<
>

Biggest fantasy football training camp storylines: Aaron Rodgers' new WR1, Michael Thomas' return and backfield battles

play
Should you stay away from Seahawks RBs? (1:50)

Mike Clay weighs in on whether Rashaad Penny and Kenneth Walker III are worth the investment for fantasy managers. (1:50)

With training camps now in full swing, ESPN's 32 NFL Nation reporters are about to become your eyes and ears as you prepare for your fantasy football drafts. We asked each of them to identify the biggest fantasy topics they'll be following throughout August, with some insight on how things may play out. Nearly half mentioned some form of running back timeshare -- including some tips on how RBs such as Aaron Jones, Tony Pollard, Rhamondre Stevenson, Travis Etienne Jr. and Nyheim Hines could play bigger roles in the passing game.

Arizona Cardinals

Who will get DeAndre Hopkins' share of the passes while he's suspended?

The first answer that comes to mind is Marquise Brown. The Cardinals traded for him on the first day of the NFL draft. And once Hopkins' suspension was announced, Brown was seen as the natural replacement for the first six weeks of the season. He has the speed and hands to be a reliable replacement for Hopkins. Brown's relationship with quarterback Kyler Murray, which dates back to college, should allow them to get on the same page quickly. That will allow Brown to become an asset to the offense quicker than if he was playing with a new quarterback. -- Josh Weinfuss


Atlanta Falcons

Who gets running back carries?

While a lot of the attention will be paid to Marcus Mariota vs. Desmond Ridder at quarterback, the main thing to watch will be at running back, where several candidates will compete to play a significant role along with Cordarrelle Patterson in the running game. Veterans Qadree Ollison and Damien Williams will get a shot, but pay attention to rookie Tyler Allgeier out of BYU. His size and strength are what Falcons head coach Arthur Smith likes in a running back, and he's a sneaky Day 3 pick who could have an immediate role in the offense. -- Michael Rothstein


Baltimore Ravens

Who is RB1 at the start of the season?

The Ravens' top two running backs -- J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards -- are on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list after tearing ACLs last summer. Dobbins is expected to be back by the start of the regular season, but it's uncertain whether he will be at full strength at that point. Edwards is farther behind Dobbins in his recovery and could miss a chunk of the season. Baltimore's other options are veteran Mike Davis and rookie sixth-round pick Tyler Badie. This is a major question mark for a team that has run the ball more than any other team over the last three seasons. -- Jamison Hensley


Buffalo Bills

How will the running back carries be divided?

Last year, the Bills' running back distribution was not friendly to fantasy managers. This season could be complicated yet again. Devin Singletary is in line to get a significant portion of the carries, but rookie James Cook and 2020 third-round pick Zack Moss are both trending toward having roles in this offense. With new offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey calling plays, the breakdown will be even more difficult to predict. But as of now, Singletary should be expected to lead the group, and Cook is likely to contribute as a rusher and receiver. -- Alaina Getzenberg


Carolina Panthers

Baker Mayfield or Sam Darnold?

No battle is anticipated more -- and none is more vital for the success of this team -- than the one between the first and third picks of the 2018 draft. Mayfield seemingly has the upper hand based on past success that Darnold hasn't had. But the recently acquired former Cleveland Browns starter has to learn a new system, which Darnold has been working in all offseason. And Darnold already has chemistry with teammates that Mayfield is just getting to know. GM Scott Fitterer says this is an open competition and reps will be split evenly, but it'll be important for one to emerge as a clear winner. -- David Newton


Chicago Bears

Darnell Mooney ... and then who?

Mooney is WR1 in his third season after reaching 1,000 receiving yards for the first time in 2021. His ability to top that production hinges on the development of Justin Fields, but he's the only wideout with a proven connection with the Bears' QB. Byron Pringle and Velus Jones Jr. will compete for the No. 2 job, while N'Keal Harry and Equanimeous St. Brown hope to capitalize on a fresh start and provide consistent production on the outside. Jones may be a 25-year-old rookie, but his blazing 4.3 speed and ability to line up across the formation has him in line for a significant target share as a WR2. -- Courtney Cronin


Cincinnati Bengals

Is Joe Mixon an all-purpose back?

