It is difficult to believe, but training camp opens this week for many teams and there are several situations for fantasy owners to keep an eye on. We will break down the key position battles and give you the players to watch, and fantasy analysis.
Arizona Cardinals: Kevin Kolb vs John Skelton
Kolb was outplayed by the Skelton last year. His fat contract gives him an edge to begin the season under center once again. Even though he was a raw rookie coming into the NFL last year, Skelton showed a big arm and promise. Kolb will need to play well in order to hold off the youngster as the season progresses.
Prediction: Kolb starter to begin the season and Skelton starts four (or more) games as Kolb falters.
Miami Dolphins: David Garrard vs Matt Moore vs Ryan Tannehill
What a mess. The job will be Tannehill's late in the year but the coaching staff wants to bring him along slowly. Garrard is a game manager who struggles to make big plays. Moore will take chances and make things happen. The offense lacks play makers so neither is an attractive fantasy option this year.
Prediction: Garrard begins the season as the starter because the team wants a conservative game plan given the lack of viable wide receivers. Tannehill takes over by week 12.
New York Jets: Mark Sanchez vs Tim Tebow
Sanchez will start the season as the J-E-T-S starter. He put up decent numbers last year but was a much better fantasy player than NFL quarterback. New York traded for Tebow and openly plans on using him in red zone and short yardage packages. But, when will the aura of Tebow take over?
Prediction: Sanchez is the starter as long as the team is winning. But, the pressure will get to the Jets and a losing streak in midseason will precipitate a quarterback change. I can see Rex Ryan switching quarterbacks more than once during the year. This could be a long season for the Gang Green.
Seattle Seahawks: Matt Flynn vs Tarvaris Jackson vs Russell Wilson
Flynn has underwhelmed since signing with Seattle. It is his poor play that has opened the door for the other two to be in the mix. Jackson is a mediocre starting quarterback who struggles with accuracy. The rookie Russell has loads of potential but slipped in the draft because he was considered "too short" to be a NFL starting quarterback.
Prediction: Flynn is the week one starter. His lack of arm strength, combined with a losing streak, will give Russell a chance to start by week 10. While he may never be considered elite, the rookie is a very good athlete and can help the Seahawks win games down the stretch.
Tennessee Titans: Matt Hasselbeck vs Jake Locker
This is probably the quarterback battle that fantasy owners care about most. Hasselbeck is a veteran leader who played well last year. Even after a long career, he has not lost much and still has plenty of arm strength. Locker is a strong athlete with a big arm. The knock on him coming out was accuracy (completion percentage), but Locker flashed great potential as a rookie.
Prediction: The tough schedule to open the season will lead the new coaching staff to start Hasselbeck for the first three or four games. Locker should take over and not look back. The Kenny Britt situation will not impact the decision much since the Titans drafted Kendall Wright in the first round of the draft. Wright is very talented.
Running Back Situations
Arizona Cardinals: Beanie Wells vs Ryan Williams
Wells finished the 2011 season strong and would be considered the strong bet to repeat if not a nagging knee injury for most of the offseason. It is still a concern, which is a big deal this close to the season opener. Williams is coming off a nasty patella injury but has come back strong. He lost his rookie season after a productive career at Virginia Tech.
Prediction: The carries will be split as long as both backs are healthy, but Williams will see more touches. He is a threat as a receiver and the quarterback situation will dictate safer, shorter throws.
Buffalo Bills: Fred Jackson vs C.J. Spiller
Even at age 31, Jackson has not showed signs of slowing down. A broken leg knocked him out of action last year, opening the door for Spiller. The former Clemson star played great in his absence. Spiller has the speed and agility to make big plays in the open field.
Prediction: The Bills are fortunate to have two strong players at the position. Both are great receivers and the coaching staff has indicated a desire to use both on the field at the same time. Expect Jackson to line up behind Fitzpatrick the most, with Spiller in motion, in the slot, or split wide. As long as he remains healthy, Jackson should see the most carries and touches much to the dismay of Spiller fantasy owners.
