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Training Camp Lowdown

One Fantasy Training Camp Battle from Every NFL Team

by Kyle Dvorchak
Updated On: July 26, 2021, 1:03 pm ET

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Training camp is about to get underway and it represents our best chance as fantasy prognosticators to tweak the projections for Week 1 and the early part of the season as a whole. Plenty of roles are up for grabs and the winners of those battles could be the big difference-makers in the middle and late rounds of drafts.

Arizona Cardinals

Christian Kirk vs. A.J. Green vs. Rondale Moore

Beyond DeAndre Hopkins playing every down and soaking up a massive quantity of targets, it’s difficult to say what Kliff Kingsbury will do with his receivers. Rookie Rondale Moore has the most upside and his playmaking ability is the perfect fit for Arizona’s offense but it would surprise no one to see him eased in. Christian Kirk can play any receiver position and has experience in the offense. Lastly, A.J. Green looked halfway out of the league last year but the Cardinals gave him an $8 million contract. If Moore gets some hype in training camp, be prepared to see his draft stock soar.

Atlanta Falcons

Olamide Zaccheaus vs. Christian Blake

The Falcons have been a top-five team by pass attempts and yards per game in each of the past three seasons. While Calvin Ridley and Kyle Pitts project to see copious amounts of passing volume this year, there’s still a lot of work left to go around for Russell Gage and another receiver. Olamide Zaccheaus began 2020 as the fourth receiver for Atlanta and became a mainstay of the Falcons’ lineup for a few weeks with Ridley and Julio Jones ailing. He’ll open camp as the presumed starter in three-receiver sets with Christian Blake and UDFA wideout Frank Darby behind him.

Baltimore Ravens

J.K. Dobbins vs. Gus Edwards

Most of the Ravens’ skill position starters are already settled but the split within their backfield remains up in the air. J.K. Dobbins has the draft capital and college pedigree to be a three-down back but Gus Edwards has been nothing but efficient in the NFL, averaging over five yards per carry in all three of his pro seasons. Dobbins falls perfectly in the RB Dead Zone, looking like a player who won’t kill fantasy teams but has no chance at lapping other running backs in points per game. Unless we get an “Edwards running exclusively with the twos” blurb in camp, Dobbins will remain on the list of difficult to draft players.

Buffalo Bills

Gabriel Davis vs. Emmanuel Sanders

The Bills used Gabriel Davis sparingly as a rookie but the UCF product made the most of his limited work, totaling seven touchdowns and 599 yards on 62 targets. John Brown departed in free agency but the Bills signed Emmanuel Sanders. Whether they signed Sanders to replace Brown or to fill the No. 4 role after Davis is elevated to Brown's former gig remains to be seen. Brown played at least 70-percent of Buffalo's offensive snaps in seven of his nine appearances in 2020.

Carolina Panthers

Ian Thomas vs. Dan Arnold

Ian Thomas was a popular sleeper in deep leagues last year but flopped tremendously, picking up just 145 yards despite starting all 16 games. The Panthers brought in Dan Arnold to add some receiving prowess to their tight end room. The two will compete for the starting job in camp although Carolina could ultimately ignore the position entirely when it comes to distributing their targets. Darnold made some big plays while in Arizona and New Orleans. He’ll become draftable in the deepest of leagues if he cleanly emerges as the starter over Thomas. 

Chicago Bears

Damien Williams vs. Tarik Cohen

The Bears were forced to give David Montgomery the bulk of the snaps on passing downs last year but that wasn't their plan entering the season. Tarik Cohen led the backfield in routes run until going down with a torn ACL. Chicago brought in Damien Williams to push him for those duties and he's more than capable of accomplishing that. In his previous 20 contests, Williams has averaged 3.8 receptions per game. One of these two backs will provide PPR value and training camp will give us some insight into which one is worth betting on. 

Cincinnati Bengals

Chris Evans vs. Samaje Perine

Neither of these backs will see significant work early in the year but an injury to Joe Mixon would create a hulking void of touches on an offense that fantasy drafters are tripping over themselves to invest in. Perine was serviceable with Mixon out last year, splitting time with Giovani Bernard en route to 301 yards and three scores on 60 carries. If he fills Bernard’s shoes as the direct backup to Mixon, Perine has to get some love as an elite ZeroRB sleeper. 

