Important AFC North Position Battles
The Bills have two interesting battles to watch heading into training camp. The first battle, and most important for fantasy owners, is the one between Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller. There are a lot of people who assume that Jackson has this battle locked up, but I wouldn't be so sure. The Bills need to find out what they have in C.J. Spiller before he comes up for his second contract. The 31-year-old Jackson is definitely not the long-term answer at running back, so I would be surprised if Spiller weren't given a fair shake at the starting job. The amount of time each player spends with the first team will be something to watch closely as training camp progresses. The splitting of snaps should give us a decent idea about the extent to which this offense is going to be a committee system. If Spiller wins the job, he will probably win it outright. If Jackson keeps the starting gig, I wouldn't be surprised if the Bills gave him reduced carries to help his older body stay healthy throughout the season. Right now, I think Fred Jackson is ranked way too high.
The other battle is less flashy and less important, but still interesting nonetheless. Last season, David Nelson took over the WR2 spot when Donald Jones got injured. Jones was ready to make a big impact on the Bills offense before his season-ending injury, and he even registered one 100-yard game. In very deep leagues, of for owners who think Stevie Johnson is especially overvalued, the winner of this position battle is worth a look. Nelson and Jones are each entering their 3rd NFL season, and the Bills need to keep their offense rolling like it was at the beginning of 2011.
I would start a rumor about a running back battle in Miami, but I really don't think this team will go with Daniel Thomas over Reggie Bush after the way Bush ended his 2011 season. Instead, I will focus on the ever boring WR2 spot for the Dolphins. In my opinion, there are three different players who could work their way into this role; Davone Bess, Brian Hartline, and Legadu Naanee. Like I said in the AFC North post, I am not in the business of predicting which of these players will win the starting job, especially since I know very little about the Miami Dolphins and they have a new coordinator, but from a fantasy perspective I would like to see Davone Bess win this job. Bess, more than Hartline or Naanee, has a history of moderately successful production as a slot receiver, and I love fantasy slot receivers, especially in PPR leagues. Bess could finally see some open holes in the zone if Chad Johnson (yeah, he changed his name back) can pull coverage away from him. In my opinion, Brandon Marshall has always been a volume receiver with the ability to break big plays, rather than a big play threat, so Chad Johnson could help the WR2 out...if he ever learns the playbook. Regardless of who wins this battle, they are hardly worth more than a late round flyer, given the state of the Dolphins QB situation (I like Matt Moore, BTW).
As someone who is not an especially big fan of the Dolphins, I am not very excited about their QB battle either, but that could also be due to the quality of the competitors. From a fantasy perspective, I would much rather have Matt Moore starting than either David Garrard or Ryan Tannehill. I trust Moore to sling the ball all over the field and not care how many touchdowns or interceptions he throws. Garrard, on the other hand, I've always seen as a conservative passer who doesn't make great receivers and plays a ball-control style. Now I don't know how much of that has to do with the system, but Philbin is going to pick his guy and run with him. I would be surprised if he didn't pick his quarterback early so that the team would be ready for the start of the season. If Garrard or Tannehill win, I won't be drafting the Dolphins WR2. With Moore, I might be willing to take a shot. If you are wondering, I think Chad Johnson will have a much better season with Miami than he did with New England.
New York Jets:
The Jets went from a team that didn't make much out of its wide receivers to a team that will probably make absolutely nothing out of its wide receivers. Say Tebow gets 20% of the snaps this season...that is 20% fewer chances for any wide receiver to be productive. The only Jet I'm going to draft this season is Shonn Greene, because Tebow has a magical power than improves the YPC of any running back on his team (look at Willis McGahee's numbers if you don't believe me). Regardless, I need to write a little piece of fluff about the Jets, so I'll just work over their WR2 slot, just like every other team. Honestly, I don't even know who is in the running outside of Stephen Hill; probably Chaz Shilens. Either way, that WR2 is probably not worth drafting. I would draft any of five wide receivers from the Saints, Packers, or Patriots and any of the three potential wide outs in San Francisco before I even considered looking at the WR2 for the Jets. I have absolutely nothing against the Jets, but their team just isn't built to utilize the WR2 to a great degree.
New England Patriots:
The biggest question I have about the Patriots is who will start at running back. The obvious favorite is Steven Ridley, who would be taking the place of BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Ridley is a powerful 220 pounds, and should get most of the goal line touches if Aaron Hernandez doesn't start taking those carries. The other option would be Shane Vereen, but his diminutive size (5'9" at 205 pounds) leads me to believe that Belicheck won't want him running the show. Anything can happen in training camp, but the real question is going to be what share of the carries Ridley gets. If Ridley can get nearly 200 carries (the same nearly 200 carries that BJE got last year), he should be a really nice running back play. If Vereen shows himself to be an important player in camp (say he gets 30-40% of the first-team snaps), then Ridley's value obviously goes down. It is not impossible for the Patriots to have a premier running back, but Ridley is going to have to prove that he can be heavily utilized as a blocker and a receiver if he wants to stay on the field. Definitely something to watch as training camp progresses.