Training camps have started and the battle for position is at bay. Read this piece to dissect who is competing for what.
Training Camp Battles
Cleveland Browns: Brandon Weeden vs. Colt McCoy
The Scoop: Not really much of a competition here. McCoy’s career QB rating is an abysmal 74.5 and he has thrown just as many interceptions as touchdowns in his first two seasons. Meanwhile, the Cleveland Browns did not draft a 28 year old rookie in the first round with intentions to sit him. Weeden is currently taking snaps with the first team.
Fantasy Impact: The Cleveland Browns expect ride running back Trent Richardson this year. It’s a good thing too, because with either quarterback the passing game will be abysmal.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Blaine Gabbert vs. Chad Henne
The Scoop: Gabbert’s rookie season was marked with sloppy play, barely completing 50% of his passes. Henne looked as though he was finally putting it together for Miami until a shoulder injury abruptly ended his season. Jacksonville’s aggressive pursuit of Henne has sparked this controversy, but it’s too early to give up on the young quarterback of the future.
Fantasy Impact: I’m personally more of a believer in Henne than Gabbert, but considering Gabbert is likely to start I wouldn’t draft either quarterback.
Tennessee Titans: Matt Hasselbeck vs. Jake Locker
The Scoop: The Titans brought in Hasselbeck last year to start and to mentor first round pick Jake Locker. While Hasselbeck preformed well last year, Locker exceeded expectations in his limited playing time. Will the Titans want Locker to sit and watch for another year, or is the future now in Tennessee?
Fantasy Impact: Either quarterback could end up being a formidable backup.
Miami Dolphins: Matt Moore vs. David Garrard vs. Ryan Tannehill
The Scoop: While Miami is insisting that all three quarterbacks are in contention to start, this really is a two man competition, as Tannehill won’t be thrown to the wolves with two veteran QB’s on the team. Matt Moore looked impressive after taking over for an injured Chad Henne last season, helping Miami go 6-3 in their last 9 games. After sitting out the entire 2011 season due to injury, Garrard is hoping to recapture his Pro Bowl form from the 2010 season as a member of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Fantasy Impact: Both Moore and Garrard could end up surprising people. Best case scenario, I see the Dolphins’ quarterback as a mid-level backup.
Arizona Cardinals: Kevin Kolb vs. John Skelton
The Scoop: Arizona gave up Domanique Rodgers-Cromartie and spent a lot of money to acquire Kolb last year, and Kolb repaid them with an inconsistent, injury plagued season. With backup QB John Skelton at the helm, the Cardinals rallied to a 5-2 record, allowing for a little quarterback controversy in Arizona. However, during this stretch, Skelton himself was inconsistent and threw more interceptions (14) than touchdowns (11).
Fantasy Impact: With Larry Fitzgerald in the mix, there is always fantasy potential for a quarterback in Arizona.
Seattle Seahawks: Tavaris Jackson vs. Matt Flynn vs. Russell Wilson
The Scoop: Jackson is coming off the best year of his career, but when compared to quarterbacks around the league his numbers were subpar. Seattle responded this offseason by signing Packers’ backup Matt Flynn who threw for 480 yards and 6 touchdowns in his lone start last season, and by drafting Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson, an undersized quarterback with elite intangibles.
Fantasy Impact: Of the three, only Flynn will truly make an impact. His performance against the Lions last season is a fantasy owner’s dream.
Washington Redskins: Tim Hightower vs. Roy Helu vs. Evan Royster
The Scoop: All three of these players saw solid time at running back last season. Hightower began the season as the #1 back, but an ACL tear sidelined him for the season in late October. After a brief Ryan Torain stint, rookie running back Roy Helu stepped up and started 5 games, galloping his way to three straight 100-yeard rushing games and finishing 2nd among rookies in rushing yards with 640. To further complicate matters, Washington signed rookie Evan Royster in late November, and he put up two 100-yard rushing games and a 5.9 yards per carry average.
Fantasy Impact: All three can put up great fantasy numbers, but I don’t even think Mike Shanahan knows who will get the carries from week to week.
