Training Camps Open, Position Battles Underway
Every year in late July, NFL teams open their training camps with most of the spots in their starting lineups locked up. Most, but not all, particularly when it comes to sorting things out for fantasy football owners. Here’s a look at some of the top training camp battles facing NFL teams in terms of fantasy football heading into the 2014 season.
Cleveland quarterback: There will be a lot of pressure from the fan base to make Johnny Manziel the starter. But the word out of Cleveland is that the job is Brian Hoyer’s to lose. That being said, there are some that expect Manziel to be the starter in the opener Sept. 7. That could certainly happen. Hoyer is coming off of a torn ACL and has limited NFL experience. But even though Hoyer has thrown just 192 NFL passes, the Browns’ brass likes what the 28-year-old has to offer. Plus, they don’t want to throw Manziel to the dogs – no pun intended. The Browns have done that with young quarterbacks in the past and it hasn’t worked out too well.
Cleveland wide receivers: If the Browns can’t figure out who the quarterback will be, does it matter who the receivers are? And vice versa. Josh Gordon, as of this writing, will be out for the entire 2014 season for off-field issues. That could change pending an appeal of his suspension, but don’t hold your breath. That leaves the door wide open for a No. 1 target in Cleveland. Tight end Jordan Cameron will likely wind up catching the most passes in this offense. But there’s a bevy of retreads that include Miles Austin, Nate Burleson and Andrew Hawkins. Given the injury histories of Austin and Burleson, the early money should be on Hawkins, who has excelled in the past as a slot receiver in Cincinnati.
Philadelphia wide receivers: With DeSean Jackson now in Washington and Jeremy Maclin coming off of a torn ACL, there’s definitely some big question marks in Philadelphia as to who will be catching passes in this fast-paced offense. Maclin's one-year anniversary of his ACL tear will come during camp, so he should be OK this season. But will it be Riley Cooper or second-round draft pick Jordan Matthews who gets most of the catches opposite Maclin? The book on Matthews in the draft was that he is a polished route runner, but Cooper had 47 receptions for 835 yards and eight scores in 2013 and has a nice rapport with quarterback Nick Foles. Cooper will open as the starter but could be pushed hard by Matthews.
New England running backs: If you’ve played fantasy football for more than one season, you know that nothing can be more frustrating than trying to guess what Bill Belichick’s running back rotation will be. This season could be no different. LeGarrette Blount is now in Pittsburgh, but Steven Ridley, Shane Vereern, Brandon Bolden and rookie James White will be vying for carries. Ridley had fumbling issues in 2013 that got him in the doghouse. But he still managed 773 yards rushing and seven scores. Vereen was more of the receiving threat, getting just 44 carries for 208 yards and a score while catching 47 passes for 427 yards and three touchdowns. Bolden was more of the mixed bag, getting 55 carries and catching 21 passes, while Blount added 772 yards on 153 carries. You see the problems. White is more of a scatback type, so it’s unlikely he becomes the lead back. Keep an eye on the situation because one or two of the New England running backs could wind up being valuable.
Oakland running backs: Darren McFadden enters camp as the starter, but given his injury history, well, you know. The Raiders added Maurice Jones-Drew in the offseason and he hasn’t been a guy to share carries in quite some time. He’s also had some injury issues of his own in recent years. The two have split first-team carries in the first few days of training camp, something that’s not good news for either one. An injury could play a huge part in this battle.
Carolina wide receivers: Basically, anyone who caught a significant number of passes from Cam Newton in 2013 is gone. The team drafted massive Kelvin Benjamin in the first round and he’ll probably start, but rookie receivers are a dicey proposition, especially ones that don’t necessarily run good routes. Jerricho Cotchery caught 10 touchdowns for the Steelers in 2013, while Tiquan Underwood and Jason Avant were also brought in as free agents. Cotchery has the most proven track record of any of that group and is probably the safest bet, but one of the others could emerge as an excellent deep threat. Newton likes to throw the deep ball.
