Training camp battles: Part Two
49ers Second WR: A.J. Jenkins, Kyle Williams, Quinton Patton and Austin Collie
Injuries have been the top story here. Williams is listed as the team's No. 2 WR on its first unofficial depth chart, but that's pretty meaningless. He hasn't practiced much as he recovers from ACL surgery. Patton has missed time due to a broken finger, and Jenkins recently got over a hamstring strain. And we know all about Collie's injury history. If he actually stays healthy, he has a decent shot of being the most productive wideout here, although most of that production may come out of the slot.
All of this has made it impossible to tell who has a leg up in becoming co-starters with Anquan Boldin. So …
Leader: Nobody yet
Eagles Second WR: Riley Cooper, Russell Shepard and Damaris Johnson
Perhaps the Eagles would have released Cooper for his racist comment under different circumstances, but the fact is they are running out of wide receivers. So, after four days away, Cooper stepped right back into practice with the first-team offense this week. Shepard has gotten a fair amount of buzz. He is much more athletic than Cooper and was playing with the starters while Cooper was excused from practice. Shepard is pushing hard for this job, although it is fair to wonder how much fantasy value the No. 2 WR will possess in what projects to be a run-heavy scheme. Johnson's biggest contributions will probably come in the return game.
Ravens Second WR: Jacoby Jones and Deonte Thompson
Or maybe someone who isn't even on the current roster wins the job. Jones is the incumbent of sorts, but he's a known commodity, and what we know isn't great. He was dreadfully inconsistent in Houston and didn't do much in his first year with the Ravens. He even failed his conditioning test entering training camp. Yes, he had a spectacular Super Bowl. But six seasons of mediocrity outweigh that one night.
Thompson, a track star in college, played in six games and caught five passes last year. But his upside is immense. Thompson has big-time dynasty appeal, and he is considered Baltimore's No. 3 WR right now. He might improve that positioning soon. The veteran gets the edge entering the preseason.
Patriots Second WR: Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins, Julian Edelman and Josh Boyce
Maybe none of those names jump out at you, but being Tom Brady's second wide receiver has its benefits. With all of the injuries and drama the Patriots have had to manage this summer, someone out of this group will have to step up. Dobson is listed as a starter along with Danny Amendola. He and Thompkins have reportedly grown a nice connection with Brady, and Dobson has the highest average draft position of anyone here. However, none of these guys are more than late-round lottery tickets at the moment.
Edelman is one of the very few familiar faces in this pass offense, and he has fully recovered from the foot injury that forced him to miss the team's entire offseason program. He could end up winning this battle, but he may also see a lot of time in the slot. Either way, he should have some measure of fantasy value.
This battle is wide open because we really don't know what all of these rookies will look like once they are introduced to live action. Watching these new players and how they adapt to the NFL's level of play is one of the best parts of the preseason.
Leader: Dobson, barely
Eagles Second RB: Bryce Brown and Chris Polk
This wasn't on the radar a few days ago, but there have been multiple stories published recently about Brown's job possibly being in jeopardy. He has reportedly continued to run side to side more than straight ahead and has been dropping passes frequently. Meanwhile, Polk's performances have drawn nothing but positive remarks. Brown is the much better talent, but it is a matter of whether Philly will disregard his obvious shortcomings or instead use a back who is much more fundamentally sound. Brown is a mid-round fantasy choice right now, but this is a must-watch situation. It appears likely that two running backs will have considerable value in Chip Kelly's offense.
Cowboys Second RB: Lance Dunbar, Joseph Randle and Phillip Tanner
The last two entries in this article focus on the same running backs who are battling to become one injury away from life as an NFL starter. And with DeMarco Murray, an injury is always possible. We have had a chance to see all three of these guys play, and all of them had their moments during last weekend's Hall of Fame game. Dunbar is considered Murray's direct backup right now. I thought Tanner was the most impressive RB, but he is currently behind Dunbar and Randle on the depth chart.
Raiders Second RB: Rashad Jennings and Latavius Murray
You must be aware of whom Darren McFadden's backup is at all times. Jennings is short on pure talent, but there is no question that he is the Raiders' No. 2 RB right now. That may not have been the case if Murray had been healthy the past couple of months, but he was sidelined by a couple different injuries. The good news is that he practiced Wednesday. Now the rookie has some catching up to do. Simply put, he is big and fast.