Earlier this week, I discussed the seven starting running back jobs that are truly up for grabs over the next month. They are sexy battles that will have monstrous impacts on projected value. For example, if Daryl Richardson is named the Rams’ starter, his average draft position will jump by three rounds or more. Even average opponents will likely be aware of this news.
Wide receiver battles are much more subtle. They won’t draw headlines (on sites other than Rotoworld), coaches may not declare a true winner at any point and ADP values won’t skyrocket. Therefore, if we follow the competitions closely, we can gain value versus standard opponents.
Editor’s Note: The ADPs referenced below are from the report in our Draft Guide. The Guide also includes full rankings, projections, mocks, exclusive columns and tons more. Bang it here to purchase. Also be sure to follow @Rotoworld_FB and @adamlevitan to help you get set for draft day.
1. Aaron Dobson vs. Michael Jenkins vs. Kenbrell Thompkins
It’s the battle for the Patriots’ starting “X,” or outside receiver job. Brandon Lloyd played this position last year and piled up 130 targets – good for 19th-most in the league. He only turned that into a 74/911/4 line, but that had to do with a lack of chemistry with Tom Brady and an overall lack of consistency. Lloyd remains on the street as a free agent, generating very little known interest. It’s a telltale sign.
OK, so we know the position has plenty of upside. During minicamps and OTAs, veteran “Molasses” Mike Jenkins ran as the starter. Dobson, who goes 6’3/210 with 4.4 wheels, has the pedigree as the second-round draft pick. Thompkins is the trendy sleeper, an undrafted free agent out of Cincinnati that built up a ton of momentum during the offseason.
Note that I didn’t include Julian Edelman here because he doesn’t play the “X” spot. That doesn’t mean he isn’t in the mix for snaps elsewhere. In fact, given how Edelman was used before last year’s broken hand, I’d be surprised if he doesn’t play in some two-wide sets and most three-wide formations.
Prediction: ESPN Boston’s Mike Reiss and Field Yates both took stabs at projecting the Patriots’ final 53-man roster Thursday. Each reporter left Jenkins off the squad. Look for Dobson to really get going during camp and run away with the job. Thompkins slots in as the backup and fellow rookie Josh Boyce lands in third place.
Average Draft Position: Dobson = 161.9; Jenkins = N/A; Thompkins = N/A
2. T.Y. Hilton vs. Darrius Heyward-Bey
Acting as the clear-cut No. 3 wideout behind Reggie Wayne and Donnie Avery last year, Hilton caught 50 passes for 861 yards and seven touchdowns. Now Avery is gone, leaving Hilton to compete with Heyward-Bey for the reps in two-wide sets. They’ll both be on the field when the Colts go three-wide; LaVon Brazill has blown his chance thanks to a four-game substance abuse policy suspension.
The situation isn’t quite as appealing now that vertically-minded Bruce Arians is in Arizona, but Pep Hamilton’s West Coast scheme is still going to emphasize the pass. Even with the addition of Ahmad Bradshaw, this offense’s strength lies in Andrew Luck.
Prediction: This competition shouldn’t be close. Heyward-Bey has been a mistake waiting to happen ever since the Raiders reached for him at seventh overall in 2009. He’s never reached 1,000 yards, never topped 64 catches and has 11 touchdowns in 56 games. His route tree is limited and he’s dropped 24 career passes. Meanwhile, Hilton put more on tape as a rookie than DHB ever has. Now with a year of seasoning under his belt, the true breakout is coming.
Average Draft Position: Hilton = 87.3; Heyward-Bey = 162.4
3. Michael Floyd vs. Andre Roberts
We’ve already talked tons about Floyd and how he’s arguably fantasy’s premier sleeper. First, he has to beat out Roberts.
Thanks to a gritty reliability and workmanlike attitude, Roberts won over the Ken Whisenhunt coaching staff last year and held off Floyd for most of the season. However, now Bruce Arians is in town and Roberts has the look of a classic No. 3 receiver/slot man in his scheme. Think Antonio Brown or the aforementioned T.Y. Hilton.
Prediction: Floyd is a 6’3/220 former first-round pick and physical specimen. Roberts is 5’11/196 and was selected in the third round out of the Citadel. If Floyd doesn’t run with the starters all camp long (just as he did during offseason workouts) and into Week 1, it will be a shock.
Average Draft Position: Floyd = 124.9; Roberts = 178.5
4. Malcom Floyd vs. Vincent Brown
This battle for the “Z” spot is really interesting because the Chargers are overhauling their offense under new coach Mike McCoy. In an effort to hide their woeful offensive line and Philip Rivers’ declining arm, they’re shifting to a quick-hitting attack that emphasizes timing and precision. It’s a stark contrast to the Norv Turner offense that was vertically-based.
This new scheme certainly suits Brown’s skill set better than Floyd’s. A savvy route-runner, Brown was reportedly “spectacular” at OTAs, showing no signs of the broken leg that tanked his 2012 season. Meanwhile, Floyd is a long-striding deep-ball receiver that thrives on making acrobatic catches. He’ll be 32 years old in September and has never topped 1,000 yards.
Prediction: Floyd opens camp as the starter, but Brown forces the coaches to make the switch. He plays every down opposite Danario Alexander during Week 1, leaving Eddie Royal in the slot and Floyd on the bench.
Average Draft Position: Brown = 131.9; Floyd =161.2
5. Ryan Broyles vs. Nate Burleson
If you told me five years ago that a guy whose resume included a torn ACL in each knee was in the mix for a starting job, I’d call you dumb. These days, all bets are off.
Broyles tore his left ACL in November of 2011 while playing for Oklahoma, and then snapped the right one in Week 13 of his rookie year with the Lions. Somehow, he’s “way ahead of schedule” and expects to be ready for Week 1. In order to win the starting job he’ll have to beat out Burleson, a locker room leader entering his age-32 season coming off a broken leg.
We know that the winner of this battle is going to see a ton of passes come their way. Matthew Stafford set a record with 727 attempts last season. Even if that number regresses by five per game this year, he’ll still be in the top-five in attempts.
Prediction: Broyles has some unexpected swelling and soreness in his knee, allowing Burleson to run away with the starting job. However, Broyles shines as a possession/No. 3 receiver, giving him plenty of deep-league value.
Average Draft Position: Broyles = 148.0; Burleson = N/A
* I didn’t include the Jacoby Jones vs. Tandon Doss vs. Deonte Thompson battle here because I don’t think the winner will sustain fantasy value anyway. The Ravens’ No. 1A receiver behind Torrey Smith will be Dennis Pitta. Ray Rice will see the third-most targets. None of the aforementioned trio are good enough to change that.