spiller with 25-plus carries a game, there are secondary carries to be had. And with Jackson’s age and brittleness, a big share of those carries could end up being Brown’s.

Bills WRSammy Watkins didn’t see a lot of action in the preseason opener, but he looked good and is set to be the No. 1 receiver. Nothing much happened in the game to change the vague pecking order of uninteresting receivers behind him except for the mildly interesting case of previously presumed No. 5 receiver Chris Hogan, who served as the No. 3 man in that game and caught both passes thrown his way for 43 yards.

Panthers RB – Kenjon Barner didn’t do anything at all (eight rushes for eight yards) in the first preseason game — perhaps just to accentuate that DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart are the unquestioned main men in this backfield.

Panthers WRKelvin Benjamin already appears set to start as the No. 1 receiver for Cam Newton, while Jerricho Cotchery looks semi-locked in as the No. 2 man. Tavarres King, who turned in a quality first preseason game – four catches on four targets for 50 yards – appears to have moved up to No. 4 on the depth chart, and could very well challenge Jason Avant for No. 3.

Bengals RB – It sounds like Giovani Bernard could get close to 300 touches this year, which should have his fantasy owners dancing in the streets. His backup is a person of interest too, though, especially at the goal line, and rookie Jeremy Hill impressed in the first preseason game, totaling 36 yards on six carries while BenJarvus Green-Ellis tallied a decent-but-less-impressive 19 yards on four totes. The hype is building around Hill, while Green-Ellis is old for a back – you do the math.

Bengals WRMarvin Jones‘ broken foot throws this receiving corps into some chaos, with Andy Dalton‘s targets a bit uncertain after superstar A.J. Green. But third-year receiver Mohamed Sanu has been having a “fantastic camp” and projects to be the one to take over as the No. 2 man in the Cincy passing game. The third season is often breakout time for receivers, and Sanu showed some signs last year despite the presence of Jones, grabbing 47 balls for 455 yards. Brandon Tate could figure into things too, and then that’s about it – the Bengals better hope they don’t have more injuries.

Bengals QB – No threat to the newly extended Andy Dalton here, but undrafted rookie Matt Scott put on a noteworthy performance in the preseason opener, going 7-for-11 for 66 yards and two touchdowns while also rushing six times for 68 yards. Oh, and there was the whole vomiting thing, too. Hey, whatever gets your name in the papers.

Browns QBJohnny Manziel generated some excitement while Brian Hoyer was unimpressive in the preseason opener. Hoyer was just 6-for-14 for 92 yards, while Manziel completed 7-of-11 passes for 63 yards and rushed for another 27 on six carries. This still looks like Hoyer’s job to lose.

Browns RBTerrance West‘s extended preview in the first preseason game didn’t go so well, as he rushed for just 22 yards on 10 carries and caught one pass for eight yards. Ben Tate was solid in his cameo and seems to be set to start, with West still seeing a significant role behind him. Dion Lewis lost a fumble and didn’t generate much yardage, so he’s solidly third on the chart.

Browns WR – Undrafted receiver/returner Taylor Gabriel made an impression in the preseason opener, and he could not just make this team, but potentially carve out a significant role with Josh Gordon likely to miss the year and no other quality receivers on the roster. Just a dark horse for you to keep in mind.

Broncos RB – Undrafted rookie Juwan Thompson had a mighty strong showing (six carries, 59 yards) in the first preseason game and has put himself solidly into fourth on the depth chart, with a shot at overtaking C.J. Anderson for third. He’s see some goal-line work in practice, too. But this will be the Montee Ball show unless Ball suffers an injury (not impossible, considering he’s missing the whole preseason – which in my anecdotal experience often leads to hamstring injuries). Ronnie Hillman has served as the Broncos’ top running back in the preseason, so he’s entrenched as the No. 2.

Lions WRRyan Broyles looks healthier than expected, so and he still has a chance to climb to No. 3 on this depth chart. Kevin Ogletree, listed as third right now, just isn’t good, and No. 4 man Kris Durham isn’t very good either. If Broyles can stay away from aggravating one of the multitude of leg injuries he’s suffered from, he’s much more talented than the other guys on the depth chart.

Lions TE – Apparently, despite my pessimism, the Lions plan to increase Joseph Fauria‘s role this year. Brandon Pettigrew appears destined to be pushed into more of a blocking role while Fauria and rookie first-rounder Eric Ebron take on more of the looks in the pass game. If the immense Fauria does see more looks this year, he’s got terrifically high upside.

Texans RB – The backup situation behind injury-prone Arian Foster just got a lot more interesting, as the Texans released Andre Brown and Dennis Johnson on Monday, leaving them with intriguing rookie Alfred Blue and less-interesting third-year man Jonathan Grimes, who didn’t exactly impress in the first preseason game, averaging 3.9 YPC on 10 carries. Blue, meanwhile, gained 44 total yards on just seven touches in that contest. Neither is terrifically well suited to starting if Foster goes down, but Blue is a higher-upside gamble even though Grimes may be ahead in the pecking order.

Colts RBTrent Richardson: still bad. Ahmad Bradshaw: injury risk. Vick Ballard: done. Zurlon Tipton: cool name, no more. Unheralded runner Dan Herron had a nice preseason game, though, producing 62 yards on 13 touches (six catches, seven carries) – he could win the No. 3 role and potentially break through into a much bigger job if T-Rich’s struggles and Bradshaw’s injury woes continue.

Colts WR – It looks like T.Y. Hilton could overcome injury-prone signee Hakeem Nicks for the No. 2 job, which you’d think should be Hilton’s in the first place after his solid 2013. Da’Rick Rogers has shown some playmaking ability and could end up as the No. 4 receiver, with potential to win a bigger role.

Jaguars WR – The Jags didn’t get any impact from Marqise Lee in the first preseason game, as he wasn’t targeted, and with Ace Sanders joining Justin Blackmon in suspension town, the No. 2 role looks wide open. Undrafted free-agent Allen Hurns made an impact in the preseason opener, so add him to that group with Lee and Allen Robinson that’s in competition to start opposite Cecil Shorts.

Chiefs TE – Anthony Fasano may be the nominal starter, but Travis Kelce made a major impact in the first preseason game – a pair of snags for 73 yards and a touchdown. We all know where this is trending, as long as Kelce can stay healthy.

Dolphins RBKnowshon Moreno‘s knee woes have opened the door for Lamar Miller to be the nominal starter, but Miller has again failed to impress this preseason, which doesn’t help him much after his mediocre 2013. Daniel Thomas is no threat.

Patriots WRAaron Dobson‘s back at practice and appears like the favorite to win the No. 3 role in the New England passing game, but that’s kind of a meaningless designation – we’ll be seeing plenty of Kenbrell Thompkins and Brandon LaFell, too.

Saints RBMark Ingram looked like the man in the preseason opener, going off for 83 yards and a score on just eight rushes. Pierre Thomas missed that game, while Khiry Robinson was modestly effective. Look for this committee to split things roughly 40-40-20, with Robinson getting the short end.

Saints WRBrandin Cooks had a mighty strong preseason debut – five catches, 55 yards and a score – while Nick Toon (a training-camp darling) totaled just 11 yards on his three catches. And Robert Meachem sat. Cooks could end up being a major factor in his rookie year – don’t sleep on him late in drafts.

Giants RB – Rashad Jennings got just five carries, but ripped off a 73-yard touchdown run in the second preseason game, as if to emphasize his role as the Giants’ top rusher. Meanwhile, David Wilson’s career is over – a sad turn for a talented runner who couldn’t get healthy. Andre Williams appears set to be Jennings’ backup/handcuff, a situation that should be of interest to fantasy owners. However, Williams’ blocking seems to be suspect, which could limit his role.

Giants WR – Things appear pretty set with Victor Cruz and Rueben Randle starting and Odell Beckham playing third fiddle. But also: two preseason games for the undrafted Corey Washington, and two touchdowns – one a 73-yarder. A big, rangy receiver with speed, Washington’s preseason success reminds me of the breakout of Victor Cruz. I’m just saying.

Giants TE – Larry Donnell appears to now be considered the Giants’ starter at tight end, but Daniel Fells, Adrien Robinson and Kellen Davis are all in on this competition to be among the least-valuable starting tight ends in fantasy.

Jets RB – The Jets’ initial depth chart lists Chris Ivory, not Chris Johnson, as the starter. The injured Ivory (ribs) didn’t play in the Jets’ first preseason game, but is expected to return for the second. Johnson, for his part, saw only four carries in limited action, totaling two yards and a touchdown. Despite Ivory’s placement at the top of the chart, his injury-prone nature and Johnson’s explosiveness make it likely that Johnson ends up getting the majority of carries this year. But it might not be a huge majority.

