GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Denver Broncos got the start they wanted and desperately needed Thursday night.
After a week of turmoil when Broncos coach Vance Joseph said “the city is on fire” because of the four-game losing streak and linebacker Von Miller went as far as to guarantee a win over the Cardinals, the Broncos waited all of 55 seconds to score the game’s first touchdown.
Broncos linebacker Todd Davis returned a Josh Rosen interception 20 yards for a score — the pass had been tipped by Broncos defensive end Derek Wolfe — on the Cardinals’ second play from scrimmage.
Cardinals running back David Johnson had run for no gain on first down. The Cardinals then had to call a timeout when they couldn’t get lined up, at least in some part because of a crowd that was about half-filled with Broncos fans at kickoff.
Davis had the interception on second down. It was the Broncos’ first defensive touchdown of the season.
Quarterback Case Keenum flipped the ball to Sanders, Sanders ran right and threw to a wide-open Sutton, who made a diving catch for the touchdown.
According to NFL Next Gen Stats data, Sanders was running 15.83 mph when he threw the pass. That’s the fastest speed by a passer on a touchdown pass this season. The previous fastest was Sanders’ teammate Keenum, who was at 15.52 mph when he threw a TD to Demaryius Thomas in Week 1 against the Seahawks.
Sanders is the first non-QB to throw a TD for the Broncos since receiver Arthur Marshall in 1993.
The Broncos added a second pick-six before the first quarter ended when Chris Harris Jr. returned a Rosen throw 53 yards for a score.
I say this because it seems like everyone has seen the rant. If you haven’t, you can watch it right above. But I can’t tell you how many tweets, texts, DMs and emails I got from friends, co-workers and fellow fantasy players about it. They all said some version of the same thing. “Man, I’m sorry for your pain. That’s awful. But I can relate.”
Because they’ve been there.
Story after story poured in. “I feel you. You think that’s bad, listen to this one.”
I often write about the unifying aspect of fantasy football, the universal language it speaks and how it brings people from all parts of life together because of a group of shared experiences. I talk about the joy it brings, the hope and light it can shed, the bonds it creates.
I don’t talk about the pain.
Late Monday night, after the game, I was sunk into my couch with only the glow of the television faintly illuminating the room. The rest of my family was long asleep, Scott Van Pelt and Stanford Steve were on the TV, appropriately talking about bad beats, and I just lay there. Depressed. Why do I do this to myself?
Why do we care so much? I get wanting to win, I get being disappointed when I don’t. I get the frustration that comes from spending an entire week of preparation on a game where, every week, half of all teams will take an L. But at the end of the day — realize this is me saying this, a man who has spent three decades of his life dedicated to fantasy football — it’s still just a make-believe game.
And so, I sat on my couch, just destroyed. Like, legitimately depressed. The night before that intense rant, I was seriously questioning why I play this dumb game.
Make no mistake, logically, I get it. I had some bad luck. I did what you are supposed to do in fantasy football. I did the research, I played the odds that gave me the best chance to win and due to a bunch of unlikely events, I fell just short. It happens. Every week, all the time, to anyone who has ever played the game.
It makes complete and total sense and my brain just nods. While my heart just crumbles. Emotionally, I am just destroyed. Why does this game do this to us? How do we get so wrapped up, so invested in a semi-random group of professional athletes who we’ve never met and have no connection to each other except they were selected, in some order, by some random person, at some point in August?
When I win a game, I am happy, but you know my overriding emotion? Relief. Relief that I didn’t lose. That my make-believe collection of players scored more points than my opponent’s make-believe collection. That I don’t have to feel like crap. And if the reaction I got from that rant is any indication, I’m not alone.
To be clear, I don’t take every loss the way I took this one. In fact, I never have. But I do truly care. That was one reaction I heard a lot. People were surprised that I cared this much about any one league, all these years later.
Oh, I care. I always care. The issue is time. I’m in 12 leagues, plus the two “Vampire” leagues. There’s another 15 or so that I “help” out with and need to keep reasonable track of. There’s DFS of course and smaller games, like Pigskin Pick ’em and Eliminator. All in all, I probably make some sort of decision hundreds of times a week. Some of them fall through the cracks. There’s a league where I’ve known I desperately need to make a trade for three weeks now, and I haven’t found the time to go through rosters to see the team that would make the best potential trade partner and to try to negotiate that deal. But I definitely care about every single league I’m in.
The league is called The Scott Fish Bowl and if you are active on Twitter, you may have seen a bunch of people tweeting about it, especially in the middle of July, when we draft. Some of us, Le’Veon Bell. Yeah, this rant was months in the making.
The league is run by my friend Scott Fish, a fantasy analyst for Fanball. Scott is just an awesome human being and he does the league to support a great cause, and the whole industry has rallied around it. There are 800 teams divided into 12-team leagues with 22-man rosters. It is a “super flex” league, where you can play four flex players, including one QB, so ideally you are starting two quarterbacks with three traditional flex players.
Half-point PPR, half-point per first down, except you get one point for tight end receptions and one point for tight end first downs. Also, no kickers or defense, which I love. If you used ESPN standard roster size and eliminated kickers and defenses, it is basically the equivalent of an 18-team league. Unless you’ve ever played in an 18-team league, you have no concept of how deep it is.
Coming into this week, I have lost five of six. I got a lot of comments from folks about how they couldn’t believe an expert had lost five games, but I didn’t want to lie. I’ll own it. Here’s the team that I started this past week:
I have the aforementioned Le’Veon Bell on my bench and Jack Doyle in my training room. I also had drafted Larry Fitzgerald, which was my biggest miss in the draft. Middle of July, in this format, thought he’d be a star. Just dead wrong. He has been unstartable. But other than Larry Fitz? I think that’s a strong team in that deep a league. A little weak at wide receiver, but given that I’ve gotten zero from my first-round pick and almost nothing from my tight ends in a tight-end heavy format? I’m pretty happy that I’m still able to compete.
I lost the week before by 3.8 points to a guy who got that crazy Monday Night Football performance from Mark Ingram, against my Redskins.
Lost the week before that by 4.8 points to a team that started and got six touchdowns from Mitchell Trubisky. That’s right. He needed a six-touchdown game to beat me by four points.
Prior to that, Callaway had become just the 14th person in NFL history to get 10 targets in a game and fewer than 10 receiving yards (hat tip to Ryan McDowell for that stat).
You can’t make it up.
On and on, it has been like that in that league. Starting with the early draft, Le’Veon Bell deciding his career is more important to him than my fantasy team, and all the close losses … It all led up to Monday night, where I was down 0.9, he was done and I had Alfred Morris needing one tiny little point. Not even 10 yards: a six-inch dive for a first down would have been enough. Morris plays literally just one snap, gets a first down called back because of a holding penalty … and I lose again, 158.64 to 157.74.
WHY COULDN’T ALFRED MORRIS GET ONE STUPID POINT?!?!?
So depressed. And then the next morning, when it came up on the podcast, I just snapped. And it was caught on camera and it is now there for you to enjoy my misery whenever you feel like feeling better about your own loss.
I’ve thought a lot about why we care so much, how this game affects us the way it does, and I believe it’s because we have the illusion of control but in reality, we have none. All we can do is watch and hope and pray and yell and use whatever body English we can think of to will the ball into or out of a player’s hands.
I sat on the edge of my couch, watching every single play Monday night like a hawk. Where is Alfred Morris? Is that him lined up in the backfield? I can’t see that guy’s number, is it him? I can’t remember the last time I went through an emotional roller coaster like that. Except maybe the day before. And the Thursday before that. And the Sunday before that. It’s unlike anything else in my life, this relationship I have with fantasy football. After the rant, Scott Van Pelt reached out with some kind words and as we were texting back and forth about it, he wrote this: It’s why fantasy football is so great and terrible. The despair and joy. Side by side. Each can reach out and touch the other.
That they can, Scott. That they can.
And after I got that rant out, I felt better. And I started looking at my Week 7 matchups, I started making waiver claims and what the hell do you know? I’m sucked right back in, ready for Week 7. Bring it on, Fantasy Gods. Because you owe me one.
Let’s get to it. A reminder, this is based on projections for ESPN PPR leagues. “Loves” are players I think meet or exceed their projections, “Hates” are players I feel fall short. Thanks as always to “Thirsty” Kyle Soppe and the Stat-A-Pillar himself, Damian Dabrowski, for their help at various points in this column.
Quarterbacks I love in Week 7
Jameis Winston vs. Browns (ESPN projection: 18.7): Great matchup here, as the Browns have allowed at least 298 passing yards OR multiple TDs in five of six games this season. (The lone exception was Sam Darnold, in Cleveland, on a short week.) The three times QBs have attempted more than 35 passes against the Browns, they’ve averaged 356.7 passing yards. Dating back to 2017, Winston has at least 35 attempts in four of his past five starts. And as a position this season, Tampa Bay QBs are second in fantasy points per game (27.57).
Kirk Cousins at Jets (ESPN projection: 18.4): The Jets blitz at the fifth-highest rate this season (30.3 percent). Cousins ranks fourth in passing yards against the blitz this season and ranks behind only Drew Brees in completion percentage when blitzed. Cousins is averaging 43 pass attempts per game, he is fifth in the NFL in passing yards and third in completion percentage, and now he gets a Jets team that has allowed at least 20 fantasy points to QBs in each of the past three weeks (the Falcons are the only other team that has done that).
Carson Wentz vs. Panthers (ESPN projection: 18.3): The Eagles have had 10 days to prep for a Panthers team that has allowed a touchdown on 81.8 percent of red zone drives this season, second worst in the NFL. Wentz certainly looks healthy, as he has scored at least 20 points in three straight games (matching Andrew Luck for the longest active streak among QBs). In those three weeks, he ranks as QB6 in terms of total points (ahead of Patrick Mahomes). Worth noting: Wentz has more than 275 passing yards and multiple TDs in three straight games, something that, prior to this run, he had never done in his career.
Baker Mayfield at Buccaneers (ESPN projection: 16.7): You know who chucks it deep? Baker Mayfield chucks it deep. Among QBs currently starting, he ranks top five in terms of air yards per target (9.24). Among the many things the Bucs’ defense struggles with is the deep ball. They are tied with the Saints for the highest deep completion percentage against (59 percent; league average: 44.8 percent) and deep completions allowed per game (4.60; league average: 3.24). Mayfield has the fourth-most pass attempts over the past three weeks (trailing only Luck, Aaron Rodgers and Joe Flacco), which makes him my favorite streamer this week.
Others receiving votes:Mitchell Trubisky is the fourth-best QB in fantasy since Week 4. And that includes Week 5, when, you know, he was on a bye. Six touchdowns will do that for you, but he’s also fifth in rushing yards among quarterbacks. That keeps his floor high, especially against a Patriots defense allowing the ninth-most rushing yards to QBs. … It has certainly been ugly, but believe it or not, Eli Manning now has five straight games with 250-plus passing yards. Atlanta will have no issue putting up points on the Giants, which means Eli will keep throwing against a Falcons defense that has allowed at least 21.5 points to a QB in five of six games this season. … I mentioned him in this section last week as well and now C.J. Beathard has at least 17.8 points in three straight games (multiple passing TDs in each). The only QBs who can say that? Tom Brady, Wentz, Luck and Beathard. Junk time still counts, baby.
Quarterbacks I hate in Week 7
Deshaun Watson at Jaguars (ESPN projection: 15.6): Man, he has looked bad from a real-life-football point of view. And now that has caught up to him fantasy wise, with just two TD passes over the past two weeks (once every 34.5 attempts) after throwing multiple TD passes in each of the prior three games (once every 19 attempts). Houston is allowing pressure at the highest rate this season (41.4 percent of dropbacks) and the Jaguars create pressure at the highest rate this season (35.3 percent). For his career, Watson has seven TDs and eight INTs versus pressure (21 and 7 when not pressured). I like the chance of the Jags’ defense bouncing back more than Watson in this one.
Drew Brees at Ravens (ESPN projection: 15.9): Brees has played one outdoor road game this season. That was against the Giants and he scored 8.6 points. He has traditionally struggled on the road outdoors (he scored fewer than 14.5 points in three of six such games last season). Other than the Steelers, the Ravens haven’t played a strong offense in the past four weeks, but still they’ve allowed just two touchdown passes in their past four games.
Dak Prescott at Redskins (ESPN projection: 16.2): There have been 128 instances this season — from 36 quarterbacks — of a QB completing 20 or more passes in a game. None of those 36 QBs are named Dak Prescott. He has a league-high four games this season in which he has thrown at least 25 passes and failed to pass for at least 200 yards. You’re counting on rushing with Dak and the Redskins allow the seventh-fewest rushing yards per carry to QBs this season (3.19). The 42-point over/under is among the lowest in Week 7.
Alex Smith vs. Cowboys (ESPN projection: 15.5): Smith has just one game this season with more than 220 passing yards AND at least one touchdown pass, so his ceiling has been limited thus far. This doesn’t seem like the game he changes that. A slow pace of play has resulted in Dallas being the fifth-least-passed-on team in the league this season. Because the Redskins’ defense has mostly played well this season, Smith hasn’t needed to get into shootouts, and he’s not really running, either, with just one game of more than 15 rushing yards.
Running backs I love in Week 7
Saquon Barkley at Falcons (ESPN projection: 21.9): The best part about doing this new “over or under the projection” way of doing Love/Hate is that I can now talk about “obvious” guys like Barkley. I’m taking the over here against a Falcons team that has allowed more than 20 points to a single running back in all six games this season, including the likes of Jay Ajayi, Giovani Bernard and Peyton Barber. Forget his rushing for a second; Barkley has more catches than Keenan Allen and more receiving yards than Demaryius Thomas and Calvin Ridley, to name a few. The Falcons are giving up more than eight receptions a game to running backs and that’s not changing Monday night. My No. 1 running back this week.
