Fantasy Gold: Toughest Training Camp Battles (PREMIUM PREVIEW)
Fantasy Football Expert Larry Gold is handing out medals every week to the best of the best. Each week brings a new subject and a fresh set of nominees. This week's medal ceremony is rewarding the Toughest Training Camp Battles. Who is gunning for the GOLD? Only one way to find out.
We are a little more than two weeks away from the first meaningful NFL game in seven months. Let that sink in. It feels like training camps just opened, but the calendar says we are about to embark on a two-week drafting blitzkrieg. For some, this time may be more exciting than the season itself.
For the real players, it's a more stressful period. By August 26th, teams have to reduce their rosters to 75. By August 30th, the rosters will sit at 53.
The majority of roster casualties will go unnoticed. Third-string linemen and special teams specialists, while vital to NFL teams, border on meaningless to fantasy football owners.
You probably couldn't care less about positional battles on the defensive side of the ball; you want to know more about the key battles that will impact the fantasy season and your team. We could talk about Johnny Manziel vs. Brian Hoyer, but we'll let "Monday Night Football" do the talking there tonight. Let's take a look at some other battles, ones that may be off your fantasy radar but shouldn't be.
Brandon LaFell vs. Kenbrell Thompkins vs. Aaron Dobson
The Patriots' signing of LaFell went largely unnoticed by the fantasy community with good reason. Lafell lived on the fantasy waiver wire for much of his four years with the Carolina Panthers. He was Cam Newton's third option in the passing game and generated unimpressive production, averaging 42 receptions and less than 600 yards in those four seasons.
But LaFell is turning heads in New England and has been a comfortable target for Tom Brady thus far in camp. The Patriots figure to pass often with the major questions about their running game that are still unanswered. With Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and of course Rob Gronkowski locked into their roles, there is still opportunity for an outside receiver and red zone target. Lafell is competing for such duties against second-year receivers Thompkins and Dobson. Both made plays as rookies but were very inconsistent. Dobson has been recovering from a lingering foot injury. Thompkins was a hot commodity at this time last year but underperformed relative to expectations.
This position bears watching as whoever comes out of camp warranting the most targets should be considered worthy of a roster spot as a WR4.
Maurice Jones-Drew vs. Darren McFadden
Raiders players have been neglected in fantasy drafts for years. Poor quarterback play has been the primary reason. This year should be no different as the Raiders are rolling with struggling veteran Matt Schaub and rookie Derek Carr.
However, the Raiders have brought in veteran leadership on both sides of the ball and figure to be more competitive despite the uncertainty at QB. The offensive line is strong, so the assumption is the team will run as much as possible, taking pressure off the quarterback position.
Two veteran backs, Jones-Drew and McFadden, are locked in a battle to be the lead dog. Both averaged less than 3.5 yards per carry last year, so productivity concerns are legit. They also come with significant injury risk, so consider targeting both in drafts, and have an eye on who looks more energized in the preseason. All coach and player speak will lead you to believe that this is going to be a true timeshare. However, history tells that a primary ball carrier will emerge sooner than later. If an undisputed winner is declared, there is RB 3 or flex value here.
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