Key Position Battles Heading into Camp: QBs & RBs

Key Position Battles Heading into Camp: QBs & RBs

By Matt De Lima (4for4 Scout), last updated Jun 1, 2012

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Matt is an experienced sports writer and fantasy football expert. He contributes his opinions and insights across multiple sports to numerous sites, including here at

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Alexander Pope told us that "hope springs eternal," and every NFL season 31 teams have to abide by that mantra. The New York Giants can enjoy nearly a full calendar year of boasting, assuming they don't take a nosedive in the standings this winter. For every other team though, the outlook falls anywhere along a very wide spectrum. Some want to maintain their consistent dominance, like Green Bay, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, New England and the like. Some are hoping it wasn't just a fluke in San Francisco or Detroit. And for a few teams, they're the longshots and an 8-8 record would be "friggen sweet." Their words, not mine. I won't name names.

Part of this yearly renewal revolves around new players at key positions. Out with the old and in with the new, right? Whether it's the draft or free agency, teams attempt to identify new impact players. With that in mind, let's take a closer look at some key position battles with strong fantasy implications.


Cleveland Browns: Colt McCoy vs. Brandon Weeden

In case you hadn't heard, McCoy isn't any good. It's not all his fault since Cleveland did have little to no offensive firepower, but it's sort of a chicken vs. egg argument, isn't it? Which sucked first: McCoy or the supporting cast? While you ponder that in all its infinite wisdom, I'll recap some statistics. McCoy averaged 210 passing yards, 1.07 passing TD, 0.85 interceptions per game. Numbers you wouldn't write home about or want on your fantasy squad. Weeden will get his shot whether it's in Week 1 or after a brief losing streak. If you happen to draft a stud QB1 like Aaron Rodgers, Weeden might be a nice late-round addition to be used later as trade bait should he explode on the scene.


Arizona Cardinals: Kevin Kolb vs. John Skelton

Yikes is the best word to sum up this situation. Kolb was unable to stay healthy or upright, clearing a path for Skelton to play marginally well at times. Kolb's numbers compare very closely to the aforementioned Colt McCoy, which weren't very good. Kolb averaged 217.2 passing yards, 1.0 passing TD, and 0.88 interceptions per game.

Skelton did show some improvement in his second year but that's only because he was awful as a rookie. He went 5-2 as a starter and his averages weren't that much better than Kolb (239.1/1.35/1.75). Arizona has sunk too many resources, whether it's money or draft picks, to acquire Kolb and they have to play him if he's healthy. In Week 1, he'll be the starter but in Week 5, I wouldn't be so sure. Neither quarterback has proven to be fantasy viable so you should take a pass on both.


New York Jets: Mark Sanchez vs. Tim Tebow

This isn't a real quarterback controversy. The media would love it to be, but it's not. Sanchez is entrenched as the starter. This is a guy who led his team to back-to-back AFC Championship games in his first two years in the league. It goes without saying that he has been piggybacking on the success of his defense but that is modus operandi for the Jets. That said, Tebow will get a few drives, it's inevitable. Does that make Tebow a legit fantasy option? Not unless you award points for personal protectors in punt formations.


Other first and second-year QBs

I like Jake Locker over Matt Hasselbeck on the football field but not in box scores. Locker lacks the accuracy and therefore the consistency to maintain drives and put up reliable fantasy points. Love the receivers here (Kenny Britt, Nate Washington, rookie Kendall Wright & TE Jared Cook) but Locker is barely a Top 20 QB assuming he's the guy.

Russell Wilson will not beat out Matt Flynn in Seattle but the rookie could push Tarvaris Jackson off the roster should the Seahawks opt to only carry two signal-callers.

Let's face the facts here, Blaine Gabbert has a long way to go. Chad Henne isn't suddenly going to fulfill what little potential he had either. Gabbert is a work in progress, but don't discount what it will do to this offense to have rookie stud Justin Blackmon and 2011 fantasy wunderkind Laurent Robinson as the new starting receivers.


