It's that time of the year again. Optimism is in the air, and jobs are up for grabs. With the onset of training camp comes heated positional battles across the league. And the winners of these battles can help fantasy owners down the road. A year ago at this time, I wrote about Terrelle Pryor battling for snaps among a slew of Cleveland wide receivers. He went on to have a 1,000-yard season and now, he's being drafted as a top-20 fantasy receiver. Life comes at you fast, and there are hidden gems to uncover on every team. So who are we honing in on during training camp over the next month? Take a look at the breakdown below for the AFC squads and make sure to keep a close eye on how these roster spots shape up over the next few weeks.
The only thing we have our eye on in Buffalo this summer is the wide receiver pecking order. How does Sammy Watkins look? Is he 100 percent healthy? His injury risk is baked into his mid-Round 4 ADP but if he plays all 16 games, has has potential top-5 upside. Rookie Zay Jones is the favorite to earn the No. 2 job, but nothing's certain for a rookie. The Bills added Andre Holmes from Oakland and Corey Brown from Carolina to the receiving corps too, so we'll be keeping an eye on how that hierarchy plays out.
Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills are the clear-cut top three wideouts in Miami. But nearly 100 picks separate Parker and Stills in ADP per FantasyPros.com. Parker scored five fewer touchdowns than Stills on seven more targets a season ago. We'll be watching to see what kind of progress Parker has made in the offseason after being called out by coach Adam Gase for poor conditioning. Meanwhile, barring injury, targets will be hard to come by for second-year receiver Leonte Carroo and rookie Isaiah Ford. Dynasty owners must pay attention to this group.
It's also worth noting that Miami significantly upgraded at tight end by adding Julius Thomas and Anthony Fasano. Thomas is a sleeper at his position, but we'll be looking for what kind of chemistry he and Ryan Tannehill can develop in camp. Fasano will likely serve as a blocking tight end but could wind up vulturing a few end zone looks. Hooray for tight ends!
New England Patriots
Believe it or not, but the Patriots are even better (on paper) than they were last season when they, you know, won the Super Bowl. The team has unprecedented depth at nearly every offensive skill position. The addition of last season's WR8, Brandin Cooks, to the receiving corps will be something to keep tabs on all summer. Cooks is currently the 12th receiver flying off draft boards on average. But PPR specialist Julian Edelman, deep threat Chris Hogan, second-year stud Malcolm Mitchell and shifty slot man Danny Amendola are also all in the mix. Yep, that's the Patriots for you.
In the backfield, Mike Gillislee is the favorite among fantasy analysts early on to take over the "Blount role" from last season. Third-down pass-catching stud James White is locked into his role again, while Rex Burkhead and Dion Lewis will also be competing for first-team reps. Our collective heads are already spinning and will continue to spin all season trying to figure this one out.
New York Jets
New York had the NFL's lowest passer rating last season at 67.6. Heading into the 2017 season, the quarterbacks on their roster own a 19-45 career record. Journeyman Josh McCown is probably the favorite to win the Week 1 starting job, but he'll compete with Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg -- who has yet to take a regular season NFL snap. Unless you play in a super-deep fantasy league, you're better off not touching any of these guys.
With Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker pretty much begging to be released, the Jets are left with Quincy Enunwa as their No. 1 wideout. Behind him is a motley crew of young speedsters: Robby Anderson flashed late last year with some big games; Charone Peake, a second-year, seventh-round draft selection out of Clemson with 19 career receptions; and two rookies in ArDarius Stewart and Chad Hansen. The only player we're looking at for fantasy reasons is Enunwa. His current ADP puts him at the back of Round 15, so he's worth taking a flier on as a potential target hog. The touchdown upside is questionable.
With a new head coach in Denver there's again an open competition at quarterback between Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch. Our own Marcas Grant is so confident in Paxton Lynch winning the gig, that he put the second-year signal-caller on his must-own list. Whoever wins the job will have some matchup-based streaming value in fantasy leagues this year given the returning veteran talent at wide receiver in Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders.