Baltimore running backs: Who will be more valuable, Ray Rice or Bernard Pierce? The split in 2013 was about 60-40 in favor of Rice in terms of carries, while Rice was much more valuable in PPR leagues. Rice will be forced to sit out the first two games due to a suspension for off-field issues. That leaves an opening for Pierce to make a strong pitch to keep the job. But the Ravens also like rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro as well, and he could force his way into the conversation.
Detroit placekicker: For years, you didn’t have to think about who Detroit’s kicker would be. First it was Eddie Murray, then it was Jason Hanson. David Akers held down the job last season, but that was just a one-year thing. This year, it will be a battle between Nate Freese and Giorgio Tavecchio. The Lions invested a draft pick in Freese, so he’s the front-runner. Keep an eye on the situation. Considering the Lions play better than half their games indoors and also have a potent offense, the winner of the battle could be a nice sleeper.
New Orleans wide receivers: We know Jimmy Graham is the No. 1 option. We know that Marques Colston will probably be No. 2, though he’s not getting any younger. But there have always been plenty of catches to go around with Drew Brees throwing the ball. Kenny Stills will get an opportunity at an increased role, but the team also invested a first-round draft pick in Brandon Cooks. Robert Meachum is also hanging around, as is Joe Morgan, who caught just 10 passes last season but made them count for 379 yards and three scores.
Miami running backs: Knowshon Moreno was brought in as a free agent but has been slowed by a knee injury that required surgery. But he had 1,586 total yards for Denver last season, so he wasn’t brought in to be a backup. Until he’s back, however, the ball is back in Lamar Miller’s court. Daniel Thomas is also still hanging around. Miller looked the best of the group during the offseason sessions, but Moreno wasn’t brought in without reason.
New York Jets running backs: Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell both had their moments in 2013. Now the team has added speedy Chris Johnson to the mix. Johnson will likely open things up as the starter, but at this point Powell or Ivory might wind up being better options, especially if one can nail down a solid No. 2 role that includes short-yardage duties.
New York Jets quarterback: How do you create confidence for your second-year quarterback? You bring in Mike Vick. That’s what Geno Smith faces in New York right now. The Jets still believe in Smith, despite his 21 interceptions against just 12 TD passes in 2013. But if things go bad, there could be a lot of pressure to turn to Vick for a spark, especially considering Rex Ryan probably has to make the playoffs this season to keep his job. If Vick outperforms Smith in training camp and the preseason, that pressure only builds. I’ve been told by insiders that the only way Smith isn’t the starter is if he completely falls on his face.
Pittsburgh wide receivers: Antonio Brown is the clear-cut No. 1, but with Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery having both left in free agency, there’s a big hole opposite him. Lance Moore was brought in, but he’s more of a slot guy. Markus Wheaton will get the first opportunity to start, but he’ll be pushed by fellow second-year guy Justin Brown. Waiting in the wings are rookie Martavis Bryant and Darius Heyward-Bey, who is working on his third team in the past three seasons.
Minnesota quarterback: With Adrian Peterson carrying the ball and explosive targets such as emerging Cordarelle Patterson and Greg Jennings to throw it to, this could be an interesting battle to watch. Incumbent Christian Ponder has lived up to his last name and made fans ponder why the Vikings blew a first round pick on him a couple of years ago. Last season, he was benched at times in favor of Matt Cassell. Now you can add another first-round pick, Teddy Bridgewater, to the mix. Bridgewater will likely be given every chance to win this job.
St. Louis wide receivers: Tavon Austin is going to get a lot of use in his second season after being taken with the eighth- overall pick in last year’s draft. After that, it’s an interesting mix of Chris Givens, Brian Quick, Austin Pettis, Stedman Bailey and some guy named Kenny Britt, who was brought in after several trouble-filled and injury-shortened seasons in Tennessee. The guess here is that Britt emerges from the pack. He’s talented, but the off-field issues and injuries always held him back in Tennessee. He’s also the lone true proven NFL wideout on the roster.
F. Dale Lolley appears courtesy of the Observer-Reporter.