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5 NFL Preseason Position Battles to Watch

James D. Smith/Dallas Cowboys

The score of these games may be inconsequential, but the position battles that will take place have some serious implications, in particular for fantasy football fans.

James D. Smith/Dallas Cowboys

With the start of NFL Preseason, fans are excited that meaningful football is just one month away. What they are not necessarily excited for is the slog of preseason games throughout August.

The score of these games may be inconsequential, but the position battles that will take place have some serious implications, in particular for fantasy football fans. Below are five situations to monitor as we inch closer to the 2016 Kickoff on September 8.

5. Miami Dolphins starting running back

Arian Foster with his helmet off. Allen Eyestone/The Palm Beach Post

In typical Dolphins fashion, the team signed a big name veteran in hope to sell tickets while hopefully recapturing some of the newly acquired stars’ former glory. Arian Foster was abysmal last year; the oft-injured back played only four games, averaging a paltry 2.6 yards per carry with a single touchdown on the ground and two fumbles. But in 2014, the Texans running back averaged an incredible 4.8 yards per carry while scoring 13 combined touchdowns to go along with 1,573 yards from scrimmage.

Which Foster we will see is a mystery. Last year, he missed September with a groin injury in training camp. His rush to return to the field could have been the reason for his drop in numbers, and all reports are that he is healthy and in incredible shape entering the Dolphins’ camp.

The same can not be said for second-year back Jay Ajayi. The fifth-round pick showed some potential last year behind Lamar Miller, but struggled to stay on the field. In fact, Ajayi missed the first week of training camp due to a bone bruise in his knee, giving Foster a head start with all the first team reps. Since returning to camp last Friday, the two backs have split time with the ones. Coach Adam Gase said that his knee was not 100%, but the sophomore did not want to miss any more practice time. He will have to play through some pain if he wants to bump the veteran down the depth chart. The 6-foot, 230 pound Boise State product has the tools to be a three down back, but has yet to show the durability.

 

Who will start the season: Arian Foster

Who will end the season: Arian Foster

 

4. Green Bay Packers third wide receiver 

Davante Adams catches a ball at Packers training camp. Matt Ludtke/AP Photo

Here is one that we might catch a glimpse of during the Hall of Fame game between the Packers and Colts.

When Jordy Nelson got hurt last year, a door was opened for a young receiver to step up and stake their claim in a very efficient offense. But no one really ran with it.

Davante Adams had the most opportunities. In 2015, the now third-year receiver had 50 catches for 483 yards in 12 starts.  But he was tied for tenth in the league for drops with six, and showed little impact in redzone with only a single touchdown.

Jeff Janis will be remembered for his 145 yards, two touchdown performance against the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC Divisional Round. That’s because there is not much else to go with; the third-year product out of Saginaw Valley State caught all of two passes last regular season.

Ty Montgomery had some flashes in his rookie season in 2015. The third round pick started three games, hauling in 15 passes for 136 yards and two scores. However small a sample size, the ability to find the endzone was something his competition lacked.

Looking ahead to the preseason, Adams is the favorite for the coveted third receiver spot in the prolific offence. Janis has reportedly had poor practices to begin camp, but coaches identify him as a “gamer” (as proven in the aforementioned playoff performance), and the preseason games will be his chance to impress. Montgomery has yet to practice following an ankle surgery from last December. He should be ready for the season, but will have a hard time climbing the depth chart from the sideline.

 

Who will start the season: Davante Adams

Who will end the season: Ty Montgomery

 

3. Denver Broncos starting quarterback 

From left to right: Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch and Mark Sanchez. David Zalubowski/AP

This one is anyone’s race.

Coach Gary Kubiak told the Denver post that he is not even close to naming a starter.

First round pick Paxton Lynch may be the quarterback of the future, but has struggled in training camp. The team has expressed interest in having him play this year, but has not given any indication that they will rush him into action for week one. The 6-foot-7, 245 pound college star has the tools to be great, but has not grasped the offense enough to succeed in the NFL.

But Mark Sanchez has not fared much better; the veteran has some good tape under his belt, but has been reportedly outplayed by second-year signal caller Trevor Siemian.

The coaches have been impressed with the seventh-round pick, praising his decision making ability. But reports out of camp have largely emphasized his cautiousness, often resorting to his checkdown option. Perhaps the coaches will go with the guy who will not give away the ball, allowing the run game and defense to win games.

Preseason play will determine how this depth chart shakes out.

 

Who will start the season: Mark Sanchez

Who will end the season: Paxton Lynch

 

2. Dallas Cowboys backfield pecking order

Alfred Morris (left) and Ezekiel Elliot (Right) catch their breath during practice. Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY Sports

The Cowboys drafted Ezekiel Elliot fourth-overall for a reason; they intend to use the electric talent as a workhorse back. Coaches have praised not only his homerun speed and pro-ready awareness, but his pass blocking and catching out of the backfield as well. A hamstring issue sidelined Elliot on August 3, but he is expected to return within the week. Dallas may ere on the side of caution during camp, protecting their investment for the season.

But who will be behind Elliot? McFadden had a sneaky good year in 2015, rushing for 1,089 yards behind Dallas’ dominant line. But that was more than double what he had the year before in Oakland, a telltale sign that perhaps it was his supporting cast that deserves the credit for the bounce back. McFadden has also yet to return to camp since he broke his arm this off season at home. It would not be a surprise to see him plummet to the bottom of the depth chart.

Alfred Morris joined the team in free agency, and has been taking most of the first team reps in Elliot’s absence. The former Redskin eclipsed 1,000 yards in each of his first three seasons while averaging more than 4.0 yards per carry. Last year he struggled, with only 751 yards and a 3.7 yards per carry average. If McFadden could get a second wind in Dallas, there is no reason to believe Alfred Morris could not also see a signifcant bump. The biggest concern is his in ability to pass block or catch, keeping him as an early-down breather for Elliot instead of a fantasy darling.

 

Who will start the season: Ezekiel Elliot

Who will end the season: Ezekiel Elliot

 

1. San Francisco starting quarterback 

Blaine Gabbert watches Colin Kaepernick take snaps. Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

Colin Kaepernick was atrocious last year. He was 34th among qualifying QBs in passer rating, putting up only six touchdowns against five picks, and completing less than 60% of his passes averaging only 6.6 yards per attempt.

Blaine Gabbert fared better across the board; the 2011 first-round pick had 10 touchdowns to seven picks, completed 63.1% of his passes with a 7.2 yards per attempt average.

This one will certainly play out in preseason games. Gabbert has reportedly carved his spot out as the early favorite, but this is a song and dance we hear every single year with the Missouri star; a training camp stud who cannot translate his game when it counts.

Kaepernick on the other hand has the athletic gifts to maximize Coach Chip Kelly’s unique offense. The former Eagles coach believes that his system is key to success, and will likely base personnel decisions around that belief. Kaepernick’s name was swirling around Philadelphia last year when trade talks arose after his benching. Whether Kelly had serious interest for Kaepernick or if it was simply rumors remains unclear, but what is clear is that these once highly-touted talents could be a perfect marriage that returns them both to former glory.

 

Who will start the season: Colin Kaepernick

Who will end the season: Colin Kaepernick

 

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Follow author: @MarkStaniusz

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