Matt Forte hopes to redefine fantasy running backs

We already know that the featured running back is becoming more and more of an endangered species. But the way things are going early in training camp, the general running back pool could end up shallower than a puddle on the sidewalk.

Let's start with our (seemingly) yearly Jonathan Stewart injury. After proclaiming during minicamp that he was the healthiest that he'd been since 2011, the Panthers back could now miss up to a month because of a hamstring injury. That seems to be par for the course for a rusher who has missed 17 games over the past two seasons.

Couple that with Carolina quarterback Cam Newton saying he's not yet 100 percent and it potentially means a lot more work for DeAngelo Williams early in the season. While it sounds wonderful, Williams topped 200 carries last season for the first time since 2009 -- which was also the last time he topped 1,000 rushing yards. It's hard think that he's due for a fantasy resurrection in his age-31 season.

But it's not just the veteran rushers struggling with injuries. A pair of young running backs in San Francisco are having their issues as well. One day after Kendall Hunter was lost for the season with a torn ACL, LaMichael James suffered dislocated elbow, potentially sidelining him for a month. That will put a greater focus on the battle between Carlos Hyde and Marcus Lattimore in the race to be Frank Gore's backup. The problem is that Lattimore has yet to participate in training camp as he continues his lengthy rehab from a pair of serious knee injuries.

All of this is why Matt Forte's decree that he was going to change the stereotype of the old running back is met with cautious optimism. There aren't many who can match Forte's workload of the past few seasons and the depth chart behind him is largely unproven. With Marshawn Lynch still in Holdout Mode in Seattle, a healthy and productive Forte could potentially be a top-three fantasy draft pick.

QB competition tracker

Okay, so this isn't really a thing ... yet. But now that we have a few days of training camp under our collective belt, it's worth looking at some of the notable camp battles.

Of course, there's the one in Cleveland between Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel. Where once it looked like Johnny Football was going to take Lake Erie by storm, things have slanted fairly dramatically in Hoyer's direction. Then again, a large part of the Browns offense is potentially in flux as the team awaits word on Josh Gordon's fate while simultaneously trying to pick a running back starter between Ben Tate and Terrance West. It's believable that Manziel will start for Cleveland sometime during the season, but it's not quite as certain that Week 1 will be that time.

In Minnesota, Teddy Bridgewater is apparently pulling even in his contest with Matt Cassel. The Vikings rookie is splitting reps with his veteran counterpart and raising some eyebrows in the process. So far, offensive coordinator Norv Turner has been impressed with what he's seen from the young signal-caller. If Bridgewater wins the job, he'll be paired with the dynamic Cordarrelle Patterson (who is off to a slow start in camp) and the still beastly Adrian Peterson. It won't be enough to get Bridgewater drafted as more than a second quarterback, but it certainly makes the former Louisville star worth paying attention to.

Then there's the quarterback competition that wasn't. As the days go by, it looks more certain that Geno Smith will be the Jets starter in Week 1, but that's not enough for the second-year field leader. Smith says he's gunning to be a top five quarterback within the next couple of seasons. Gang Green's incumbent starter actually hit that height for a short time last season, ranking as the fifth-best fantasy quarterback over the final four weeks. It would take a major turnaround for Smith to make that leap this season, but with the improvements the Jets have made on offense there's plenty of reason to be optimistic about him as a QB2.

Quick outs

» Whether there's a true quarterback competition in Oakland remains to be seen, but presumptive starter Matt Schaub has earned plaudits from his teammates so far in workouts. The latest is defensive lineman Antonio Smith, who says Schaub is "getting his mojo back." Part of the reason Schaub is in Oakland rather than Houston is because his mojo left him in a big way last season. While the praise is certainly encouraging, it doesn't discount the fact that rookie Derek Carr could still challenge for the starting job before camp ends.

» You have to go all the way back to 2009 to find the last time Ben Roethlisberger was a top 10 fantasy quarterback. But if Big Ben is accurate about his improved arm strength, then maybe those happy fantasy days could be back again. The Steelers veteran says he hopes the improvement will lead to better play. That will be important with a receiving corps that features Antonio Brown followed by a slew of question marks. We're not banking on Roethlisberger finding his way back into the top 10, but another top 15 finish wouldn't be frowned upon.

» An already thin Jaguars receiving corps has gotten thinner -- at least temporarily. Cecil Shorts is expected to miss multiple weeks of training camp with a hamstring injury. That's bad news for Shorts, but it's good news for rookies Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson. It's unlikely that either of those players will make an immediate impact, but getting more snaps for young players is never a bad thing. With Justin Blackmon not likely to step on an NFL field anytime soon, development could be the watch word with Jacksonville's wideouts.

» Speaking of young receivers, the Giants were hoping that Odell Beckham could step in and make in impact right away. The problem is ... Beckham hasn't been able to get on the field. The former LSU star has battled a lingering hamstring injury that kept him out of OTAs and has prevented him from participating in training camp. The longer Beckham is forced to sit out, the harder it will be for him to learn the offense -- and the less fantasy draft value he has.

» The Falcons are taking things slowly with Julio Jones, but when the star receiver has been on the field, he has reportedly looked good. It's encouraging news for a player who could be a top five performer at his position this season. Look for Jones to continue to increase his workload as we get closer to the season.

» You can apply the same standard to Rob Gronkowski. The Patriots tight end is now working with the rest of the team in 11-on-11 drills, albeit at less than full speed. As Gronk's participation in camp grows, our anxiety about his status for the start of the season decreases.

» The Vikings have a few wrinkles to iron out in their offense. Adrian Peterson is not one of them. Head coach Mike Zimmer says Peterson might not see any carries during the preseason, adding that he has nothing he needs to see from the veteran running back. This just in: Adrian Peterson is still good at football.

Marcas Grant is a fantasy editor for Follow him on Twitter @MarcasG.

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