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Fri Aug 2nd 2019

Top 10 Preseason Position Battles

Who I think will win them

We finally watched a preseason game last night (if we can call it that).  Preseason feels like fake football, especially early.  But there are plenty of things we can learn as the preseason progresses.  A lot of news from training camp is fluff, but some of it is insightful.  Preseason games reveal the most about which players are winning the position battles.  While you don't want to read too much into one great play, you do want to read a lot into what teams are thinking by way of snap counts, touches, and who is running with the first team, and even who is not playing to be protected until the season starts.  I aim to take in all the clues and accurately adjust players' values accordingly before the season starts on September 5th. 

There are many position battles that I am paying the most attention to this preseason.  I have ideas about who I think will win the job and I have players ranked accordingly, but I am willing to change my mind and adjust rankings based on what I hear and see over the next four weeks of training camp.  Here are the 10 preseason positional battles I am monitoring the most and which players' values will rise or fall the most over the next few weeks.

10. Baltimore Ravens WRs

I have Marquise Brown ranked #56, Miles Boykin ranked #64, Willie Sneed ranked #86, and Chris Moore ranked #92.

  • I put this one at #10 because I am not too high on any of the WRs because I am not too high on the passing ability of Lamar Jackson.  I am also slower than most to rank rookie WRs high until they have proven something because they so often bust and Baltimore's top two rookies in my rankings are rookies.  That's not saying much for their WR depth.  Boykin is getting all of the camp buzz so far, but it does not seem too reliable to me, and Brown has yet to practice in full while recovering from foot surgery even though he has been cleared to play.  Brown was the first WR drafted last year, so he has the draft capital so will get every chance to start.  Snead is the veteran whose starting spot is the only secure starting roster spot, but don't like his dynasty value at all even though he very well could score the most fantasy WR points for Baltimore this year.  Chris Moore is barely in my rankings, but I've not removed him because I find it hard to believe that two rookies will beat him out.  I want to watch Brown and Boykin carefully this preseason.  If one or both of them win starting jobs I will move them up my rankings, but not too far given that Baltimore still looks to be a run-first team with a TE (Mark Andrews) who is likely to lead the team in targets.

9. Seattle Seahawks RBs and WRs

I have Rashaad Penny ranked #24 and Chris Carson Ranked #28. 

I have Tyler Locket ranked #34, DK Metcalf ranked #43, David Moore ranked #65, Gary Jennings ranked #80, and Jaron Brown unranked.

  • Honestly, I don't think Penny and Carson will move up or down my rankings very much unless one of them gets injured.  They will likely share a 50/50 workload this season.  I doubt they will get many carries during the preseason either.  They have 4-5 younger backs who will carry the load and fight for a spot on the roster while Penny and Carson stay healthy this preseason.  I like Carson more than Penny in the short term but have Penny ranked higher because he is younger and has higher draft capital.
  • Unlike Baltimore, Seattle has an awesome QB in Russell Wilson.  But like Baltimore, they plan to be a run-heavy team this year.  That makes it hard to be too hopeful for any Seattle WR.  Wilson is good enough to make his WRs better, even if they have to be ridiculously efficient like Tyler Lockett was last year.  In the preseason, I hope to see how they plan to use DK Metcalf.  If he is used primarily as a deep threat and a red-zone target, I will be willing to move him up quite a bit.  David Moore knows the offense better, having been there for two years already.  I'll be watching to see if he can ward off Metcalf and secure the true #2 role in Seattle.  If he can, I'll move him up in my rankings, but likely not higher than Metcalf who is the future in Seattle.  If he loses a staring role to Metcalf, Moore will fall much further down in my rankings. 

8. Buffalo Bills RBs

I have Devin Singletary ranked #58, TJ Yeldon ranked #63, LeSean McCoy ranked #69, and Frank Gore ranked #104.

  • This is the most confusing backfield in the NFL. I have no idea what Buffalo intends to do this year, but I just have these players ranked based on their age because this is almost certainly the last year they will all be on the same team together.  McCoy and Gore are aging out.  Yeldon was targeted by Buffalo in free agency this offseason and they drafted Devin Singletary who I did not have ranked as high as others did in rookie drafts.  I imagine the preseason will feature the younger guys, but that doesn't mean they will run ahead of Gore and McCoy when the season starts.  As a result, I don't think their value will change much for me this preseason unless McCoy is traded as has been rumored.  In that case, Gore would stay where he is and Yeldon and Singletary would get bumped up a bit.

7. Denver Broncos WRs

I have Courtland Sutton ranked #53, Daesean Hamilton ranked #57, Emmanuel Sanders ranked #91, and Tim Patrick #92.

  • I've always been lower on Sutton and higher on Hamilton than other analysts.  I am sure I have them closer to each other than anyone else in the dynasty community.  Sutton is a hair higher based on his draft capital and by being more prototypical sized leading WR.  They have a new QB in Flacco this year too.  It remains to be seen who Flacco most naturally connects with so the preseason will make that more clear.  Matters have been made more complicated by the reports that Emmanuel Sanders has fully recovered from his torn Achillies.  I still have him ranked way lower than most because I am not sure I believe the reports about how well he is doing.  If Sanders plays in the preseason, these rankings will change drastically because Sanders, though older, is a proven star.  I like Tim Patrick more than most and have picked up Juwaan Winfree in several of my leagues the last week after hearing great reports of his play in practice.  He made a great touchdown catch in the Hall of Fame game last night. 

6. Tampa Bay RBs

I have Ronald Jones ranked #42, Peyton Barber ranked #52, and Bruce Anderson ranked #61.

  • I was lower on Ronald Jones than almost everyone else in rookie drafts two years ago and was proven right by his play last year.  I only have him above the other Tampa Bay RBs because of his draft capital.  That's it.  If he does not show something this preseason, I will happily move him behind Barber and Anderson.  Barber could move up a bit in my rankings if Jones struggles again this preseason, but I would not move him up because I feel like his ceiling is pretty low.  Bruce Anderson, however, could move way up in my rankings if he shows something this preseason.  I already have him higher than almost anyone in the industry which is why I have him on so many of my teams.  

5. Chicago Bears WR1

I have Allen Robinson ranked #29 and Anthony Miller ranked #39.

  • I'm not sure how much we'll see during training camp and preseason games, but I believe Anthony Miller can become the WR1 in Chicago ahead of Allen Robinson.  It won't take much to make me move them closer in the rankings or move Miller ahead of Robinson.  I'll listen to beat writers who are watching camp, pay attention to target counts in preseason games, and especially watch who they target more in the red-zone.  I had Miller ranked way higher than others in the rookie draft two years ago and have been trying to trade for him in many of my leagues where I do not have him. 

4. Miami Dolphins RBs

I have Kenyan Drake ranked #36, Kalen Ballage ranked #45, and Miles Gaskin ranked #90.

  • I was surprised to hear that Ballage was taking the first-team reps in training camps and even more surprised to hear their new coach, Flores, praising Ballage's play.  While I am not sure I believe it, I did move Drake down and Ballage up just a bit in my rankings this week.  Like I said about Seattle, I don't think we'll learn a lot during the preseason.  I suspect a split backfield with Drake and Ballage next year and that their younger guys (Gaskins and Walton) will get the bulk of the preseason reps.  When they do get carries, I will not be swayed to change their values much based on a big play they make.  Both are big play-makers, so if one of them makes a huge play I will not let it factor my rankings too much.

3. New England Patriots RBs

I have James White ranked #23, Damian Harris ranked #30, and Sony Michel ranked #37.

  • James White is going to be targetted a ton this year.  Last year was not a fluke.  I don't see why people are not ranking him higher than they are.  White (123) was targeted more than any RB besides Christian McCaffrey (124) and his targets should only go up after Gronk is gone.  I am one of the few analysts that already have Harris ranked ahead of Michel.  I was lower on Michel than most people in the rookie draft two years ago largely because of his injuries and feeling like he was not the best between the tackles runner which is where Harris excels.  If Michel gets 100% healthy, I'd be tempted to move them close before the season starts, but likely not.  We've never seen Harris in the NFL, so I will be watching to see how he plays in preseason games.  If he plays well in the preseason, Id' be willing to move him up even more.  White's ranking won't change based on how Harris or Michel play this preseason.  He has a completely different role so his dynasty value is secure.

2. Washington Redskins WRs

I have Trey Quinn ranked #59, Josh Doctson ranked #72, Kelvin Harmon ranked #75, Terry McLaurin ranked #80, and Paul Richardson ranked #87.

  • This is a messy situation worth watching for sure.  I have Quinn ranked the highest because he has secured the slot role and should excel there.  I've picked him up on several at the end of last year and the beginning of the offseason.  It's the outside WRs where there is a huge competition.  I'm giving Josh Doctson one more year to prove himself.  He's one of my most owned WRs.  I didn't draft him in any rookie drafts but have picked him up off the waiver wire or added him on as a throw-in on a trade.  He's already admitted that he'll likely not be re-signed after his contract expires this year.  That was made clear when the Redskins drafted two WRs in McLaurin and Harmon.  Still, I believe this could be his breakout year.  He has the best grasp of the offense and will have every opportunity to start next year.  Harmon was my #1 ranked rookie WR before the NFL draft, but I had to drop him way down in my rookie rankings after slipping to the 6th round of the NFL draft while McLaurin was drafted in the 3rd round.  I still believe in Harmon and want to see if he can win a starting role.  McLaurin has the hirer draft capital, however, and played with Dwayne Haskins at Ohio State so may have a connection with Haskins, but he may not be named the starter this year.  This is a mess.  I'm down on Paul Richardson who most people believe will start.  I like Doctson and Harmon more.  I doubt there will be any clarity during training camps the preseason games, but 2-3 of these guys will move up my rankings because someone needs to be ranked ahead of the slot guy (Quinn) who is ranked #59.

1. Arizona Cardinals WRs

I have Christian Kirk ranked #28, Andy Isabella ranked #47, Hakeem Butler ranked #74, KeeSean Johnson #83, and Larry Fitzgerald ranked #85.

  • Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray make the Cardinals a huge unknown.  Add to that the fact that they drafted 3 rookie WRs, and this is the #1 positional battle.  Kirk is my favorite to lead the team in targets and fantasy points, but that's about the only thing I am sure about.  It's sad to see one of my all-time favorite players, Fitzgerald, ranked the lowest among these players, but that's only based on age since we're talking dynasty.  I like Isabella even more after they drafted him first in the 2nd round.  I was a lot lower on Butler than most analysts and a lot higher on Johnson than most analysts though I did have Butler ranked higher in my rookie rankings.  Buzz out of camp is that Johnson is playing better than Butler, which is not surprising to me because Johnson is more polished while Butler is more athletic.  That's the battle I want to watch this preseason because I feel like Isabella has a locked-in role in the slot while Johnson and Butler will compete to be a starter in 4-WR sets and when Fitzgerald gets a break (and after he retires).  Arizona strikes me as a team in which we will learn a lot from during the offseason.  They'll need the practice with a new system and so many new players, so I imagine that we'll learn a lot by watching them.


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