With the preseason winding down, some of the most hotly contested position battles across the league are coming to a head. We take a look at three that could have a major impact in fantasy leagues.
SI's 2014 fantasy football draft preview: Rankings, projections and more
Chris Johnson and Chris Ivory not a mismatched soap company, but a jumbled backfield
Both Chris Johnson and Chris Ivory performed well for the Jets in their third preseason game last week. Johnson picked up 42 yards on nine carries, while Ivory had 50 yards on six totes. They each flashed in the passing game, as well, with Johnson catching two balls for 35 yards, and Ivory gaining 23 yards on his lone reception. This could prove to be a profitable match for the Jets, but it just might be a headache for fantasy owners all season long.
Right now, Johnson is atop the depth chart, which will likely be the case when the Jets begin their season against the Raiders. He’s also going much earlier than Ivory in fantasy drafts -- Johnson’s name is typically called in the middle of the fifth round of a 12-team draft, while you can get Ivory way down in the 10th through 12th rounds. The price on Johnson isn’t outrageous, but Ivory sure does feel like a bargain in the endgame.
It may come as a surprise to learn that Johnson was the ninth-ranked running back in standard-scoring leagues last year. From Week 5 through Week 15, he scored at least 14 points six times. He may be the team’s primary rusher, but he’s not going to push Ivory completely to the wayside. Ivory is miscast as this big bruising back who lacks explosion. That could not be further from the truth. He had eight carries of at least 20 yards last season, the same amount as LeSean McCoy, Matt Forte and Adrian Peterson. Of course, he reached that total in about 100 fewer carries than the vaunted troika of backs. In 2012, he had three carries that went for 20 or more yards despite taking just 40 handoffs all season. Ivory can be a real weapon for the Jets, and the team isn’t going to ignore that simply because it got a new toy this offseason.
Shonn Greene still ahead of Bishop Sankey in Tennessee
Rookie Bishop Sankey has been generating plenty of fantasy buzz this year, and despite a hit to his draft stock, he’s still coming off the board early in the fifth round of a typical 12-team draft. That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense given his performance and the breakdown of snaps between him and Shonn Greene this preseason.
Guess how many snaps Sankey has played with Jake Locker under center this preseason? Zero. This was so shocking to me that I ran through the play-by-plays of all the Titans' preseason games twice, just to confirm what I had already found. Meanwhile, Shonn Greene had six carries in the first half of Tennessee’s third preseason game last week, and while he got just 15 yards on those carries, at least he took them from Locker. It looks as though Greene will open the year as the starting running back for the Titans, officially making Sankey the most overhyped rookie in some time.
If you haven’t drafted yet, don’t make the mistake of using such a high pick on a guy who has never stepped foot on an NFL field with his team’s starting quarterback. That does not mean, however, that you should break the bank for Greene. He’s a suitable depth back, but nothing more. He may be on top of the depth chart, but he has not performed at all this preseason.
An unexpected rookie receiver emerges in Jacksonville
With the Justin Blackmon fiasco leaving the Jaguars depleted at wide receiver, they invested heavily in the position during the NFL draft in May. First, they grabbed USC product Marquis Lee in the second round with the 39th overall pick. Twenty-two slots later, they took Penn State’s Allen Robinson. The prevailing belief was that the two would compete to start opposite Cecil Shorts, but that both would have a role in the Jacksonville passing game.
One transaction the team made after the draft didn’t receive nearly as much attention. When the Jaguars signed receiver Allen Hurns, who played his college ball at Miami, as an undrafted free agent, there was little fanfare. The 6-foot-3, 195-pound rookie had 62 catches for 1,162 yards and six scores during his last year in Coral Gables, and fell in Jacksonville’s lap after failing to get drafted. All he’s done since then is lead the Jaguars in receiving in each of their three preseason games. In the all-important dress rehearsal last week, he caught seven passes for 113 yards and a touchdown against the Lions.
Lee is still the likely favorite to start with Shorts, but with Robinson dealing with a hamstring injury, Hurns has likely ascended to third on the depth chart. The Jacksonville offense is one in flux, with new running back Toby Gerhart and rookie quarterback Blake Bortles waiting in the wings. There may not be a whole lot to be excited about here, but someone is going to have to catch passes. Hurns is worth keeping an eye on in deeper leagues. Given his preseason performance, you might have to pounce quickly if he starts the season off strong.