Joe Mixon at Chiefs (ESPN projection: 18.1): Say what you want about Marvin Lewis (seriously, go ahead, what do I care?), but the man commits! One back for him and that’s it. Injuries have something to do with it, of course, but in Mixon’s four games and Giovani Bernard’s two starts, the lead back has gotten at least 20 touches. That volume should work well against a Chiefs defense that is third worst in terms of yards allowed before first contact to RBs this season, gives up 5.32 yards per carry to running backs and gives up the third-highest rate of carries that gain 10 yards or more.
Tarik Cohen vs. Patriots (ESPN projection: 10.1): In the past three weeks, Cohen is the fourth-best RB in fantasy on a points-per-game basis (only Todd Gurley II, Barkley and Melvin Gordon have been better). Of course the Bears had a bye in Week 5, but in the past two games they’ve played, Cohen has out-touched Jordan Howard 32 to 25 and their snaps are almost equal (64 for Howard, 59 for Cohen). He has 18 carries for 84 yards and a TD, 14 catches for 211 yards and a TD in those two games, and I expect that production to continue against a Patriots defense that coughs up the fifth-most receiving yards to opposing running backs.
Phillip Lindsay at Cardinals (ESPN projection: 11.8): The always-risky call of a guy in a committee playing on a Thursday night, but I just lost by one point because of Alfred Morris. What the hell. In the past three games, Lindsay has at least 10 touches in each game, has caught 11 balls and has a 15-6 red zone snap edge over Royce Freeman. The Cardinals are one of the worst run defenses in the NFL, allowing almost 200 total yards a game to opposing backs. They’ve allowed 10 touchdowns to running backs, the second-most fantasy points per game and what are the Broncos gonna do, let Case Keenum throw it? Exactly.
Others receiving votes: Running backs who have gotten 15 or more carries against the Dolphins this season (four instances) have averaged 19.3 points per game. The only question is will Kerryon Johnson get 15 carries? I’m not sure, but I do like his chances of beating his projection of 10.1 points. … With the Chargers more than a touchdown favorite, I like Austin Ekeler and his amazing 3.34 yards per carry after contact to get some nice run in the second half and be flex-play worthy. … If you listened to the podcast this week, you know I am a believer in Ito Smith being top-25-or-so worthy against the Giants. Since his first carry in Week 2, Smith leads the Falcons in rushing attempts inside the opponent’s 10-yard line and leads the Falcons with 13 red zone carries (six more than Tevin Coleman). Giants opponents have cashed in four of eight rushing attempts inside the 10-yard line this season, the third-highest rate in the NFL. … It took a bit, but with Jameis Winston under center last week, Peyton Barber finally got going (17 touches for 106 yards and a TD … RB9 finish), and I like his chances of keeping it going against a Browns team allowing the fourth-most rushing yards per game this season and the third-most yards per carry after first contact. … And you know all those stats I gave in the Phillip Lindsay section about how bad the Cardinals are? They also apply to Royce Freeman, who, while certainly risky, has a decent chance to hit pay dirt in this one. If ever there was a week to use Royce, this is it. How lucky do you feel?
Running backs I hate in Week 7
Jordan Howard vs. Patriots (ESPN projection: 11.8): Howard hasn’t caught a ball since Week 3 and is trending in the wrong direction, as he was averaging 45 snaps the first three games but just 32 in the past two. Of more concern is that, while Howard’s playing time is going down, the Bears’ offense has gotten a lot better. This sets up more as a Cohen game than a Howard one against a New England defense that has allowed just one rushing touchdown all season long.
T.J. Yeldon vs. Texans (ESPN projection: 16): For the season, Yeldon ranks as a bottom-10 RB in terms of yards per carry after first contact. That’s an issue, because the Texans allow the fifth-fewest yards per carry before first contact this season. Yeldon has yet to have a game with 60 rushing yards, so he’ll need to be effective catching the ball. However, Houston is allowing the sixth-fewest yards per attempt when targeting RBs this season. You gotta start him if you have him, but gimme the under on 16 points.
Lamar Miller at Jaguars (ESPN projection: 10.8): In his past three games, Miller is averaging just 2.69 yards per carry. And now he gets an embarrassed Jaguars defense in Jacksonville? Yeesh. The Jags are a top-10 defense in terms of limiting red zone drives and limiting the efficiency of drives when opponents do reach the red zone. The odds of Miller scoring his first rushing touchdown of the season are not great.
Dion Lewis vs. Chargers in London (ESPN projection: 11.1): In the past three games for Lewis, he has 21 carries for 43 yards (2.05 YPC). LeSean McCoy is the only RB to rush for more than 70 yards against the Chargers this season … but it took him 24 carries to get there. I don’t see Lewis getting that kind of volume (he averages 10 carries per game this season). He has just two games this season with eight or more fantasy points, and he has been held below 10 rushing yards in two of the past three games. Since Week 2, he is just RB45. After this game, the Titans are on bye, so if you need the roster space, feel free to drop him.
Pass-catchers I love in Week 7
Odell Beckham Jr. at Falcons (ESPN projection: 19.5): Remember 2016, when Beckham was WR4? He was WR22 through 5 weeks in that season before a breakthrough game. Through six weeks this season, he’s WR13. His 30.7 percent target share this season trails only Adam Thielen and Julio Jones, and while, yes, Eli is #notgood, he hasn’t been good for a while. Beckham will be fine and it starts this week against a Falcons team that is allowing the most red zone drives per game, the most touchdowns to opposing wide receivers and the fourth-most fantasy points to wideouts.
Tyreek Hill vs. Bengals (ESPN projection: 17.4): Eight different WRs have scored more than 15.5 points against the Bengals this season. Hill has 32 targets in his past three games and I expect another huge game. The Bengals create pressure at the fourth-lowest rate this season and that’s good, because Patrick Mahomes owns the highest passer rating when not pressured since that crazy Nick Foles season of 2013. With time to throw, you can bet Hill will get open. And if he’s within 80 yards of Mahomes, he’ll get the ball.
Jarvis Landry at Buccaneers (ESPN projection: 16.2): You already know I think Mayfield throws the ball a ton here. Well, a lot of that is going to Landry, who has a team-high 26 percent target share this season with Mayfield under center. Opponents are completing 80 percent of passes when targeting the slot against Tampa this season (second-highest rate in the NFL). That’s where Landry lines up.
Tyler Boyd at Chiefs (ESPN projection: 14.4): Boyd has a touchdown or 100 yards in four of his past five games, and he should keep it going against a Chiefs defense that is a bottom 10 against the slot, in terms of catches, yards and yards after the catch per reception. Can you even tell which stat line belongs to Boyd and which one is A.J. Green‘s?
Player A: 37 catches on 51 targets for 455 yards and 4 TDs, 0 drops, recording a catch on 17.1 percent of routes
Player B: 33 catches on 55 targets for 494 yards and 5 TDs, 3 drops, recording a catch on 15.9 percent of routes.
Player A … is Boyd. Now, Green got a little banged up in one game, but still … I don’t think people fully realize what they’re dealing with here.
George Kittle vs. Rams (ESPN projection: 11.2): In a game I expect the Niners to throw a bunch to keep up with L.A., it’s worth pointing out the Rams allow the ninth-most tight end receptions per game this season (5.33) and here are the teams they’ve faced: Raiders, Cardinals, Chargers, Vikings, Seahawks, Broncos. Jared Cook and Kyle Rudolph are the only two real tight ends they’ve faced (sorry, Antonio Gates and Ricky Seals-Jones). Kittle is fifth among tight ends in receptions the past four weeks.
David Njoku at Buccaneers (ESPN projection: 10.6 points): His connection with Mayfield is growing, as evidenced by his 11 targets in each of the past two games. In each of Baker’s three starts, Njoku leads Cleveland in receptions and receiving yards. As we may have mentioned, this is a great matchup; Tampa Bay gives up 7.2 catches, 94.8 yards and the most fantasy points to opposing tight ends.
Others receiving votes: On a per-game basis, the Saints are giving up the most fantasy points to opposing WRs this season (51.86). I like John Brown and Willie Snead IV in this game, as I expect Michael Crabtree to find himself lined up against Marshon Lattimore the most. … Taylor Gabriel has caught all 12 of his targets over the past two games (214 yards and 2 TDs), actually leads the Bears in receptions and yards this season, is second in routes run and has as many slot receptions (11) as any other Bear has targets. The Patriots have allowed six slot TDs this season (second most in the NFL, and four over the past two weeks). … Josh Gordon is coming off a game in which he led the team in routes run, and I’m taking the over on his 11.4-point projection against a Bears defense that has allowed the seventh-most deep TD passes this season. … With Quincy Enunwa out, I expect Jermaine Kearse to play the majority of snaps in the slot against a Vikings team that has given up the fourth-most yards to the slot this season. Heavy target share for Kearse. … Austin Hooper now has at least nine catches and 70 yards in consecutive games (Zach Ertz is the only other tight end who can say that). Hooper has 22 targets in those games and I like him Monday night in a game where a lot of the other receiving options are banged up. … In his first game back from injury, O.J. Howard played 13 more snaps and ran five more routes than Cameron Brate. I expect that gap to widen further this week in a plus matchup. Thirteen of Winston’s past 24 touchdown passes have gone to tight ends.
Pass-catchers I hate in Week 7
Demaryius Thomas at Cardinals (ESPN projection: 11.8): Thomas has seven or fewer targets in four straight games and his fantasy output has been bailed out by some late touchdowns. I much prefer Emmanuel Sanders to DT in a game where I expect Denver to go run heavy. The Cardinals have allowed the seventh-fewest fantasy points per game to opposing WRs so far this season and Thomas is likely to see the most of Patrick Peterson in this one.
T.Y. Hilton vs. Bills (ESPN projection: 14.7): This game is at home, which helps, but I’m lowering expectations under the idea that he says he’s still not 100 percent and because he’s likely to be shadowed by Buffalo’s terrific young corner Tre’Davious White. The Bills have allowed the third-fewest deep completions and have yet to allow a deep TD pass (one of three defenses that can say that).
Will Fuller V at Jaguars (ESPN projection: 10.6): It’s been a tough two-week stretch for Fuller, and things will get better. But not this week, not against this defense. The Jags have given up zero deep touchdowns and opponents are completing 36.4 percent of deep attempts (tied for second lowest). They will get after Deshaun Watson as well, making it tough for deep plays to develop. Even with a modest projection of 10.6, I’m taking the under.
Matthew Berry, The Talented Mr. Roto, is down to praying for stat corrections. He is the creator of RotoPass.com and one of the owners of the Fantasy Life app and FantasyLife.com.
I was in the moment I saw the tweet. Easiest call I’ve ever made.
On July 21, Tom Kislingbury, who goes by the handle @TomDegenerate, tweeted the following:
“New league idea: vampire. Normal start-up draft except one team does not get to pick at all. They just have to make a lineup from waivers. This team is the Vampire.”
Tom continued in follow-up tweets.
“Every time the Vampire team wins a weekly matchup, they have to swap one of their starting line-up with one of their opponent’s at the same position. So they’ll start out weak but with each win get a bit stronger. If they manage to beat a good team, they’ll grow much more powerful.”
“So when facing the Vampire, you need to make a choice: Play at full strength and risk losing a good player? Or try to beat a bad Vampire team without risking your stars?”
“Needless to say that if the Vampire wins the league, it’s over. Their reign of dark power is complete.”
As soon as I saw the tweet, I quote-tweeted it and said, “I would totally do this.”
I have been playing fantasy sports for 34 years now. And in that time, I have played every fantasy game imaginable. Every sport … NASCAR, golf, college football and basketball … I’ve played fantasy fishing, fantasy sumo wrestling, hell, I’ve even played fantasy hockey once. I’ve always said if you can find a way to keep score, you can play a fantasy version of anything. So I have done a bunch of fantasy games around entertainment. I have played fantasy “Big Brother” (Tyler got robbed). As you might know, ESPN has a fantasy “The Bachelor” game, which I enjoy way more than I should. And my friends and I even created a game called FantasyMovieLeague.com, which is exactly what you think it is: A fantasy game where you program your fantasy movie theater with real-life movies in a salary-cap format, and based on how much the movie makes at the box office is how much your theater makes. Easy to play, hard to master, it’s hella fun, as I am told the kids once, and possibly still, say.
Not surprisingly, I have played tons of different versions of fantasy football. Dynasty to keeper to best ball to start-up, 2QB, super flex, IDP, high stakes, low stakes, no stakes, enhanced TE scoring. I once did a Punt, Pass and Kick league where you rostered only quarterbacks, kickers and punters. Don’t laugh. I’ve actually played in two different punter leagues. I’ve played in four-person leagues and 20-person leagues. I’m in a league right now with 800 players. I’ve played in leagues where every week is a doubleheader, leagues that are a season-long and DFS hybrid, where you play every team in the league every week, and relegation leagues where the bottom two teams get kicked out to a “lesser” league. I’ve played in expert leagues, work leagues, charity leagues, celebrity leagues, leagues with 12-year-olds, leagues with lifelong friends, leagues with strangers, leagues with my wife and kids.
You name the format, the scoring, the league size and I’ve played them all.
Or so I thought.
Because I’ve never played a Vampire league.
I thought I had heard every idea ever. But this one was new, even to me. I loved the idea and loved the challenge of being the Vampire.
I originally had the idea of trying to auction off spots in the league for charity, but setting that up proved too problematic this time. So I just posted in my FantasyLife app about the league and asked who wanted to play. I got so many responses, I decided to do two leagues. I had Stacy Sailer, who is one the executives running the app, choose the participants so no one could accuse me of cherry-picking my competition.
I basically stuck to Tom’s premise with a few wrinkles of my own. When I got on a conference call with everyone, I laid out the rules for these leagues:
• Nine people would take part in a re-draft league using ESPN standard scoring. That is to say one point per reception with a starting lineup of one QB, two RBs, two WRs, one TE, one flex (RB/WR/TE), one kicker and one D/ST.
• The nine drafting teams must play with the team they draft, meaning they could not make any waiver claims. Because of that, I asked them to think about whether they would want to draft two kickers, two defenses, two QBs, etc.
