On July 18, the Baltimore Ravens became the first team of the season to have their veterans report for training camp. They were followed by the Chicago Bears the next day. You can see the dates in which your team will report to training camp here:

NFL training camp is a special time of year. After a long, brutal offseason (which is usually made worse by national praising of the Patriots after another Super Bowl win, but shout-out to the Eagles for sparing us this year), we finally get to see our teams back in uniform and get to hear pads cracking together as the season draws closer.

Training camp is also a time for us to see how teams decide who their starters will be – every team likes to say that “every position is up for grabs”, but c’mon, is DeShone Kizer really a threat to Aaron Rodgers? I digress. The positions we should focus on, as fantasy football players, are the ones that aren’t sealed tighter than Bill Belichick’s lips in a post-game press conference.

 

NFC West

 

Arizona Cardinals – Sam Bradford vs Josh Rosen

Sam Bradford signed a hefty two-year/$40 million contract with the Cardinals this offseason after playing in only two games with the Vikings last season. As for Josh Rosen, the Cardinals traded away the No. 15 overall pick along with their second- and third-rounders in the 2018 Draft in order to snag the UCLA product at No. 10 overall. What I’m saying is that the Cardinals have spent a good amount of capital on both quarterbacks and stand to lose something when only one is made the starter.

Prediction: Sam Bradford will win the starting role for Week 1. Someday it will be Josh Rosen’s team, but Bradford has a veteran presence that the Cardinals could use after losing their head coach, even given his history with injuries. Regardless, I would look elsewhere for your fantasy quarterback.

 

Side Notes

  • Double-check that Rashaad Penny gets the starting role in Seattle
    • Rumor has it that Penny could get competition from Chris Carson, but should win the starting gig
  • Look for how Brandin Cooks transitions to his new offense in Los Angeles
  • See if Brandon Marshall makes an impact in Seattle (or even the roster)

 

NFC North

 

Green Bay Packers – Ty Montgomery vs Jamaal Williams vs Aaron Jones

This will likely be one of my favorite position battles to watch this training camp – unless it ends up being a running-back-by-committee. All three running backs have arguments for and against them to win the starting role for the Packers. Ty Montgomery has gotten bigger and stronger this offseason, but never had more than 60 rushing yards in any of his eight games last season. Jamaal Williams is the best pass-blocker of the three and got double-digit carries in his last eight games but had a “meh” 3.6 yards per carry and got more than 70 rushing yards in a game only twice last season. Aaron Jones has also bulked up this offseason, and in four of his 12 games last season rushed 62 times for 346 yards and three touchdowns (good for an average 5.6 yards per carry), but has been suspended the first two games and will miss valuable time to fight for the starting role.

Prediction: RBBC until proven otherwise. Coach McCarthy has said that Green Bay will take the committee approach, but also that there will be room for someone to impress and take on a bigger role. If I had to choose one back to be my starter, I would pick Aaron Jones by a nose simply because he is the best runner of the three – but it would be close, and I don’t think you could go wrong with any of the three. Regardless, again, that makes it difficult to rely on any of these backs for fantasy purposes. I wouldn’t, however, be opposed to snagging one of the three in the later rounds in case they perform well in camp or the early stages of the season.

 

Detroit Lions – Kerryon Johnson vs LeGarrette Blount

The Detroit Lions haven’t had much success in the backfield lately. In 2017, the Lions finished dead-last in rushing yards per game (76.3) and total rushing yards (1,221), while finishing second-to-last in rushing attempts (363). For some perspective, the Jacksonville Jaguars finished with 141.4 rushing yards per game, 2,262 total rushing yards, and 527 rushing attempts – all good for best in the league. In an attempt to turn that around, the Lions signed LeGarrette Blount to a one-year deal and traded up in the draft to pick Kerryon Johnson out of Auburn.

Prediction: Kerryon Johnson will be the starter Week 1 and throughout the season, but Blount could still get some short-yardage and goal-line work. Kerryon Johnson was the 2017 SEC Offensive Player of the Year while leading the SEC in rushing attempts (285), rushing yards (1,585), and total touchdowns (20) – all categories the Lions struggle with. The Lions even traded up to get Johnson in the draft. Meanwhile, Blount rushed for just two touchdowns in 2017 and was signed to a one-year deal. Blount is a better smash-mouth back than Johnson, but Johnson is the one who can turn Detroit’s running game around. All aboard the Kerryon hype train!

 

Side Notes

  • Watch if, and how, the Tarik Cohen hype translates to Matt Nagy’s gameplan in Chicago.

 

NFC East

 

Dallas Cowboys – Entire Receiving Corps

This is basically just a PSA to remind fantasy owners to keep an eye on who might fill Dez Bryant’s and Jason Witten’s role of lead pass catchers in Dallas. Tavon Austin was acquired in a trade with the Rams during the draft, Michael Gallup was drafted in the third round out of Colorado State, Cole Beasley has been in the offense before, and the list goes on and on. Just keep an eye out for anyone in Dallas not named Ezekiel Elliott.

Prediction: One Cowboys receiver will have a better year than the others…but don’t quote me on that.

 

Side Notes

  • Keep an eye on Jay Ajayi’s reps in camp and how Darren Sproles transitions back in from injury
    • Also watch Corey Clement, it could be worth taking a flier on him this season if he gets decent work
  • Watch how Paul Richardson transitions to his new offense in Washington and who comes out as the favorite receiver there

 

NFC South

 

Not a whole lot changing up in this division – if it ain’t broke don’t fix it!

 

Side Notes

  • Who will fill Ingram’s role during his suspension?
  • Watch how rookie WRs Calvin Ridley and D.J. Moore produce in camp
  • Check that Ronald Jones gets the starting role, or at least majority role, in Tampa Bay

 

AFC West

 

Oakland Raiders – Marshawn Lynch vs Doug Martin

Marshawn Lynch had an overall inconsistent return to the NFL in 2017. His carries per game ranged anywhere between two and 26 and his yards per game ranged anywhere from nine to 101 (which he notched twice). Lynch proved that he still has that Beast Mode force, but the Raiders offense as a whole just couldn’t find its stride. The Raiders signed Doug Martin, another inconsistent back as of late, to a one-year deal. Both backs are extremely talented, which gives them high ceilings, but haven’t shown up as a whole in recent seasons.

Prediction: Running-back-by-committee, though I’m leaning more towards Marshawn Lynch. Though inconsistent in 2017, Lynch had solid games and ended the year with 4.3 yards per carry. I say I’m leaning towards Marshawn Lynch because he has less ground to cover in order to get back to his high standard and has a “warmup” season with Oakland. I’ll most likely be taking fliers on these two backs in drafts this year, but more will be on Marshawn Lynch than Doug Martin.

 

Denver Broncos – Devontae Booker vs Royce Freeman

With C.J. Anderson packed up and in Carolina, the Denver backfield is ripe for the picking. In 2017, Devontae Booker rushed 79 times for 299 yards (3.8 YPC) and one touchdown. The Broncos drafted Royce Freeman out of Oregon and signed him to a four-year deal this offseason. With new quarterback Case Keenum and a strong offensive line, this is a great backfield to invest in.

Prediction: Royce Freeman will get the starting gig Week 1, or at least own the majority of carries. Freeman is the more talented running back and Denver needs some new blood in their backfield. I wouldn’t be surprised if Denver went with a committee, which they’ve been hinting at, but Booker has had his chance to contest the starting role and it’s time for Freeman to take over.

 

Side Notes

  • Watch how, if at all, Sammy Watkins impacts Tyreek Hill’s role in Kansas City and how both receivers mesh with Patrick Mahomes
  • Who fills the tight end role if the Chargers choose not to re-sign Antonio Gates?

 

AFC North

 

Baltimore Ravens – Alex Collins vs Kenneth Dixon vs Javorius “Buck” Allen

It’s certainly a crowded backfield in Baltimore, and they aren’t afraid to use a committee or ride the hot hand. Kenneth Dixon missed the 2017 season with a torn meniscus, while Collins and Allen dueled for carries. Alex Collins averaged 4.6 yards per carry while Javorius Allen averaged 3.9. Alex Collins had 973 rushing yards and six touchdowns on 212 attempts while Javorius Allen had 591 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 153 attempts.

Prediction: Alex Collins is the back to own in Baltimore and will produce better numbers in 2018. Collins had double-digit carries in the last 12 of his 15 games in 2017. He was on the cusp of a 1,000-yard season and averaged the aforementioned 4.6 yards per carry. He’s more talented than Javorius Allen and he’s not coming off a major injury like Kenneth Dixon.

 

Cleveland Browns – Carlos Hyde vs Nick Chubb

The Cleveland backfield is looking better than it did in 2017, now armed with a proven veteran and a talented rookie. The Browns signed said veteran, Carlos Hyde, to a three-year/$15 million deal this offseason and drafted said rookie, Nick Chubb, out of Georgia in this year’s draft.

Prediction: Carlos Hyde will get the starting role Week 1 but will be on a short leash. Hyde has rushed for over 900 yards in each of his last two seasons and has averaged over four yards per carry in each season except 2017. Chubb had success in college that can translate to the NFL, but Hyde is a better foundation on which to rebuild the running game in Cleveland. That being said, and if this comes true, Chubb is a great handcuff to own in case he takes over or the Cleveland backfield uses a one-two punch.

 

Side Notes

  • Baker Mayfield is developing and while he may not be ready to contest the starting role against Tyrod Taylor, should get his shot this season – because it’s the Cleveland Browns.

 

AFC East

 

New York Jets – Sam Darnold vs Josh McCown vs Teddy Bridgewater

The Jets drafted Sam Darnold with the third overall pick in this year’s draft but, according to head coach Todd Bowles, will enter training camp with him third on the depth chart. Josh McCown is the favorite to start Week 1 and Teddy Bridgewater has looked impressive in offseason workouts.

Prediction: Josh McCown will be the starter Week 1. The Jets need his veteran presence as they rebuild their offense. The offense will belong to Sam Darnold someday, but it won’t help fantasy owners much. Bottom line is to stay away from these quarterbacks until proven otherwise or absolutely necessary.

 

New England Patriots – Running Backs

I’ll be honest with you, it could be anybody and nobody all at the same time. There’s Rex Burkhead, James White, Jeremy Hill, Mike Gillislee, and rookie Sony Michel all on the Patriots unofficial depth chart. Rex Burkhead and James White have been getting reps with the first-team offense in team OTAs while Sony Michel inked a four-year deal and proved his talent in college.

Prediction: If I had to put money on it, I would bet that New England will go with a committee once again. Burkhead has talent, White is a Super Bowl hero, and Michel rushed for over 1,200 yards and 16 touchdowns at Georgia, but I’m staying away from the New England backfield until further notice because there is too much parity to feel secure in drafting any one back.

 

Side Notes

  • Keep an eye on Terrelle Pryor’s and Isaiah Crowell’s roles with the Jets
  • Check how Frank Gore impacts Kenyan Drake’s role in Miami

 

AFC South

 

Nothing to see here, folks, keep it moving!

 

Side Notes

  • See how Dion Lewis impacts Derrick Henry’s role in Tennessee
  • Watch how the Jaguars’ receiving corps shakes out (Lee and Moncrief projected as Nos. 1 and 2, respectively)
  • Keep an eye on the Lamar Miller-D’Onta Foreman shares in the Houston backfield
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