C.J. Anderson is the clear favorite to lead Denver's backfield this year, but due to injury issues throughout his career, he's never had more than 179 carries in a season. For nostalgia reasons, it'd be nice to see Jamaal Charles be at least somewhat relevant, but he's a huge question mark. After a disappointing rookie campaign, second-year back Devontae Booker recently said he's "more ready" to compete for the starting role. We're interested to see how this one shakes out. You should be too.
Kansas City Chiefs
Rookie running back Kareem Hunt has garnered a ton of offseason hype and is forecast by some to give Spencer Ware a run for the primary role in Kansas City. He's got three-down potential despite his mediocre testing at the NFL Combine, but his strength is in his balance and uncanny ability to stay on his feet through contact. Ware is currently coming off draft boards in the middle of Round 5 which would be a waste of an early pick if Hunt does take over. Fantasy owners should keep an eye on the Chiefs' backfield competition throughout camp.
Los Angeles Chargers
Rookie wideout Mike Williams is already hurt and will likely begin camp on the PUP list according to NFL Network's Mike Garafolo. It's bad news for Mike Williams, but could mean a window of opportunity for Tyrell Williams, who stepped up in Keenan Allen's absence last year. Travis Benjamin, Dontrelle Inman, and tight ends Hunter Henry and an aging Antonio Gates are all looking for targets, so this could be a messy situation. It'd be wise to keep up with which wideouts are getting more first team reps in camp to help decipher their fantasy relevance.
Two words: Beast Mode. Marshawn Lynch is back, and at age 31, we're all clamoring to get a glimpse of how he looks with pads on. Right behind him are two promising second-year backs in DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard, both of whom could get additional opportunities if Lynch wears down or looks sluggish at all.
In Baltimore, third-year receiver Breshad Perriman is getting some hype. He'll have to have a great camp to push Mike Wallace and Jeremy Maclin down the ranks, but it's not out of the question. It'd be nice to see the once highly-touted prospect have some fantasy relevance this year, given his nearly free asking price in redraft leagues.
Quarterback Joe Flacco recently talked up PPR-monster Danny Woodhead, hinting toward a significant role for the aging Guru of Grit. Woodhead could be a fantasy game-changer given his Round 9 ADP in PPR leagues. Terrance West remains the favorite for early down work, and now that Kenneth Dixon is out for the season following knee surgery, we could see the Ravens add a veteran free agent for depth.
At receiver, rookie speedster John Ross, who broke the 40-yard dash record at the NFL Combine, had shoulder surgery shortly thereafter. Ross is a question mark for camp, which could be a detriment to his overall outlook for the season. Meanwhile, fantasy owners are looking for a healthy return from elite receiver A.J. Green after he suffered a serious hamstring injury last Week 11. Brandon LaFell and second-year wideout Tyler Boyd are also in the mix.
With Giovani Bernard not expected to return from an ACL tear until a few weeks into the regular season, all eyes are on rookie running back Joe Mixon in camp. The Oklahoma product was dubbed the top prospect at his position by some draft pundits, and he has a three-down, bell cow-type skill set. He'll have to earn playing time behind early-down favorite Jeremy Hill, but shouldn't have much trouble with that, given Hill's struggles with efficiency and consistency.
Breaking: Cleveland has a competition at quarterback heading into training camp. Also, water is wet. Brock Osweiler was relegated to Cleveland following his abysmal season as a starter in Houston. He'll compete with Cody Kessler, who for some reason folks like to say was "decent" in 2016. His win-loss record is 0-8 so I beg to differ. Anyway, rookie DeShone Kizer will also be in the mix. The Browns are likely to add at least two more regular season starting quarterbacks to their ever-growing list of 26 since 1999, an NFL-high water mark.
The Steelers get Martavis Bryant back after he served a suspension last year. He's reportedly added some mass and we can't wait to see how he looks in action. Behind Bryant, Eli Rogers is the favorite for slot duties after a successful rookie year, while Sammie Coates has some work to do to earn himself more playing time.
Seeing as rookie James Conner has the top selling jersey in Pennsylvania, it's safe to assume that folks are excited to see him on an NFL football field. Obviously, Le'Veon Bell is one of if not the most valuable assets in fantasy football, but if Conner can get off to a good start in camp, he might be one of the most valuable handcuffs in fantasy football. Conner went in Round 11 of our recent 14-team mock draft.
