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    Fantasy football position battles to watch 🏈

    Fantasy football position battles to watch


    Not every training camp battle affecting the fantasy football world involves a rookie running back, but it sure seems that way for this upcoming season. Ten running backs went in the first three rounds of the NFL draft and more than a few joined appealing situations in which they could take over the starting role right away and provide instant statistical goodness. Yeah, fantasy managers sure noticed, and the proof is in the early ADP (average draft position) results.

    The fact that most of the top battles listed below involve rookies at what has become the most volatile position is actually not so typical -- not to this extent and with players having so much upside. Then again, they are not the lone battles. We appreciate that many of you participate in far deeper leagues than the ESPN standard -- my hand is up! -- so let us discuss not only the training camp battles involving running backs but those that could certainly add relevance in other formats. To provide additional perspective, we also asked our NFL Nation reporters to offer their thoughts on each situation entering training camp. Here we go!

    Top five running back battles

    1. Kansas City Chiefs: Clyde Edwards-Helaire vs. Damien Williams

    Why it matters: Did you see what this offense achieved last season? Williams played a role, but he is rather limited in the upside department and Edwards-Helaire is an elite pass-catcher out of the backfield and makes defenders miss when he has the football. In other words, even in this offense, Williams seems unlikely to join the RB1 ranks. The LSU rookie, however, could do this.

    My expectations: The NFL world -- and the entire world -- has been turned upside down by the COVID-19 crisis, so rookies have yet to show their new coaches what they can do on the field. Still, when the Chiefs coaches see Edwards-Helaire, whom I ranked as my No. 1 rookie running back for fantasy, the debate should end. He starts, and thrives, right away.

    What NFL Nation thinks: Eric's right in that this isn't the best season to expect huge production from a rookie running back. But the Chiefs didn't draft Edwards-Helaire to spend most of his rookie season on the bench. His upside is greater than that of Williams. While the two might share the featured back spot, I'm looking for the rookie to wind up the season leading the Chiefs in both rushing yards and catches out of the backfield. -- Adam Teicher, Chiefs reporter

    2. Detroit Lions: D'Andre Swift vs. Kerryon Johnson

    Why it matters: OK, so the Detroit offense does not compare to the Kansas City one. I get that. Swift, however, projects as a three-down running back and certainly a more electric option than Johnson, who had his chances and did little with them. Swift averaged more than 6 yards per carry in each of his final two seasons at Georgia, and he catches passes. Major volume awaits.

    My expectations: No contest. It is cute how the Lions call this a camp battle, but it is not. Swift is a potential rushing champion, and that even could be reasonable right away.

    What NFL Nation thinks: "Battle" is not the word I would use for this, but not for the reasons Eric states. It's because the situation is simple with both backs: If they are healthy, they'll both play a good amount. Head coach Matt Patricia, general manager Bob Quinn and even Johnson have been clear on this. Patricia likes using a committee approach to running backs, especially early in the season, so there will be plenty of carries to go around for Johnson, Swift and perhaps even Bo Scarbrough (although not to the level of Johnson and Swift). From a fantasy perspective, it's too risky to bank on Swift getting a massive amount of work early, due both to Patricia's history with running backs and that when Johnson has been healthy, he's been a productive runner. -- Michael Rothstein, Lions reporter

    3. Indianapolis Colts: Jonathan Taylor vs. Marlon Mack

    Why it matters: Well, every starting running back situation matters, even the bad ones. This is hardly a bad one. The Colts might throw more than they did a season ago now that Philip Rivers is there, but even with relatively limited talent, the offense ranked seventh in rushing yards per game and fifth in attempts. Taylor exceeded 6,000 rushing yards at Wisconsin, and only six others in FBS history have done so. This is a lot like the Detroit situation.

    My expectations: The fantasy world thanks Mack for his efforts the past two seasons, but again this seems like no contest. Taylor is ready for major work right away, including at the goal line, and he can catch passes. Those drafting Mack in fantasy will be moving on by the bye weeks.

