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Depth Chart Watch: Training-Camp Job Battles

Kenn Ruby

Kenn Ruby

Kenn has been writing and editing for RotoWire since 2003. Though he attended Northwestern with the co-founders of RotoWire, he is not considered a made member of the RotoWire Northwestern mafia, as he can't trace back all of his ancestors to Dan Okrent.

BEARS RB: Although Matt Forte is the top dog, there have been rumors he's unhappy with his contract, so the Bears signed Marion Barber as insurance. Barber should be able to beat out Chester Taylor for the backup job and could be valuable as a TD vulture this year. Taylor's 2010 campaign was, to say the least, terrible. He averaged only 2.4 yards/carry, one of the worst figures in NFL history. Barber has had his own struggles the past two season with injuries, ineffectiveness and loss of burst, but at this point in their respective careers, he looks like the better option.

BEARS WR: Roy Williams is now in town and should be #1, but Earl Bennett, Johnny Knox and Devin Hester all have value as well, and any could start. This is one to watch as Jay Cutler should have something to prove this year. With the departure of tight end Greg Olsen and the addition of Williams, the Bears are expected to use many more three-receiver sets. Early indications are Williams and Knox on the outside, with Bennett in the slot, leaving Hester to fight for scraps.

BENGALS QB: It could be a long season in the Queen City. Long-time Bengal Carson Palmer is threatening to retire if he's not traded, and the organization is not going to oblige his demands. The Bengals signed Bruce Gradkowski to be the veteran backup to rookie Andy Dalton, but if Dalton can't prove to be ready in camp, Gradkowski may be the starter early in the season.

BENGALS WR: Now that Chad Ochocinco has taken his talents to New England and Terrell Owens has taken his talents... nowhere, the Bengals are left without a clear No. 1 receiver. Cincinnati drafted A.J. Green fourth overall in the 2011 draft, so he figures to assume the role eventually, but Jerome Simpson, Jordan Shipley and Andre Caldwell are strong contenders as well. All three had their moments in 2010, so it would not be a surprise to see one or more of them emerge in August. As of now, expect Green and Simpson to be the starters.

BILLS RB: One of the most infuriating depth chart battles for fantasy owners last year was Fred Jackson vs. C.J. Spiller vs. Marshawn Lynch in Buffalo. While the Bills took care of one-third of that problem by dealing Lynch to Seattle in October, they're still left with two talented backs in Jackson and Spiller. Jackson is at the top of the depth chart, but Spiller should steal a lot of carries.

BRONCOS QB: Although Kyle Orton was on the trading block as recently as a week ago, he's also practicing with the first-team and seems to have to the confidence of his teammates and coach. There will be a lot of pressure to start Tim Tebow, and he should see some action early in the year even if he doesn't win the job, but Orton has already been told that he'll be the starter, so it's his job to lose for now.

BROWNS WR: Rookie Greg Little has already signed, and with mediocrities like Mohamed Massaquoi, Brian Robiskie, Josh Cribbs and Demetrius Williams on the roster, Little may be the No. 1 guy this year. Little was suspended for all of 2010 though, so he needs to shake off the rust, but he's a big, physical receiver who can create separation. Massaquoi figures to start opposite Little, but he doesn't really have the hands to be a top receiver. Robiskie has been disappointing and Cribbs has never been able to find a role as a traditional wideout. Williams has looked good so far this summer, but he's a bit of a long shot.

BUCCANEERS WR: Arrelious Benn was supposed to be back and ready by now, but he's being held out of contact drills in camp, further strengthening Mike Williams' hold on the No. 1 job. Sammie Stroughter and Micheal Spurlock are probably next in line, but neither has anywhere near the upside of Benn.

CARDINALS RB: Trading away Tim Hightower will clear things up nicely in Arizona. Beanie Wells, who battled injuries last year and is hoping for a shot at redeeming himself, no longer has to worry about Hightower stealing carries from him. Of course, rookie Ryan Williams also benefits from Hightower's departure, and he could be the guy stealing carries from Wells this year. Williams should settle in as the No. 2 back, but it'll be a make-or-break season for Wells with Williams waiting in the wings. If Williams proves to be unready, there's always LaRod Stephens-Howling.

CARDINALS WR: With Steve Breaston off to Kansas City, the Cards' receiving corps has become a bit more clear as well, though it's by no means ideal. Without Breaston, Arizona is left with a collection of talent that has yet to prove its reliability and durability. Andre Roberts and Early Doucet are the two most likely receivers to assume No. 2 duties, with Roberts showing flashes of potential down the stretch last year and Doucet displaying promise whenever he's healthy enough to take the field (which isn't often - he's hit the 10-game mark just once in his three-year career). Unless Arizona brings in a veteran, one or both of them could eventually gain fantasy relevance if they prove reliable.