Carolina Panthers: DeAngelo Williams vs. Jonathan Stewart vs. Mike Tolbert
The Scoop: The last team expected to pick up another running back this offseason was the Carolina Panthers, but that’s exactly what they did in signing ex-Charger Mike Tolbert. The Panthers claim they will utilize Tolbert as a fullback, so while he may steal some carries from the other two he isn’t stealing their playing time. Expect this classic “Thunder and Lighting” tandem (Williams and Stewart respectively) to continue doing what they’ve done for the past few years: splitting the carries.
Fantasy Impact: The major question is who will get the goal line carries. Unfortunately, the answer will most likely be Cam Newton.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: LeGarrette Blount vs. Doug Martin
The Scoop: Blount followed up an impressive rookie season with a pedestrian sophomore campaign, averaging only 4.2 yards per carry, scoring only 5 touchdowns, and failing to break 50 yards in 7 games. In steps Doug Martin, the rookie first round choice out of Boise State. So far, Martin’s work ethic has and performance on the practice field has earned him a majority of the reps.
Fantasy Impact: It seemed last year that there were times Tampa Bay abandoned the run for no apparent reason. If they can recommit to running the football, I see the #1 back putting up huge numbers.
Arizona Cardinals: Beanie Wells vs. Ryan Williams
The Scoop: Beanie Wells is coming off his best season as a Cardinal, topping both 1,000 rushing and 10 touchdowns for the first time in his career. Despite his success, Arizona is very high on Ryan Williams, a second year back out of Virginia Tech who was sidelined last season with a patella injury. This factor, plus the fact that Wells has started training camp on the PUP list, calls for an interesting situation brewing in Arizona.
Fantasy Impact: There is no reason to believe that Arizona’s #1 back won’t duplicate Wells’ numbers from last year.
Buffalo Bills: Fred Jackson vs. CJ Spiller
The Scoop: Fred Jackson was having a career year last season That is, until a fractured leg abruptly ended his season. In stepped C.J Spiller to pick up the slack, and all he did was average 5.2 yards per carry. Jackson is old for a running back at 31, but he didn’t experience a full work load until 2009. Spiller, the more dynamic runner of the two, seems poised to prove he was worth the 9th overall pick in 2010.
Fantasy Impact: Whether it was Jackson or Spiller, the Bills #1 back was often in double digit fantasy points last season. Expect the trend to continue this season.
Cincinnati Bengals: Benjarvus Green-Ellis vs. Bernard Scott
The Scoop: The Bengals have insisted that they implement a running back by-committee approach this season after letting go veteran Cedric Benson this offseason. Green-Ellis, who came over as a free agent from the Patriots, is a power back who has never fumbled in his NFL career. Scott has been a steady backup for the Bengals and is expected to get around 10 carries a game.
Fantasy Impact: Green-Ellis has 24 touchdowns over the past two seasons, with all but one coming inside the redzone. It is shocking that nobody is talking about him. He will be a major sleeper.
Detroit Lions: Jahvid Best vs. Mikel Leshoure vs. Kevin Smith
The Scoop: Best has big play ability, but is oft-injured and coming off a series of concussions suffered last season. Leshoure, a bruising power back with workhorse potential, is returning from an Achilles tear and has been suspended for the first 2 games of the 2012 season because of off the field issues (2 arrests). Smith is a dependable 3rd down back, but is not suited to handle a large workload.
Fantasy Impact: The Lions are dying for a complement to their passing game, and a healthy Best is a high-end #2 back. Unfortunately, Best can’t seem to stay healthy.
Indianapolis Colts: Donald Brown vs. Delone Carter
The Scoop: Out of the two, Donald Brown has been the more steady and consistent back. New Colts Head Coach Chuck Pagano seems to think that Carter’s potential is greater than Brown’s, but Carter first needs to solve his fumbling issue in order to earn the coaches trust.
Fantasy Impact: With rookie Andrew Luck starting at quarterback, the Colts will rely heavily on the running game. Drafting one of these backs late is a low risk/high reward move.
Kansas City Chiefs: Jamaal Charles vs. Peyton Hillis
The Scoop: This tandem possesses the classic combination of power and speed. Charles is a speedster with a career average of 6.1 yards per carry. The problem is that Charles is coming off a torn ACL, an injury that is devastating for running backs in particular. Hillis will provide the punch and is expected spell Charles and receive the bulk of the goal line carries.
