Training Camp Battles to Watch
With most of the sports world currently captivated by the World Cup, the free agency saga of LeBron James, and the stretch run of the baseball season, it’s easy to overlook the fact that NFL training camps will kick off before July is over. And while many players dread the dog days of camp (especially Brett Favre), many are wise enough to know that it’s a time where starting jobs are won and lost, and that a series of false steps could mean a lot of time on the sidelines.
Of course, in today’s NFL, many reserves still see plenty of action, thanks to running back committees and spread offenses. Many NFL reserves are now the equivalent of a sixth man in the NBA, as they see plenty of playing time and in some cases will have a higher workload than a starter.
But in the end, it remains more prestigious to be listed at the top of the depth chart. More often than not, the starter still sees the most playing time. However, in fantasy leagues, the lines between real-life starters and reserves can blur a bit, as a so-called NFL backup can offer good value to a fantasy owner. Perhaps the best example of this is Carolina’s Jonathan Stewart, who ran for 1,133 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2009. Stewart did start some games, but not until DeAngelo Williams was injured.
So as we take a look at some pivotal training camp battles, keep in mind that many of the players we mention who might be on the outside looking in could still help your fantasy team.
Back in 2008, Steve Slaton produced a magical season. He arrived in Houston after a tremendous college career at West Virginia and produced 1,659 total yards and 10 touchdowns. But Slaton struggled in 2009, as his yards per carry dropped dramatically and his fumbles increased. His season ended prematurely due to injury, as Slaton had fusion surgery due to a nerve condition in his neck. He appears to be in the clear for training camp, but when Houston selected Ben Tate in April, he joined Ryan Mathews, Jahvid Best, and C.J. Spiller on the list of rookie running backs for fantasy owners to keep an eye on. However, heading into camp, Arian Foster, who gave Houston a spark at the end of the 2009 season, will be running with the first-team. Houston head coach Gary Kubiak, like his mentor Mike Shanahan, is not afraid to frequently shake up the depth chart, so don’t count on Foster remaining Houston’s lead back. It’s worth remembering that a healthy Slaton is the most explosive of all three. Keep close tabs on how he progresses in camp and in preseason games, and how well Tate acquits himself.
Wherever Mike Martz goes, receivers who put up big numbers seem to follow. Mike Furrey, last seen playing safety for the Browns, had 98 catches for 1,086 yards and six touchdowns back in 2006 when Martz was the offensive coordinator of the Detroit Lions. So if Furrey, a classy guy but not an exceptionally gifted athlete, can make a major impact in Martz’s offense, it stands to reason that Devin Hester, Johnny Knox, and Devin Aromashodu ought to be able to do some good things. All three should see plenty of playing time, but right now Hester and Knox have been working with the first-team. However, don’t be surprised if Aromashodu ends up making a sizeable impact. He has a very good rapport with Jay Cutler. Will that rapport help him become Chicago’s top fantasy receiver? Training camp will give us some clues.