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AFC TRAINING CAMP BATTLES: September Review

Here are the results from the AFC Training Camp Battles previously published in the Fantasy Sharks VIP Preseason Report.

Baltimore Running Backs – Terrance West vs. Danny Woodhead vs. Javorius Allen

Initial Outlook: “Entering training camp, Baltimore does not have a clear-cut workhorse running back. In the wake of Kenneth Dixon’s season-ending knee surgery, Baltimore is left with fourth-year journeyman West as the early down runner (led the team in rushing yards last season with 774), and free agent pickup Woodhead as the passing down specialist (who also performed well in a redzone role while with San Diego). The void left by Dixon also opens the door for third-year man Allen to reenter the running back mix. Allen, if you recall, recorded 867 total yards in 2015, although his skill set profile’s more similarly to Woodhead as a receiving back.”

Result: West still appears to have the starting job on lock, however, Woodhead barely played during the preseason due to a persisting hamstring injury, and is uncertain to be ready for Week 1. While Allen didn’t do anything in his preseason performances to push West out of the way, he could get an opportunity to play himself into a significant pass-catching backfield role if Woodhead starts missing regular season games.

Buffalo Running Backs – Jonathan Williams vs. Mike Tolbert

Initial Outlook: “With LeSean McCoy entrenched as the starter and Mike Gillislee off to New England, the competition for the backup running back and short yardage specialist is wide open. The assumption is that 2016 fifth-round pick Williams will win the job outright, given how much the coaching staff has talked him up during the offseason. However, should Williams falter during training camp, Tolbert is a guy who has found success as a goal line hammer in the past (21 total touchdowns scored across the 2010 and 2011 seasons with San Diego).”

Result: Williams had been running exclusively as the second-string running back throughout the preseason, amassing 68 yards on 11 carries (6.2 yards per carry), before missing the team’s third preseason game with a knee injury. By all appearances, Williams had the No. 2 running back job sewn up until his surprising release on Sept. 3. Given that development, it appears Tolbert enters the regular season as McCoy’s handcuff, unless Buffalo decides to add another free agent running back to the mix.

Cincinnati Running Backs – Jeremy Hill vs. Joe Mixon

Initial Outlook: “Cincinnati traded up to draft all-purpose back Mixon in the second round of the 2017 draft, leading many to hypothesize he would immediately installed as the starter upon arrival. However, the coaching staff has maintained Hill is still involved in their offensive plans, and it’s possible Mixon’s arrival may light a fire under Hill’s butt. Given Mixon’s superior talents as both a rusher and a receiver (something Hill does poorly), I would at least expect Mixon to seize control of the backfield in the first few weeks during the regular season, if not sooner.”

Result: As of this writing, Hill is still listed as the first-string running back, despite mustering a modest 3.8 yards per carry in preseason action. Mixon did not fare much better in the yards per carry department (3.9) than Hill, but looked more dynamic as a receiver, catching an additional three passes for 32 yards. By all accounts, it appears Cincinnati seems intent using Hill on early downs and at the goal line, which will limit how much Mixon sees the field. Fantasy owners who drafted Mixon as a fixture in their starting lineup may find themselves disappointed the first few weeks once the NFL season starts.

Cleveland Wide Receivers – Corey Coleman vs. Kenny Britt

Initial Outlook: “It’s reasonable to believe the Cleveland coaching staff wants Coleman to be their No. 1 receiver, given they spent the 15th overall pick in the 2016 draft to land him. Unfortunately, a broken hand soured his coming out party last season, and recurring hamstring problems have already caused Coleman to miss much of the offseason program, much to the dismay of his coaches. Britt, a former first-round pick himself, was picked up via free agency after finally crossing the 1,000-receiving yard barrier (just barely) in 2016 with the offensively challenged Los Angeles Rams. I expect Coleman and Britt battle for targets all throughout training camp, and well into the regular season.”

Result: Coleman’s preseason began without much fanfare, but through three games he put up eight catches for 106 yards. The turning point came when head coach Hue Jackson named DeShone Kizer as the team’s starting quarterback, with whom Coleman displayed a keen connection with in the third preseason game (four catches for 66 yards on seven Kizer targets). Meanwhile, Britt managed just three catches for 25 yards during the preseason, and appears clearly behind Coleman in the receiving pecking order, after being targeted just six times total during the preseason, compared to 14 for Coleman. Right now, I am liking Coleman much more for fantasy purposes than Britt, and liking both of them more now that Cleveland has moved on from the Brock Osweiler experiment at quarterback.

Denver Running Backs – C.J. Anderson vs. Jamaal Charles vs. De’Angelo Henderson

Initial Outlook: “While Denver has openly admitted the team plans to use a running back committee in 2017, Anderson appears to be the favorite for touches entering training camp. In seven games last season, Anderson managed a career-high rushing 62.7 yards per game, despite averaging a career-low 4 yards per carry. It is clear however, that Denver is not going to hand Anderson anything, given he has struggled to maintain the lead back role during the 2015 and 2016 seasons. After being released from Kansas City last February, Denver signed former Pro Bowler Charles, who has rushed for more than 1,000 yards five separate times, but only played in eight games over the past two seasons due to recurring knee problems. While initially expected to be a complementary player, Charles could carve out a larger role with a strong camp. Recently it was revealed that 2016 fourth-round pick Devontae Booker, who was expected to compete for the starting gig with Anderson, will miss at least the entire preseason (if not longer) with a wrist injury, which now opens the door for 2017 sixth-round rookie Henderson to assert himself as a candidate for backfield touches.”

Result: As expected, Anderson ran as the starter throughout the preseason (21 rushes for 76 yards and two touchdowns), with Henderson sprinkling in as his change-of-pace complement. Anderson’s 3.6 preseason yards per carry won’t wow anyone, but it was encouraging to see him get involved in the pass game (five catches for 20 yards). Henderson flashed with 118 yards on just 22 carries (albeit mostly against backup defenders), but his two fumbles in preseason Week 3 probably killed any immediate chances for a larger backfield role. Charles finally made an appearance in the third preseason game, rushing four times for 27 yards, and catching 2-of-3 targets for 15 yards. While Charles appeared fresh, it’s unclear at this time whether the coaches feel comfortable giving him more than 8-10 touches per game.

Houston Running Backs – Alfred Blue vs. D’Onta Foreman

Initial Outlook: “Houston needs a guy who can step up and keep the coaching staff from overworking incumbent starter Lamar Miller. From a talent standpoint, that person is Foreman. Unfortunately, Foreman’s short time in Houston has been marred by criticism of his conditioning, and most recently, a drug and weapons charge (which his attorney is disputing). While not the most explosive athlete, Blue has had some success in Houston, gaining more than 100 rushing yards three times during the 2015 season.”

Result: Blue appeared to be on solid ground as the No. 2 running back, rushing 10 times for 53 yards and a touchdown in the first two preseason games. Unfortunately, Blue suffered a high-ankle sprain in practice, which typically results in a multi-week absence. The injury to Blue didn’t necessarily open the door for Foreman to swipe the backup gig, as Foreman missed a prime opportunity by missing the third preseason game with a leg injury. In his prior two preseason games, Foreman had been flashing, recording 82 and 83 total yards in each contest (albeit mostly against backups). As of this writing, it appears Foreman is still no better than third on the depth chart, even with Blue still sidelined.

About Will Weiler

An NFL Red Zone addict and all-around data nerd, I've been obsessed with the NFL and stats ever since I started playing the virtual pigskin game in 2005.