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NFL training camp battles: Three of a kind vie to be Denver's top target


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Is there a bigger mystery than Denver's passing game? The team brought in Brady Quinn to compete with Kyle Orton at quarterback, then used a first round pick on project Tim Tebow. Coach Josh McDaniels discarded disgruntled weapons Brandon Marshall and Tony Scheffler, only to try to replace them with rookies Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker.

To borrow Jerry Lee Lewis' best line, that's a whole lotta shakin' goin' on.

The team would like to see better production from its ground game, but even if Knowshon Moreno's legs hold up fantasy owners can expect plenty of passing from this offense. The question is: Which receiver is the most likely to produce a solid fantasy season?

Why Royal is the best choice: It would be a mistake for fantasy owners to label Eddie Royal's drop-off from 2008 to 2009 as a sophomore slump. Yes, his catch total plummeted from 91 to 37, but it's been well-documented that it was the product of the coaching staff moving him to split end more than anything of Royal's doing. This year McDaniels pledged to move Royal back to the slot, where he is most comfortable and more likely to see favorable matchups. He may even catch a touchdown or two (something he failed to do in 2009); in the team's first preseason game, Royal caught the game's first score -- a 12-yard toss from Orton.

Why it's Thomas: At Georgia Tech, Thomas was a ball hog for a passing offense that took a back seat to Jonathan Dwyer and the running game. In 2008, Thomas caught 39 of the team's 74 completed passes. Last season he caught an even higher percentage (46 of 78) and averaged a ridiculous 25.1 yards per catch. In the Yellow Jackets' final three games of the regular season Thomas hauled in at least one pass of 70 or more yards in each contest. He has the size (6-foot-3 and 229 pounds) and athleticism to be an elite receiver in the NFL.

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Why it's Gaffney: Would it surprise fantasy owners to know that Gaffney is the team's top returning receiver from a year ago? Gaffney caught 54 of the 88 balls thrown to him for a career-best 732 yards. Of course, much of this came in the final two weeks of the season. Gaffney caught both of his touchdowns in Week 16, then exploded in Week 17 with 14 catches for 213 yards. Fluke? Maybe. One thing is for certain, though -- the Broncos will give the 29-year-old receiver an opportunity to prove otherwise.

Don't forget about:Brandon Lloyd, Brandon Stokley and Eric Decker.

Lloyd has received most of the first-team reps this summer as Thomas prepares himself for NFL life, and has looked good by most accounts. He played in just two games last season but recorded 95 yards in Denver's season finale loss to Kansas City. Of all the receivers in Denver, Stokley has the most experience. After back-to-back 40-plus-catch seasons in his first two years in Denver, Stokley caught just 19 balls last year (although he did average a healthy 17.2 yards per reception). Decker is the wild card. A prolific pass catcher at the University of Minnesota (201 receptions in his last three years combined), he was considered a bargain in round three and could see time on the field if he can overcome the foot/ankle injuries that have limited him in practice thus far.

Who fantasy owners should pull for: Royal

Thomas is the future star of this organization, but like Decker his foot/ankle troubles have limited him in camp. There is a good chance the Broncos will begin this season with Gaffney and Lloyd ahead of Thomas on the depth chart. While that won't last for long, fantasy owners can't afford to invest so highly in a rookie who will be brought along slowly.

Royal will play an integral role in the offense in Week 1 and could offer fantasy owners in PPR leagues the kind of numbers they demand from a No. 2 fantasy receiver. He has been targeted more than 200 times in his first two NFL seasons and is a safe bet to see another 100-plus looks this year.

Mike Beacom is a contributing writer for