Ranking the Most Important Training Camp Battles for Fantasy Football 2022
Fantasy football value exists at the intersection of talent and opportunity.
NFL training camp provides fantasy football managers with a glimpse into both factors. Inevitably, there are going to be reports across the league of players who are impressing their coaches. More importantly, we may get some answers on some of the more intriguing position battles.
As players jockey for position up and down depth charts, fantasy managers will need to stay ahead of the curve to look smart in their drafts.
Not all opportunities are created equal, though. For instance, the Chargers offense was able to produce two top-12 wide receivers in PPR scoring (Keenan Allen and Mike Williams) while the Jacksonville Jaguars' offense didn't have a receiver land in the top 32, per FantasyPros.
Here, we'll examine some of the most prominent position battles taking place in training camps ranked by how significant they should be to fantasy managers based on the opportunity to produce a difference-maker on fantasy teams in 2022.
8. Houston Texans: Running Back
Top Contenders: Marlon Mack vs. Dameon Pierce vs. Rex Burkhead
Any starting running back in the NFL has some value on opportunity alone.
The Houston Texans backfield put that to the test last year with the worst run game in the league, but Rex Burkhead actually went over 10 points in PPR leagues in three of the last four games of the fantasy season last year.
The Texans are still clearly in rebuild mode. However, the offensive line isn't terrible. They are ranked 22nd in PFF's preseason rankings and still have Laremy Tunsil at left tackle.
If the 32-year-old Burkhead seizes the job, it will be a bit disappointing because the other two options have some upside on paper.
Marlon Mack has been relatively unproductive but will now be two years removed from the torn Achilles he suffered in 2020. The additional recovery time could see him return to the form he showed in 2019 when he finished as a fringe RB2 with over 1,000 yards rushing.
Fourth-round draft pickDameon Pierce could also carve out a role. He scored 16 touchdowns for Florida last season and profiles as a goal-line back in the league. He runs with real power behind his compact 5'9", 218-pound frame.
Pierce has the highest ADP of the bunch at 126, which means any of them can be had as late-round fliers. If it's shaping up to be a committee in camp, they are probably not worth drafting. However, if one is clearly looking the best in the preseason, they could prove to be a valuable late-round selection.
7. Dallas Cowboys: No. 3 Wide Receiver
Top Contenders: James Washington vs. Jalen Tolbert
Targeting players on good offenses is generally a good strategy, so when there's a clear need for a team that finished No. 1 in scoring and yards, it's best to pay attention.
This offseason, the Cowboys prioritized keeping Michael Gallup and Dalton Schultz over Amari Cooper and Cedrick Wilson, but that still leaves behind 165 targets from last season.
Gallup and Schultz are threats to take over bigger roles, but there's evidence the Cowboys' offense can make a third receiver fantasy relevant.
For starters, there's uncertainty about Gallup's health. The receiver is coming off a torn ACL, and Jon Machota of The Athletic reported he's, "unlikely to be ready for the beginning of the season."
Machota also noted that Tolbert is expected to start Week 1.
That's a pre-camp nugget that should pique the interest of fantasy managers. The third-round pick out of South Alabama will have to battle it out with James Washington to be the de facto No. 2 receiver until Gallup comes back.
Obviously, Schultz could take on a bigger role and squeeze out both receivers from being fantasy relevant, but he would have to become a much better deep threat. Last season, his average depth of target was just 7.1.
Gallup (11.5), Cooper (11.0) and Wilson (9.5) were much more involved in the vertical passing game.
Now, Washington and Tolbert are in a position to be a vertical threat in one of the league's most explosive offenses. That could help one of them become more valuable than their current ADP (WR105 for Washington and WR68 for Tolbert).
6. Seattle Seahawks: Running Back
Top Contenders: Rashaad Penny vs. Kenneth Walker III
If this were just about talent, the battle between Rashaad Penny and Kenneth Walker III would be much higher on this list.
But opportunity matters, and this is a Seattle Seahawks offense that just doesn't have a high ceiling with Drew Lock or Geno Smith at the helm.
Still, Penny turned into a league-winner down the stretch in 2021. He scored at least 19.5 points in four of the last five games of the season.
Now, he'll square off against Walker for the title of lead back. Walker was the No. 2 running back on Bleacher Report's final big board for the 2022 draft. The Seahawks made him the 41st pick in the draft, indicating he will factor into their plans.
It's a talented duo stuck on a team that doesn't figure to win a lot of games or be in a position to run the ball.
Then again, it wouldn't be all that surprising to see Pete Carroll running inside zone down 21 points in the fourth quarter, either. Smith averaged just 26 pass attempts in his three starts last season, with the Seahawks going 1-2 in those three games.
5. Kansas City Chiefs: Running Back
Top Contenders: Clyde Edwards-Helaire vs. Ronald Jones II
Thus far, Clyde Edwards-Helaire has not lived up to the hype as a first-round pick in the 2020 draft. Last season, he was 30th among running backs in PPR points per game and ended up only playing in 10 games because of a sprained MCL.
Now, the third-year back will see real competition from Ronald Jones II, who signed a one-year $1.5 million contract this offseason.
Head coach Andy Reid referred to his belief in competition when asked about Edwards-Helaire's role this season, per Nate Taylor of The Athletic:
“You don’t look over your shoulder, man. Just work on your game, but there’s going to be competition. Maximize what you can do, and then you don’t have to worry about anything else.”
The potential in the passing game is obvious with Patrick Mahomes at the helm. But there's the improvement of the offensive line to consider as well. Last season, Orlando Brown, Joe Thuney and Creed Humphrey were all newcomers on the offensive front.
With a year to jell and get comfortable with the offense, they could be even better in 2022.