• After they drafted, I would go and build my team from whomever was left. In addition, I could make unlimited waiver claims during the season. We held the draft on the night of Labor Day, just a few days before the start of the season, so that everyone had the best possible information heading into the season.
• There are no trades allowed in the league, except if I, as the Vampire, beat a team. In that case, I would initiate a trade of one of my players for a player on the team I just beat. And there are rules around that: The player I trade for has to have been in my opponent’s starting lineup. So, if you don’t want to risk losing Todd Gurley II, you can bench him against me and I cannot trade for him. In turn, the player I trade away also has to be someone I started — so I can’t use my bench scrubs to trade for a star — and play the same position. This way, I can’t trade a kicker for a quarterback, for example.
• Teams are NOT required to start a full lineup against me. If they want to bench all of their stars to protect themselves, they can. Out of the 10-team league, four will make the playoffs and we will use ESPN standard playoff settings: two-week semifinals (Weeks 14-15) and two-week finals (Weeks 16-17). Once we hit the playoffs, the four qualifying teams will be allowed to make waiver moves. If I make the playoffs, I get the first waiver move. Otherwise, reverse order of standings prevails.
And that’s it. It’s obviously skewed toward the teams that drafted, but because they can’t make waiver claims at all, it gives me a fighting chance.
I can’t tell you how much fun it has been doing these leagues this year. It’s a very different exercise, and I have to think about my teams in a different way than I run any of my other teams. Yes, I don’t have any superstars, but I do have the entire waiver pool as my bench, in essence, since I can make any adds/drops whenever I want to set my lineup … which is both a blessing and a curse.
While you have all these fill-in guys available … they are all fill-in guys. Calvin Ridley wasn’t drafted in either league, but I’d be lying if I said I started him during his three-touchdown game. Deciding between similar upside plays that I have projected about the same is a challenge. When you play normal fantasy football, there are certain starters that are sort of locked in for you every week, either due to their consistency/star power or just your own lack of roster depth. But when you have infinite possibilities, it’s interesting. Yes, there are available QBs who will score high every week, but you’re deciding between guys like Joe Flacco, Blake Bortles and Andy Dalton. It definitely makes it more challenging.
Not surprisingly, just as Tom predicted in his original post, it has been a slow start for me. But not as slow as you might think. In League 1 (The “Fantasy” Vampire League), I just won my first game. I’ve had a bit of bad luck in that league, as coming into Week 5 I had the second-most points against, but that will even out.
I bet if you thought hard about it, you could probably guess most of my team. Understand, of course, that with the rest of the league drafting, in essence, a nine-man league and at least some of the league using bench spots for extra Ks/DSTs/QBs because of the no-waiver rule, there are some decent players who didn’t get drafted.
I mix and match every week, given specific players and opportunity (Giovani Bernard was a starter for a few weeks there, for example), but my core that I am choosing from every week is this:
As much as I like Rodgers and Diggs, of course, I thought running back was my weakest position, as (in theory at least) Leonard Fournette will be back soon, which would push Yeldon back to the Jaguars’ bench. My other running backs are decent players in platoons, whereas my wide receiver depth is actually pretty decent and QB will be easy to figure out from week to week, especially assuming Goff gets all his wideouts back soon (plus Jameis Winston is out there). So I vampired Gordon for Yeldon. Basically a coin flip, but I chose Gordon because I like him (and the Chargers) slightly more than Barkley the rest of the season, and because Gordon’s teammate, Austin Ekeler, is available as well. If something happens to Gordon, Ekeler is a clear alternative who would be productive, while I don’t have as much confidence in the options behind Barkley. So even though I am 1-4 in this league, I like my team and it grows stronger.
League 2 (The “Life” Vampire League), is going even better. I am riding a two-game win streak and just finished Week 5 with the highest point total in the league. I am currently 2-3 in that league and my roster is fairly similar:
And then I stream all the D/STs and kickers. Two weeks ago, I had Bernard in the lineup, so after beating that opponent, I was able to vampire Ezekiel Elliott in exchange for Gio. My victory this week was against a team that chose to hide all of its good players, fearful of the Vampire. He played me with a bench that included Tom Brady, Kareem Hunt, Antonio Brown and Diggs.
Of the useful players he actually did play were Carlos Hyde, Marvin Jones Jr. and Alex Collins. I chose a swap of Hyde for Yeldon, which will be pretty close until Fournette comes back. But I love the Browns’ upcoming schedule and, again, I like my WR depth.
So Team 2 will have starting RBs of Hyde and Zeke (heh heh) with White or a third WR as my flex. Lots of work to do, of course, but I like where this is headed. It has been a really fun challenge. I will definitely do more of these next year, and probably expand to 12-team leagues in at least some of them. But in the meantime, I have more games to win and more players to vampire until my reign of dark power is complete. Let’s get to it.
For those who missed last week, Love/Hate is now very simple. Next to every player is a number — the official ESPN projected total for that player in Week 6 (as of that week’s publish time). If they are a “Love,” I expect them to meet or exceed that projection. If they are a “Hate,” I expect them to fall short. Easy peasy.
Quarterbacks I love in Week 6
Matt Ryan vs. Buccaneers (ESPN projection: 20.1 points): I know. Last week was brutal in what should have been an awesome matchup, but I’m back on him this week as a top-five play. Since the beginning of last season, Ryan is averaging 2.8 more points at home than on the road. To that end, he has scored more than 29 points in all three home games this season. I like him to beat his current projection against a Tampa Bay defense that has given up a league-high 28.6 fantasy points per game to QBs, along with a 77.1 percent completion rate and a league-high 8.3 percent of passes resulting in a touchdown. Giddy up.
Jameis Winston at Falcons (ESPN projection: 19.2 points): It’s pretty easy to see why Ryan Fitzpatrick (and Winston for a half or so) combined to lead the NFL in fantasy points before their bye week. The Bucs can’t run the ball, bad defense puts them in constant passing situations and they have one of the best groups of pass-catchers in the NFL. Now Winston, who is still available in about 60 percent of ESPN leagues, gets a Falcons team that has allowed the fifth-highest completion rate (69.8 percent), 10th-best TD-INT ratio (3.0) and the fourth-most fantasy points allowed to opposing QBs.
Kirk Cousins vs. Cardinals (ESPN projection: 19.1 points): The Cardinals blitz on a league-high 38.9 percent of opponents’ dropbacks. Cousins is completing a league-high 77.3 percent of passes against the blitz this season (also, he ranks third in completion percentage against the blitz from 2015-17). Also, you know, Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs.
Andrew Luck at Jets (ESPN projection: 16.9 points): Weeks 1 to 3: 5.42 air yards per target. Weeks 4 and 5: 8.40 air yards per target (for reference, 2016: 8.25). Luck already has three games of 38-plus completions this season. For comparison, from 2014-17, Ben Roethlisberger led the NFL with three total games of 38-plus completions. There have been three QBs this season who have thrown at least 35 passes against the Jets and they’ve combined for 1,051 passing yards. Those QBs? Blake Bortles, Case Keenum and Matthew Stafford.
Others receiving votes:Carson Wentz has three straight games of at least 35 pass attempts, and the injury to Jay Ajayi certainly doesn’t mean he’ll throw less. Wentz is one of only two QBs to have 300-plus passing yards and multiple passing TDs in each of the past two weeks, which makes him a low-end QB1 on Thursday night. … For those looking for QB2 streaming options, Baker Mayfield should be usable against a Chargers defense that allows the fourth-most yards per catch after the reception this season (6.48). In Mayfield’s two starts this season, Cleveland is sixth in yards after the catch. He’s just one of four QBs with at least 40 pass attempts, 295 passing yards and one passing TD in each of the past two weeks: Deshaun Watson, Aaron Rodgers and Luck are the others. … The truly desperate could look at C.J. Beathard, who should be chucking it a ton against a Packers team that has allowed multiple TD passes in three of the past four weeks (Josh Allen being the lone exception).
Quarterbacks I hate in Week 6
Russell Wilson vs. Raiders in London (ESPN projection: 17.6 points): Under offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer this season, Seattle has the lowest percentage of pass plays in the league (54.4 percent). Last season, the Seahawks had the third-highest rate. Wilson has less than 200 yards passing in each of his past three games, he’s averaging just 24.3 pass attempts per game in that stretch and has only 42 rushing yards this entire season (last season, he averaged 36.6 rushing yards PER GAME). Seattle will not need to play catch-up in this game.
Andy Dalton vs. Steelers (ESPN projection: 19.1 points): Hey, 19.1 is a big number and I get it with the matchup, but the Steelers’ defense did play better last week against Atlanta. In the games this season in which Joe Mixon has been active, Dalton is averaging just 252 passing yards (versus 345 in the two games Mixon missed). Dalton has 16.5 points or fewer in three of five games this season and even with a high over/under in this game, I think this is more of a divisional slugfest featuring a lot of running from both teams. He’s a borderline QB1, but with a projection of more than 19 points, I’m taking the under, making him a “hate” under our new format.
Joe Flacco at Titans (ESPN projection: 14.6 points): Very quietly, the Titans own a top-10 pass defense this season in each of the following (all per-game stats): completions, passing yards, yards per dropback, sacks per dropback and TD-INT rate. Since Flacco threw for three touchdowns in 34 attempts in that Week 1 beatdown of Buffalo, he has just five TD passes in 193 attempts.
Blake Bortles at Cowboys (ESPN projection: 16.8 points): In what should be a low-scoring game (the over/under is 40.5, lowest total on the slate), Bortles faces a Cowboys squad that is a top-10 defense in terms of QB rushing yards per carry allowed this season, despite having already faced Cam Newton, Russell Wilson and Deshaun Watson. That matters because, since that awesome Patriots game, nearly 28 percent of his points have come from his legs.
Running backs I love in Week 6
Joe Mixon vs. Steelers (ESPN projection: 18.3 points): As I said in the Dalton section, I expect this to be a slugfest and a heavy dosage of Mixon, who had 25 touches in his first game back from injury (a game Marvin Lewis said he would limit Mixon’s workload). Yeah, right. A volume-driven day is in play here on Sunday against a Steelers defense that has given up an average of 18.3 points to RBs in the four games aside from the Buccaneers game (Tampa can’t run). Loves are about meeting or exceeding projections, and I have him as a top-six play this week.
Sony Michel (ESPN projection: 14.8) and James White (12.9) vs. Chiefs: Great matchup for both guys against a Chiefs team that is a bottom-10 red zone defense this season. They allow a league-high 4.44 yards per carry BEFORE first contact this season. Michel is averaging 2.28 yards per carry AFTER first contact this season, fourth most in the NFL. And White now has consecutive games with at least eight catches, 65 receiving yards and a receiving TD. Here’s the list of RBs who can say they’ve done that: LaDainian Tomlinson (2003), David Johnson (2016) and White. Running backs as pass-catchers have given the Chiefs problems this season. Against the position, the Chiefs have allowed the second-most completions and tied for the most receiving touchdowns this season.
Chris Carson vs. Raiders in London (ESPN projection: 13.8 points): See Wilson, Russell. The Seahawks are gonna run in this one against a Raiders defense that ranks as a bottom-10 unit in both yards per carry before AND after first contact (one of only three teams to do so). Game flow should favor Seattle here, especially as Oakland has allowed the third-most rushing touchdowns this season (six) and the eighth-most red zone drives.
Alfred Morris at Packers (ESPN projection: 11.9 points): Morris has at least 12 carries in four of five games this season, and that was with Matt Breida healthy (Breida is highly unlikely to play this week). Morris should get the majority of early-down work against a Packers team allowing the seventh-most yards per carry AFTER first contact this season. He caught three passes last week, so there’s a little action to be had there as well, given that RBs own a 32.7 percent career target share from C.J. Beathard.
Others receiving votes: I’m not the biggest Lamar Miller fan by any stretch, but he should find success against a Bills team that has allowed a touchdown on 12 of 15 red zone drives this season, making them the fourth-least-efficient red zone defense. … We’ll see what kind of impact Marlon Mack has on this Colts offense, but regardless, I expect the pass-catching Nyheim Hines to continue his touch trend from the past few weeks (5, 10, 13, 22), especially against a Jets squad that allows opponents to complete 85 percent of passes to RBs this season (fourth highest). … In a game that should have some bad weather, I like both Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman against a Rams defense that has allowed 5.0 yards per carry and has given up at least 24 fantasy points to running backs in three of five games. The exceptions being the Vikings game in Week 4 when Dalvin Cook played very little and the anemic Cardinals in Week 2. … Javorius Allen has set a season high in touches in consecutive weeks. He’s a goal-line back who also has at least 6.5 points as a pass-catcher in four of five weeks this season.
Running backs I hate in Week 6
Devonta Freeman vs. Buccaneers (ESPN projection: 16.8 points): Freeman showed up on the injury report Wednesday (again), and this is turning into a three-headed monster, as Ito Smith got four touches last week (compared with 10 for Freeman and nine for Tevin Coleman). Since Week 5 of last season, Freeman has just two games with 15-plus carries. It’s a great matchup, but this is a 40/40/20 split and I believe it’s unlikely he reaches 16.8 points, even if he plays.
LeSean McCoy at Texans (ESPN projection: 12.4 points): As trade rumors continue to swirl, McCoy faces a Texans team that is allowing just 3.44 yards per carry this season (fourth fewest). Playing on a Bills team that is averaging the second-fewest red zone drives per game this season (2.00), he’s going to need to score to get past 12.4, and I think that’s unlikely.
Kenyan Drake vs. Bears (ESPN projection: 10.8 points): Last week was good, I guess, if you have Drake. There were signs of life. But still — just six carries. Six. And one fewer touch than Frank Gore. Being in a committee on a low-scoring, poor offense will continue to depress his fantasy value, especially against a Bears team allowing the second-fewest YPC to RBs this season (2.93) and a league-low 1.75 red zone drives per game. No player has rushed for 50 yards against the Bears and I don’t believe Drake, with a single-game high of 53 rushing yards, will change that.
