Preseason is a time where records don't matter and points don't count. But this doesn't mean it isn't relevant to the preseason. It's a time for players to hone skills, learn schemes and create chemistry.
In fantasy football, it's a time for prospective league champions to do the same.
In the NFL, the main reason for training camp, is to flesh out which players are going to have starting jobs, secondary roles, and which players are going to have an impact within their organization.
From a fantasy point of view, the decisions made by offensive sides, in particular, have a big impact on the value of assets. Committee backfields, for example, can work in a fantasy context, but success often hinges on handcuffs left to the owner’s discretion.
Within this realm of competition at different positions, it’s wise for the savvy fantasy owner to take an in-depth look and figure out who's gunning for snaps, extra reps and ultimately fantasy value from a production standpoint.
With that in mind, we'll be taking a look at the 2019 Fantasy Top Position Battles for fantasy owners to keep an eye on.
2019 Fantasy Football Top Position Battles
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Washington Redskins: QB, Case Keenum vs Dwayne Haskins
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In the 2018 season, Case Keenum garnered himself the coveted position as the Broncos starting quarterback. Last season, Keenum ranked 18th of all quarterbacks as a starter, playing 16 games.
Despite coming off a great year with the Vikings, where he put up 3,547 passing yards and 22 touchdowns, while only giving up seven interceptions, the Texas native fell into mediocrity with a Broncos franchise that had little to offer from their receiving corps outside of Emmanuel Sanders.
Sanders’ injury issues limited the veteran wide-out to just 12 games. As a result, the top role of pass-catcher went to Courtland Sutton. Sutton didn’t exactly strike gold in his role as WR1 for the Broncos. Sutton amassed only 14 receptions for 146 yards in his final four games, while Sanders was out.
Part of Keenum’s problem was lack of wide receiver depth at the wide receiver position. Also, his lack of accuracy proved to be equally problematic. Although Keenum eclipsed his previous year’s total in passing yards, his propensity to throw untimely interceptions hurt his fantasy value.
Coming into the year with a shiny-new first-round pick, the Redskins will likely look to Dwayne Haskins to be their savior under center, even if it doesn't happen in week one.
Haskins let Mike Jones of USA Today know that he’s confident in, and preparing for, a starting job within the Redkins depth chart.
"I'm going to start one way or another, whether that's sooner than later. I know when I play, I don't want to start, sit down and then watch again,” said the rookie out of Ohio State.
Haskins left his collegiate career completing over 70 percent of his passes, piecing together 50 touchdowns last season. In a Big 10 conference which is home to four other Top-25 programs, including Penn State and Wisconsin, the amount of touchdowns he was able to produce is jaw-dropping.
With top targets like Josh Doctson and an injury-riddled Jordan Reed, one shouldn’t expect the former Buckeye to churn amazing fantasy numbers. But the best bet for fantasy owners is the former Heisman candidate, Haskins.
Atlanta Falcons, RB2, Ito Smith vs. Qadree Ollison
Devonta Freeman is the clear RB1 in Atlanta, but in years past, he was part of an offense that included Tevin Coleman as the prime third-down back. The one-two punch of Freeman and Coleman is no longer, as Coleman signed with the San Francisco 49ers during free agency.
This opens up mountains of opportunity for two young backs to step in as the new pass-catching back for the Dirty Birds.
Last year, the Falcons ranked 30th in rushing attempts with 22 per game and an abysmal 98.3 rushing yards per game. This was in part because Freeman experienced injury issues, and their offensive line was pedestrian at best.
Rushing, however, is not the way Atlanta utilizes their RB2. Catching the ball out of the backfield has been the way in which said running back has found their way into the fantasy conversation.
By reuniting with former offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, the Falcons are on their way to rejuvenating the position from a fantasy standpoint.
Ito Smith did little to contribute on the ground last year, averaging just 3.5 yards per carry on 90 attempts, but the Alabama native did show great hands catching the ball.
According to Pro Football Focus, Smith did not drop a single pass last season, hauling in 27 catches.
Smith's biggest competition, Qadree Ollison, was drafted in the fifth round in this year’s class. Coming out of Pitt, Ollison, a power back, picked up 1,213 yards, with 11 touchdowns and 6.3 yards per carry in his senior year. Putting up great numbers in college is one thing, but whether or not it can translate into a regular role for the Falcons is another story.
Ollison’s size might be the one thing that sets him apart from Freeman and Smith. At 6’1”, 228 pounds, he is by far the biggest out of the trio. His hefty frame makes a logical option for the Falcons on goalline situations, especially if Freeman gets injured. If there is anyone to become a vulture candidate, it’s Ollison, because of his ability to gain yardage after contact.
To be clear, Freeman will dominate the workload this season, but his health is nowhere near a guarantee. Smith makes an intriguing option as the number two option in Atlanta, and his sure hands make him one of the best handcuff options in fantasy. Ollison is likely to get the odd touch as the RB3 option, unless he has a very impressive preseason.
Miami Dolphins, QB1, Ryan Fitzpatrick vs. Josh Rosen
Do you believe in Fitzmagic?
The veteran journeyman quarterback stunned the fantasy world by putting up unearthly numbers in the first couple weeks of the 2018 regular season. This included a 417-yard, four-touchdown performance in a week one shootout versus Drew Brees and the Saints. He followed that up with another magical performance against the defending Superbowl champion Eagles, with 400 yards, and four touchdowns.
