September 16th, 2018 at 2:14pm CST by Andrew Ortenberg
Inactive lists for the late slate of games are starting to roll in, and are providing answers to some key injury questions. Perhaps the biggest mystery of the week was the status of Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette. We finally have clarity, as Fournette will officially miss Jacksonville’s Week 2 game against the Patriots with his hamstring injury according to Adam Schefter of ESPN (Twitter link).
It’s a big blow for the Jaguars who like to establish the running game and make things easy for Blake Bortles. They did get some good news however as Calais Campbell, who was a very late add to the injury report, will play. Here are more injury notes from around the league:
The Lions’ already weak defense will be without their best player, as Ezekiel Ansah will be sidelined with a shoulder injury per Michael Rothstein of ESPN (Twitter link). Ian Rapoport had previously tweeted Ansah was expected to play, so this is a bit of a surprise.
The Patriots’ backfield got some good news as both Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead will suit up per Ben Volin of The Boston Globe (Twitter link). Burkhead was cleared from the concussion protocol while Michel will make his NFL debut after missing most of the offseason with a knee injury.
The Rams will be without starting linebacker Mark Barron for a second straight week per ProFootballTalk (Twitter link). It’s bad news for Los Angeles as their linebackers were shredded over the middle last week by tight end Jared Cook for 180 yards.
September 15th, 2018 at 5:41pm CST by Andrew Ortenberg
When Jets owner Woody Johnson accepted the role as ambassador to the U.K., he left the team under the leadership of his brother Christopher. Given the relative success and cultural improvements the organization has seen under Christopher’s watch, there’s been a lot of speculation about what will happen when Woody returns from his political appointment.
Christopher himself is being quite open about the fact that he wants to stay on with the Jets, saying “no question, I’m hoping to have a larger role” even after his brother returns according to Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News (Twitter link). He added that he thinks Woody will be receptive to it, saying “I think he’d welcome that. I know that he would. I think that I have a new perspective at this point that would be valuable for the franchise.” Whatever happens, it’ll be interesting to watch it unfold as Christopher is reportedly well liked by the players.
Here’s more from around the AFC:
It looks like Sony Michel could be making his NFL debut this week. The first round pick of the Patriots missed most of the offseason and Week 1 due to a knee ailment, but has “made a lot of progress this week” and “the progress has been encouraging” for his Week 1 prospects according to Jeff Howe of The Athletic (Twitter link).
Speaking of Patriots injuries, starting left tackle Marcus Cannon is looking unlikely to play and the team has “prepared LaAdrian Waddle this week to start” according to Howe (Twitter link). It’d be a big blow to the Patriots’ offensive line against Jacksonville’s dominant defensive front.
The details are in for the Raiders’ two recent defensive tackle signings. Johnathan Hankins will get $2MM for the season and Clinton McDonald will get $1.75MM according to Tom Pelissero (Twitter link). Pelissero notes that almost every other recent veteran signing has been for the veterans minimum.
The Patriots saw the second of their first-round picks suffer a knee injury this week. Although it’s not viewed as a severe malady, Jeff Howe of The Athletic tweetsSony Michel could be out until early in the regular season.
Michel left Wednesday’s practice, and the exit left the team “concerned,” per Howe (on Twitter). This setback requires a corrective procedure, per Howe, and one that is expected to at the very least shelve the Georgia-developed running back for the preseason. Howe adds Michel’s recovery time might extend into the regular season.
This procedure already took place, with Mike Reiss of ESPN.com reporting (Twitter link) more optimistic news as a result. Michel will be out at least 10 days, which will almost certainly sideline him for at least two Pats preseason games but possibly having him ready to return later this month.
New England allowed Dion Lewis to defect to Tennessee this offseason but added Michel at No. 31. Michel can be expected to play a big role for the two-time defending AFC champions this season, but his acclimation process took a hit this week. The Pats still have James White and Rex Burkhead, and the Mike Gillislee–Jeremy Hill roster battle becomes more interesting as well. The former Bengals back likely has the edge here, per NESN’s Doug Kyed (on Twitter).
Knee issues affected Michel during the lead-up to the draft, with The Ringer’s Michael Lombardi indicating some concern among teams existed because of a bone-on-bone condition in Michel’s left knee. Michel also has a torn ACL in his past, though that injury occurred back in high school.
