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Month: August 2016

Chargers sign Joey Bosa to four-year contract

Chargers sign Joey Bosa to four-year contract

Joey Bosa — at long last — is under contract.

The Chargers announced Monday that they finally have signed the elusive first-round defensive end to a four-year contract.

One player to watch from each team
Baltimore Ravens: Ronnie Stanley, left tackle. Baltimore must keep Joe Flacco upright this season, which puts plenty of pressure on his rookie blind-side protector to shine right away. While we’re on the subject of Flacco assistance … Can Mike Wallace finally give the Ravens the deep threat they’ve missed since Torrey Smith exited stage left for San Francisco? We have our doubts.

If the Bears thought they might be let off the hook by facing a Texans team lacking J.J. Watt in the opening week of the season, they might be disappointed come Sept. 11. Watt, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year who is recovering from back surgery, might not miss any time after all.

On Monday, Texans coach Bill O’Brien said he can “definitely see” Watt playing in the first game of the season, but he “won’t commit to it,” according to the Houston Chronicle’s John McClain. McClain then added that he expects Watt to play and start against the Bears.
That’s a huge development for the Texans. When news of Watt’s surgery broke in July, NFL.com’s Mike Garafola reported that Watt could be out up to 10 weeks. And Watt himself said that he couldn’t promise to be available Week 1.

O’Brien didn’t promise anything Monday, but he probably wouldn’t have made that comment if he didn’t feel confident in Watt’s status.

Though Watt might still be bothered by his back, that shouldn’t be too much of an issue. After all, Watt shook off a long list of injuries last year to capture his third defensive player of the year award. He played through a broken hand, herniated disk, and five fully or partially torn core muscles.

Unfortunately for the Bears, they’re going through some issues up front. They already lost center Hroniss Grasu for the season and Pro Bowl right guard Kyle Long is dealing with a shoulder injury. If Watt is healthy and Long isn’t, Watt might will feast on the Bears.

After hosting the Bears, the Texans’ attention will turn to the Chiefs and Patriots — two playoff teams from a year ago. So, Watt will be needed, even if the Texans’ new-look offense turned some heads Sunday.

In somewhat of a surprise move, the San Diego Chargers announced the team released veteran receiver James Jones as the team works to get down to 75 players before Tuesday’s deadline.

Jimmy Garoppolo struggles, Tom Brady delivers highlight in Patriots’ win

Jimmy Garoppolo struggles, Tom Brady delivers highlight in Patriots’ win

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — New England Patriots quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo took a step back in Friday’s 19-17 preseason win against the Carolina Panthers, and Tom Brady was rusty in his preseason debut but delivered one of the few offensive highlights of the night — a 33-yard touchdown to receiver Chris Hogan in the second quarter.

It marked the first time Brady came off the bench since 2001 when he replaced Drew Bledsoe in the second game of the regular season.

Bill Belichick has repeated multiple times in training camp that the team’s priority was getting Garoppolo ready for the regular season as Brady is set to serve a four-game suspension, but that Brady and rookie quarterback Jacoby Brissett also were important. How Belichick planned to manage repetitions between the quarterbacks has been a hot-button topic, and this is how it broke down Friday:

Garoppolo started and played the first three series (13 snaps). Brady replaced him for four series (16 snaps), before Garoppolo returned for three more series by playing into the third quarter (14 snaps, not including kneel-downs). Brissett finished the game, entering with 3:48 left in the third quarter, while turning in the most efficient performance playing against Carolina’s backups.

The offense didn’t score under Garoppolo — in part because of a missed 30-yard field goal attempt by Stephen Gostkowski on the opening drive — and had nine points with Brady at the helm.

Garoppolo finished 9-of-15 for 57 yards, with no touchdowns and no interceptions. Brady was 3-of-9 for 76 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions.

This was below the normal standard for the usually potent Patriots offense.

A surprise player who impressed: For the third straight week, right tackle Marcus Cannon turned in a performance that didn’t make anyone take note for the wrong reasons. With starter Sebastian Vollmer likely to land on injured reserve, according to the Boston Globe, the Patriots might have to rely on Cannon.

Who got hurt? The Patriots appeared to come out of the game clean.

Maybe that player could start: The Browns have this receiver who will be suspended the first four games of the season. Guy named Gordon, first name Josh. Guy who’s tall, can run like a gazelle, has amazing ability to get balls that are up for grabs and who makes a quarterback better. Jackson probably can’t wait for the fifth game.

