It’s August, which means NFL training camps are in full swing and important depth chart battles are underway. With the fantasy football draft season 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.
Marquise Brown vs. Sammy Watkins vs. Rashod Bateman (Baltimore Ravens)
The Ravens have a glut of wideouts after adding Watkins, Bateman, and Tylan Wallace this offseason. When you also consider this team is one of six to run more than 1,000 snaps with two or fewer wideouts over the last two seasons, it's pretty clear that none in the trio is likely to make a major fantasy impact. What's more, no team in the league ran more 22 personnel (one wideout) last season, according to Sharp Football.
I’d project Brown and Watkins to open the season as the starters, but Bateman has the most upside and will be worth a late-round look. Just keep in mind that the Ravens ran the ball over 55 percent of the time in 2020. What’s more, tight end Mark Andrews was second in both target share (22.5) and pass snaps out of the slot (242) a season ago.
Andy Isabella vs. Rondale Moore (Arizona Cardinals)
The Cardinals will be looking for one of Isabella or Moore to replace Larry Fitzgerald’s 412 slot snaps last season. With DeAndre Hopkins and A.J. Green on the outside and Christian Kirk also demanding targets, it’ll be tough for the loser of this battle to make much of a fantasy impact. Isabella might already be behind Moore, as he’s dealt with a stint on the COVID-19 list and has failed to make much of an impact in the league.
On the flip side, Moore is a good playmaker in the open field and can be quite elusive at 5-foot-7 and 181 pounds. What's more, head coach Kliff Kingsbury has said he will manufacture touches for the second-round wideout. While that's good news on the surface, it'll be tough for the former Purdue standout to make a rookie impact. In an offense with plenty of mouths to feed, he’s likely best taken late in redrafts or best ball.
John Brown vs. Bryan Edwards (Las Vegas Raiders)
First-round pick Henry Ruggs III is a virtual lock to be the top option for the Raiders at wide receiver, leaving Edwards and Brown to battle for the right to start opposite him. My guess is that the team will look to feature its two young receivers, so expect that Brown will be on the outside looking in to start the season. However, should Ruggs or Edwards falter, Brown's snap count could rise during the 2021 campaign.
Keep in mind that regardless of what happens on the depth chart, Raiders wideouts will have a low statistical ceiling. The team targeted wide receivers just 43.4 percent of the time last season. That was the lowest total in the league, and it's no real surprise when you consider the team's top option is tight end Darren Waller.
I’d take a shot on Ruggs III in the late rounds in redrafts and best-ball formats, while Edwards and Brown will likely be left to the waiver wire outside of deeper leagues.
Jamison Crowder vs. Elijah Moore (New York Jets)
The Jets will have Corey Davis as their top option in the pass attack, while Keelan Cole and Denzel Mims battle to start outside. Mims has been running with the third-team offense in camp, so Cole seems to have a leg up at this point. The battle with the most fantasy intrigue is in the slot, where Crowder and Moore will compete for targets.
Reports from Jets camp suggest Moore has been impressive, working with the ones and gaining a rapport with fellow rookie Zach Wilson. He worked alongside Davis while Crowder was in the slot. If the Jets decide to use Moore on the outside (he ran a mere 8.4 percent of his collegiate snaps there), it will make him a more attractive pick in fantasy drafts. It would also make the competition for snaps at the slot a moot point, with Crowder remaining the top option. At this point, Moore is worth a late-round look.
Sterling Shepard vs. Darius Slayton vs. Kadarius Toney (New York Giants)
The Giants gave Kenny Golladay a four-year, $72 million contract in the offseason, so he’s certain to be the top option in the pass attack for Daniel Jones. The rest of the wide receivers will be competing for targets in camp. With Golden Tate no longer in the mix, the Giants could push Shepard to the outside and move Toney into the slot. The rookie is a dynamic playmaker who general manager Dave Gettleman grabbed in Round 1 of the 2021 NFL Draft. That sort of scenario could leave Slayton on the outside.
New York could also bring Toney along slowly, keeping Shepard in the slot and starting Slayton alongside Golladay. Remember that the Giants have two tight ends, Evan Engram and Kyle Rudolph, who will be in the mix for targets.
