NFL Training Camp Battles - August 2
Brett Talley has updated some of the more notable training camp battles as we near the end of the preseason.
Prior to the beginning of Training Camp, I looked at the most interesting camp competition to watch from each team. You can read that piece here, and it will be referenced several times below. Last week we covered some developing storylines concerning a few unsettled backfields, but now that camp is in full swing, we have a lot more to talk about.
Kalen Ballage working as the first-team running back rather than Kenyan Drake dominated headlines early in camp. It was somewhat assumed that Drake would be the lead back this season, but perhaps it should have been more obvious that it might not necessarily play out that way. Frank Gore led the Dolphins in carries last year with 156 while Drake was used in a pass-catching role with a healthy 53 receptions along with 120 carries. Because Ballage is more like Gore than Drake, maybe we shouldn’t have so quickly allotted the bulk of Gore’s carries to Drake.
Fantasy analysts don’t like Ballage because he’s not nearly as elusive as Drake, and while that’s true it doesn’t matter if the Dolphins are going to give Ballage plenty of opportunities, which is crucial at running back. Drake may still end up with more touches, and backs who catch passes have a higher floor, obviously more so in PPR leagues, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense that Ballage is still going 90 picks later in ADP.
Back in the pre-camp piece, I was pining for Mark Andrews to be “the guy” among a crowded TE group in Baltimore. Stats like this are why:
Most yards per target over the past two seasons (min. 50 targets)— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) July 30, 2019
1. O.J. Howard (11.5)
2. Mark Andrews (11)
3. Tyreek Hill (11)
4. Tyler Lockett (10.8)
5. Tyrell Williams (10.3)
238. John Ross (3.5)
We’re a long way from it playing out like fantasy owners would hope but reports from early in camp are positive. Ravens beat writer for The Athletic Jeff Zreibec highlighted Andrews as one of the most impressive Ravens in the first week calling him the team’s “most dangerous and productive offensive player.” In his final year at Oklahoma, Andrews was the only tight end in the country who topped 800 receiving yards, and he had 958 yards.
I labeled the Pittsburgh WR2 job “one of the more important training camp battles” before camp began with 169 Antonio Brown targets to be distributed elsewhere. Apparently, Donte Moncrief is winning that battle.
In 12 personnel, JuJu and Moncrief open up as the starting WRs. #Steelers— Alex Kozora (@Alex_Kozora) July 26, 2019
Moncrief is currently WR55 per our ADP Report (linked above) and going in the 13th round on average in 12-team leagues. That’s what you call a bargain. For some reason, fellow Steeler wideout James Washington is going 44th among receivers.
Philly’s backfield was virtually worthless last season as Josh Adams led the team in touches with 127 and Wendell Smallwood led their backs in yards from scrimmage with 594. The Eagles added Jordan Howard for a conditional fifth- or sixth-round pick in 2020 and drafted Miles Sanders in the second round. Everyone assumes the job is Howard’s because we all know his name, but reports from camp are extremely high on Sanders. Sanders is a more versatile back than Howard and should at the very least carve out a role for himself in the offense. The two are going within a round of each other, and Howard still feels like a better, safer pick in the 9th/10th round range, but Sanders could potentially be a three-down back, though not right away.
Theo Riddick has long been Detroit’s pass-catching back, and he finished second among all Lions in receptions last year with 61. Now that Riddick is no longer on the team, the question becomes who will fill that role. According to The Athletic’s Detroit beat writer Chris Burke, it could be Kerryon Johnson seeing more third down work. Three down backs are extremely rare these days, and Johnson now has that upside with Riddick gone. There certainly are not 18 of those guys in the league, yet there are 18 backs going higher than Johnson on average.
With Devin Funchess gone and Greg Olsen aging, there are some targets to be had in Carolina behind DJ Moore and Christian McCaffery. Curtis Samuel was reportedly excellent at OTAs and is the favorite to be the second receiver behind Moore. Samuel saw 65 targets last season and should soak up plenty of the 79 being vacated by Funchess.
That was the training camp battle highlighted in the pre-camp piece, and Samuel has continued to impress in camp just as he did in OTAs. Samuel’s ADP trend is down slightly per our ADP Report, and he sits at WR45 currently going in the 10th round on average.