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NFC TRAINING CAMP BATTLES: September Review

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

Arizona Wide Receivers – John Brown vs. J.J. Nelson

Initial Outlook: “Both Brown and Nelson are very similar players as 5-foot-10 speedsters, and vying for targets as Arizona’s No. 2 receiver behind Larry Fitzgerald. Brown posted more than 1,000 receiving yards in 2015, but was ineffective last season as he battled illness and hamstring injuries. Nelson led all Arizona pass-catchers in yards per catch last season with 16.7, but struggled with mental errors and drops when pressed into a larger role following Michael Floyd’s departure via trade. I think if Brown can stay healthy (he suffered another hamstring injury during organized team activities and is currently nursing a quad issue), the No. 2 job is his. “

Result: Nelson initially appeared to be the winner of this battle by default for most of the preseason, as the quad injury ailing Brown resulted in several weeks of missed training camp practice, as well as criticism from head coach Bruce Arians. The tide turned, however, when Brown was able to suit up for Arizona’s fourth preseason game, and looked as explosive as ever catching two balls for 49 yards and two touchdowns. Meanwhile, Nelson’s preseason stats (five catches for 55 yards) were nothing special. Health permitting, Brown appears honed in on Arizona’s No. 2 receiver spot, but may rotate a bit more than usual with Nelson to start the season.

Atlanta Tight Ends – Austin Hooper vs. Levine Toilolo

Initial Outlook: “It’s already a foregone conclusion that Hooper sits atop the Atlanta tight end depth chart coming into training camp. The question is, how much distance will he put between himself and Toilolo? While Hooper possesses an all-around skill-set, Toilolo’s specialty is blocking. If Hooper can assert himself in training camp, he will have legit breakout appeal in one of the NFL’s most explosive offenses. If not, Atlanta will just be another tight end quagmire where none of them are worth using.”

Result: By all accounts, Hooper enters the regular season as the Atlanta primary pass-catching tight end. Toilolo was dead silent in the preseason, catching zero passes, and looking destined for a mostly blocking role. Hooper is worth a dart-throw in fantasy drafts as an upside backup who could carve out a role as one of Matt Ryan’s secondary reads as the Atlanta receiving options behind Julio Jones are solid, but ultimately unspectacular.

Carolina Running Backs – Jonathan Stewart vs. Christian McCaffrey

Initial Outlook: “Stewart is fully expected to retain his starting running back job when the regular season starts. As fantasy owners are well aware though, Stewart has not played a full NFL season since 2011, and is a virtual lock to miss a couple games this year. Enter McCaffrey, an electric runner/receiver who Carolina took 10th overall in last April’s draft. Does Carolina trust giving him a full workload in the event of a Stewart injury? How do the team plan to use McCaffrey when Stewart is healthy? Hopefully the preseason can help shed some light on these questions. “

Result: McCaffrey looked as explosive as advertised during the preseason, posting 138 total yards with one touchdown and averaging 6.9 yards per touch. Stewart started every preseason game the duo played in (averaging 4.6 yards per carry himself), while McCaffrey rotated in with the first-team offense off the bench. So far, it seems like McCaffrey may be overvalued as a second- or third-round pick in fantasy drafts based on his playing time ceiling, while Stewart looks undervalued as a double-digit round flier, who will probably remain fresher as his is spelled by McCaffrey.

Chicago Wide Receivers – Cameron Meredith vs. Kevin White

Initial Outlook: “White is in a make-or-break season as a former seventh overall pick in 2015, having only caught a total of 19 passes across his first two NFL seasons. At this point, it isn’t clear if White will ever be the explosive playmaker he was prior to suffering multiple leg fractures. A side effect of White’s injuries was Meredith’s ascension seemingly out of nowhere to become an integral part of the Chicago passing game (66 catches for 888 yards in 2016). With Alshon Jeffery out of the picture, Meredith has a mostly clear path to the No. 1 receiver role in Chicago, especially if White’s health continues to hold him back.”

Result: Due to an unfortunate season-ending injury to Meredith, it looks like White won this battle by default. It’s a shame really, as Meredith was really starting to look the part as the WR1 during the preseason as quarterback Mike Glennon became more acclimated to the offense. While White now sits all alone atop the wide receiver depth chart, he has shown nothing so far in his NFL career to show he belongs there, and I am anticipating that slot receiver and former first-round pick Kendall Wright becomes the bigger beneficiary of Meredith’s absence.

Dallas Running Backs – Darren McFadden vs. Alfred Morris

Initial Outlook: “Both McFadden and Morris are former fantasy superstars, with a combined five 1,000-yard rushing seasons under their belts. Last season, Morris operated as starter Ezekiel Elliott’s backup for most of the year while McFadden recovered from an elbow injury. Upon McFadden’s return in Week 15, Morris was relegated to third string. Neither back was particularly effective, with Morris averaging 3.5 yards per carry in 14 games, and McFadden averaging 3.6 in three. Ultimately, whomever wins the backup gig will probably not see the field much playing behind Elliott, but they could have some spot-start appeal early in the regular season if the NFL hands Elliott a suspension for his off-field antics.”

Result: McFadden operated distinctly ahead of Morris throughout the preseason, and looked to be in 2015 form as McFadden averaged 5.1 yards per carry. Elliott’s status remains as murky as ever ahead of Week 1, and any outcome seems possible at this point. McFadden is poised to take over feature-back duties if all or any portion of Elliott’s suspension stands, but I would be hesitant to rely too heavily on McFadden being a fantasy contributor given the possibility Elliott may be eligible to play once the season begins.

Detroit Running Backs – Zach Zenner vs. Dwayne Washington

Initial Outlook: “Zenner has always been a personal favorite of mine. He came out of college undrafted with three 2,000-yard rushing seasons under his belt, albeit at the FCS level, and actually led the NFL in preseason rushing back in 2015. Unfortunately, none of that success has translated to the NFL during regular season play, where Zenner has averaged just 3.75 yards per carry. Washington, a seventh round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, was actually given the opportunity over Zenner to be a part of the offense after starter Ameer Abdullah suffered his season-ending foot injury in Week 1 of that same season. Washington’s inclusion in the offense did not last long, however, as he injured his ankle in Week 4, and was only used sparingly the rest of the year. Given that Abdullah is coming off a serious foot injury, his health cannot be taken for granted, and the winner of this battle could find themselves inserted into the Detroit starting lineup at some point yet again.”

Result: Both Zenner and Washington had similar preseason yards per carry averages (3.4 and 3.5, respectively), with Zenner missing some time due to an undisclosed injury. Neither back really stood out during the preseason, with Zenner still appearing as the favorite for No. 3 duties. In either case, both Abdullah and Theo Riddick are entering Week 1 healthy, so the Detroit backups’ fantasy value are nil for the time being.

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.