    What NFL Nation thinks: Colts coach Frank Reich has made it no secret that Mack and Taylor will go into training camp as running backs No. 1 and 1A, with Mack beginning as the starter because he's the returner. Mack has more than the addition of Taylor to worry about this season. The Colts decided against giving Mack a contract extension, meaning he'll be a free agent at the end of the season. Mack will have the advantage despite Taylor rushing for at least 2,000 yards in each of his final two seasons at Wisconsin. Taylor has to prove he can hold on to the ball, something running backs coach Tom Rathman emphasizes, after he had 18 fumbles in college. --Mike Wells, Colts reporter

    4. Denver Broncos: Melvin Gordon vs. Phillip Lindsay

    Why it matters: Wait, is one of these fellows a rookie? Nope! Hey, not every situation involves someone who played in college the previous season. Gordon delivered three consecutive top-10 fantasy seasons before 2019, but when he returned from an ill-advised holdout last season, he was not the same player. Still, Gordon averaged 15.1 PPR points per game, and the undrafted (in real life) Lindsay averaged 12.4 per game. The fact Denver wanted Gordon and gave him a two-year deal despite Lindsay performing admirably is telling.

    My expectations: Quarterback Drew Lock has myriad weapons at his passing disposal, and Gordon should be a major part of it. Gordon averaged 3.8 receptions per game the past two seasons, even with Austin Ekeler present. Lindsay averaged 2.2 catches per game. He gets his chance only if Gordon gets hurt.

    What NFL Nation thinks: The Broncos signed Gordon to a two-year, $16 million deal just after they had said they'd look at giving Lindsay a new deal (they did not). First-year offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur has talked about the importance of catching the ball if a running back is going to be a "full runner'' in the offense, and with his four seasons of at least 40 catches and two with at least 50, that leans to Gordon upping his snap count in the new playbook. The carries should be divided fairly equally, but the back who snags the snaps in those passing situations will get the most work overall. What's unclear, because of no on-field work, is what happens in the red zone, where Gordon has been effective previously in his career. Lindsay's scoring opportunities could be limited if Gordon gobbles up those snaps, too. The Broncos are expected to use a formation grouping with both Lindsay and Gordon in the lineup at times, but until the team is on the field in some way, it's difficult to know if they really will give that a legitimate shot beyond a cameo here and there. -- Jeff Legwold, Broncos reporter

    5. Los Angeles Rams: Cam Akers vs. Darrell Henderson Jr.

    Why it matters: Someone has to replace the departed Todd Gurley II. The Rams scored 527 points, second in the league, while winning the NFC two seasons ago, so the offense can clearly do better than it showed in 2019. Henderson was the hotshot rookie entering last season, after he averaged 8.9 yards per carry in each of his final two seasons at Memphis. His tale is a reminder that many rookies struggle, but the talent remains. Akers is now the hotshot rookie. This one should be fascinating.

    My expectations: Perhaps Henderson deserves a legitimate chance, but the fact the Rams invested so early in another running back right away is a sign that Akers, a star in his own right at Florida State, has the early edge. Frankly, Henderson might cede backup duties on the depth chart to bulkier veteran Malcolm Brown, too.

    What NFL Nation thinks: This will be the most intriguing training camp competition. The Rams invested a third-round pick in Henderson in 2019 and this year selected Akers in the second round. Last year, coach Sean McVay called Henderson the change-of-pace back he was in search of. Henderson flashed in limited opportunities, particularly when he was able to bounce outside the tackles. Akers' scouting report indicates he's strong between the tackles, and he is a proven pass-catcher. Those skills could serve in Akers' favor as he competes against Henderson and Brown for the starting spot. -- Lindsey Thiry, Rams reporter

    Other running back battles to watch: Bills (Devin Singletary vs. Zack Moss); Buccaneers (Ronald Jones II vs. Ke'Shawn Vaughn ... here's a video on this battle); 49ers (Raheem Mostert vs. Tevin Coleman); Chargers backup (Justin Jackson vs. Joshua Kelley); Falcons backup (Ito Smith vs. Brian Hill); Seahawks backup (Rashaad Penny vs. Carlos Hyde); Steelers backup (Jaylen Samuels vs. Benny Snell Jr.).

    Quarterback battles

    Chicago Bears: Mitchell Trubisky vs. Nick Foles

    Why it matters: Well, does it? Wide receiver Allen Robinson II continues to overcome shoddy quarterback play, so imagine what he might do with a Pro Bowler. Still, consistency would be helpful.

