2019 Fantasy Football Draft Prep: 10 big battles to watch when training camp begins

Believe it or not, training camps begin this week. For the Broncos, at least, who will be the first team to report to camp this Wednesday, with the rest of the league joining them over the next week or so. 

That means Fantasy football draft prep season is about to officially begin. We've been giving you analysis and advice for the 2019 Fantasy season ever since the final whistle of last season, but we're about to kick things into high gear over the next few weeks. 

With teams about to report to training camp, it's a good opportunity to take a look at what is exactly at stake over the next few weeks. We've got our rankings all ready to go, but we also know what we think to be true on July 15 likely won't hold up to the next month and a half of practices and games. Someone will come out of nowhere to emerge as a Fantasy stud, while an apparent stalwart or two will fall down the depth chart in the coming weeks. 

Before the first teams report, let's take a look at the biggest position battles you'll want to keep an eye on during training camp, along with who I'd like to see come out ahead:

1. Seahawks No. 1 Running Back

The contenders: Chris Carson, Rashaad Penny

What's at stake: The opportunity to be the lead back in one of the most run-heavy offenses in the league — with a superstar quarterback.

Where things stand: Carson was the top option last season, finishing with over 1,300 yards and nine touchdowns in 14 games. However, Penny came on strong late, and actually rushed for 108 yards and a touchdown when Carson missed Week 10. This is expected to be an open competition in training camp and the preseason.

Who we want to win: Neither. Ideally, this will be a shared backfield, and there should be more than enough room for both to have value. Carson, Penny, and the departed Mike Davis combined for 507 touches last season. However, if Carson is slow to recover from offseason knee surgery, we wouldn't mind too much if Penny ran away with the job, either.

2. Steelers No. 2 Wide Receiver

The contenders: James Washington, Donte Moncrief, Diontae Johnson, Eli Rogers

What's at stake: A share of 2018's most pass-happy offense and Antonio Brown's departed 168 targets.

Where things stand: The most productive option among this group last season in Pittsburgh was Ryan Switzer and his 253 yards on 36 receptions. In Jacksonville in 2018, Moncrief had 48 catches for 668 yards, and is by far the most accomplished player in the group — which isn't saying much. The Athletic's Mark Kaboly projects Moncrief to be the No. 2 receiver, with Rogers in the slot.

Who we want to win: Washington was the favorite of Fantasy analysts at first, though that was less about confidence in him and more about a lack of interest in Moncrief at this point in his career. However, he had a sneaky-good 2018, averaging 7.5 yards per attempt on a team that averaged just 6.4; similarly, he averaged 8.3 Y/A on a Colts' team that averaged 6.6 in 2017.

3. Buccaneers No. 1 Running Back

The contenders: Peyton Barber, Ronald Jones

What's at stake: The lead back role in what could be a very explosive offense.

Where things stand: Barber has ended up the No. 1 back in Tampa Bay the last two seasons, mostly because nobody has taken it from him. Jones was a huge bust as a rookie, but is still just 22, and the fact that Bucs didn't bring anyone in to compete beyond undrafted free agent Bruce Anderson would seem to signal that they still believe in Jones.

Who we want to win: Jones is the easy call. He may not be any good — he certainly wasn't as a rookie, even when he was healthy — but we know who Barber is, and it's nothing exciting. Jones at least has potential, theoretically.

4. Rams Running Back

The contenders: Todd Gurley, Darrell Henderson, Malcolm Brown

What's at stake: With Todd Gurley dealing with knee issues that severely limited him late last season, there is a chance for someone else to emerge in this backfield as a legitimate Fantasy option.

Where things stand: This is not to suggest Gurley has a chance of losing his job. He doesn't. What we'll be watching for in training camp is how much they seem to be preserving him, and whether Henderson serves as more of a change-of-pace back, a complementary option, or a true backup. As we saw with C.J. Anderson in 2018, simply getting touches in this offense can be enough to make even a pedestrian back a Fantasy star.

What we want to see: Ideally, not much of Henderson or Brown. The best-case scenario sees Gurley remain the workhorse, albeit one with fewer touches than he saw the last two seasons. If Gurley does look hampered by the knee, Henderson's big-play ability makes him the obvious option to back up Gurley.

5. Texans No. 1 Running Back

The contenders: Lamar Miller, D'Onta Foreman

What's at stake: The top role in a high-scoring offense.

Where things stand: Despite the fact that Fantasy players have been trying to replace him for years, Miller is the presumed favorite here. He's had at least 235 touches in each season in Houston, though he doesn't typically do much of note with them. Foreman never really had a chance to usurp him in 2018, as he was recovering from a rupture Achilles.

Who we want to win: Is the devil you know better, in this situation? We know Miller will end up finishing as a top-20 running back if he remains the starter, because he always does. But he's never particularly exciting along the way, so Fantasy players are once again left rooting for someone to replace Miller. If Foreman shows more burst two years removed from his injury, let's hope he can take this one and run with it.

