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Fantasy football — Fantasy intel for all 32 NFL teams ahead of Week 7


The Fantasy 32 analyzes the NFL from a fantasy perspective, with at least one mention of each of the league’s 32 teams. Though efficiency will be discussed plenty, the column will lean heavily on usage data, as volume is king (by far) in fantasy football. Use these tidbits to make the best waiver-wire, trade and lineup decisions for the upcoming week and beyond. Be sure to check back each week of the season for a new version of the Fantasy 32.

Note that data from Monday Night Football may not be reflected in charts in the article until Tuesday afternoon.

The infirmary

Falcons WRs Calvin Ridley (ankle) and Mohamed Sanu (hip) both left Sunday’s game with injuries. Justin Hardy was the biggest benefactor, drawing seven targets on 24 of a possible 42 pass routes in the game. If one of Ridley or Sanu is out this week, Hardy is safe to ignore, but if both are out, Hardy will certainly jump into the flex discussion, especially with Janoris Jenkins likely to shadow Julio Jones.

Jets WR Quincy Enunwa went down with a right ankle injury on Sunday and is expected to miss some time. Enunwa had been handling a hefty target share, but it was starting to dip a bit with Jermaine Kearse healthy and taking over as the team’s primary slot receiver. Kearse led the Jets’ passing attack on Sunday with nine catches and 94 yards on 10 targets (four more than any other Jet). Kearse, fantasy’s No. 26 wideout in 2017, had only registered 71 yards on seven catches during his first four games, but an expanded role — coupled with Enunwa’s absence — puts him in the flex discussion in 12-team leagues. Robby Anderson (five targets on Sunday) and Terrelle Pryor Sr. (six) are too risky to start.

Raiders WR Amari Cooper went down with a concussion after only nine snaps and only hours after trade rumors began to circulate. In Cooper’s absence, Jordy Nelson (36 of 37 possible routes) and Martavis Bryant (29) worked the perimeter with Seth Roberts (31) in the slot. Oakland is headed to its bye, but if Cooper misses time or is traded, Nelson’s stock will rise enough to place him in the WR3 discussion most weeks. Bryant’s playing time would increase significantly and his downfield ability would be enough to land him in the flex discussion. Roberts is only worth a look in deep PPR leagues.

Rams WR Cooper Kupp‘s knee injury doesn’t appear to be serious considering he returned (albeit briefly) to Sunday’s game. However, should he miss time, Josh Reynolds needs to be on your radar in an offense that ranks third in touchdowns per game (3.5) and first in three-plus wide receiver sets when passing (98 percent). Reynolds was held to two targets on Sunday, but was on the field for 20 of the team’s 33 pass plays (Kupp ran 13 routes and was targeted once). Reynolds, a 2017 fourth-round pick, showed flashes as a rookie and Kupp’s absence would bump him into the flex discussion. Gerald Everett — who doubled up Tyler Higbee in pass routes on Sunday — would join the TE2 mix.

Jaguars TE Niles Paul went down with a leg injury on Sunday just one week after Jacksonville lost Austin Seferian-Jenkins for the season. Paul went down on his fourth snap, which led to James O’Shaughnessy running 24 of 29 possible routes. Unless the Jaguars make an impact acquisition, this is a situation to ignore except in the deepest of two tight end leagues.

Opportunity alert

Throughout this piece, I’ll be referencing “OFP” and “OTD.” OFP stands for opportunity-adjusted fantasy points. Imagine a league in which players are created equal. “OFP” is a statistic that weighs every pass/carry/target and converts the data into one number that indicates a player’s opportunity to score fantasy points, or his “expected” fantasy point total. For example, if a player has an OFP of 14.5, it means that a league average player who saw the same workload in the same area of the field would have scored 14.5 fantasy points. “OTD” works the same way, except instead of fantasy points, it’s touchdowns.

That said, here is the Week 6 OFP Leaderboard:

*Complete positional leaderboards will be posted at ESPN+ this week

Vikings WR Adam Thielen‘s record-setting early-season pace is likely unsustainable, but OFP tells us that he can afford a drop-off in efficiency and still manage elite numbers. Thielen’s full-season FORP sits at 31, meaning his 31 fantasy points above his expected total. Still, his 123 OFP is second highest, behind only DeAndre Hopkins at wide receiver. Thielen is a legitimate top-5 fantasy wide receiver moving forward and you shouldn’t feel the need to try and trade him at his ceiling.

Buccaneers QB Jameis Winston entered his first 2018 start as a solid QB1 play and that’s how you should view him moving forward. Granted it was a light matchup against Atlanta’s injury-plagued defense, but Winston delivered … and then some. He completed 30 of 41 passes for 395 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions, adding 31 yards with his legs. Remember, Winston posted a top-10 fantasy week in 46 percent of his starts last season, which was ninth best at the position. Surrounded by a terrific group of skill position players, Winston should be in lineups against Cleveland on Sunday and most weeks going forward.

Falcons WR Julio Jones has yet to score a touchdown this season, but his 116 fantasy points are actually higher than his 113 OFP. Jones is no longer getting much work near the goal line (one end zone target during his past five games), but he’s still seeing so much volume that he’s fantasy’s No. 5 scoring wide receiver.

Ravens QB Joe Flacco sits 20th at quarterback with 100 fantasy points, but his 111 OFP ranks fifth at the position and suggests better days could be ahead. Flacco hasn’t posted a top-10 fantasy outing since Week 1, but the Ravens’ offense is averaging 75.8 plays per game (most) and 2.8 touchdowns per game (10th). An abnormal number of those scores have been of the rushing variety (47 percent, which is fifth highest), so we should expect more passing touchdowns from Flacco going forward. Flacco is an outstanding streaming option at home against the Saints this week and is a strong QB2 going forward.

FORP

FORP is the difference between a player’s actual fantasy point total and his OFP (or expected fantasy point total).

First, here are the players who have fallen short of their OFP by the largest margin and are thus candidates to see a rise in fantasy production moving forward, assuming they see a similar workload:

Browns WR Jarvis Landry is handling a career-high 29.2 percent target share, which is impressive considering he’s cleared 27.5 percent each of the past three seasons. He’s averaging a career-best 12.6 yards per reception, but a 47 percent catch rate and one touchdown have him sitting 27th at wide receiver in fantasy points. Landry ranks eighth at the position in OFP, which tells us better days are likely ahead. Teammate Antonio Callaway‘s inefficiencies seem to have him destined for a demotion, but as long as he’s in his current situation, a big play or three is inevitable.

Texans TE Ryan Griffin has flirted with occasional fantasy value during his career, which makes his brutal 2018 efficiency a bit surprising. Griffin has been targeted 25 times, but has only 10 catches for 140 yards and zero scores to show. He’s 37th at the position in fantasy points, but 10th (seriously) in OFP. The gap between his touchdown total (0) and 3.3 OTD is largest in the league. Houston’s offense has underachieved against some tough defenses the past two weeks, but an upcoming slate including Jacksonville, Miami and Denver means it may be a bit before we see a major rebound. Nonetheless, FORP suggests Griffin and his quarterback are headed for better days. Both Griffin and Broncos TE Jeff Heuerman, who is handling a 15 percent target share over the past three weeks, are TE2 options.

Jaguars WR Donte Moncrief sits 26th at wide receiver in OFP, but is 58th in fantasy points. Moncrief’s 2.5 OTD ranks 18th at the position and he’s seen four end zone targets. He’s too risky to throw into lineups right now, but Moncrief’s role should allow more production going forward, especially in the Jaguars’ pass-heavy offense.

And these players have exceeded their OFP by the largest margin and are thus candidates to see a dip in fantasy production moving forward:

Will Falcons QB Matt Ryan repeat his incredible 2016 season? He’s certainly well on his way. In 2016, Ryan posted a ridiculous 124 FORP (430 fantasy points, 306 OFP). Through Week 6 this season, he’s “on pace” for a 120 FORP (403 points, 283 FORP). Obviously we can’t count on this level of efficiency moving forward, but even with a return to earth statistically, Ryan’s OFP ranks sixth at the position. Fantasy’s No. 2 scoring quarterback can afford some regression to the mean and will still carry QB1 value.