Running Backs

Before we jump down this rabbit hole, keep in mind that most teams are going to utilize a split backfield. So rather than rehash nearly every RB committee out there, I'm simply going to focus on backfields where the RB1 is in clear danger of losing his top spot. This article would become a novella in attempting to figure out RB depth chart for each and every team.


Buffalo Bills: Fred Jackson vs. C.J. Spiller

Spiller came on strong in the final weeks after Jackson went down with a broken leg. After a mediocre rookie season, it all seemed to click for this speedster out of Clemson. From Weeks 12 to 17, Spiller averaged 74.3 rushing yards, 31.1 receiving yards, and 0.83 TDs per game. An easy counter-argument here is that Spiller had fresh legs late in the year but at the very least, the stats illustrate that Spiller is in fact a multi-faceted talent. After his rookie year, expectations were very low, if not non-existent. Now he's shown that if given enough touches, he can produce and potentially live up to being the No. 9 selection in the 2010 NFL Draft.

Jackson is now 31 years old and even still he was a Top 5 back in most formats before his season-ending injury. Jackson has a firm grasp on the RB1 spot, but look for Spiller to play a lot more this year.


Tampa Bay Bucs: Doug Martin vs. LeGarrette Blount

Most are anticipating that Martin will step right in and become the starter. They're probably right. Blount overachieved along with his team two season ago and while he'll still contribute, this is Martin's big opportunity.

Let's take a closer look at Blount's 2011 decline.

After four games, Tampa was 3-1 and riding a three-game winning streak. Let's focus on the three wins. Blount averaged 93 rushing yards, 4.5 yards per carry, and one TD per game during that stretch. When the Bucs were winning and regularly had the lead, they could afford to pound the rock with Blount. They went on to lose their final 12 games, Blount only eclipsed 100 yards twice more and he only scored two more TDs. The point here is that Blount was a victim of circumstances and a struggling team. That said, Martin currently holds the lion's share of carries and it is his job to lose. We're still months away from anything definitive but keep in mind that new head coach Greg Schiano likes to run the ball. Martin will be featured heavily in this offense on all three downs and Blount will be factor too.


Pittsburgh Steelers: Rashard Mendenhall vs. Isaac Redman

The early reports suggest that Mendenhall wouldn't be ready at the start of the 2012 season. No matter how optimistic he may be, Mendenhall will start the year on the physically unable to play list. Redman will be the starter for the first six weeks of the season. He had 121 rushing yards and two receptions for 21 yards in that overtime loss against the Denver Broncos. He also ran for 92 yards, added three receptions for 18 yards and a touchdown in the regular season finale against Cleveland. In any case, Redman will be a decent flex play while Mendenhall is out and could keep the job when Mendenhall returns depending on performance and where Mendenhall is at. Mendenhall is in the final year of his rookie contract and is no lock to re-up with the Steelers.


Detroit Lions: Jahvid Best vs. Mikel Leshoure vs. Kevin Smith vs. free agency

Who is the Best option? How can one be Leshoure? Anyway, this one may end up being cut and dry if Best can just stay healthy, but that really goes against his whole football playing career. He struggled with concussions in college and after quietly exiting that memorable game against the 49ers early in the year, Best was never able to return. Guys like Smith, Maurice Morris, and Keiland Williams all had their shot and now Leshoure is healthy, further sullying an already messy situation. There are also many who feel Detroit would be wise to acquire a free agent back, someone like Cedric Benson. Sure, he doesn't at all fit the Detroit RB mold, but that might be a good thing at this point.

Assuming he's able, Best would be the top back in the Lions stable, but an over/under on 4.5 games played seems about right given Best's history. One more concussion and his football career could be over. Leshoure is coming back from an Achilles injury but is now facing a league suspension for multiple incidents this off-season. And despite Smith's late comeback attempt, almost on cue, he was hurt yet again. One of these guys could end up putting up a solid 2012, but it's a roll of the dice at this point, almost entirely dependent on health. Current ADPs: Best - RB33, LeShoure - RB41, Smith - RB52.



Filed Under: Preseason, 2012

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