Fantasy Football 2020: Most Pivotal Position Battles of NFL Training Camps

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistJuly 25, 2020

Fantasy Football 2020: Most Pivotal Position Battles of NFL Training Camps

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    Uncredited/Associated Press

    The NFL has reportedly scrapped the preseason for 2020, which means the first time we see players on the field will be in Week 1.

    This creates a tricky situation for coaches and team decision-makers, as position battles will have to be conducted entirely in training camp. This, in turn, makes things more difficult for fantasy managers as they head into draft season—relying on preseason stats and snap counts won't be an option this year.

    Instead, fantasy diehards will want to pay special attention to some of the key storylines in camp.

    Here, we'll run down the most pivotal position battles—as they relate to fantasy—and what to watch for as camps begin to open around the league.

Honorable Mentions

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    New Bengals QB Joe Burrow
    New Bengals QB Joe BurrowCharlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    The following position battles shouldn't have a massive impact on the fantasy landscape, but they are worth keeping one eye on during training camp.


    Cincinnati Bengals Quarterback Battle

    If rookie quarterback and No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow can't beat out Ryan Finley and Jacob Dolegala for the Cincinnati Bengals' starting job, that's a serious problem. Burrow is arguably the most NFL-ready of the league's rookie quarterbacks, and he faces the most underwhelming competition.

    However, it's never smart to ink in a rookie quarterback for the starting job. Burrow could have some sleeper value if he performs well in camp, but he should be a draft afterthought if he struggles.


    Miami Dolphins Running Back Battle

    The Miami Dolphins are likely to start either free-agent addition Jordan Howard or trade acquisition Matt Breida in 2020. Both have been starters in the past, and the winner of the lead-back role will have moderate fantasy value.

    However, Miami ranked dead last in both rushing attempts and rushing yards in 2019 and is likely to use a committee approach this season. Unless Howard or Breida starts trending as a true workhorse back, there isn't a lot of high-end fantasy drama.


    Indianapolis Colts Running Back Battle

    The Indianapolis Colts face a similar situation. Their backfield is loaded with the likes of Marlon Mack, Nyheim Hines, Jordan Wilkins and rookie Jonathan Taylor. This too should be a committee backfield as Mack leads the rushing attack and Hines (44 receptions in 2019) provides PPR value.

    However, Taylor could cut heavily into Mack's rushing role. If that appears inevitable in camp, Mack should be valued accordingly in fantasy drafts.


    Green Bay Packers Running Back Battle

    As is the case in Indianapolis, Green Bay's leading rusher shouldn't change before the start of the seasons. Aaron Jones led the NFL with 16 rushing touchdowns last season, and he should remain the starter. However, rookie AJ Dillon could push for early playing time.

    Most likely, this will hurt complementary back Jamaal Williams more than Jones, though it's worth paying some attention to the Packers' backfield dynamic during camp.


    Chiefs Running Back Battle

    Rookie running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, the 32nd overall pick, is likely to be a popular target among fantasy enthusiasts on draft day. However, even if he beats out 2019 starter Damien Williams, he probably won't possess elite fantasy value.

    The Chiefs are likely to keep Williams a significant piece of the rushing attack—they exercised his $2.3 million option this offseason—and shouldn't lean heavily on the run anyway. As long as Patrick Mahomes is healthy, the offense is going to run through him.

Houston Texans No. 1 Receiver Battle

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    Texans WR Will Fuller V
    Texans WR Will Fuller VAssociated Press

    When the Texans open camp, their biggest question will be staring them in the face: How on earth will they replace DeAndre Hopkins in the offense?

    When Houston traded Hopkins to the Arizona Cardinals, it gave Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray one of the most reliable pass-catchers in the game. It also left Deshaun Watson without his No. 1 wideout and fantasy managers with several questions about the Texans offense.

    First of all, managers need to figure out if Houston is going to have a new No. 1 wideout or use a receiver-by-committee approach a la the New England Patriots in recent years. If there isn't a clear-cut No. 1, then there might not be a Texans receiver worth targeting in the early rounds of fantasy drafts.

    Brandin Cooks is closer to being a No. 1 than guys like Will Fuller V, Kenny Stills and Randall Cobb, as he's had four 1,000-yard seasons in six years. At 5'10" and 183 pounds, however, he is a far different receiver than Hopkins and may not fill the same role in the Texans offense.

    If one of the aforementioned wideouts does emerge as Watson's new favorite target, he should be the first Houston receiver targeted on draft day.

Miami Dolphins Quarterback Battle

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    Dolphins QB Ryan Fitzpatrick
    Dolphins QB Ryan FitzpatrickCharles Krupa/Associated Press

    The Miami Dolphins' quarterback battle is worth following for a couple of reasons. For one, rookie Tua Tagovailoa has more upside than journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick and could make that evident during training camp.

    "The more compelling question isn't whether Tagovailoa starts at some point this year; it's whether he will start at the beginning of it," Bleacher Report's Mike Freeman wrote in May. "And according to every coach I've spoken to, it's a foregone conclusion that he will beat out veteran journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick and start Week 1 against the Patriots on Sept. 13."