Dolphins WR Albert Wilson is fantasy’s No. 20 scoring wide receiver despite seeing the field on only 61 percent of the Dolphins’ pass plays this season. His OFP ranks 52nd at the position. As boom or bust as they come, Wilson has finished 37th or worse in four of six outings (50th or worse in three), but top-10 in the other two games. He has four touchdowns, but a 0.7 OTD (that 3.3 gap is fourth-largest in the league). Wilson’s receiving touchdowns have required post-catch runs of 24, 43, 72 and 78 yards, which is as hard to believe as it is unsustainable. The total OTD on those three plays was … 0.03. Incredibly, he’s seen one target inside the opponent’s 13-yard line. This is one of the easiest regression-to-the-mean calls in a decade, though Wilson will be on the flex radar if the Dolphins trade DeVante Parker.

Seahawks WR Tyler Lockett is another wide receiver unlikely to come close to sustaining his current production. Lockett sits 56th at wide receiver in OFP, but five touchdowns have him sitting 19th in fantasy points. The 3.4 gap between his touchdown total and OTD (1.6) is third largest in the league. Lockett has hauled in all three of his end zone targets, but has seen only one additional target inside the opponent’s 10-yard line. His other scores required runs of 10 and 25 yards. Lockett entered 2018 with a grand total of 10 offensive touchdowns in three NFL seasons, including four the past two seasons. The No. 2 target in an extremely run-heavy offense who is limited to a 19 percent target share, Lockett is a player to try to trade this week.

Deep dive

Bears WR Taylor Gabriel was discussed in this column prior to Chicago’s Week 5 bye, but this past Sunday is yet further evidence that he’s arguably the most underrated asset in fantasy. Gabriel cleared 100 receiving yards for the second consecutive game and is now handling a 22 percent target share for the season (7.0 per game). Mitchell Trubisky‘s No. 2 target has at least five targets and four receptions in each of Chicago’s five games. Available in nearly two-thirds of ESPN leagues, he should be scooped up and considered a fringe WR3 option against New England.

Colts RB Marlon Mack was finally healthy for a full game on Sunday and that was enough to allow him to easily lead the Indianapolis backfield in carries (and efficiency). Mack carried the rock 12 times for 89 yards and was targeted twice. Mack’s strong effort figures to solidify his role as the top ball carrier in an offense averaging a very strong 3.0 touchdowns per game this season. Note that while Nyheim Hines was limited to three carries and three targets, he did out-snap Mack 29 to 23 and will continue to play a sizable role in passing situations. Mack is available in 74 percent of ESPN leagues. Scoop him up and consider him a flex option against the Bills this week and going forward.

Cowboys WR Cole Beasley broke out for nine catches, 101 yards and two touchdowns on 11 targets against Jacksonville in Week 6. QB Dak Prescott admitted after the game that the team planned to attack Jaguars’ slot CB Tyler Patmon and the plan obviously worked. Despite the strong effort, Beasley shouldn’t be considered a reliable weekly starter just yet. He totaled 17 catches for 193 yards and no scores on 24 targets during Weeks 1-5, which was barely off a 2017 target pace that led to 36 catches on 62 targets for 314 yards and four scores in 15 games.

Needless to say, the Redskins’ passing game has been a disappointment. Alex Smith posted an 11th-place fantasy outing in Week 1, but hasn’t notched a finish better than 16th in four games since. Paul Richardson (best weekly finish is 38th), Jamison Crowder (33rd) and Josh Doctson (67th) have all been busts. Backs Chris Thompson and Adrian Peterson and tight end Jordan Reed are the only players from this offense worth considering for your lineup most weeks.

Snap attack

Seahawks RB Rashaad Penny registered nine carries and two targets on Sunday, but only played 13 snaps. His upside makes him a worthwhile bench stash, but nothing more with Chris Carson (24 snaps) and Mike Davis (23 snaps) more involved.

Panthers TE Greg Olsen was on the field for 58 of the Panthers’ 59 offensive snaps against Washington in Week 6. It was Olsen’s first action since he went down with a leg injury on his 14th snap of the season back in Week 1. Olsen’s massive role and his seven-target effort put him right back in the mix as a midpack TE1.

Browns WR Damion Ratley stepped up with six catches and 82 yards on eight targets on Sunday. Injuries ahead of him on the depth chart helped the 2018 sixth-round pick to a career-high 62 snaps against the Chargers. He was on the field for 45 of the team’s 50 pass plays. With Rashard Higgins expected to miss more time and Rod Streater done for the year, Ratley is expected to work as the team’s No. 3 wide receiver against a struggling Tampa Bay secondary this week. He’s a sneaky play in deep leagues.

Patriots WR Josh Gordon has been unleashed. The former Brown (they could really use him these days) was on the field for 35 of New England’s 37 pass plays on Sunday night, registering nine targets in the game. The production wasn’t great (five catches, 42 yards), but better days are ahead with Gordon now playing a full complement of snaps in one of the league’s best offenses. He’s a WR3 against Chicago this week.

Eagles running backs: Week 6 marked the Eagles first game with Jay Ajayi on injured reserve. Corey Clement was limited but still played 25 snaps, handling 11 carries and three targets. Wendell Smallwood led the unit with 42 snaps and 18 carries, adding a pair of targets. Josh Adams was active but did not play a snap. We should expect a similar dynamic moving forward, though Clement figures to take on more work when healthy and Darren Sproles will chip in significantly in passing situations once he returns from a hamstring injury. Smallwood and Clement are flex options against Carolina this week.

Bengals WR Tyler Boyd has been on the field for 84 percent of the Bengals’ snaps, including 88 percent of the pass plays this season. He’s handling a 23 percent target share and sits 19th at the wide receiver position in OFP (79) and 12th in actual fantasy points (107). Boyd is enjoying a third-year breakout and should be locked into weekly lineups.

Lions RB Kerryon Johnson has been on the field for 40 percent of Detroit’s snaps, has run a route on 29 percent of the team’s pass plays, is handling 45 percent of the carries and has accrued a seven percent target share. Johnson entered the Week 6 bye 35th at the position in OFP. The rookie remains in a rotation in Detroit and is no more than a shaky flex until he takes on a larger role.

Saints WR Cameron Meredith was on the field for a season-high 59 percent of the Saints’ pass plays and also hit a season-best with five targets when the Saints were last on the field against Washington in Week 5. Meredith has emerged as the team’s top slot target, but needs a bit more playing time and target volume to make him a consistent flex option. Nonetheless, he should be on benches.

Burning questions

Can I start either Titans’ running back with confidence right now? No — the Titans’ offense is a mess. Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis combined for an atrocious 40 scrimmage yards on 15 touches against Baltimore on Sunday. Henry has yet to produce a top-40 fantasy week and Lewis has two in six tries. Lewis’ 15 percent target share keeps him in the flex discussion, but he’s a shaky play with the Titans’ offense averaging an almost-unbelievable and league-worst 1.0 touchdowns per game. Henry is trailing Lewis in carries and is a non-factor as a receiver, which means he’s barely worth a roster spot in 10-team leagues.

Is 49ers WR Marquise Goodwin a weekly fantasy starter? I’d consider the matchup, but yes. QB C.J. Beathard is an obvious downgrade from Jimmy Garoppolo, but the second-year passer has been better than expected. The Packers’ secondary has struggled, but Goodwin proved healthy on Monday night, seeing the field on 95 percent of the team’s snaps while also using his world-class speed to break loose for several big gains, including a pair of touchdowns. His big-play ability and Beathard’s competent play position Goodwin as a weekly flex option.