Edwards-Helaire needs to show he's healthy after missing a large swath of last season. Jones needs to show he has improved as a pass-catcher after catching just 10 passes with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season.
If one can pull away from the other, they could become a steal in drafts. The potential to be in a high-powered offense moves them up the list, but the likelihood of a timeshare in a pass-heavy attack keeps them out of the top half.
4. Baltimore Ravens: Running Back
Top Contenders: J.K. Dobbins vs. Gus Edwards vs. Mike Davis
The Baltimore Ravens running back room was destroyed by injuries last season, and they still finished 11th in rushing play percentage. In 2020, when they didn't lose both multiple running backs to injury they were the most run-heavy team in the league.
The bottom line is that the offensive coordinator wants to run the ball. That isn't going to change with both J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards working their way back from the injuries that cost them last season.
The Ravens were comfortable trading Marquise Brown to the Arizona Cardinals despite a lack of proven options at receiver. That's a pretty good indication they plan to go back to running the football at a high rate again this year.
The problem is that both Dobbins and Edwards are starting camp out on the Physically Unable to Perform list. If either of them continues to be on that list, they will miss at least the first four games of the season.
Conversely, if one gets ahead of the other in their recovery, they would get the first crack at taking a job that could be a fantasy goldmine.
So while this is not a traditional training camp battle, the race to see who can get healthy and make an impression in camp is vital for fantasy drafters.
Mike Davis is worth a look if both Dobbins and Edwards remain on the sideline. He failed to take the Falcons job last season, but this Ravens offense made Devonta Freeman relevant to fantasy managers.
It could do the same for Davis.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Running Back
Top Contenders: Travis Etienne vs. James Robinson
The Jaguars' offense was downright toxic for fantasy managers last season, but that doesn't mean the team should be completely ignored in 2022.
For one, Doug Pederson's presence in Jacksonville lends some credibility to the offense. He had Philadelphia in the top half of the league offensively more often than not as head coach.
One thing he could have in his arsenal is a duo of talented running backs.
James Robinson finished as RB7 in 2020 as a rookie. Unfortunately, he fell out of favor with Urban Meyer and saw a major drop in his usage before a torn Achilles ended his season.
Now, he's working his way back from the injury. John Reid of the Florida Times-Union pointed out that Cam Akers came back from the same ailment in five-and-a-half months, but uncertainty remains around Robinson's return.
"When I'm ready, I'll be ready," Robinson said. "I'm just letting my body recover from it. I'm not trying to rush anything. I've just stayed focused and tried not to get too down about it. I knew I could come back from it. I've just tried to be strongminded."
Travis Etienne will also be looking to bounce back from injury. The Jags took the three-time All-American with the 25th pick right after Najee Harris. However, a Lisfranc injury to his left foot held him out all season.
If Pederson works his magic and Lawrence takes a step forward, the Jaguars could actually support some relevant fantasy assets. The potential for Etienne or Robinson to be a No. 1 back for fantasy teams makes their training camp battle one of the most intriguing to watch.
2. Kansas City Chiefs Receivers
Top Contenders: JuJu Smith-Schuster vs. Marquez Valdes-Scantling vs. Skyy Moore vs. Mecole Hardman
The Kansas City Chiefs offense has been one of the most explosive in the league with Patrick Mahomes at quarterback. Now, the team enters 2022 with a completely reshuffled deck at the receiver position.
Trading away Tyreek Hill left 159 vacated targets. The departure of Demarcus Robinson and Byron Pringle left 101 more available.
Waiting to stake their claim of the 260 targets are new additions in Smith-Schuster, Valdes-Scantling and Moore, with Hardman serving as the incumbent looking to expand his role.
The uncertainty has created the potential for any one of them to become a steal in the draft. Smith-Schuster carries the highest ADP as the 35th wide receiver coming off boards in drafts on average.
It seems unlikely that a Kansas City receiver won't at least finish in the top 24 fantasy receivers, thus becoming at least a WR2 and outperforming their ADP.
The trick is going to be identifying who is establishing a quick rapport with Mahomes and finding the right value.
The potential for one of these receivers to become an integral part of a Mahomes-led offense is huge for fantasy managers. However, Travis Kelce's presence as the de facto No. 1 receiver in the offense keeps the Chiefs receivers out of the top spot.
1. Green Bay Packers Wide Receivers
Top Contenders: Allen Lazard vs. Randall Cobb vs. Sammy Watkins vs. Christian Watson
Davante Adams' trade to the Las Vegas Raiders this offseason has broken the Green Bay Packers' passing attack wide open.
Adams has been a fantasy football monster, putting up back-to-back top-two seasons in PPR formats as a target hawk with Aaron Rodgers.
The 29-year-old drew 169 targets and was second in target share, per Player Profiler. With Adams and Marquez Valdes-Scantling gone, there are 224 vacated targets in an offense that finished top 10 in yards and touchdowns.
It leaves significant upside for those who can figure out which Packers receiver to target in drafts.
While no one is going to get the same target share as Adams, it will be important to keep an eye on who Rodgers is developing with. Looking at Average Draft Position, someone is going to become a league-winner from this offense.
Allen Lazard is the highest drafted player at 113 overall, making him the 46th receiver off the board. Christian Watson (130 overall, WR56), Sammy Watkins (203, WR70) and Randall Cobb (247, WR79) are behind him.
That makes sense based on Lazard's production last season. He had 40 catches for 513 yards and eight touchdowns, making him the most productive returning receiver.
However, the entire hierarchy could be remade in camp, meaning we don't truly know who is going to be the No. 1 receiver in a Matt LaFleur-coached offense with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback.
Fantasy scoring data and Average Draft Position via FantasyPros.