Carolina Panthers: DeAngelo Williams vs Jonathan Stewart
Fantasy owners have seen this show before. Williams had a breakout year, and given a big contract, yet he is rarely used. Stewart seems to have "star" potential but gets just enough touches to tease. Then, the Panthers added Mike Tolbert in free agency this offseason. While he may play just the fullback role, Tolbert is a good short-yardage back and could steal touchdowns, just like quarterback Cam Newton.
Prediction: Stewart will get more carries than Williams, but still have less than 225 touches. Neither he nor Williams will be startable in fantasy leagues unless one is injured. This is a contract year for Stewart so he should be motivated.
Cincinnati Bengals: BenJarvus Green-Ellis vs Bernard Scott
Cedric Benson was ushered out the door and Green-Ellis signed to be the workhorse. Green-Ellis shined in limited duty while playing for the Patriots. How well will he play in an expanded role? While not an inside runner, Scott has speed to burn and is a good receiver.
Prediction: This will be a mess for fantasy owners. Green-Ellis had a meager yards per carry average in a better offense so the expectations have to be low. Scott is one of those players who are great to stash and hope for the best. However, he has not shown the ability to be a 15-carry back so fantasy owners cannot expect much from him ... even if Green-Ellis bombs.
Detroit Lions: Mikel Leshoure vs Jahvid Best
The Detroit backfield is a MASH unit. Leshoure is coming off an Achilles' injury and Best still has not been cleared from his string of concussions. The team wants Leshoure to be the power back and Best the scat/third-down back. Both players have ability and will add different dimensions to the offense.
Prediction: After serving his two-game suspension, Leshoure will be the starter in week three. He should be fully healthy by then and will add a power element to the Lion offense. Best will continue to be plagued by the concussion issues. Kevin Smith is a player to watch if Leshoure is slow to recover. Smith put up big numbers last year, especially the game against Carolina (200 total yards and three TDs). The prolific pass offense sets up the running game for success so this is a big situation to monitor in preseason.
Miami Dolphins: Reggie Bush vs Daniel Thomas vs Lamar Miller
The Dolphins will rely on the strong group of ball carriers to keep the pressure off a woeful passing attack. Bush was impressive last year, and hopes to repeat the feat by staying healthy again. Thomas did not play well as a rookie last season but is a versatile runner who will benefit from his first full offseason. Miller slipped in the NFL Draft because of his injury history. He is a speedy player who will be used all over the formation.
Prediction: Injury is the only thing limiting Bush's usage. He is the most talented of the group and will get the most carries and touches as long as he is in the lineup.
Minnesota Vikings: Adrian Peterson vs Toby Gerhart
Peterson suffered a knee injury just a few short months ago, but he is already back training HARD. Gerhart will see more touches than normal as the superstar back gets back to full health.
Prediction: Peterson's knee injury could limit his carries early in the season. With the chance that he comes back too soon, Gerhart is a decent late-round flier.
New England Patriots: Stevan Ridley vs Shane Vereen
With Green-Ellis now in Cincinnati, these two second-year players will battle for carries. Ridley played well last year as a rookie. Even though Vereen was drafted before him, Ridley saw more carries as a rookie. He is a tough inside runner and the coaching staff showed confidence in the former LSU star last season, and not signing Green-Ellis shows even more faith in the youngster. Vereen is a multidimensional player who is a good receiver out of the backfield. Danny Woodhead and Joseph Addai will also battle for touches.