CHARGERS RB: Ryan Mathews is Exhibit A for why we shouldn't get too worked up about rookie running backs. Mathews was a first-rounder in many drafts last year, but he got hurt, and Mike Tolbert out-produced him. Mathews has been banged up in camp, so Tolbert could see significant action again in 2011, and Tolbert should be the goal-line carrier regardless.

CHIEFS RB: Jamaal Charles was one of the best fantasy backs in the league last year, but for some reason Thomas Jones got the ball even more often than Charles. That should change in 2011, as Todd Haley already indicated that Jones would get the ball less even before Wednesday's signing of Le'Ron McClain. Charles is a threat to score from anywhere on the field, and McClain could get the goal-line carries, making Jones nearly irrelevant.

CHIEFS WR: Free agent signee Steve Breaston has proven successful in a Todd Haley offense, having posted a 1,000-yard season under him in 2008, but he is best-suited for the slot position. Rookie Jon Baldwin is a huge, athletic target to put on the outside, and if he can pick up the playbook quickly and jell with Matt Cassel he should do more damage in the red zone. Given Baldwin's inexperience, however, it would not be surprising if Breaston dramatically outperforms him. This could be a 2a and 2b situation (with Dwayne Bowe as the "1") or Breaston could pull away completely. The most interesting thing will be to see how many three-receiver sets the Chiefs put in during camp.

COLTS RB: Joseph Addai recently re-signed and will start, but he's trending downward. Donald Brown and rookie Delone Carter are next in line to take over, but neither are overwhelming. Given that Brown hasn't taken advantage of his many opportunities, expect Carter to overtake him during training camp.

COWBOYS RB: Felix Jones may be No. 1, but speedy third-rounder DeMarco Murray is similar in style to Jones, so he's more likely to eat into Jones' playing time than second-stringer Tashard Choice. That said, Choice is out two-to-four weeks with a calf injury, and Murray could miss a week or two with a hamstring injury, so Jones' spot on the depth chart appears to be secure.

DOLPHINS QB: With Tyler Thigpen gone to Buffalo, it looks like Chad Henne's hold on the job is far more solid than usual, even with Matt Moore in camp to challenge him. Henne has shown to be more of a leader this offseason, so expect him to hold off Moore.

DOLPHINS RB: Even with Reggie Bush on board, Daniel Thomas will be the lead rusher this year. Bush will be used like he was in New Orleans, getting about 10-12 touches a game, while Thomas will get more rushes, including at the goal-line. Bush, as usual, is more valuable in PPR leagues, but right now it looks like Thomas is the one to own.

DOLPHINS WR: While Brandon Marshall is entrenched as the top dog, he's no sure thing, and his offseason was eventful to say the least (he was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder and was stabbed). Brian Hartline should start opposite him, with Davone Bess in the slot and deep threat Edmund Gates challenging for the spot behind him. Bush is officially a running back of course, but he'll often be used as a wide receiver this year, making Hartline, Bess and Gates even less valuable.

EAGLES RB: Dion Lewis had the upper hand in the race to be LeSean McCoy's backup, but the arrival of Ronnie Brown on a one-year deal all but ends the competition. It's tough to imagine the tiny rookie out of Pittsburgh keeping Brown and his standout pass blocking off the field when McCoy needs a breather. If McCoy misses any time this year, Brown makes a better fantasy option than what Lewis would have been.

EAGLES WR: It's generally unchallenged among most NFL observers that DeSean Jackson is the team's top receiver, but those people might be underestimating Jeremy Maclin, who is much better suited to a workhorse role than the one-dimensional Jackson. People also tend to forget that Maclin was easily the better prospect coming out of college. The two are probably closer to co-No. 1s than anything, and with Jackson holding out, Maclin would have been a great sleeper, except that he isn't playing either. Although Maclin assures anyone who will listen that his illness (thought to be the lingering effects of mononucleosis) won't prevent him from being ready for the regular season, we're a bit skeptical. Jason Avant is next on the depth chart if either Jackson or Maclin miss time.

49ERS WR: With Michael Crabtree on the PUP list with a sore foot and a new coach in town, the backups become even more important. Those backups were Josh Morgan, Ted Ginn and a whole bunch of nothing, so the Niners took a chance on Braylon Edwards on Thursday. There's always plenty of baggage associated with Edwards, but as long as his monster 2007 season is on his resume, there's always a possibility that he can bust out.

