With all the off-field news, including another round of player suspensions and the Michael Vick sideshow, football fans probably didn’t realize NFL training camps opened already. As we head into its second week, here are the top-10 position battles to watch out for, ranked according to fantasy significance.
10) Bucs WR: Michael Clayton/Maurice Stovall
After a stellar rookie season in 2004 with 80 receptions and seven touchdowns, Clayton only totaled 55 catches and one score since. While Stovall didn't exactly impress last season (seven receptions in nine games), the Notre Dame product has shown amazing athleticism in training camp. However, he did leave a recent practice with an unknown leg injury, so Clayton currently has the lead.
9) Chiefs QB: Brodie Croyle/Damon Huard
Herm Edwards has publicly stated he wants a long-term QB handling the offense. Huard is 34 and has mainly been involved in backup/mop-up duties over a seven-year career, although he did have an 11-to-1 TD-to-interception ratio in his interim role replacing Trent Green. Croyle is 10 years younger with a big arm and potential. If Croyle doesn't show any consistency in the next month, then Huard will start Week 1.
8) Bucs QB: Jeff Garcia/Chris Simms
The starting QB job has been all but presented to free-agent Garcia, 36, who was specifically brought in by Jon Gruden to fit his offensive scheme. The $5 million Simms had a decent 2005, but is still bothered from the aftereffects of a ruptured spleen and now a sore throwing arm. In fact, there's a chance he could be released or put on injured reserve. Luke McCown has done well in camp, but his inexperience shouldn't threaten Garcia.
7) Browns QB: Charlie Frye/Brady Quinn/Derek Anderson
Quinn may turn out to be the steal of the 2007 Draft, but has yet to sign a contract. Once (or if) he arrives, he will have to surpass Frye on the depth chart. The early buzz out of training camp rates Anderson as the darkhorse. Top pick offensive tackle Joe Thomas will help the line and protect any Cleveland QB who wins the job. The coaching staff currently rates Frye in front, and that's what matters.
6) Titans RB: Chris Brown/LenDale White/Chris Henry
Here we have the Old (Brown), the Fat (White), and the Hungry (Henry) contending for top RB honors. Brown has the advantage having played four seasons with the Titans and is now without Travis Henry as competition. White has problems keeping his weight steady and has never handled a heavy workload at any level, but has been receiving more first-team reps than Brown in training camp. Watch for Henry, the rookie out of Arizona, who has a similar build and power ability to White but is described as having more discipline and a stronger work ethic. Consider Brown the top dog until someone on the coaching staff publicly declares anyone else.
5) Saints WR: Devery Henderson/Robert Meacham
With Joe Horn gone, the Saints need to look at who will start opposite Marques Colston. While Henderson surprised with 745 yards on 32 catches, he's not considered to be a bona fide regular. And New Orleans understood this when they drafted Meacham in the first round. Meacham arrived at training camp a bit heavy after arthroscopic knee surgery, but his talent should have him competing for the second WR position eventually. Still, because of Henderson's explosive playmaking, and his sharp play early in camp, he's the heavy favorite to start the year with the job.
4) Raiders RB: Dominic Rhodes/Lamont Jordan/Michael Bush
With Rhodes suspended for the first four games, Jordan (1025 yards, 9 TDs) should be Oakland's running back of choice – and even then when Rhodes returns. Keep an eye on the rookie Bush, whose college career was cut short due to a broken leg, but his size, quickness and excellent hands say he could become a star after he returns to full health.
3) Packers RB: Vernand Morency/Brandon Jackson
Morency didn't see a lot of action last year behind Ahman Green, though it was an impressive 434 yards on 96 carries. And he knows the offense and therefore comes into training camp as the favorite to start. Jackson was specifically drafted out of Nebraska for his power running style, which is well suited to the Green Bay offense. At this point, it's a close call, but Morency's probably the favorite to open the season with the job.
2) Falcons RB: Warrick Dunn/Jerious Norwood
Dunn got the bulk of the work last year, but at age 32 and with 2256 carries for his career, it's likely time for him to pass the torch. That Dunn will miss 3-to-4 weeks of training camp with a herniated disc should only speed the process. Norwood showed great explosiveness during his rookie year, averaging a whopping 6.4 yards per carry on 99 attempts. We expect him to see the the majority of the carries with Dunn spelling him for an occasional series and on third downs.
1) Vikings RB: Chester Taylor/Adrian Peterson
It's been rumored the two could play on the field simultaneously, which looks interesting on paper. Taylor piled up 1214 yards on the ground last season, but wasted this on 304 carries. Peterson, the seventh selection in the draft, is a blazing runner who regularly makes defenders miss and recently signed a $40 million deal. If the financial world has taught us anything, you don't prevent an important investment from earning its potential.
The ones that didn't make the Top 10 either due to injury concerns or money:
Giants RB: Brandon Jacobs/Reuben Droughns
Due to his familiarity with the Giants' offense, Jacobs has dibs on the starting job. But his success has only come as a goal-line back, so an increased workload could wear him down later in the year. Droughns is a former 1000-yard rusher, who was signed to give Jacobs a breather, and unless Jacobs spits the bit in training camp, the job is his to start the year.
Lions RB: Kevin Jones/Tatum Bell/T.J. Duckett
Jones went through complicated foot surgery last December and is still recovering. Bell was acquired as insurance and should benefit playing in Detroit's run-and-gun offensive scheme. Duckett could be involved near the goal line and perhaps even push for a bigger role.
Broncos RB: Travis Henry/Mike Bell
While Henry may own a lucrative long-term contract, the term 'job security' hasn't recently existed for a RB in a Mike Shanahan offense. Still, Henry recaptured his early career form last season with Tennessee and should see the bulk of the work barring injury or catastrophic fumbling problem.
Barring injuries, suspensions, or acts of stupidity, expect the following pairings to remain platoon situations for the foreseeable future:
Saints RB: Deuce McAllister/Reggie Bush
Either back could easily rush for 1000 yards if he were the only game in town. McAllister will get you more on the ground and gets the ball at the goal line, while Bush will earn that back (and then some) with his catching and return skills.
Panthers RB: DeShaun Foster/DeAngelo Williams
Since his injury-riddled 2004 season, Foster has stayed healthy and just productive enough to keep Williams from usurping him. Expect Williams to see more carries and to be used as a weapon in the passing game, but don't think Foster will pass the torch without a fight.
Jaguars RB: Fred Taylor/Maurice Jones-Drew/Greg Jones
Taylor is still effective between the 20s, but at his age, and with his mileage and injury history, we expect his role to decrease a little bit. Jones-Drew was effective all over the field, showing breakaway speed, the ability to run between the tackles in short-yardage and goal-line situations and the ability to hurt defenses in the passing game. Jones is returning from an ACL tear, but could cut into some of Jones-Drew's goal-line touches.
Cowboys RB: Julius Jones/Marion Barber
Jones is the one-cut and go runner with more straight-ahead speed, while Barber is the one dishing the punishment, making him the likely go-to guy near the goal-line. With Bill Parcells gone and Wade Phillips in town, it remains to be seen how the work will be apportioned between the two.
Article first appeared 7/30/07