Jets TE – Second-rounder Jace Amaro is already drawing more attention in the passing game than Jeff Cumberland, and that should continue even if Cumberland sees more snaps.

Raiders RB – Neither Maurice Jones-Drew nor Darren McFadden saw a lot of action in the preseason opener, but McFadden broke a nice 23-yarder on his only touch. Jones-Drew was fine, too – timeshare ahoy!

Raiders WRAndre Holmes started opposite Rod Streater in the preseason opener. However, neither Streater nor Holmes caught a pass. Nor did James Jones. This has all the makings of an ugly passing game, perhaps the league’s worst.

Eagles WR – The Eagles list veteran Swiss Army knife Brad Smith as their No. 3 receiver, with Jordan Matthews pushed down to fourth and Arrelious Benn fifth. It doesn’t seem likely, though, that Smith will occupy such a featured role in the offense; expect to see more production from Matthews, who caught all four of his targets in the preseason opener, albeit for just 14 yards.

Chargers TELadarius Green is going to keep steadily cutting into Antonio Gates‘ snaps, and even when Gates is on the field, Green can line up at receiver. He could be one of this season’s sneakiest plays at tight end.

Seahawks WRPercy Harvin suffered a minor foot injury Tuesday, but should be fine. The Seahawks have to hope so, anyway, as their depth chart at receiver after Harvin and Doug Baldwin is unproven.

49ers RB – Kendall Hunter’s done for the year with a torn ACL, which has allowed rookie Carlos Hyde to leap into the No. 2 spot behind Frank Gore, who’s just a starting opportunity waiting to happen. Meanwhile, things haven’t materialized for Marcus Lattimore, who looks to be in serious jeopardy of missing the start of the season.

Rams RB – Let’s be honest with ourselves: No one is coming for Zac Stacy‘s job. Tre Mason got an extended look in the first preseason game and delivered a mixed bag, rushing 15 times for 51 yards. There should be a continued battle between Mason, incumbent Benny Cunningham and Isaiah Pead for the right to back up Stacy.

Rams WRChris Givens has lost his starting job, seemingly to Kenny Britt, who started wide opposite Brian Quick while Tavon Austin worked the slot in the first preseason contest. Stedman Bailey, too, appears to be ahead of Givens, but Bailey will start the year suspended. This isn’t a passing game you should chase too hard on draft day.

Buccaneers QBMike Glennon outplayed Josh McCown thoroughly in their first taste of preseason action, though McCown didn’t play much. When he did, he got sacked twice and picked off for a touchdown in just six dropbacks. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the younger, sharper Glennon win this job as the season wears on.

Buccaneers RB – No running back looked particularly great for the Bucs in their preseason opener, with Bobby Rainey leading the crew with 25 yards rushing. Woo! Rainey, Sims and Mike James figure to make up a rotating backup crew for Doug Martin, who appears set to have his touches limited to some degree this year.

Buccaneers TE – It was rookie Austin Seferian-Jenkins who made the biggest impression to open the preseason, catching a 23-yard pass and a six-yarder in his two targets. Word is Seferian-Jenkins is a quick study who’s had a good camp and could be ticketed for the No. 1 role even on a Tampa team that doesn’t like to hand out starting jobs to rookies. Brandon Myers will have a reasonably sized role as well, and Timothy Wright should see some extra work in passing situations.

Titans RB – The Titans still list Bishop Sankey third on their depth chart, but he’s first in our hearts. Shonn Greene looked decent in the first preseason game and Dexter McCluster will have a combo role of his own, but that shouldn’t stop Sankey from taking this job and running with it. It’s telling that he carried 13 times (plus three catches on three targets) – that means the Titans wanted to get a good look at him in game action. And he delivered, warming up nicely after getting stuffed early on and catching a touchdown pass.

Redskins WRAndre Roberts appears to be the frontrunner for the No. 3 receiver role behind Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson, who don’t figure to leave too much in the way of scraps. But it’s worth noting that talented specimen Aldrick Robinson impressed in the preseason opener, catching 45 yards and one touchdown, while just missing a second. For what it’s worth, this is Robinson’s third year in the league.

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