The Patriots were obviously satisfied with Michel’s medical reports to take him in Round 1, the first time New England’s used a first-rounder on a running back since Laurence Maroney in 2006.
The Patriots have signed rookie running back Sony Michel, as Ben Volin of the Boston Globe tweets. Ian Rapoport of NFL.com was the first to report that the two sides had agreed to terms (Twitter link). New England selected Michel with the No. 31 overall pick in this year’s draft, and the club now has its entire 2018 draft class under contract.
Michel may have been outcarried by Nick Chubb during his last two seasons on campus, but he still got plenty of touches and was pretty dynamic with the ball in his hands. In 2017, Michel rushed for 1,227 yards on a whopping 7.9 yards per carry (to go along with 16 TDs), and he was taken four picks higher than Chubb in the draft. Although it is notoriously difficult to project how New England will distribute touches among its running backs, Michel is likely to get more carries than anyone else on the roster. Indeed, as Rapoport tweets, the Patriots rarely select an RB in the first round, and they clearly have big plans for Michel.
As the No. 31 pick, Michel’s contract is a four-year pact that is worth just shy of $10MM and that carries a team option for a fifth season. He joins former Georgia teammate Isaiah Wynn as one of the Patriots’ two 2018 first-round selections, and he could be running behind Wynn as early as Week 1.
There are now nine unsigned first-round picks remaining from this year’s class.
However, the running back position produces annual mid- or late-round surprises — from Devonta Freeman to Jordan Howard to Kareem Hunt — that end up providing immense value to certain teams. The Giants obviously have an incredibly gifted ball-carrier set to take handoffs from Eli Manning, but which of Barkley’s peers is in the best position to challenge him (and the quarterback contingent) for the OROY honor?
The other two first-round RBs look to be less equipped for a strong challenge due to circumstances.
Sony Michel‘s prospects of being an immediate ground producer may have been better on a different team. While the Patriots boast one of the NFL’s best offensive lines, Bill Belichick notoriously finds myriad usages for his backs and involves nearly all of them. Although, Dion Lewis‘ departure after a 180-carry season opens the door for someone to take over as New England’s primary back. And Michel averaged 7.9 yards per carry on 156 totes at Georgia last season. Rashaad Penny looks to be behind Chris Carsonto start the season, and the surprise first-rounder may be given time to develop for a Seattle team that’s struggled on the ground for a few years now.
After Round 1, however, it becomes a bit more interesting. The Buccaneers did not possess a formidable depth chart at running back prior to investing their second-round pick in USC’s Ronald Jones. In 2017, Jones rushed for 1,550 yards and scored 20 total touchdowns. He could well be an early-season starter, with the likes of Jacquizz Rodgers and Peyton Barber in his path toward a first-string role. Chosen just before Jones, Nick Chubb will have to contend with Carlos Hyde in Cleveland this season for the revamped Browns. Chubb, though, notched three 1,000-yard seasons in the nation’s toughest conference.
Kerryon Johnson looks to be set to start in a committee in Detroit, but the Lions have been desperate for a surefire ground producer for years now. And they view Johnson as a three-down back. LeGarrette Blount and Ameer Abdullah reside in the Motor City carries picture, but neither would impede Johnson from a major role if he proves ready from the outset. Derrius Guice could have a quicker path to playing time in Washington. Considered by some the second-best back in this draft, the LSU product fell largely because of character concerns. However, Guice averaged 7.6 yards per carry in 2016 on nearly 200 attempts and is expected to push for the Redskins’ starting job from the start.
Also expected to challenge for an early role: the Broncos’ Royce Freeman. The Oregon-developed talent posted three 1,300-plus-yard seasons with the Ducks, amassing a staggering 947 college carries. With the Broncos having moved on from four-year starter C.J. Anderson, only Devontae Booker (299 rushing yards last season) resides in the third-rounder’s path. Is he a threat to be the 2018 version of Hunt?
As for Barkley, he has the most obvious route to a full-time gig. Despite Jonathan Stewart now being in the Big Apple, the Penn State dynamo will factor in from the start of the Giants’ season. And the three-down back totaled at least 2,300 yards from scrimmage in back-to-back years for the Nittany Lions. The Giants have questions up front, having lost Justin Pugh and Weston Richburg, but they added multiple UFAs — spearheaded by Nate Solder — and chose likely Day 1 starter Will Hernandez in Round 2.