Mixon ranked third in the NFL in total touches last season despite primarily being used on neutral and run-heavy downs. But because of his absence on third downs, it left his usage lacking in passing situations a bit for fantasy managers. So that leaves him in a tricky spot, especially in PPR leagues, because Mixon's value will depend on his touchdown rate. In 2021, he had plenty of those -- 11 red zone touchdowns at a rate of 3.35 scores per carry inside the 20-yard line, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. But the lack of targets, something that isn't expected to increase drastically, will leave him in a precarious ADP spot for fantasy drafts. -- Ben Baby


Cleveland Browns

After Nick Chubb and Amari Cooper, who will get touches?

The Browns have a clear No. 1 running back in the All-Pro Chubb and an obvious go-to receiver in Cooper. But after that, is anyone else among Cleveland's skill players worth significant draft investment? When healthy, Kareem Hunt has found ways to be productive both rushing and receiving, despite backing up Chubb. But the player to watch in Cleveland might be tight end David Njoku, who got a four-year, $57 million extension in the offseason. Njoku has yet to perform like a top-10 fantasy tight end, but the Browns are banking that Njoku has the talent to still become just that. -- Jake Trotter


Dallas Cowboys

Ezekiel Elliott or Tony Pollard?

For the Pollard fans, tread lightly. Not that he won't get more work, but it might not be solely at the expense of Elliott. Mike McCarthy called Elliott one of the keystone pieces of the team. Before getting hurt last season, Elliott was on pace for more than 1,500 yards. He finished with 12 touchdowns. He will always be a primary red zone option over Pollard. Where Pollard might excel is as a pass-catcher while the Cowboys look to replace Amari Cooper's production. Of course, if Elliott gets injured, Pollard would see an RB1 workload. -- Todd Archer


Denver Broncos

Who, exactly, will be RB1 or WR1?

The Broncos have a new head coach/playcaller on offense in Nathaniel Hackett, a new quarterback in Russell Wilson, and several skill players who have flashed potential but have never played with a quarterback like Wilson. Javonte Williams is expected to be the top back. And how things shake out at receiver still remains to be seen since Jerry Jeudy missed plenty of the on-field work in the offseason program. But this team may frustrate fantasy managers early in the season as it gets sorted out, and Hackett shows his hand with how much Williams and Melvin Gordon III may or may not split carries. -- Jeff Legwold


Detroit Lions

Who will lead the team in receiving yards?

Detroit has equipped quarterback Jared Goff with strong offensive weapons in tight end T.J. Hockenson, new free agent wide receiver DJ Chark and rookie receiver Jameson Williams (who is still recovering from a torn ACL). But if I were a betting man, I would put my money on receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown. All signs are pointing to St. Brown enjoying a breakout second season after setting numerous rookie records in 2021. St. Brown's production skyrocketed when Lions coach Dan Campbell gave former tight ends coach Ben Johnson a bigger role in playcalling responsibilities. Johnson is now the offensive coordinator and will find creative ways to use the Lions' rising star. St. Brown also led the squad in receiving yards (912) as a rookie and logged six straight games of eight or more receptions. He'll certainly be a target for defenses this season, but the Lions' staff is confident he'll be ready. -- Eric Woodyard


Green Bay Packers

Who gets the 169 targets Davante Adams left behind?

Aaron Rodgers spoke of Allen Lazard from Day 1 of training camp as the No. 1 receiver. But that doesn't mean he'll get 100-plus targets. Don't be surprised if a running back gets a bigger share. Aaron Jones ranked second on the team last season in targets (65). And with the Packers wanting to get AJ Dillon on the field more often, perhaps moving Jones around and getting him the ball in space might be something they try even more. -- Rob Demovsky


Houston Texans

Does it matter who Brandin Cooks' QB is?

