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Position Battles Updated

Position Battles Updated

A final look at some of the better position battles
By: Pete Davidson : September 02, 2013 5:10pm

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Here's a final look at some of the key position battles that we started looking at five weeks ago.  If you are looking for the updated Player Universe, look here.  If you need some fresh cheat sheets, look here.  If you want to take a crash course in prep for a draft tonight, go to The Rotobahn.  The most recent updates in the position battles are listed in bold.

I've also updated my 32 Backfields article if you have RB questions.  If you haven't folowed us on Twiter yet, you can do so by going here.

 

Patriots WRs: Aaron Dobson vs. Kenbrell Thompkins vs. Josh Boyce vs. Julian Edelman

In a certain sense, there were no losers here.  Maybe the winner is Tom Brady, because the Pats seem to have gotten a lot right with the 2013 rookie class.  Thompkins is the guy who appears to be in the lead in terms of snaps.  He's probably the best PPR option of the group.  I still love Dobson's upside in non-PPR due to his red zone skills and play-making ability.  Boyce and Edelman are both there as depth options with a lot of upside potential, especially in the event of an injury to either Danny Amendola or Thompkins.

 

Patriots TEs: Zach Sudfeld vs. Michael Hoomanawanui vs. Jake Ballard vs. Daniel Fells

Sudfeld is the story right now, though we still hold out some hope that Hoomanawanui might show something. Ballard has cement cleats and is not a great offensive option. Fells is more blocker than playmaker.  Here’s a quote from Sudfeld that is key to understanding his potential worth to New England.

“A Nevada tight end isn’t just someone who catches the ball. You better be able to block. That’s something you learn when you first get here. If you can’t block, you don’t get to see the field.”

It jibes with what we see on film. They lined him up everywhere.

  • Traditional in-line TE.
  • H-back.
  • H-back in the Pistol.
  • The slot.

They also used him in various way out of the various formations:  fold blocks out of the Pistol and good downfield blocks too. If Sudfeld showed anything on tape, it’s versatility and athleticism. He’s a prototypical prospect for the N.E. offense. Consider this season his first year of graduate work. This kid will absolutely make the team and make it as a player, but with one huge caveat. He must find a way to stay healthy after a myriad of college health woes which allowed for multiple red shirt seasons and six total years at Nevada. The upside is that his work ethic and determination are givens. The downside is that the kinesthetics of contact only gets ramped up at the NFL level.

So keep track of this kid. If Gronkowski ends up on the PUP, he’ll be a redraft target with immediate value while Gronk sits. After that, his value is more of a wildcard, but the talent and skill set are there. Not much doubt about that.

****UPDATE**** Gronkowski's return looks like it'll be Week 3 though nothing is locked in.  Sudfeld wins this competition and he has upside even after the return of Gronk as Aaron Hernandez's old role is still a role the rookie might play.  Both Ballard and Fells have been released.

 

Bills WRs: Robert Woods vs. Marquise Goodwin vs. T.J. Graham vs. Da’Rick Rogers

This is an exciting group of receivers. You really have it all. Big athletic guys and solid technical guys. You also have some dudes with serious jets. The one established guy, Stevie Johnson, is already nursing a hamstring, so a lot of these receivers will be on display in preseason.

  • Robert Woods
  • Marquise Goodwin
  • Da’Rick Rogers
  • T.J. Graham

We expect Woods to emerge as the starter opposite Johnson, but this team is obviously looking to play more than two receivers at a time when you look at what they’ve brought in. It’s also very possible that Johnson gets phased out this year unless he really takes to HC Doug Marrone’s offense. We’ll see, but this is a receiver group to watch. Our early money is on Woods and Goodwin, but all of these guys have the talent to carve out a role.

****UPDATE****  This group played to a stand still.  I expect Woods to impress though he's a rookie with a rookie QB and expect Flash Goodwin and T.J Graham to have regular roles.  Da'Rick Rogers was released and was signed to the Colts' practice squad.

 

Bills QBs: Kevin Kolb vs. E.J. Manuel

It doesn’t really matter who wins this in camp, because you want to draft Manuel over Kolb either way. We’ve seen all the Kolb we need to see at this point. He’s a placeholder for the future franchise guy, and he may not even be that unless he gets healthy fast after an injury that was Mark Sanchezian.

The Bills have enough weapons and have enough talent in the backfield to play with an inexperienced E.J. Manuel. He’s a big strong kid and he can buy time with his feet. The question is, can you draft Manuel and play him or will you need to wait? If he wins it outright, as I suspect he will, he can be a matchup play right out of the box. You can throw for 100 yards a week just by dumping off to Spiller and Jackson, and the Bills have a wide array of deep threats on the roster at all the skill positions. This team is going to be a lot more fun than people realize. When you combine all of the yards-after-the-catch ability around him, and Manuel’s own ability to get foot-points, you have a QB that will have a solid fantasy floor. Manuel is a nice late round value in deeper leagues, especially if you end up going with the bargain QB strategy.

***UPDATE***  8/13  Manuel looked good in his first game action versus the Colts and it looks like he has the inside track right now.  Kolb, is back at practice and needs to step it up quickly.  At this point, he may not be able hold off rookie UDFA Jeff Tuel, who looked very good.

****UPDATE**** It's down to Manuel and Tuel.  Manuel obviously owns the gig barring a collapse, but our guy Tuel could make his first start against Brady and the Pats if Manuel's surgically repaired knee is not ready.

 

Jets QBs: Mark Sanchez vs. Geno Smith

Who knows what the Jets are thinking? Who even wants to know? What we do know is that OC Marty Mornhinweg’s offense should be a better operation than any Jets' offense since the Parcells days.

The Jets are actually a little underrated (no, really) at receiver, so their QB, at some point, could have more value than most project. That said, with so many quality QBs, they still wouldn’t be worth much for fantasy purposes. Amazingly enough, if the Jets had a legit game-ready QB, they could surprise some people. We’re not counting on that. We guess that the Jets will opt to let Sanchez take the early beating while they continue to prepare Smith. One thing is for sure, they need to know what they have by the end of 2013, because the 2014 QB class is Big Time, and the Jets have plenty of picks in next year’s draft. We’ll keep you posted, but you probably don’t want to draft these guys in any scenario.  Smith has a chance to be a waiver wire add at some point in large leagues.  We'll call this battle when the Jets do.

***UPDATE***  8/13  Sanchez started in typical embarrassing fashion to open the first preseason game, but was better than Geno on the whole versus the Lions.  He should have the lead right now if the fight is a fair one.

****UPDATE**** What can you really say?  The Jets have one of the worst QB situations going.  Marty Mornhinweg will have to be the OC equivalent of MacGyver to get much out of this offense.  Don't touch either one of the Jets QBs.

 

Jets WRs: Santonio Holmes vs. Stephen Hill vs. Jeremy Kerley vs. Clyde Gates vs. Braylon Edwards

It’s an underrated group as I mentioned.  All these guys can play. Clearly, they lack star quality, but there is talent. Holmes is out for now as he recovers from a bad Lisfranc tear that could have him on the PUP list to start the season. This is key, because the loss of Holmes opens doors for all the other receivers except for Hill, who should pretty much own the other outside position.

Kerley is more of a slot guy, but did show nice versatility in 2012 by playing every position and playing them competently. Still, he is most useful inside. The guy we really like, and have liked for some time, is Clyde Gates. If Holmes is out, Gates is a guy to keep on eye on. He’s a tough kid with blazing speed. He could do good things with a solid QB and some snaps. It’ll largely be about Holmes’ injury, so we’ll keep you posted. For now, we’ll be checking out this group in preseason action.

****UPDATE**** Not much news.  Edwards has been cut and rookie Ryan Spadola has made the team.  If the Jets can get the QB position playing even passable football, this group could produce some fantasy options.  Right now, Kerley and Hill are the guys to own and both have some upside.  Kerley for PPR formats and Hill in standard formats.

 

Jets RBs: Chris Ivory vs. Mike Goodson vs. Bilal Powell vs. Joe McKnight vs. John Griffin

Right now, all the buzz is about Bilal Powell and for those who read Rotobahn, you know we were way ahead of this. We like the Griffin kid too, but he’s not generating much camp buzz. He’s still a guy to watch in preseason action. There’d be little drama if GM John Idzik’s big addition, Chris Ivory, could stay healthy for even five minutes. Ivory has barely been able to practice let alone take an actual hit. The guy has all the talent, but he has never stayed healthy for a full season in his life. Only the Jets would bet against an Ivory injury and we suggest you don’t follow suit unless he slips past his ADP. It’s just not worth the risk. That being said, the Jets can block up front and there will be some value associated with whomever starts for them. What back that is is totally up in the air right now. Goodson is not even in camp after a tumultuous offseason. He may never return and he’s a chucklehead even if he does. I would avoid him at this point. Joe McKnight is also a bit light between the ears and would need multiple injuries ahead of him to become relevant. This should come down to Powell and Ivory and we’d still like to see Griffin get a chance to show what he has. Stay tuned.

****UPDATE****  Ivory has returned to practice and he'll own this backfield is he's healthy.  If not, Powell, newly signed Alex Green and eventually Mike Goodson will compete for snaps and carries.  It's hard to not like Powell a little bit here.  He's vanilla, but he's been around the offense the most and he's the healthiest by far.  Green has some upside if he can learn the offense and show himself to be healthy.

 

Bengals RBs: BenJarvus Green-Ellis vs. Giovani Bernard

The talent edge clearly goes to the rookie Bernard, but BJGE has a year in the system and is still the lead man on the depth chart. This should evolve into a shared backfield as both players have different strengths. Fantasy owners have clearly decided that Bernard is the more valuable option as he is being drafted ahead of BJGE, but preseason is going to matter here. Bernard has to show chops in pass protection if he wants to take the job fully or gain a large snap advantage. Given the money being paid to Green-Ellis, we see him getting enough snaps to keep Bernard in the RB3 or RB2 realm versus being a true stud. The long term for Bernard is considerably brighter and we love his skill set in the Cincy offense. Just don’t bank on him taking the job outright in 2013. Preseason should be telling in terms of where the rookie is at. We’ll be watching closely.

****UPDATE****  This battle was par for the course.  BJGE was barely used and Gio looked pretty good all-around.  We still see Bernard as the back to own for fantasy purposes, especially in PPR formats, but we do expect Green-Ellis to be a pesky factor for a period of time depending on how both backs play.

 

Ravens WRs: Jacoby Jones vs. Deonte Thompson vs. Tandon Doss vs. Aaron Mellette 

Obviously, Torrey Smith has his role locked in and Jacoby Jones will play a major role too. Jones does have to earn his spot in the starting lineup, but we see that happening. His speed outside will be even more crucial in 2013 than it was during the Ravens’ second title run. The thing is, with starting TE Dennis Pitta gone for the year and with new starter Ed Dickson already hurting with a hammy, there could be a lot more wide receivers on the field than in the past. This opens the door for the newer guys and at least one should play a major role. The guy we really like is Deonte Thompson and we’re definitely looking to add him late in big leagues right now. We’ll be all over this one as preseason will be huge in determining who stays, who plays and who goes home.

****UPDATE****  Tandon Doss is gone and his place in this scrum was taken by both Brandon Stokley and Marlon Brown.  Jacoby Jones still has the primary role opposite Torrey Smith, but all of these other guys are still in the mix.  We still like Mellette and Thompson to emerge eventually, but Thompson has to get his foot healthy first.  He's missed most of camp with the injury, but is getting close to a return.  All of these receivers are on the radar with the exception of Stokley, who should be a possession receiver and a role player for the most part.

 

Broncos RBs:  Montee Ball vs. Ronnie Hillman vs Knowshon Moreno

Montee Ball is probably the guy to own here. The question is, when will that become apparent and how much will he cost you? We like Ronnie Hillman, but we’re judging Denver by their actions and they went after Ball early for a reason. They had plenty of other needs that could have been addressed with a 2nd rounder.

One reason is pass protection. Ball is built to do it and Hillman less so. Manning needs guys who can hold up against linebackers so he can stand tall in the pocket. Ball has 15 pounds on Hillman and is more stout as a blocker. That said, Hillman does have the advantage that time in the system provides. Ball is playing catchup. Either player would be a high-end fantasy option as a lead back. One problem here is that the longer this plays out, the harder it will be to handcuff the so-called winner. Hillman’s ADP has been climbing steadily in July and August. Hopefully Ball can strike a decisive blow in early preseason action.

****UPDATE****  We're still liking Ball for the long term and the fact that there's so much drama here could allow you to land Ball as a RB3 in the 6th round or so.  That's a potential steal as we think Ball will get a handle on this gig some time in September.  Moreno is still a factor and worth a flier in large formats.  For now, Hillman is atop the depth chart and should "start" the opener, but his fumbling and uninspiring play give him little margin for error.  

 

Chargers WRs: Malcom Floyd vs. Vincent Brown vs. Robert Meachem vs. Eddie Royal vs. Keenan Allen

I’ve gotten a few e-mails from Keenan Allen fans, which surprised me. The guy clearly has some fans because I don’t get all that much e-mail and I’ve had a few on him. And, really, it’s not like I’ve dissed the guy. I just think there are a lot of veteran guys in San Diego and that he’d have a rough time getting enough snaps to really matter for fantasy. That may have changed with the sad loss of Danario Alexander to yet another ACL.

  • Vincent Brown
  • Malcom Floyd
  • Robert Meachem
  • Eddie Royal
  • Keenan Allen

This is wide open. Brown is the best bet to play the lead role, but he has to stay healthy and prove that he’s a good fit for the new offense as does Floyd, who was very effective in Norv Turner’s system. Royal and Meachem would seem to have a better chance with the system change as both were forgotten cogs under Turner. And then there’s Allen, who we like but also project to have a learning curve. Finally, this is an offense where you can pick your point of view. The Chargers will stink this year. They will stink mostly because of their offensive line. Now, you might say stay away, or you might conclude that there will be plenty of “garbage time” scoring. If you fall into the latter category, Brown is the guy to target and the rest are locked in a preseason scrum that we’ll update as things change.

***UPDATE***  Malcom Floyd is back and should play Week 1.  Staring opposite Floyd will be Vincent Bown.  The next in line for a big role would be Kennan Allen though he's been less than stellar.  Robert Meachem was released and Eddie Royal could have a role on passing downs.

 

Chargers RBs: Ryan Mathews vs. Danny Woodhead vs. Ronnie Brown vs. Michael Hill

Maybe this is not a camp battle. Actually, it definitely isn’t. Mathews is the starter and Woodhead should handle most of the third downs and passing situations with Ronnie Brown getting some love here and there. The reality, as we see it, is that the Chargers, while having made a positive step with the new Mike McCoy-led coaching staff, are still a ways away and the offensive line is problem number one. That means tough sledding on the ground and scant time to throw for Philip Rivers. This is a team to watch in preseason in terms of what they do well. That’ll go a long way to figuring out who might have value over the 16-week fantasy schedule. One player to watch is unheralded rookie Michael Hill, who is solid all-around and who could get some play in the event of yet another Mathews injury.

 

****UPDATE****  Michael Hill was axed in favor of Fozzy Whitaker and the backfield has basically held shape.  Mathews is looking good so far and could be a steal if he can remain healthy, but that's an obvious stretch.  Woodhead should have a big role on passing downs.  The run blocking has looked better than expected in preseason games, so there could be some upside here if they can keep it up.  Mathews is the guy to own for now and Woodhead is the most logical handcuff.  Whitaker could be the guy after Woodhead.  Ronnie Brown hasn't got much left in the tank.

 

Giants RBs: David Wilson vs. Andre Brown

With David Wilson so high in our rankings, you’d think I’d leave this one out, but there’s some drama here because of the way the Giants handled Wilson in 2012. There are two issues to deal with here. First, has Wilson gotten past his fumbling problems? Second, has he learned to pass protect?

I’m feeling positive about both and we saw significant improvement in terms of ball security at the end of 2012. So, the big thing is pass protection. Wilson didn’t have this down coming out of college, but he was directly informed of the stakes going into this offseason. If he is not significantly improved in 2013, we’d be very surprised. Nevertheless, it still has to be demonstrated and that is playing itself out now and over the next few weeks.

Here’s the quick skinny.... Wilson is perhaps the most talented tailback the Giants have had in the modern era. Wilson is a serious athlete and Brown simply doesn’t compare. That being said, Brown brings a very solid fundamental skill set that can be used to keep Wilson motivated and fresh. One key point is that Brown has not proven to be durable at all with two serious season-ending injuries already in his young career. When you add this all up, it’s hard to see Brown with more than half of the job unless Wilson simply coughs things up. The most likely scenario has a split backfield to start, but with Wilson taking command as the year progresses. The biggest thing in Brown’s favor besides being potentially better in protection, is his skill as a goal line back. That’s not to say that Wilson may not be just as good or better at some point.

As things currently stand, we see Wilson as a RB2, but he may not give you that kind of punch early on. Then again, he could be RB1 material at any point. Brown is a flex option with RB2 upside for as long as he can keep half the job and some share of the goal line. We’ll update this as things change ... if things change. 