Is Falcons TE Austin Hooper now a TE1? If not, he’s close. Hooper has caught nine passes in back-to-back games, handling 22 targets during the span. He’s turned the heavy workload into a pair of 70-plus receiving yard efforts and one touchdown. Granted, both Ridley and Sanu were injured in Sunday’s game, but considering how injury-plagued the tight end position has been, Hooper is on a short list of players you can feel somewhat confident in right now. He’s a fringe top-10 play against the Giants in Week 7.

Has Cardinals WR Christian Kirk worked his way into the WR3 discussion? Despite some strong efforts as of late, I wouldn’t go that far. Kirk has cleared 76 receiving yards during three of his past four games and is fantasy’s No. 31 scoring wideout during the span. The problem is that the Arizona offense is struggling badly and Kirk’s average of 6.0 targets per game isn’t enough to allow consistent fantasy numbers when touchdown opportunities are so far and few between.

Is Packers WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling worth rostering through the bye? Outside of dynasty leagues, no. The fifth-round rookie has been impressive, but Packers NFL Nation reporter Rob Demovsky agrees that he will return to fourth on the depth chart once Randall Cobb and Geronimo Allison return from injury (likely in Week 8). Valdes-Scantling has 10 catches for 171 yards and a score on 16 targets over the past two games, but is no more than the rare notable handcuff at the wide receiver position.



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After ugly loss to Saints, Washington Redskins face crucial week ahead – Washington Redskins Blog


NEW ORLEANS — The Washington Redskins went into their Monday night game against the New Orleans Saints with good vibes and an upbeat attitude. There was a quiet confidence.

They exited the 43-19 loss to New Orleans in silence, with a much different vibe, one that suggests this week and their next game against Carolina has turned into a crucial one for the franchise.

“Our whole team played poorly,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “That’s a reflection of myself. I think everybody in that locker room, hopefully, will say that they have to play better. I absolutely understand that coaches on this staff have to coach better.”

It’s not just about winning and contending in an NFC East that doesn’t look quite as tough as everyone thought it would be this season. At 2-2, the Redskins are in first place in the division, but with 12 games left, that’s meaningless. It’s about letting everyone know what’s acceptable. And their showing was anything but, coming off a bye, this is what they produced. It’s about continuing patterns for way too long for a starved fan base. Win games, get hopes up, suffer ugly loss.

It’s hard to imagine or remember a worse loss in the coach Jay Gruden era; not just by margin of victory, but for the team’s utter incompetence. They botched coverages — this continues a trend that shows no signs of ending — that led to two pass plays of at least 46 yards. They didn’t even throw to their best target, tight end Jordan Reed, until 5 minutes, 27 seconds remained in the third quarter. They committed dumb penalties — safety Montae Nicholson shoved a Saints player after a Ryan Kerrigan sack that would have forced a punt. Instead, it extended a drive that resulted in a touchdown.

After the drive, second-year defensive end Jonathan Allen was apparently getting on his teammates, letting him know their play was unacceptable. It’s great that a second-year guy did this; there needs to be a lot more of it from everyone in the organization, from coaches on down. If there aren’t enough players and coaches tired of the inconsistency, the breakdowns and losses will continue.

Quarterback Alex Smith was shaky all night, getting hit too often and not looking comfortable when he wasn’t being pressured. He missed open targets; he threw short of others. The coaching clearly wasn’t good enough, either. On a night when Drew Brees set the all-time record for passing yards, the Redskins were outclassed in every respect.

It doesn’t help the Redskins fan base that former quarterback Kirk Cousins has played well for Minnesota and former offensive coordinator Sean McVay is 5-0 with the Los Angeles Rams.

Meanwhile, cornerback Josh Norman — the highest paid player at his position — was benched to open the second half. Norman allowed a touchdown pass of 62 yards late in the first half when he appeared to be playing Cover 2 while the other defensive backs were in Cover 3, which would have had him covering deep. Two weeks ago against Green Bay, Norman did not play a quarters coverage properly, leading to another long score.

Monday, Norman was on the bench for the first series — only to watch rookie replacement Greg Stroman allow a 35-yard touchdown pass.

“There was an issue there,” Gruden said of Norman’s play late in the first half. “That’s one of the issues we’re talking about and that’s something that we have to get corrected. That can’t happen in pro football. You don’t see that happen in pro football. We’re together too long. We run the same coverage for too many times. We’ve got to coach that better. We’ve got to make sure that never happens again. That’s an absolute embarrassment.”

Norman said, “Coverage, man. We was blowing it all night. … As a fiery competitor you never want to come off, but whatever. I’ll roll with that because that’s the chain of command. He’s in charge. … End of the day I respect the head man and I’ve got to honor that and truly buy into what he wants.”

The Redskins finished the first quarter of the season with a 2-2 record. In this league, what looks true one week doesn’t always play out that way the next. The Redskins lost 44-16 in 2015 to Carolina only to win the following week — and eventually capture the NFC East. But it’ll be hard to shake the stink from this one; it’s probably good the Redskins have a short week.

The Redskins are 14-6-1 after a loss under Gruden. Washington has been resilient under him and that trait must reveal itself once more.

“It’s on to the next,” Redskins running back Adrian Peterson said. “This game doesn’t define our season. We just completed our first quarter of the season 2-2. It’s not bad at all. We’ll lick our wounds. … This is part of the NFL. It’s all about how you bounce back from adversity.”



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Rams will need to find some defensive consistency with more big matchups ahead – Los Angeles Rams Blog


SEATTLE — There’s something for coming through when it counts.

After a holding call put the Seattle Seahawks out of field goal range, trailing 33-31 to the Los Angeles Rams, Cory Littleton leaped and deflected a Russell Wilson pass, and Wilson’s next attempt fell incomplete, too.

For a second consecutive week, the Rams’ defense came up big in the final minutes.

The Rams improve to 5-0, and are comfortably in first place in the NFC West, as the Seahawks fall to 2-3. But while the Rams’ defense held with 3 minutes, 38 seconds remaining in the game, their performance left plenty of room for improvement.

Linebacker Mark Barron made his first start this season after he was sidelined the past four games because of a nagging Achilles injury.

But the absence of cornerback Aqib Talib, who is on the injured reserve after he underwent ankle surgery, was apparent as Sam Shields started in Talib’s absence and Troy Hill also played a significant amount of snaps at the position.

Cornerback Marcus Peters, who suffered a calf strain in a Week 3 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers, has not appeared to return to form despite playing every snap in Week 4 and starting against the Seahawks.

Peters allowed for a 39-yard touchdown by Tyler Lockett in the second quarter that put the Seahawks ahead, 14-10, and also gave up a 30-yard touchdown to David Moore in the third quarter that put the Seahawks up 31-24.

Peters finished with five tackles and a pass deflection.

But it was Wilson — who defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said earlier this week could single-handedly win a game — whom the Rams struggled to slow, even as they sacked him twice.

Wilson completed 13 of 21 passes for 198 and 3 touchdowns and the Seahawks were 7-of-12 on third down. In two separate scenarios in the second half, Wilson scrambled as he was chased by outside linebacker Samson Ebukam. The outcomes each favored Wilson.

On the first, Wilson completed a 3-yard touchdown pass to Moore and later, as he scrambled, he threw the 30-yard score to Moore.

With the injuries in the secondary, the Rams’ defense might still struggle with making consistent stops. Facing the struggling offenses of the Denver Broncos and San Francisco 49ers in the next two weeks might help get over some of the ailments, but then bigger tests loom. With matchups with Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Patrick Mahomes, putting together a complete performance on defense will be crucial.



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Arizona Cardinals QB Josh Rosen confident ahead of first career start


TEMPE, Ariz. — Now that Josh Rosen is the Arizona Cardinals‘ starting quarterback, he isn’t about to change what got him there. Rosen held his first news conference as a starter on Wednesday. And while his loquaciousness from college seems to have been left behind at UCLA, Rosen showed he can still offer his opinion in a less bombastic way.

“I am me, and I’m not trying to model my game,” Rosen said. “I admire quarterbacks, but I don’t try to emulate or act like they do. I do me.

“It’s gotten me to this point, so why change?”