6. Chargers Running Back

The contenders: Melvin Gordon, Melvin Gordon's Holdout, Austin Ekeler, Justin Jackson

What's at stake: If Gordon ends up reporting to camp, new contract or no, there isn't much at stake. However, if he holds firm on his promise to sit out or demand a trade, there's a big opportunity here — Chargers' running backs combined for 331 carries and 138 targets in 2018.

Where things stand: Gordon is the workhorse as soon as he reports to camp. However, given that he has played 16 games just once in four seasons, there's still plenty of room for someone else to contribute. The biggest question is whether Ekeler or Jackson is the true backup — some view Ekeler as a complementary back no matter Gordon's status.

Who we want to win: Gordon and his agent. A win for them has two outcomes, and both are pretty ideal for Fantasy players: Gordon could get his extension with the Chargers, locking him back as a top-eight Fantasy pick in all formats; or, Gordon could end up traded, freeing up Jackson or Ekeler to step into a larger role, while Gordon goes on to be a feature back elsewhere. The only scenario we don't want is a repeat of Le'Veon Bell's holdout in 2018.

7. 49ers No. 1 Running Back

The contenders: Tevin Coleman, Jerick McKinnon, Matt Breida

What's at stake: Even on a pretty mediocre offense with two different backups seeing significant time on offense, there were moments where four different running backs were Fantasy viable in 2018. Getting 200 touches in a Kyle Shanahan offense is a great way for a running back to challenge for a top-20 finish at the position. Those four backs combined for 364 carries and 66 targets last season.

Where things stand: The 49ers brought Coleman in as a free agent, so he is the presumed lead back. Of course, just a year ago, McKinnon was the presumed lead back after signing as a free agent. If his recovery from a torn ACL last training camp goes well, this could be wide open — and Breida is a viable late-round Fantasy pick after he excelled in the role last season when he was healthy.

Who we want to win: Coleman and McKinnon. No offense to Breida, but the two guys the 49ers went out and paid to bring in are probably the more exciting options. No one back is likely to dominate touches, but we could see both McKinnon and Coleman on the field together at times, given their respective receiving abilities. Coleman is probably the best rusher in the group, but McKinnon is such a dynamic playmaker, we don't want him to be buried.

8. Bears Running Back

The contenders: Tarik Cohen, David Montgomery, Mike Davis

What's at stake: Matt Nagy's offense exploded last season, and he's the kind of creative offensive mind you can count on to get a lot out of multiple backs.

Where things stand: The assumption right now is Cohen will see a similar role to last year, while Montgomery will be the go-to back thanks to his versatility and draft pedigree. Davis has largely become a Fantasy afterthought, despite rushing for 4.6 yards per carry and adding 34 receptions in a part time role with the Seahawks a year ago.

Who we want to win: Montgomery. Cohen seems locked into about 100 rushes and 100 targets, so it's between Montgomery and Davis for the rest of the work. Montgomery has the pedigree as a third-round pick, though he's a pretty mediocre athlete whose college numbers don't exactly jump off the page. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt because the Bears liked him enough to take him relatively early, but Davis is a worthwhile late flier.

9. Packers No. 2 Wide Receiver

The contenders: Geronimo Allison, Marquez Valdes-Scantling

What's at stake: The opportunity to see a bunch of targets from Aaron Rodgers. Need I say more?

Where things stand: Valdes-Scantling opened spring practices as a the No. 2 receiver in the offense, but that isn't as big a hint as it might seem, because Allison is likely ticketed for the main slot receiver role, and should still see the field plenty.

Who we want to win: Allison was pretty good before injuries derailed his season, but MVS is just the much more intriguing prospect. At 6'4", he ran a 4.37 40-yard dash in the combine, giving him ideal size and athleticism for an NFL wide receiver. By comparison, Allison is a pretty middling athlete, so we'll root for the guy with the ability to really burn defenses.

10. Chiefs No. 2 Running Back

The contenders: Darwin Thompson, Carlos Hyde

What's at stake: The opportunity to be next in line in Andy Reid's offense, a role that turned Damien Williams into a league-winner at the end of 2018.

Where things stand: Williams seems pretty much locked in as the No. 1 back heading into the season, though he doesn't exactly have the kind of track record that makes him a sure thing to stay healthy or produce. Beyond that, it seems pretty open behind him, though the veteran Hyde probably has an edge right now.

Who we want to win: Thompson. Hyde is another "We know who you are" guy, and that just isn't terribly exciting. He's on his fourth team in three seasons, and it's not terribly hard to see why: He has a career 4.0 yards per carry, and averages less than 4.0 yards per target as a receiver. Thompson was just a late-round pick, but he's actually a pretty good athlete who was very productive in his lone season at Utah State. We'll take the potential over the safe, but safely mediocre Hyde. 

So which Fantasy Football sleepers should you snatch in your draft? And which RB2 can you wait on until late? Visit SportsLine now to get Fantasy Football cheat sheets from the model that called Andrew Luck's huge season, and find out.

Fantasy Writer

Though he can be found covering three different sports depending on the time of year, there is one unifying theme in how Chris Towers approaches sports; "Where's the evidence?" It doesn't matter how outlandish... Full Bio

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