Who got hurt? Cornerback Justin Gilbert left the game in the second quarter with a concussion. Backup receiver and special teams standout Marlon Moore left in the first half with a hip injury.

When it was starters vs. starters, the Browns looked … : Brutally overmatched, which isn’t good given this is the “key” preseason game. At one point, the Bucs were doing everything they wanted and led 27-3 with six minutes left in the second quarter. Consider these first half stats: Winston threw for 259 yards and two touchdowns. The Bucs had 305 yards to 163 for the Browns. And the Bucs passing game produced 259 yards to the Browns’ 98. Big plays to Gordon or no big plays, this was a dud.

One reason to be concerned: Danny Shelton was the 12th overall pick in the 2015 draft, the first of two first-round picks. Though he forced a second-half fumble, he has not been very visible in preseason. Whether that is cause for concern is up for debate, but Shelton has gone two games in a row in which he played in the third quarter. That is not typical for starters.

Protection or decisions? On two third downs in the first half, Griffin was sacked. On both, he had time to throw and either saw nobody to throw to or did not make a decision. Or, according to Jackson, he ran out of time. “We’re not holding the ball too long,” Jackson said. The concern: That kind of play from the pocket cost Griffin his job in Washington. He has the confidence of his coach in Cleveland, but it would have been nice to see him make a throw from the pocket. His big plays in the preseason have all been on throws when he flung it deep to receivers running down the sideline.

Jets’ Christian Hackenberg stands alone among rookie QBs …

Jets’ Christian Hackenberg stands alone among rookie QBs …

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Of the 15 quarterbacks drafted in April, only one hasn’t appeared in a preseason game:

Christian Hackenberg, the fourth quarterback selected.

The New York Jets are taking a slow and steady approach with Hackenberg, and there’s nothing wrong with that. While it’s unusual that he hasn’t taken a single snap in a game — none of his fellow rookies have played fewer than 15 snaps — it confirms what we suspected when they chose him in the second round:

This will amount to a redshirt year for Hackenberg.

Offensive coordinator Chan Gailey has said it can take up to a year to fix a quarterback’s mechanics. The Jets evidently see Hackenberg as a fixer-upper, someone who will benefit from a year on the sideline. He struggled with his accuracy over his final two seasons at Penn State, perhaps because he was sacked 82 times.

Hackenberg apparently expected to play last Friday night against the Washington Redskins because he invited his father and a couple of friends to the game in Landover, Maryland, according to NJ.com. As it turned out, he didn’t play. Todd Bowles called it “a coach’s decision,” a rather cryptic explanation that invited conspiracy theorists to float half-baked suspicions.

He almost certainly won’t play Saturday against the New York Giants, but he saw an increase in practice reps on Monday. In 15 reps, he completed 6 of 12 passes, including two interceptions. He actually had five more reps than Bryce Petty (2-for-6, one interception). Hackenberg probably will make his debut in the presesaon finale. If not, it’ll be time to worry.

A look at the 15 drafted quarterbacks and their preseason snap totals. One note: Six play for teams that have used at least four quarterbacks in the preseason.

Entering Tuesday’s action, the Orioles were in third place in the AL East, two games behind Boston and Toronto, and one game ahead of Seattle for the second AL wild-card spot. According to projections by FanGraphs, they had a 44 percent chance of making the postseason. Baseball Prospectus gave them a 32 percent chance of making the playoffs. With Tillman out, those odds are sure to get longer.

49ers quarterback Thad Lewis out for season after suffering ACL tear

49ers quarterback Thad Lewis out for season after suffering ACL tear

Lewis played the most snaps of any 49ers offensive players before departing. He finished 12-of-21 for 97 yards and rushed four times for 10 yards.

Before the injury, Lewis was considered to be in competition for a potential third quarterback spot on the roster against rookie Jeff Driskel. Lewis got the first chance to replace Gabbert on Sunday because Kaepernick has been unable to throw for the past few days because of tightness in his arm and shoulder.

Although he won’t play this season, Lewis has told the coaches he would like to stay around the team for his rehabilitation. As a member of the Philadelphia Eagles in 2015, Lewis is the only quarterback on the roster with experience playing in Kelly’s offense and his knowledge of it could be useful for the remaining healthy quarterbacks.