In Rosen’s first start Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks, he’ll have control of an offense that sits last in the NFL in points, total yards, yards per game, rushing yards per game, receiving yards per game, net yards per pass attempt, interceptions per pass attempt, first downs per game, third-down conversions, third-down conversion percentage, red zone drives, red zone touchdowns, offensive efficiency, point margin and time of possession.

To improve the offense, Rosen said he’ll simply try to run the correct run plays and complete passes. However, the 21-year-old is being given the keys to an offense featuring running back David Johnson and future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald, with a few conditions.

“I can do anything I want,” Rosen said. “But, for the most part, a lot of the stuff’s built in. So, alerts, checks, all that stuff, we go over it. I’m never just shooting by the hip, but I definitely have some freedom in the offense to do what’s got to be done.”

Every play Rosen runs, however, will have been vetted by him — something he has been doing throughout his career.

“I will not run a play on a football field unless I know why we’re running it and what we’re trying to accomplish,” Rosen said. “That’s just how I function. I don’t run a 4.5 [40-yard dash], so if things go bad, I can’t just hit the exit button. So, I like to understand a playbook in its entirety.”

And coach Steve Wilks doesn’t mind that.

“I saw that from day one when he first got here, even from the rookie minicamp, which is great,” Wilks said. “You want guys asking the question, ‘Why?’ I always try to tell the coaches to make sure we’re coaching the why.”

Rosen said he got a lot of text messages and phone calls wishing him luck and telling him he deserved it.

When talking about what the Cardinals are getting in him, Rosen said: “For the most part, I’m just trying to complete balls to the receivers, get the ball moving down the field, maybe extend plays a little bit, use my brain.”

He also expressed confidence in handling his new role.

“I think I’m a pretty good overall quarterback,” Rosen said, “and I’m looking forward to getting on the field.”

Rosen saw last week, when he took over for Sam Bradford with 4:31 left in the game, that the NFL, regardless of salaries, is still football.

“Regardless of how much everyone is getting paid around you, it’s still football, just wearing different jerseys,” Rosen said. “That was probably the most relieving thing getting on the field, was just completing a ball and sort of understanding it’s still the same game I’ve been playing since the third grade.”

Rosen said he has been preparing to start every week because “anything can happen.”

And something happened.

“It doesn’t change my preparation,” Rosen said. “I’m always balls to the wall all the time.”



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Greg Olsen of Carolina Panthers ‘way ahead of curve’ in recovery from broken foot


CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen doesn’t have an exact timetable for his return from refracturing his right foot. But the three-time Pro Bowl selection is certain it will be sooner than last season, when he missed nine games.

“Yeah, I’m way ahead of the curve,” Olsen said Monday night at his HEARTest Yard yoga fundraiser on the team practice fields behind Bank of America Stadium. “Last year at two weeks I was laying in my bed in a cast. I couldn’t do anything.

“I’m way ahead of the curve from that standpoint. It’s just a matter of seeing each week how your foot responds and just try to add a little more, a little more. What that time frame is, we’re optimistic. Hopefully, it’s sooner rather than later.”

Olsen, 33, suffered the fracture in the first quarter of the opener against Dallas when he stepped on the foot of a defender while running a route. It was determined he would not have surgery as he did a year ago and would be evaluated on a monthly basis in terms of his return.

It will be almost a month on Oct. 7 when the Panthers (2-1) return from their bye to face the New York Giants.

“I’m doing good, feeling good,” said Olsen, who from 2014-16 became the first tight end in NFL history to have three consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons. “Obviously, the bye week came at a good time to be able to get a good week of work without stressing out about missing a game potentially.”

Olsen didn’t take part in the yoga event at which about 500 people paid $25 each to participate. But he moved around without a walking boot and no sign of a limp as he talked to participants.

Olsen and his wife, Kara, began hosting such events with Levine Children’s Hospital after one of their twins, T.J., was born with a congenital heart defect in 2012. While the time rehabbing the foot has given him more time to be involved with the fundraiser, he admittedly would “rather be playing” football.

Until Monday, he hadn’t discussed the injury with media.

“It’s frustrating,” Olsen said. “I went eight months of never missing an OTA, minicamp, training camp, preseason, never missed a day, never was sore. Felt great. Had probably my best offseason from a production standpoint, a physical standpoint, in years.

“You step funny and catch a guy’s foot … it’s frustrating.”

There was no frustration on this night as Olsen looked at the event’s backdrop, Bank of America Stadium.

“This is super cool,” he said. “When we approached the team [about using the practice fields] they said, ‘Of course.’ The Panthers have been great to our family with of our community events. So to be able to use the facility here and kind of tie it all in together has made it all easier.

“A cool experience for a lot of people who otherwise never would have come to the practice fields.”

Now Olsen can’t wait to return to the practice facility fields for something other than rehab.

“I feel good about where we’re at considering we’re two weeks into this thing,” Olsen said. “I’m just going to try to make the most of this season.”



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Fantasy football — Fantasy intel for all 32 NFL teams ahead of Week 2, including how to value James Conner, Phillip Lindsey, Quincy Enunwa


The Fantasy 32 analyzes the NFL from a fantasy perspective, with at least one note on each of the league’s 32 teams. Use these tidbits to make the best waiver-wire, trade and lineup decisions for the upcoming week and beyond. Be sure to check back each week of the season for a new version of the Fantasy 32.

The infirmary

Leonard Fournette, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars: Fournette lasted only 20 snaps before leaving Sunday’s game with a hamstring injury. T.J. Yeldon stepped in and played 40 snaps. He carried the ball 14 times and was targeted on six of 15 pass routes. Corey Grant (six snaps) played a minimal role behind him. Fournette may be back in time for New England this week, but if he’s out, Yeldon is headed for a hefty workload in one of the league’s run-heaviest offenses and would certainly make for an RB2 option.

Greg Olsen, TE, Carolina Panthers: Olsen suffered a leg injury in Week 1 and is expected to miss extended time. The 33-year-old went down on his 13th snap and was then replaced by fourth-round rookie Ian Thomas. Thomas ran a route on 23 of the team’s 28 pass plays in the game. Chris Manhertz also was involved, but blocked on 27 of 31 routes. Thomas isn’t in the TE1 discussion, but is worth adding in leagues that start two tight ends.

Delanie Walker, TE, Tennessee Titans: Walker is out for the 2018 season after breaking his leg against Miami. Walker played 38 snaps on Sunday before giving way to second-year Jonnu Smith. Smith ended up running 15 routes and handling three targets on 39 snaps. Blocker Luke Stocker played 25 snaps (six routes) and Anthony Firkser was inactive. With Walker out, Smith — a 2017 third-round pick — figures to slide in as the team’s primary pass-catching tight end. Smith caught 18 of 29 targets for 157 yards and two touchdowns last season. There’s certainly some upside here for Smith, but he’s unlikely to see anything close to Walker’s 23 percent target share from last season. Consider him a TE2 for the time being.

Doug Baldwin, WR, Seattle Seahawks: Baldwin entered Week 1 with a left knee injury and exited it with right knee injury. Baldwin was limited to 10 snaps prior to spraining his MCL. If he’s out against Chicago this week, Tyler Lockett (37 routes in Week 1), Brandon Marshall (26) and Jaron Brown (nine) will pick up the bulk of the work. This is a tough matchup against a terrific Chicago defense, so only Lockett should be considered a strong flex option.

Opportunity alert

Throughout this piece, I’ll be referencing “OFP” and “OTD.” OFP stands for opportunity-adjusted fantasy points. Imagine a league in which players are created equal. OFP is a statistic that weighs every pass/carry/target and converts the data into one number that indicates a player’s opportunity to score fantasy points, or his “expected” fantasy point total. For example, if a player has an OFP of 14.5, it means that a league-average player who saw the same workload in the same area of the field would have scored 14.5 fantasy points. OTD works the same way, except instead of fantasy points, it’s touchdowns.