Fantasy Impact: Charles’ big play ability and knack for piling up yards will make him a solid #1 back regardless, assuming he can return to his 2010 form. Hillis is the one who will suffer from this pairing despite getting the goal line carries.
New England Patriots: Stevan Ridley vs. Shane Vereen
The Scoop: With Danny Woodhead’s role set as the 3rd down back/receiver out of the backfield, the competition boils down to Ridley vs. Vereen. Ridley impressed the New England coaches last season in a limited role, averaging 5.4 yards per carry in the last 3 weeks of the season. However, he was plagued by a few key fumbles late in the season. Vereen is expected to play a larger role in the Patriots offense, but first he must prove he can stay healthy for an entire season.
Fantasy Impact: Ultimately, the Patriots hope that one of these backs can fill the void left by Green-Ellis. However, when was the last time a New England back could ever be trusted week after week?
Arizona Cardinals: Andre Roberts vs. Early Doucet vs. Michael Floyd
The Scoop: With Fitzgerald as the #1 receiver, this battle is for the 2nd spot. Floyd was the 12th overall pick in this year’s draft, but he showed up slightly out of shape and has warranted concern about his work ethic. Roberts put up 51 catches for 586 in his second season, which is impressive considering the QB mess in Arizona last season. Doucet is the most established of the three, but is better suited as a slot receiver.
Fantasy Impact: Whoever the #2 receiver is should have many opportunities, as teams will be gearing there defenses towards Fitzgerald. If the quarterback situation in Arizona gets worked out, there could be decent contributions here.
Carolina Panthers: Brandon Lafell vs. David Gettis vs. Louis Murphy
The Scoop: To ignite the battle for the #2 receiver, the Panthers recently acquired Louis Murphy from the Oakland Raiders. Murphy isn’t exactly a stud, averaging only 28 catches for the past two seasons. Lafell and Gettis have been only slightly better, both averaging 37 catches per season over the same stretch.
Fantasy Impact: With Smith, solids TE’s and a dynamic running game, the Panthers aren’t asking these receivers to do much, so don’t expect significant production out of this spot.
Cincinnati Bengals: Mohamed Sanu vs. Tate vs. Armon Binns
The Scoop: With the departure of Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell, the Bengals are looking to fill a spot that was surprisingly productive last season. While Tate is now an NFL veteran, he has rarely been used as anything other than a return specialist. In fact, last year he didn’t even record a single catch. Still, Tate has more experience than both Sanu, a third round pick in this year’s draft, and Binns, whose most impressive game occurred in preseason of last year.
Fantasy Impact: Even with QB Andy Dalton’s anticipated improvement, this spot will bear little significance. WR A.J Green and TE Jermaine Gresham are still Dalton’s top targets.
Cleveland Browns: Mohamed Massaquoi vs. Josh Gordon
The Scoop: Brown’s Head Coach Pat Shurmur asserted this offseason that Greg Little and Mohamed Massaquoi were penciled in as the starting receivers, but that was before Cleveland took Josh Gordon in the 2nd round of the supplemental draft. Massaquoi has greatly underperformed in Cleveland and last year had only 31 catches for 384 yards and 2 touchdowns. Gordon is definitely the more talented of the two, but he missed spring practices and will be playing catch up for most of training camp.
Fantasy Impact: Don’t expect much here. Cleveland has shaky quarterback play and will elect to run the ball more often than not.
Detroit Lions: Titus Young vs. Nate Burleson
The Scoop: Burleson had a personal best 73 receptions last year and provided a security blanket for Stafford when Megatron was double and triple teamed. As a rookie last season, Young caught 48 passes for 607 yards and 6 touchdowns. Burleson is over 30 and is better suiting in the slot, while Young is 23 and poised for a breakout season.
Fantasy Impact: With one of the best QB’s in the league in Matthew Stafford running the show, Titus Young is expected to become one of the top #2 receivers in the game.
