Gregg Rosenthal

Football Daily Dose

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Top 20 Position Battles

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

For today's Dose, we'll look at the top 20 position battles to watch over the next month. #21-50 were posted last week.

First, let's define what isn't a position battle. Willie Parker versus Rashard Mendenhall in Pittsburgh is not a position battle. Neither is LenDale White vs. Chris Johnson or Ronnie Brown vs. Ricky Williams. These are all situations to watch, but these players are not competing for one job. They all will have the significant roles, and the starter is established. Unfortunately, training camp and the preseason will barely provide clues as to the carry splits on these teams. We have to wait for Week 1.

We should learn much more about the battles below. Depth charts on these teams are flexible. Playing time and careers are at stake. So are a few fantasy titles.

1. Denver starting running back: Selvin Young vs. Mike Shanahan's history

Young is clearly the starter for now, but there are questions about his ability to carry the ball 20 times a game and nothing is set in stone in Denver. Fantasy leaguers are hedging their bets, taking him as a sixth-round pick. So far, it doesn't appear that Andre Hall, Ryan Torain, Michael Pittman, and Anthony Aldridge have made a big move up.

2. Panthers starting running back: Jonathan Stewart vs. DeAngelo Williams

The Panthers didn't draft Stewart thirteenth overall to sit the bench, but he still has to prove himself healthy in camp. Getting established as the clear starter would be huge, because John Fox prefers to ride one back. Stewart is getting overlooked in drafts for someone with top-ten potential. He's been healthy early in camp and impressing in red zone drills.

Editor's Note: Learn out optimistic projections for Stewart in our online draft guide.

3. Raiders starting running back: Justin Fargas vs. Darren McFadden vs. Michael Bush

Fargas is going four rounds after McFadden in drafts, but he still has a good chance to start in Week 1 and lead the team in carries. Michael Bush has an opportunity to vulture short-yardage work, further muddying the value in Oakland. This team can run block and will be a run-heavy team. If McFadden can climb the depth chart immediately, he'll be a safer top-40 fantasy pick.

4. Texans starting running back: Ahman Green vs. Chris Brown vs. Steve Slaton vs. Chris Taylor vs. Darius Walker

Green remains the favorite, although it's unlikely he and Brown can stay healthy for long at the same time. I've seen Green going in the eleventh round of drafts - as late as a starting running back will ever go. That reflects Fantasy Nation's wise understanding that we'll probably see many starters in Houston this year.

5. Lions starting running back: Kevin Smith vs. Tatum Bell vs. Brian Calhoun

Calhoun is a long shot, but he could carve out a third-down role. I've been vocal about my concern about Smith. Both he and Bell made our online draft guide's bust list.

6. Broncos starting receiver: Darrell Jackson vs. Keary Colbert

With Brandon Marshall's suspension looming, both players could start early in the season. Jackson has the early edge when Marshall returns. While I don't love his game (way too many drops and is soft going over the middle), Jackson is in a familiar system and will see targets. He could be undervalued.

7. Panthers starting receiver: Muhsin Muhammad vs. D.J. Hackett

Playing opposite Steve Smith should be a more advantageous spot than Colbert showed in recent years. No one has stood out in Carolina thus far, and both should get plenty of time in three wideout sets.

8. Colts backup running back: Dominic Rhodes vs. Kenton Keith vs. Mike Hart

Don't assume Rhodes gets the job automatically because of his history with the team, although he is the favorite. The Colts will be careful not to overwork Joseph Addai, making the winner a fine fantasy reserve.

9. Bucs second receiver: Antonio Bryant vs. Michael Clayton vs. Ike Hilliard vs. Maurice Stovall

This will probably come down to Bryant vs. Clayton. Bryant has the best combination of age and talent on the team and remains one of our favorite sleepers if he can win the job. Early reports have been positive. Bryant is rolling with one of my favorite mottos, "Right now I'm going to undersell you and over-deliver," he says. I'm better at the undersell part.

10. Bengals backup running back: Kenny Watson vs. Chris Perry

Perry is finally healthy, but he's only managed 73 carries since being drafted in 2004. I would not be shocked if Perry wins the camp battle, but Watson wins the war as the team's leading rusher once Perry and Rudi Johnson fall by the wayside.

11. 49ers starting quarterback: Alex Smith vs. Shaun Hill

It sounds like this battle is close thus far, although Smith probably has to struggle badly in the preseason to lose the gig. I drafted Smith as my QB2 in a league where I took Peyton Manning at 3.9. (Let's not get carried away with the knee injury, people.) Since this team will pass so much, there is potential for solid yardage from the winner.

12. Giants backup running back: Ahmad Bradshaw vs. Derrick Ward

This battle may not fit under my criteria, and it should possibly include Brandon Jacobs. The Giants are splitting first team reps, but Jacobs will wind up starting and enjoying a prominent role. They will protect him by using some form of a committee, likely with Bradshaw in the supporting role. Ward may need an injury in front of him to see regular work.

13. Saints running back: Deuce McAllister vs. his knees

He can be Reggie Bush's tag team partner if healthy, but medical history is stacked against him after microfracture and ACL surgery in the same off-season. Early results from Deuce have been mixed, increasing supersleeper Pierre Thomas' value.

14. Jets quarterback: Kellen Clemens vs. Chad Pennington

Ridiculously early interception numbers from camp: Kellen Clemens 5, Chad Pennington 0. Clemens is going to need strong preseason numbers, but he's fighting an uphill battle. Brett Favre doesn't appear interested in joining this group.

15. Saints second receiver: David Patten vs. Robert Meachem vs. Devery Henderson

Rookie seventh-round pick Adrian Arrington has also made a lot of noise, but he's a long shot. This spot is slightly less valuable with Jeremy Shockey on the team, but there are yards to be claimed on this pass-first offense.

16. Seahawks third receiver: Courtney Taylor vs. Logan Payne vs. Ben Obomanu

With Bobby Engram often playing from the slot, the winner of this battle could get starter-worthy snaps. Taylor entered camp as the slight favorite, but Payne has impressed all offseason, including this week. He's one of Rotoworld's favorite deeeeep sleepers for dynasty leaguers.

17. Eagles backup running back: Correll Buckhalter vs. Lorenzo Booker

Brian Westbrook owners search for a handcuff

18. Chiefs backup running back: Kolby Smith vs. Jamaal Charles

Charles has rare speed, but Smith held up well in six late season starts. If Larry Johnson breaks down again, Kansas City is well covered. Now they just need some linemen. And a quarterback. And a second receiver.

19. Redskins second receiver: Antwaan Randle El vs. Malcolm Kelly vs. Devin Thomas

Washington would ideally use Randle El in the slot, with a rookie starting on the outside. Thomas' early injury gives Kelly a leg up, although fantasy leaguers don't need to draft the winner.

20. Brett Favre vs. our attention span

Can we keep up the pace of Favrewatch 2008? Favre doesn't seem interested in the Bucs or Jets, but he has to play somewhere. It's hard to imagine it will be in Green Bay, especially with the Packers trying to get him to stay away. Favre continues to pine for Minnesota, but the Packers simply can't allow that. There are no easy answers here, just endless updates.

Note: I'm going to be chatting on my blog at 4:30PM Wednesday. Stop on by if you have time to kill.

Gregg Rosenthal has directed Rotoworld's football content since 2003. He co-hosts the NBC Fantasy Fix and covers the NFL for and Catch him on Twitter.
Email :Gregg Rosenthal

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