Prediction: Ridley will get the early-down touches with the other three used on a situational basis. If Ridley gets hurt or falters, Vereen will be given a long look to be the starter. But, if history is a guide, none of the New England ball carriers will be overly fantasy relevant in the pass-happy offense.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Rashard Mendenhall vs Isaac Redman
Mendenhall went down late last year. He has recently tweeted that his knee has "healed wonderfully" but it is far from certain if he will be ready for week one. Redman is a good receiver out of the backfield and has shown flashes in his 163 career carries (726 rushing yards). Given that Pittsburgh did not add a running back either in free agency or in the draft, the team has faith in Redman's ability to hold the job if Mendenhall misses time. This is a contract year for Mendenhall so he has extra motivation to play - and play well - this season.
Prediction: Mendenhall will be on the PuP list to begin the season and will miss the first six games. During this time, Redman will be the starter and put up good numbers. With Todd Haley back as the Offensive Coordinator, the Steelers will lean on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger more than the ground game. When Mendenhall comes back, expect the players to split touches with Redman getting more receptions and Mendenhall more carries.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Doug Martin vs LeGarrette Blount
Tampa Bay will be a running team. Last year, Raheem Morris gave up on the run way too early. Martin was selected in the first round by the new coaching staff. He is their guy. Martin is a strong player in all facets of the position while Blount struggles in the passing game and fumbles too often.
Prediction: While both players will see extended action, Martin could top 300 touches. Quarterback Josh Freeman needs a strong running game to to take the pressure off. He does not perform well in obvious passing downs. The addition of wide receiver Vincent Jackson will also help stretch the field for the running game.
Washington Redskins: Tim Hightower vs Roy Helu
Hightower is coming off an ACL surgery after playing well last season. The Redskins signed the veteran back even though he was not fully healed. Helu is a very good receiver out of the backfield as evidenced by his 14 receptions in week nine against San Francisco last year. Helu was the primary ball carrier after Hightower went down with the injury. He carried the ball at least 23 times in four consecutive games (week 13-16) and put up big fantasy numbers three of those weeks.
Prediction: Hightower is the starter if healthy and Helu is the third down back. There have been several local beat writers with this same prediction. Some went so far as predict that third string Evan Royster would take Hightower's role if he was not healthy, leaving Helu in the passing game role. Coach Shanahan has the reputation for playing the hot hand much to the disdain of fantasy owners so it is best to either avoid or only proceed with caution.
Wide Receiver Competitions
Buffalo Bills WR2 and WR3: Donald Jones vs David Nelson vs T.J. Graham vs Marcus Easley
Buffalo often uses four receivers on the field so these players will play often. Jones lines up in the slot often and is a reliable possession receiver. Nelson is productive but he, too, struggles to gain yards after the catch. Graham was drafted in April to add a speed dimension to the Bills offense. He still has plenty to learn in regard to Chan Gailey's offense. Easley is physically gifted but has battled the injury bug since arriving in Buffalo.
Prediction: Nelson and Jones will be the starting WR2 and WR3 to begin the season, but Gailey will look for ways to get Graham on the field. By the end of the season, Graham will be the Bills' WR2. He has elite speed that will open up the field. None of the other Buffalo receivers are especially fast.
Miami Dolphins: Chad Ochocinco vs Brian Hartline vs Davone Bess
This is only a competition because there is a void of talent at the position. The quarterback position situation only makes this worse. Ochocinco has lost a step .. or three, and should not be on the fantasy radar. Hartline is a sleeper for some, but struggles to gain separation off the line. Opposing defenses will press these slow Miami receivers and stack the line to stop the run. Bess is a serviceable possession receiver in the slot. The issue is that he could be the team's best pass catcher. Do not be surprised if the club adds a receiver who is another team's roster cut later in preseason.
Prediction: Avoid in fantasy leagues. Bess and Hartline will each catch 50 passes, with plenty of garbage time targets, but still struggle to be fantasy relevant. The Dolphins will be a fantasy abyss for fantasy wide receivers.
Minnesota Vikings WR2: Jerome Simpson vs Michael Jenkins
Most wrote Simpson off after his marijuana arrest and middling season in Cincinnati last season, but the Vikings' coaching staff have been effusive in their praise for the ex-Bengal. He adds a speed element to the Minnesota offense. Jenkins is a veteran receiver who accumulates statistics more than he makes plays.
