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Fantasy football training camp battles to watch: NFC

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Ocean waves crashing against the shore. Rain drops plinking on windows. The soft crunch of boots in freshly fallen snow.

And the pop of football pads colliding.

These are all sounds that I relish hearing. Some are rarer than others (I don't see much snow anymore in Los Angeles). And that last one is entirely seasonal, coming in and out of our lives like a flash every year.

Fortunately, we're just a few days away from NFL training camps ... and the official return of football.

In addition, that means fantasy football is ramping up as well. Mock drafts are happening with increasing frequency, and soon live drafts will be happening all over the country. But before we can get there, much has to be decided on the practice gridiron first.

With that in mind, here are the key NFC training camp battles to watch for fantasy purposes. Every year we see rookies steal jobs from veterans, or veterans bouncing back to new heights. These competitions can have huge ramifications on the fantasy landscape, and require close attention.

So let's get to it!

NFC East


Dallas Cowboys

RBs: Darren McFadden vs. Alfred Morris

McFadden seems like the clear-cut No. 2 behind Ezekiel Elliott, but Morris is no slouch. With Elliott potentially facing an early-season suspension, fantasy drafters must watch his backups closely to know who is the preferred handcuff.

New York Giants

RBs: Paul Perkins vs. Shane Vereen vs. Wayne Gallman vs. Shaun Draughn vs. Orleans Darkwa

The expectation is that this is Paul Perkins' featured job to lose. However, this is a crowded group. Vereen could still mix in on passing downs, while Gallman might have a shot at goal-line work. Stay tuned.

Philadelphia Eagles

WRs: Jordan Matthews vs. Torrey Smith vs. Nelson Agholor

Matthews should win this and serve as the No. 2 alongside Alshon Jeffery, but it'll be worth seeing if Smith or Agholor have anything to say about that during July and August camp and preseason action.

Washington Redskins

RBs: Rob Kelley vs. Samaje Perine

Can Fat Skinny Rob hold off the powerful youngster? That'll be the question of camp for Washington. Kelley came on late last season, but also struggled at times with efficiency. Perine was a powerhouse at Oklahoma, but will need to adjust to the NFL quickly if he wants to usurp this job. Chris Thompson has the passing game work locked up, so the other two are duking it out for early-down and goal-line touches.

NFC West


Arizona Cardinals

WRs: J.J. Nelson vs. Chad Williams

Larry Fitzgerald and John Brown are set as the top two options in Arizona, but the No. 3 job could be up for grabs. So far in Bruce Arian's tenure in Arizona, the WR3 in his offense hasn't netted a ton of fantasy points. But we'll want to watch this fight closely because Fitzgerald is old and Brown is coming off a year filled with health issues. If either missed significant time, Nelson/Williams could become hot waiver-wire targets.

Los Angeles Rams

WRs: Robert Woods vs. Cooper Kupp vs. Josh Reynolds vs. Mike Thomas

I'd imagine this fight is mostly between Woods and Kupp, but I included Reynolds and Thomas just in case. With Tavon Austin sliding into a pseudo-DeSean Jackson role in Sean McVay's offense, Woods and Kupp will be vying for the Pierre Garcon/Jamison Crowder roles. Odds are Woods wins this and sees more targets, but Kupp is certainly a name to watch in the slot. He had a lot of hype coming out of college and McVay clearly liked what he saw, drafting the Eastern Washington star in the third-round earlier this spring.

TEs: Temarrick Hemingway vs. Tyler Higbee vs. Gerald Everett

This group possesses seemingly endless potential, but little on-field production to date. Higbee and Hemingway were talented prospects brought in last year, but McVay drafted Everett this year and the hyper-athletic kid could become his new Jordan Reed. It might be a year before anyone from this group really becomes fantasy relevant, but we'll still want to know who the leader in the clubhouse is heading into the season.

San Francisco 49ers

RBs: Carlos Hyde vs. Joe Williams

You'd think Hyde did something cruel to the Bay Area press based on how many damning articles have come out in recent months about his fit/performance thus far in Kyle Shanahan's offensive system. Williams was a favorite of Shanahan's in the draft, and could not only steal work from Hyde, but possibly steal his job outright, too. Shanahan's offenses have a history of producing potent fantasy runners, so this battle must be watched closely.

Seattle Seahawks

RBs: Eddie Lacy vs. C.J. Prosise vs. Thomas Rawls

The Seattle backfield has long been kind to fantasy players. However, the last two years have been a bit of a mess, and that mess got a whole lot ... messier with the arrival of Lacy this offseason. Early guesses are this will turn into some sort of nightmarish committee, but if one of these three gains a clear lead in training camp, their fantasy value will skyrocket.

NFC North


Chicago Bears

WRs: Kevin White vs. Kendall Wright vs. Markus Wheaton vs. Victor Cruz

Cameron Meredith seems entrenched as the No. 1 option, but who will be lining up opposite him? With the departures of Alshon Jeffery and Eddie Royal, 137 targets opened up in this offense. White seems the likeliest bet as a recent first-round pick, but Wright could sneak into the mix.