Cooks should be an impactful fantasy receiver. Throughout his career, the QB hasn't mattered for Cooks. Whether it has been Jared Goff, Tom Brady, Deshaun Watson, Davis Mills, Drew Brees or Tyrod Taylor under center, Cooks has produced. So even though Mills is still viewed as an unknown, it won't stop Cooks' production. He's finished with 1,000 yards or more in six of his eight seasons. The Texans' receiving weapons aren't deep, and Cooks is the only proven threat. This screams double-digit targets per game for Cooks. -- DJ Bien-Aime


Indianapolis Colts

How will touches be divided between Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim Hines?

Matt Ryan's arrival marks the biggest change in the Colts' offense, but Indianapolis is also trying to rethink running back Taylor's workload in 2022. Taylor, last season's rushing leader, led the NFL in carries in 2021 as the Colts became overwhelmingly run-heavy in the latter portion of the season. They intend to have a more balanced approach this season, which is where Hines enters the picture. Hines, who is often used as a receiver, posted career lows in targets and receptions last season. The Colts have vowed to change that, and Ryan's history of targeting running backs bodes well for Hines. -- Stephen Holder


Jacksonville Jaguars

How does the mix of Travis Etienne Jr. and James Robinson work?

Robinson is recovering from a torn Achilles, but the team didn't place him on PUP, and the hope is he'll be fully cleared in mid-August. Head coach Doug Pederson said in the spring that the team still views Robinson as the top back. However, Etienne will be heavily involved in the passing game (he has lined up out wide and in the slot multiple times in practices). Offensive coordinator Press Taylor said he can see Etienne being used similar to the way Philadelphia used Brian Westbrook years ago. Educated guess: Robinson has more carries than Etienne, but Etienne could have a slight lead in total touches by the time the season ends. -- Michael DiRocco


Kansas City Chiefs

Who's the No. 1 wide receiver?

The Chiefs are not only looking to fill Tyreek Hill's role, but also trying to figure out which other wide receivers will make the biggest statistical contributions. Free agent additions Marquez Valdes-Scantling and JuJu Smith-Schuster and rookie Skyy Moore join the returning Mecole Hardman to form the main group of wide receivers. But beyond that, everything is up for grabs. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes went to Valdes-Scantling often and with success in offseason practice, and that could be a sign of things to come. -- Adam Teicher


Las Vegas Raiders

Are there enough balls to go around on offense?

While tight end Darren Waller caught a franchise-record 107 passes two seasons ago, slot receiver Hunter Renfrow had 103 catches last season, and new wideout Davante Adams has averaged 111 receptions the past three seasons. Figuring out how to spread the wealth and keep guys happy will be a "good" problem for quarterback Derek Carr to navigate through in camp. Throw in the fact that the Raiders are learning a new scheme via new head coach Josh McDaniels, and storylines abound. -- Paul Gutierrez


Los Angeles Chargers

What to expect from the tight ends?

Justin Herbert's top targets are well established between receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams and running back Austin Ekeler. But what about the tight ends? The Chargers signed Gerald Everett to a two-year, $12 million contract in free agency, Donald Parham Jr. returns for a third season, and Tre' McKitty returns as a second-year pro. Herbert has already established a rapport with Parham and McKitty, but how quickly the sixth-year pro Everett can ingratiate himself with Herbert and learn the offense will be worth watching throughout training camp. - Lindsey Thiry


Los Angeles Rams

Can you trust Allen Robinson II as a WR2?

The Rams' top three receivers appear to be set going into the season: Cooper Kupp, Robinson and Van Jefferson. And Los Angeles didn't substitute much late last season. There are questions about Robinson after his troubling lack of production with the Bears in 2021, but Matthew Stafford will be by far the best quarterback he's played with. Offensive coordinator Liam Coen pointed to Robinson's route-running quality and versatility as to why he'll thrive in 2022. To start the season, the Rams are paying Robinson too much money to not feed him often and see what he can do. But Jefferson could also break out in Year 3. There's also the logical possibility of Odell Beckham Jr. returning later in the season to consider if you're thinking of drafting Robinson. -- Sarah Barshop


Miami Dolphins

How will this backfield workload play out?