Pass-catchers I love in Week 6
Julio Jones vs. Buccaneers (ESPN projection: 19.6 points): 19.6 is a big number and I’m taking the over? Yeah, I am. See everything I wrote about Ryan, Matt. Jones has exceeded 19.6 twice this season and Sunday will make it three, as Tampa Bay’s corners are no match for Julio. Also, I am playing against him in the ESPN War Room League, so I assure you he is going off. I would be very excited to be wrong on this one, but I don’t think I will be. Another blow-up spot coming.
Tyler Boyd vs. Steelers (ESPN projection: 13.4 points): Boyd played fewer snaps in the slot last week against the Dolphins (57.1 percent compared with 66.2 percent the previous weeks), as A.J. Green spent more time there (48.1 percent compared with 27.2 percent entering the game). I assume that was due, at least in part, to trying to get Green free from Xavien Howard. They may do that some this week to try to get Green free from Joe Haden, but Boyd will play enough slot snaps to beat his projection here. The Steelers allow 11.6 slot completions per game this season (second most), while seeing the slot targeted more than any other team (17 times per game). Boyd has at least seven targets in four straight games and is top 15 in the NFL in total targets during that stretch.
Mohamed Sanu vs. Buccaneers (ESPN projection: 11.1 points): Very quietly, Mo Sanu has 15.5 or more points in each of the past three weeks, one of only six wideouts to say that. He leads Atlanta in receptions (12), yards (151), targets (20) and touchdowns (two) from the slot this season, which is important when you consider the Bucs have coughed up a league high in yards (745) and touchdowns (seven) to go along with the second-most completions (55) and completion percentage (82.1) to the slot this season.
Jimmy Graham vs. 49ers (ESPN projection: 10.6 points): As of this writing (Wednesday night), we don’t know the health status of Randall Cobb or Geronimo Allison, but we do know this: The 49ers have given up the most touchdowns to opposing tight ends. They also have allowed the fifth-most red zone drives this season. Since Week 2, Graham is fourth among tight ends in targets (behind only Zach Ertz, Travis Kelce and Eric Ebron). Those three, incidentally, are the top three tight ends in fantasy this season.
Others receiving votes: I whiffed last week on Quincy Enunwa, although in fairness he came within six inches of a long touchdown and would have had it had Chris Harris Jr. not grabbed his jersey (a bad pass interference that wasn’t called). Either way, it allowed for Robby Anderson to wake up and I’m in on both of them this week as flex plays against a Colts secondary that has given up 516 yards and four touchdowns in just the past two games to opposing wide receivers. … In the same game, Chester Rogers faces a Jets secondary that has given up the third-most receptions and yards to the slot. A cheap DFS option, Rogers has run 95 percent of his routes from the slot. … Speaking of the slot, 67 percent of Keke Coutee‘s snaps and 76 percent of his catches this season have come from the slot. With Tre’Davious White having his hands full against DeAndre Hopkins, Coutee should find success against a Bills group that has given up the seventh-most slot receptions this season. … I know it has been tough recently, but I expect Jordan Reed to have one of his better days Sunday against a Panthers team that is allowing opponents to complete a league-high 87 percent of passes when targeting the TE this season (20-for-23). … If O.J. Howard doesn’t play this week, I like Cameron Brate to be a top-10 guy, especially considering his past connection with Jameis Winston.
Pass-catchers I hate in Week 6
Allen Robinson at Dolphins (ESPN projection: 12.3 points): Quietly, the Dolphins are giving up the sixth-fewest fantasy points per game to opposing WRs and my expectation is that underrated Xavien Howard will shadow Robinson. Howard is turning into a shutdown corner and it’s worth noting the Dolphins have allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to opposing RBs this season. I believe this is a heavy Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen game, so Robinson should be OK, but I feel he will fall short of his projected 12.3 points.
Corey Davis vs. Ravens (ESPN projection: 12.7 points): I get the talent and the target share argument, but among starting quarterbacks, only Josh Allen is throwing fewer passes per game than Marcus Mariota. Only one wide receiver has gotten more than 70 receiving yards against Baltimore this season (Tyler Boyd) and that was from the slot. Davis is a perimeter player and I don’t love his chances against a Ravens defense that is allowing opponents to complete just 54.8 percent of passes this season, which, if it holds, would be the lowest rate in the past six years.
David Njoku vs. Chargers (ESPN projection: 9.3 points): Njoku has shown some improved chemistry with Baker Mayfield under center, but this is a tough matchup against the Chargers. The Bolts have allowed the seventh-fewest fantasy points to opposing tight ends and just one score, and that includes games against Travis Kelce, Jared Cook and George Kittle. Yes, Kittle went off, but that was basically one big play. Opponents are completing just 57.6 percent of passes when targeting the TE against the Chargers this season (third lowest in the NFL) and for all his size, Njoku has yet to see a red zone target this season.
Matthew Berry, The Talented Mr. Roto, once heard of a fantasy league that was all about predicting which Phish songs would be played at an upcoming concert. There’s a league for everything. He is the creator of RotoPass.com and one of the owners of the Fantasy Life app and FantasyLife.com.
“@MatthewBerryTMR I miss the love/hate column. Was so awesome over the years. (Three heart-eye emojis).”
@UpRootCha1 is not alone in their sentiments.
@BragantheRules tweeted: “Bring back Love/Hate please. These aren’t doing it.”
@rex_johns said, “I miss the Love/Hate column! Bring it back!”
And so on. I have gotten many positive and supportive tweets over the past four weeks about my new 50 Facts column format and certainly, people are still reading it, for which I am eternally grateful. But I would also be lying if I said that every week, after every column post, I don’t get replies like these as well.
In tweets, texts, comments on my posts in the Fantasy Life app and in conversations with friends, I have heard the same refrain for a month now. “I get why you did it, but man, I really miss Love/Hate.”
The challenge, of course, is that all of the same issues that caused me to retire the column in the first place still exist. Due to some boring internal things and some extenuating circumstances, the truth is my schedule is actually even more hectic and compressed than I originally anticipated.
So why am I writing about this? Isn’t the solution to just ignore the comments, put out the new column and go about my life? Numbers are still good, ESPN is happy with me, and as I just said, I’m busier than ever.
All of which makes sense and would work perfectly fine except for one small issue: I miss it, too.
Make no mistake: I really enjoy the 50 Facts column. I love the process of the research, of figuring out which stats I want to use, of fitting the puzzle pieces together, as it were, to put them in the right order to build my case.
But it’s not Love/Hate. Love/Hate was a part of my life for 20 years. If you choose to do something for 20 years and don’t miss it, something’s wrong.
But still … is there any way to do this?
After talking to a bunch of people — an informal focus group, if you will — I zeroed in on what I think people like about the column. Everyone takes something different, of course, but I believe for the most part one of the big things people like about the column is the intro. Well, I can do that. I’ve already been doing that all along with 50 Facts. The other big thing they like are many names — just knowing which players I “love” or “hate.”
Could I do that? And maybe give a stat or two about each guy, but not go into the in-depth analysis like I used to? Because after the intro, that’s the part that takes the most time. The long paragraph about each player.
So when I would make predictions, especially in written form, each of them was like a mini-thesis. Even if I got it wrong, I felt, I wanted you to see at least a decent chunk of all the thought process behind it and the research that went into creating that prediction.
Every week, from 1999 until this past August, that’s what I did. As my role changed and I got the opportunity to do more and more at ESPN, I never stopped that process. Five thousand-plus words, every week, rain or shine. Some columns better than others, of course, but all of them with blood, sweat, tears, thought, worrying, writing and rewriting until the early morning the following day. One of my favorite authors, the late, great Douglas Adams, used to say, “Writing is easy. You only need to stare at a piece of blank paper until your forehead bleeds.”
And that work habit carried over to other areas of the company as well. It was a hard lesson I learned as I started doing more and more television. I would spit out all these stats — too many to process for someone watching — but it was an ego thing. I had done the work and, well, I wanted to prove it. Which I did in my mind, but to the viewer at home it probably just sounded like a ton of numbers all mashed together.
As I reflected on all of this and the lessons I’ve learned from TV — that sometimes less is more — I wondered if maybe that was the solution. Look, I’ve done the work. I do it all day, every day, 24/7. I live, eat, breathe and sleep fantasy football. But condensing a page of all that research — about every single player — into one robust paragraph takes forever.
As I talked with my editors, the question was raised: What if I just ask the audience to trust that I have done the work? They have watched, read and listened to me for almost 20 years professionally, the last 11 on ESPN. If they don’t trust me by now, they’re never gonna.
So how about if we made rules, we thought? Rules that we explained to the audience. Bring back the old format — players you love, others receiving votes and players you hate, sorted by position. Still do the intros, but make them a bit shorter. Try to do more players, but with shorter analysis; no more than three sentences on a player. Skip the explanation of the premise we did every week and add in the ESPN point total projection to each player, so that readers know a “LOVE” means I think they meet or exceed the projected points and a “HATE” means they fall short. That simple. Bingo, bango and be done with it.
Basically, a “good parts” version of Love/Hate for you, less writing for me. We’ll call it Love/Hate 2.0. Or, as I prefer: Love/Hate 2: Electric Boogaloo.
I thought that would work. It’s still going to mean a long night at the office, but it seems more doable, and it gives the people what they’ve told me they want. So, then, the only reason not to do it was, honestly, ego.
I mean, come on. Six weeks ago, I wrote a 14,000-word teary-eyed goodbye to Love/Hate. And now I’m coming back? Who am I, Mike Francesa? If I do this, am I saying 50 Facts is New Coke? Remember when Michael Jordan tried baseball and then had to go crawling back to hoops? That’s what it’ll look like, right?
But then I thought, “Well, that’s dumb.” To not do the column just because of ego? Look, it’s embarrassing and stupid and I’m sure I look silly to some. But that seems like a dumb reason not to do it. And I did give myself an out in the retirement column, saying I reserved the right to bail on the whole thing and come back. So make fun of me all you want on this. I know it’s coming and I get it. Quick, someone make a meme of a computer hanging over a phone line a la Marshawn’s shoes.
But I’m giving the people what they want. I miss Love/Hate and want it back, even if it’s in a shorter, “to-go” version. And hey, from Marshawn Lynch to Magic Johnson to Michael Phelps to The Eagles to George Foreman to Letterman … to guys like Nick Saban and John Calipari, who coached in the pros for a nanosecond only to scurry back to college … to The Who to Mario Lemieux to, yes, Mike Francesa, the Coca-Cola corporation, the GOAT Michael Jordan and a zillion others I am sure I am forgetting … I’m in pretty good company with my waffling.
Did you know George Washington unretired TWICE? Once to lead the Continental Army against the British and another time to become, you know, the PRESIDENT. So yeah, just like G-Dubs, I’m back, baby. Let’s get to it.
NOTE: All projection values below are from late Wednesday and are subject to change.
Quarterbacks I love in Week 5
Ben Roethlisberger vs. Falcons (ESPN projection: 19.9): Through four games, the Falcons’ pass defense has allowed the eighth-most passing yards, seventh-most touchdown passes, fifth-highest completion percentage and the second-most completions. They are missing four defensive starters and the over/under for this game is 57 (highest for any game this season). My No. 1 QB this week.
Matt Ryan at Steelers (ESPN projection: 19.2): Through four games, Ryan has more fantasy points than he did in the first four games of 2016, when he won the MVP and was the No. 2 QB in fantasy. Good times roll along this week while facing a Steelers defense that has allowed a league-high 21 deep completions and seven deep TD passes. Ryan is top six in the NFL this season in deep completions, deep completion percentage and deep TDs.
Jared Goff at Seahawks (ESPN projection: 17.9 points): Coming off a Thursday night destruction of Minnesota, Goff has had a long week to prepare for a Seahawks team that will be without Earl Thomas and has allowed 22 total passing TDs and 1,301 yards on deep passes over its past 16 games. Top-five play for me this week.
Others receiving votes:Matthew Stafford is averaging 313 passing yards in his past six games against Green Bay and has 14 touchdowns in those games, and the Lions refuse to give a ton of work to Kerryon Johnson. … Playing on a short week after a road game, the Chiefs have yet to allow fewer than 23 points in a game this season and have coughed up the second-most passing yards in the NFL. As streamers go, you could do worse than Blake Bortles. … For the truly desperate, it’s worth noting there are only five quarterbacks who have at least 15 points in all four weeks this season: Aaron Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes, Philip Rivers, Jared Goff and … Joe Flacco. The Browns’ defense is better, but it’s not legendary. Expect Flacco to get at least 15 points here.
Quarterbacks I hate in Week 5
Russell Wilson vs. Rams (ESPN projection: 16.6 points): He’s just not running this year (42 yards total in four games) and he is coming off back-to-back games with less than 200 total yards. The Rams create pressure 36.1 percent of the time this season, the second-highest rank in the league, and when pressured this season, Wilson has completed just 47.2 percent of his passes for zero touchdowns and one interception.
Andrew Luck at Patriots (ESPN projection: 18.3 points): When the Patriots have been leading this season, their defense has the second-best completion percentage against. Traveling on a short week to Gillette with no T.Y. Hilton, no Jack Doyle and no Marlon Mack, Luck is outside my top 10.
Baker Mayfield vs. Ravens (ESPN projection: 14 points): I’m all-in on Baker season-long and for the Browns, but the Ravens are allowing a league-low 53.8 percent completion rate with only five passing touchdowns allowed in four games, and four of those were to red-hot (see what I did there?) Andy Dalton when they were traveling on a short week.
Running backs I love in Week 5
Christian McCaffrey vs. Giants (ESPN projection: 20.5 points): Since the beginning of last season, the Giants are allowing a league-high 5.84 yards per catch after the reception. Since he entered the league, McCaffrey ranks fourth in yards after the catch (trailing only Todd Gurley II, Alvin Kamara and Golden Tate).