****UPDATE****  With Andre Brown's new injury, Wison gets elevated to high-level RB2 status.  Moving onto the radar is Da'Rel Scott and Michael Cox.  Scott is worth an add in large formats for Wilson owners especially.  Brown should be back in about six weeks, but he now has a disturbing injury history with three major ones and very few actual NFL snaps.

 

Eagles RBs: Bryce Brown vs. Chris Polk

We all know how good Bryce Brown looked in 2012, but the reality of Chip Kelly is apparently starting to hit in Philadelphia. As we’ve said in the past about Brown, you have some serious issues with fundamentals due to his overall lack of football time. This hurts him more in Chip Kelly’s offense than in some others, like Andy Reid’s. The reason we, and a lot of other sites have stuck with Brown despite the coaching change is not just his ability, which is outstanding, but the lack of a real challenger.

Enter Chris Polk.

Polk is a guy who has rededicated himself since the end of 2012 and he is having an outstanding camp. He’s past his injury issues that derailed his final college season and is showing his old form and doing it with a trimmed down physique.  Don't worry, he's still a solid 220 pounds, but he was about 235 in 2012.

Ok, I know what some of you are saying. What about LeSean McCoy. McCoy is the starter, but in Chip Kelly’s offense, the #2 back should be a viable flex option in 12-team leagues because of how much they plan to run. Brown vs. Polk is a real battle. Brown is not a lock by any stretch. The guy who earns the job here will be more than just McCoy’s backup. He’ll be an intriguing option as a stand-alone asset.  We'll be on top of this with updates as material changes occur, but right now, Polk is making things interesting and making Brown a dicier option in the 8th or 9th round.

 

 

****UPDATE****  There's still no full resolution here but Brown's skill-set makes him more intriguing at this point.  That said, I'd be adding both in large formats due to LeSean McCoy's potential fragility and HC Chip Kelly's run-heavy scheme.  Polk could become a factor at some point.

 

Redskins WRs: Josh Morgan vs. Aldrick Robinson vs. Leonard Hankerson

It’s the same cast as we saw last year. Santana Moss rules the slot and Garcon is the flanker. The question is, can someone emerge and take the split end spot and run with it? They may continue to mix and match, but our guess is that Robinson emerges as the guy who plays the most snaps and makes the most plays. This is a group to watch during camp.

****UPDATE****  No change in the status quo.  We're still waiting for a player to emerge here.  There's a lot of upside wth both Robinson and Hankerson, but somebody has to step up and take it.

 

Packers RBs: Eddie Lacy vs. Alex Green vs. Johnathan Franklin vs. James Starks vs. Dujuan Harris

It’s beginning to look a lot like Lacy, and if it is, it could squash the whole controversy. And, it was a solid controversy, because all the backs in Green Bay can play. However, Lacy, all things being equal, is the best of the bunch. We’ll just have to keep an eye on things, but a healthy Lacy could end the drama. The cast of combatants is listed below.

  • Eddie Lacy (potential bell cow)
  • Alex Green (best option at lead role after Lacy if knee is 100%)
  • Johnathan Franklin (could be electric in full-time or part-time role, but must address ball security issues)
  • James Starks (in best shape since 2011, but a long shot)
  • DuJuan Harris (needs to get healthy, but very capable)

Watching preseason and following the camp info will go a long way towards figuring which backs are worth fliers later in drafts or if someone makes a move on Lacy. We’ll be all over it. Updates coming.

****UPDATE**** Clarity acheived.  Eddie Lacy is the guy as we've telling you for a few weeks.  It's final now with the injury to DuJuan Harris and the release of Alex Green.  Lacy is the guy with Starks, Franklin and John Kuhn all involved behind him.

 

Vikings WRs: Cordarelle Patterson vs. Jerome Simpson vs. Jarius Wright

Patterson is the only Viking receiver that I want to bet on in 2013. Greg Jennings is a solid player, but his days of being thrown open by Rodgers and Favre are over. He’s overpriced because he’s a name. That said, he’ll start. The drama, is about who will play opposite Jennings and how often the Vikes will opt to deploy a third receiver.

