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Tue Jul 26th 2022

10 Training Camp Battles To Watch

The dead period is over! NFL training camps start this week, and players' values will rise and fall a bit with each report from camp. I love following the "NFL Beat Writers" Twitter account during training camp, even though it is a bit TMI sometimes, and it's unwise to believe all you read.

Over the next six weeks of training camp, I'll do my best to decipher fact from fiction and will write about players I believe are rising or falling in dynasty value during the lead-up to the regular season. Before the camps start, I thought I'd write about some of the camp battles I'm monitoring the most.

James Washington vs. Jalen Tolbert

  • Michael Gallup is unlikely to start the season, let alone take part in training camp, which leaves the WR-2 spot in Dallas wide open. I will pay close attention to see if James Washington, a former Biletnikoff winner and a second-round pick in 2018, will beat out the Cowboys' third-round pick in 2022. Washington is already behind Tolbert since Washington missed OTAs due to a lingering injury. If his injury persists, Tolbert will pass him by, but if Washington can get on the field, he'll compete hard for a starting role to start the season in Dallas and remain on the field this year in three-receiver sets. Tolbert is three years younger and under contract through 2025, while Washington signed a one-year contract with the Cowboys this year. This makes me believe Tolbert has a leg up on Washington, but I loved Washington much more as a prospect coming into the NFL in 2018 when he was my 10th-ranked rookie compared to Tolbert's 23rd-place ranking in this year's class. Tolbert's stock is rising, and I'm sure he will be picked higher in the two rookie drafts I've yet to have compared to the drafts I had in May. I could only draft him in one league so far, but I added Washington in several leagues off the waiver wire once he signed with Dallas this offseason. I'm eager to hear camp reports and see how they play in the preseason.

Eno Benjamin vs. Darrel Williams

  • I went all-in on Williams after he signed with the Cardinals this off-season. I believed he'd be the handcuff to James Conner, a valuable role in an explosive offense behind an older and oft-injured Conner. Then I read several reports from OTAs stating that Benjamin played well and looked to be the backup to Conner. Ourlads still lists Williams as the second-string running back on their depth charts, but some beat reporters think otherwise. I doubt that Conner will play more than a few snaps in the preseason, but I think the Cardinals can use training camp and preseason games to determine who is the backup to Conner. I still like Williams to win the job, given that he's already done more in the NFL as a backup in Kansas City than Benjamin has done in his two years in Arizona. Still, I was a fan of Benjamin at Arizona State and considered him a late-round target in 2020 rookie drafts. Someone is going to fill the Chase Edmonds role in Arizona after he signed with Miami, and that was a valuable role even when Conner was healthy. If Conner gets injured, the next man up will become an every-week starter like Williams was for a short time in Kansas City last year.

Rashaad Penny vs. Kenneth Walker

  • Walker was drafted among the top five in all my rookie drafts, but if news from OTAs is accurate, Penny is poised to be the lead back in Seattle and receive 20 plus touches a week. Penny was a first-round pick (27th) of Seattle in 2018, and Walker was a second-round pick (41st) in 2022, so both have draft capital, but Penny is signed for just one year, while Walker is signed through 2025. Their contracts lead me to believe that Seattle will give Penny the bulk of the work this season while they let Walker develop into a lead role on the team. That is unless Walker does something during training camp and preseason games to leave the Seahawks no choice but to start him. Walker's dynasty value will hold steady even if Penny is the lead back this season, but her could be frustrating for dynasty managers who cannot safely trust him this season. On the other hand, Penny could see his stock rise this season, making him a great player to sell high. I'd be shocked if he could turn his career around, but the last few games of last season give me a reason to believe it's not out of the question. I'm eager to see Seattle's running back battle over the next six weeks.

Marlon Mack vs. Dameon Pierce

  • Houston's running back room is full of question marks, as it was last year. They added Marlon Mack in free agency, and he's two years removed from his Achilles injury. Then they drafted Dameon Pierce in the fourth round of this year's draft. Fourth-round draft capital means Pierce is no shoo-in to win a lead role, but it's hard to expect Marlon Mack to bounce back from such a significant injury. D'Onta Foreman and Cam Akers each had splashes of production last season, which led me to believe running backs now can recover from Achilles injuries. Still, Mack did not give us enough film to form an opinion about him last season. I was far lower on Pierce in this rookie class than most analysts. In my opinion, his college production profile was too weak, though he is an excellent goal-line rusher. I'm not convinced he's talented enough to beat out Mack, who was far more productive in college and had one great year in the NFL before getting injured in 2020. My bets are still on Mack, but the door is definitely open for Pierce to win the job. I want to see reports and watch games to see if Mack is even 90% of what he used to be. If so, I'll love Mack with the Texans. If not, it will be Pierce's job to lose.

Chicago's WR-2

  • The Bears' wide receiver depth chart was confusing enough before they added N'Keal Harry to their roster in a trade last week. Behind Darnell Mooney, any of these players could start in two and three-receiver sets - Byron Pringle, Velus Jones, N'Keal Harry, Daz Newsome, or Equanimeous St. Brown. Shoot! They even added Donte Pettis and Tajae Sharpe this offseason too. The Chicago passing game needs much improvement, and someone has to become a frequent target for Justin Fields beyond Mooney and Cole Kmet. In this case, I have no idea who to expect to emerge at WR-2 or WR-3. I picked up a few shares of St. Brown off the waiver wire when he signed with the Bears, and I even picked up one share of N'Keal Harry after the trade, but I have no idea who will emerge as a starter on the team. They will likely be irrelevant in dynasty leagues anyway. Still, I'd be interested in adding the one that solidifies himself as a starter opposite Mooney in two-receiver sets to the back of my rosters, given the upside and room to grow for Justin Fields.

