Fantasy Football Position Battles You Need to Watch

  • Darren McFadden
    Oakland Raiders Starting Running Back

    The Raiders were 12th in the league in rushing last season, and even finished tied for seventh among all teams with 16 touchdowns on the ground, so we know they’ll run the ball and that there’s value here. We also know there’s talent, with both Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew here. Neither one is very far removed from rushing for well over 1,000 yards in a season, but Jones-Drew is 29 and McFadden has missed 29 games in six seasons. In his first four seasons in Jacksonville, MJD found paydirt 56 times. In his last four, that number’s dropped all the way to 25. As for McFadden, he’s done virtually nothing since getting hurt and missing nine games in 2011, rushing for identical 3.3 yards per rush averages in the last two years.

    Nowadays, however, both are looking for fresh starts. Coach Dennis Allen is raving about McFadden’s potential, and we’re still hopeful that MJD can at least provide decent TD numbers. But other than that, neither player has been very impressive in the preseason.

    MJD is already touting the two as the “Dash Brothers” and for once, this nickname really, really fits. And it’s awesome, too. From here on out, we’ll see if either one can standout enough to warrant big status in fantasy. At worst, at least the Dash Bros is dope.

    1 of 5
  • Bishop Sankey
    Tennessee Titans Starting Running Back

    With the shelf life of the NFL’s top running backs shrinking almost every year, everyone is looking for young players (sometimes rookies) that provide value at a smaller cost. Eddie Lacy had a lot of owners congratulating themselves after this season, and now this year it feels like Tennessee’s Bishop Sankey is the hottest rookie backfield name.

    The 21-year-old from Washington is a solid all-around player, just the type to step in and succeed much like Albert Morris has with the Redskins. He does have one Achilles’ Heel, however: fumble problems.

    With Shonn Greene recently going down with a knee injury — the same one he’s had scoped twice in the past 12 months — the job is Sankey’s if he can just stop coughing the ball up. Dexter McCluster isn’t an every-down back.

    Sankey could be the top option among all rookies this year, but only if he stops fumbling and if Greene continues to struggle.

    2 of 5
  • Ladarius Green
    San Diego Chargers Starting Tight End

    Am I throwing this one in here just because I drafted Ladarius Green in one of my leagues last night? Am I throwing this one in here just to be different? Not at all.

    No, I don’t really expect Green to end up starting at some point over long-time star Antonio Gates. Gates isn’t anywhere close to what he once was, but he’s still a legend who was more than productive last year, catching 77 balls for almost 900 yards and four scores. Then he went out and had a great preseason, grabbing a touchdown against the Titans and 124 yards against Philly.

    But, listen, the guy is 34 years old and caught his fewest touchdowns in 2013 since his rookie year. Then there’s the fact that Green, his backup, has potential that is out of this world.

    At 6-6, with basketball skills and 240 pounds of muscle, with 4.5 speed, you’re looking at, potentially at least, the next Jimmy Graham. In 2013, the second-year tight end was targeted just 30 times and had only three TDs, but everyone around the organization is expecting a big, big jump from 24-year-old, especially after seeing some of his mid-year performances against Miami, Cincy, and Kansas City last winter.

    Even Gates is admitting he’s expecting big things out of Green this year. Keep your eye on this development throughout the first month or so of the season.

    3 of 5
  • Tre Mason
    St. Louis Rams Starting Running Back

    Zac Stacey was a hot sleeper name during last season’s preseason. He had a starting spot with the Rams and he was a rookie draft pick that had proven he could take the brunt of a full-time workload while at Vanderbilt. And, yeah, he was pretty good last year for fantasy owners, rushing for seven TDs and 973 yards. But for the Rams, he wasn’t all that special, averaging below 4.0 yards per carry.

    That’s why the team drafted quick-dashing Tre Mason this year — with a third-round pick — and while Mason is third on the depth chart and struggled with pass protection in the preseason, we all saw the potential he has to break long runs at Auburn. Then there’s second-year man Benny Cunningham, who averaged 5.3 yards per carry in the preseason and even started a game ahead of Stacey.

    With quarterback Sam Bradford tearing his ACL yet again, the Rams will emphasize the run more than ever. There is some value here for fantasy owners — as a team, they were awesome running the ball — but we’re just not sure who’s going to earn it.

    4 of 5
  • Hakeem Nicks
    Indianapolis Colts Starting Wide Receivers

    This is one of the most fascinating pools of talent among any position in the league. For one, T.Y. Hilton is both overvalued and undervalued. I should know. I owned him last year. In 2013, he had only two games all season with more than 15 fantasy points. That’s insane… and hardly anyone seemed to notice. Take away his big games against Seattle and Houston and what do you have? I reached to draft Hilton last year and won’t be doing it again this year, especially now that he has even more competition for touches.

    Reggie Wayne is coming off a major injury and is now on the verge of turning 36. Plus, he hasn’t had more than six touchdowns in a season in five years. At some point, he has to slow down, right?

    Then there’s the newcomer Hakeem Nicks, who was part of that mess in New York last year. Nick didn’t even score, and was one of the year’s biggest busts. But lost in translation was the fact that he still had over 100 targets, still averaged 16.0 yards per catch, and still had nearly 900 total yards. So something is still there.

    Add all of this up and you’re looking at three receivers who should be fighting for Andrew Luck‘s attention all year. I’m not sure who is going to start and who’ll be that third guy, but it’s going to be very interesting to watch, especially after Hicks’ strong preseason suggested that hey, maybe Wayne and Hilton’s grasps on the starting spots aren’t all that secure?

    5 of 5
  • Darren McFadden
  • Bishop Sankey
  • Ladarius Green
  • Tre Mason
  • Hakeem Nicks

Because of things like depth and injuries and systems and coaching carousels, every offseason in the NFL your favorite team inevitably has four or five position battles that go back and forth well into the actual season. This year is no different.

We’re now one week into the real season and rosters are starting to take shape. So is your fantasy team, which probably looks much different now than when you initially drafted. That always happens — for one, players get hurt. But more importantly, depth charts never shake out the way we initially expected them too.

Take Minnesota’s starting quarterback position, for instance. Before the preseason started, we all figured Teddy Bridgewater would stroll in and claim that spot, considering the weak play the Vikings received last year from incumbents Matt Cassel and Christian Ponder en route to a 5-10-1 season, as well as the importance of a great quarterback in today’s game. Both signal-callers had below-average QB ratings — Cassel at 81.6 and Ponder at 77.9. One went 3-3 (Cassel) and the other went 2-6-1 (Ponder). Throw in Josh Freeman‘s abysmal night against the Giants on a Monday night in October, and the road was super clear for Bridgewater.

However, Vikings players were recently notified that Cassel is indeed the No. 1 guy after a very strong preseason that included his Week 2 performance against Arizona where he completed 12 of 16 passes for 153 yards.

There are a number of rookies that are going to explode this season. We’re just not sure Bridgewater is going to be one of them. At least not yet.

With the season finally here, and your fantasy team no doubt needing a boost in the arm, today we’re breaking down Fantasy Football 2014 Position Battles You Need to Watch.

Follow Sean on Twitter at @seanesweeney