My guess is that they use Patterson in much the same way they used Percy Harvin. They’ll run bubble-screens with him. They’ll use him outside and let him run the parts of the route-tree that he’s got down. They’ll put him in the slot and they’ll line him up in the backfield. He can throw too in case you missed that. Patterson won’t be a complete player this year, but I smell flex value with upside. As to the rest of the cast, it should come down to Jerome Simpson and Jarius Wright for the starting spot opposite Jennings and for either of them to have significant fantasy value, they’ll need to step it up. Both players have solid talent, but whomever wins the job will also have to hold off Patterson. The preseason games should be illuminating for the Vikings’ guys. We’ll tell you what we see.

***UPDATE***  8/13  The Vikings gave Patterson a few looks in their first preseason versus Houston and the rookie looked ready to play as we expected.  I've moved him up a bit in our redraft rankings.  It's hard to fathom him not being involved right away.

****UPDATE**** This is still a battle, but we're still placing our bets on Cordarrelle Patterson.  Both Simpson and Wright will get playing time, but Patterson will be a high-priority option when he's in the game the same way they used to do it with Parcy Harvin.

 

Saints WRs: Kenny Stills vs. Nick Toon vs. Steve Breaston vs. Saalim Hakim

With Joe Morgan’s recent season-ending injury, Stills will get a chance to shine in preseason. Drew Brees knows how to bring young guys along. Our guess is that Sean Payton and Brees get Stills on the fast track. He’s a guy I am targeting late in deep leagues and in all my long term leagues. Stills is going to be a factor before long if not right away. He’s already comparable to ex-Saints Devery Henderson and Robert Meachem in terms of what he can do.

Let’s look at the whole remaining stable not including Colston and Lance Moore, who are both locked in.

  • Kenny Stills - Our favorite for a high-level of output, but he has the rookie curve to deal with.
  • Steve Breaston - We see him as insurance more than anything else, but he could surprise if he has finally found a way to get his knee healthy.
  • Nick Toon - Probably best suited to Colston’s role, but a solid talent and a player to watch
  • Saalim Hakim - Az’s little brother has speed to spare but has struggled with hands so far.

Stills is our guy, but this still has to play out. We’ll keep the updates coming.

***UPDATE***  8/13  Stills and Toon have been getting good reviews at camp and both were active in game one of the preseason against the Chiefs.  We like both players long term, but favor Stills in the near term.

****UPDATE****  Breaston is gone and Stills has now emerged as the guy to own having won the job as the 3rd receiver.  Toon and Hakim are still players to monitor in large formats.

 

Panthers WRs: Brandon LaFell vs. Armanti Edwards vs. Dom Hixon vs. Joe Adams vs. Kealoha Pilares

There are so many ways this team’s skill players could break. Steve Smith is the only guy who owns anything. Brandon LaFell will start opposite Smith, but he’ll be on a short leash once the regular season starts, and will yield snaps if he fails to raise his game another notch or so. LaFell’s developed some each year and has nice talent. He is capable of WR3 numbers without question. He just needs to put it all together. If LaFell fails, the guys to really watch are Armanti Edwards and then Dom Hixon. Hixon is more of a glue guy that has failed to stay healthy when asked to play major snaps. Edwards is more intriguing, because he’s an exceptional athlete and is finally becoming a real receiver. He was a QB in college. There are a few other potential factors and they are listed below.

  • Joe Adams - Very athletic and elusive, but has had route and hand issues so far. Plenty of upside if he puts things together, but probably a year away.
  • Ted Ginn - Has all the athleticism as we know, but we’ve been waiting for six years now.
  • Davis Gettis - Looking to retain past glory. Gettis made a splash in 2010 as a rookie, but has battled knee woes since then. He’s worth monitoring. He plays LaFell’s spot.
  • Kealoha Pilares - He’s a tough kid that plays really hard and has nice quickness. He’s smart too and was an academic all-American. He could surprise if nobody steps up.

Again, our bets on 2013 fantasy value are with LaFell and then our guy Armanti Edwards, but we’ll see how camp plays out.

***UPDATE***  8/13  LaFell and Edwards both had solid outings against the Bears, but there's still a ways to go here.  David Gettis had a few grabs and was a pleasant surprise while Dom Hixon is falling behind with hamstring issues.

****UPDATE****  Good news for LaFell as Gettis was let go.  Pilares is on IR and is done for the year.  The battle for the 3rd receiver gig looks like it'll be between Edwards and Hixon.  We like Armanti as an upside option due to his run-after-catch ability.  He's going undrafted and could be a guy to pick up in large formats.