Washington Running Backs

  • I've never been a fan of Antonio Gibson. I looked pretty bad for not liking him after some of his incredible games in his rookie year, but since then, he's been mediocre at best, and I feel more vindicated. J.D. McKssic has continued to be a thorn in his side in the passing game, and drafting Brian Robinson in the third round did not help his dynasty value at all. I loved Jaret Patterson and added him to several of my teams near the end of last season, but his draft capital and contract make him an odd man out now. I've since dropped him from all of my teams but one. The Washington backfield will be a mess this year unless Robinson fails in the preseason or breaks out during the preseason. Everything hinges on Robinson in this training camp battle because Gibson and McKissic already have defined roles. Robinson never beat out his competition for touches at Alabama, so I have a hard time believing he'll suddenly do so in the NFL. As I already said, I'm not a fan of Gibson, so I think he has a better chance than others do.

Miami Running Backs

  • I expect Miami's new coach, Mike McDaniel, will have a running back by committee approach throughout the year, but I'd be eager to see which one of the three free agents the team signed this offseason would get the first touches. The Dolphins signed Chase Edmonds, Raheem Mostert, and Sony Michel, and Ourlads has the depth chart in that order for now. If you follow the money, that's the way the depth chart should be listed. Edmonds signed a two-year twelve million dollar deal. In comparison, Mostert and Michel signed one-year deals for just over two million dollars and under two million dollars, respectively. I believe Edmonds will get the first touches but beat reporters are speculating that Michel will get the goal-line work. In my opinion, Mostert, who played for McDaniel in San Fransisco, has the most upside if he can stay healthy. Mostert passed his tests and is cleared to return to play in training camp, so I'm eager to see if he can stay healthy. If so, he could be a difference maker and the most explosive of three running backs. The whole offense in Miami is revamped with the new coaching staff and the addition of Tyreek Hill, so the entire offense will be fun to watch before the season kicks off, and many players' dynasty values will change depending on what we see.

Indianapolis Pass Catchers

  • Michael Pittman is a rising star in dynasty, and Matt Ryan will make him even better this season. There's no question that he's the top target in the passing game, but the rest of the pass-catching options in Indianapolis are wide open (see what I did there?). In all seriousness, it remains to be seen which pass catchers in Indianapolis can get open. Parris Campbell and Alec Pierce have the same second-round draft capital as Pittman and are listed as the two starters opposite Pittman by Ourlads. Still, Ashton Dulin, a UDFA, steadily saw more and more snaps with the team in the second half of last season and has a path to the starting lineup, too. Mo Alie-Cox finally has a clear path to every-down snaps with Jack Doyle out of the picture, but the Colts drafted one of the freakiest athletes in the NFL Combine, Jelani Woods. Alie-Cox should hold off Woods for most of the season, but I doubt he'll become Ryan's second most targeted player. If Parris Campbell could stay healthy, he should be the WR-2 for the Colts, but he's only played 14 games in his three-year career. I liked Pierce's athleticism and big-play ability, but he did not have the complete college production profile I trust. I could see him being used effectively in the red zone but not becoming a highly targeted player. I'm excited to see Matt Ryan with a new team and see the Colts and Jonathan Taylor change the offense for the better this season. Training camp and preseason games will help me determine which of their ancillary players will see their dynasty stock rise this season.

Green Bay Wide Receivers

  • With the departure of Davante Adams, Aaron Rodgers was left with a combination of old vets and rookies. He has his old friend Randall Cobb and his newest friend, Allen Lazard. The Packers added Sammy Watkins in free agency and Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs in the draft. Plus, they still have their third-round pick from last year, Amari Rodgers. Ourlads currently lists the vets as the starters. I expect the Packers to start the season that way, mainly because Rodgers can be so particular about his wide receivers knowing precisely what to do and where to be. Watson and Doubs were two of my favorite early and last-round prospects (respectively) in this class, so I am eager to see if they can move quickly passed the vets on the depth chart. Thankfully, in this case, we'll know definitively because if Rodgers does not talk them up or target them up, that's all we need to know. That's just the way he is.

Everyone in Kansas City

  • With the loss of Tyreek Hill and the addition of JuJu Smith-Shuster, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and Ronald Jones, the Chiefs' offense is filled with unkowns apart from Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce. I've never valued Clyde Edwards-Helaire as highly as other dynasty managers, so I would not be surprised at all to see Ronald Jones score more fantasy points than Edwards-Helaire this season, especially since Edwards-Helaire has been terrible in the red zone, and Jones will get all of the goal-line carries. The battle to be Mahome's second leading target behind Kelce will be the most significant question mark. Mecole Hardman could hold off Smith-Schuster and Valdez-Scantling, but the newcomers could just as easily surpass Hardman. I suspect the Chiefs will spread the ball around a lot, making their receivers and running backs far less productive from a fantasy football standpoint while still helping the team. I'm eager to watch during training camp, however, to see if I am wrong and if one of the hyphenated last name guys can separate from the pack.

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