Fantasy football gamers will be focusing on a number of training camp battles across the NFL. From late-round value buys and notable ripple effects to potential stars in the making, excitement is abound.
AJ McCarron vs. Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills
Projected winner: The starter on opening day should be McCarron, unless he bombs in camp. Allen will eventually take over, though it may not happen in the first half of the year if the Bills remain competitive. Regardless, this passing game doesn’t offer enough weapons to matter in fantasy.
Sam Bradford vs. Josh Rosen, Arizona Cardinals
Projected winner: The only ways Bradford doesn’t start Week 1: injury or Rosen is dynamite in the preseason. Outside of Larry Fitzgerald, it appears the Cardinals will struggle to field a dangerous receiving corps. A new offense also doesn’t help the matter, but it will be new to both quarterbacks, which creates some level of equal footing. Neither passer is more than a late-round flier in the deepest setups.
Tyrod Taylor vs. Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns
Projected winner: This one is not as much of a positional battle as it is a mentor-student situation. It is only a matter of time before Mayfield takes over, and with a dominant offseason, perhaps he starts Week 1. The most likely scenario puts Taylor in the drivers seat until Cleveland feels Mayfield is ready, sometime later in the season. As long as Mayfield understands the progressions and remains calm under pressure, he’s a better natural passer than Taylor and could actually improve the fantasy aerial game.
Sam Darnold vs. Josh McCown, New York Jets
Projected winner: Just like the Browns’ quarterback situation, this will be a teacher-pupil relationship that features McCown as the Day 1 commander of the offense. There isn’t much fantasy value in either player at this time. McCown at least stabilizes the offense enough to keep Robby Anderson afloat.
Derrius Guice vs. Rob Kelley, Washington Redskins
Projected winner: The second-round pick spent on Guice gives him the upper hand, and his role will be crystal clear if he indeed wins the job as a two-down back. This could devolve into a hot-hand situation if Guice falters or Kelley stands out in camp. Guice is the obvious fantasy choice, mostly due to the pure upside not found in Kelley.
Royce Freeman vs. Devontae Booker, Denver Broncos
Projected winner: Freeman is a third-round rookie and will do battle with the 2016 fourth-rounder in Booker. Gamers have flocked to the rook, as Booker has been unspectacular in his short career. There’s a strong chance this offense utilizes both running backs in a rotational manner, limiting the upside of each. Freeman is the smarter choice given Booker’s lack of comparative potential.
Nick Chubb vs. Carlos Hyde, Cleveland Browns
Projected winner: This one isn’t necessarily a true battle. Hyde is virtually assured to be in a new city in 2019, and Chubb is probably auditioning for a future starting gig in Cleveland. Todd Haley will rely on the hot hand and rotate both backs. Duke Johnson remains the third-down weapon, so scoring touchdowns is about the only way either back will have noteworthy fantasy stats. Hyde is the slightly better choice to lead the group in touches.
Kerryon Johnson vs. Ameer Abdullah, Detroit Lions
Projected winner: LeGarrette Blount is being left out due to his niche role. Abdullah is not only fighting for a starting job but a roster spot. Johnson is versatile enough to be a three-down contributor, although Theo Riddick should prevent this from happening with any regularity. Aside from injuries, Abdullah has struggled to separate himself, even behind an upgraded offensive line in recent years. Johnson seems like a lock to become the primary ball carrier in this backfield, which makes him little better than an RB3 in this offense.
Marlon Mack vs. Jordan Wilkins, Indianapolis Colts
Projected winner: Mack is returning from shoulder surgery and will fight Wilkins for the two-down work, presuming fellow rookie Nyheim Hines will steal the third-down duties. Despite an improved offensive line, running the football doesn’t figure to be the focus of this offense with new head coach Frank Reich. Expect a form of the West Coast offense, which focuses on short-area passing and passes to running backs. Andrew Luck’s recovery is the primary focus when it comes to Mack’s expected value. In a vacuum, it should be Mack‘s job to lose. However, consider the grasp on the job flimsy if Wilkins stands out in camp.
Jamaal Williams vs. Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers
Projected winner: Jones is facing a two-game suspension to begin the year and could have cost himself dearly. Williams will open the year starting, or at least be the expected leader in carries, and has a prime chance to put any sense of a competition in the rearview with a torrid start. Ty Montgomery looks like the third-down and change-of-pace back, making Williams dependent on scoring touchdowns to offer substantial fantasy results. With so many options in the red zone, consider the odds of Williams suddenly becoming a TD machine a long shot.
