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Preseason Job Battles: Camp Battles Intensify

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.


Chicago finally has a clear-cut No. 1 wideout in Brandon Marshall, but as usual there are a lot of receivers hoping to benefit from Jay Cutler's passes. With Johnny Knox out for the foreseeable future with a back injury, the No. 2 spot is up for grabs. Offseason reports have linked Devin Hester to an increased role, but when have we heard that before? Earl Bennett, Cutler's safety net of recent years, would seem to remain the next best option if he can remain healthy, but he already has a leg injury and rookie Alshon Jeffery has superior size and skill and could emerge as the best complement to Marshall by the end of camp. Dane Sanzenbacher has also opened a few eyes, but he's a bit further down the depth chart. For what it's worth, Hester began camp as the starter.


With Andy Dalton coming off a promising rookie year, and A.J. Green sure to draw the bulk of the defense's attention, rookie Mohamed Sanu finds himself in a more favorable environment than most first-year players. At 6-foot-2, 211, Sanu has good size, but only average speed. The third-rounder is a polished receiver with good hands who did damage down the field in college but likely projects as a possession type in the pros. Jordan Shipley is also around, but he'll mostly work out of the slot, so Sanu should challenge for a starting job. Brandon Tate is listed as the starter - not Sanu - but the Bengals didn't use Tate much in the passing game last year, so Sanu has a good shot to beat him out. Armon Binns, Andrew Hawkins and rookie Marvin Jones could also push for some targets.


Donald Jones was the No. 2 receiver (opposite Steve Johnson) when camp opened, but the competition remains open. "Donald'll start there, but we're looking at everybody," coach Chan Gailey was quoted as saying. "Everybody" likely means Marcus Easley, Derek Hagan and rookie T.J. Graham. As uninspiring as those names are, expect Jones to walk away from the job but not hold as much as value as slot man David Nelson.


Normally a battle for a backup quarterback job isn't that important, but when the winner becomes next in line for a 36-year-old who missed all last season due to multiple neck surgeries, it might be worth paying attention. Caleb Hanie and Adam Weber are duking it out early in camp, with Brock Osweiler guaranteed the No. 3 slot. Hanie has the advantage because he's a seasoned veteran, but the team will still give Weber a shot.


Willis McGahee is the starter in Denver, but his backup is a big question mark. Former first-rounder Knowshon Moreno has been a giant disappointment and is battling back from a torn ACL that could land him on the PUP list for the first six weeks of the season. That leaves rookie Ronnie Hillman and Lance Ball to battle it out. Early indications are Hillman will be the winner, and with his blazing speed and ability to catch passes, he could be a solid fantasy option even without the starting job. Even so, Ball currently is ranked ahead of him on the depth chart.


Denver brought in two new tight ends this offseason and both have the ability to be solid fantasy contributors. Unfortunately, they may just split the action down the middle, depleting the value of both. Joel Dreessen and Jacob Tamme likely will see plenty of time on the field together, but don't mistake them for the next Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.


Many are calling Trent Richardson the best running back to enter the league since Adrian Peterson, and he's expected to get the ball a lot. In case he busts, however, Montario Hardesty might be worth an investment. He looks good in practice, and though he might be behind Brandon Jackson on the depth chart, Hardesty is far more likely to see significant carries if Richardson can't carry the load. If you want to handcuff the rookie, Hardesty is your man. Richardson is already missing practice with soreness in the knee he had scoped in February, so Hardesty looks a bit more appealing now.


As usual, the Browns receiving corps is full of questions. Although Greg Little will likely lead the wideouts in targets, he's hardly a sure thing. Mohamed Massaquoi may start opposite him, but if he can't beat out Josh Gordon, he may be cut altogether. Massaquoi and Josh Cribbs could also figure into the slot contest between Jordan Norwood and Josh Cooper despite being poor fits for the role. The only sure things on the roster are Little, Cribbs and rookie Travis Benjamin, who will have to fight for targets wherever he ends up in the pecking order.


The Bucs have a talented rookie running back in Doug Martin. LeGarrette Blount is the incumbent and is tops the depth chart, but Martin is getting a lot of the first-team snaps and looking good. The team has not declared a winner yet, but if we had to hedge our bets, we'd definitely go with Martin, as the Bucs thought enough of him to trade up in the draft to get him.


It's not much different from 2011. John Skelton had a good record last year, but a lot more money has been invested in Kevin Kolb, so the Cardinals are inclined to go with him. It could take a few games before a winner emerges in this battle. Kolb started the preseason opener but threw an interception before leaving with a minor chest injury.


Beanie Wells is the incumbent, but he's already hurt ... again. Ryan Williams is coming off his own injury, but he's recovering faster and the team seems higher on him. If Wells gets off to a slow start in camp - and it looks like that's a strong possibility - Williams could win this one. Until one stays on the field, however, look for LaRod Stephens-Howling and Alfonso Smith to get a little action.


