Fantasy football 2013 draft preview: Updates on position battles

Monday August 26th, 2013

Owners would be wise to avoid the unjustified elevated draft status of Giovani Bernard of Cincinnati.
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Fantasy football 2013 draft prep central: Rankings, position primers and much more

Preseason Week 3 was supposed to settle the question marks related to position battles. Instead, it might have just made them murkier.

Save for the Giants announcing David Wilson as their feature back -- before he opened Saturday's game with an electric 84-yard touchdown run -- and the Rams already announcing Daryl Richardson is the leader of their running back committee, a number of notable position battles remain unresolved before fantasy drafts.

We break down the top ongoing position battles right here:

Denver Broncos running backs

Ronnie Hillman vs. Montee Ball and Knowshon Moreno

Hillman has not only failed to put away Ball, but he failed to put the ball away, too. He had a second fumble returned for a touchdown Saturday, which opened the door for the rookie out of Wisconsin, Ball, to be the Broncos' feature back to start the season. Ball was already figuring to be the goal-line back.

To further muddle the mess, there are some thoughts Moreno might even be back in the mix to start. Ball dropped a pass in the end zone and hasn't been great in pass protection, often the most important skill for a running back that sets up behind Peyton Manning.

Projected winner: Ball. The Broncos didn't pick him in Round 2 because they were enamored with Hillman and Moreno. Hillman's fumbles have only made it clearer to the Broncos: Ball should be their bell-cow back.

Cincinnati Bengals running backs

BenJarvus Green-Ellis vs. Giovani Bernard

This isn't a position battle as much as a determination in just how much work Bernard can steal from BGE outside of the short-yardage work. Bernard clearly is the more explosive player and his draft position is higher than that of BGE, who is still the starter.

The Bengals say the work will be split 50-50, which should lead you to avoid Bernard at his elevated draft position. BGE is going to get the starts and short touchdowns. That is where a bulk of the fantasy points will come from outside of PPR leagues.

Projected winner: Green-Ellis, for now. It will take a BGE injury to make Bernard a real fantasy starter. Consider BGE a sleeper after the top 35 running backs are off the board in drafts. By that time, Bernard will have been long gone -- unjustifiably.

Pittsburgh Steelers running backs

Jonathan Dwyer vs. Isaac Redman and Felix Jones (with Le'Veon Bell out about six weeks)

The Steelers thought they found their answer at tailback with Bell, but a foot sprain that was feared to be a Lisfranc injury has forced them back to choosing between Dwyer and Redman again. They were so cool on that idea, they decided to make a trade for Cowboys and Eagles castoff Jones to compete for a roster spot, too, last week.

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Dwyer scored on a pass reception this weekend, while Redman sat out while healing from the effects of a "stinger." Jones mopped up andle showed well, too, but the Steelers are clearly in a situation where they have three running backs competing for the starting job because they don't have one.

Projected winner: Bell will eventually be that one, and Jones might emerge as a threat once he absorbs the playbook, but Dwyer looks like the choice right now. Consider Dwyer after the top 30 running backs are off the board, because Bell will start once healthy. Redman or Jones are nothing more than late-round fliers right now.

Miami Dolphins running backs

Lamar Miller vs. Daniel Thomas

This competition should have been over before it began, but the Dolphins have insisted Thomas is still in the mix to start.

"I think Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas are competing neck and neck," offensive coordinator Mike Sherman told the media last week. "They both have their strengths. And I think their competition has brought out the best in both of them on most occasions. I'm anxious to see how we play this season. I think if we were playing tomorrow both guys would get plenty of snaps in the ballgame."

What more do they need to see? Thomas has looked like a plodder unfit to start, while Miller has shown burst. Granted, Thomas has more experience and is better pass protector, but too many teams decide their leading running back by who blocks better.

Projected winner: Miller. The fact he hasn't ended this position battle already is a sign you shouldn't pick him among the top 20 fantasy running backs in drafts. He just doesn't have the 1,000-yard, 10-touchdown potential unless something happens to Thomas at this point.

Green Bay Packers running backs

Eddie Lacy vs. DuJuan Harris and Johnathan Franklin

Lacy was held to minus-5 yards rushing on eight attempts last weekend, but those numbers were skewed by a heady play where he jumped on a loose ball. Lacy's first run was an 11-yarder to start the Packers' second possession. Harris started the game, but he rushed for just two yards on his three carries.

Franklin came in later in the game and rushed just four times for one yard. Clearly, the Packers' running game -- while bolstered -- is still a work in progress.

Projected winner: Lacy. Harris is not going to be hold off Lacy, either as a short-yardage option or otherwise. The Packers merely have kept him as the starter because he was the incumbent. Lacy will be the fantasy back to have, while Harris is nothing more than a late-round handcuff. Harris' pluck in keeping Lacy from starting right away is enough to keep you from bothering to draft the change-of-pack back Franklin in standard non-keeper leagues.

New England Patriots wide receivers

Kenbrell Thompkins vs. Aaron Dobson, Julian Edelman and Josh Boyce

We know Tom Brady is going to make a star out of some newbie in his receiving corps and Danny Amendola is pretty obvious. The question is who is going to emerge as the second starter in two-receiver sets.

The answer is now clearly Thompkins, who reeled in eight passes for 116 yards Thursday night against the Lions in preseason Week 3. Brady accounted for 6-93 of those numbers. Brady trusts Thompkins over the second-rounder Dobson, the veteran reserve Edelman and the fourth-rounder Boyce.

Projected winner: Thompkins. This hasn't been officially announced but it might as well have been. Thompkins, the undrafted rookie out of Cincinnati, has blown away the competition in training camp and preseason action. Consider Thompkins better than a mere late-round flier now.

New England Patriots tight ends

Zach Sudfeld vs. Jake Ballard, Michael Hoomanawanui

This is really no competition at all, especially once Rob Gronkowski (back) returns from the preseason PUP list. Gronk is no longer expected to open the year on the PUP list, but he might be out until the Sunday night game of Week 4 at the Atlanta Falcons (Sept. 29).

Ballard started Thursday as the in-line tight end and Sudfeld started as the fullback, H-back or "move" tight end. Sudfeld lost a fumble in the game, something that doesn't bode well for Bill Belichick's trust in the early going, but he is the better target than Ballard.

Projected winner: While Ballard will technically start as the traditional tight end, Sudfeld is the red zone threat and fantasy target in the late rounds. Ballard is not even worth drafting in standard leagues at this point.

Buffalo Bills quarterback

E.J. Manuel vs. Kevin Kolb and Matt Leinart

If Manuel was healthy, there would be no doubt who would be under center for the Bills starting Week 1. Now, Kevin Kolb (concussion) is dealing with an injury that threatens to end his career.

It has gotten so dire in Buffalo, they have had to bring in former first-round bust Matt Leinart to fill the holes this week.

Projected winner: Manuel, and not just because Kolb is toast. Manuel looked good in the first two preseason games and the Bills will do everything in their power to get him ready for Week 1 after his minor knee injury. The Bills still have time. Leinart will merely compete to be the backup if Kolb has to hang it up.

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