Cleveland Browns

Rashard Higgins vs. Donovan Peoples-Jones

The Browns have most of their rotation set but they could see a shakeup with their third receiver. Donovan Peoples-Jones is a former five-star recruit and tested well at the combine but Rashard Higgins held a firm grip on the No. 3 receiver role in People's-Jones's debut campaign. Higgins averaged 11.5 yards per target and 2.04 yards per route run last year. It’s hard to see anyone supplanting him after that performance but dynasty hodlers of Peoples-Jones can dream.

Dallas Cowboys

Blake Jarwin vs. Dalton Schultz

Ezekiel Elliott vs. Tony Pollard was simply too hot-takey so we'll wait patiently to see who the Cowboys' starting tight end in camp is instead. Jarwin opened the 2020 season as the starter but was quickly taken down by a torn ACL. This paved the way for Dalton Schultz to add numerous "40-yard game" notches to his belt. Schultz was uninspiring but Jarwin may take more time than expected to return from his injury. Whoever is the starting tight end for Dak Prescott and one of the league's most exciting offenses will be worth rostering in all formats. 

Denver Broncos

Drew Lock vs. Teddy Bridgewater

The one true quarterback battle of training camp will go down in Denver between Drew Lock and Teddy Bridgewater. The winner of this battle will change the composition of the Broncos’ offense. Under Lock in 2020, Denver was unable to support a single fantasy WR3, with only Noah Fant providing any amount of consistent value. Bridgewater’s Panthers featured three wideouts who finished inside the top-25 at their position. Notions that Bridgewater will open the season as the starter should be treated as a godsend for all Broncos pass-catchers.

Detroit Lions

A Wide Receiver Battle Royale

The Lions have at least four receivers who could conceivably lead the room in targets including veterans Breshad Perriman and Tyrell Williams plus the young players, Amon-Ra St. Brown and Quintez Cephus. Similar to New England’s receiving room last year, the ambiguity could allow for some solid values in the final rounds of drafts. Simply knowing who is running with the first team in Detroit will be an edge in the final drafts of summer.

Green Bay Packers

Amari Rodgers vs. The Other No. 2s

Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Allen Lazard have been disappointing as potential compliments to Davante Adams with neither wideout eclipsing 700 yards in their six combined seasons with the Packers. Their respective draft positions are unlikely to be affected by a little bit of camp buzz but Amari Rodgers could see his stock go to the moon if he wows in August. Rodgers was crowded out of the receiving room for most of his time at Clemson but did manage to surpass 1,000 receiving yards in his final season. One big-time catch or a few positive words from Aaron Rodgers will put Amari’s ADP on the Elijah Moore trajectory.

Houston Texans

Mark Ingram vs. Phillip Lindsay

David Johnson is the presumed starter for Houston because of his incumbent status but he’ll be 30 by the end of the year and hasn’t played a full season since 2018. Phillip Lindsay has been wildly efficient throughout his NFL career and even has some pass-catching chops if you look back to his profile coming out of Colorado. He’ll need to eliminate Mark Ingram from the equation to threaten Johnson, and that’s far from a certainty, but a strong camp showing from Lindsay could put him in a position to pay off his minimal ADP early in the year.

Indianapolis Colts

Carson Wentz vs. Himself

Battles between Mo Alie-Cox and Jack Doyle or splash plays from Micahel Pittman can't happen if Carson Wentz stumbles into consecutive sacks during every two-minute drill. Practices at the end of July aren’t going to make or break Wentz but they will give us some insight into how well he’s picking up the playbook he previously used under Frank Reich in Philly. They'll also show if a vastly superior offensive line is improving his ability to hang in the pocket. The Colts are easily the team most susceptible to a downgrade by the public via a “six-interceptions in one practice” camp report.

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Jacksonville Jaguars

Travis Etienne vs. Urban Meyers’ Scheme

The worst possible news Travis Etienne’s drafters can get from camp is “Etienne takes his fifth jet sweep on Day 2 of Jags camp." Meyer has talked about using Etienne as a third-down back and a receiver. Those things sound nice but most running backs striving for RB2 numbers need a baseline of carries to achieve that status. Over the past four years, RB2s have averaged 190 rush attempts per season, even in full PPR scoring. Etienne can pay off his cost as a committee back but he can’t afford to be the next gadget player for Meyer.

