Fantasy: Ellington, Lynch and other must-watch storylines from NFC West training camps

July 27, 11:14 AM

With NFL training camps underway, theScore's Justin Boone and David P. Woods take a look at the biggest fantasy questions facing each team over the next six weeks. 

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Is Cardinals running back Andre Ellington worth all the hype?

As a rookie last season, Andre Ellington showed flashes of elite talent, tantalizing fantasy owners with what he could be. 

Shortly after last season ended, our very own Michael Amato published an article asking whether Ellington was the next great running back in the NFL. If you didn't read that article back in February, you should probably click the link above (there may be spoilers ahead). 

One of the biggest takeaways from the original Ellington piece is how he played so much bigger than he was in 2013, finishing second in the league in average yards after contact. The key word there is "was" because the 5'9, 199-pound Ellington focused on adding weight in the offseason. 

Before you start worrying that he'll turn into the next Felix Jones, Ellington said he only gained four pounds of muscle and head coach Bruce Arians described it as "good weight." It's enough to help him shoulder more of the load while maintaining his speed and agility. 

Arians has expressed a desire to have his new lead back touch the ball 25-30 times per game this season. That number has been met with some skepticism, but it's a sign that Arizona is committed to having him play a major role in their offense. Ellington will be backed up by Stepfan Taylor and Jonathan Dwyer, neither of whom pose much of a threat to his touches.

Perhaps the most significant changes operating in Ellington's favor are the improvements to the Cardinals' offensive line. One of the weakest areas of the team a year ago should be on the upswing, with the addition of left tackle Jared Veldheer and the development of 2013 first round guard Jonathan Cooper.

Ellington is the kind of player who could wow in the preseason, waking up fantasy owners who had yet to notice him. He is being selected as a top-15 fantasy back, and if your draft was today you'd need to use a third round pick to secure his services. That's something you should have no issue with.

Is this the year Frank Gore gives way to a younger back? 

In fantasy, it's normally better to get out a year too early than be the owner stuck with a declining talent. But anyone who abided by that logic would have missed out of the last couple seasons of Frank Gore's unrelenting production. 

Gore has delivered at least 1,100 yards and eight touchdowns in his last three campaigns, and at age 31 all signs point to the 49ers giving him the chance to do it again.

Sure, the team has used second and fourth round picks on running backs recently, but Marcus Lattimore (fourth round, 2013) is still battling back from a 2012 knee surgery and is currently on the physically-unable-to-perform list, while Carlos Hyde (second round, 2014) is entering his first NFL training camp. Meanwhile, Gore's previous backup Kendall Hunter tore his ACL this week and will miss the season.

Gore's main competition in camp will come from the fresh legs of Hyde, but the rookie needs to prove he can pass block before a veteran team like the 49ers will carve out a consistent role for him.

Injury or age will eventually get the best of Gore, even if he is a "mystical man" as head coach Jim Harbaugh says. But if he falls down draft boards because owners are hesitant to invest in a tailback on the wrong side of 30, don't shy away. 

Gore will once again benefit from working behind one of the league's best offensive lines, on a team that is dedicated to the run. You can even snag Hyde in the 11th round as his handcuff.

How valuable is Christine Michael if Marshawn Lynch's holdout continues? 

Christine Michael is one of the most talented backup running backs in the NFL. The only thing holding him back is Marshawn Lynch… that is, assuming the latter ends his holdout and returns to the club before the season kicks off.

The standoff reached a new level on Saturday when the club opened a roster slot by placing Lynch on the reserve/did not report list, then chose to workout three running backs.

With Michael ready to step in, the Seahawks have very little reason to negotiate with Lynch, which should make this an even more intriguing storyline. 

Despite limited playing time during his rookie season, Michael has impressed. He saw just 18 carries spread out over three games last season, but he averaged a very healthy 4.4 yards per rush, and coaches have gone out of their way to compliment the young back for his dedication to improving over the offseason. 

Prior to Lynch's no-show, the Seahawks hinted that he may lose up to 50 touches to Michael this season. Fewer carries wouldn't be detrimental to Lynch's fantasy value, but would make owners think twice about taking him in the middle of the first round.

While their ADPs don't appear to be affected yet, a Lynch holdout deep into camp would have major implications on both players' draft stock. Even if Lynch was in camp, Michael would be one of the top handcuffs this season. If he somehow ends up with the starting job, Michael would have low-end RB1 potential. 

Someone needs to remind Lynch that holdouts don't tend to end in productive seasons for the running backs involved.

Who will lead the Rams in receiving this season? 

St. Louis has collected a plethora of pass catchers, including Tavon Austin, Chris Givens, Kenny Britt, Austin Pettis, Stedman Bailey, and Brian Quick. So perhaps the first question that needs to be addressed is, who will start for the Rams at receiver this season?  

Austin was a first round pick in 2013, and didn't seem completely comfortable in the Rams' offense during his rookie season. He even admitted as much recently, saying the playbook was "like Spanish" to him early in the season. A year into learning a "new language," expectations are much higher for Austin.  

Defenses adjusted to Givens' deep speed during his second season and prevented him from making the 50-yard gains that became almost a weekly occurrence for a stretch of his rookie season. The result was a far less effective receiver, who broke 60 total yards just once last year.

Fantasy owners have a love-hate relationship with Britt that may turn entirely negative if he can't reach his potential in St. Louis. Head coach Jeff Fisher knows all about Britt from their time together with the Titans and is surely hoping he can give Sam Bradford a true impact player downfield. However, injuries may be taking their toll on Britt, who looked like a shell of his former self last season. 

Outside of those three, there isn't much to mine from the Rams' receiving corps. Fisher is a conservative coach that will try to keep the ball on the ground every chance he can, especially with running backs Zac Stacy and Tre Mason creating a nice one-two punch in the run game. 

Feature photo courtesy of Reuters/Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports