We are finally heading towards the start of training camp; the real start of the NFL season. In terms of fantasy football, we are finally going to see depth charts finalize and see the teams reduced from 90-man rosters to 53-man rosters. Both of these provide a huge boost to our ability to predict success amongst players, and I can't wait to see where some of these battles finish up. In this excitement, I have decided to outline a few positional battles (one or more per team, by division) that could play a huge role in fantasy football for 2012. I picked the AFC North as my first division...completely by chance. Honestly, I randomly picked a conference and direction, so now I have to do some research on these teams. I know where I can start, though.
The Browns have a pair of positional battles that I find extremely interesting, even if they aren't of peak importance for fantasy owners. The first battle is between the incumbent, Colt McCoy, and the newly drafted adversary, Brandon Weeden. The goal of these posts is to outline the fantasy implications of different outcomes, not to predict the training camp winners. You can go to ESPN or NFL.com if you want that kind of writing. As a fantasy owner, I want Colt winning this battle. Sure, Weeden might be the guy of the future, and there is no way I'm drafting Colt McCoy outside of a 16-man league as a backup, but McCoy is confident in this offense, and we already know that he developed a strong rapport with Greg Little. With the addition of Trent Richardson, this offense should have a little more punch than it did last season, and I would rather have the veteran throwing to my receivers than a rookie that was a reach in the first round. I will not draft any Browns receivers if Weeden wins this battle (and the Browns want him to win), which would make my next positional battle pointless. Rookie quarterbacks just don't make wide receivers better (and don't give me any Cam Newton crap. Weeden wasn't the first overall pick for a reason...many reasons).
Assuming Colt McCoy wins the quarterback spot (hell, I would take Seneca Wallace over Weeden this season), I am extremely excited about the battle between Josh Gordon and Greg Little. Who is Josh Gordon, you might ask? The Browns picked up Gordon in the 2nd round of the supplemental draft, meaning that he must be a first round talent. The Browns gave up their 2013 second-round pick to grab a risky prospect, meaning that he has to have huge upside. I would be extremely surprised if Gordon doesn't beat out Little at the WR1 spot. Josh Gordon is something special (he is being compared to Randy Moss, but I think those reports are a bit overblown), and if he ends up at the WR1 position on the depth chart, you will know that the Browns believe strongly in him. I know that I have written many posts about how rookie wide receivers are typically worthless...well Josh Gordon could be your next A.J. Green. Take it into consideration.
The Bengals have a pretty low key battle to watch concerning the WR2 spot. The buzz name in fantasy football circles is obviously Mohamed Sanu (only one 'm'), who the Bengals drafted in the third-round this April, but I hesitate to assume that any rookie wide receiver is going to win a starting spot, especially a third-rounder. Sanu will be battling Jordan Shipley and Brandon Tate, both of whom were injured for most or all of the 2011 seasons. The Bengals are leaving the second wide receiver position wide open, given that Andre Caldwell and Jerome Simpson are no longer part of the team, but I don't know if I would draft any of these players, regardless of their final position on the depth chart. In extremely deep leagues, feel free to use the WR2 as a bench warmer, but the Bengals offense isn't a high powered machine. They rely on defense and ball control more than their WR depth (yeah, that was an understatement), so be cautious before you jump onto any of these receivers. If Sanu wins the WR2 job, you know that he is a great player and might consider giving him a shot.
The Steelers are in an interesting position as they head into training camp. There are rumblings that Mike Wallace is about to get that contract that he has been working for over the last few seasons, but there is no way he shows up for camp until he gets that contract. The Steelers are going to have a whole new offense once the season starts, and they definitely need to have their number one receiver in training camp to learn the new scheme. If Mike Wallace holds out, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders are each going to get more reps, and will be able to build a strong rapport with Big Ben before the season starts. If Wallace never makes it to training camp, I would strongly suggest against drafting him. Alternatively, if he gets that deal, draft him confidently.
In other news, we all know that Isaac Redman is likely to be the starting running back when camp starts, but no one is really sure whether he has the right moves to stay there. As camp goes on, I am sure we will get reports about who is getting the most snaps at tailback for the Steelers offense. If it ends up being close to evenly split between Jonathan Dwyer, John Clay, and Redman, I won't be dipping into that mixing bowl. I want to see one of those guys, I really don't care who it is, get a vote of confidence from the coaching staff before the preseason comes. Right now I'm not going to try to wade through that mess.
The Ravens are definitely the most predetermined team in this division heading into training camp, and while injuries can always happen, the quarterback, running back, and wide receiver positions are all pretty locked up. The only position that could hold some promise for fantasy enthusiasts (unexpected promise, that is) would be the tight end position. In 2011, Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson split the snaps and receptions pretty evenly, which is torture for fantasy owners. Hopefully for everyone, one of these guys can take a huge step forward and become a true TE1 for this team. More than likely, these two will be blocking for Ray Rice and splitting offensive snaps evenly. The Ravens are a pretty boring team to write about, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing for their fans.