GIANTS RB: The Giants took care of business by re-signing Ahmad Bradshaw and restructuring Brandon Jacobs' contract, giving them a reprise of the two-headed monster that has worked so well for the last few years. Expect Bradshaw to continue to be the lead back, but for Jacobs to be used frequently in both short-yardage situations as well as when Bradshaw needs a breather.

GIANTS WR: Mario Manningham will be in the mix no matter what, but assuming unrestricted free agent Steve Smith re-signs, those two will battle for the starting job opposite Hakeem Nicks. Smith also has to show he's healthy as he's coming off knee surgery and will be limited in camp. Beyond those three, there are a number of intriguing wide receivers in camp that will battle for the last few spots: rookie Jerrel Jernigan, Domenik Hixon, Devin Thomas, Michael Clayton, and Ramses Barden. Thomas in particular has looked good so far, but he missed Thursday's practice with a minor ankle injury. He needs to get back on the field if he wants to carve out a significant role in the offense.

GIANTS TE: Kevin Boss signed with the Raiders leaving Travis Beckum and Ben Patrick to compete for the job. Beckum is a far better receiver than Patrick and, should he prove an adequate blocker, could have some value. Patrick is more of a block-first type.

JAGUARS QB: Although Blaine Gabbert is breathing down his neck and reportedly impressing teammates and coaches alike, the lockout prevented him from getting a full spring and summer of workouts, meaning he'll likely start the year behind incumbent David Garrard. Garrard's time as the starter is limited, as teams generally don't use up the 10th pick in the draft on a quarterback who is going to be sitting for awhile.

JAGUARS WR: Yecch. Mike Thomas is the unquestioned starter, but he's undersized. After Thomas is Jason Hill (penciled in as starter), rookie Cecil Shorts, Jarrett Dillard and Kassim Osgood. Like we said: yecch.

LIONS RB: Jahvid Best was derailed by turf toe injuries last year, and as a result may be sharing carries with rookie Mikel LeShoure. LeShoure has the edge as the goal-line guy and is an interesting sleeper for 2011, especially with third stringer Maurice Morris out with a fractured hand.

PACKERS RB: Ryan Grant is in the lead, though he missed nearly the entire 2010 season after breaking his ankle in the opener, so there will be some rust. He needs to hold off James Starks, and rookie Alex Green may be more talented than either of the two ahead of him. With the younger and healthier Starks and Green on the roster, the window is closing fast on Grant.

PANTHERS QB: The top pick in the 2011 draft, Cam Newton will be the starter sooner rather than later, and a week ago, he only had to beat out underwhelming Jimmy Clausen to win the starting job. On Monday, however, the Panthers signed veteran Derek Anderson, who was coached by Carolina offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski when both were in Cleveland. Clausen was playing with the first team in early practices, but it won't be long before he's overtaken by Anderson - and Newton.

PANTHERS RB: With the re-signing of DeAngelo Williams, it's the same old story in Carolina, as neither Williams nor Jonathan Stewart will be as good as he could be outside of a timeshare. However, the offense will run and run and run this year, so both will have value if healthy, and of course if only one goes down, the other's value skyrockets.

PANTHERS WR: Steve Smith is still around, and he'd be fine with a good quarterback, but the Panthers may not have one. Behind Smith is recent signee Legedu Naanee, as well as Armanti Edwards, David Gettis, and Brandon LaFell. Gettis has a minor hamstring injury, but he'll probably be the starter unless Naanee or Edwards take the job away from him.

PANTHERS TE: Despite the presence of Jeremy Shockey, the Panthers traded for Greg Olsen, and the two pass-catching tight ends will face some kind of timeshare this season. Shockey has been overrated from the day he entered the league, so his one-year deal with Carolina could be his last chance to show the NFL he's worthy of big money.

PATRIOTS RB: BenJarvus Green-Ellis should head the committee, but Danny Woodhead, Sammy Morris, Shane Vereen, Stevan Ridley and Kevin Faulk are all around to give us headaches all season. Green-Ellis proved last year that a Patriot running back could still have fantasy value, but given the way Bill Belichick is, we wouldn't bet the farm on a repeat.

RAMS WR: The Rams have eight receivers (Donnie Avery, Danario Alexander, Danny Amendola, Brandon Gibson, Mardy Gilyard, Austin Pettis, Greg Salas and Mike Sims-Walker) who all could either start or get cut. New acquisition Sims-Walker appears to be the most solid pick of that octet, while Gibson seems to be the one who is shining the most in the early-going. So far the first team has been Gibson and Alexander, with Gilyard filling the slot, but MSW and Amendola, as well as the rookies Pettis and Salas, haven't had a chance to work out with the team very much. Avery, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL, might be the one receiver on the hot seat, but at this point, anything can happen.