Larry Fitzgerald is etched in stone for as long as he wants to be in Arizona, but he may finally have the running partner to replace Anquan Boldin in first-rounder Michael Floyd. The Cardinals will probably stick with Andre Roberts and Early Doucet before they go to Floyd this year, as the rookie showed up a bit heavy and coach Ken Whisenhunt doesn't usually like to play rookies, but Floyd could have sneaky-good value in the second half of the season, especially if Arizona figures out its quarterback problems.


Ryan Mathews looks like he could become a star this year, but San Diego is looking for a decent backup. Mike Tolbert is gone, and it looks like the Bolts will try to fill his shoes with a number of backs. Le'Ron McClain is the starting fullback, and he has been productive in the past as a runner, so he looks like the best bet. But the Chargers also brought in Jackie Battle and Ronnie Brown, so we really need to see how it all shakes out in camp. Brown could have good value as a third-down and wildcat back.


The biggest issue in San Diego is how the wide receivers will shake out in the aftermath of Vincent Jackson skipping town. The incumbent is Malcom Floyd, who has some good rapport with Philip Rivers, but Robert Meachem is probably has the most upside. After that, it's a toss-up between Eddie Royal and Vincent Brown for third-receiver duties, with Royal maybe leading by a nose based on early comments from the coaching staff, though he could miss the preseason opener with a minor groin injury.


Jamaal Charles battled Thomas Jones in 2010 in a committee backfield, and if Charles can regain the cutting ability and burst he was known for prior to tearing his ACL, he could split evenly with newcomer Peyton Hillis. In 2010, Jones actually received 15 more carries than Charles and that could very well be the case with Hillis being similarly built for a bigger workload. In fact, the carry distribution could favor Hillis even greater than it did Jones as Hillis is likely to see the majority of the work near the goal line.


With Dwayne Bowe holding out of camp while he negotiates a contract extension, the inexperienced Jon Baldwin is making a strong bid to steal his job. The younger, bigger Baldwin has quickly gone from competing with veteran Steve Breaston to be the team's No. 2 target to looking like he's the No. 1 of the very near future. And if Bowe doesn't show up soon, Baldwin could very well take over his role as the top target sooner rather than later.


Kevin Boss was initially brought in as more of an insurance policy should Tony Moeaki struggle to return from a torn ACL that cost him 2011, but he's proven to be much more than that and is a threat to become the Chiefs' featured tight end. Moeaki has had a lengthy history of leg injuries dating back to his days as an Iowa Hawkeye, and though he is the more gifted and athletic pass catcher, he's also nowhere near as big as Boss and could lose red-zone targets to the former Raider.


Donald Brown enters as the leading candidate, but he's hardly a sure thing. Brown, Mewelde Moore, Vick Ballard and Delone Carter could win the role. Or they could all split carries. This one is wide open.


Given the possibility of a league suspension for Dez Bryant and the hamstring woes of Miles Austin, whoever wins the third wideout spot could have major fantasy value to start the season, though given Laurent Robinson's production last year, the winner could make an impact even if Bryant dodges Roger Goodell's baleful eye. Kevin Ogletree is the veteran and default option, but Dallas is going to give its host of kids every chance to pass him on the depth chart, a list led by but not limited to Andre Holmes (physically talented but raw), Dwayne Harris (2011 sixth-rounder who had one great preseason game but couldn't carry the momentum forward last season), Cole Beasley (a water bug who gets inevitable Wes Welker comps) and Raymond Radway (college track star who broke his leg in the final preseason game of 2011 after a very impressive camp). Rookie Danny Coale might also be a factor once he recovers from a broken foot but will likely start the year needing to make up lost ground.


Most observers believe David Garrard is well ahead of Matt Moore, with rookie Ryan Tannehill still in the discussion. Tannehill could start the season as the lead backup if the loser of the Garrard/Moore battle is traded or released, but it makes sense to keep a veteran around and groom Tannehill more slowly.


Reggie Bush is the starter, but Daniel Thomas and Lamar Miller will battle for the backup. Miller is impressing the Miami staff with his explosiveness and could eventually overtake Thomas, but he's behind Thomas and possibly Steve Slaton as well.


Brian Hartline was expected to win one the flanker job, but it looks like he's going to miss a couple of preseason games recovering from a June appendectomy, so his starting job isn't too secure. It looks like Chad Johnson, Legedu Naanee and Davone Bess (in the slot) would be the starters if the season started now.


Michael Egnew was drafted in the third round and could push Anthony Fasano for the starting role as the new coach doesn't believe Fasano is a good fit. Egnew has great athleticism, but Charles Clay as a year of experience on him and could also figure into things if Fasano fails to impress.