James Conner vs. Falcons (ESPN projection: 20.9 points): The Falcons are missing four defensive starters from a defense that has given up the most receptions to opposing running backs. Conner is eighth among running backs in targets this season, and his 9.7 yards after the catch per reception is fifth among running backs. I want as much of this game as I can get. Giddy up.
T.J. Yeldon at Chiefs (ESPN projection: 16.3 points): When he gets at least 15 touches in a game, he averages 15.04 PPG for his career. That his AVERAGE. And now he gets a Chiefs defense on a short week that allows a league-high 5.73 yards per carry.
Sony Michel vs. Colts (ESPN projection: 13.7 points): Michel has touched the ball on 77 percent of his snaps this season, the highest percentage in the NFL. He’s tied for the sixth-most carries in the NFL since making his debut in Week 2, and the Patriots have run the ball 43.4 percent of the time this season, the third-highest rate in the league. New England is a 10-point favorite.
Matt Breida vs. Cardinals (ESPN projection: 12.7 points): No team in the NFL is being run on more than the Arizona Cardinals. Thirty-five times a game, the highest rate since the 2010 Buffalo Bills. On the road with a young QB, expect 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan to lean on his running game, led by Breida, who is averaging 7.6 yards per carry this season.
Others receiving votes:Nyheim Hines leads the Colts with 22 receptions this season and Indy is the second-pass-heaviest offense in the NFL thus far. Did I mention the Colts are 10-point underdogs? … I have been on record since early this summer that Aaron Jones is the most talented Packers running back and would be the one you want by midseason. But I think it happens sooner than that now, starting this week against a Lions team that allows the third-most yards per carry. … I already mentioned Matt Breida, but I kind of think Alfred Morris gets enough run here in a great matchup to be flex-worthy for the desperate. Remember, Morris still leads the team in carries and Arizona has given up eight touchdowns to opposing running backs, most in the NFL. ALF still gets the majority of red zone work and has a decent chance of falling into the end zone here.
Running backs I hate in Week 5
LeSean McCoy vs. Titans (ESPN projection: 10.6 points): There have been 101 instances this season in which a player touched the ball at least 14 times in a game. McCoy is not one of the players who have. It’s hard to expect heavy volume, and now he faces a Titans defense that has yet to allow a rushing touchdown this season.
Dalvin Cook at Eagles (ESPN projection: 12.9 points): Obvious health concerns and the offensive line is doing him no favors, but his 36 carries have netted just 98 yards this season and he hasn’t had a 10-plus-yard run since the first half of Week 1. The Eagles allow the fewest rushing yards per game and third-fewest yards per carry.
Lamar Miller vs. Cowboys (ESPN projection: 11.8 points): Miller has fewer than 15 carries in three straight games (and six of his past seven), and the Cowboys allow just 3.62 yards per carry this season (fifth lowest) and rank third in preventing yards per carry before first contact.
Mark Ingram vs. Redskins (ESPN projection: 13.2 points): It’s not as easy a matchup as you might think (the Redskins are seventh against the run), so you’re basically praying for a touchdown here. Given how well Alvin Kamara is playing, I find it hard to believe he comes off the field to give significant snaps to Ingram.
Pass-catchers I love in Week 5
Marvin Jones Jr. vs. Packers (ESPN projection: 13.2 points): You’re already starting Golden Tate and Kenny “Babytron” Golladay, but did you know Jones leads the NFL with 10 end zone targets (all other Lions have a total of two)? So, I like his chances of getting a score here. Jones also has eight targets at least 20 yards downfield, tied for the sixth most in the NFL. The Packers have allowed eight such completions this season, tied for the sixth most.
Calvin Ridley at Steelers (ESPN projection: 11 points): He has to come back down to earth at some point, but you’re not benching him now. Not this week, not this matchup. The Steelers have allowed a league-high 21 deep completions this season. Ridley has turned six deep targets into 138 yards and three touchdowns in the past three weeks.
Tyler Boyd vs. Dolphins (ESPN projection: 12.7 points): Here’s the list of players with three straight games of six catches and 90 receiving yards: Adam Thielen, Brandin Cooks and …Tyler Boyd. It’s skewed a bit because A.J. Green got banged up in one game, but Boyd leads the Bengals in receptions (26), targets (35), routes (145) and receiving yards (349).
Zach Ertz and Nelson Agholor vs. Vikings (ESPN projection: Ertz 15.9 points, Agholor 11.9 points): With Xavier Rhodes expected to shadow Alshon Jeffery, Carson Wentz should attack the slot the way the Rams did last week (9 completions for 165 yards and 3 TDs to the slot). Both Ertz and Agholor are top 10 in the NFL in targets and receptions from the slot.
Julian Edelman vs. Colts (ESPN projection: 12.9 points):Tom Brady can’t welcome him back fast enough. Including playoffs, Edelman is averaging more than 12 targets per game in his past 10. Facing a beat-up Colts defense that is allowing the fifth-highest completion percentage this season, I’m firing him up Thursday night.
Jimmy Graham at Lions (ESPN projection: 11.1 points): With Davante Adams, Randall Cobb and Geronimo Allison all in various stages of banged up as I write this (Wednesday night), expect Rodgers to lean heavily on Graham against a Lions team that has allowed opponents to complete 75 percent of passes to TEs this season (sixth-highest rate). Over the past two weeks, Graham has been responsible for 30 percent of the Packers’ red zone targets.
Others receiving votes:Quincy Enunwa continues to get major target share and this week faces a Broncos team that has allowed the second-most yards per attempt to the slot, not to mention the third-highest completion percentage when the slot is targeted. … Another week with Evan Engram on the shelf, another productive week for Sterling Shepard, who ranks seventh among WRs in red zone target share this season (40 percent). The Panthers are the only team in the NFL yet to stop a red zone drive from resulting in a TD this season. … Very quietly Dede Westbrook is fifth in the NFL in yards after the catch. This is worth noting considering the Chiefs allow the fifth-most yards per catch after the reception this season (6.66). … With Corey Davis expected to be shadowed by Tre’Davious White, even more love should go to Taywan Taylor, whose 22.6 percent target share over the past two weeks ranks in the same range as Mike Evans, Tyreek Hill and Emmanuel Sanders. … I’ve said I want as much of the Falcons-Steelers game as I can get and that includes Vance McDonald, who is averaging 16.7 yards per catch … and much more yards per Conte.
Pass-catchers I hate in Week 5
Corey Davis at Bills (ESPN projection: 13.2 points): As noted above, I expect a shadow by terrific young corner Tre’Davious White. Since the beginning of last season, the Bills have allowed the third-fewest deep completions, the third-fewest deep touchdowns and the ninth-lowest deep completion percentage. More than 45 percent of Davis’ career receiving yards have come via the deep pass. Also, I’m not convinced yet that Marcus Mariota is any good.
Devin Funchess vs. Giants (ESPN projection: 11.1 points): Among the reasons I like Christian McCaffrey this week (outside the obvious) is that I expect Janoris Jenkins to shadow Funchess and be fairly successful at it. For all their struggles, the Giants have the fourth-best red zone defense this season and that matters because 77.8 percent of Funchess’ career TD receptions have come in the red zone.
Amari Cooper at Chargers (ESPN projection: 12.2 points): Inconsistent as all get-out, this strikes me as a “down” game against Casey Hayward and the Chargers. Cooper has three or fewer catches in seven of his past nine games, and this is more than likely a big Jared Cook/Marshawn Lynch game. And without the volume, you’re hoping for a touchdown. How lucky do you feel?
And there you go. Thanks as always to Kyle Soppe and Damian Dabrowski for their help with this column. Good to be back.
Matthew Berry, The Talented Mr. Roto, is in a deep league and has to start another guy who left and came back, Antonio Gates. He is the creator of RotoPass.com and one of the owners of the Fantasy Life app and FantasyLife.com.
On Saturday, when the entries were tallied up in the most prestigious NFL handicapping contest in the world, the Westgate Las Vegas SuperContest, more than half of the 3,123-person field had included the Houston Texans to beat the Tennessee Titans among their five picks.
The Titans held on to beat the Texans 20-17, one of 10 underdogs to cover the spread on Sunday.
“We’re having a very good day,” Ed Salmons, sportsbook manager at the Westgate, told ESPN on Sunday afternoon. “But we still have a really big decision tonight. Everyone is betting the Giants.”
Even when bettors backed the underdog, it was the wrong one. The Dallas Cowboys, a 3-point favorite over the Giants, won 20-13 in prime time, capping a lucrative day for the books.
“It was a very, very good day,” said Chris Andrews, sportsbook director at the South Point in Las Vegas.
Big money shows up on Texans
The influential bets on the Texans showed up Thursday at multiple Las Vegas sportsbooks.
They were large and from a known, respected player: $110,000 on Houston -2 at the South Point, another “pretty good sized” bet on the Texans at the Wynn and big chunks at MGM and the Westgate as well.
“I think everyone in town [took big bets on the Texans],” said Johnny Avello, executive director of Wynn race and sports.
After the bets from the unknown bettor were placed Thursday, the line grew to as high as Houston -4 and the Titans’ injury situation, including quarterback Marcus Mariota‘s availability, started to become clearer.
On Friday, Tennessee coach Mike Vrabel told the media that Mariota and backup Blaine Gabbert would share snaps against Houston and announced that starting offensive linemen Taylor Lewan and Jack Conklin had been ruled out.
“He’s one of our really sharp players,” Andrews said of the savvy bettor. “He’s what I’d call a spot player. He comes in and plays as high as you want to put him on for. But he doesn’t bet all the time, just when he feels he has the edge. I don’t know if knew something about Mariota before the rest of us did.”
“The same guy bet the Falcons +4.5 against the Eagles in their first game,” Salmons of the Westgate said. “Even though he’s lost his two bets, his stuff is correct; [the market] moves accordingly.”
Atlanta closed as a small favorite against the Eagles, after Philadelphia quarterback Carson Wentz was ruled out, but lost the game.
Mariota did not play against the Texans.
Rodgers’ impact on Vikings-Packers line
The status of Aaron Rodgers kept the point spread on the Minnesota Vikings–Green Bay Packers game off the betting board for much of the week in Las Vegas. After Rodgers was in the Sunday night game in Week 1, the line (which had moved from Green Bay -2.5 to around a pick-em) was taken off betting boards in Vegas and offshore on Monday — and remained that way until Sunday.
When news broke Sunday morning that Rodgers would play, the Vikings were installed as 2.5-point favorites. The line shrunk to Minnesota -1.5 by kickoff, but several books still found themselves rooting for the Packers.
Salmons said he had to keep the line off the board until there was some clarity about Rodgers’ availability “because, obviously, if he doesn’t play, the line is on the other side of 7.
“I was shocked at the amount of money that came in on that game with the line only up three hours,” he added. “It was all Vikings.”
The game finished in a 29-29 tie, with the Packers covering the spread.
Books win on Jaguars, Dolphins
• The books did well on the Jacksonville Jaguars‘ win over the Patriots. “One of our house players — he’s really smart — placed a decent-sized bet on the Jaguars,” Salmons said. “All the rest of the money was 100 percent public on New England.”
• The Miami Dolphins‘ win over the favored New York Jets produced one of the largest wins of the early kickoffs for MGM’s sportsbooks. “Lots of money on the Jets, including a couple of big plays,” said Jay Rood, vice president of MGM race and sports. “We had a couple of in-house guys betting the moneyline on the Jets rather than laying the 2.5 early in the week. That was solid for us.”
• Bettors did well backing the San Diego Chargers, who were 7.5-point favorites over the Buffalo Bills. The Chargers won 31-20. “We got lucky on the Chargers,” Rood said. “We had strong play at halftime on the Chargers again, and the Bills covered for us [in the second half].”
Here is a chart of how every team did in Week 2:
NFL Week 3 lookahead
• The Eagles were 7-point favorites over the Indianapolis Colts in early Week 3 lines posted last week by the Westgate SuperBook. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Sunday morning that Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz still needs medical clearance but is on track to play against the Colts.
The Westgate kept the game off the board when it posted its opening lines Sunday night.
• The Vikings opened as 16.5-point favorites over the Bills. It’s the most points the Vikings have been favored by since 2009.
College football report
• It wasn’t a good weekend for the Big Ten. Wisconsin, Northwestern, Nebraska and Maryland each lost as double-digit favorites. On the season, 13 teams have lost straight up as double-digit favorites. The Big Ten has suffered five of the losses.
Wisconsin and Northwestern each lost as 20-plus-point favorites Saturday. The Badgers and Wildcats are the only two teams to have lost as 20-plus-point favorites this season.
Overall, Big Ten favorites have lost straight up 10 times in nonconference play this season, the most of any conference.
• The Alabama-Ole Miss total closed at 72 at some books, by far the highest in Nick Saban’s coaching career. After leading 49-7 at halftime, the Crimson Tide held on for a 62-7 win in a game that remarkably stayed under the total.
• Alabama has covered the spread by an average of 19.8 points per game, the most of any team this season. Florida State has failed to cover the spread by an average of 25.5 points per game, the most of any team, according to TeamRankings.com.
• Alabama is now an odds-on favorite, at -110, to win the national championship at the Westgate SuperBook. Crimson Tide quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is the favorite to win the Heisman trophy at +250.
• The Boise State-Oklahoma State game saw significant line movement leading up to the Saturday afternoon kickoff, with the visiting Broncos going from 3-point underdogs to as high as 3-point favorites at some books. The Cowboys won 44-21. “Oklahoma State was our biggest game of the day,” Rood said. “Pros and Joes were on the same side, Boise.”
• The South Point reported taking a $40,000 bet on Texas A&M against Louisiana-Monroe. The Aggies, who were 28-point favorites, won and covered 48-10.
• College football underdogs went 36-23-2 against the spread Saturday.
• The SEC is 22-11 against the spread in nonconference play.
Canelo Alvarez closed as around a +150 underdog in Saturday night’s middleweight title fight with Gennady Golovkin. Alvarez was awarded a majority decision, producing mixed results for sportsbooks around Las Vegas.
Station Casinos’ sportsbooks, along with the South Point and Westgate, said they fared well on the fight, while MGM took it on the chin.
Rood said he took “two or three” six-figure bets on Alvarez and ended up on the wrong side of a seven-figure swing.
“Today made up for a little bit of that robbery from last night,” Rood joked about the close decision on Sunday afternoon while reviewing his NFL results.
Shortly after the fight ended, the Westgate SuperBook opened odds on another potential rematch between Alvarez and Golovkin at pick-em.
After the Denver Broncos wide receiver found himself on the wrong end of one of Kam Chancellor‘s greatest hits — a tone-setting moment early in Super Bowl XLVIII — he popped up off the turf, trotted back toward the huddle and casually tossed the ball back to an official.
But he was feeling it.
“Kam Chancellor broke my ribs,” Thomas would later say, presumably in exaggeration. “My first catch, I got decleated. I got hit probably from here, back 3 yards the opposite way. And I got up quick because I wanted to feel like it didn’t hurt, but it hurt bad.”
If Chancellor, the Seattle Seahawks‘ iconic strong safety, is indeed done playing football as he indicated in a lengthy message posted to Twitter on Sunday because of a neck injury he suffered last season, then it will have been an innocuous-looking hit in the closing minutes of a victory over the Arizona Cardinals that ended his career. But it was the massive, devastating hits like the one he put on Thomas that helped define it.
Here are, in no particular order, five of the most significant moments of Chancellor’s career.
‘Wow, I just got hit by a very big man’
Chancellor had already established himself as one of the NFL’s most punishing defenders by 2012, his third professional season and second season as a starter. Still, the hit he laid on 49ers tight end Vernon Davis in Week 16 of that year was enough to make your jaw drop. Davis leapt to catch a Colin Kaepernick pass near the front corner of the end zone and was met on his descent by Chancellor, who launched his 6-foot-3, 230-pound frame directly into Davis’ chest, knocking the ball loose and leaving Davis with a concussion.
“It was crazy, man. He just hit me so hard, I just got up, I didn’t know where I was going,” Davis later recalled in an interview with the Washington Post. “I kind of lost my memory a little bit. I just got up like this, my face was just like aaagh. I just didn’t know what happened. I was like, ‘Wow, I just got hit by a very big man.’ He hit me hard. You know what he told me? He said, ‘Shake it off. It’s all right. Shake it off.’ I’m like, ‘I can’t remember anything. You tell me to shake it off? How about you go shake it off, buddy?’ That was quite a hit. That was probably the hardest hit I had.”
This wasn’t the first big hit Chancellor delivered nor did it have the biggest effect on a game. But arguably none resulted in a more impressive collision than this one. And this play, which came during a Sunday night walloping of the eventual NFC champs during a stretch of three consecutive blowout victories, might as well have unofficially marked the Seahawks’ arrival as contenders.
‘Worthy’ of leadership
Chancellor became the voice of Seattle’s defense, the alpha in a group full of alphas, but it didn’t happen right away. After Chancellor signed his latest extension last summer, Pete Carroll was asked to think back to when he started to realize that the Seahawks had something special in Chancellor. The coach revisited a conversation he had midway through Chancellor’s rookie season in 2010 in which Chancellor expressed some reluctance to assume a leadership role.
Carroll had seen how Chancellor handled himself and saw in him the type of player others would follow, so he pulled him aside one day and encouraged him to start asserting himself whenever he felt comfortable.
“‘You’re the real deal, you’re busting your tail, you do everything we want,'” Carroll told him.
But Chancellor was backing up veteran Lawyer Milloy at the time, playing primarily on special teams and only occasionally on defense. He didn’t feel he had earned the right.
“He said, ‘Coach, I can’t do that,'” Carroll recalled. “And I said, ‘Come on, you can,’ trying to urge him on. And he said, ‘I’m not doing enough yet. I’m not doing enough playing to be able to say anything or take that position,’ which I thought was perfectly admirable.
“When it came back around in the middle of his second year, it started to happen. He is such a natural leader that he took over. I thought that was a real good statement that he wanted to be worthy when he took the lead to it. The point is, you could see it early. He has all the right stuff.”
Chancellor’s leadership weighed heavily into Seattle’s decision to extend him a second time last summer. The Seahawks knew they couldn’t keep their star-studded secondary intact forever, and they figured Chancellor was the type of veteran they wanted around to help mold the youngsters whenever the youth movement arrived.
Kam bests Cam
Chancellor didn’t reach four Pro Bowls and earn two lucrative contract extensions just by knocking ball carriers and pass-catchers (and occasionally offensive linemen) silly. Sometimes lost in his well-earned reputation as one of the NFL’s hardest hitters was his playmaking ability. Perhaps no Chancellor play was bigger than his pick-six of Cam Newton to seal a divisional-round win over the Carolina Panthers in January 2015.
The Panthers had driven into the red zone and were threatening to cut Seattle’s 14-point fourth-quarter lead in half when Chancellor stepped in front of a Newton throw and returned it 90 yards for the clinching touchdown. It put the Seahawks in the NFC Championship Game, where they beat the Green Bay Packers to reach their second straight Super Bowl.
In an impressive display of athleticism earlier in the victory over Carolina, Chancellor cleanly jumped over Carolina’s line, trying to block a field goal attempt. When the try was nullified by a false-start penalty, Chancellor did the same thing on the next play.
“He’s a freaking monster,” Richard Sherman said afterward. “And I think everybody’s getting surprised each time he makes a huge play like he hasn’t done it before.”
No accounting of Chancellor’s legacy would be complete without mention of his ill-fated 2015 holdout. He never publicly said anything of substance about his motivation during or after the ordeal, leaving much open to speculation.
Perhaps he was trying to get what he could when he still could knowing that the Seahawks could potentially move on from him after that season. After all, he had no guaranteed money the final two years of his contract. Maybe he was taking a page out of Marshawn Lynch‘s playbook, having seen Lynch hold out the year before, returning only once the team had moved up some money in his contract. It’s possible that Chancellor’s conviction stemmed from playing through several injuries, including what Carroll described as a “superhuman” effort to make it through Super Bowl XLIX against the New England Patriots on a torn MCL from a few months earlier.
Whatever it was, Chancellor’s resolve was strong enough to miss the first two games — both losses — of what turned out to be a 10-6 season that ended with a wild-card berth and a divisional-round exit. Carroll said at the time that the situation was particularly disappointing given everything Chancellor meant to the organization.
In his second game back, he saved a Monday night win over the Detroit Lions when he punched the ball out of Calvin Johnson’s hand at the goal line. Chancellor made his fourth Pro Bowl after that season. But there are some veteran teammates who resented whatever impact Chancellor’s holdout had on their attempt to win another Super Bowl.
‘I just thought after that hit that our offense just went flat’
It was fitting that the MVP of Super Bowl XLVIII went to one of Seattle’s defenders. The Seahawks held the highest-scoring team in NFL history to all of eight points. Linebacker Malcolm Smith won the award after returning an interception for a touchdown and recovering a fumble, but many felt it should have gone to Chancellor instead.
He matched Smith with an interception and 10 tackles, and his hit on Thomas was the first stroke of Seattle’s defensive masterpiece.
Five minutes into the first quarter, with Denver driving toward midfield, Thomas caught the ball on a crossing route, a staple of Denver’s record-setting offense. Chancellor, seeing the play the entire time, met Thomas at the 40-yard line and sent the 6-foot-3, 230-pound receiver into the air. By the time Thomas landed and rolled over, he was 7 yards back at the 33.
That play foreshadowed what the Broncos were up against that night: Seattle’s defense was going to be a step ahead of everything, and it wasn’t going to let up.
“I just thought after that hit that our offense just went flat,” Thomas said. “It went flat. I just kept playing because I was like man, I might not never get this chance again, so I’m going to go out … and I just kept getting hit hard. That’s the hardest I’ve ever got hit in my whole career. That whole game, oh man, I felt the worst.”
Thomas was asked if he felt like the game was over at that moment.
“I didn’t think it was over, but I was like man, they coming to hit today,” he said. “I’m telling you man, he hit me so hard. So hard. That’s the hardest I got hit in my whole career.”
An otherwise productive Day 2 of mandatory minicamp was soured at the end of practice when the Vikings quarterback threw two interceptions in the red zone. That same period also featured two overthrown balls, a dropped pass and a ball that was tipped at the line by defensive end Danielle Hunter, all of which occurred in that same troublesome area inside the 20-yard line.
“Right now I’m pretty salty walking off the field,” Cousins said Wednesday. “I’m really frustrated. I do not want to walk into the summer with a bad taste in my mouth about practice. Hopefully we can finish really strong tomorrow and be feeling good going into the summer.
“Even one bad decision in practice kind of bothers me all afternoon and I can be a bit of a grouch when I go home. That one bothered me. Adam [Thielen] was frustrated with a couple plays himself. He was sitting in his locker pouting with me, so we were having a little pity party with each other just now before I came out here.”
After finishing 28th in red zone scoring two years ago, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer has made situational football in this area a regular part of practices. Last season Minnesota jumped to ninth in red zone scoring, notching a touchdown on nearly 58 percent of its trips inside the 20-yard line.
These drills have continued this spring, often featuring third-down situations in the red zone.
“The first [interception], I just couldn’t get all the way through the throw, so the ball died on me,” Cousins said. “The second one, [I] was testing it a little bit, trying to see what I can get away with, and I learned pretty quickly that I can’t get away with that throw.
“Some of the beauty of OTAs is you can test stuff, you can experiment, you can try things without the ramifications that you would have during the season. Just got to learn from them and use them and bank those reps so that come the season, you’re making really good decisions in those critical situations.”
Cousins was eventually able to string together completions during the third period after completing TD passes to Diggs and Rudolph earlier in the practice.
A key to that? The reinforcement he received from offensive coordinator John DeFilippo, who above adjustments and critiques stressed the importance of a quarterback having short-term memory.
“If you don’t have that, it’s going to be really, really hard to move on to the next play,” DeFilippo said. “In the headset I was just telling him, ‘Next play, next play, next play.’ We’re going to go through rough stretches at some point this season. There’s going to be an interception, there’s going to be a couple three-and-outs in a row. That’s real life football.”
Cousins’ issues in the red zone often were critiqued during his time in Washington. In 2017, the quarterback completed 50 percent of his throws inside the 20, and his three interceptions were tied for the second worst with Dak Prescott and Brett Hundley. When the Redskins moved inside the 10-yard line, Cousins’ completion percentage dipped to 34.6 percent (9-of-25 passing).
When DeFilippo was hired in February, one of the first things the offensive coordinator promised was the Vikings developing a “touchdown-checkdown mentality” in the red zone. The ability to make throws into tight windows or check the ball down is critical for Cousins as he continues to learn the offense and get comfortable in an area where he’s struggled. Part of taking the pressure off Cousins inside the 20-yard line will be the reliance of Minnesota’s run game with Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray, who led the Vikings with seven red zone touchdowns.
As the Vikings wrap up minicamp on Friday and Cousins heads into the offseason, the quarterback aims to put his red zone mistakes in the past and end on a high note. Reflecting on his first two months in the Twin Cities and the ups and downs that have come with learning a new offense, Cousins says the relationship he has established with DeFilippo and the areas of his game he’s honed in on are at the top of his list of early accomplishments.
“I was just pleasantly surprised with the rapport,” Cousins said. “There was a fair amount of carryover from what I’ve done in the past, so that was a good first step, and then whenever I did suggest something, he’s just been a great listener, he’s been a great communicator. I love his passion for the game. I feel like although we’ve never crossed paths in the past, we do have similar backgrounds and a lot of times we’re coming from a similar perspective. I’ve really enjoyed working with him and I can’t wait to build reps and build experiences with him such that we have a bit of a rapport and a dynamic and a reputation around the league. Hopefully we can get there.”
Adjusting to the speed at which DeFilippo has run his practices was a work in progress for not only Cousins but the entire Vikings offense. Rapid-fire deep ball drills where Cousins and backup quarterback Trevor Siemian moved back and forth while launching passes to receivers in rhythm on Wednesday showcased an ability to move up-tempo.
Progress like that earns praise from DeFilippo, who gets to walk away from the spring knowing things that have clicked with his quarterback have translated to team drills.
“I think when you just see him operate fast,” the offensive coordinator said. “He did a few things out there today that unless you knew he did, you would have no idea he did in terms of changing the protection, in terms of using a unique cadence to help us identify the defensive front, the defensive coverage, all those things, the blitz [packages]. Our defense was bringing the heat pretty good today. He did some subtle things that tell you he’s really understanding the little intricacies of what we’re trying to accomplish.”
Draft picks represent hope for the future, and no one gets more attention from fans than the first-round picks. Now that teams have gotten a good look at their draft classes through rookie camp and OTAs, we can get an idea of how quickly first-rounders are adapting to the pro game. Who’s getting first-team reps? Who’s struggling? Our NFL Nation reporters share their first impressions of how first-rounders are doing, and whether they’re ahead of the rookie curve, right on track, or whether it’s too soon to tell.