Kansas City Chiefs

Mecole Hardman vs. The Rest

This gets framed as Mecole Hardman vs other Kansas City receivers because the non-Hardman receivers in Kansas City were entirely unable to draw targets when on the field. Demarcus Robinson was 112th among receivers in targets per route run (min. 30 targets) and, had Byron Pringle seen enough volume to qualify, he would have been well below Robinson. Robinson and Pringle profile as guys who get snaps because teams are supposed to put 11 players on the field. The No. 3 target for the Chiefs is only interesting if Hardman steps past his competition in camp.

Los Angeles Rams

Van Jefferson vs. DeSean Jackson vs. Tutu Atwell

The Rams have a wealth of intriguing players to use as their third receiver. DeSean Jackson hasn’t played 16 games since 2013 but has led the league in yards per reception three times since then. If he can stay healthy and McVay gives him the bulk of the WR3 snaps in training camp, he’ll quickly jump a few rounds in ADP. If Jackson can’t secure that role in camp, Atwell or Jefferson will get a small bump but both players have less clear paths to a full-time role.

Los Angeles Chargers

Justin Jackson vs. Joshua Kelley

The Chargers have been reluctant to give Austin Ekeler a heaping load of touches at any point in his career but neither Justin Jackson nor Joshua Kelley is being drafted as if they have any stand-alone value. Both backs are going outside the top 200 picks in Underdog and DraftKings best ball drafts. Given the combination of low-cost and potential involvement in the LA offense, this camp battle is one of the most important of the summer.

Las Vegas Raiders

Henry Ruggs vs. Wind Sprints

Jon Gruden chose to deploy the highest-drafted receiver in the 2020 class exclusively as a deep threat and that role did not fit the rookie well. Ruggs finished his debut campaign with fewer than 500 receiving yards. For him to succeed as a pro, Gruden is going to need to use him on short routes, getting him the ball quickly and allowing him to burn defenders after the catch. Training camp will be our first chance to see if Gruden will expand Ruggs’s role beyond sideline sprints in his second year.

Miami Dolphins

Miami Wide Receiver Positions

The Dolphins are mostly set on their overall depth chart. Would any amount of Jakeem Grant puff pieces actually get you start drafting him? Didn’t think so. However, where they choose to line up Will Fuller and Jaylen Waddle remains to be seen. DeVante Parker will take nearly every snap from the outside but if the Dolphins try to work Jaylen Waddle anywhere other than the slot, he’ll be forced to compete with Fuller for snaps.

Minnesota Vikings

Irv Smith Jr. vs. Tyler Conklin

Tyler Conklin is unlikely to take on the starting tight end role in Minnesota but he doesn’t need to in order to ruin the Irv Smith Jr. breakout season. The Vikings were 27th in pass attempts per game last year and have a tandem of target hogs at receiver. Any notions of a rotation at tight end should tamper expectations for Smith’s third season.

New England Patriots

What are the Patriots Doing with their Signings?

The Patriots are an enigma in a number of ways this year and that extends to what they plan to do with Jonnu Smith, Hunter Henry, and the receivers they brought in this offseason. No team ran multi-TE sets on even half of their plays last year but the Patriots paid their duo a combined salary that would dwarf any other tight end’s paycheck. If they commit to playing both tight ends every down in camp, drafting a New England tight end will become considerably less risky.

New Orleans Saints

Jameis Winston vs. Taysom Hill

Much like a running back committee, this battle may not conclude with a decisive winner. It’s possible that the offseason rumors of Jameis Winston operating as the starting passer are true but Taysom Hill still worms his way into a meaningful role. Anything is on the table for New Orleans but the usage of Hill and Winston in camp should help us get a baseline for how to project this offense.

New York Giants

Saquon Barkley vs. Saquon Barkley’s Knee

The Giants aren’t an awfully interesting team to find fantasy receivers from because of Daniel Jones’s spotty accuracy and propensity to tuck the ball and run. However, they have a running back who, if healthy, is one of the few backs with a remote chance of challenging Christian McCaffrey for the RB1 title. Recent reports have indicated that Barkley will be eased back into the offense. If Joe Judge and company back that talk up by limiting him in practice, Barkley will start to slip in drafts.

New York Jets

Is Tevin Coleman a Thing Again?

