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Training Camp Battles

Everyone knows that Harrison, Moss & Owens are the WRs to jump on early in the draft. Shockey, Gonzo & Heap are the no-brainers at TE. But, what happens between the middle rounds of your draft can make or break your team. Depth is a huge plus in any fantasy draft and with the amount of injuries in football, it’s a moral imperative. Hopefully, this gives you some insight into the training camp battles of the boys that catch the ball most often that may cause a few players to move up or down your draft sheets.

Wide Receivers:

D.Thompson/J.McKnight/O.Gadsden – MIA
After signing Derrius Thompson to a three-year $4 million contract in the offseason, you had to figure Thompson would play a major role with his new club. Early indications out of training camp are Thompson has already moved up to the #2 spot on the depth chart leaving McKnight and the often injured Gadsden fighting for the #3 slot.

Verdict: Thompson may be worth owning, but with Chambers coming into his own and Ricky Williams carrying the load, Thompson shouldn’t be any higher than #3 on your fantasy team’s depth chart.

F.Sanders/M.Robinson – BAL
Looking to bolster a mediocre passing attack, the Ravens signed Frank Sanders to a four-year contract and Marcus Robinson to a one-year contract. Neither WR should suddenly appear in your top 20, but if Redman proves he can run the show, one of these guys may emerge are a decent option as your #3.

Verdict: Robinson was a stud for the Bears, but that seems like it happened a million years ago. Sanders consistently posted solid numbers for a terrible Arizona team. I would think Sanders becomes the #2 behind Travis Taylor.

R.Wayne/B.Stokley – IND
Brandon Stokley agreed to a two-year $2.9 million contract to take the place of the disappointing Qadry Ismail. Reggie Wayne took over the #2 WR spot last season and produced three 100-yard receiving games with 4 TDs on the season. Considering the amount of action Harrison gets, those numbers ain’t too shabby.

Verdict: Wayne will be the #2 guy in Indy. The Colts may sign the recently cut Ismail if he’s willing to accept a smaller deal so don’t expect much out of Stokley.

D.Hayes/J.J.Stokes/M.Hatchette – JAX
These are all new acquisitions for the Jags as they try and find someone to play opposite Jimmy Smith. Hayes was a major disappointment in New England last year and is trying to get healthy for the first time in a while. Stokes has never lived up to the expectations that were set for him in San Fran, and Hatchette is just looking for some playing time instead of being like 8th on the Vikings WR depth chart.

Verdict: The lesser of the three evils is probably Stokes but he’s not worth your fantasy time.

T.Glenn/A.Bryant/J.Galloway – DAL
The one thing that all three of these guys know by now: you can’t take anything for granted when it comes to Bill Parcells. Glenn knows that first hand as she, er, he played for Parcells in New England and was brought in to Big D to help bolster the WR depth. Both Bryant and Galloway are getting the same treatment despite one being a 2nd year guy and another a veteran.

Verdict: Bryant is probably the most talented in this group. With Glenn’s penchant for injury, Galloway will probably play along side Bryant for most of the year. Don’t expect much out of any of them until a QB steps it up and proves he can deliver the ball.

D.White/D.Terrell – CHI
Now that David Terrell is fully recovered from last season’s broken foot, he is ready to battle Dez White for the starting slot opposite Marty Booker. Terrell won’t have an easy path as White established himself as a solid receiver last year by posting 51 receptions for 656 yards with 4 TDs.

Verdict: Terrell will have a tough go taking away the starting job from White especially considering the changes at QB. If Kordell Stewart find his rhythm with one of these receivers, they may be worth owning. Until then, don’t bother.

A.Hakim/B.Schroeder/C.Rogers/S.Jefferson – DET
Once the Lions inked their #1 pick Charles Rogers (2nd pick overall) to a six-year contract, you have to figure he’ll be expected to start. Then it’s just a question of who’ll start along side the rook? Bill Schroeder posted decent numbers (36 catches, 595 yards, 5 TDs) last season in his first year with the Lions. Shawn Jefferson comes to Detroit by way of Atlanta and Az-Zahir Hakim appears to be fully recovered from the hip injury he suffered last season.

Verdict: Rogers will take time to learn the NFL game (most receivers do), but he’ll be a player. Chances are Hakim will be the slot receiver which means the #2 battle is between Schroeder & Jefferson. I’d give the edge to Schroeder to start along side the rookie and he’ll post solid numbers.