That said, here is the Week 1 OFP leaderboard:

Falcons WR Julio Jones paces the field through Week 1. Atlanta’s top wideout leads all players with 19 targets, and the heavy usage would’ve helped an average player to 10 catches for 164 yards and 1.4 touchdowns. Jones failed to score a touchdown in Week 1, but still fell only seven points short of his expected total (FORP). Volume is king in fantasy football and Jones will get it each and every week. And, yes, the touchdowns will follow.

Steelers RB James Conner was on the field for 74 of the team’s 80 snaps in Week 1. No other Steelers tailback played a snap. That allowed a Le’Veon Bell-like 36 touches for 192 yards and two touchdowns. Conner’s success aligns well with past Bell replacements, as DeAngelo Williams was fantasy’s top-scoring running back during Bell’s four missed games in 2016 and his 10 missed games in 2015. Conner’s efficiency was good (4.4 YPC, 11.4 YPR) in Week 1, but his heavy volume is even more important. Assuming Bell remains at home, Conner is a solid RB1 play against Kansas City in Week 2.

Titans WR Corey Davis posted an underwhelming 6-62-0 line in Week 1, but it wasn’t a product of too little volume. Davis racked up 13 targets and ranked 10th in the league in OTD (1.1). Davis handled one end zone target and two additional looks while inside the opponent’s 5-yard line. The volume is reason for optimism, but Davis needs a healthy Marcus Mariota on the field. Of his 13 targets, six were caught and four were “off target.” Davis’ 33 percent off-target rate paced all wide receivers last season. Davis’ 7.5 average depth of target suggests he’ll be heavily utilized in the short area, which is good news for his PPR value. Hold tight on Davis.

Deep dive

Patriots WR Phillip Dorsett ran a route on 37 of the team’s 41 pass plays in Week 1. The heavy usage resulted in seven catches for 66 yards and a score on seven targets. The massive playing time in an offense led by Tom Brady means Dorsett has vaulted onto the fantasy radar. Dorsett figures to fall behind Chris Hogan (39 routes, but only five targets) most weeks and isn’t a recommended start against the Jaguars in Week 2, but the ex-Colt’s role will keep him in the flex discussion until Julian Edelman’s return in Week 5.

Giants RB Saquon Barkley started slowly, but a 68-yard touchdown run vaulted him to 128 yards on 20 touches in his NFL debut. As expected, Barkley was a workhorse, handling 18 of the 21 carries by Giants backs. The 2018 second-overall pick was quiet as a receiver (two receptions), but ran 25 of 39 possible routes and handled six targets (17 percent share), which was third on the team. So far, so good for Barkley’s chances of finishing as a top-five fantasy back.

Eagles RB Jay Ajayi carried the ball 15 times and scored twice in Week 1, but a deeper look at his usage should raise some concerns. Ajayi was limited to 27 of 64 possible snaps (10 routes) and was not targeted. Ajayi’s 10.0 OFP ranked outside the top 30 at the position. He’s a poor bet to average one touchdown per game (let alone two), so his usage will need to increase if he’s going to sustain RB2-or-better production. Head coach Doug Pederson said he limited Ajayi early, so a boost in touches is possible, but it’s still hard to imagine he’ll provide consistent RB2 numbers with Darren Sproles and Corey Clement involved.

Chargers WR Mike Williams (five catches, 81 yards) and RB Austin Ekeler (10 touches, 126 yards, TD) both posted strong Week 1 numbers, but neither can be considered weekly starters. Los Angeles ran 73 offensive snaps in the game. Williams was on the field for 41 (fourth most among the team’s wide receivers) and Ekeler handled 22 (32 fewer than Melvin Gordon). Both are situational players who need more snaps in order to allow consistent fantasy production.

Redskins RB Adrian Peterson exploded for 96 yards and one touchdown on 26 carries, and 70 yards on two receptions in his Washington debut. Peterson out-snapped Chris Thompson 40 to 31 and out-carried him 26 to five, but was limited to seven pass routes (Thompson ran 22). Peterson’s carry total benefited in a big way from a sizable lead over Arizona and his big plays on a minimal receiving workload can’t be counted on going forward. Peterson’s early-down carries are safe and his efficiency was good, so Peterson remains in the RB2 discussion, but he’s safer as a flex in PPR formats.

Snap attack

49ers running backs: Alfred Morris handled 31 snaps (12 carries, 15 routes, 0 targets) and Matt Breida 28 snaps (11 carries, 14 routes, two targets) in the season opener. At least for the time being, this is a two-headed backfield. Granted the schedule will be easier moving forward, but Morris and Breida should be viewed as no more than flex options.

Vikings running backs: Dalvin Cook played 57 snaps and racked up 95 yards on 22 touches in his first game back after last season’s Week 4 torn ACL. Latavius Murray carried the ball 11 times (42 yards) and wasn’t targeted on 14 snaps. Cook ran a hefty 28 of the 31 pass routes run by the team’s tailbacks. It’s clear Cook is picking up where he left off last season as one of the league’s rare workhorse backs. Cook is a weekly RB1 play with top-five upside. Murray is no more than a handcuff.

Bengals wide receivers: John Ross scored his first NFL touchdown on Sunday, but he’s not yet a viable weekly flex option. Ross was limited to two targets and was on the field for 20 of the team’s 30 pass plays. That put him behind both A.J. Green (29 routes) and Tyler Boyd (28 routes). Stash Ross’ upside on your bench.

Dolphins running backs: Kenyan Drake’s Week 1 wasn’t particularly impressive (17 touches, 66 yards), but he was easily Miami’s lead back. Drake played 43 snaps (18 routes), compared to Frank Gore’s 18 snaps (six routes). Gore ran the ball well (61 yards on nine carries), but recent history suggests he won’t be able to sustain good efficiency. Drake remains in the RB2 mix.

Cowboys wide receivers: One of the toughest units to project entering Week 1 was the Dallas wideouts. On 35 pass plays against Carolina, the pass routes were distributed as follows: Cole Beasley (25), Allen Hurns (23), Deonte Thompson (19), Michael Gallup (14), Terrance Williams (10) and Tavon Austin (five). Beasley was the only Cowboy receive more than five targets (he had eight), but his short-area role and lack of touchdown upside (20 career touchdowns on 261 receptions) makes him a poor flex option outside of deep PPR leagues. Hurns and Gallup are still worth bench spots as they settle into a role.

Broncos running backs: A pair of rookies, Royce Freeman (29 snaps) and Phillip Lindsay (25), paced this backfield in Week 1, with pedestrian third-year back Devontae Booker (18 snaps) also heavily involved. Freeman and Lindsay both posted 15-71-0 lines on the ground. Lindsay and Booker each caught two passes and Freeman wasn’t targeted. The three-headed attack limits the fantasy upside of everyone involved, but it’s possible Freeman (boost in non-PPR) and Lindsay (boost in PPR) can provide flex or better value if their roles increase as the season progresses. This has a 2017 Jordan Howard (Freeman), Tarik Cohen (Linsday) and Benny Cunningham (Booker) feel to it.

Ravens wide receivers: John Brown scored a touchdown, but was targeted only four times against Buffalo on Sunday. Granted, the Ravens’ huge lead allowed them to run the ball often and rest players in the second half, but Brown was behind both Michael Crabtree and Willie Snead (six each) in targets. This shouldn’t be a big concern considering Brown ran 35 of 42 possible routes, trailing only Crabtree (37) in the category. Brown should be on benches in a tougher matchup against Cincinnati this week.

Saints wide receivers: Ted Ginn Jr. picked up where he left off last season by catching five of six targets for 68 yards and a score against the Buccaneers in Week 1. Ginn was on the field for 40 of the team’s 46 pass plays, which was behind Michael Thomas (43 routes), but well ahead of Austin Carr (32), Tre’Quan Smith (five), Tommylee Lewis (four) and Cameron Meredith (inactive). Ginn has finished as a top-35 fantasy receiver two of the past three seasons and early indications suggest he’s on his way to making it three of four. Scoop up Ginn if he’s on your waiver wire and consider him for your flex.

