In this wild NFL offseason, without a preseason, fantasy football owners are tasked with paying closer attention to training camp than usual. Rookies tend to have the most to gain from positional duels, but this offseason makes it even more difficult for first-time players to leave their mark.
Some of these “battles” aren’t what we’re used to considering but more of a fantasy football role definition that will be explored in a similar fashion.
Fantasy football running backs
Melvin Gordon vs. Phillip Lindsay, Denver Broncos
This is more of a time share than a true competition. The Broncos will defer to Gordon as the superior talent of the two, although it could come down to the weekly hot hand if the former Charger struggles to distinguish himself early on. He took a shot in practice Aug. 20 and was held out with a rib injury. Barring a lengthy absence, money talks, and there’s more invested in seeing Gordon shine.
Projected outcome: Gordon earns the larger share of a roughly 65/35 split. He’s an RB2, and Lindsay is a flex or fourth back.
Raheem Mostert vs. Tevin Coleman, San Francisco 49ers
Mostert received his contract adjustment and has every chance to take over the primary carries. He’ll likely still lose a significant share of work to Coleman, a Kyle Shanahan favorite. The offensive system is known for splitting carries, and it probably would be a mistake for Mostert to be given a massive workload after he really has only about two months of shouldering the load. Expect a roughly 60/40 split.
Projected outcome: 1A/1B in favor of Mostert. Both will be weekly lineup decisions.
D’Andre Swift vs. Kerryon Johnson, Detroit Lions
Neither back is built to handle the — wait for it — lion’s share of the touches. Both are capable receivers out of the backfield, and Detroit has been slowly molding its offense into a ground-control system. Swift’s game-breaking rushing ability is the X-factor in this situation. Both backs can find success, so long as the rookie is the primary two-down option and KJ is a change-up/third-down weapon. That said, the defense isn’t there yet to permit such a design on a regular basis. This suggests the more consistent option will be whichever back sees more targets. Swift is the upside, Johnson is the value. Both come with serious risk.
Projected outcome: 1A/1B in favor of Swift. Treat the rookie as a flex and Johnson as depth.
Marlon Mack vs. Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts
Mack enters as the starting back, and Taylor will be heavily involved. Don’t expect Mack’s workload to fall behind Taylor’s, at least in the early season. He still is no worse than a 50/50 cut of the ground touches, losing third-down chores to Nyheim Hines for the third straight year. Taylor has the chops, as we’ve seen by his insanely productive collegiate career, but he’s still a rookie in a wacky offseason. Tread carefully.
Projected outcome: Mack will be involved as the 1A, so long as he stays healthy. Currently, drafters are overvaluing Taylor (Round 4) and depreciating Mack. The former is a flex, and the vet has a favorable chance of exceeding his ADP (Round 7).
Los Angeles Rams
Woof … rookie Cam Akers is the presumed leader for touches, and it could be a messy situation even if he is the top back come Week 1. Veteran Malcolm Brown will have a say in the matter, and Darrell Henderson, coming off of ankle surgery, enters his second year after a wholly forgettable first season. The latter is more of a pass-catching option and could be the third-down/change-of-pace guy, whereas Akers will have the most direct competition from Brown.
Projected outcome: Wide open … Akers, a second-round pick, is the safest bet in all formats as an RB3.
Washington Football Team
Following the release of Derrius Guice, Washington is left with Adrian Peterson, Antonio Gibson, Bryce Love, Peyton Barber and J.D. McKissic. The long and short, it all comes down to the maturation of Gibson, a rookie, and the health of Love, a 2017 Heisman Trophy runner-up coming off of a 2018 knee reconstruction that red-shirted him as a rookie last year. He has turned heads thus far in camp. Barber is an unexciting plodder, and McKissic is a third-down or gadget option. As long as Peterson stays healthy, he deserves the benefit of the doubt as the two-down starter. The rookie will almost certainly handle the third-down job, at a minimum. Love is an X-factor to watch, and the try-hard Barber shouldn’t be completely written off just yet.
Projected outcome: Peterson and Love control obvious running situations and goal-line work, whereas Gibson is the more valuable pick based on potential to be more than a third-down weapon. All three have limited upside thanks to offensive personnel concerns.
LeSean McCoy vs. Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The chore of spelling Ronald Jones will fall to either Shady McCoy or the rookie. This one is going to be worth keeping an eye on, but for different reasons depending on the winner. Should McCoy win the top backup role, he’s also likely to see significant work on third downs as a pass-catcher. Vaughn isn’t nearly the same caliber receiver as the vet, although he’s a more likely direct replacement for Jones. Even if McCoy still shows he has something to offer, Vaughn is the smarter true handcuff.
Projected outcome: McCoy has the edge due to being a veteran during this strained offseason.
Zack Moss vs. T.J. Yeldon/Taiwan Jones, Buffalo Bills
There’s little doubt in the minds of the fantasy collective as to which back will win this “battle” … and it’s fair to believe the consensus is on the right track. Moss has looked pretty dang good thus far in training camp, and all three backs are effectively locks to make the final roster. Jones has flashed a time or two but is more of a special teamer. Yeldon provides veteran experience as a third back and can be worked in on any down. Moss isn’t much of a receiver, and he’ll pair in some percentage of touch share with second-year back Devin Singletary.
