Position Battles to Watch: AFC North
It’s early, but now is the time to make notes on who’s getting the action in camps as the NFL season starts to warm up. These are some of the position battles to keep an eye on as things get underway…
JK Dobbins vs Gus Edwards
Truth is, both of these guys are going to get a ton of run in the league’s most run-heavy offense, and with Mark Ingram out of the picture, there’s a world in which they both eclipse 1,000 yards this season. Dobbins will probably start out as the 1A back, but a sophomore slump is a real possibility and we know that Edwards is nothing if not consistent – He posted between 723 and 711 yards in every season he’s been in the NFL in addition to averaging between 5.0 and 5.3 YPC in each of those seasons. Edwards will also be considerably cheaper than Dobbins in drafts while offering a similar ceiling and high floor.
Rashod Bateman vs Sammy Watkins
The Ravens’ OC Greg Roman has stated the team will expand their passing offense this season, so there’s some hope of getting fantasy production out of a Ravens receiver not named Marquise Brown this year. Watkins is the vet who underwhelmed in KC last season, so that’s a red flag for sure, but he had a 1,000+ yard 9 TD in one of the seasons( the only mostly healthy one) he played under Roman in Buffalo. The rookie Bateman is the picture of efficiency, which is a necessity in the Ravens run-heavy offense, leading the country in yards per route run in 2019 and breaking tackles on 36 of 147 career catches at Minnesota. He does all the little things right despite being a mediocre athlete and could end up catching more balls than any Ravens WR this season if he lives up to his potential.
Tee Higgins vs Ja’Marr Chase
Who will be Joe Burrow‘s no.1? Higgins staked his claim in 2020, shocking the fantasy world with 908 yards and 6 TDs as an unassuming rookie, and before Chase was added to the fold he was on his way to mid-round fantasy status as a WR2 with WR1 upside – Tyler Boyd led the team in targets in 2020, but he’s only an asset in PPR formats at this point. Chase changes the script entirely now that he’s reuniting with Burrow, who was his QB at LSU. Chase is a former Biletnikoff winner, who was also the first WR to break a 4.0 sec shuttle time since Amari Cooper did it in 2015. An incredible athlete, Chase could ascend to no.1 WR status in Cincy before the season even starts, and that’s why we’re watching this battle.
Anthony Schwartz vs Rashard Higgins vs Donovan Peoples-Jones
This battle might seem irrelevant on the surface, as it’s basically a competition for the 3rd or 4th option in Cleveland, but Odell Beckham has played 16 games only once in the last 4 seasons and he’s coming off of season ending knee surgery – There’s also a chance the Browns trade him, as he’ll count 15.8 million against the cap is he stays. Higgins is the default leader of this pack, as he’s been with the team the longest and posted a decent 599 yards last season with ODB missing 9 games. There’s nothing special about Higgins’ game though. Peoples-Jones is a more impressive athlete who put up 21.7 YPC in his rookie season, with 304 yards and 2 TDs on just 14 receptions. At 6’2” and 212 pounds, he’s arguably the Browns most physically imposing WR in addition to being a field stretcher. Scwartz is the newcomer of the group, but he’s the most intriguing prospect of the lot, as he’s got trackstar speed and can run the ball out of the backfield. Whoever comes out on top would be cheap ODB insurance and perhaps a surprise fantasy asset on a team that is only beginning to peak offensively.
Diontae Johnson vs Chase Claypool vs JuJu Smith-Schuster
Which one do you take first in drafts? This question is the reason to watch them in camp. The main battle will be between Johnson and Claypool for top dog in Pittsburgh. They both had close to 1,000 yards seasons in 2020, with Claypool snagging 11 TDs to Johnson’s 7. Johnson had nagging injuries throughout the season though, so that definitely wasn’t his ceiling. Juju had a lackluster season compared to both of them, but he says he’s going to play outside more this season, and he’s still only 24. I lean Claypool here, for his TD prowess, but let’s keep an open mind.