“Yeah, he can help out,” Day said. “He has experience in the system, he was in Philly with us last year, he has a dynamic personality and he has a really good chemistry with the guys on our team and so he mentioned to me today that he would like to stay around and be around the program during the rehab which would be great for us. We can use that and have him around and his experience would be great.”

Until Kaepernick returns, the Niners will lean on Gabbert and Driskel to handle the bulk of the repetitions though Kelly indicated that further discussions on the quarterback depth would take place. The 49ers are hopeful that Kaepernick will be able to practice this week against Denver but that remains uncertain.

Hey, this Los Angeles Rams debut doesn’t count anyway.

An enormous crowd in Los Angeles welcomed the Rams back for their preseason opener against the Dallas Cowboys, the first NFL football game held in L.A. in 22 years. And on a sun-splashed day at the Los Angeles Coliseum, Greg Zuerlein kicked off as the crowd cheered and ESPN announcer Sean McDonough happily proclaimed that football was back in Los Angeles.

And then Cowboys returner Lucky Whitehead took that kickoff 101 yards for a touchdown.

What do they say in Hollywood? Ah, right: Take two.

The Rams will have a chance to get their premiere right when the games count. The first regular-season game at Los Angeles Coliseum this season will be Sept. 18 against the Seattle Seahawks.

And despite the pratfall out of the gate, it was a historic night for the Rams, the NFL and Los Angeles. And the story ended well, with a lot of the fans staying and making a ton of noise at the end as the Rams rallied in the fourth quarter to beat the Cowboys 28-24.

As far as preseason football games go, the affair in L.A. was a big one.

Fantasy football draft guide 2016

Fantasy football draft guide 2016

We also have a full rundown of rookie rankings. We break down the top 20 overall rookies, and then break down the top five rookies at the four major positions. Running backs and wide receivers lead the way, with Ezekiel Elliott as close to a unanimous No. 1 rookie as you’re going to get. It is not surprising quarterbacks do not make our top 20. One or two might emerge, but fantasy football value will take some time.

Finally, we have an assortment of helpful side information that will give you a little extra edge. We break down second-year players that are strong candidates for a big breakthrough in 2016. We look at the biggest offseason transactions and how they impact fantasy football. Finally, we look at all the bye weeks and list out the notable players who will be absent those weeks.

Best of luck in 2016, and hopefully SB Nation can help bring you fantasy glory!

Dion Jordan has been cleared by the NFL to return to practice after more than a year away from the game.

Jordan, who has been suspended three times for violating the league’s policy on performance enhancing drugs, had been conditionally reinstated by the NFL late last month. (The conditions include arranging treatment resources for Jordan in Miami prior to his being allowed to play in any preseason games, a meeting with the NFL to ensure he is complying with the conditions prior to being allowed to play in Week 1 of the regular season, and an in-season meeting with the NFL to ensure he is still complying with the conditions prior to a full reinstatement.) Jordan’s still not healthy enough to practice, but when he is, there’s no longer anything standing in the way of a return.

Back in 2013, the Dolphins made Jordan the third overall pick in the NFL draft. Jordan was a raw, but impressive physical specimen coming out of Oregon as a pass-rusher.

During his final two years with the Ducks, Jordan recorded 86 tackles (23.5 for loss) and 12.5 sacks. He then measured out as a physical monster at the combine: 6-foot 6 1/4 inches, 33 7/8 inch arms, 10-inch hands, 4.54 seconds in the 40-yard dash, 7.02 seconds in the three cone drill, 32.5-inch vertical, 10-feet 2-inch broad jump.

He then had an up-and-down first season, playing in all 16 games but only making it onto the field for 28.8 percent of the Dolphins’ defensive snaps. He was mildly productive in that playing time, notching 26 tackles and two sacks. But then his troubles began.
He was suspended for four games at the start of the 2014 season after violating the performance enhancing drug policy, then had two games tacked onto that suspension when he violated the policy again. He returned for the final 10 games of the season, played 20.9 percent of the Dolphins’ snaps, and recorded 20 tackles and one sack.

Ranking under-25 talent of all 32 NFL teams

Ranking under-25 talent of all 32 NFL teams

Then you go back to that offense, starting with the line. It should be noted that Luke Joeckel has not lived up to his draft status yet, and probably will never, but right guard A.J. Cann had a solid season, ranking eighth in snaps per blown block.