Prediction: After he comes back from the suspension for the drug arrest, expect Simpson to start and be relied upon as a major part of the offense.
New Orleans Saints WR2: Devery Henderson vs Adrian Arrington vs Joseph Morgan vs Nick Toon
There is a battle for the role vacated by Robert Meachem after he left for San Diego. Henderson is a speedy player with inconsistent hands. Arrington has potential and played well in preseason, before being lost for the year, the last two seasons. Morgan is a speedster who is the player to watch. Toon has good hands but offers little after the catch.
Prediction: The job is Henderson's to lose (or drop). By midseason, Arrington or Morgan could overtake the local product if he does not raise his game. Marques Colston will continue to be the team's WR1 with Lance Moore manning the slot.
San Diego Chargers WR1 and WR2: Robert Meachem vs Malcolm Floyd vs Vincent Brown
After Vincent Jackson signed his big contract in Tampa Bay, the Chargers brought in Meachem. He is fast receiver, which will open up the field for Philip Rivers. Floyd makes big plays down the field as well. Brown might get lost in the shuffle, but is a prospect to watch. He has plenty of potential.
Prediction: Meachem and Floyd will be the starters, but one or both will struggle with injuries (like in the past) and Brown will step in ... and flourish. He is a budding star.
San Francisco 49ers WR1 and WR2: Randy Moss vs Mario Manningham vs Michael Crabtree
Moss is reportedly motivated and showing speed of his youth. He is such an enigma, but one who can help the 49ers win games if he keeps his head straight. Manningham signed in free agency but struggles with consistency. This might be the year Crabtree puts it all together. He has the potential.
Prediction: Moss and Crabtree will start and play well. Manningham will contribute in three-wide receiver sets. San Francisco upgraded the receivers in a big way if Moss' comeback is for real. Coach Harbaugh is the type of coach to keep him motivated and hungry.
Seattle Seahawks WR1 and WR2: Sidney Rice vs Doug Baldwin vs Golden Tate
With a lackluster quarterback situation, much will depend on this group of pass catchers playing well. Rice played well in Minnesota two years ago but has battle hip and should injuries since arriving in the Pacific Northwest. Baldwin is a serviceable possession receiver and Tate is just now coming into his own. There was a report that Tate was slowed in his development due to his lack of understanding of the playbook. He has potential and was a play maker at Notre Dame.
Prediction: Rice will start if healthy. Tate will be the WR2 and Baldwin in the slot. Tate is the player to watch since he has been written of by many but has talent. The recent release of Mike Williams opens the door for Tate to emerge.
St. Louis Rams WR1 and WR2: Brian Quick vs Chris Givens vs Danny Amendola
Quick was taken with the 33rd overall pick in April's Draft to be the primary receiver for the Rams. Givens was drafted the next day and has talent. He set records in college and is a sure-handed speedster. Amendola has played well before injury the past couple of seasons. Most remember the gruesome elbow injury last year.
Prediction: Quick and Givens will start at the WR1 and WR2 positions, with Amendola in the slot. Quick is a big, fast receiver who is a bit raw since coming from a smaller college while Givens is polished. Neither should be relied upon as every-week fantasy starters until late in the season.
Washington Redskins WR1 and WR2: Pierre Garcon vs Leonard Hankerson vs Santana Moss
Garcon was paid a lot of money to come to the Nation's Capitol. With the addition of Robert Griffin III, the team needed to upgrade the receiving corps. Garcon has good speed and knows how to get open. He will be a welcomed addition for the rookie passer. Hankerson battled a hip injury as a rookie but should be healthy by preseason. Moss has lost a step but still can get open.
Prediction: Garcon and Moss will begin the season as the starters. By midseason, Hankerson will push Moss to the slot. He physically cannot hold up with the high number of targets as in the past.