    My expectations: Foles, whom the team actually traded for, wins the job but likely misses a few games or more due to injuries, so nothing really gets resolved here.

    What NFL Nation thinks: My expectation is that Foles eventually wins the starting job. Chicago traded for Foles for a reason -- head coach Matt Nagy lost trust in Trubisky last season. No matter how the Bears publicly spin it, Foles is in Chicago because the coaching staff lacks legitimate faith in Trubisky, who was one of the league's least efficient quarterbacks in 2019. On the other hand, Nagy, offensive coordinator Bill Lazor and quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo have all worked with Foles in the past. The writing appears to be on the wall. -- Jeff Dickerson, Bears reporter

    Los Angeles Chargers: Tyrod Taylor vs. Justin Herbert

    Why it matters: Taylor last started regularly in 2017, and even when he did start, his career best for passing yards in a season was barely 3,000. Herbert figures to make myriad mistakes, but he sure can sling the football downfield, so his receivers could prefer him.

    My expectations: Taylor holds the starting job for a month or so and then the Oregon product gets his chance. Do not let Chargers receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams fall too far in drafts. The rookie's interceptions will not show up on their records.

    What NFL Nation thinks: Expect Taylor to earn the starting job in training camp. Coach Anthony Lynn said during the offseason that Taylor was in the driver's seat and that he felt very comfortable with the veteran quarterback. Lynn declined to declare a timeline for when he'd like Herbert to take over the starting role, and he cautioned against rushing the rookie, especially after an unusual offseason. However, if Taylor struggles for any prolonged period, and Herbert shows enough progress in practices, don't be surprised if the rookie is inserted. -- Lindsey Thiry

    Miami Dolphins: Ryan Fitzpatrick vs. Tua Tagovailoa

    Why it matters: Even the worst NFL teams score some points. This is not like the Chargers' situation, by the way, either in terms of the veteran or the rookie.

    My expectations: Fitzpatrick wins the job and keeps it as long as he performs suitably, which he should. The Alabama product, coming off a major injury, might actually have to wait a year.

    What NFL Nation thinks: The Dolphins haven't announced any final decisions on whether Tagovailoa will start in 2020, but it would be a surprise if he starts Week 1 barring an injury to Fitzpatrick. Dolphins coaches would be comfortable with Fitzpatrick -- whose NFL experience and comfort in new offensive coordinator Chan Gailey's scheme should allow him a smooth transition -- holding down the fort while Tagovailoa learns behind him in an unusual season and continues to gain more confidence in his repaired hip. Tagovailoa will get a chance to compete, but like Eric, I wouldn't be surprised if he sits the entire season. In fact, I argue Miami should redshirt Tagovailoa and unleash him in 2021. -- Cameron Wolfe, Dolphins reporter

    Wide receiver battles

    Philadelphia Eagles: Jalen Reagor vs. Greg Ward Jr.

    My expectations: Carson Wentz desperately needs healthy, productive options to throw to, and Reagor could be an instant playmaker, regardless of role. He seems to fit the DeSean Jackson role of deep threat but could also battle Ward for immediate slot duties. Everything changes if Alshon Jeffery misses games recovering from a foot injury, too.

    What NFL Nation thinks: Coach Doug Pederson indicated that Reagor will start off learning the "Z" receiver position behind Jackson. "Once we see his potential and his growth, then we can use him in multiple spots," Pederson said. With little acclimation time for the rookies this offseason, Ward is in position to have a bigger role from the slot initially, with Reagor pushing for more snaps inside as he gains greater comfort in the system. -- Tim McManus, Eagles reporter

    Green Bay Packers: Allen Lazard vs. Devin Funchess

    My expectations: Aaron Rodgers might be past his MVP-caliber seasons, but he still surpasses 4,000 passing yards annually, and Davante Adams could use some help. Really, the Packers have more options than Lazard and newcomer Funchess, but Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Jake Kumerow and Equanimeous St. Brown seem further down the depth chart. Funchess missed most of the 2019 season in Indianapolis with a broken collarbone, and Lazard worked well with Rodgers late last season. Lazard might not be a fantasy WR3 anytime soon, but he has some upside.