QB Baker Mayfield. The Browns don’t want Mayfield to start this season and are giving Tyrod Taylor the starter’s reps. That’s as it should be given the plan, and given Mayfield has a long way to go in learning the NFL game, speed and fundamentals. Status: Too soon to tell. — Pat McManamon
RB Saquon Barkley. He was the second overall pick and the consensus top player in the draft for a reason. There isn’t much Barkley can’t do. He’s picking up the offense quickly and really making his presence felt as a receiver at OTAs. His ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and run crisp routes has been noticeable. Barkley is also handling the hype and attention with relative ease. It’s impressive. Status: Right on track. — Jordan Raanan
QB Sam Darnold. It’s not a knock against Darnold, but it’s difficult to gauge a quarterback in noncontact practices in the spring. This much we do know: He can make all the throws, his grasp of the offense is improving on a daily basis, and he’s a good student in the classroom, according to teammates and coaches. Darnold’s big test will be in the preseason, when he’s expected to see significant action. Status: Too soon to tell. — Rich Cimini
CB Denzel Ward. He is penciled in as an immediate starter at corner. That’s based on his man-coverage ability he displayed in college at Ohio State. Though Ward was slowed by a minor injury in rookie camp, he had a very strong practice in the second OTA session open to the media, with a couple of impressive red zone breakups. Status: Right on track. — Pat McManamon
OLB Bradley Chubb. With his athleticism and work ethic, Chubb has already impressed the Broncos, who scuttled a planned draft-day trade to move down in the first round when Chubb was unexpectedly available to them at No. 5. As nose tackle Domata Peko, a 13-year veteran, put it: “He reminds me of Von [Miller] a lot. He’s quick, he’s strong and he can get to the passer. He’s disruptive and he’s willing to learn. He’s always talking to Von and asking, ‘Hey, what can I do?’ That’s good to see out of a rookie.” Status: Right on track. — Jeff Legwold
G Quenton Nelson. It’s easy to understand why the Colts selected Nelson so high in the draft. His skill set has been pretty evident, as left tackle Anthony Castonzo said Nelson takes up a lot of “much-needed space” at guard for them along an offensive line that has routinely struggled over the years. Nelson has been working with the first unit at left guard so far during OTAs, but a full evaluation can’t be made of how well Nelson will protect Andrew Luck and Jacoby Brissett until the pads are put on. Status: Right on track. — Mike Wells
QB Josh Allen. Allen has practiced solely with the third-team offense through the first two weeks, so we’re still a ways from seeing how he performs with top receiver Kelvin Benjamin and tight end Charles Clay among his targets. The eye-opening arm strength and ball velocity have been as advertised with Allen, but so has his questionable accuracy. In a two-minute drill to end Thursday’s practice, Allen missed a receiver on first down and later telegraphed an interception on third down. He got a second chance and was much sharper, moving down the field for a touchdown. Status: Too soon to tell. — Mike Rodak
LB Roquan Smith. The Bears are mixing in Smith with the first team at OTAs. Barring a major setback, the rookie linebacker will open the regular season in Chicago’s starting lineup. It’s hard to gauge a linebacker’s true performance in noncontact drills, but Smith has flashed elite speed when asked to drop back into coverage in 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills. Status: Right on track. — Jeff Dickerson
OT Mike McGlinchey. The 49ers wasted no time plugging McGlinchey into the starting lineup at right tackle. He was already working with the first unit in the opening days of OTAs and it’s unlikely that will change any time soon. McGlinchey held his own in the practice sessions open to media. While it can be particularly hard to judge offensive linemen without pads on, McGlinchey doesn’t look overwhelmed by the task, and he’s making it a point to learn from veteran Joe Staley. Barring injury, it would be a major surprise if McGlinchey isn’t starting in Week 1. Status: Right on track. — Nick Wagoner
QB Josh Rosen. He may not play this season, but Rosen has impressed his teammates in the huddle with a maturity and command they weren’t expecting this early in the quarterback’s career. He has been impressing coaches with his intelligence. When Rosen joined the veterans after the draft, some of his teammates weren’t concerned that he would fall behind learning the offense because of his football IQ. However, with Sam Bradford penciled in as the starter (for as long as he’s healthy), Rosen will be waiting in the wings until he’s called upon. Status: Ahead of the curve. — Josh Weinfuss
S Minkah Fitzpatrick. He has made multiple interceptions in 11-on-11 work, according to reports, and Dolphins coaches have been impressed by his ability to align the defense, a trait that’s important for a safety and rare for a rookie in OTAs. “He’s already identifying the big picture,” assistant DBs coach Renaldo Hill told the Palm Beach Post. “Those are things some guys search for their entire career.” Status: Ahead of the curve. — ESPN.com
DL Vita Vea. It’s too soon to tell on Vea, which has nothing to do with his performance and is merely a function of his being a defensive lineman and not being able to put pads on until camp. Based on what head coach Dirk Koetter has seen, he thinks Vea is right on track. “His [347-pound] weight has definitely not affected him. He’s got an excellent motor and he’s a very strong human being. You can ask those guards that are playing against him. He’s got a [hump] move with that inside arm. I’ve seen him lift 300-pound men off the ground with one arm. It’s impressive, his strength.” Status: Too soon to tell. — Jenna Laine
DL Da’Ron Payne. He looks to be in good shape and has been working as the No. 1 nose tackle, next to former college teammate Jonathan Allen. Safety D.J. Swearinger said he has already seen an impact from Payne, who has been difficult to move. That’s what the Redskins need along the front. Payne weighs around 310 pounds, but that weight is spread evenly as he looks thick all over. He hasn’t been noticeable rushing the passer, but his job most likely will be to push the pocket and not necessarily to record sacks. That part of his game remains to be seen. But there’s nothing at this point to suggest he’s not on the path the team had envisioned. Status: Right on track. — John Keim
DE Marcus Davenport. Linemen are hard to judge this time of year, when players aren’t in pads and there is no live contact yet. Plus, it will be tough to gauge Davenport’s progress for a while since he is making the big leap from small-school Texas-San Antonio (including a switch from a two-point stance to a three-point stance). But Davenport is getting some great opportunities with the first-string defense, while veterans Cameron Jordan and Alex Okafor have been recovering from injuries. And the rookie certainly looks the part at 6-foot-6 and 265 pounds. “Man, he’s big and he’s long,” said Saints coach Sean Payton, who also called Davenport a “tremendous worker” who is “coming along really well.” Status: Right on track. — Mike Triplett
OT Kolton Miller. No doubt the Raiders selected Miller to be the heir apparent to Pro Bowler Donald Penn, who is rehabbing from Lisfranc surgery to his right foot. Miller has been sharing first-team reps protecting Derek Carr‘s blind side with David Sharpe in team drills during OTAs. But until pads come on in training camp, it’s all a glorified scrimmage in pajamas, right? Still, coach Jon Gruden is impressed, even if he wants to see Miller get stronger, without losing any of his athleticism. “He’s one of the most athletic tackles that I’ve ever seen,” Gruden said. “I mean, ever seen … but remember, he’s an underclassman. All these draft picks have been on this tour, this rock ‘n’ roll tour. Get to go to all these facilities and eat all of these meals. So, we just want to get him in great shape. Get him stronger but maintain his flexibility and his athleticism.” Status: Too soon to tell. — Paul Gutierrez
LB Tremaine Edmunds. Unlike Allen, whom the Bills are taking along slowly, Buffalo has thrown Edmunds into the fire. He has taken first-team reps in OTAs at middle linebacker and is expected to lead defensive playcalling this season as a rookie. “Up to this point, he’s handled it extremely well, so [I] don’t really see any indication that that won’t continue,” defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said Thursday. Status: Ahead of the curve. — Mike Rodak
S Derwin James. Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley is taking things slow with James. The Florida State product has been working with the second unit at strong safety, giving him time to learn the defense. Bradley said the Chargers will take the rest of this offseason and training camp to figure out how best to use the talented defensive back. “For us, one of the top objectives in seeing these young guys is to see them play fast. See what they can do,” Bradley said. “Sometimes, you put them in different situations, and it slows them down. Right now, we just want to see, ‘Can they play fast? Can they understand the base principles of our defense?’ And then build from there.” Status: Right on track. — Eric D. Williams
CB Jaire Alexander. The Packers might not need him to start immediately on the outside — Kevin King, Tramon Williams and Davon House could occupy those two spots. But the slot position might be a perfect place for Alexander to start. He has already picked off Aaron Rodgers once — on a sideline pass intended for Geronimo Allison near the goal line in this past week’s OTA session. Said cornerbacks coach Jason Simmons: “I mean, it’s huge for that guy, let’s be honest. A guy coming from college, all those guys look up to Aaron. They have a great deal of respect for Aaron. We have a great deal of respect for Aaron in our room just trying to prepare them for him and all of the things that he can do and the way he’s able to manipulate a defense. Is it a confidence booster for him? Yes.” Status: Right on track. — Rob Demovsky
LB Leighton Vander Esch. He is serving as the middle linebacker with the second-team defense at the moment behind Jaylon Smith, but that has nothing to do with how he has looked in OTAs. He has displayed the range necessary to cover, and he has also done a nice job dissecting the run game. The Cowboys view Vander Esch as a multilevel player with the ability to drop in coverage and attack the line of scrimmage. The Cowboys know they will need him to play a ton of snaps as a rookie and have liked what they have seen so far. Status: Right on track. — Todd Archer
OL Frank Ragnow. The Lions have had just one open practice at this point, and Ragnow was right where it seemed like he would be — in the lineup. His position, though, was the surprise as the former Arkansas center has lined up at left guard. For offensive linemen in particular, it’s way too early to know how this might play out in 2018, but he’s getting the same treatment Detroit’s last two first-rounders did: Thrust him into the lineup from the start and see how he does. Status: Too soon to tell. — Michael Rothstein
C Billy Price. He is still limited due to offseason surgery for a torn pectoral muscle, so it’s difficult to assess his progress so far. However, Price has been able to get work in during OTAs by doing individual drills and half-speed and walk-through sessions. It looks like he’s progressing physically exactly as the Bengals hoped, with a targeted return to full speed at training camp. Status: Too soon to tell. — Katherine Terrell
LB Rashaan Evans. He has received a lot of special attention from head coach Mike Vrabel in position drills as the Titans try to integrate him into becoming a Year 1 impact player. Vrabel and defensive coordinator Dean Pees said they are pleased with the progress that Evans is making during his first month with the team. There has been more learning than splash plays early on, but Evans has showed off his versatility on several occasions. He’s being groomed to be a day one starter, and the team wants him to emerge as a leader even as a rookie. Status: Right on track. — Cameron Wolfe
OT Isaiah Wynn. He is not yet cleared to participate in practice following offseason shoulder surgery, so he worked on a separate field with other players coming back from injuries. Offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia previously said that he expects Wynn to be ready for the start of training camp in late July and is excited to work with him. Status: Too soon to tell. — Mike Reiss
WR D.J. Moore. He showed the versatility the Panthers were looking for in a rookie minicamp, lining up in every receiver position and even running a few jet sweeps, which surprised him. But exactly where he will fit in with this rebuilt receiving corps and how his timing is with quarterback Cam Newton remains to be seen. Status: Too soon to tell. — David Newton
TE Hayden Hurst. Hurst has been the Ravens’ best pass-catching tight end in offseason practices. He has great hands and consistently gets separation with his speed. If Hurst keeps up this pace, he’ll make an immediate impact in Baltimore’s passing game. Status: Ahead of the curve. — Jamison Hensley
WR Calvin Ridley. He impressed immediately with his natural ability, then showed his willingness to work hard and perfect his craft once the rookies joined the veterans for OTAs. Said QB Matt Ryan of Ridley, “What I’ve seen is excellent transition in and out of breaks, as good as anybody I’ve been around. He’s got very good hands. He’s smart. … You can tell he’s been well-coached.” Status: Right on track. — Vaughn McClure
RB Rashaad Penny. Maybe the biggest hurdle Penny faces as he tries to pry the starting job from Chris Carson is getting up to speed in pass protection. The Seahawks have made no secret of the fact that Penny has a ways to go in that part of his game, and there’s only so much that can be gleaned about his progress right now since contact isn’t allowed during OTAs. Training camp will provide a better setting to gauge how ready Penny is to save Russell Wilson from blitzing defenders. For now, he’s working behind Carson, who’s still the most physically impressive of Seattle’s running backs. Status: Too soon to tell. — Brady Henderson
S Terrell Edmunds. He looks athletic and hasn’t made many glaring mistakes, but the reps are fairly limited, with Morgan Burnett and Sean Davis entrenched as likely starters. The team likes that Edmunds is an active communicator on the back end and is willing to play multiple positions — safety or dime linebacker — when needed. Status: Right on track. — Jeremy Fowler
DT Taven Bryan. It’s hard to truly evaluate offensive or defensive linemen without being in full pads and having full contact. That being said, Bryan’s quickness is evident and he asks a ton of questions in meeting rooms and of his teammates. Several times over the past two weeks he has spent some time off to the side during a drill with a veteran player. The Jaguars couldn’t ask for him to have a better attitude, but the real evaluation will come when pads go on in training camp. Status: Too soon to tell. — Mike DiRocco
CB Mike Hughes. He has impressed Vikings coaches with his acceleration and quickness, two traits that will serve him well wherever he plays during his rookie season, particularly in the return game. The former UCF standout is working to get as comfortable returning punts as he is on kickoffs and should be able to contribute early on as a returner. Hughes has also been playing a lot of nickel corner with the second-team unit during OTAs. It’s too early to tell whether he’ll truly push Mackensie Alexander for the job in training camp, but Hughes’ work in the slot and at outside corner gives Minnesota versatility in its secondary and the benefit of having its top backup being a No. 1 pick. Status: Right on track. — Courtney Cronin
RB Sony Michel. Wearing No. 51, a temporary jersey until Bill Belichick gives clearance for all rookies to have permanent numbers, Michel took reps behind veterans James White, Rex Burkhead and Mike Gillislee in the OTA that was open to reporters, and his work seemed to be solid. In particular, his footwork while working on a cone drill stood out as a bit unusual for a 215-pound rusher, as he is light on his feet. Status: Right on track. — Mike Reiss
QB Lamar Jackson. The Ravens knew it was going to take time for Jackson to develop. Remember, Jackson is learning to play from under center and call plays with much more verbiage than his college days. His throws have been inconsistent, but he has been explosive when he scrambles in the open field. Status: Too soon to tell.— Jamison Hensley
ESPN’s NFL Nation reporters were on hand this weekend to document the first taste of the NFL for first-year players as more teams held rookie minicamps. Here are some of the sights and sounds from some of the NFL’s new blood.
Saquon Barkley looked like the No. 2 overall pick at rookie minicamp. He did a ton of damage during practices catching the ball out of the backfield. Linebackers had no chance against him. But it’s the pass blocking that coach Pat Shurmur said will be most difficult for the running back. He’ll be seeing blitzes he’s never seen before throughout the summer and his rookie season.
