Training camp has arrived just in time to save us from the boredom of the offseason, and with any training camp, we have a number of positions that are wide open for several teams. These positional vacancies can produce a winner that can end up being a massively undervalued asset for fantasy football.
Ravens WR1- Flowers v Beckham Jr
The Baltimore Ravens have never been known as a passing team, and when they have decided to throw the ball, it has normally gone to Mark Andrews.
While that likely won’t change in 2023. For the first time in ages the Ravens could have a legit WR1 in the mix, but who will that WR1 be?
Odell Beckham is listed as the WR1 on the depth chart but can a 30-year-old receiver who has only finished inside the top-25 once in the past five years be trusted as the alpha?
Zay Flowers is an ultra-talented rookie receiver out of Boston College, who was drafted 22nd overall in the 2023 Draft. He profiles to be a big slot receiver and not an Alpha X-type receiver, but there is still plenty of room for him to be the first legit receiving threat the Ravens have had at the position in years.
This receiving corps also features Rashod Bateman, but between attitude and injury, I feel comfortable calling him a bust.
My Pick: Zay Flowers will win this battle and go on to be a WR3 in his rookie season. He is currently being drafted as WR50, 124th overall according to Fantasy Pros ADP.
Panthers WR1- Thielen v Chark
This one is a wide-open battle. With a rookie quarterback set to make his debut, the Panthers were well served to sign a veteran presence.
Adam Thielen may not be what he used to be, and last year at WR29 was his lowest fantasy finish in a full season since 2016, but he has enough left in the tank for one last ride.
DJ Chark, on the other hand, has produced one fantasy relevant in his five seasons in the NFL. Since that season in 2019, he has battled injuries and inconsistency.
Rookie Jonathan Mingo could also factor into this picture. Although, I don’t anticipate a rookie quarterback leaning on a rookie receiver. This one comes down to betting on a has-been or a never-was.
My Pick: Adam Thielen will win this battle and put up one final season as a WR2. He is currently being drafted as WR53, 127th overall according to Fantasy Pros ADP.
Bears RB1- Herbert v Johnson
Here is perhaps my favourite positional battle. If for no other reason than I’m going against the consensus on this one.
2022 was a career year for Khalil Herbert. He got the Bears backfield to himself for a portion of the season due to David Montgomery’s injuries. This led to a career year for him, finishing with 731 rushing yards. That career year was still only good for an RB41 finish.
The departure of Montgomery led everyone to believe this would be Herbert’s backfield, which sent his stock soaring this offseason. The Bears quickly squashed that, as they soon acquired D’Onta Foreman as a depth option. To further complicate things, they then drafted rookie Roschon Johnson in the fourth round.
That’s where things get interesting. Johnson should not have been a fourth-round draft pick. Had he not been buried behind Bijan Robinson on the depth chart at Texas it’s entirely possible he would have been the third running back selected in the first round of this year’s draft.
Johnson’s talent is that elite. He is an elite rusher and an elite pass-catcher. Add in the fact that the Bears coaching staff has been talking up the use of a running back with blocking skills and the only answer is Roschon Johnson. Johnson is easily one of the best blocking running backs in the league and will be the lead back by midseason at the latest.
My Pick: Roschon Johnson will win this battle and finish as a top-20 running back. He is currently being drafted as RB52, 150th overall according to Fantasy Pros ADP.
Broncos WR2- Sutton v Mims
The Bronco’s wide receiver room seemed to be a cluttered mess with too many mouths to feed. One of those mouths was removed from the equation this week as we saw Tim Patrick go down to injury during training camp for the second consecutive season.
Jerry Jeudy projects as the WR1, but if Russell Wilson can find his old form there is ample room for a WR2 to be a fantasy asset. The question is, who will that receiver be?
With Patrick out of the picture, that leaves rookie Marvin Mims Jr and the much-maligned Courtland Sutton.
Let’s start with Sutton. After a strong top-20 season as a sophomore, he has failed to finish in the top 40 since. He started the season with a solid five-game stretch, but once Jeudy returned to the lineup he quickly became unusable. Wilson appeared to have chemistry with him and attempted to integrate him into the offence, but clearly saw Jeudy as the better talent and quickly minimized Sutton’s role.
Mims Jr was drafted by the Broncos this year at the end of the second round. The Oklahoma receiver is an explosive playmaker and a dangerous deep threat. If he can form any bond with Wilson during camp, the Patrick injury could prove to be the spark that lit the fuse to his explosion.
My Pick: Marvin Mims will win this battle and be a viable flex play. He is currently being drafted as WR81, 209th overall according to Fantasy Pros ADP.
Chiefs RB1- Pacheco v Edwards-Helaire
By all accounts, this backfield should be all sewn up in favour of Isiah Pacheco. The Chiefs though, despite declining Edwards-Helaire’s fifth-year option, still have a ton invested in him.
Jerick McKinnon was also re-signed and will undoubtedly serve as the team’s veteran, trusted back in the more critical games of the season. He isn’t viable for fantasy though.
Clyde burst onto the scene as a rookie, looking like a top-five back before tapering off and finishing as RRB22. Since his rookie season, he has finished as RB45 and RB46 and the once-promising career seemed to fizzle out quickly. He has struggled with injuries over the past two seasons, which allowed Pacheco a chance to take over the job. Even in the games he did play, he was far less effective than the rookie.
Isiah Pacheco was a seventh-round pick with little to no hype when he took over the Chief’s backfield. Pacheco would only finish the season as RB37 but was on fire after week 11 when he became the starter.
He finished the season on an eight-game streak of 11+ point games. Pacheco is clearly the better of the two running backs, but will last season be enough for the Chiefs to move on from their former first-round pick for last year’s seventh-round pick?
My Pick: Isiah Pacheco will win this battle but will finish outside the top-24 running backs. He is currently being drafted as RB28, 73rd overall according to Fantasy Pros ADP.
Saints RB1- Kamara v Miller
The final training camp battle is perhaps the most interesting. It was announced today that Alvin Kamara will face a suspension, but it has not been announced how long that suspension will be. Many expect it to be in the four to six-game range. While that is not immediately damning to Kamara’s value, it provides rookie Kendre Miller with the opportunity he needs.
Alvin Kamara has been in the NFL for six seasons. He has three top-five finishes (including an RB1 season), he has an additional two top-ten seasons, as well as last year’s top-20 season. Obviously, Kamara has been beyond stable throughout his career.
It pains me to say this, as Kamara is one of my all-time favourite players, but last year we began to see a gradual decline in his skillset. He produced at the lowest level of his career and had easily his most inefficient season. Add in a growing injury history and pending suspension and he has all the makings of a bust.
The Saints drafted TCU rookie Kendre Miller in the third round of this year’s draft and in doing so found a potential stud. As much as I have loved Kamara through my years as a Saints fan, I fear he may never get his job back. A suspension of any significant length could give Miller the opening he needs to prove himself as a bell cow NFL running back.
My Pick: Kendre Miller will get his chance during Kamara’s suspension and will ride that opportunity to being a steady flex option. He is currently being drafted as RB44, 130th overall according to Fantasy Pros ADP. Kamara’s days are looking numbered in New Orleans. If this is the end of the road for him, Thank you for all you’ve done for my Saints.