R.Ferguson/J.Walker – GB
With Terry Glenn departing Cheese country for the Big D, Javon Walker and Robert Ferguson have given the opportunity to battle it out to start along side Donald Driver. Ferguson has the slight edge heading into training camp with more experience in the Pack offense. Although if Walker can post numbers like he did against Atlanta in the wild card game last year (5 catches for 104 yards), then he’ll get the nod.

Verdict: Walker is probably the more talented receiver and should win the job by the first quarter of the season at the latest. If you’re scrambling for a WR late in the draft, don’t be afraid to take a shot on Walker.

B.Finneran/M.Jenkins/Q.McCord – ATL
Once the Falcons acquired Peerless Price from the Bills back in March, the entire Atlanta WR corps was vastly improved. The signing of speedy MarTay Jenkins from Arizona gives the Falcons yet another option for Mr. Vick to work his magic. Quentin McCord also returns to Altanta and is worthy of a mention just for his 7-catch 182-yard 1 TD performance against the Lions in week 16 last year.

Verdict: Finneran reminds me of Wayne Chrebet and is much better suited for the #2 WR role. Jenkins is a burner and will probably be limited to long-yardage situations. After Price, Finneran may be the only receiver worth your fantasy time as a #3 or #4 WR on your squad.

D.Stallworth/J.Pathon – NO
Donte’ Stallworth knows how to get open in the end zone as his team-high 8 receiving TDs proved last year. When Jerome Pathon was unable to play in weeks 16 & 17 last year, Stallworth made the most of his opportunity and posted 10 catches for 171 yards and a TD in the final two games.

Verdict: If Stallworth can stay healthy (he was plagued with hamstring injuries during training camp and the first couple months of the season last year), he’s easily the #2 guy. Pathon can fill in, but Stallworth is the one you want. He may make a decent #2 WR, but he’ll certainly be a solid #3 on your fantasy squad.

E.McCaffrey/A.Lelie – DEN
With Easy Ed McCaffrey recovering from groin surgery, the door is slightly ajar for Lelie to make a case for the starting nod. McCaffrey bounced back from a nasty broken leg back in the first game of the 2001 season to post 69 catches for 903 yards with 2 TDs last season. In Ashley Lelie’s rookie campaign last year, Lelie posted 35 catches for 525 yards and 2 TDs and he looks to be more involved in the offense with McCaffrey in the twilight of his career.

Verdict: With Jake Plummer taking over the reigns of the Bronco passing attack, he’ll need to rely on the veterans to help him learn the offense and pick up the slack. McCaffrey will do just that. Lelie is the better long term option, but for this year McCaffrey is still a solid bet to post 850+ yards receiving which isn’t bad for an old-timer.

T.Dwight/R.Caldwell – SD
The acquisition of David Boston quickly filled the Chargers void left by the release of Curtis Conway only a week earlier. The #2 spot which was occupied mainly by Tim Dwight last year is his to lose. Dwight’s main competition will be Reche Caldwell, a 2nd-year guy out of Florida who may prove to be a strong challenge for the lightning fast Dwight.

Verdict: Dwight has proven to be more effective in the kick/punt return aspect of the game than as a #2 receiver. While his numbers weren’t awful last year (50 catches, 623 yards, 2 TDs), they weren’t that great either. Look for Caldwell to come along quickly with Boston drawing a lot of attention. Caldwell is worth a shot late in your draft. Don’t overlook Dwight if your league awards points to players who score special teams TDs.

E.Kennison/J.Morton/M.Boerigter – KC
Johnnie Morton was a major disappointment for the Chiefs last season. After posting four 1,000-yard receiving seasons in five years for the Lions, Morton came to Kansas City and laid a big ole’ egg with 397 yards on 29 catches with only 1 TD. Yuck! Eddie Kennison took over the #1 spot due to Morton’s lack of productivity and posted a strong 906 yards on 53 catches with 2 TDs. Marc Boerigter is a big WR (6′ 3″, 223 lbs) and is looking to knock Morton even further down the depth charts.

Verdict: Despite Kansas City being home to Gonzo and Priest, there is some value to be found at WR. Kennison is the clear #1 guy heading into the season and should be a decent #2 WR. Personally, I wouldn’t touch Morton with a 10-foot pole this year (spoken like a true owner still scorned from last year). Boerigter may get some time, but there’s not enough offense to go around to make him worthy of a fantasy selection.