Marshawn Lynch vs. Doug Martin, Oakland Raiders
Projected winner: The trust factor is heavily skewed in Lynch‘s favor. Martin has been a fantasy bust in all but two seasons and has averaged an embarrassing 2.9 yards per carry in his last 282 attempts, spanning 19 games. In the five years since Martin’s breakout rookie campaign of 2012, the Boise State alum has managed just one 16-game season. Lynch is by far the better bet near the end zone, and even being basically three years older, he looks fresher. Either way, they will rotate and probably lose third-down work to Jalen Richard or DeAndre Washington. The upside is almost zero for Lynch and Martin.
Chris Carson vs. Rashaad Penny, Seattle Seahawks
Projected winner: Competition? Meh. Teams don’t invest first-round picks in running backs only to feature a back with 49 career carries and zero rushing scores to their credit. Penny isn’t a great receiver, so coming off of the field could be a major hit to his fantasy prospects. Luckily, Seattle doesn’t sport anyone clearly better in this role. Penny is a risk-reward RB2 or flex.
Bilal Powell vs. Elijah McGuire, New York Jets
Projected winner: Powell failed to separate himself in any distinguishable way last year, yet the same can be said for McGuire. The veteran Powell is 30 in October, while McGuire enters his second year at a fresh 24. The offense will throw to the position, and the receiving corps could help make it unnaturally frequent — this would be amplified if Sam Darnold starts games. A clear weak spot at tight end also works in the favor of the winner. It’s currently a toss-up. Keep a close eye on McGuire in camp and preseason play.
Wayne Gallman vs. Jonathan Stewart, New York Giants
Projected winner: Does it really matter? Nope. Gallman is much more dynamic than the withering Stewart, whose minicamp scouting report has included the word “plodding” by local-area media observers. The winner — leaning Gallman — is merely a handcuff to Saquon Barkley.
D.J. Moore vs. Torrey Smith/Curtis Samuel, Carolina Panthers
Projected winner: The rookie will be given every chance to earn a spot in the top three. Smith offers little more than downfield speed, which is even suspect at this stage of his career, while Samuel is coming off of a mostly lost rookie season. The slashing slot receiver is closer to a gadget option than a clearly defined starter. In all likelihood, Moore will start opposite Devin Funchess and Smith will share with Samuel in the slot. This is one of those situations where being a starter probably matters little anyhow — Moore is expected to be no better than the third or fourth read on any given play.
Calvin Ridley vs. Mohamed Sanu, Atlanta Falcons
Projected winner: Sanu is an excellent blocker and underrated weapon opposite Julio Jones, but Ridley could be a game-changing target for Matt Ryan. Sanu is no stranger to playing out of the slot (44.6 percent of his snaps in 2017), which would allow Ridley to play on the outside. The loss of Taylor Gabriel opens up more deep looks for the 4.43-second dasher in Ridley. The battle likely comes down to weekly game flow and which player presents the better mismatch. Ridley has far greater fantasy upside and will receive more attention in drafts.
Christian Kirk vs. Chad Williams/JJ Nelson, Arizona Cardinals
Projected winner: Williams remains raw, while Nelson is trying to shed the image of being no more than a deep threat. Even as a rookie, Kirk is a more polished player than either of them and displayed his ability to step in as an immediate contributor at Texas A&M, logging 80 balls as a true freshman. It would be surprising if he wasn’t the No. 2 target after Larry Fitzgerald. There should be enough looks to go around to make Nelson or Williams a possible contributor off of the waiver wire.
Courtland Sutton vs. Jordan Taylor/DaeSean Hamilton, Denver Broncos
Projected winner: Well, it comes down to situational football behind Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. Taylor, 6-foot-5, 210 pounds, has two years of game experience as a street free agent from 2015. The 6-foot-3 Sutton should compete with Taylor for a role around the end zone as a jump-ball specialist. The offensive system barely has room for three fantasy contributors in the aerial arena, especially if someone steps up at tight end or a running back catches a few balls per game. Hamilton has flashed this spring and into the early summer practices. It will take an injury before he has immediate fantasy value, and Sutton, even if he surpasses Taylor, will be anything but consistently targeted.
Michael Gallup vs. Terrance Williams/Allen Hurns, Dallas Cowboys
Projected winner: After securing 44-plus catches in each of the last three years, Williams should be locked into a starting role. Cole Beasley figures to maintain the primary slot chores, while Gallup, a rookie, will contend mainly with Hurns for the remaining looks at the position. Avoiding all of them isn’t a terrible course of action.
