Fantasy football: Johnny Manziel could give your running game a boost

Most of the battles during training camp involve fringe NFL players fighting for a job at the bottom of a 53-man roster. A select few of these duels will be for the right to start on fantasy teams.

Last year, Knowshon Moreno and Eddie Lacy separated from the pack midway through August and never looked back while carrying owners to titles. It’s these kinds of observations that are the difference between winning and losing in fantasy. Situations to monitor closely this year:

Here’s Johnny!
Rolling up $20s in the bathroom and chilling with Justin Bieber has overshadowed what Johnny Manziel brings to a football field – running ability. Note that Browns offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan was the OC when Robert Griffin ran for 815 yards and threw for 3,200 as a rookie. The only problem is veteran Brian Hoyer, who heads to camp as the “starter” despite coming off a torn ACL. If Manziel can beat out the journeyman, he’ll have borderline top-14 fantasy appeal.

Is Stacy really solid?
Zac Stacy was a diamond in the rough last season, coming on in late-October and functioning as a top-10 running back the rest of the way. The problem is that he did it with volume (23.7 touches per game over the final 11 weeks) and not even average per-touch production (3.9 yards per carry, 5.4 yards per reception). The Rams then went out and used a third-round pick on Auburn’s Tre Mason. Stacy will enter the season as a starter, but he won’t be worth an early-round fantasy pick if Mason earns 8-10 carries per game. Stacy needs volume.

Miller Time
Lamar Miller was one of the league’s biggest disasters last season, showing a lack of physicality while running behind an anemic offensive line and mind-numbing Mike Sherman scheme. But with ex-Eagles assistant Bill Lazor now at the controls, the run game figures to be far improved. Miller moved well ahead of Moreno during camp, but he’ll have to show he can perform in pads with contact to keep it.

Other camp battles to watch
Ben Tate vs. Terrance West – We know the Shanahan zone-blocking scheme works. Who will get the reps?
T.Y. Hilton vs. Reggie Wayne – Will Wayne’s knee be healthy enough to play every down? Hilton is a born playmaker.
Jarrett Boykin vs. Davante Adams – The old James Jones role in Green Bay’s scheme is up for grabs here.

MLB Pickups
Danny Salazar, SP, Indians – Back in the bigs and showing 2013 form. Strikeout upside is big here.
Maikel Franco, 3B, Phillies – Once the Phillies do their firesale, they’ll find room for Franco. He’s currently sizzling at Triple-A.
Ken Giles, RP, Phillies—Jonathan Papelbon is perhaps the Phillie most likely to be traded. Giles has electric gas in his right arm.

NBA Summer League
Poor production against inferior competition is a huge red flag. Downgrade these guys:
1. Julius Randle, PF, Lakers – Played 23.5 minutes in Vegas, but got just 4.3 rebounds while shooting 41.9 percent. Will he beat out Carlos Boozer, Ed Davis and Jordan Hill?
2. Shabazz Napier, PG, MIA – In nine Summer League games, he shot 28-of-102 (27.4 percent). Lack of size, burst may be too much to overcome.
3. Dante Exum, PG, Jazz – Coming over from Australia, Exum doesn’t look ready yet. Averaged just 7.2 points, 2.8 assists, 2.6 rebounds in 26.6 Summer League minutes.

NFL News
David Wilson’s return to health following neck surgery throws a wrench into the Giants’ backfield. He’s obviously not a third-down option thanks to pass protection woes, but he brings an element the group currently lacks: game-breaking explosiveness. Look for Wilson to siphon six-to-eight early-down carries per game from Rashad Jennings, severely capping the ex-Raider’s upside.


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