The Jets may actually be trying the Tevin Coleman experiment again despite his stint with the 49ers, where Robert Saleh previously coached, being a bust. Coleman is currently free in drafts but could provide a stable floor of carries if the Jets anoint him their starter in camp. If he is getting subbed out for Michael Carter in summer practices, he stands no chance to outlast him when games actually kick off. 

Philadelphia Eagles

Kenneth Gainwell vs. Boston Scott

The Eagles have failed to grant Miles Sanders a three-down role in his first two years and the home run hitter has a propensity for getting hurt. That makes his backup particularly valuable for RB-needy teams. Boston Scott has typically filled that role but his roster spot is no longer guaranteed because of a few offseason acquisitions by Philadelphia, namely the drafting of Kenneth Gainwell in the fifth round. Gainwell caught 51 passes in 2019, his final collegiate season, making him the perfect replacement for Scott.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Chase Claypool vs. “The Rookie Wall”

After seeing Chase Claypool dominate corners with his speed and physicality in the first half of 2020, Mike Tomlin began subbing him out over fears that the budding star would hit a so-called “rookie wall.” Claypool was top-20 in targets per route run and 25th in yards per route run while competing with other quality receivers. If he’s kept on the field at all times, Claypool will be poised for a massive follow-up to his rookie season.

San Francisco 49ers

Trey Sermon vs. Raheem Mostert

While watching Trey Lance for the first time will be exciting, the 49ers sound committed to letting Jimmy Garoppolo make at least one mistake in a live game before pulling him. With that shelved for now, we can turn our eyes to the backfield. Raheem Mostert has been a devastating runner when healthy but injuries have been an issue for him. It will be interesting to see if the 49ers tip their hand on limiting his role in camp or if he runs exclusively with the first team. Trey Sermon is currently being drafted within a few picks of Mostert but a big (or quiet) camp performance will certainly shake things up.

Seattle Seahawks

Dwayne Eskridge vs… Freddie Swain?

The Seahawks have one of the best receiving duos in the league but almost no one outside of their top two projects for significant target volume this year. With one of their precious few draft picks in the 2021 class, they chose Western Michigan’s D'Wayne Eskridge. He’ll be a viable sleeper if he unseats Freddie Swain or whoever Seattle calls their third receiver simply based on his proximity to Russell Wilson.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Lombardi Lenny vs. Giovani Bernard

Everyone knows the Bucs do not intend to throw Ronald Jones the football ever again but Leonard Fournette, who operated as the team’s primary back on passing downs last year, has some hope to rack up receptions in 2021. He’ll have to beat out Giovani Bernard, who was an excellent receiver out of the backfield with the Bengals, for that role. If Bernard is seen getting camp reps in two-minute drills, Fournette deserves to be downgraded multiple rounds in drafts.

Tennessee Titans

Darrynton Evans vs. Jeremy McNichols

No running back has logged more rush attempts than Derrick Henry over the past three seasons and, at 896 totes, he’s nearly 50 ahead of Ezekiel Elliott. Henry has been remarkably healthy over that span, only missing one game, but that type of good injury luck is hard to sustain. Should his backup get called upon, they’ll be inheriting one of the largest workloads in the league. Darrynton Evans, a third-round pick in the Titans’ 2020 draft class, was unable to make a dent in Henry’s workload as a rookie. Evans profiles as a small but aggressive runner who proved capable of handling an excess amount of touches in college. He’ll be pushed for the backup role by Jeremy McNichols and Brian Hill, who was brought in as a free agent this offseason.

Washington Football Team

Dyami Brown vs. Kelvin Harmon

Kelvin Harmon was a film-grinder’s heartthrob coming out of NC State in 2019 but his athletic measurables and breakout age were poor. He fell to the sixth round of the draft and failed to cement himself as a consistent receiving threat on the outside. Harmon missed all of the 2020 season with a torn ACL and the Football Team selected Dyami Brown, a similarly skilled exterior receiver, in the third round. With Harmon showing little in his two pro seasons, the starting job opposite Terry McLaurin’s is Brown’s to lose.

Kyle Dvorchak

Kyle Dvorchak is a writer for NBC Sports Edge and half of the other sites on the internet. He loves most Big 12 quarterbacks, misses the XFL and can be found on @kyletweetshere.