Green Bay Packers: James Jones vs. Randall Cobb vs. Donald Driver
The Scoop: Never has a battle for the #3 WR position gained this much hype. Jones saw his receptions go down last year, but had a career high 7 touchdown receptions. Cobb excelled in the return game as a rookie and showed flashes of brilliance at the receiver position, but has the least experience of the three. Finally, the veteran Driver is the most decorated of the three, but has seen his receptions drop every year since 2006.
Fantasy Impact: With Aaron Rodgers as the Packers QB, all three of these players figure to produce, but as fantasy players they are too inconsistent to start every week.
Kansas City Chiefs: Jonathan Baldwin vs. Steve Breaston
The Scoop: The Chiefs were very disappointed with Baldwin’s performance as a rookie last year a fear that he lacks the consistency required from a #2 receiver. Breaston is the definition of consistency, having at least 4 catches in 11 games last season. A key stat to highlight the difference between the two: Baldwin caught 41.2% of his targets; Breaston caught 63.5%.
Fantasy Impact: With Matt Cassel returning, the passing game in Kansas City figures to return as well. Still, neither of these players will put up massive numbers.
New England Patriots: Deion Branch vs. Jabar Gaffney Donte Stallworth
The Scoop: Despite the QB mess in Washington last season, Gaffney managed 68 receptions and almost broke 1000 yards receiving. Stallworth also comes over from Washington, but he was significantly less productive with only 22 receptions. Branch reunited with QB Tom Brady last season and it was as though the two never parted, but age is becoming a factor, as Deion is already 33 years old.
Fantasy Impact: With Tom Brady as the Quarterback, everyone on New England has fantasy impact, but whoever the third receiver is will be the 5th option behind Welker, Lloyd, Hernandez, and Gronkowski.
New York Jets: Stephen Hill vs. Chaz Schilens
The Scoop: With experienced players Santonio Holmes and Jeremy Kerley atop the depth chart going into preseason, an intense battle has broken out between Schilens and Hill for the 3rd spot. Schilens has breakaway speed, but Hill has all the talent in the world to become the next big thing. Coming out of Georgia Tech’s wishbone offense though, Hill may need time to develop, similar to the situation Damarius Thomas was in a few years ago.
Fantasy Impact: It’s hard to say that the #3 receiver slot will contribute much until Mark Sanchez can prove himself as a consistent QB.
New York Giants: Rueben Randle vs. Domenik Hixon
The Scoop: Both of these receivers are trying to fill the major void left by Mario Manningham. When Hakeem Nicks went down with an injury earlier in the offseason, Hixon filled in as the #2 receiver, which wasn’t a surprise considering his already established chemistry with Eli Manning. Randle was drafted out of LSU to play, though he still has much to learn about player wide receiver in the NFL.
Fantasy Impact: Remember that Manningham has filled this spot in recent years. While his numbers were not incredible last year, he did score 9 touchdowns out of this spot in 2010.
San Diego Chargers: Eddie Royal vs. Vincent Brown
The Scoop: With Robert Meachem and Malcolm Floyd expected to start, this battle is for the #3 receiver. Royal speed makes him the ideal slot receiver, but since his rookie season when he had 91 catches he hasn’t lived up to his potential. Brown came on late in his rookie season, but impressed the Chargers with his ability to attack the ball in mid-air.
Fantasy Impact: Both could be potential late round sleepers in the Chargers’ dynamic aerial attack.
San Francisco 49ers: Mario Manningham vs. Randy Moss
The Scoop: Randy Moss returns to the NFL after retiring following the 2010 season. His last season in the NFL was forgettable, but scouts are saying that Moss is looking like his old self out there on the football field. Meanwhile, Manningham is coming off a remarkable Super Bowl performance for the Giants, and came to the 49ers seeking more opportunities.
Fantasy Impact: The 49ers were one of the worst red zone offenses in football last year. Both Moss and Manningham provide another threat other than Davis in the red zone passing game.
Tennessee Titans: Kendall Wright vs. Damian Williams
The Scoop: The Titans drafted Wright out of Baylor with the 20th overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft. In his senior year at Baylor, Wright paired with Heisman Winner Robert Griffin III to record 108 catches for 1633 yards and 14 touchdowns. Williams preformed in his limited role for the Titans last season, hauling in 45 passes for 592 yards and 5 touchdowns.