 

Panthers RBs: DeAngelo Williams vs. Jonathan Stewart vs. Mike Tolbert vs. Kenjon Barner

It’s a deep and talented group that desperately needs some definition after the last few years of seemingly arbitrary roles and substitutions. The coaches need to step up and make the hard choices so this backfield has some rhythm and continuity. They could use any of these backs in the lead role and it would work fine, but mixing and matching all game and season long has been an abject failure.

The best back in the group is Stewart, who has a slight edge over Williams because of his versatility to be nasty both on the ground and through the air. Sadly, Stewart’s availability has been inconsistent at best. For this, I would go with Williams as the primary ball carrier and I’d make Tolbert the FB and 3rd down back. That would be my choice. We’ll see what Carolina does. Right now, Williams is atop their official depth chart due to yet another injury (ankle surgery) for Stewart. My guess is that Williams uses the momentum to take the job into the season. If he performs, he could be a serious value as the rumors of his demise are greatly exaggerated. DeAngelo can still do it. We’ll have our eye on this one and will update if Stewart makes a return.  As for rookie Kenjon Barner, he is a player to watch for the long term, but we doubt he'll play much as a rookie unless there are injuries.

****UPDATE****  DeAngelo should lead the way early on and we are still very intrigued by Kenjon Barner if he can get his ankle healthy.  He adds a speed element that contrasts with Cam Newton's power.  Jonathan Stewart may be back at full strength, but even if he is, it won't be until Week 7.  He's only worth rostering in large formats at this point though there's certainly some upside left there.  Tolbert is still a potential TD vulture and could play a big role if needed.

 

Cardinals RBs: Rashard Mendenhall vs. Ryan Williams vs. Stepfan Taylor vs. Andre Ellington

The back I like most in the scrum is rookie Andre Ellington. Rashard Mendenhall has seen better days and unless he finds genuine health soon, he may yield the position or a significant amount of it to one of the kids. That’s because his veteran competition, Ryan Williams, has bigger health concerns than he does. It’s really hard to bet on either vet when the rookies have so much ability. Stepfan Taylor, out of Stanford, is a game-ready rookie.  He can play right now. He doesn’t offer much upside as a ball carrier but he’s a complete back and can play on every down. He'd have plenty of value if he landed the job.  Ellington is more complex. He’ll have more learning to do and he needs to prove that he is over a hamstring issue that plagued him throughout the Spring. The preseason will be huge for this battle.

***UPDATED*** 8/13  Taylor was the only healthy back other than Alfonso Smith in the preseason opener versus Green Bay.  He carried the ball 20 times for 64 yards and looked ok.  Ryan Williams recently had platlet therapy for his aching knee.  Mendenhall is back at practice and so is Ellington.  This is Mendenhall's gig to take, but he needs to take it.  Let's see if he can get on the field.  This is still a fantasy mess.

****UPDATED****  Ugh.  It's all bad here.  First off, they lost stud LG Jonathan Cooper.  That lowers the ceiling of the whole backfield.  Now factor in that both Mendenhall and Williams have struggled with their knees throughout camp and you have a situation to avoid save for fliers late in deep leagues.  Let another owner deal with Mendenhall, who will start for now.

 

49ers WRs: Quinton Patton vs. A.J. Jenkins vs. Mario Manningham vs. Kyle Williams vs. Ricardo Lockette vs. Austin Collie

What a mess. Perhaps the key thing to understand about the 49ers receivers is that they have enough talent to get by until Michael Crabtree gets back on the field. They also have a few very nice long term talents. Someday, Crabtree, Quinton Patton and A.J. Jenkins could make a very nice trio of weapons. 

This year, it’ll be a chorus of players led by Anquan Boldin. Boldin is currently over-valued if you go by his regular season stats in recent years. He’ll most likely struggle to post WR3 numbers.  Opposite Boldin, there will be a lot of guys contributing and none are worth high or even mid-level draft picks. It’s much better to take Frisco’s guys late in 12-team leagues. We’ll be watching to see if Collie can take the pounding and to see if any of the youngsters step up.

One under-discussed topic is how much the tight ends and backs may steal from the outside receivers. This will be an offense with balance both in terms of run/pass, but also in terms of where the ball is thrown. You will see a lot of rookie TE Vance McDonald and 2TE sets with McDonald and Vernon Davis. Both tight ends can play in-line or as “jokers.” 

