It’s August, which means NFL training camps are in full swing and important depth chart battles are underway. With the fantasy draft season also here, you need the 411 on which camp battles are the most important to monitor in the coming weeks.
To help educate you, the fantasy football fanatic, I'll be researching the most important camp competitions at each of the four major offensive skill positions ahead of 2021 fantasy drafts: quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends.
Let's start things off with the field generals.
Jameis Winston vs. Taysom Hill (New Orleans Saints)
This is probably the most important quarterback competition to monitor from a fantasy standpoint. Most of the beat writers and insiders I've talked to consider Winston the favorite to open the season atop the depth chart, but he'll need to step up in camp to secure the spot. He was the QB5 based on fantasy points for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers the last time he was an NFL starter, but he also threw 30 interceptions.
On the flip side, Hill was the starter over Winston last season when the Saints lost Drew Brees. In four games, he averaged a solid 21.1 fantasy points. A versatile, jack of all trades athlete, Hill could threaten Winston’s snaps even if he doesn’t win the starting job as coach Sean Payton likes to use him on RPOs and other offensive trickeration. That will affect Winston’s draft stock, as will the loss of Michael Thomas.
At this point, I'd consider Winston worth a late-round look in redrafts as long as he is seen as the favorite to start. I won't be shocked, however, if it's Hill who wins the role either. The competition is that close, and Hill's skills as a runner might give him an edge as it pertains to fantasy football. That's even more apparent without Thomas.
Jimmy Garoppolo vs. Trey Lance (San Francisco 49ers)
49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan recently told reporters that there is no competition at the quarterback position, as Garoppolo will start the season. However, that's not how fantasy managers see it, as Lance is being drafted ahead of Garoppolo in most leagues. Lance will undoubtedly be allowed to prove his worth in the summer, but it could be some time before he actually steps on the gridiron in a meaningful NFL game.
Garoppolo isn’t old at just 29, and he is one season removed from leading the Niners to the Super Bowl. With that being said, he’s also not been the most durable player in the league. He missed 10 games this past season, and he hasn’t been all that productive from a fantasy standpoint when he has started. In fact, he has just five top-10 ranks among quarterbacks since 2018. That hasn’t endeared him to fantasy managers.
Lance, on the flip side, has a boatload of fantasy potential. A versatile quarterback who rushed for 1,100 yards in his final full season at North Dakota State, Lance could be a league winner if (and when) he overtakes Garoppolo. So while the veteran will open as the starter, I’d be shocked if he isn’t moved aside in favor of the rookie at some point.
For now, Lance is worth a draft and stash at some point in the late rounds. As for Jimmy G, he’s being left undrafted in many traditional, one-quarterback leagues. Early games against the Lions and Eagles could make him a worthwhile streamer of DFS option, but Garoppolo won’t have a whole lot of value across the fantasy landscape this season.
Andy Dalton vs. Justin Fields (Chicago Bears)
It’s “QB1” vs. the “Future” in Chicago’s camp, as Dalton and Fields will square off in a summer battle to determine the team’s starting quarterback. Coach Matt Nagy and his staff have backed Dalton as the favorite, but no one believes that the Red Rifle will hold the job for more than a few weeks. That assumes Fields doesn’t overtake him in camp.
Fields has light-years more fantasy potential than Dalton, who looked lost at times last season in Dallas. The Ohio State product has an accurate arm and can run with the ball effectively, as he showed in college with 1,133 yards and 19 touchdowns in 34 games. Much like the situation in San Francisco, the rookie (Fields) is being selected in most leagues, and the veteran (Dalton) is being left to the waiver wire.
Teddy Bridgewater vs. Drew Lock (Denver Broncos)
Now that the Aaron Rodgers saga is over, we know that it will be Bridgewater vs. Lock in the battle be the Broncos quarterback this season. Coach Vic Fangio has said that this will battle will be "totally 50-50" and that each player will receive first-team reps. Lock, the incumbent starter, could open with a slight edge, but don't expect that to last.
Lock was mostly miserable under center last season, averaging just 14 fantasy points a game. His completion percentage was a meager 57.3, while his on-target throws came in at just 66.6 percent. That ranked dead last in the league among starting signal-callers who played in at least 10 games and had at least 100 attempts/80 completions.
Bridgewater, on the other hand, was far more accurate. He completed 69.1 percent of his passes and ranked fifth in on-target throws (77 percent). The veteran also ranked a respectable 18th in fantasy points among quarterbacks, and his top three wide receivers (D.J. Moore, Robby Anderson, Curtis Samuel) all finished in the top 36 in fantasy points.
For those reasons and more, I'm betting on Bridgewater to be the Week 1 starter. With a talented cast of pass-catchers and backfield threats, I wouldn't be surprised if he once again ranked as a top-20 fantasy quarterback. Consider Bridgewater late in your drafts.
Cam Newton vs. Mac Jones (New England Patriots)
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has contended all along that Newton will open this season as the starter. When Bill speaks, we listen (most of the time). Newton has received the first-team reps in the early stages of camp, though some reports suggest Jones has looked better. That shouldn't be a huge surprise, however, as Jones was super accurate in college while Newton has a career completion percentage of 60.1
Still, Newton is super effective as a runner and will have a new cast of characters to use in the passing attack. The Patriots went shopping this offseason, bringing in Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith, Nelson Agholor, and Kendrick Bourne to a passing attack severely lacking playmakers a season ago. If that added talent means more success for Newton as a passer and more wins on the gridiron, Jones could be left on the sidelines often.
Of course, a stellar camp and any struggles from Newton could mean Jones has a shot to start some games in the first half of the season. New England opens with three home games in the first four weeks, including difficult contests against the Dolphins, Saints, and Buccaneers. If the team starts 1-3 or worse with Newton at the helm, Jones could have his number called to face weaker defenses like the Texans, Cowboys, and Jets.
Newton, at least for now, is the Patriots quarterback to own in fantasy leagues. He’s coming off the board late as a QB2. But if he struggles as a passer and the offense flounders with all these new pieces, Jones could be promoted place sooner than later.
Tyrod Taylor vs. Davis Mills (Houston Texans)
I have no idea if Deshaun Watson will actually play football this season, but one thing is for sure. If he does play for Houston, this certainly won't be a competition. It doesn't seem likely it will be for the Texans, but I'm keeping an open mind. If Watson is gone and they don't acquire a new QB via trade, that leaves Taylor and Mills to battle it out for the starting role on a team that is likely to be one of the league's worst in 2021.
The popular opinion is that Taylor will open the season as the starter and give way to Mills at some point during the fall. Regardless, neither of these players is going to have much in the way of fantasy appeal. Taylor is many seasons removed from being an asset in the fantasy world, and Houston's weapons in the passing attack are questionable at best beyond veteran Brandin Cooks. Mills doesn’t have elite skills as a passer and does nothing as a runner, so his chances of making an impact as a rookie are slim.
This competition has more to do with the players around Taylor and Mills, especially the aforementioned Cooks, Anthony Miller, Nico Collins, and Keke Coutee. None of the wide receivers besides Cooks is worth more than a late-round flier in drafts, and even he could struggle if Taylor and Mills are ineffective. The real moral of the story here is the avoid most Texans in your drafts, and don’t expect much from either signal-callers.
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Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on Sports Illustrated and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA) Hall of Fame. Click here to read all his articles here on SI Fantasy. You can follow Michael on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram for your late-breaking fantasy news and the best analysis in the business!