Jordan Raanan, ESPN Staff Writer13h ago
Cardinals first-round pick Josh Rosen is one of two quarterbacks in Arizona’s rookie minicamp along with Chad Kanoff from Princeton.
Josh Weinfuss, ESPN Staff Writer3d ago
Josh Rosen’s first NFL practices started with a little rust but steadily improved as he settled down. He showed off his arm with a variety of short and long passes, as well as his athleticism on roll outs from the pocket. Part of Rosen’s adjustment to the NFL over the weekend came as he worked out of a huddle.
Josh Weinfuss, ESPN Staff Writer16h ago
Colts 1st round pick, guard Quenton Nelson, like every other player, didn’t have pads on during the team’s rookie minicamp. The emphasis was put on fundamentals and getting a first look at the system new coach Frank Reich will run next season. Even without pads on, that didn’t stop Nelson, the No. 6 overall pick in last month’s draft from showing off impressive size, power, footwork and technique in what the Colts hope will be a long career starting at guard for them. “A lot of it is head placement, hand placement, leverage, still playing low, still being disciplined in your footwork,” Reich said. “Even without pads, there’s a big emphasis on taking the proper footwork, getting to the right landmark, coming off with leverage. You get that right start, then – the one thing you’re not able to do without pads is really finish plays like we want to finish them. That’s really the one thing you lose.” Nelson is the frontrunner to start at left guard alongside left tackle Anthony Castonzo next season.
Mike Wells, ESPN Staff Writer2d ago
The Panthers are working first-round pick D.J.Moore, a wide receiver out of Maryland, as expected at all receiver spots in the first of a two-day rookie camp. His versatility and speed is a big reason they made him the 24th pick. They also like his strength after the catch. Here he goes in motion from the slot and catches a short out pattern.
David Newton, ESPN Staff Writer3d ago
Mason Rudolph “made some plays” on Day 2 of Steelers rookie minicamp, coach Mike Tomlin said. Despite a few under-center fumbles on Day 1, the quarterback responded with seven straight completions in team drills, according to receiver Marcus Tucker, who likes Rudolph’s “really big arm” and leadership. “Certain guys just have a command of the huddle, and I think he’s one of those guys,” he said.
Jeremy Fowler, ESPN Staff Writer2d ago
Falcons first round pick Calvin Ridley looked pretty fluid on the first day of rookie minicamp despite one noticeable drop. He ran routes smoothly and used full extension to catches passes. He also drew one pass interference although he should have caught the ball.
Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer3d ago
Here is the first look at Josh Allen in a Bills uniform. He is practicing pocket movement drills early in Friday’s rookie minicamp practice with new OC Brian Daboll.
Mike Rodak, ESPN Staff Writer3d ago
Bears first-round pick linebacker Roquan Smith (#58) said prior to the beginning of rookie minicamp that he doesn’t feel much pressure following in the footsteps of Chicago linebackers such as Dick Butkus, Mike Singletary and Brian Urlacher. But expectations are high for Smith, who’s likely to start immediately and play almost every snap on defense. Smith was the center of attention at the annual rookie camp, which featured seven draft picks, 15 undrafted free agents and a host of tryout players.
Jeff Dickerson, ESPN Staff Writer3d ago
Not much for Bengals first-round pick Billy Price to do today except watch as he recovers from a partial pectoral tear. But considering nobody had pads on, it didn’t hold him back too much as he was able to watch, take mental reps and go through the motions.
Katherine Terrell, ESPN Staff Writer3d ago
First-round pick Taven Bryan was pretty pumped up after the on-field part of the first day of the Jaguars’ rookie minicamp. “It’s awesome,” he said. “It’s awesome to be able to dedicate 100 percent of your time [to football]. There’s only 24 hours in a day and you get to spend 16 doing football, so it’s pretty sweet. I mean, it’s like the ideal job in my opinion.”
Michael DiRocco, ESPN Staff Writer3d ago
First-round pick Marcus Davenport dons his new No. 92 as the Saints kick off their rookie minicamp Friday. Players will be available to the media on Saturday. (Photo via NewOrleansSaints.com)
Mike Triplett, ESPN Staff Writer3d ago
The Steelers are putting first-round safety Terrell Edmunds’ versatility to the test early in rookie minicamp. Edmunds (No. 34), who looks every bit of 217 pounds, said he played safety and linebacker snaps for the defense. He’s also getting to show his leadership by making a few defensive calls. “You can’t think that you are a first-round pick and everything is going to fall to you,” Edmunds said. “I come out here and compete every day.”
Jeremy Fowler, ESPN Staff Writer3d ago
I don’t know if a picture can really do Vita Vea justice. That is one VERY large man. He weighed in at 347 at the combine but looks even bigger, if that’s possible.
Jenna Laine, ESPN Staff Writer3d ago
Defensive lineman Daron Payne didn’t take part in full-team work Friday but his presence in the early work made an impression. His footwork in and over the bags was solid as he worked on staying low and maneuvering in traffic. More than anything, his girth was evident. He’s a solid 310-315 pounds. It’ll help the Redskins front.
John Keim, ESPN Staff Writer3d ago
Chargers first-round selection Derwin James took reps mostly near the line of scrimmage in his first day of rookie minicamp. However, head coach Anthony Lynn said that defensive coordinator Gus Bradley will move James and the rest of the rookies around so that the coaching staff can get a better feel for their skill set.
Eric D. Williams, ESPN Staff Writer3d ago
Rashaan Evans got plenty of attention from Mike Vrabel during rookie minicamp as they were putting in a set for the ILBs. Vrabel said he wants Evans and second-round pick Harold Landry to set a tone for rookies and become leaders for the team. A lot of teaching in open portions of minicamp Saturday, but don’t confuse that for inactivity. Evans described his first experiences with Vrabel as “intense” and noted the first-year HC is “specific in the things he wants.”
Cameron Wolfe, ESPN Staff Writer2d ago
Eagles second-round pick TE Dallas Goedert on his mentality as rookie camp opens. “I plan to be the best at whatever I do. I don’t come out here to be second string. Not saying I’m going to be the first string, but I plan on doing whatever I can to contribute to this team as fast as I can.” The Eagles think they can create some matchup problems with Goedert and Zach Ertz on the field together.
Tim McManus, ESPN Staff Writer3d ago
Texans safety Justin Reid was vocal on the practice field during rookie minicamp. Bill O’Brien said he thought the third-round pick had “good size” and good speed.” “[He’s] a smart guy,” O’Brien said. “A guy that’s a versatile guy. He can do some different things. He can help us on special teams [and] obviously help us on defense. We just got here, so we’ll see how he does in our system.”
Sarah Barshop, ESPN Staff Writer21h ago
Rookie minicamps: May 4-7
QB Baker Mayfield, the first overall pick in this year’s draft, spent a lot of time working on taking snaps from center in this weekend’s Browns rookie minicamp. It wasn’t always very smooth, and multiple exchanges were dropped throughout Friday’s practice especially. “We’re going to hammer that until I’m good and it feels natural, and that’s the way it should be. Because I can play out of the ‘gun.’ Everybody here knows that.” Coaches are working a lot with Mayfield on his footwork, especially when he’s taking snaps from under center, because it will have a lot to do with the progress he makes in terms of his timing with his throws and his receivers. Mayfield showed plenty of fun flashes, including his quick release and his ability to keep his cool and still make strong throws downfield when the play breaks down. But the work he does at this point in the offseason will be on the things he didn’t do at Oklahoma, and he welcomes that.
Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer8d ago
Takeaways from Sam Darnold’s rookie minicamp: First, keep in mind that practice was like an “American Idol” open audition — 45 tryout players. Darnold seemed at ease, never rattled. There were a couple of more botched exchanges with the center. He displayed a nice touch on his deep balls. He called a few audibles, which is a new concept for him. (He didn’t have much freedom at the line at USC.) He stared down a few receivers, resulting in a couple of PBUs and an interception (on a deflection). Said Todd Bowles: “He’s making progress. Every day is a progression.”
Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer9d ago
Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson had an up-and-down performance at rookie minicamp. Jackson showed great touch on deep throws, hit fellow first-round pick Hayden Hurst in stride over the middle and sprinted past defenders after pulling the ball down. But he had trouble connecting with his receivers outside the numbers, overthrowing them on out routes with some wobbly passes.
Jamison Hensley, ESPN Staff Writer9d ago
John Harbaugh defends Lamar Jackson’s accuracy
Jamison Hensley, ESPN Staff Writer9d ago
Pete Carroll said linebacker Shaquem Griffin looked “very comfortable, very natural” during the Seahawks’ three-day rookie minicamp. He added that the weak-side spot still seems to suit him best.
Brady Henderson, ESPN8d ago
CB Denzel Ward, the fourth overall pick in this year’s draft, didn’t do a whole lot at Browns rookie minicamp this weekend. Ward left Friday’s practice early and sat out Saturday’s practice due to a hip flexor strain. The team called the decision to hold out Ward “precautionary,” and coach Hue Jackson said any “little nicks” were reason enough to hold a player out of action this time of year.
Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer8d ago
The Packers top-two picks — cornerbacks Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson — showed their differing styles right away in rookie camp. Alexander showed his scrappiness and his speed, while Jackson displayed his size and strength. What’s more, the two appear to have hit it off since first meeting at the combine. Said Alexander, the first-round pick: “It’s great. Josh is my guy. It’s cool to see him lined up across from me. We’re both putting in work fighting for the same thing.”
Rob Demovsky, ESPN Staff Writer8d ago
Ravens tight end Hayden Hurst was impressive at rookie minicamp, smoothly running routes and showing soft hands. The first-round pick caught nearly everything thrown his way. Hurst almost pulled in a one-handed grab in the back of the end zone.
Jamison Hensley, ESPN Staff Writer9d ago
LB Breeland Speaks had a solid day in his first practice at Chiefs rookie camp. Speaks, the Chiefs’ top pick, was able to get some pressure on the quarterback, though the Chiefs were practicing without pads and the player charged with blocking him had never played against someone with his skills. Speaks also said he was comfortable with the playbook. “The first reaction had to be ‘I can do this,’ ” Speaks said. “I looked at a few defenses we installed for today and we pretty much went over those and I know those pretty much by heart already. I’m feeling pretty good about the playbook so far.”
Adam Teicher, ESPN Staff Writer9d ago
RB Nick Chubb, a second-round pick by the Cleveland Browns in last week’s NFL Draft, was as impressive as anyone during rookie minicamp practices Friday and Saturday. Chubb runs decisively, exudes professionalism and seems to understand what’s being asked of him. The Browns are trying to get him plenty of work in the passing game, as that’s a way he wasn’t used much at Georgia (where they had a wealth of RB options). During the pre-draft process, Browns decision-makers convinced themselves Chubb had good hands and could handle a variety of passing-game responsibilities. But as is the case with top pick Baker Mayfield, who’s working on taking snaps from under center, the Browns want to use these early practices to drill things Chubb isn’t used to doing.
Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer8d ago
WR Antonio Callaway, a fourth-round pick by the Cleveland Browns in last week’s NFL Draft, made a strong impression with his speed and playmaking ability in Friday’s rookie minicamp practice. “He is very, very fast – a fast man,” quarterback Baker Mayfield said. “He makes good plays on the ball. When you have a guy like that and you get chemistry down, then it is dangerous.” Unfortunately, Callaway had to leave Saturday’s practice with a toe injury whose severity is unknown. He fell to the fourth round due to a variety of off-field issues in his past, but if he’s healthy and can stay out of trouble, the Browns think he can prove to be a bargain.
Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer8d ago
Rather than have first-round draft pick Kolton Miller start his NFL career at right tackle, the Raiders have him working almost exclusively on the left side. Yes, even if Oakland already has a Pro Bowler there in Donald Penn, who, by the way, is 35 and coming off Lisfranc surgery in his right foot. “That’s where he has recently played,” Gruden said of Miller, stretching in front of Gruden in this picture from rookie minicamp. “We like him at left tackle. We think he’s a prototype left tackle. He can bend, he’s got the length that you’re looking for and he’s a sharp kid…that doesn’t mean that’s where they’re going to end up, though.”
Paul Gutierrez, ESPN Staff Writer8d ago
Nathan Shepherd, the Jets’ third-round pick, took a long journey to the NFL, working odd jobs to get through school. Asked if it has hit him yet that he’s a pro football player, Shepherd, 24, offered this reflective response.
Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer9d ago
Mike Hughes got some work in at slot corner today. Hasn’t played a lot inside and says he’s adjusting to knowing where his help is, run fits, etc. Mike Zimmer said when Hughes was drafted that he expects to start him on the outside and work his way in as it’s easier for rookies to adjust to an NFL secondary that way. If it keeps up, Hughes could end up challenging Mackensie Alexander for the nickel corner position come August.
Courtney Cronin, ESPN Staff Writer10d ago
First-round pick Mike McGlinchey got his first on-field work with the 49ers at their rookie minicamp. As expected, McGlinchey worked exclusively at right tackle. He was as steady and solid as advertised in his first practice and, though there were no pads, showed a willingness to finish blocks down field.
Cleveland Browns: GM John Dorsey started the night with the surprise of taking Baker Mayfield, but even with the question marks, the Browns still got a record-setting, competitive signal-caller. Analysis for every pick
Detroit Lions: Frank Ragnow could be good down the road, even with the Lions needing offensive linemen, but the pick seems like a reach considering the needs on defense. Analysis for every pick
Green Bay Packers: Another year and the Packers have used their first-round pick to help fix their pass defense. This time it’s Louisville corner Jaire Alexander going to Green Bay. Analysis for every pick
Indianapolis Colts: If Andrew Luck can return to form, he’ll need to be protected and stay healthy. That’ll start with rebuilding the offensive line. Quenton Nelson, the top lineman in the draft, should be a nice start. Analysis for every pick
Seattle Seahawks: It wasn’t a surprise that the Seahawks took a running back in the first round, but taking Rashaad Penny over some other ball-carriers was not what was expected. Analysis for every pick