Previewing the Training Camp Battles
With offseason training activities and mini-camps cut down by the new collective bargaining agreement, training camp has become more important than ever before when it comes to position battles.
Here’s a look at some key battles for fantasy football owners as training camps open this week across the NFL:
Philadelphia quarterback: Michael Vick and Nick Foles have been joined by rookie Matt Barkley. Make no mistake, Vick is still the most talented, but first-year coaches have a grace period, and at 33, Vick is a lot closer to the end of his career than he is his prime. Foles showed flashes of being a legitimate NFL QB last season, but was a little too loose with the ball, losing eight fumbles while attempting just 161 passes. The bet here is that Vick opens as the starter, but his track record shows that he won’t play all 16 games.
Oakland quarterback: With Carson Palmer now in Arizona, the competition will be between Matt Flynn, acquired in an offseason trade, and Terrelle Pryor, a former third-round supplemental draft pick. Flynn failed to beat out Russell Wilson last season in Seattle and Pryor has some similar talents to Wilson. In his one start last season, Pryor completed less than half of his passes, but did account for three TDs. Still, he’s raw and Flynn is the early frontrunner, even though he’s got just a couple of NFL starts under his belt as well. Editor's Note: Rookie Tyler Wilson is also in the mix after impressing at minicamp.
Jacksonville quarterback: A choice between Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne might not seem like any choice at all, but Henne played well – or at least OK – down the stretch last season to show that he’s better at this point than Gabbert. New head coach Gus Bradley wasn’t part of the “brain trust” that made Gabbert a first-round pick, so Henne may be able to overtake Gabbert, who opens camp as the starter.
Buffalo quarterback: Kevin Kolb vs. Tarvaris Jackson vs. E.J. Manuel.
New head coach Doug Marrone acquired Kolb and Jackson in the offseason, then made the surprising move of taking Manuel in the first round of the draft, showing that he wasn’t married to the idea of moving forward in the long term with either veteran quarterback. Kolb has the most experience, but Manuel is the future for the Bills. Buffalo might not want to throw the rookie to the wolves, but after the rookie QB class of 2012 went out and performed well, there are no guarantees that the Bills won’t decide to let him learn on the job, either.
N.Y. Jets quarterback: In 62 career games, Mark Sanchez has a 71.7 passer rating and has accounted for 95 turnovers – 69 interceptions, 26 lost fumbles. In Geno Smith, the Jets finally have somebody to press Sanchez for the starting position, if not right away, then at some point in the near future. The key to watch in this battle will be how well Smith plays in the preseason. If he shows himself capable of running the offense early on, he’ll be the starter. The Jets know what they have in Sanchez, and it’s nothing special.
Cincinnati running back: Benjarvus Green-Ellis went over 1,000 yards and scored six touchdowns in his first season with the Bengals, but the team grabbed Giovani Bernard in the draft. The sure-handed Green-Ellis still has two years remaining on a three-year, $9-million deal he signed last year, so it’s likely he’ll remain the starter, at least early in the season. But don’t be surprised for Bernard steals more carries as the year moves on.
Pittsburgh running back: Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman, the team’s top rushers from 2012, have been joined by rookie LeVeon Bell. The Steelers made Bell the second running back taken in the draft because they felt he was an every-down back, something neither Dwyer nor Redman can claim. The Steelers have been unhappy with Dwyer’s conditioning and though he opened the offseason at the top of the depth chart, it was obvious that Redman had passed him in the pecking order by the time things had finished. But when it’s all said and done, don’t be surprised if Bell is the full-time starter.
Green Bay running back: The Packers selected Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin in the draft to add to the bevy of nameless, faceless veterans they have been handing the ball to occasionally the past two seasons. Lacy has the pedigree, but took a beating in his time at Alabama. Franklin, meanwhile, might be a better fit in the Green Bay offense as both a runner and pass catcher. The Packers haven’t had a 1,000-yard rusher since Ryan Grant in 2009, and the job could be a time share again in 2013. Lacy will be the sexy pick among fantasy drafters, but Franklin could wind up getting more touches with Lacy being a short-yardage runner. Editor's Note: DuJuan Harris was impressive to close the season, and will also be in the mix for carries.
Denver running back: The Broncos released Willis McGahee in June, clearing up the picture a little. But rookie Montee Ball and veterans Knowshon Moreno and Ronnie Hillman remain. All veteran fantasy owners know that Broncos head coach John Fox knows how to get multiple running backs enough touches to make them valuable, but the early bet is that Ball, a second-round pick, becomes the main ball carrier, with Hillman being a change-of-pace, third-down back. Moreno is the wildcard. The former 1,000-yard back will probably open camp as the starter but the coaching staff will give Ball every opportunity to beat him out.