Cardinals wide receivers: No big surprise here, but Chad Williams ran as the Cardinals’ No. 2 receiver in Week 1. The 2017 third-round pick played 48 of 51 snaps and was on the field for all 36 pass plays. He didn’t catch either of his two targets, but the playing time provides optimism. The second-year receiver will feel heat from rookie Christian Kirk (43 snaps, 35 routes), but should be on your radar as a sleeper breakout candidate.

Packers wide receivers: Geronimo Allison ran a route on 32 of the Packers’ 40 pass plays on Monday night. He was behind only Davante Adams (40 routes) and Randall Cobb (32), with Marquez Valdes-Scantling (two) way off the radar. It’s clear Allison is the No. 3 receiver here, which confirms he needs to be on fantasy rosters. Adams and Cobb are weekly fantasy starters and Allison is a fringe flex.

Browns WR Josh Gordon was “limited” in his 2018 debut … but not really. Gordon was on the field for 66 of the team’s 85 snaps, including 38 of 45 pass plays. He was targeted only three times, but scored a touchdown on his only catch. Gordon’s usage will only increase as the season progresses and Cleveland will have to throw often at New Orleans in Week 2. He’s a WR3/flex option.

Raiders running backs: Seemingly out of nowhere, Jalen Richard paced Oakland’s backfield with 37 snaps in Week 1. He delivered the goods, especially on passing downs, posting a 5-24-0 line on the ground and 9-55-0 line through the air. Richard is a name to scoop up in PPR leagues, as it appears he’s the team’s primary passing-down back. Marshawn Lynch (27 snaps, 11 carries) and Doug Martin (10, 4) will handle most of the carries.

Rams wide receivers: No surprise here, but the Rams picked up where they left off in 2017 when they paced the NFL in three-wide receiver sets. Robert Woods, Brandin Cooks and Cooper Kupp were each on the field for 61 of the Rams’ 63 offensive snaps against Oakland. All three are viable weekly starters in one of the league’s top offenses.

Burning questions

Is Jets WR Quincy Enunwa back on the fantasy radar? Absolutely. Enunwa was targeted 10 times in Week 1, which was seven more than any other Jets player. “No. 1” receiver Robby Anderson was on the field plenty, but was limited to one target. Enunwa, who posted a 58-857-4 line in 2016 prior to missing all of last season with a neck injury, appears to be Sam Darnold’s favorite target, and a target share around 20 percent is certainly reasonable. That would be enough to put Enunwa squarely in the flex discussion.

Can the Lions support three starting-caliber fantasy wide receivers? Maybe! During the 11 weeks Golden Tate, Marvin Jones Jr. and Kenny Golladay all played last season, they ranked 14th, 17th and 43rd, respectively, in fantasy points. On Monday night against the Jets, the trio combined for 35 of the team’s 52 targets (67 percent). Jones and Tate were both top-12 fantasy receivers overall last season, while Golladay has looked the part of a rising star and has big scoring upside at 6-foot-4. Jones and Tate remain weekly starters and Golladay is in the flex discussion depending on the matchup.

Is Seahawks TE Will Dissly a must-add following his 105-yard NFL debut? In deep leagues and dynasty, yes. In season-long 10- and 12-team leagues, no. Dissly hit on some big plays and handled a nice 15 percent target share, but he was actually second to Nick Vannett in both snaps (33 to 32) and routes (23 to 19). Dissly is a fine flier for those who lost Walker or Olsen in Week 1, but he’ll be a risky start until his role increases.

Is Colts WR Ryan Grant a weekly fantasy starter after posting a 8-59-0 (nine targets) line in Week 1? Not just yet, but he might be soon, so get him on your roster. Grant was the Colts’ No. 2 wideout against the Bengals, running 42 of 55 possible routes. That trailed only T.Y. Hilton (55 routes) and Jack Doyle (50) and was ahead of No. 3 receiver Chester Rogers (36). Andrew Luck looked good in his first game back and the Colts are going to throw the ball a ton this season, so his top weapons should be rostered.

Is it time for those who drafted Bills RB LeSean McCoy to panic? Not just yet. The Bills’ offense was about as bad as possible with Nathan Peterman under center, but was at least slightly competent with Josh Allen in the game (granted against many defensive backups). McCoy played 32 snaps before resting late and led the Buffalo backfield in carries, routes and targets. He’s still a RB2 option at home against the Chargers this week.

Can we trust Texans RB Lamar Miller after a strong Week 1? At least for now, yes. Miller was on the field for 54 of Houston’s 71 offensive snaps and handled 26 of the 33 pass routes run by the team’s running backs. Miller’s efficiency was much better than years past; he averaged 4.90 YPC (3.00 YAC). If this keeps up, Miller can produce RB2 numbers, but remember that D’Onta Foreman is due back around midseason.

Should those who took a gamble on Bears TE Trey Burton look for another option in Week 2? No. Burton’s tenure with Chicago is off to a slow start, but there’s no need to panic. The ex-Eagle was on the field for 57 of the team’s 65 snaps, including 33 of 39 pass plays. He caught only one pass for 15 yards, but was targeted five times. Burton’s playing time suggests he’s still a TE1 option in Week 2 and beyond.

Does Chiefs QB Pat Mahomes’ presence mean disaster for Travis Kelce? No. Kelce was limited to one catch for 6 yards in Week 1, but was on the field for all but one snap and handled six targets (24 percent share). Kelce remains a top-end TE1.

Is Buccaneers RB Peyton Barber the workhorse in Tampa Bay? If Week 1 is a sign of what’s to come, the answer is a resounding “yes.” Barber handled 47 of the team’s 62 offensive snaps, including 12 of the 16 pass routes by the team’s tailbacks. His 19 carries were 17 more than next-closest running back Jacquizz Rodgers. Barber won’t see a ton of targets, but he’ll contribute more as a receiver when the team isn’t ahead on the scoreboard throughout most of the game. That could be the case against the Eagles in Week 2. Consider him a flex option in PPR and an upgrade in non-PPR.



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Vikings’ long-term strategy full of tough decisions ahead – Minnesota Vikings Blog


EAGAN, Minn. — The theme for the 2018 Minnesota Vikings? On to the next one.

Minutes after Kirk Cousins was introduced in March after signing his record-setting $84 million deal, Vikings general manager Rick Spielman was back in the office of vice president of football operations Rob Brzezinski — more commonly known as the team’s salary-cap wizard — working to restructure Latavius Murray‘s contract. Less than 24 hours later, Minnesota signed defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson.

After locking up Danielle Hunter in June for the remainder of his early prime, the Vikings tackled the next priority on their to-do list. Stefon Diggs on Tuesday signed a five-year extension worth a total of $81 million.

The Vikings have made a commitment to keep their Super Bowl window open as long as possible by signing the players they believe in. Thirteen players are under contract through at least 2020, continuity that is rare in the NFL.

Will that number extend to 14 before free agency in March? That’s the (multi)million dollar question.

Since the start of the 2018 league year, no other team has doled out more guaranteed money than the Vikings. According to ESPN’s Roster Management System, Minnesota has guaranteed $212 million, which includes the $40 million guaranteed to Diggs with his new deal. Diggs will play 2018 on the final year of his $1.9 million rookie salary before his new deal kicks in next season (it’s technically five years, $72 million but with $81 million in total value). Diggs’ $15 million signing bonus will be spread out over five years to help alleviate some pressure off the cap, therefore he’ll carry a $3 million hit this season.

Including Diggs, the Vikings have nine players in 2019 with contracts that average more than $10 million per year in each of their first three seasons.

After locking up Diggs, the Vikings are $9.88 million under the cap in 2018. Might the next deal be for linebacker Anthony Barr, who is set to make $12.3 million playing out his fifth-year option?

Whether the Vikings have the financial wherewithal to make this happen won’t affect what Barr and his representation believe he deserves. That is, unless he wants to take a pay cut to stay in Minnesota.