Obviously LeSean McCoy will be the workhorse this year, but the backup battle is between Dion Lewis and Bryce Brown. Lewis was a fifth-round pick last year while Brown was a seventh-round pick this year. Brown is much more athletically talented, but due to a bunch of transfer drama in college, as well as a questionable attitude, he didn't play much. Lewis is clearly the frontrunner.


The Niners are set with Frank Gore in the backfield, but he's not getting any younger, so San Francisco has a talented quartet of backs vying for the backup spot. Brandon Jacobs, late of the Giants, figures to get first crack at the role, but Kendall Hunter and Anthony Dixon (who may move to fullback) are still around, and the 49ers didn't draft LaMichael James in the second round to just put him on special teams. He's certainly expected to be the long-term answer at the position.


Maurice Jones-Drew led the NFL in rushing last season, but his holdout has already lasted a couple of weeks. This might be a good time to remind you that Rashad Jennings (who missed all last season with a knee injury) is the backup and has had averaged 5.4 yards/carry over his brief career.


You probably already know this, but the Jets signed Tim Tebow in the offseason. Mark Sanchez will likely be the starter - until he throws his first interception and the fans/media get after him - but Tebow will play in short-yardage and goal-line situations, hurting Sanchez's overall value.


With Tebow stealing goal-line carries, starter Shonn Greene may see his value plummet. Joe McKnight and Bilal Powell will try to pick up the scraps behind him.


Second-rounder Stephen Hill has yet to distinguish himself in camp, but someone other than Santonio Holmes has to see targets for the Jets, and the raw speedster is as good a bet as any, especially with Holmes, Jeremy Kerley and Chaz Schilens banged up. There's not a lot to like here.


It's as much a battle of good health as it is of talent and production for Jahvid Best (concussion) and Mikel Leshoure (Achilles). Both appear to be slowly getting back to 100 percent, but it's unclear what the residual effects of their injuries will be. If healthy, both likely will see a large chunk of carries, with Leshoure the short-yardage back. If not, Kevin Smith (whose stock is rising) could see a big part of the workload, while Stefan Logan, Keiland Williams and Joique Bell battle it out for whatever is left.


After finding himself in the doghouse last year and during minicamp, Titus Young has emerged as a real threat to Nate Burleson as Calvin Johnson's complement. Young has youth and agility on his side, while Burleson is well-acclimated to Detroit's offense and quarterback Matthew Stafford. A dark horse, likely later this season, is Ryan Broyles. The Lions used a second-rounder on the rookie despite his ACL tear in November. He opened camp on the PUP list.


The incumbent James Starks will get the first look this preseason, but both Alex Green and Brandon Saine will see time as a third-down back because Starks is poor in pass protection. The position is still wide open and it's unlikely that any will be a true No. 1 RB option, but Starks is the favorite by default, especially with Green and Saine banged up.


Brandon LaFell is penciled in as the starter opposite Steve Smith, though he still hasn't done nearly enough during his career to mark it down in pen. David Gettis, who is returning from a torn ACL, will give LaFell a run for the job, but Gettis likely will end up as the No. 3. That said, the No. 3 job doesn't come without competition either after the Panthers traded for Louis Murphy and drafted Joe Adams, the latter of which will be the primary kick returner. The expectation is that LaFell will start with Gettis, Murphy, Seyi Ajirotutu and Adams falling in line after that, but a lot can change if someone has a very good (or very bad) camp.


With BenJarvus Green-Ellis gone to Cincinnati, at least there is one fewer fantasy headache in the New England backfield this year. We'd never presume to guess what coach Belichick would do here, except to say that Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen and Danny Woodhead will probably all get the ball.


Danny Amendola is almost sure to be the slot receiver and he will most likely lead the team in receptions if he can stay healthy. Outside of that, it's a crapshoot. Brandon Gibson, one of last year's starters, may not even make the team ... or he could be starting in the opener. All eyes on are on Steven Smith (formerly of the Giants and then the Eagles) as he comes back from knee surgery. The rookies, Brian Quick and Chris Givens, are raw but it's definitely possible one or both could move up the depth chart quickly if they grasp the offense well. Then you have last year's crop of rookies, Greg Salas and Austin Pettis. Salas should win a roster spot and be the primary backup behind Amendola in the slot. Pettis is still facing suspension, so it's likely he'll be placed on the reserved/suspended list with his fate to be determined. The real wild card is Danario Alexander. He has the most talent, but he also has had about 147 knee surgeries the last three years and has never shown he could stay healthy for any length. If he can, he could be very good, but we haven't seen it yet.


Evan Royster is expected to start the preseason opener, while Tim Hightower, returning from a torn ACL, probably won't be available until the third preseason game. If Hightower, who tops the depth chart, were able to go full speed, he'd probably already have the job. As it is, he may have an uphill battle to stay ahead of Royster and Roy Helu.