***UPDATE***  The current rumors have Jenkins on the roster bubble with only Boldin, Patton and Kyle Williams locked into roster spots.  There's a long way to go here.  I still like Boldin and Patton to have to most value when all is said and done, but a lot can happen in the next few weeks.  A fully healthy Kyle Williams would definitely change the landscape.

****UPDATE**** As we've said all along, Patton the guy to own here, but give some props to Marlon Moore, who has become a factor and could start early on.  Manningham is not ready yet.  Lockette and Collie have been released.  Jenkins has moved on to K.C. in exchange for Jon Baldwin.  Baldwin has some nice long term upside in Frisco, but it'll take some time if it happens.  He's a guy to monitor in big leagues.  Kyle Williams is still fighting his way back from his ACL repair.  Again, we're Patton buyers.

 

Rams RBs:  Daryl Richardson vs. Zac Stacy vs. Isaiah Pead

Did Jeff Fisher end the drama yesterday by saying that he “expected” Daryl Richardson to be the starter? Not by a long shot. Why? Because this is a long term scrum between three backs that all have the talent to win the job. What Richardson really has is the inside track because he’s played the most NFL snaps by far and he’s played them in OC Brian Schottenheimer’s offense. Also, remember that Zac Stacy is a rookie and that Isaiah Pead will be on a 1-game suspension to start the season. It’s pretty obvious that Richardson is the guy for now.

Now, if Stacy and Pead would just go away, we’d bump D-Rich way up our boards. Probably all the way into round four. However, they aren’t going anywhere and both offer compelling attributes. Stacy is a very underrated wide-base runner with surprising speed for a man his size and for his style of running. Stacy has diversity to his game and has an NFL skill set in terms of running inside or out and being effective in the passing game. He could be a serious threat to take snaps. Stacy also fits the Rams’ apparent offensive game plan, which is to spread teams out often. It makes the middle of the defense more vulnerable to a power runner.

So, if you are going to draft a Rams back early, it should be Richardson, but in the end, the way to play this backfield may be to simply play value and take the last Ram available in your draft. Stacy will now slip to the 15th or so with the news of Richardson as projected starter. Pead will slip as well. This backfield has committee stamped all over it in 2013. The way to win to not to over-invest, but to look for the lottery ticket if anybody slips too far in your draft.

***UPDATE*** 8/13  Richardson and Stacy both looked good in the first preseason game while Pead had a fumble.  It's early, but Richardson has the gig right now and we like Stacy next.  Be careful making assumptions with this backfield.

****UPDATE****  As we've been saying in the rankings, this one fell earlier than expected with Richardson being named the starter, but it's still a backfield to watch with both Pead and Stacy possessing good skill-sets.  In redraft leagues, Richardson is a solid value in the 6th round.
 

Rams WRs: Brian Quick vs. Stedman Bailey vs Austin Pettis

The Rams are overstocked at receiver. It’s a lot like their backfield. There’s almost too much competition. There’s going to be a lot of quality talent on the sidelines in St. Louis this year. Quite frankly, they’ve probably over-built the skill positions to the exclusion of the line. A trade with a team deep in the trenches would make a lot of sense for the Rams. Take a look at the whole group.

  1. Tavon Austin
  2. Chris Givens
  3. Brian Quick
  4. Stedman Bailey
  5. Austin Pettis

That is a very talented collection and when you combine them with Jared Cook, the Rams’ new weapon at TE, you have an obvious math problem for fantasy owners. How will all these guys get enough looks to be fantasy relevant? They won’t. The easy thing to do is to simply cross Bailey and Pettis off and assume they won’t play much. I tend to agree, but the problem is that both players, especially Bailey deserve to play and could force the issue.

Austin and Givens have roles assured, but the better this group plays collectively, the harder it will be for any fantasy stars to emerge in the short term. The obvious beneficiary of all this is QB Sam Bradford, who should post the best numbers of his career in 2013.

This is a group to watch, but the fantasy value currently lies with Austin and Givens. Quick and Bailey could muddy things up if the continue to play well. I’ll update this group again next week once we work through their second preseason game film.

****UPDATE****  Not a ton of news here.  Givens is the top guy along with Tavon Austin.  The rest are all high quality guys that will play their roles.  The redraft optons for now are Givens and Tavon, but all these guys can play.

 

Did I forget anybody?  Are there any other battles you want covered?  Let me know.

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