The spotlight in Houston is once again on the quarterback position. Veteran backup Tom Savage will compete with first-round draft selection Deshaun Watson. As the incumbent who knows the offense, Savage has the edge to start camp, but if Watson has a strong showing, the Texans won't hesitate to get him under center. Houston has been seemingly hunting for their quarterback of the future for the past three seasons with no luck and they're hoping Watson is the answer. So is DeAndre Hopkins.
Speaking of Hopkins the team's wideout depth chart is seemingly wide open behind him. Will Fuller disappointed in his rookie year while Braxton Miller and Jaelen Strong remain in the mix. If one of these guys can emerge as a solid No. 2, they should have some fantasy appeal. Fuller is probably the favorite, but we're not holding our breath.
At running back, Lamar Miller remains the primary option. But the team went out and got a big power back in D'Onta Foreman who could spell Miller often, especially in short-yardage and goal-line situations. Foreman, despite some negative press lately, is a guy to keep an eye on. He reportedly showed up to minicamp out of shape, but he impressed during athletic testing with speed and quickness given his size. And if Miller misses time, Foreman is a guy who can carry a high-volume workload.
Following offseason shoulder surgery, Andrew Luck has yet to resume throwing. The NFL season is less than 50 days away, which is ... um ... quite concerning. There's a chance he doesn't start Week 1 so fantasy owners banking on the production of guys like T.Y. Hilton and Donte Moncrief must monitor Luck's progress closely.
In a pass-first offense like Indy's there's room for at least one more wideout to have some fringe fantasy value. That will likely come from newly acquired Kamar Aiken, who is rumored to compete with Phillip Dorsett in camp. Dorsett's been a disappointment thus far and Aiken has flashed in seasons past in Baltimore. When you add in Moncrief's injury history, it makes sense why we're keeping an eye on the battle for No. 3.
In the backfield, the ageless wonder Frank Gore is the obvious favorite to lead the way. But at 34-years-old, the wheels could (they won't) fall off at any time. That leaves Robert Turbin, who will reportedly have a bigger role this year and rookie Marlon Mack to compete for backup duties. Turbin is basically free in redraft formats so there's virtually no risk in adding him to bolster your bench.
If Blake Bortles can get his stuff together, Allen Robinson could be in for a nice bounce back year. Behind Robinson, Jacksonville's No. 2 receiver spot will be hashed out in camp. Last year, Marqise Lee assumed that role, while Allen Hurns was Bortles' second option in 2015. Both are talented enough to have some fantasy value, but obviously, whoever wins the job will be more coveted.
Down in Duval, rookie runner Leonard Fournette is forecast to be the team's workhorse. But Chris Ivory is lingering and T.J. Yeldon was somewhat productive as a PPR asset last season. If Fournette can prove in camp that he's a capable pass-catcher he'll relegate the other two to bench warming duties. For what it's worth, Ezekiel Elliott is the only first-year running back selected in the first five picks of the NFL Draft to have at least 1,000 rush yards in his rookie season in the past 10 drafts.
In just a couple of months, the Titans went from having Rishard Matthews as their top receiver to having a slew of talent at the position. Rookie Corey Davis, arguably the top receiver prospect in the NFL Draft, will look to prove he was worth his draft stock and could be a huge fantasy asset. Eric Decker, one of the top red zone receivers in the league, is poised for a healthy return and is a major value in fantasy drafts given his touchdown upside. The team also drafted Western Kentucky product Taywan Taylor in the third round while Harry Douglas (took a pay cut) and Tajae Sharpe (had foot surgery in June) remain in the mix ... kind of.
The other huge question for Tennessee: Will Derrick Henry's workload grow in Year 2? Henry understandably took a back seat to DeMarco Murray last season, but the team didn't invest a second-round pick in him last year to let him collect dust. Still, Henry's going way too early in redrafts, with a Round 8 ADP. Personally, I was all-in on Henry last season after he had a strong showing in camp, but as long as Murray is around, he'll be tough to trust as anything more than a handcuff.