Kevin White vs. Anthony Miller, Chicago Bears
Projected winner: White may struggle to make the roster if Miller wins this job. The second-round rookie from Memphis was flat-out dominant in the final two years of his collegiate career. He scored 32 times and logged eerily consistent stats in receptions (95 in 2016 and 96) and yardage (1,434 and 1,462 in 2017) year over year. Generally speaking, veterans deserve the benefit of the doubt over rookies coming from midsized programs, but White has done nothing in his pro career to earn it. This one should come down to the wire, and while both are draftable players, Miller has far more potential for a big boom. He legitimately could prove to be the WR1 of this offense if Allen Robinson struggles.
Ted Ginn vs. Cameron Meredith, New Orleans Saints
Projected winner: There should be enough targets to keep both players relevant in 2018. Meredith is returning from knee reconstruction suffered last summer, and he needs to pick up the offense, which gives Ginn some latitude to keep his job. The duo should both be utilized quite often, and there’s a decent chance rookie Tre’Quan Smith pushes both for playing time as a third-round selection. Barring a setback, Meredith is a wiser fantasy bet than the 33-year-old Ginn.
D.J. Chark vs. Dede Westbrook, Jacksonville Jaguars
Projected winner: This one really could go either way. It comes down to how quickly Chark picks up the playbook and develops chemistry with Blake Bortles. The LSU rookie is more of a downfield weapon than a well-rounded target. Westbrook has tremendous talent but hasn’t had much of an opportunity to put it on display in the NFL. In a vacuum, Westbrook‘s slight experience gets a nod to open as the No. 3 target behind Marqise Lee and Donte Moncrief. The injury background of each player could make both Chark and Westbrook fantasy options in 2018.
Dante Pettis vs. Trent Taylor, San Francisco 49ers
Projected winner: Pettis is a rookie second-rounder, which may have been a surprise to many after the way Taylor played as a rookie in 2017. He hauled in 46 passes and flashed slot prowess. The 49ers are likely to utilize Pettis the most in the special teams return game as the rookie finds his way as a receiver. Taylor offers late-round appeal as a low-cost PPR gamble.
Green Bay Packers’ No. 3 receiver
Projected winner: All things equal, it appears to be Geronimo Allison’s job to lose. He will see competition from DeAngelo Yancey, fifth-rounder in 2017, and Trevor Davis, also a pick in Round 5 but a year before. A trio of 2018 rookies will look to make their respective mark on the coaching staff in the summer and emerge as the third receiver behind Davante Adams and Randall Cobb. J’Mon Moore went in the fourth, followed by Marquez Valdes-Scantling in the fifth, and Equanimeous St. Brown a round later. Allison has flashed a couple of plays in his 25 pro games, which should give him a hint of an edge entering camp. Follow this one through the preseason.
Keke Coutee vs. Braxton Miller, Houston Texans
Projected winner: The rookie turned heads in the spring but is still just the third or fourth target on any given play, if he can usurp the veteran Miller. At this time, Miller probably retains the gig behind DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller. Either way, any contributions from this position should be exclusively enjoyed in DFS circles. Another set of hands is a nice asset for Deshaun Watson’s value, though.
Michael Roberts vs. Luke Willson, Detroit Lions
Projected winner: Willson, a career reserve whose services have been thrust into starting action a few times, enters the mix via free agency. The Lions are looking to replace Eric Ebron after an underwhelming run in Motown. Roberts is a second-year Lion and a former NCAA tight end leader in touchdowns (16) with Toledo in 2016. With just 15 career games played and a startlingly low four catches to his credit, Roberts is a huge unknown. Willson‘s blocking skills and experience make him a safer bet to start, although it may very well be Roberts to lead this pair in fantasy points. Flip a coin.
Dallas Cowboys’ starting tight end job
Projected winner: This battle to replace Jason Witten comes down to Rico Gathers, rookie Dalton Schultz, Geoff Swaim and Blake Jarwin duking it out. Cowboys media professional Bryan Broaddus believes Gathers is on the outside looking in at this point. Schultz should be a lock for the roster as a fourth-round pick. None of the players are worthy of being drafted as more than a total flier, but Swaim probably has the slight advantage of the crop.
Trey Burton vs. Adam Shaheen, Chicago Bears
Projected winner: It may not be accurate to even consider this a battle, but Shaheen was a second-round choice last year and scored three times on 12 snares. He stands a massive 6-foot-6, 270 pounds, making him a much different weapon than the wide receiver-like Burton’s 6-foot-3, 235-pound frame. Shaheen is light on his feet, and he’s also a bigger body for blocking purposes. Both players should have defined roles to complement each other. Burton is a fantasy sleeper and should start after receiving a substantial contract this spring.