Detroit Lions

RBs: Ameer Abdullah vs. Theo Riddick

These two will probably split work evenly in 2017, but it wouldn't hurt to follow along in case Abdullah makes a push to cut into Riddick's pass-catching duties.

Red-zone threat: Eric Ebron vs. Kenny Golladay vs. the field

With Anquan Boldin and his 22 red-zone targets from 2016 out of the picture, who will step up when it counts the most for the Lions? Ebron should be the favorite here, as his offseason hype train has been building up steam of late, but don't count out Golladay. He's an athletic specimen with 4.5 speed and a 35.5-inch vertical in a 6-foot-4, 218-pound frame.

Green Bay Packers

RBs: Ty Montgomery vs. Jamaal Williams

Consider this the main event of the training camp battles pay per view. Mongtomery stole fantasy hearts last year converting from wide receiver to running back and found immediate success. But when Williams landed with the Packers in the draft, he gave plenty of analysts feelings things they haven't felt in a long time. Simply look at the reaction from when he was announced as No. 2 on the depth chart. The Packers boast one of the highest-scoring offenses in the league and can produce great fantasy runners. Back in the good Eddie Lacy days, he finished as the RB6 in back-to-back seasons. Whoever wins this job will shoot up draft boards like there's no tomorrow.

Minnesota Vikings

RBs: Dalvin Cook vs. Latavius Murray

To call the Vikings 2016 ground game a dumpster fire is a disservice to dumpster fires. The backs could find space behind a leaky offensive line, and struggled to create for themselves. The result was a unit that ranked dead last in rushing yards and yards per attempt, while scoring a measly nine touchdowns on the ground. Thus, the team signed Murray as a free agent and drafted Cook in the second round. Cook figures to lead this backfield, but Murray could steal goal-line work at the very least.

NFC South


Atlanta Falcons

TEs: Austin Hooper vs. Levine Toilolo

This roster is pretty set in stone, but as for a player to watch, Hooper deserves our attention. He performed well as a rookie on only a small amount of looks, hauling in 19 receptions for 271 yards and three TDs on 27 targets. The team let veteran Jacob Tamme walk in free agency, so the only real competition for Hooper is Toilolo. If Hooper starts making some splash plays and is routinely involved in the offense, he'll climb into the late-round tight end discussion.

Carolina Panthers

RBs: Jonathan Stewart vs. Christian McCaffrey

Calling this a battle might be a bit of a misnomer, as the assumption all along has been that these two will live harmoniously in a committee. However, the true leader of said committee and the workload split could swing based on how each back performs throughout camp and the preseason. Both are firmly on the fantasy radar already, with McCaffrey carrying a far higher ADP.

WRs: Curtis Samuel vs. Devin Funchess

There are a few other stragglers in the mix here (remember Brenton Bersin?), but this mostly appears to include just Samuel and Funchess. A second-round pick in 2015, Funchess has hardly lived up to expectations, collecting just 844 career yards and nine career touchdowns to date. The Panthers selected Samuel in the third round this year, and the converted running back's arrival could signal a chance in the passing game from towering wideouts to quicker, more elusive pass-catchers. Neither figures to have a ton of immediate fantasy value, but this will still be a battle worth tracking.

New Orleans Saints

RBs: Mark Ingram vs. Adrian Peterson vs. Alvin Kamara

Really, the main foes in this battle are Ingram and Peterson, as they'll duke it out to the right for the lion's share of the carries in the Saints offense. Kamara figures to mix in on passing downs at the very least, but how much so should be determined through his performance in summer practices and the preseason. There will be points to be had in this backfield. Hopefully this battle allows us to determine with some level of certainty when, where, and from whom they'll be coming.

WRs: Willie Snead vs. Ted Ginn Jr.

While Snead should be the No. 2 option behind Michael Thomas, Ginn didn't get signed to collect dust on the bench. What fantasy fans will want to watch during camp and the preseason is how and where these two are being deployed. If Ginn not only is commanding frequent deep passes but is cutting into Snead's intermediate range work, then that Snead breakout so many fantasy analysts have been chirping about (guilty) might be a dream deferred.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

RBs: Jacquizz Rodgers vs. Charles Sims vs. Jeremy McNichols

With Doug Martin suspended the first three weeks of the season, someone will need to carry the load in this backfield. The favorite right now is Rodgers, who performed admirably last season in relief duty before succumbing to injuries of his own. McNichols is a talented rookie, but has a tough path to touches with two veterans ahead of him ... even if one of them is Charles Sims who disappointed mightily a year ago.

TEs: Cameron Brate vs. O.J. Howard

Howard was the best tight end in college football last year, so the excitement around his arrival in Tampa Bay is understandable. However, it'd be foolish to simply count out Brate, who is an excellent pass-catcher and already has a rapport with Jameis Winston. Both tight ends will likely see the field plenty in 2017, but training camp and the preseason could tell us a lot about who will be receiving more looks in the passing game. My money is on Brate.

-- Follow Alex on Twitter @AlexGelhar or "Like" his page on Facebook for more NFL and fantasy analysis. He'll be checking out Christopher Nolan's new film "Dunkirk" this weekend. Hit him up on either platform with your thoughts if you see it as well!

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