With training camps in full gear, it's now time for fantasy football owners to put their noses to the grindstone and seek out every little nugget of information to help them in that ever-important quest for a league championship. While camp performances and preseason contests won't affect the value of studs like Peyton Manning, LaDainian Tomlinson and Steve Smith, it will make a major difference in the stock of players who will be entrenched in depth chart competitions.
With that in mind, we've listed 20 important camp battles that owners need to watch over the next several weeks that could alter drafts.
Brodie Croyle vs. Damon Huard, Kansas City: Reports out of Chiefs camp is that head coach Herman Edwards doesn't want a short-term solution at the quarterback position, which is the reason Croyle is the current favorite in this competition. Croyle, who has a mere seven pass attempts at the NFL level, would have to crumble in the preseason to lose the top spot but won't have much draft value in seasonal formats.
Derek Anderson vs. Charlie Frye vs. Brady Quinn, Cleveland: Frye was considered the favorite to start under center for head coach Romeo Crennel, but Anderson overtook him after some impressive work in offseason workouts. Quinn is also in the mix, but he's considered the least likely candidate to start in Week 1. The rookie has the most potential, but either Frye or Anderson will come out of camp atop the chart.
Marshawn Lynch vs. Anthony Thomas, Buffalo:Bills head coach Dick Jauron won't hand Lynch the top spot on the depth chart, but the rookie out of California is the favorite to open the regular season as the No. 1 back. Reports that Jauron would rather use a committee of Lynch, Thomas and Dwayne Wright aside, it's still hard not to favor Lynch as the prominent runner and the most valuable option of the trio in all formats.
Reuben Droughns vs. Brandon Jacobs, N.Y. Giants: The retirement of Tiki Barber created a hole in the Giants backfield, and it appears that Jacobs is the man to fill it. Recent reports indicate that he is the favorite to start for head coach Tom Coughlin, while Droughns will see no more than a series or two with some work on passing downs and as a fullback. That scenario makes Jacobs a tremendous sleeper pick.
Adrian Peterson vs. Chester Taylor, Minnesota: The first running back selected in the 2007 NFL Draft, Peterson has a load of upside and should be allowed a chance to unseat Taylor atop the depth chart. With few experienced and consistent options in the pass attack, however, owners should expect Peterson and Taylor to both see a lot of work in the offense of head coach Brad Childress regardless of the depth chart.
Brandon Jackson vs. Vernand Morency, Green Bay: One of the most important battles in all of fantasy football, Jackson will look to unseat Morency atop the Packers depth chart. A talented rookie runner, we like Jackson to emerge as the starter for head coach Mike McCarthy sooner than later. The Nebraska product is a terrific sleeper candidate and could serve owners well as a No. 3 fantasy back in a best-case scenario.
Marion Barber vs. Julius Jones, Dallas: Recent reports indicate that neither Barber nor Jones will see a vast majority of the carries in Big D, but Barber's role could increase a bit compared to last season. Jones will be motivated to produce in a contract year and is still the favorite to start, but a shared workload should be expected under new head coach Wade Phillips. Jones and Barber should be seen as No. 3 fantasy backs.
Tatum Bell vs. Kevin Jones, Detroit: The final winner of this backfield battle depends on the status of Jones, who continues to recover from a surgical procedure on his foot. Should he be available for the start of the regular season, Jones would share carries with Bell and T.J. Duckett. If Jones is still out of action, however, Bell could emerge as a terrific middle-round value in Mike Martz's offense.
DeShaun Foster vs. DeAngelo Williams, Carolina: This is less of a battle for the top spot on the depth chart (Foster is the favorite to start) and more of a competition for carries in the new offense of coordinator Jeff Davidson. Both backs should benefit from his new zone-blocking scheme, not to mention the fact that the team will use more screens out of the backfield, but Williams has more potential and is more valuable.