Pierre Garcon is the undisputed starter, though he may not deserve it. Behind him are the aging Santana Moss and the up-and-coming Leonard Hankerson, as well as Josh Morgan. Hankerson is coming off hip surgery, but appears healthy. He struggled early in his rookie season before breaking out (for one game) and then getting injured. Moss showed up to camp in great shape and is looking to prove he is worth his high salary. Morgan was signed during the offseason and has no track record at this point. The competition remains wide open.


The Saints prefer a running back-by-committee approach, with Mark Ingram getting the goal-line carries, Darren Sproles receiving the passes and Pierre Thomas receiving the rest. Thomas is nominally atop the depth chart, and he's probably the most complete back on the team, but he'll continue to frustrate fantasy owners with his sporadic usage. If Ingram can stay healthy, however, he could ultimately back Thomas obsolete.


With Marques Colston as the clear starter and Lance Moore solid at the slot, Devery Henderson, Nick Toon and Adrian Arrington are fighting for playing time to be the third starter. Henderson has the inside track based on experience, but he's slowing down with age, is wildly inconsistent and hasn't looked good in camp early on. Arrington and Toon are both hurt, so that works to Henderson's advantage as well. Arrington is a bit ahead of Toon due to experience, but the sure-handed Toon was drafted in the fourth round to ultimately start, so it he may shoot up the depth chart in a hurry.


If free-agent acquisition Matt Flynn doesn't prove to be all the Seahawks hoped for, then incumbent Tarvaris Jackson will likely win the job. Rookie Russell Wilson seems to be the long shot, but he could have a big impact. If Flynn earns the nod and Wilson is close behind, Jackson may not even be needed and could be cut. Flynn is expected to start the preseason opener, with Jackson sitting out, but don't be surprised if Jackson or Wilson starts the second game.


Marshawn Lynch's legal troubles could open the door for rookie Robert Turbin, who has thus far impressed in training camp. Kregg Lumpkin and Leon Washington are also on the depth chart, but Turbin figures to get the starting nod should it come to that. If Lynch avoids suspension, Turbin should excel in a backup role.


Sidney Rice is the starting flanker, but split end is up for grabs. The Seahawks recently brought in Braylon Edwards and Terrell Owens to compete with a handful of returning wideouts for the job. Both have much to prove -- Edwards battled injuries last season and Owens is, well Terrell Owens. Golden Tate is probably the top in-house candidate, though his athleticism draws more praise than his play. He wouldn't be the first middling receiver to blossom in his third year in the league, though. Doug Baldwin could handle the job, but the Seahawks likely want to keep him in his slot role where he prospered last year. Ben Obomanu, Kris Durham, Deon Butler and Ricardo Lockette are also in the mix, though each has significant questions.


A torn ACL ended Rashard Mendenhall's season a bit early last year - and it's probably going to keep him shelved for a good chunk of this year - but his production was already a bit down before the injury, thanks to Isaac Redman, who ran for 479 yards on 110 carries last year. Redman should start, with Jonathan Dwyer, Chris Rainey or John Clay backing him up this year.


With Mike Wallace continuing to hold out, Antonio Brown becomes the de facto top dog. Emmanuel Sanders is next in line, but he's not the greatest picture of health. Still, the Steelers will have to go to Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery a lot more if Wallace's holdout lingers.


Matt Hasselbeck and Jake Locker will split reps throughout training camp, with the Titans expected to name a starter by the team's third preseason game. Unless an injury settles things before then, those drafting before the decision is made will have to either avoid the situation altogether, or pick between rolling the dice on Hasselbeck's experience winning out or alternatively rolling with Locker, the upside play.


First-round rookie Kendall Wright has joined a banged up receiver crew in Tennessee, with expected starters Kenny Britt and Nate Washington both recuperating from knee injuries in spring. Britt is a bit more of a concern, as he missed most of last season with a torn ACL and could be facing a suspension for some off-field issues. Damian Williams should step in if either of the starters can't go, but Wright has a brighter long-term future.


How much will Toby Gerhart play early if Adrian Peterson is kept out and/or eased into action? That's anyone's guess, but Gerhart is the obvious handcuff for fantasy owners rolling the dice on Peterson, as Lex Hilliard and Jordan Todman don't appear to be a threat for playing time.


Other than Percy Harvin, there are a lot of questions. Jerome Simpson should be No. 2, but only after his three-game suspension ends. Until then, it's a battle between Michael Jenkins and Devin Aromashodu (less so, Stephen Burton, Jarius Wright and Emmanuel Arceneaux). Fourth-rounder Greg Childs had a shot to emerge as a key player, but his season looks over after suffering knee injuries in camp. Jenkins may be the leader, but he could even be cut this summer. It's wide open.