    What NFL Nation thinks: Rodgers loves Lazard, and that shouldn't be undervalued. Chemistry with him is probably more important than any other attribute, and Lazard developed it quickly. Rodgers said this offseason that Lazard is "just a great teammate, an ascending player, loved his approach every week and he made some big-time plays for us." That gives him the edge over Funchess, who hasn't taken a single rep with Rodgers yet. However, Rodgers likes the idea of adding a veteran with legit experience, so he's going to give Funchess every opportunity to make plays. -- Rob Demovsky, Packers reporter

    Carolina Panthers: Robby Anderson vs. Curtis Samuel

    My expectations: It might not matter, since Teddy Bridgewater will spend so much of his time throwing shorter passes to Christian McCaffrey and DJ Moore, but these potential No. 2 Carolina receivers can get deep, and each has scored 11 receiving touchdowns the past two seasons. McCaffrey's targets figure to drop to some extent, but Bridgewater has to show he wants to extend the field. Samuel might fit into a hybrid role, giving Anderson more targets.

    What NFL Nation thinks: This really is the battle for the No. 3 receiver spot, since McCaffrey will get 100-plus catches for the third straight season and Moore clearly is the next-best receiver on this team based on his performance last season. For Anderson and Samuel, both deep-threat receivers, it will come down to who can adjust best to being a more precise route runner and possession receiver in offensive coordinator Joe Brady's scheme, which will look a lot like what the Saints do. One needs to play the role of Ted Ginn Jr., even if it doesn't mean catching a lot of passes. -- David Newton, Panthers reporter

    Tight end battles

    New York Jets: Chris Herndon vs. Ryan Griffin

    My expectations: Herndon showed his skills as a rookie, but last season was a mess involving suspension and injury. Griffin scored five touchdowns. This one should go to Herndon.

    What NFL Nation thinks: Herndon is a better all-around player than Griffin and should receive the majority of the snaps. Coach Adam Gase was so high on Herndon before last season that he referred to him as a "unicorn." The basis of the optimism is the final six games of the 2018 season, when Herndon clicked with QB Sam Darnold and made 20 receptions. Gase could use more two-TE packages than in the past, but don't expect a ton. That's not a staple in his offense. -- Rich Cimini, Jets reporter

    New Orleans Saints: Jared Cook vs. Adam Trautman

    My expectations: Cook shined with nine touchdowns last season, but Trautman produced dazzling numbers at Dayton and should make this interesting right away. He is the future. Throw a late pick at the rookie in deep leagues.

    What NFL Nation thinks: Trautman is definitely enticing for dynasty leagues, and coaches have hinted that his arrival could lead to an increase in 12 personnel. But I actually think the 33-year-old Cook might be the "sleeper" for 2020 based on early fantasy rankings. Tight ends coach Dan Campbell acknowledged that it took Cook "a little bit to get going" while he and QB Drew Brees took turns battling injuries in the first half of last season. But over the final eight weeks, Cook ranked fourth among all NFL tight ends with 547 yards and tied for first with seven touchdowns on 28 catches. And Campbell recently called him a "matchup nightmare." It's hard to expect an increase in Cook's targets with the arrival of new WR Emmanuel Sanders, but he is definitely TE1 in New Orleans. -- Mike Triplett, Saints reporter

    Minnesota Vikings: Irv Smith Jr. vs. Kyle Rudolph

    My expectations: Smith showed nicely as a rookie, and he offers the offense more speed and upside downfield. Perhaps he even takes the veteran's end zone targets, too.

    What NFL Nation thinks: I think Rudolph will still be a big target in the end zone for Kirk Cousins. With 47 red zone touchdowns in his career, including six last season and the game winner in overtime in the NFC wild-card round, this is an area where the 10-year vet thrives. Smith, though, has the chance to overtake Rudolph in targets everywhere else and should surpass him in receiving after coming close to doing so as a rookie. Offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak has a true F-tight end at his disposal and can move Smith around from the backfield into the slot and have him use his big frame to catch passes over the middle, along with his 4.63-second speed to stretch downfield. Smith's role in the passing game is about to spike in a major way. Don't be surprised if he ends up becoming the team's No. 3 receiver. -- Courtney Cronin, Vikings reporter

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    Thanks for all the great info Hman!

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    Covid vs 2020 season

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