For now, Shepard is probably the best bet behind Golladay for fantasy value among the Giants wideouts. That assumes Golladay, who missed most of last season with the Lions and is now dealing with a bum hamstring in Giants camp, can avoid injuries.
David Moore vs. Terrace Marshall Jr. (Carolina Panthers)
Moore was brought in as a free agent and was considered the favorite to be the team’s third wideout, but the selection of Marshall in the NFL draft could drop him to fourth on the depth chart. Playing outside with D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson would mean a tough road to targets, but recent reports suggest Marshall could be used in the slot as the replacement for Curtis Samuel. If that comes to fruition, it will mean more opportunities for the rookie to shine. At this point, he’s worth a late flier in redrafts.
Keke Coutee vs. Nico Collins (Houston Texans)
The Texans' offense could be one of the worst, but someone still has to catch passes behind No. 1 wide receiver Brandin Cooks. Assuming Anthony Miller will be the slot man (he played 93.3 percent of his snaps there last season), Coutee and Collins are the favorites to start opposite Cooks. Reports suggest he’s been the best rookie in Texans camp to this point, but that’s a low bar for a team that had two top-100 picks.
Still, Collins will be worth a late-round flier ahead of Coutee if he can secure a starting role. Neither player will make much of an impact for fantasy managers, regardless.
Tyron Johnson vs. Jalen Guyton vs. Josh Palmer (Los Angeles Chargers)
The battle for the third spot on the Chargers wide receiver depth chart has heated up, as both Johnson and Palmer have performed well in the early stages of training camp. The rookie has been a real standout, even catching some first-team reps and catching passes from Justin Herbert. New offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi tends to use many personnel packages based on the matchups, so Palmer should be allowed a chance to play a bigger role as the season wears on. Still, his value would be limited to the late rounds of deeper leagues if he can secure the third spot ahead of Johnson and Guyton.
Tre’Quan Smith vs. Marquez Callaway vs. Deonte Harris (New Orleans Saints)
The Saints wide receiver group is one of the league’s least attractive without Michael Thomas, who will miss several weeks to start the regular season. That means Smith, Callaway, and Harris will all see bigger roles in the offense. Smith looks like the best bet in fantasy drafts, though he's still likely to be a late-round pick in redrafts and best ball.
Smith, who can play both outside and inside, is likely to be paired with Callaway outside. That leaves Harris, who played the slot 51.6 percent of the time last season, as the best inside option. Fantasy fans should be keeping tabs on who from this trio looks best in camp and the preseason, but none of them will bring consistent production.
Jimmy Graham vs. Cole Kmet (Chicago Bears)
Graham has been one of the top tight ends in fantasy football over the last decade, but he's clearly in the latter stages of his career at age 34. While he did serve as Chicago's top tight end and lead the team in touchdown catches, Graham will be hard-pressed to duplicate his 76 targets with Kmet in the mix. His rookie totals weren't impressive, but he came into the league without offseason work or a preseason due to COVID-19.
The Notre Dame product showed flashes late in his rookie campaign, catching 20 passes over his final five games. He had eight catches in his first 11 games. There is a bit of a ceiling on Kmet's upside this season, as the Bears will still utilize Graham at times and in the red zone, but Kmet is the Chicago tight end to targets in drafts.
Blake Jarwin vs. Dalton Schultz (Dallas Cowboys)
Jarwin missed most of last season with an ACL tear, but he's been practicing in camp and looks like the Cowboys' top tight end heading into 2021. However, Schultz could certainly give him a run for his money, as he ranked ninth in targets and third in routes run among all tight ends. He also finished with an impressive 63 catches for 615 yards and four touchdowns. Assuming Jarwin remains the top option, those could be good projected totals for the veteran. He’ll be worth a late-round look in most fantasy drafts.
Gerald Everett vs. Will Dissly (Seattle Seahawks)
Dissly has shown some flashes of fantasy value in the past, albeit a small sample size, but Everett looks like the Seahawks' tight end to target. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll believes he'll be a "breakout player" this season, noting that Everett has a connection with new offensive coordinator Shane Waldron during their time with the Rams. Even with Dissly in the mix, Everett has a chance to improve on his career-best 2020 totals when he produced 41 catches for 417 yards while splitting time with Tyler Higbee. I’d take a chance on Everett at some point in the late rounds as an upside No. 2 option.
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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!