T.Brown/J.Porter – OAK
The old vs. the new for the #2 spot in Oakland. Brown inked a six-year in March which should mean both he and Rice finish their careers in the Silver and Black. Brown’s numbers have started to decline as he failed to reach the 1,000-yard mark last season and managed only one game of over 100 yards receiving all of last year. Jerry Porter is part of the new breed of WRs to hit the NFL. He is a big man that can score (9 TDs last year) and should see his role increase in the offense with both Rice & Brown getting very long in the tooth.

Verdict: If I had to choose between these two, Porter would be my choice. He’s got the size to take advantage of the smaller cornerbacks and will learn every trick in the book playing behind two of the best receivers of all time.

 

Tight Ends

M.Pollard/D.Clark – IND
The Colts used their top pick in this year’s draft to select Dallas Clark out of Iowa 24th overall. Whenever rookie TEs are discussed, the biggest concern is blocking. Of course they can catch, but it’s whether or not they can block that will determine the amount of playing time the youngsters get. With Pollard already entrenched as the starter, Clark won’t be expected to set the league on fire in his first year.

Verdict: Don’t expect Clark to be this year’s version of Jeremy Shockey. The Colts will use plenty of two-TE sets so Clark will get some chances, but Pollard will be the recepient of the majority of TE passes.

C.Fauria/D.Graham – N.E
When the Patriots drafted Daniel Graham with the 21st pick in the 2002 draft, they were hoping they found the heir to the Ben Coates throne that has been vacant for a few years now in New England. When Graham suffered injury after injury in his rookie season, it was free agent acquisition Christian Fauria that filled the role of TE and filled it nicely. Fauria posted a TE-respectable 27 catches for 253 yards but factor in his 7 TDs, and Fauria posted a solid season.

Verdict: Graham is still the long-term answer for the Pats but until he can prove himself, Fauria is not a bad option at TE if your still without one late in your draft.

M.Bruener/J.Reimersma – PIT
Mark Bruener accepted a significant pay cut to remain with the Steelers this season. Bruener finished the last two seasons on the injured reserves list and has never been a major part of the offense. The addition of former Bills TE Jay Reimersma, could reduce Bruener’s role to mainly blocking. Reimersma was cut from Buffalo for salary cap reasons and he posted his lowest receiving totals since ’98 including zero TDs.

Verdict: The Steelers have always used their TEs as blockers first and receivers second. Don’t expect that to change too dramatically with the addition of Reimersma. Avoid both at your draft.

E.Conwell/D.Sloan – NO
Ernie Conwell signed with the Saints in the offseason which came as a surprise to some to see him leaving pass-happy St.Louis. Conwell agreed to a five-year deal which means he’ll be a fixture in the Saints offense for the foreseeable future. Incumbent David Sloan suffered several injuries last year and is still recovering from offseason toe and knee surgery.

Verdict: Conwell becomes the TE to own from the Saints. He could be a top-10 TE producer that can be had late in your draft. Definite sleeper potential.

I.Mili/J.Stevens – SEA
In his rookie season, Jerramy Stevens made such an impression that by week 4 he surpassed Mili on the depth chart and became the starter. Unfortunately for Stevens, he sprained his ankle and missed seven weeks. In his absence, Itula Mili stepped it up in a big way posting 500 receiving yards for the season with 2 TDs including a 7-catch 119-yard performance against the Chargers in the last regular season game.

Verdict: Stevens pleaded guilty to reckless driving in June and was sentenced to two days jail time. With a history of off-the-field issues, Stevens doesn’t come as a highly recommended option. From a fantasy perspective, you should probably avoid both of these guys unless an injury occurs.

 

Kickers

Since I rank kickers at the bottom of my wish list in every draft, this section serves as simply informational with those teams that have brought in a notable name to challenge the incumbent kicker.

M.Vanderjagt/B.Conway – IND
After the Vanderjagt/Manning incident at the Pro Bowl, expect this to serve as simply a wake call to Vandy that he can be replaced.

M.Andersen/J.Cortez – KC
Cortez will probably just handle the kickoff duties as the old man can still put the ball between the uprights.

M.Hollis/M.Bryant – NYG
This one is a legit training camp battle and either kicker could come out on top. From a fantasy view, avoid both if you’re unsure who’ll win the job.

R.Longwell/O.Pochman – G.B
The Pack may use Pochman as a kickoff specialist allowing Longwell to focus on the field goals.

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