After a strong career at UCLA where he totaled 23 1/2 sacks from 2012-13, Barr was drafted by Minnesota as 4-3 linebacker. In essence, he was not drafted with a primary role of rushing the passer, and considering how many other elements he brings to a defense that was No. 1 in yards gained and points against in 2017, his value is pretty high.

The fact that he doesn’t have the sack numbers (10 1/2 over four years, just one last season) might be a reason why a deal hasn’t gotten done yet. Other linebackers whose roles somewhat mirror Barr — outside linebackers who don’t have sizeable pass-rushing duties — are making upwards of $11 million per year. Telvin Smith and Vontaze Burfict are two similar players.

For Barr, who has been working with the defensive line during the early days of camp, expanding his repertoire may help him command a bigger deal down the road.

Given where he stands among other 4-3 outside linebackers, it’s reasonable to expect Barr to command $11.5 million to $12 million per year, according to Jason Fitzgerald of OverTheCap.com. The high end of what he could earn might be about $13 million. A team-friendly deal would be about $10 million per year. This offseason, Minnesota paid Barr’s linebacking cohort, Eric Kendricks, a $50 million extension over five years. Pure inside linebackers such as Kendricks don’t often see bank-breaking deals. Barr’s representation could argue that the 26-year-old’s skill set is more diversified and thus deserving of a bigger figure.

Whether Minnesota wants to go as high as the $12 million range remains to be seen. The Browns and Jaguars have paid a higher price for arguably lesser players who have similar roles. The deal Cleveland awarded Jamie Collins, who had 31 tackles, one sack and one interception in 2017, made him the highest paid outside linebacker at $12.5 million per year with $26.4 million of his $50 million contract guaranteed.

Another option is to have Barr play the 2018 season and then utilize the franchise tag, which Minnesota hasn’t done often. Assuming the salary cap goes up by $10 million again next year, the cost to tag Barr would be approximately $15.5 million, according to Fitzgerald. With the team’s spending money estimated around $25 million in 2019, including carryover from this year, that could make things pretty tight but not impossible.

Adding sack numbers certainly helps Barr’s case. Pro Football Focus charted Barr as a pass-rusher on 11 percent of his total snaps in 2017. That number has dipped slightly from where he was as a rookie (14.6 percent). So it’s not like Barr hasn’t handled the task of going after the quarterback before, even if the sack numbers aren’t there.

Whether the Vikings retain Barr doesn’t answer all of their questions. Richardson is a free agent after his one-year, $8 million prove-it deal. Given the importance of the three-technique in Mike Zimmer’s defense, Minnesota may decide re-signing him is necessary.

Then there’s the issue of Adam Thielen and trying to keep some semblance of internal salary consistency. Thielen has two years remaining on his current contract that pays him $4.81 million per year. Given what Diggs is slated to earn after Thielen’s 91-catch season in 2017 and what’s ahead this season, a holdout ahead of 2019 almost feels inevitable. According to Fitzgerald, an extension of three or four new years could be a possibility, allowing Minnesota to roll the wide receiver’s existing money into a contract to make it an overall five- or six-year deal.

And what about other areas of concern? Minnesota’s lack of offensive line depth should not be overlooked. Should the remaining spending money go toward a player left on the free-agent market or even ahead of next season? Down the road, what are they going to do about Trae Waynes, whose fifth-year option was picked up earlier this offseason? At this time next year, Waynes could be in a similar situation to Barr, hoping to work out an extension before hitting free agency. Whether they get to that point largely depends on how Waynes plays this season. There are other possible restructures elsewhere on the roster, including the contracts of tight end Kyle Rudolph and safety Andrew Sendejo.

In Spielman and Brzezinski’s line of work, these types of questions are a constant. Inevitably, Minnesota won’t be able to keep every part of its core in the coming seasons. Relying on their draft strategy will certainly help replace pieces they have to let go because of spending restrictions or other reasons. But the manner in which they’ve approached etching out new deals to keep this team together as long as they can is the strategy they’ll use to check more items off their to-do list.

“We’ve looked through 2019. We’ve looked through 2020,” Spielman said. “I think Rob does an unbelievable job in the way he structures these contracts. I think it rewards the player, but it’s also ideal on how we want our contracts structured. Any time you go into a negotiation, to me, it’s not like, ‘Well, we beat you or you beat us.’ It’s a win-win for both sides when you can go in with an attitude of, ‘Listen guy your guy deserves the money he’s going to get but we also need some things, too.’ So when you can come to a common ground where you’re both working — I mean, we don’t want to lose these players, but we have some parameters we have to work in.”



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Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers fail to reach long-term deal ahead of franchise tag deadline


The Pittsburgh Steelers and Le’Veon Bell failed to reach an agreement on a contract extension before Monday’s 4 p.m. ET franchise tag deadline, and his agent said that means this likely will be the running back’s final season with the team.

“His intention was to retire as a Steeler,” Adisa Bakari told ESPN’s Adam Schefter. “But now that there’s no deal, the practical reality is this now likely will be Le’Veon’s last season as a Steeler.”

Bell will play under the franchise tag for the second consecutive year, barring an unforeseen development. He tweeted after Monday’s deadline passed that “2018 will be my best season to date.” The tentative plan is for Bell to skip training camp but be ready for the start of the season, a source said.

The parties reopened negotiations last week and talked throughout Monday, hoping to spark something, but there hasn’t been much momentum toward a contract over the past few months.

“It became clear the Steelers wanted to pay the position, not the player,” Bakari said.

The Bell negotiation was one of the most complicated in recent Steelers history because of Bell’s leverage under the franchise tag, a sagging running back market and Bell’s conviction to be paid as one of the game’s best playmakers, regardless of position. It has been more than 500 days since the Steelers first tagged Bell at $12.1 million on Feb. 27, 2017.

“Even though we could not reach a long-term contract agreement with Le’Veon Bell, we are excited he will be with the team in 2018,” Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said in a statement. “We worked very hard to find common ground, but we were unable to accomplish that prior to today’s deadline. Le’Veon will play this season under the exclusive franchise tag designation.

“After the 2018 season is completed, we again will attempt to work out a long-term contract with Le’Veon in the hope that he will continue his career with the Pittsburgh Steelers.”

The Steelers made two sizable contract offers — one last summer and one this winter — beginning at around $13.3 million per year on average and working their way up slightly. Bell turned both of them down, telling ESPN in April that he wouldn’t take a contract worth less than $14.5 million annually, based on the amount of his 2018 tag number. For months after that, negotiations lacked real momentum.

The Steelers felt their offers were good and didn’t want to overinflate the salary for a position that hasn’t landed a long-term deal worth more than $10 million per year since Chris Johnson and Adrian Peterson in 2011.

With that in mind, Bell knew he could play out two franchise tags worth a combined $26.62 million and have a chance at true free agency as a 27-year-old in 2019, setting the stage for peers Todd Gurley and Ezekiel Elliott in future years.

The Bell saga twisted unexpectedly in January, when the star back told ESPN that he would consider retirement if asked to play on the tag for the second straight year. He has since softened that stance, though he hinted at missing a second straight training camp in absence of a long-term deal.

“Just get the numbers straight, exactly where we want them,” Bell said then. “I’m not going to settle for anything. I know what I do and what I bring to the table. I’m not going out here getting the ball 400 times if I’m not getting what I feel I’m valued at.”

Bell didn’t sign last season’s tag until Sept. 4 and showed some rust with 3.46 yards per carry through the first three weeks. But he finished the year as an All-Pro, rushing 321 times for 1,291 yards along with 85 catches for 655 yards and 11 total touchdowns.

He has 7,996 yards from scrimmage through 62 career regular-season games, the most of any NFL player in that span since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, outdistancing Eric Dickerson (7,842), according to ESPN Stats & Information.

After the season, Colbert told Bell that the team wanted him to retire a Steeler. Team president Art Rooney echoed the sentiment in an end-of-year interview with local media.

Despite both sides wanting to finish a contract, Steelers players got used to life without Bell. They want him to get paid but also want him on the field with them.