Projected outcome: Look for Moss to encounter an inconsistently productive start to his rookie season as a change-up behind Singletary.
Lamar Miller vs. Damien Harris, New England Patriots
Sony Michel (foot) is on the PUP list and may not be ready for Week 1, which means we’ll see at least six weeks of one of these backs being the primary rusher. Consider him week to week. Harris barely saw the field as a 2019 rookie, while Miller missed the entire year after blowing out his knee. He’s 29 years old, returning from a serious injury to win a gig at a younger man’s position (Frank Gore says hi). Miller has been put on the active/PUP, as well, but he can come off at any time. The Patriots have a history of adding veteran players who are past their prime and fail to contribute. It would be an eye-opener if Miller proved to be different.
Projected outcome: Harris will be given every chance to win this job and should be drafted accordingly. Keep tabs on Michel’s status every few days in the news.
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Justin Jackson vs. Joshua Kelley, Los Angeles Chargers
The fourth-round selection of Kelley in this spring’s draft may have some gamers questioning how firm of a grip Jackson has on the No. 2 job. Since Jackson missed 12 games in two years, it’s fair to expect the rookie is merely insurance at this point. All signs point to Kelley being on the outside looking in in 2020, as long as Jackson remains healthy.
Projected outcome: Jackson has the inside track on the No. 2 job, according to The Orange County Register’s Gilbert Manzano. Draft Jackson as depth or a handcuff to Austin Ekeler.
J.K. Dobbins vs. Gus Edwards, Baltimore Ravens
This one probably isn’t a true competition, and Edwards may struggle to make the final roster due to a logjam at the position. Dobbins and Mark Ingram are the favorites in fantasy circles, and Edwards is the focus of trade rumors. A rookie from 2019, Justice Hill could be worked in as a third-down back or a change-up, thanks to his lightning speed.
Projected outcome: After Ingram, Dobbins is the only Baltimore back worthy of a selection, although he is being slightly overdrafted (6th/7th turn).
Las Vegas Raiders No. 2
Veteran Jalen Richard returns on a two-year deal to compete with rookie Lynn Bowden Jr., Rod Smith and Devontae Booker. The latter two haven’t shown enough to give them much consideration. Richard is a quality pass-catching option, as is Bowden, marking the real competition of this foursome. Las Vegas starter Josh Jacobs will be more involved in the passing game, per Jon Gruden, so will there be enough passes to suggest anyone but Jacobs has fantasy value? Probably not consistently enough to matter.
Projected outcome: Given the short offseason to learn, and a positional transition from wide receiver, Richard is likely to see more action than Bowden. Neither should be drafted in conventional leagues.
Pittsburgh Steelers backups
This is especially worthy of attention given the durability questions swirling over James Conner’s head. In 2020, it’s fair to believe at least one of the following guys will have a significant enough role to warrant fantasy consideration some weeks: Jaylen Samuels, Benny Snell, Anthony McFarland Jr. and Wendell Smallwood. Three of the four are arguably more talented receivers than rushers, whereas Snell is more of the two-down type. In the event Conner suffers another injury, it will be a committee approach based on situations and matchups, eliminating a true handcuff.
Projected outcome: Samuels will have every chance to secure the No. 2/change-of-pace roles and is enhanced by the pandemic-stricken offseason.
AJ Dillon vs. Jamaal Williams, Green Bay Packers
This one isn’t a true competition for the No. 2 job behind Aaron Jones but more of a question of how much action can we expect from Dillon during his rookie season. His 247-pound frame suggests he’s a pounder with little to offer in the passing game, and the stats from his collegiate days concur. Head coach Matt LaFleur disagrees, though, having praised Dillon as a natural hands-catcher. That said, we’re likeliest to see the rook sprinkled in during specific personnel packages and situations in such a sparing way that fantasy owners may not notice. Williams is a free agent after this year and seemingly has an airtight lock on the job — for now.
Projected outcome: Williams is the No. 2 as long as his health permits. Dillon is purely a flier, and Williams has some appeal as a handcuff to Aaron Jones.
Running back injury news
- Cleveland Browns RB Nick Chubb (concussion) is hopeful he will be cleared soon, per Mary Kay Cabot, of The Cleveland Plain Dealer.
- Los Angeles Chargers RB Melvin Gordon (ribs) is off Friday after suffering a rib injury, and he’s considered day to day.
- Michel has a chance to play in Week 1, and Miller was put on the active/PUP list as he returns from a torn ACL.
- Philadelphia Eagles RB Boston Scott is day to day with a lower-body injury, according to Jeff McLane, of The Philadelphia Inquirer.
- Seattle Seahawks RB Rashaad Penny (knee) will report to training camp Friday, Aug. 21, and take a COVID-19 test, before possibly working out with the team, per Pete Carroll.
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