    If Tagovailoa does win the starting job, he should have some fantasy sleeper value.

    It's just as important to note, though, that while Tagovailoa may have more upside than Fitzpatrick, he doesn't have established chemistry with wideout DeVante Parker.

    Parker racked up 1,202 yards and nine touchdowns on 72 receptions last season, and he should be highly valued on draft day. However, his value could take a hit if Tagovailoa beats out the Bearded Bomber in camp.

Minnesota Vikings Wide Receiver Battle

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    Vikings WR Adam Thielen
    Vikings WR Adam ThielenAndy Clayton-King/Associated Press

    Like the Texans, the Minnesota Vikings traded a premium wide receiver this offseason. In Minnesota's case, it dealt Stefon Diggs to the Buffalo Bills.

    The Diggs trade could open the door for rookie LSU product and first-round draft pick Justin Jefferson. However, Jefferson's true value will hinge on the competition in Minnesota at wide receiver. He could be anything from a must-start No. 1 wideout to a low-end flex option.

    Presumably, Jefferson will compete with the likes of Olabisi Johnson and Tajae Sharpe to be the No. 2 receiver opposite Adam Thielen—an important role, as the Vikings often rely on just two wideouts. Tight ends Kyle Rudolph and Irv Smith Jr. each played at least 59.8 percent of the offensive snaps in 2019, according to Football Outsiders.

    However, there's a chance Jefferson could oust Thielen as Kirk Cousins' top target. A hamstring injury limited Thielen to 10 games, 30 receptions and 418 yards last season. As Joe Burrow's top target last year, Jefferson racked up 111 receptions, 1,540 yards and 18 touchdowns.

Los Angeles Chargers Quarterback Battle

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    Chargers QB Tyrod Taylor
    Chargers QB Tyrod TaylorKelvin Kuo/Associated Press

    Philip Rivers is out in Los Angeles, which means the Chargers will rely on either journeyman Tyrod Taylor or rookie Justin Herbert in 2020. While Herbert is considered a less polished prospect than Burrow or Tagovailoa, the Chargers plan to give him a chance in camp.

    "I'm very familiar with Tyrod," head coach Anthony Lynn told reporters in April, adding: "No position is final until we get to training camp right now."

    This battle is worth watching for a couple of reasons. The first is that as a dual-threat quarterback, Taylor has sleeper/streamer value if his role as the starter is secure. He was a Pro Bowler for the Bills in 2015, passing for 3,035 yards, rushing for 568 yards and producing 24 total touchdowns with six interceptions.

    However, he isn't a prolific passer, which could hurt the value of pass-catchers like Mike Williams, Hunter Henry and Keenan Allen.

    If Taylor wins the job, it could be wise to place less value on L.A.'s receiving corps and more value on running backs Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson. This probably remains true if Herbert appears in line to start at some point in 2020—though the Chargers may be more willing to throw caution to the wind and open up the passing game with Herbert under center and the playoffs no longer a priority.

Indianapolis Colts No. 2 Receiver Battle

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    Colts WR Parris Campbell
    Colts WR Parris CampbellGary Landers/Associated Press

    The Colts signed Rivers to a one-year deal this offseason, and barring a complete letdown in camp, Rivers should take over for Jacoby Brissett as the team's starter. This means Indianapolis' No. 2 receiver opposite T.Y. Hilton could have a lot of fantasy value this season.

    Rivers' No. 2 receiver with the Chargers last season, Mike Williams, finished with 49 receptions, 1,001 yards and two touchdowns.

    The unknown in Indianapolis camp is which wideout will earn that No. 2 role. Second-year man Parris Campbell and rookie second-rounder Michael Pittman Jr. are likely the two top candidates, though guys like Zach Pascal, Chad Williams and Marcus Johnson will also be in the mix.

    From a physical standpoint, the 6'4", 223-pound Pittman is probably best suited to fill the Mike Williams role. He's fast, physical and capable of winning most contested-catch situations.

    "He's somebody that watching him in practice, I never saw him lose a one-on-one rep," Colts scout Chris McGaha said, via the team's official website. "And I know that might sound crazy, but it's true."

    Pittman could have a ton of fantasy upside if he wins the No. 2 job in Indy, and whichever receiver gets that role will be worth targeting on draft day.

Los Angeles Rams Running Back Battle

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    Rams RB Malcolm Brown
    Rams RB Malcolm BrownMark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Like Pittman, Los Angeles Rams running back Cam Akers could emerge as a fantastic rookie sleeper this season. He'll have a crack at replacing Todd Gurley, who amassed 1,064 combined rushing and receiving yards and 14 touchdowns in a terrible season by his standards last year.

    Akers racked up 1,144 rushing yards, 225 receiving yards and 18 touchdowns for Florida State last season. The rookie has also impressed in the offseason program.

    "One player I'm told who stood out in virtual meetings was rookie running back Cam Akers for his engagement, assertiveness and asking all the right questions," NFL Network's Omar Ruiz reported.