With Raheem Mostert cleared for practice after recovering from knee surgery, the Dolphins' backfield is one of the more crowded in the NFL. Mostert, Chase Edmonds, Sony Michel and Myles Gaskin have all been lead backs at some point in their careers and will form what is expected to be a committee. New head coach Mike McDaniel's offenses in San Francisco weren't afraid to feature a lead back despite a shared workload, so whoever can establish himself this summer may be worth taking a mid-round flier on come draft day. -- Marcel Louis-Jacques


Minnesota Vikings

How many targets will Irv Smith Jr. get?

Smith is in line to be the Vikings' starting tight end a year after suffering a season-ending right knee injury. Quarterback Kirk Cousins likes targeting tight ends. Since he became a full-time starter in 2015, he ranks fourth among quarterbacks in tight end targets. But Cousins has a lot of options among the Vikings' talented group of skill-position players, and training camp will give us our first glimpse at understanding how Cousins and head coach Kevin O'Connell will disperse the ball. -- Kevin Seifert


New England Patriots

Will Rhamondre Stevenson earn a bigger role in the pass game?

By the end of last season, Stevenson was a strong 1B option alongside the Patriots' 1A Damien Harris. The two are back again atop the RB depth chart, with Stevenson vying to make himself more of a factor in obvious passing situations -- which is traditionally James White's role. It sparks a relevant fantasy football question: With White coming off a serious hip injury, can Stevenson position himself for some of White's duties? -- Mike Reiss


New Orleans Saints

Will Michael Thomas return to WR1 status?

Thomas' return to practice on Day 1 of training camp was a huge step in the right direction. His fantasy floor will become a lot safer with each day we see him continue to progress this preseason. I do expect him to be the Saints' WR1. But his fantasy ceiling is a trickier question, since we don't know how long it will take him to return to peak physical form. He will also be splitting time in a more-crowded WR group alongside Jarvis Landry and Chris Olave; and he is now playing with a different style of QB in Jameis Winston, who might not pepper him with targets the same way Drew Brees and Teddy Bridgewater did. -- Mike Triplett


New York Giants

Which Giants WR is worth investing in?

The Giants' offense has been a fantasy cesspool the past two years. You didn't want to have any of their playmakers on your roster. It's hard to find a receiver that is worth any sort of investment this year, either. The best bet would probably be Kadarius Toney. He's young and explosive, and at least is on the field early this summer. Toney was targeted on 29.8% of his routes run his rookie season, the eighth-highest total in the NFL. Even though the offense and playcaller have changed, the desire to get him the ball has not. Questions also still remain about Kenny Golladay and Sterling Shepard, which only adds to Toney's value. -- Jordan Raanan


New York Jets

Michael Carter or Breece Hall as RB1?

Carter is the incumbent after leading the team in rushing as a rookie, but the sense is that Hall will overtake him at some point. Carter did a solid job in 2021, rushing for 639 yards and 4.3 per carry, but he's on the smaller side and doesn't have breakaway speed. Hall is bigger, faster and a better receiver than Carter. Hall was drafted 36th overall, but he was 18th on the Jets' draft board, which illustrates how much they like his potential. There will be early growing pains as he learns to transition away from his ultra-patient running style, but he should leapfrog Carter on the depth chart once he finds his rhythm. -- Rich Cimini


Philadelphia Eagles

How will the running back rotation shake out?

Miles Sanders is the projected starter, with Kenneth Gainwell and Boston Scott slated for playing time as well. Sanders is in a contract year. Running behind one of the best offensive lines in the league and alongside Jalen Hurts, the opportunity is there to have a monster season. But injuries have kept him from reaching his full potential to this point, including in 2021 when he finished with 754 rushing yards and zero touchdowns in 12 games. Gainwell, meanwhile, is coming off an impressive rookie season with 544 yards from scrimmage and six touchdowns. Ideally, the Eagles would like Sanders to take the lead role and run with it. But if he gets banged up or isn't performing at a high level, Gainwell could move into a more featured role. -- Tim McManus


Pittsburgh Steelers

How will Diontae Johnson's targets shake out with a new QB?