Fantasy Impact: With Kenny Brit’s off the field issues/health always an issue, the winner of this battle can potentially find himself in the #1 spot come opening day.
Washington Redskins: Santana Moss vs. Leonard Hankerson vs. Josh Morgan
The Scoop: Santana Moss is the veteran of the three and is entering his 12th season, but at this point he is probably better suited as a slot receiver. Leonard Hankerson had a disappointing rookie season, but reports coming out of Washington are saying that Hankerson has really impressed during this offseason. Josh Morgan has seen his numbers decrease in each of the past two seasons and is looking to jump start his career in Washington.
Fantasy Impact: The fantasy fortunes of these receivers rides on the success of Robert Griffin III.
Arizona Cardinals: Todd Heap vs. Rob Housler
The Scoop: Housler will be given every chance to become a breakout player. He's fast and has displayed good hands in his short NFL career. An 11-year veteran, Heap has proven to be an elite receiver when healthy. He surprised the Cardinals by showing the ability and willingness to block, too. The problem was that he missed six full games because a hamstring injury and wasn't healthy in many of the games in which he did play.
Fantasy Impact: Whichever one earns the starting job could be a big producer in the red zone.
Seattle Seahawks: Kellen Winslow vs. Zach Miller
The Scoop: After 4 productive seasons with Oakland, Miller came to Seattle last year and struggled, only recording 15 receptions for the season. While Seattle is hoping for Miller to have a bounce-back season, they traded for Winslow just in case. Winslow is a model of consistency at the TE position, having caught at least 65 passes in 5 of the past six seasons.
Fantasy Impact: The production here depends on who is playing quarterback. If it’s Matt Flynn, the potential exponentially rises.
Kansas City Chiefs: Tony Moeaki vs. Kevin Boss
The Scoop: Moeaki is coming of an ACL injury that kept him out of the 2011 season. In his rookie season (2010), Moeaki caught 47 passes for 556 yards. Boss is coming from Oakland, where he turned in his worst season in 4 years.
Fantasy Impact: Unless Moeaki can stay healthy for a full season, neither of these two seem to factor into the tight end conversation.
Minnesota Vikings: Kyle Rudolph vs. John Carlson
The Scoop: Carlson signed as a free agent from the Seahawks and did not play in 2011 due to injury. His strength comes in the red zone, where his 6’5 250 pound frame comes into play. Rudolph is entering his 2nd season, coming off a 23 catch rookie campaign. Carlson’s recent MCL sprain is a cause of concern.
Fantasy Impact: Minnesota generally utilizes TE’s, but the more both Rudolph and Carlson play the less each will produce individually.
Baltimore Ravens: Ed Dickson vs. Dennis Pitta
The Scoop: a poor man’s version of Hernandez and Gronkowski, both were productive last season. Dickson is the better athlete and put up 10 receptions in a game last year. Pitta came on late last year and is one of Flacco’s favorite targets. Pitta broke his hand early in training camp and may not be ready for opening day.
Fantasy Impact: Both TE’s were in there 2nd season last year and made an impact. Expect good but not great production from both players.
Edge: Pitta (if healthy)
Denver Broncos: Jacob Tamme vs. Joel Dreessen
The Scoop: Tamme signed as a free agent from the Colts and is reunited with Peyton Manning. In 2010, the last time Manning and Tamme played together, Tamme put up 67 catches for 631 yards. Dreessen served as a reliable target for Matt Schaub in Houston, and looks to have even more opportunities with Manning.
Fantasy Impact: Whoever wins this job could put up huge numbers playing alongside Manning and would be a nice sleeper pick.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Luke Stocker vs. Dallas Clark
The Scoop: The most experienced and arguably best player is Clark, but he hasn't been a productive pass-catching tight end for two years now and is limited as a run-blocker. Stocker, last year's fourth-round pick. Unfortunately, Stocker suffered from injuries for much of his rookie season and has not stood out thus far in training camp.
Fantasy Impact: With Clark nearing the end of his career and Stocker unproven, I wouldn’t expect much from either of the two.