So, will Barkley’s situation be too much for the rest of this class to overcome, a la Ezekiel Elliott? Or will one of the later-round picks emerge in Hunt fashion? Is there a Day 3 dark horse in this year’s class in the mold of Freeman or Howard? Take PFR’s latest poll and weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section!
While the three players selected at pick Nos. 23-25 (Patriots offensive lineman Isaiah Wynn, Panthers wide receiver D.J. Moore, and Ravens tight end Hayden Hurst) each garnered significant fourth season base salary guarantees, Penny — who was chosen with the 27th overall pick — actually saw his fourth season salary guarantee percentage decrease when compared to 2017’s No. 27 selection, Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White, per Florio.
The NFL’s new collective bargaining agreement implemented slotted rookie contracts which make negotiations a breeze, but there’s a still a bit of wiggle room. First-rounders selected near the end of the first round won’t often get the entirety of their fourth season base salary guaranteed, but that’s an area where agents can press for a bit extra in talks. Penny’s representatives, clearly, didn’t do so, which could now lead other teams with unsigned first-round picks to withhold guarantees.
Here are the unsigned first-round picks chosen after No. 20 overall:
Overall, the amount of fourth season guarantees shouldn’t stand in the way of getting deals for the above players done, as the dollar amounts in question are in the thousands, not millions. But the lack of signed contracts does speak to the small area of available negotiation still left in rookie pacts, and is something to watch as the offseason progresses.
ReggieMcKenzie isn’t worried about butting heads with new head coach JonGruden during next week’s draft. The Raiders general manager said that after having worked with Gruden for three months, the two are on the same page when it comes to prospects.
“I’ve got a feeling for Coach Gruden. We like the same type of players,” McKenzie said (via Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com). “Just good football players. It’s not about height, weight, speed or where they come from. It’s about who they are as players, do they love playing football. All those characteristics you truly like about football players.”
The Raiders are armed with a number of picks heading into next week’s draft, including the 10th-overall selection.
Let’s take a look at some other draft notes…
Despite the fact that Lamar Jackson met with the Ravens earlier this week, Jeff Zrebiec of the Baltimore Sun isn’t convinced that the organization would select the quarterback if he’s available with the 16th pick. The writer cites the fact that owner Steve Bisciotti has stated that the team isn’t worried about finding JoeFlacco‘s successor, and the Ravens have more pressing needs as they look to return to the postseason. While the front office could end up taking a signal-caller at some point during the weekend, Zrebiec believes the team will use their first-rounder on another position.
After striking out on the position last year, Jeff McLane of Philly.com says the Eagles will be eyeing running backs during the upcoming draft. While the organization did end up selecting Donnel Pumphrey in the fourth round, the team had been eyeing a number of top-tier prospects, including ChristianMcCaffrey, DalvinCook, AlvinKamara, and KareemHunt (in fact, McLane notes that Philly attempted to trade up for Cook). While the team hasn’t traditionally spent high-round picks on running backs, and while they’re also armed with a relatively deep group (including mid-season addition JayAjayi), the writer believes the team could still be eyeing a future starter at the position.
Speaking of running backs, Bryce Miller of the San Diego Union-Tribune believes San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny could ultimately be the steal of the draft. The offensive weapon is projected to be a late first-rounder or early second-rounder, and he’s labeled as an elite special teamer. The one knock is his pass blocking ability, but Penny believes that’s a misconception. “I could care less about the media talk,” Penny said. “Talking to GMs and head coaches, I know they’re high on me. There’s always going to be a chip on my shoulder. I could be a seventh-round pick, but I can prove it on the field.” Penny is listed 46th overall (sixth among running backs) in NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah‘s recent top-50 prospect rankings.
Dez Bryantwants to sign with the Giants after being released by the division-rival Cowboys last week, but a current New York wideout isn’t on board with that idea. In a now-deleted Instagram story, Giants receiver Brandon Marshall said there was “no room” for Bryant on Big Blue’s roster, as Jaclyn Hendricks of the New York Post writes. Marshall, for his part, bombed during his first campaign in New York, as an ankle injury limited him to just five games and 18 receptions. Viewed as a possible cap casualty heading into the offseason, Marshall has surprisingly stuck on the Giants’ roster to this point. New York could still release Marshall at any point, however, and doing so would save the club in excess of $5MM in cap space.