    However, Akers will have to compete with the likes of longtime backup Malcolm Brown and second-year man Darrell Henderson. If he is a clear-cut workhorse in camp, Akers could be a fantasy stud. If this becomes a committee backfield, it could yield no notable fantasy value on a per-player basis.

Las Vegas Raiders Wide Receiver Battle

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    New Raiders WR Henry Ruggs III
    New Raiders WR Henry Ruggs IIIMichael Conroy/Associated Press

    The Las Vegas Raiders made former Alabama wideout Henry Ruggs III the first receiver off the board in April. Naturally, fantasy managers should be intrigued by his upside. However, Ruggs won't just be handed the No. 1 receiver role, and in fact, no Raiders receiver roles may be secure.

    The team didn't have a true No. 1 in 2019, which is why Ruggs' fantasy ceiling is huge. However, the Raiders now feature a logjam of complementary receivers like Tyrell Williams, Nelson Agholor, Hunter Renfrow, Zay Jones and Bryan Edwards—another rookie who could make an early impact.

    "Henry and Bryan look really good," tight end Derek Carrier said, per The Athletic's Vic Tafur. "Their ability to be able to contribute right away is very clear. I am so excited to see them on the field. This draft class definitely has the ability to do some serious work in its first year."

    Ruggs or Edwards or both could be worth targeting early in fantasy drafts. Renfrow, who snagged 49 passes as a rookie last season, should have some mid-round value. However, everything will depend on how the receiver depth chart shakes out in the coming weeks.

Cincinnati Bengals Wide Receiver Battle

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    Bengals WRs Tyler Boyd and A.J. Green
    Bengals WRs Tyler Boyd and A.J. GreenFrank Victores/Associated Press

    As mentioned earlier, it will be a major surprise if rookie Joe Burrow doesn't start at quarterback for the Bengals this season. Fantasy managers will be intrigued by his upside, but they should also be interested in how he can impact the Cincinnati receiving corps.

    A strong inaugural campaign from Burrow could mean big seasons for young wideouts like John Ross III, Tyler Boyd and rookie Tee Higgins. It could also mean a bounce-back season for aging star A.J. Green, who is stoked to see some fresh life at the quarterback position.

    "I know the type of player he is. I know he's a dog for a fact," Green said of Burrow in a conference call. "I'm excited to play with him, and I can't wait to get back out there."

    Of course, there's no telling if Green will be back to 100 percent after missing all of 2019 with an ankle injury. There's also no knowing if he'll ever be an elite wideout again, or if he'll even be Burrow's No. 1 target coming out of camp.

    Burrow could just as easily forge a bond with Higgins and/or Boyd and make Green the second or third option.

    It's easy to assume Green and Boyd—who is coming off back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons—will be Cincinnati's top fantasy receivers in 2020. However, this is an entirely new situation for the Bengals and one worth following closely in camp.

Denver Broncos Running Back Battle

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    Broncos RB Phillip Lindsay
    Broncos RB Phillip LindsayJack Dempsey/Associated Press

    Denver Broncos running back Phillip Lindsay is coming off back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons and could remain a starting option in fantasy. However, the Broncos added two-time Pro Bowler Melvin Gordon III in the offseason, which could hurt Lindsay's value tremendously.

    The Broncos could end up with a committee situation where neither Gordon nor Lindsay is worth starting in fantasy on a weekly basis.

    "They'll have specific roles," offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur told reporters last month. "I think there are times when they both can be on the field at the same time. They've both been very productive in this league, and we intend to use both of them."

    Denver's situation is a bit different than the backfields listed as honorable mentions. Two Pro Bowl-caliber backs have been thrust into a situation where a clear-cut starter could be a top-20 fantasy selection, but a committee could leave both as mid-round targets. Training camp may yield a large variety of outcomes.

    The one relative certainty is that 2018 third-round pick Royce Freeman, last year's backup, is a fantasy afterthought, barring injury.

Green Bay Packers No. 2 Receiver Battle

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    Packers WR Allen Lazard
    Packers WR Allen LazardBill Kostroun/Associated Press

    With future Hall of Famer Aaron Rodgers pulling the trigger, one would assume the Green Bay Packers' No. 2 receiver would yield a lot of fantasy value. The problem is the Packers don't have an established No. 2 opposite Davante Adams.

    Allen Lazard finished second to Adams among Green Bay receivers with a mere 477 yards last season, while Marquez Valdes-Scantling was second in starts with 10. Possession specialist Devin Funchess joined the mix this offseason, though he appeared in just one game last season for the Colts because of a broken collarbone.

    Funchess' best season came with the Carolina Panthers in 2017, when he had 63 receptions, 840 yards and eight touchdowns. The Packers lack established pass-catchers at tight end, so Funchess could be even more prolific as a possession man in 2020.

    Wideouts like Jake Kumerow and Equanimeous St. Brown will also be involved in the battle for the No. 2 spot. If one of these receivers can emerge as a reliable second option, he could approach the coveted 1,000-yard mark and be a viable fantasy starter.