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Dozens of reporters and hundreds of fans are sitting in 90-degree weather, watching half-speed practices. Quarterbacks are donning red jerseys. Gigantic, grown men in their late-20's and early-30's are living in college dorms.
Yep, it's time for training camp.
Rookies for every team reported last week, and veterans across the league began reporting for camp Tuesday. By Saturday, when the Chargers, Lions, Colts and Seahawks' veterans get to camp, every team will be at full capacity.
Games that (only kind of) matter will begin next Thursday, Aug. 3, with the Hall of Fame game between the Cardinals and Cowboys, and we'll have plenty to digest once that begins. However, the savvy Fantasy player knows not to ignore training camp. A championship can't be lost here, but as anyone who tracked Alfred Morris' ascension up the Redskins' depth chart in camp in 2012 knows, the player who can win your title might make himself known as early as July.
So, with teams already starting to report, and every team set to be in by the weekend, here are the storylines and players we'll be keeping an eye on as training camps get going.
How are injured stars doing?
It's a long offseason, with most teams getting seven full months between their last game and the start of training camp. That's enough time to recover from a lot of injuries, but it isn't always enough to guarantee you'll be back to full health without any complications. Cam Newton and Andrew Luck should be healthy by the time the games count, but every week they are limited in camp is another week's worth of doubt heaped on top of them.
Here are the injuries to keep an eye on as we move forward through the next few weeks:
- Andrew Luck's surgically repaired shoulder
- Cam Newton's surgically repaired shoulder
- Keenan Allen's surgically repaired knee
- Latavius Murray's surgically repaired ankle
- Jamaal Charles' surgically repaired knee
- Eddie Lacy's surgically repaired ankle
- Eric Decker's surgically repaired shoulder
- Danny Woodhead's surgically repaired knee
Old faces, new places
It's easy to get excited about free agency and trades, but the truth is, NFL teams rarely give up on a player when they have surplus value. Players changing addresses tend to have some kind of flaw -- if you're lucky, it's just that they make too much money. More often, it's a player coming off an injury or poor performance. This season, there are some exceptions: Brandin Cooks, Alshon Jeffery, DeSean Jackson, Terrelle Pryor and Mike Gillislee mostly come to their new homes unscathed.
It will be worth keeping an eye on reports out of training camp to see how they are acclimating to their new homes. There are a lot of mouths to feed in New England, but if Cooks separates from the pack, or shows a connection as a deep target for Tom Brady, he's got a great opportunity in front of him.
Here are the biggest names to keep track of as they get used to their new digs:
- Brandin Cooks - NO to NE
- Adrian Peterson - MIN to NO
- Alshon Jeffery - CHI to PHI
- Eddie Lacy - GB to SEA
- Terrelle Pryor - CLE to WAS
- Eric Decker - NYJ to TEN
- Marshawn Lynch - Retired to OAK
- Mike Gillislee - BUF to NE
- Brandon Marshall - NYJ to NYG
- LeGarrette Blount - NE to PHI
- Latavius Murray - OAK to MIN
- DeSean Jackson - WAS to TB
- Jeremy Maclin - KC to BAL
- Danny Woodhead - SD to BAL
- Kenny Britt - LAR to CLE
If you have two quarterbacks, you have none. It is, perhaps, an overly simplistic view of things, but it's usually not wrong. How often do teams go into camp with an honest-to-goodness QB battle and then come out the other side happy with their decision? The teams entering camp with open competitions at QB are hardly the cream of the NFL's offensive crop, but Denver and Houston especially have enough upside for Fantasy players to monitor.
In both instances, there is one boring option, and one potentially exciting one. Trevor Siemian and Tom Savage have enough exposure that we can probably say they are just guys -- at best, they won't hurt you. Given the wide receiver talent in both Denver and Houston, we'd like to see a bit more from the quarterback position. On the other hand, DeAndre Hopkins and Demaryius Thomas were two of the best receivers in the league in 2015, with a Brian Hoyer/Ryan Mallett combination and a much-diminished Peyton Manning throwing them the ball. All they might need to have big bounce-back seasons is something more than "disastrous" play from the signal-caller.
Here are the QB battles to watch:
- Denver: Paxton Lynch vs. Trevor Siemian
- Houston: Tom Savage vs. Deshaun Watson
- New York Jets: Josh McCown vs. Bryce Petty/Christian Hackenberg
- Cleveland: Cody Kessler vs. Brock Osweiler vs. DeShone Kizer
Running back competitions
Unlike at quarterback, NFL teams typically want multiple options at the running back spot. The days of 25-carry workhorses are gone -- at least outside of Pittsburgh, Dallas and Arizona -- so these might not even be competitions, per se. The "loser" of Minnesota, Green Bay or Cincinnati's competition is still likely to see plenty of work. That's just the nature of the NFL in 2017.
Here are the competitions to keep an eye on:
- Cincinnati: Joe Mixon vs. Jeremy Hill vs. Giovani Bernard
- Kansas City: Spencer Ware vs. Kareem Hunt
- Washington: Rob Kelley vs. Samaje Perine
- Minnesota: Dalvin Cook vs. Latavius Murray
- New England: Mike Gillislee vs. Dion Lewis vs. James White vs. Rex Burkhead
- New York Jets: Matt Forte vs. Bilal Powell
- Green Bay Packers: Ty Montgomery vs. Jamaal Williams
- Tampa Bay: Jacquizz Rodgers vs. Charles Sims vs. Jeremy McNichols (until Doug Martin returns from three-game suspension)
- Carolina: Jonathan Stewart vs. Christian McAffrey
Wide receiver competitions
The hierarchy at wide receiver usually isn't as clear as it is at any other position. Sure, every team wants a "No. 1 receiver," but it's not always that clear. It's not always the guy who plays the most snaps, and in the modern NFL, it isn't even the player who lines up on the outside against the opposing team's top corner anymore. With so many teams lining up with three wide receivers more often than not, there aren't all that many competitions; the ones that exist often have more to do with seeing how new faces might fit in.
Here are the top competitions for targets:
- Washington: Terrelle Pryor vs. Jamison Crowder vs. Josh Doctson
- San Diego: Keenan Allen vs. Tyrell Williams vs. Mike Williams vs. Travis Benjamin
- Tennessee: Rishard Matthews vs. Corey Davis vs. Eric Decker
- Miami: DeVante Parker vs. Kenny Stills
- New York Giants: Brandon Marshall vs. Sterling Shepard
- Philadelphia: Torrey Smith vs. Jordan Matthews vs. Nelson Agholor
- Chicago: Kevin White vs. Cameron Meredith vs. Kendall Wright vs. Markus Wheaton vs. Victor Cruz vs. Rueben Randle
- Arizona: John Brown vs. J.J. Nelson
How are rookies progressing?
Can Mitchell Trubisky, Deshaun Watson, Patrick Mahomes, or any other rookie passers push the expected starter enough to make things interesting? Can Christian McCaffrey, Joe Mixon, or Dalvin Cook join Leonard Fournette as Day One starters? Will O.J. Howard, Evan Engram, or David Njoku buck the trend and make a difference as rookie tight ends?
It's easy to overrate rookies for Fantasy, especially with memories of Odell Beckham and Ezekiel Elliott still fresh in our minds. They are the exceptions, not the rule, but when a rookie hits, he tends to hit in a big way. That's why, even with a relatively high miss rate, Fantasy players are always going to be obsessed with youth.
Here are the key rookies to keep an eye on: