The third week of preseason games is usually a nice preview of what we can expect to see on the field come Week 1. While coaches are always uber-cautious and keep their starters off the field as much as they can during these games, this is the week we tend to see a first half more representative of what we should expect to see during the regular season. However, not every important personnel decision has been made and there are still a number of position battles yet to be won and lost. For those who haven’t drafted their teams yet, keeping up-to-date on these position battles is imperative and if you already have, well, it is equally important for you as the waiver wire undoubtedly beckons. Here’s a look at some of the key position battles around the NFL of which you should be aware and track.
Bills QB – This was never expected to be a position battle as the Bills hoped that EJ Manuel would take the reins right from the start. But a slight knee issue and subsequent surgical procedure have left the Bills turning to veteran Kevin Kolb to lead the offense. The team obviously still wants Manuel at the helm and he’s already begun the rehab process, but should Kolb ever live up to that potential we once clamored about back in his Philadelphia days, perhaps the Bill re-think their plans for the season and see just how far Kolb can take them.
Jets QB – Similarly to the Bills, the Jets were hoping to turn things over to their rookie QB but an ankle injury to Geno Smith has thrown a fly into the ointment. But there’s still time as Smith will start for the Jets this Saturday and his level of play with the first-team will be evaluated then before a final decision is made. Incumbent quarterback Mark Sanchez hasn’t done anything nightmarish here in the preseason, but he also hasn’t given the Jets any reason to believe that he will be any different from the guy whose career highlight is the “butt-fumble” blooper. While this situation is obviously still up in the air, you can simply bypass it altogether in drafts. If you’re pinning your fantasy hopes on the Jets quarterback situation, you’re probably the annual league donator (pronounced: sucker).
Dolphins RB – According to Miami offensive coordinator Mike Sherman, Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas are neck-and-neck in the competition for the starting job. That’s actually a bit of a surprise considering Miller was supposed to be the guy all along. But Thomas has apparently shown a little more than most expected and he has possibly played his way into .a more featured role. In the end, Miller is probably going to be the one who wins this job outright as he is simply the better overall running back, but for now, until an announcement is made, tread lightly here. If you draft Miller, make sure you handcuff him to Thomas immediately
Steelers RB – The Le’Veon Bell foot injury (regardless of whether it’s a sprain or an actual Lisfranc fracture) is a disaster for those who invested in him already and if you haven’t drafted yet, you should probably just avoid this situation. Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman will continue to compete for touches, much as they did during last year’s backfield debacle, while LaRod Stephens-Howling assumes the third down responsibilities. To muck it up even more, the Steeler just traded for Felix Jones who, while he may be behind with regard to playbook knowledge, will also get a chance to compete for the starting job over the next two weeks before the season opens. This has fantasy nightmare written all over it.
Broncos RB – Though Montee Ball was supposed to be the main guy in Denver, it appears as if the Broncos will roll with Ronnie Hillman to open the season. Hillman is considered the better pass-blocker which is imperative in an offense run by Peyton Manning, so he is apparently going to see the majority of work. But don’t count Ball out just yet. He’ll likely be used in short-yardage situations and is probably going to see the majority of the goal-line work. In the end, Ball is likely to emerge as the lead back and the future of the Broncos running game, but for right now, it’s all about protecting Peyton and experience gets the edge.
Lions WR – After watching Ryan Broyles spend his entire time during Thursday’s game against the Patriots with the second-string unit, it doesn’t appear to be much of a competition right now. Nate Burleson will apparently be the starting receiver opposite Calvin Johnson come Week 1. The only question is, “How long will that last?” We’ve seen plenty of Burleson over the last few years and frankly, he hasn’t impressed many. Broyles made a nice debut last season, has good hands and runs his routes well. He’ll be the first one to get the call in three-receiver sets, and stands a very good chance of supplanting Burleson at some point this season.
49ers WR – With Michael Crabtree out for probably the entire season, Anquan Boldin moves from the number two to the number one spot, leaving a glaring hole on one side of the field. It appears that Kyle Williams has a slight edge based on experience with the team, but he’s still working his way back from a torn ACL last season. Quinton Patton is my personal sleeper favorite here, but a fractured index finger has kept him out of practice for most of the last several weeks. He’s recently been cleared, so he’ll see his first real action this Sunday. After that it comes down to newly acquired Jon Baldwin, Austin Collie, Marlon Moore, Chad Hall and another half dozen names probably not worth mentioning. I like Patton to overtake the number two spot with Williams, Baldwin and Moore as the hopefuls in three-receiver sets.