Then there are the skill players. Despite the 35 touchdown passes, Blake Bortles was hardly efficient, ranking 25th in DVOA. He makes a lot of mistakes, and he smashed an NFL record with 13 of those touchdown passes coming in the second half of losses when trailing by multiple scores — serious garbage-time-hero stuff. But the positive plays still make you believe in Bortles long-term potential as long as he (and the rest of the team) keeps improving.

Wide receivers Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns were excellent last year in helping Bortles look good. They can make tough catches and make defenders miss after the catch. If Marqise Lee or Rashad Greene have anything else to add, then that’s just more firepower for this offense. T.J. Yeldon did not find the end zone much as a rookie, and the team signed Chris Ivory, but Yeldon is still likely to be a big factor this year.

You should probably chill on the playoff talk in 2016 for Jacksonville, but some excellent drafting from 2014 to 2016 is the biggest reason for increased optimism.

DAVIE, Fla. — The Miami Dolphins open their regular season in five weeks and begin the preseason in one week against the New York Giants. Yet, after organized team activities, minicamp and one week of training camp, first-round pick Laremy Tunsil remains a backup.

The Ole Miss product was viewed as one of the top players in the draft, and the Dolphins were ecstatic to land him at No. 13. But Tunsil so far plays mostly on the second team as a backup left guard. Occasionally Tunsil will get a look on the first team, but it hasn’t been significant.

Is there reason to be alarmed?

“No, not alarming at all. It’s actually great,” Dolphins offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen said. “We’re going to have more flexibility than ever because you’ve got some talent in there. We’ll have to make some decisions, but those decisions will come more after Week 1 of the preseason, and then we’ll still have two weeks of camp and a fourth preseason game and a game week to have the combination right that we want to go into the season with.”

The Dolphins are in no rush with Tunsil. They continue to “cross train” offensive linemen, which means teaching players different positions. Tunsil is getting most of his work as the backup left guard and backup left tackle.

Jay Cutler has Jay Cutler-like reaction to Bennett barbs

Jay Cutler has Jay Cutler-like reaction to Bennett barbs

Cutler wasn’t biting.

“I could say something clever and smart,” he replied, “but I’ll just pass.”

This isn’t the most popular sentiment, but Jay Cutler gets a bad rap. OK, so he kind of has a punchable face, but he seems pretty chill on his wife’s Instagram and he’s far from the worst quarterback in football. Let’s channel all this undue hatred toward ISIS.

Brock Osweiler, Houston Texans
Yes, Osweiler did technically win a Super Bowl with the Broncos, but because he didn’t actually play in the game, he counts here. In his first professional season as the presumptive starter for an NFL team entering Week 1, Osweiler cannot be worse than what the Texans trotted out at quarterback last season, when four different starters combined for a truly dismal showing — and, in fact, he could be much better. He’s a risk with good measurables, the kind of guy who will either make you look incredibly smart or incredibly dumb as a GM. In limited action with the Broncos last season, Osweiler put up passable — if unspectacular — numbers, but he showed flashes. (The kind of flashes that obviously helped land him the contract he signed with Houston this offseason.) As in Denver, Osweiler’s defense should be outstanding, provided J.J. Watt recovers from back surgery without incident. If Osweiler really turns into something, I could see him putting the Texans over the threshold.

Starting this season, the ball will be placed at the 25-yard line after touchbacks.

Of all the rules changes adopted this offseason — even if it’s just a one-year experiment — the touchback tweak might wind up having the most impact on the game. Redskins coach Jay Gruden is trying to get out in front of it.

“Yeah, it’s going to change a little bit. We’re going to experiment,” Gruden explained. “You know, we’ll see what (kicker) Dustin (Hopkins) is good at. You know, we’re going to try some of the pooch stuff and try to pin them back. You know, we don’t want to just succumb to the 25-yard line.”

Said Gruden: “He’s got a powerful leg and one of the reasons he’s here is because of his leg strength and kicking the ball off through the end zone. But he can get the height and pin people back to the one if we get them tackled inside the 20. That can be another great option for us.”

As NFL Media’s Judy Battista noted in March, teams in 2010 returned 80.1 percent of all kickoffs before they were moved from the 30- to the 35-yard line in 2011. The number dropped to 53.5 percent in 2011 and has declined ever since. Last season, just 41.1 percent of kickoffs were returned. Still, that means four out of 10 kickoffs are still being returned — and the league still sees that as an opportunity for injuries.

Like many others, Gruden believes the NFL is giving “some thought” to phasing out kickoffs altogether.