Johnson was a favorite target of Ben Roethlisberger, but with Roethlisberger's retirement, the wide receiver is going to be catching passes from a new quarterback. Johnson still figures to be the top wide receiver on the team, but will he still get the lion's share of the targets with Chase Claypool looking for a bounce-back year and rookies George Pickens and Calvin Austin III joining the team? Johnson is also missing time early in camp as he is "holding in" while hoping for a new contract, giving younger guys more opportunities to build chemistry with the quarterbacks. -- Brooke Pryor


San Francisco 49ers

How will the running back situation play out?

Wash, rinse, repeat. Yes, this is always one of the primary fantasy questions about the Niners under Kyle Shanahan, and that probably won't change any time soon. San Francisco has had a different leading rusher in each of Shanahan's five seasons at the helm, which makes it hard to put trust in the player at the top of the depth chart in August. Elijah Mitchell will be that player this year, and he will get the first crack at keeping his job after setting the franchise record for rushing yards by a rookie last season. But the team drafted Tyrion Davis-Price in the third round, brought back Jeff Wilson Jr. and still has JaMycal Hasty and Trey Sermon in the mix. Ideally, Davis-Price offers short-yardage and goal-line help with Mitchell handling the bulk of the work. But injury concerns about Mitchell are real, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see Davis-Price and Wilson involved early and often even if Mitchell hangs on to the starting spot. -- Nick Wagoner


Seattle Seahawks

How will Seattle share carries between Rashaad Penny and Kenneth Walker III?

Chris Carson's retirement means Penny will head into the season as the Seahawks' clear-cut No. 1 option for the first time in his career. But the "as-long-as-he-stays-healthy" qualifier might apply to Penny as much as any player in the NFL given that he's missed 30 of a possible 69 games due to injury (playoffs included). He has also carried the ball 20-plus times in a game just twice in his career. The Seahawks will have to manage his snaps and give some of the backfield work to Walker, but Seattle's rookie second-round pick will have to show coaches that he's ready. -- Brady Henderson


Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Will Chris Godwin be ready for Week 1?

The receiver underwent surgery to repair a torn ACL this offseason, and while the Bucs did not place him on the PUP list to open camp, sources say they will work him back in slowly. And the signing of future Hall of Famer Julio Jones affords them the chance to do that. But exactly when Godwin will be ready is not clear at this point. -- Jenna Laine


Tennessee Titans

Can Austin Hooper return to Pro Bowl form?

Hooper has made it his personal mission to develop chemistry with Ryan Tannehill since joining the team. The two have put in extra work during downtime in practice. They are in constant communication after reps during team and 7-on-7 periods. Tannehill complimented Hooper's savvy route-running ability and quickness that helps him get open. There will be more targets to go around since Tannehill's previously favored pass-catcher A.J. Brown is now with the Eagles. Since Tannehill took over as the Titans' starter in Week 6 of the 2019 season, 24% of his targets have gone to tight ends. Tannehill has also thrown 25 of his 76 touchdown passes to the tight ends. -- Turron Davenport


Washington Commanders

How will Carson Wentz and Terry McLaurin click?

McLaurin missed the OTA workouts and mandatory minicamp while awaiting a new contract, but he did spend time with Wentz and other teammates in California earlier this month. Wentz appeared to mesh with rookie receiver Jahan Dotson during the spring, but for this offense to work he must have chemistry with McLaurin. It helps that McLaurin excels on contested catches -- especially important with a quarterback who is sometimes inaccurate. Wentz will be able to trust McLaurin, an outstanding route-runner. And, for McLaurin's sake, Wentz will be the best passer he's played with. In his first three seasons, McLaurin has played with eight different starting quarterbacks, none as good as Wentz. That's why there's reason to believe they'll work well together. -- John Keim