Fantasy Football 2014: Analyzing Impact of Major NFL Training-Camp Battles

Garrett BakerSenior Analyst IJune 26, 2014

Fantasy Football 2014: Analyzing Impact of Major NFL Training-Camp Battles

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The early summer is often overlooked in the media for the NFL, but smart fantasy owners paying attention to minicamps and training camp can give themselves a leg up on their competition.

    There are some position battles from training camp that are mostly straightforward, like at quarterback or running back (for some teams). Whoever wins the battle will be the one playing, and is therefore the primary fantasy option.

    But in other cases, especially with wide receivers, it's not that simple, and there is a unique element of prediction involved.

    Here is an analysis of the most fantasy-relevant battles from training camp this offseason, as well as some predictions about how they will impact the upcoming season.

St. Louis Running Backs

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Let's be clear: St. Louis Rams' lead running back role is Zac Stacy's to lose. But I'm not the only one who thinks that Tre Mason will have plenty of opportunity to fight for carries.

    Stacy looked very good in 2013 as a rookie, but he was still a fifth-round pick. Tre Mason, taken in the third round of this year's draft, was a monster at Auburn, racking up 1,816 yards as a senior.

    Head coach Jeff Fisher has no problem mixing and riding his running backs. Stacy and Mason are both solid all-around backs who run low and strong, and who are able to take a lot of carries and stay physical.

    Most likely, Stacy will enter the regular season as the No. 1 back. But Mason could easily push for more carries as the season wears on, and it wouldn't be a shock if they got close to 50-50 at some points during the year.

    This is more relevant to Stacy's value than Mason's. While Mason will likely never be more than a bench player this season, his presence should keep Stacy in the mid-second round and only an RB2 with the potential to slide.

Philadelphia Wide Receivers

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    Matt Rourke/Associated Press

    Jeremy Maclin is coming back from an ACL tear, DeSean Jackson is now in Washington and the Eagles spent two high picks on wide receivers.

    Suffice to say, things will be very interesting for Chip Kelly in 2014. Maclin will likely be the No. 1 receiver, but he shouldn't hog carries by any stretch.

    Riley Cooper could end up being a very good value pick if he builds on his 2013 season, when he had five seasons of 74 yards or more to go along with eight touchdowns.

    But second-round pick Jordan Matthews and third-round pick Josh Huff will both challenge the veterans for targets. Matthews is a great all-around receiver while Huff has some explosive qualities not unlike the departed Jackson's.

    My bet is that Cooper ends up with the best stat line—as long as Foles stays healthy—and Matthews ends up being a quality flex option and good draft value. 

New England Running Backs

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    Honestly, who knows what to expect from Bill Belichick. Stevan Ridley was a consensus top-15 running back before the 2013 season, but his stock fell after a disappointing year.

    Shane Vereen was very good in spurts last year, but also missed some games and is more of a pass-catching threat who is now threatened by rookies James White.

    Don't forget about Brandon Bolden, and underrated back who could sneak in and steal some carries as well. All four of these guys could get a decent amount of touches.

    I wouldn't go anywhere near Ridley early, and only take Vereen if it's later in the draft. White could be a sleeper, but probably isn't worth a draft pick.

Oakland Running Backs

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    Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

    Now we've got ourselves a good old-fashioned battle between two washed up veteran running backs. But don't disregard the potential fantasy impact that the battle during Raiders' training camp will have.

    Darren McFadden is the incumbent, but he's been really disappointing in five of his six NFL seasons. Maurice Jones-Drew still has talent, but has been buried by injuries and Jacksonville's putrid offenses in recent years.

    MJD seems to think they can compete and then work together to be a dangerous duo, but I'm not so sure. This situation is so tricky because it's hard to figure out how Oakland will juggle the carries of these two.

    My advice? Take whichever back is drafted second in your draft. Even if one of them begins to emerge as the lead guy, it might not be for long—and a near 50-50 split wouldn't be surprising. Value is the key.

Cleveland Quarterbacks

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    This has been arguably the most talked about story of training camps so far. Dawgs By Nature has a detailed breakdown of the battle between Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel, but they don't discuss any fantasy implications.

    Mary Kay Cabot reported last week that Mike Pettine has said that Hoyer is the clear No. 1 guy right now, but remember that it's still only June.

    Let's also take into consideration the fact that Hoyer has started just four games in his career and is coming off an ACL injury. 

    If you're drafting a Cleveland quarterback, it should be with your last non-defense/kicker pick, and it should be Manziel. Hoyer may be the opening-day starter, but there's a very high chance that Manziel comes in and replaces him at some point. 

Carolina Wide Receivers

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    This is such a wide-open battle at this stage that it's almost impossible to evaluate. Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell and Ted Ginn are all gone.

    Kelvin Benjamin is the biggest name here as a rookie first-round pick, but Jerricho Cotchery and Tiquan Underwood have some talent as well. And don't forget about former Eagle Jason Avant, who has some of the best hands in football and could excel in the slot.

    It's hard to get a read on how these guys will be drafted, so you'll have to check out their ADP's before your own draft. But someone has to catch Cam Newton's bullets, and I think that Benjamin, Cotchery and Avant are the most intriguing fantasy players, in that order as well.

    If Benjamin is getting picked too highly because of his big name, then Cotchery could be a nice value in the later rounds.

New Orleans Running Backs

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    Another year, another glut of running backs in New Orleans. This year, however, Darren Sproles is gone and there could be some space for a new guy to step up.

    The offense will always belong to Drew Brees and the passing game, but Brees loves to use his running backs on short routes that allow them to pick up big chunks of yardage after the catch. That makes Pierre Thomas a relevant and intriguing late-round pickup yet again as a dangerous third-down player.

    But Mark Ingram should be given a solid opportunity to assume a more prominent role in 2014. The only thing holding him back is Khiry Robinson, who showed flashes as a rookie last season.

    I'm still going to hold off on Ingram, because I think that if he falters even a little, then Robinson and Thomas will swoop in to steal touches and he could become completely irrelevant.

    In PPR leagues, Thomas is definitely the most valuable of the three, but it's a toss-up in standard formats. Steer clear for now.