The start of training camp is upon us. After a busy offseason of free agency and drafts, NFL teams are starting to sort out what their depth charts will look like. And as always, there will be plenty of training camp battles to watch. Of course, not all of them will have an impact on your fantasy football draft. But we're running down a few key competitions to keep an eye on leading to your fantasy draft.
There will be plenty of hype surrounding this camp competition. Provided there's any competition at all. Which we think there will be. Possibly. Expect plenty of words to be written and spoken from the general direction of Florham Park about the goings-on between Geno Smith and Michael Vick. With a rebuilt attack featuring Eric Decker, Chris Johnson and athletic rookie tight end Jace Amaro, there is more to like about Gang Green's offense than in past seasons. No one will mistake the starting Jets quarterback for an top line fantasy starter, but the winner of this battle will have more appeal than in recent seasons.
When Cleveland drafted Johnny Manziel with the 22nd overall pick, the howls calling for him to start in Week 1 began immediately. The Browns tried to pour water on that fire, but might have grabbed the gas can by mistake. Incumbent starter Brian Hoyer is expected to open camp atop the depth chart and has the support of at least one of his teammates. But by the time we get to August, the Manziel hype train could be barreling down the tracks. It will be interesting to see if the Browns get arm-twisted into starting the high-profile rookie. It will also be interesting to determine how much the effectiveness of either Manziel or Hoyer could be affected by the fate of Josh Gordon.
Dolphins running backs
Remember when we assumed that Knowshon Moreno, fresh off a career season with the Denver Broncos, would take his talents to South Beach and gobble up the role of Miami's starting running back? Well, a funny thing happened on the way to Moreno's Dolphin domination. Namely, a lack of conditioning. Through minicamp, it was Lamar Miller who took the lead, apparently trying to redeem himself after a 2013 season that went sideways. The outcome of this could be interesting. If Moreno wins, he won't match last year's totals. But if Miller comes out on top, maybe he becomes the breakout player many expected to see last season.
Raiders running backs
Call it the Old Patrol. Or the MASH Unit. Whatever you want to call the camp battle between Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew, you can't completely ignore it. Both backs have the potential to be productive ... when healthy. That last part is key considering the recent histories of both men. Just for good measure, it's probably worth adding Latavius Murray to the mix since he'll be the player who will take up the mantle in the event neither McFadden nor Jones-Drew can fulfill their running back duties.
While we're on the subject of the Raiders, here's one that we didn't expect to see a few weeks ago. No one believed Matt Schaub would be anything more than a place holder for whomever was going to be anointed Oakland's "quarterback of the future". Who knew that Derek Carr could bring the future to the present? There's definitely a difference between succeeding in minicamps without a pass rush and succeeding in training camp and preseason games when the action is a little more live. But we're a long way from coach Dennis Allen's initial comments that it would take something "catastrophic" for Carr to see any real playing time this year.
Yet another rookie signal-caller is making a push to start for his team right away. Teddy Bridgewater was initially pegged as the man who would lead Norv Turner's offense in Minnesota. Head coach Mike Zimmerisn't tipping his hand on who will get the call in Week 1, even if Christian Ponder thinks he has it all figured out. The primary job of this contest's winner will be to turn around and hand the ball to Adrian Peterson but the presence of fantasy breakout candidate Cordarrelle Patterson could add some intrigue.
49ers running backs
We know Frank Gore is going to be the starter. That's not the issue here. The issue is determining who will be Gore's understudy -- and eventual successor. Marcus Lattimore was originally pegged to be that player; but that was before the 49ers spent a second round pick on Ohio State star Carlos Hyde. Look for the two of them to be locked in a pitched battle to be the No. 2 running back in a run-heavy offense ... and a handcuff for plenty of fantasy owners.
Rams wide receivers
This time last year, we were anxiously awaiting the emergence of Tavon Austin as a superstar-in-the-making. A year later, we're still waiting. It's not totally Austin's fault as he played in an offense that didn't seem to know what to do with the dynamic receiver. But he is also working in a group that has too many playmakers and not enough opportunity. With Sam Bradford back in action, it will be intriguing to see who will emerge from a corps including Austin, Chris Givens, Austin Pettis, Brian Quick and Stedman Bailey. For good measure, St. Louis added Kenny Britt in the offseason. That's a lot of mouths to feed. Hopefully the Rams can use the preseason to sort out a pecking order.
Panthers wide receivers
Somebody's gotta take the lead, right? The Panthers had one of the worst receiving corps in the league last year ... and somehow got worse heading into the 2014 season. Despite what Cam Newton thinks about his wideouts' prospects, color us unimpressed. Jerricho Cotchery and Kelvin Benjamin are the "marquee" names in this group, but honestly any number of players could possibly emerge as targets for Cam Newton. None of them are likely to be major fantasy contributors, but still...