RAMS TE: A serious competition appears to be looming as rookie Lance Kendricks could easily prove to be the best of the bunch. Michael Hoomanawanui will also be right there at the top and is arguably the club's best pass-catching threat at the position, but his health is a concern. Billy Bajema rotated with Hoomanawanui at the top of the depth chart last year and if he has a very good camp, he could stick. The wildcard is Fendi Onobun, who only played one year of football before he was drafted in 2010. He has great upside, but probably won't be able to unseat any of the three players ahead of him.

RAVENS WR: Like a lot of teams, the Ravens have one good wideout (Anquan Boldin) and a lot of question marks. Rookies Torrey Smith and Tandon Doss are lead contenders for landing the starting job opposite Boldin, but Derrick Mason may come back. If Mason doesn't return to Charm City, expect Smith to win the starting job.

REDSKINS QB: Now that Rex Grossman has signed, this one could be interesting. Mike Shanahan likes John Beck to start, but he has a sore shoulder and has otherwise been unimpressive in camp so far. Kellen Clemens is also in camp, and with neither Grossman nor Beck a sure thing, he has to at least be considered right now. The Redskins may miss Donovan McNabb at some point this season.

REDSKINS RB: The Redskins have been stockpiling running backs ever since they released Clinton Portis in February. Expected starter Ryan Torain will miss 7-to-10 days recuperating from surgery on his hand. Washington traded for Tim Hightower on July 31, and now the former Cardinal looks like the top running back in D.C. - at least until Hightower returns. Rookies Roy Helu and Evan Royster can't be discounted, nor can Keiland Williams, who filled in as a starter occasionally last year. Given how Torain is a bit injury prone and that Shanahan likes to spread the ball around, anyone is capable of emerging here.

REDSKINS WR: The Skins are stockpiling receivers too. They re-signed Santana Moss and traded for Jabar Gaffney, but Anthony Armstrong is expected to start opposite Moss, and Dante Stallworth and rookie Leonard Hankerson are on hand to provide competition as well.

SAINTS RB: Quite simply, the Saints' backfield is a fantasy mess. Pierre Thomas has proven to be a tremendous talent and was rewarded with a contract extension this offseason, but was limited to six games last year and has struggled to stay healthy consistently. Meanwhile, the Saints drafted former Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram in the first round of this year's draft. The Saints will likely split most of the carries between the two, but don't count out Chris Ivory, who ran for 716 yards in 12 games last year, or Darren Sproles, who will probably take over Reggie Bush's "change-of-pace" duties.

SEAHAWKS TE: Zach Miller, who was one of the most reliable offensive players on Oakland last year, signed with Seattle on Tuesday to compete for the tight end job with John Carlson, who was one of the most reliable offensive players on Seattle a few years ago. Miller should assume the top role, but not without a fight. On the other hand, the Miller signing could be a sign that Carlson is going to be traded.

STEELERS WR: Mike Wallace is now the No. 1 receiver, but three other receivers are jockeying for the spot behind him. Veteran Hines Ward is coming off his worst season in a decade and is on the PUP List recovering from thumb surgery. Emmanuel Sanders should miss the next three weeks with a foot injury that has required three surgeries already this year, and he has probably already ceded his No. 3 spot to Antonio Brown, who has been impressive in camp so far.

TITANS QB: The Titans lost two veteran signal callers during the offseason when Kerry Collins retired and Vince Young was released. They were replaced by Matt Hasselbeck and rookie Jake Locker. Hasselbeck will definitely start and considering that he signed a multi-year deal, he could start for awhile but he's expected to mentor Locker, who is the future of the franchise.

TITANS RB: Chris Johnson is obviously the star, but he's holding out, making backup Javon Ringer all the more valuable. Expect the Titans to find a veteran if Johnson's holdout lingers, because next in line Jamie Harper, a rookie out of Clemson who doesn't look like he's ready for the rigors of the NFL yet.

VIKINGS QB: Minnesota traded for Donovan McNabb, considering him the piece they needed to go to the Super Bowl, but they also drafted Christian Ponder, who many considered the most NFL-ready quarterback in this year's draft. Ponder showed some strong leadership during the offseason, and could play some this year if McNabb struggles. Joe Webb is technically ahead of Ponder on the depth chart as well, but Ponder has far more upside.

VIKINGS WR: With Sidney Rice gone, migraine-free Percy Harvin is the clear #1, and Bernard Berrian and Michael Jenkins will compete for #2. Both Berrian and Jenkins have been disappointments, however. Devin Aromashodu and Greg Camarillo are around too, but they'll compete for scraps from new McNabb.