Here’s more from the NFC East:
The Redskins were busy hosting draft prospects over the past two days, as Georgia running back Sony Michel, Ohio State center Billy Price, and Washington defensive lineman Vita Vea all visited the nation’s capital on Tuesday/Wednesday, according to John Keim of ESPN.com (allTwitterlinks). Michel would join a running back depth chart that already includes Chris Thompson, Samaje Perine, and Rob Kelley, while Price could start at either guard or center in lieu of Arie Kouandjio or Chase Roullier, respectively. Vea, meanwhile, would help fill a gap at defensive tackle that the Redskins have already attempted to fill this offseason by showing interest in free agents such as Johnathan Hankins and Bennie Logan.
Southern Methodist wideout Courtland Sutton met with the Cowboys on Wednesday, tweets Ian Rapoport of NFL.com. Dallas has a gaping need at receiver after cutting Bryant, as their roster is currently littered by second- and third-tier pass-catchers. Allen Hurns, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Deonte Thompson, and Ryan Switzer front the Cowboys’ WR depth chart, but Sutton — who is viewed as either a first- or second-round selection — could give Dallas a potential No. 1 wideout. The 6’4″, 215-pound Sutton posted at least 1,000 yards receiving and 10 touchdowns in each of the past two seasons.
Ronald Jones ranks as the No. 20 overall prospect on NFL.com draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah’s big board, but the USC running back has apparently not helped his cause much this offseason. A poor showing at the Trojans’ pro day last month drew scrutiny from some evaulators around the league, Jeremiah said (via Tom Krasovic of the San Diego Union-Tribune). The draft expert notes Jones’ stock has taken a bit of a hit. He does not project Jones (1,550 rushing yards last season, 20 total touchdowns) to be a first-round pick but does envision a bit of a sleeper making it into Day 1. Jones visited the Broncos this week and could be an option when their Round 2 pick (No. 37) arrives.
Jeremiah expects Sony Michel to be the third running back selected in the first round later this month, following Saquon Barkley and Derrius Guice. Some NFL teams are likening the Georgia back to Alvin Kamara, per Jeremiah. The speed complement to Nick Chubb with the Bulldogs, Michel posted two 1,000-yard rushing seasons — the latest a 1,227-yard showing that came with an incredible 7.9 yards per carry — and looks to be entering the first-round conversation.
Here’s the latest on this year’s draft class.
Baker Mayfield‘s strong offseason notwithstanding, the Heisman Trophy recipient is still viewed as somewhat of a polarizing prospect because of his past. But Rich Cimini of ESPN.com notes the quarterback presented himself well during meetings with Jets brass this week. Cimini rates Mayfield as the second-best fit for the Jets at No. 3, behind Sam Darnold.
Teams in need of tackles should temper expectations about this year’s class, Jeremiah said. Following a draft that saw its first tackle (Garett Bolles) go off the board at No. 20, Jeremiah said tackle is one of this year’s weakest positions, along with edge rusher. He does not view any of this year’s tackle prospects as being worth a top-20 pick.
Having now seen multiple starting offensive linemen retire this offseason, the Bills may have a dilemma going into the draft. The team has long been rumored to be targeting a top-five pick in the draft, but Mike Rodak of ESPN.com writes that the team — with the Jets and the Browns essentially locked in on QBs at Nos. 1 and 3 — would have to target the Giants’ No. 2 pick to have much certainty on one of its top choices still being there to draft. Rodak opines the Bills, who have seen Eric Wood and Richie Incognito announce intentions to retire, may be better off standing pat and bolstering their depth chart at other positions. Of course, the Bills have only A.J. McCarron in place at this point and would be gambling without making a serious investment in the position this month.
The Josh Allen-to-Cleveland buzz should be taken seriously, Bucky Brooks of NFL.com writes. Noting John Dorsey‘s decision to supply the Chiefs with raw talent Patrick Mahomes when a more productive Deshaun Watson was on the board, and the then-Kansas City GM’s decision to select higher-upside Eric Fisher over a more proven Luke Joeckel, should give Browns fans an inclination the gifted Wyoming talent with some statistical red flags could be the team’s No. 1 overall pick.