Those games aside, Fitzpatrick oozed mediocrity for the rest of the season. The Harvard alumnus threw for only nine touchdowns while being picked off 11 times. Starting only six more games, Fitzpatrick lost the starting job to Jameis Winston, whose most notable NFL achievement was being drafted in the first round despite controversy involving stolen crab legs.
Josh Rosen, on the other hand, didn’t fare too much better in Arizona during his rookie season. The 10th-overall pick of last year’s draft had a tumultuous start as the Cardinals quarterback. Rosen threw for only 11 touchdowns to 14 interceptions. As a rookie, Rosen appeared in 14 games for the Cards and only completed 55.2 percent of his passes.
Rosen’s rookie season has to be taken into context, despite the poor numbers.
Playing behind an injury-ladened offensive line, Rosen was sacked 45 times. The Cardinals O-line 26th overall, according to PFF.com, did not help.
Line issues aside, the talent in the receiving-corps wasn’t exactly top-notch. Larry Fitzgerald is a bonafide hall-of-fame candidate. However, he turns 36 years-old before the regular season and is nowhere close to where he used to be statistically. Last season Larry Legend put up the fewest number of yards in his career (734), despite playing all 16 games.
Slated as the next-man-up behind Fitzgerald was Christian Kirk, who ended the year on the injured reserve with a broken foot.
It can be argued that injuries, underperformance and aging led to Rosen’s lack of success in Arizona. Still, as a young quarterback whose talents have yet to transfer to the NFL, it’s tough to succinctly rely on Rosen.
Fitzpatrick will likely start in week one, as his leadership qualities will be leaned on early in the season.
Expect flashes of brilliance, face-palm moments and Rosen to ultimately be appointed the QB1 spot, when the Fitzmagic runs out.
Green Bay Packers, WR2, Geronimo Allison vs Marques Valdez-Scantling
Aaron Rodgers is an elite quarterback. A generational talent who makes slinging a 60-yard bomb with a flick of the wrist look easy. Anytime he’s in the game, you can expect fireworks.
Devonte Adams is the clear choice Rodgers’ favorite target, but the number two pass-catching option is less transparent.
Geronimo Allison had a 2018 season riddled with injuries. From a concussion to hamstring issues, to surgery, the undrafted wide-out only played five games in the 2018 campaign. Still, he was able to produce respectable numbers.
During his five-game tenure, Allison hauled in 20 catches for 303 yards and two touchdowns. This offseason, Allison has been working out of the slot on many packages for Green Bay. This presence in the slot makes him a more versatile threat. Last season, at 15.1 yards per reception, he was the second-best of all receivers on the Packers.
The first, was Marquez Valdes-Scantling, with 15.3 yards per catch.
With Allison usually sidelined by injuries last season, Valdes-Scantling stepped into the role of WR2. The 6’4” receiver gained 583 yards on 38 catches with two touchdowns last season. These aren’t the kind of numbers you’d expect with Rodgers slinging the rock. However, he did have a couple of games where he was able to break the 100-yard mark.
With the WR2 position within striking distance for Valdes-Scantling, he’s been working this offseason with Hall-of-Famer Randy Moss to shore up inconsistencies within his game.
If even a fraction of Moss’ talent can rub-off on MVS, there's a good chance he'll become the one for fantasy owners to target in the later rounds of the draft or pick up as a flyer from the waiver-wire.
Owners should take a wait-and-see approach for both players going into the season.
Pittsburgh Steelers, WR2, James Washington vs. Donte Moncrief
Year after year, the Steelers have had one of the most dynamic, explosive offenses in the league. Now, without Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown, many skill players will have their shot within one of the most high-powered offenses in the NFL. In particular, the wide receivers.
Juju Smith-Schuster will assume the WR1 role after putting up 1,426 yards last season. Who will be the second option for an aging Ben Roethlisberger, remains unclear.
James Washington had a forgettable rookie season, to say the least. With only 217 yards and 18 catches, the Oklahoma State alumnus was deplorable. Sure, Juju and AB had the overwhelming target share (334 combined targets). However, Washington, who established himself as a deep threat in the college game, was virtually invisible on the field.
This season should change for Washington coming into his sophomore year in the league. With a new mindset coming into camp this year, Washington has stated that this season is one of "urgency". He will rely less on his physical abilities and more on sharpening his skills during camp. Expect Washington to increase his productivity both on the field and in fantasy lineups.
Donte Moncrief was a highly-touted burner coming out of Ole Miss. Since college, he hasn’t lived up to his potential as a deep threat in the NFL. His best year was in 2015 when he caught 64 passes for 733 yards while on the Colts. While fielding passes from Blake Bortles and Cody Kessler, Moncrief reeled in 48 catches for 668 yards.
Big Ben is an obvious upgrade for Moncrief, but with Washington in the mix, it’s likely he’ll take a backseat.
With 168 targets going to Antonio Brown last year, there is plenty of room for either Washington or Moncrief within the Steelers’ offensive scheme.
As it stands, WR2 is Washington’s role to lose and Moncrief serves as an insurance policy for the Steelers. Bet on Washington as a solid option in later rounds.
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