Warrick Dunn vs. Jerious Norwood, Atlanta: With Dunn, 32, expected to miss most of the preseason after a surgical procedure on his back, look for Jerious Norwood to become the favorite to start for head coach Bobby Petrino. A viable sleeper candidate, Norwood will no doubt share the workload with Dunn when he returns but still has the potential to become a viable No. 3 fantasy back for owners across the board.
Chris Brown vs. Chris Henry vs. LenDale White, Tennessee: White was considered the favorite to start for the Titans, but the addition of Henry and signing of Brown has created an open competition. In fact, head coach Jeff Fisher has stressed that no one has the upper hand for the prominent backfield spot. White and Henry have the most upside, but none of this trio will be consistent in a backfield committee.
Kevan Barlow vs. Najeh Davenport vs. Verron Haynes, Pittsburgh: None of this trio have a chance to unseat Willie Parker as the Steelers featured back, but this three-man battle is important in the world of fantasy football for situational and handcuff purposes. Davenport is considered the favorite for the role at this time, but the return of Haynes from an injured knee could make this competition far more interesting.
Mike Furrey vs. Calvin Johnson, Detroit: Furrey, who finished second to Andre Johnson in receptions last season, is now expected to be moved into the slot while Johnson takes over as a starter at split end alongside Roy Williams. Furrey will still see his share of opportunities in the pass-laded offensive attack of coordinator Mike Martz, but Johnson will be far more attractive in both seasonal and long-term formats.
Nate Burleson vs. D.J. Hackett, Seattle: The offseason trade of Darrell Jackson to San Francisco has opened the door for the sure-handed Hackett to start opposite Deion Branch, but Burleson will also be in the mix. Hackett, who is one of the top sleeper candidates on NFL.com, is our choice to start for head coach Mike Holmgren with Burleson as the fourth wideout behind Branch, Hackett and veteran Bobby Engram.
Hank Baskett vs. Kevin Curtis, Philadelphia: The Eagles love Curtis's speed and skills in the vertical pass attack, so he is considered the favorite to start opposite Reggie Brown. However, head coach Andy Reid was also impressed with what he saw from Baskett, who posted 464 yards and a 21.2 yards-per catch average in his rookie season. Curtis is the more valuable of the two, but Baskett is a nice low-end sleeper.
Matt Jones vs. Reggie Williams, Jacksonville: Jones and Williams were considered the favorites to start, but now each is battling for the third spot on the depth chart behind Dennis Northcutt and Ernest Wilford. Jones is the favorite to open in the regular season in the slot and is worth a late-round flier, but he has much to prove before owners should consider him for a prominent role. Williams now has little to no value in most fantasy drafts.
Devery Henderson vs. Robert Meachem, New Orleans: This competition would have been much more interesting if Meachem hadn't hurt his knee, requiring a surgical procedure in the offseason. Current team reports indicate that Henderson is the favorite to start even now that Meachem is 100 percent, so he should be considered the more attractive choice across the board and worth a middle-round selection in all drafts.
Drew Carter vs. Dwayne Jarrett, Carolina: Carter entered training camp ahead of Jarrett on the depth chart, but the rookie out of Southern California will be allowed every chance to start opposite Steve Smith. Carter will no doubt be motivated to produce solid numbers in what is a contract year (he is an unrestricted free agent in 2008), but neither he nor Jarrett will warrant more than late-round selection.
Michael Clayton vs. Maurice Stovall, Tampa Bay: This battle doesn't seem like it will matter much in the world of fantasy football, but the fact that Stovall was impressive in offseason workouts and could pass Clayton on the depth chart is notable. Head coach Jon Gruden likes to throw the football downfield, and the fact that his core of receivers is a bit inconsistent could thrust Stovall into a far more prominent position.
Desmond Clark vs. Greg Olsen, Chicago: Olsen comes out of Miami, which has spawned such tight ends as Bubba Franks, Jeremy Shockey and Kellen Winslow, so his potential at the NFL level is apparent. However, the presence of Clark and John Gilmore, who will see his share of time as a blocker, could stunt Olsen's rise to stardom. He is worth a late-round flier, but neither he nor Clark should be fantasy starters.