“I think last year a lot of guys were like, ‘Oh, Le’Veon’s not here,'” wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey said during offseason workouts. “Nobody cares. We’re out here, and we have to get work done. … We’ll see him when we see him. Next man up.”  

Added safety Morgan Burnett: “You definitely understand because it’s definitely a business. Within your career, it seems long, but it’s only a short period of your life. So the stuff you accomplish, the money you make within this time, you want to find a way to make it expand the rest of your life.”

The Steelers report to Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, for training camp on July 25. Bell has used boxing and a vegan diet this offseason to stay in shape, holding off from most football exercises to keep his knees fresh.

Asked about the likelihood of Bell missing camp, Steelers guard David DeCastro said, “We’ll see him when he gets here. You can’t worry about guys who aren’t here. It is what it is.

“You wish he was here. What can you do? It’s a business.”

Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown was asked his reaction to Bell failing to get a long-term deal signed.

“To each his own. He needs to take care of his business,” Brown told ESPN’s Josina Anderson. “We’ll welcome him when he comes and decides to move forward for 2018.

“He’ll play pissed off, extremely motivated, super hungry, [in] crazy condition and ready to show why he deserves to be paid like the best.”





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Texans’ Deshaun Watson ‘light years’ ahead of rookie season – Houston Texans Blog


HOUSTON — Houston Texans coach Bill O’Brien has long said a key for a young player is the jump between the first and second year, and for his star pupil — quarterback Deshaun Watson — that step forward will be especially important.

A year ago, Watson was learning the playbook and hearing his coach say time and time again Tom Savage was the Texans starter. Although Watson was improving through the offseason program and training camp, O’Brien said — at least publicly — that the rookie quarterback was competing for a backup spot. Now, though Watson is rehabbing from a torn right ACL, the Texans are building their offense around him.

“I’m light years away from where I was last year, coming in as a rookie,” Watson said. “Everything was going so fast, a lot of information at that time. But having a full season and offseason with coach OB [O’Brien] and coach Sean Ryan, being able to advance my game and take my game to another level, it’s been great.”

Student of the game

Perhaps the most important step Watson has taken from Year 1 to Year 2 is his knowledge of opposing defenses: different techniques from defensive backs or what each defensive look means. That knowledge will help him know what is coming when the ball is snapped, leading to quicker decisions. O’Brien and Ryan, the quarterbacks coach, have worked on it with Watson in the classroom with film, tests, communication and board work.

“I don’t think you can really be as successful as you want to be at that position unless you have a real good understanding of defensive football,” O’Brien said. “I think that you have to obviously know your playbook, you have to know your offense, you have to know everything from the cadence to formations, to motions, to the plays, to protections, to everything. But at the end of the day, you have to know how the defense is going to line up against your offense.

“You have to really study that. It takes a lot of work. Nobody masters that in one year. Nobody masters that really ever, because defense is always evolving now, just like offense is. We spent a lot of time on that, and hopefully that shows up in the fall.”

Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins said Watson’s extra studying has shown this offseason and during organized team activities, even as the second-year quarterback has been working his way back from his ACL tear. Hopkins said he has noticed Watson is not “just coming out and making the plays that he naturally can do” — something the Texans already know is a strength — but is “studying defenses” and “being a student of the game.”

“Just the conversations we have in between workouts and just warming up, it’s constantly going over defenses, talking about what we can do to get better,” Hopkins said. “I definitely can see him wanting to be the best.”

Watson was one of the best in the seven games he played in before he needed season-ending surgery last November. At the time of his injury, his 19 passing touchdowns were tied with Philadelphia quarterback Carson Wentz for the NFL lead. Watson was also on pace to shatter the record for touchdown passes by a rookie quarterback (26).

Becoming a leader

Off the field, O’Brien has seen Watson “grow as a person.” The transition from college life to the responsibilities and self-motivation necessary to succeed in the NFL is sometimes a problem for rookies. That was not the case for Watson, whom Ryan called a “young professional.”

“[Watson] has a consistent, daily approach,” O’Brien said. “He’s in the building every morning at 6 a.m. He’s taking care of his body. He’s eating correctly. He’s in the meetings. He’s focused in the meetings. He’s ready to go. He has good ideas. There’s good interaction in the meetings, and he’s come out here on the field and been able to do what he can do.

“Obviously, training camp will be a big period of time for all of us, especially for he and I moving forward through getting into 11-on-11, full pads, but he’s had a good spring.”

That growth has shown on the field, too. Now that Watson is cemented as the Texans starter — and O’Brien has tweaked the offense to his QB’s strengths — he is looking to take on even more of a leadership role.

“On the field, of course, being the starter, coming into the offseason, into a new season [it’s different], and being able to lead guys around me, and continue to take their games to another level as I take mine,” Watson said.

What if Watson can stay healthy and play in 16 games with Hopkins in this offense? The All-Pro receiver, who caught 96 passes last season even though Watson missed more than half the games, said he is excited about the potential.

“I think we can be the best in this league,” Hopkins said. “I think he can be the best quarterback. I know I can be the best wide receiver. And that’s our mindset coming into the season.

“It gives me chills sometimes just to think what we did in the little time we had together, but seeing him mature — not just on the field but off the field — I can’t wait.”



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New York Jets Quincy Enunwa ahead of schedule, expected to contribute – New York Jets Blog


For a team that finished 24th in scoring last season, the New York Jets haven’t added any dynamic pieces at the skill positions. The top newcomers, Isaiah Crowell and Terrelle Pryor, combined for two touchdowns last season. Truth be told, their best “new” player isn’t so new at all.

Quincy Enunwa, wide receiver.

After missing last season because of a preseason neck injury that required surgery, Enunwa’s expected return should provide a boost to what appears to be a pedestrian offense — on paper, anyway. Coming off a 58-catch, 857-yard season in 2016, he was slated to be their No. 1 receiver in 2017. Then came a freakish injury in training camp, which revealed a bulging disk.

Enunwa has been participating in the offseason program, but the next key date is May 22 — the start of OTA practices. He expects to participate in some fashion.

“It feels good,” he said earlier this week at a charity event in New York. “It’s as 100 percent as I’m supposed to be. I’m probably ahead of schedule, but I’m doing everything with the guys, running routes, catching the ball. There’s really no setbacks right now.”

Enunwa has a chance to be a really good player in the Jets’ West Coast system, which is predicated on big receivers making yards after the catch. At 6-foot-2, he fits the profile, but there will be some transition.

In 2016, Enunwa thrived in Chan Gailey’s spread offense, which employed four wide receivers and often deployed Enunwa in a hybrid role as a tight end/receiver. He did most of his damage in the middle of the field, with 36 of his 58 catches coming out of the slot, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Under new offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates, he might have to adjust to a more traditional receiver role.

The Jets have four starting-caliber receivers with Enunwa, Pryor, Robby Anderson and Jermaine Kearse, but Enunwa has the most upside because he can do a little of everything. He can work the underneath zones and also has the ability to get deep. In 2016, he posted the highest catch rate (80 percent) on deep targets, per Pro Football Focus — and he did that with Ryan Fitzpatrick, Geno Smith and Bryce Petty at quarterback.

The current offense could use an explosive player. In fact, there’s only one 1,000-yard season among the 22 veteran runners and pass-catchers on the roster — a 1,007-yard receiving year by Pryor, who did it for the Cleveland Browns in 2016.

Enunwa won’t be rushed back this spring because the goal is to have him ready for training camp. With the nature of his injury, he won’t truly be back until he withstands a hit.

“I don’t have medical knowledge, but I feel like this injury compared to a knee is a little bit easier to come back from,” he said. “The worst part about it is, if you don’t heal all the way, then hits are bad. But just in terms of physically being able to play, I’ve been able to do that for a while.

“As soon as I’m 100 percent, there’s no great risk,” he continued. “Obviously, I’m a football player, so there’s going to be a risk. I can’t come into the game and be like, ‘I won’t ever get hurt again.’ But the risk is not … it’s there, but I can play.”

He’s needed.



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