Thu Jun 13 2:02pm ET
By DAVID GINSBURG
AP Sports Writer
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson throws a pass at the team's NFL football training facility in Owings Mills, Md., Wednesday, June 12, 2019 (AP Photo/Gail Burton)
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, center, shakes hands with Marquise Brown after workouts at the team's NFL football training facility in Owings Mills, Md., Wednesday, June 12, 2019 (AP Photo/Gail Burton)
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Robert Griffin III, right, passes as Lamar Jackson points during drills at the team's NFL football training facility in Owings Mills, Md., Wednesday, June 12, 2019 (AP Photo/Gail Burton)
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson catches a football during practice at the team's NFL football training facility in Owings Mills, Md., Wednesday, June 12, 2019 (AP Photo/Gail Burton)
OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) It's been a year since Lamar Jackson arrived at his first NFL minicamp, fully understanding that his stature as a former Heisman Trophy winner and first-round draft pick didn't guarantee a lick of playing time during the regular season.
Former Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco was the Baltimore Ravens starting quarterback, so Jackson immediately settled into backup role while he got a handle on a brand of football that was unlike anything he had experienced before.
''I would say I was kind of startled just being in the league,'' Jackson recalled Wednesday. ''Growing up, hearing all the things about when you go in the league, this and that is going to happen. Or the game is totally different, it's a lot faster.''
Jackson was too quick, elusive and talented to be buried on the bench, so he was used periodically on Sundays until Nov. 18, when he started in place of an injured Flacco and started the Ravens on a 6-1 hot streak that enabled them to reach the postseason as AFC North champions.
Flash forward to this week, when a much more poised and confident Jackson led the offense during the three-day mandatory minicamp.
''Right now it's pretty calm to me,'' Jackson said. ''Playing in those seven games being around my teammates, it's been pretty good.''
Jackson performed so well last season that the Ravens traded Flacco and decided they would rewrite the playbook and build the entire team around a former University of Louisville star who has proven to be equally effective at the next level.
''You build around your players, nobody more so than your quarterback,'' coach John Harbaugh said. ''You identify who your quarterback is going to be for the long term, which we've done, we need to build everything around what he can do. Offense, defense, even special teams are built with that in mind. What type of team are we going to be, based on the skill set of the quarterback?''
Baltimore intends to use the same philosophy that proved so successful a year ago. The offense relied heavily on the run, led by Jackson's impromptu downfield bursts. If a long drive didn't end in a touchdown, standout kicker Justin Tucker almost unfailingly slammed through a field goal.
The league's top-ranked defense did its share by making sure the Ravens would prevail in low-scoring games.
The expectation this year is that Baltimore will benefit from Jackson's experience.
''He's a much better player than he was a year ago,'' Harbaugh said. ''And he will be a much better player at the end of training camp than he is right now.''
Jackson's maturity was evident in the huddle this week.
''From a leadership standpoint, he's doing really well,'' tackle Ronnie Stanley said.
There remains a measure of concern about Jackson's ability to throw from the pocket - he's surpassed 200 yards in only one game - but offensive coordinator Greg Roman is certain the 22-year-old will be flinging the ball with accurately and authority this season.
''Lamar is the kind of guy that, the more he does something, he's going to get better at it,'' Roman said.
Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry finished the 2018 season on a tear, rushing for 625 yards and eight touchdowns in the month of December alone. New Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith has stated that he plans to "ride" Henry going forward, but perhaps expectations should be tempered. While the Titans did improve their offensive line through free agency and the draft this offseason, Henry's involvement should remain game-script sensitive with receiving back Dion Lewis still in Tennessee. Henry is likely going to win you some matchups this season with his big play ability and touchdown upside, but he is also likely to lose you some weeks should the Titans fall behind early, making Henry a risky pick in the late second or early third rounds of fantasy drafts.
Cincinnati Bengals rookie running back Rodney Anderson (knee) is expected to open the 2019 season on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list. If he does, Anderson will have to miss the first six games of the season and will be significantly behind in the battle for backup minutes in Cincinnati. This news likely means that Anderson's rookie season is going to be a fantasy nonfactor, though he still has value in dynasty leagues, where he has a chance to be the future number-two back behind Joe Mixon.
Denver Broncos TE Jake Butt (knee) will be eased back into practice during the early portion of training camp, according to head coach Vic Fangio.
Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Mike Williams burst onto the scene last season with his team-leading 10 touchdowns, but he's just getting started. Williams and teammate Keenan Allen were named the third-best receiver duo by NFL.com analyst James Jones, and Jones pointed out that 2019 might be a huge year for Williams thanks to a bit of subtraction. Tyrell Williams departed for Oakland, and his 65 targets from last season will now be spread out amongst those who are left, most likely Mike Williams. Assuming Melvin Gordon returns to the lineup, Williams could be one of the very best "third" options in the league this year and could easily turn into an undercover superstar.
Denver Broncos WR Emmanuel Sanders (Achilles') will not open camp on the Physically Unable to Perform list, according to team president John Elway.
Fantasy Spin: Sanders is a tough decision later in drafts this year. He's aging, and he's coming off an Achilles' injury. He's a risky WR4 or a WR5 flyer.
Los Angeles Chargers running back Melvin Gordon clarified over the weekend that even though he is pushing for a new contract, he still wants to stay with the Chargers if he can. Gordon spoke out because he was upset that people were saying that he didn't want to go back to the Chargers, but he still reiterated, "You know, I want to get paid." Gordon is entering the final year of his five-year rookie contract, and his agent has already openly expressed that Gordon will hold out and demand a trade if he is not given a new deal. Gordon's got some leverage as the team's primary running back, but the recent drop in value amongst running backs and cross-town troubles between the Rams and Todd Gurley will likely play a major role in the offers made to him. It would be surprising if this issue was solved before training camp.
Denver Broncos WR Aaron Burbridge announced his retirement Wednesday, July 17.
Atlanta Falcons TE Austin Hooper caught 71 of 88 targets last season for an 80.7 percent catch ratio. In comparison, former TE Tony Gonzalez's best catch ratio was 75 percent in 2012. 'Hooper, the improvement just keeps getting better,' Falcons head coach Dan Quinn said. 'Now, he's ready to go to another level, and I'm looking forward to seeing him make that growth.'
Fantasy Spin: That catch ratio can be looked at in different lenses and could be an aberration. Hooper delivered a 71-660-4 season, and he could improve upon that or level off. He's a solid midrange TE1 in PPR formats.
Jacksonville Jaguars DE Yannick Ngakoue will have to report to training camp no later than Aug. 5 in order to accrue his fourth season and avoid becoming a restricted free-agent after the season.
Cleveland Browns DE Myles Garrett said that he was limited to a couple of moves at the line under former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, and he feels he has more freedom this year. Garrett was known for using a long-arm technique to create space and neutralize an opposing lineman's ability to set their feet deep. 'You can be as strong or fast as you want, but speed chop and power move aren't always going to work,' Garrett said. 'You have to mix up what you're doing. Sometimes you have to stutter step, sometimes you have to spin inside, you have to run some games. You have to have some freedom to throw different looks at them, and we didn't always have that.'
A source close to retired tight end Rob Gronkowski places his potential for unretiring at 40 percent in 2019. Gronkowski isn't thinking of football right now and is enjoying his retirement, but he could decide to return once the season starts. If quarterback Tom Brady makes an appeal to Gronk, the future Hall of Famer could come back. Gronkowski has said that he's lost only 18 pounds since retiring, and it's believed that head coach Bill Belichick wouldn't stop Gronkowski if he wanted to return. This is probably still more of a long shot, but it shouldn't be ruled out. Gronk battled injuries throughout his career and seemed to slow down in 2018, but his return would send shock waves through the fantasy industry. He had 47 receptions for 682 yards and three touchdowns in 13 games last year. You'd be better off using a roster spot on someone else this fall, even if it's intriguing to think about.
The Atlanta Falcons and defensive tackle Grady Jarrett agreed to a four-year contract extension on Monday. The contract is expected to be worth $68 million with $38 million guaranteed, according to a source. He was initially set to receive the $15.209 million franchise tag if a deal wasn't worked out by Monday. The team can now move on to extensions for receiver Julio Jones and linebacker Deion Jones. The Falcons and Deion Jones' representation will meet face-to-face on Wednesday. Jarrett, a fifth-round pick in 2015, has been a top defender for Atlanta and had 53 total pressures in 2018, according to Pro Football Focus. He also had six sacks, three forced fumbles and a team-high 16 QB hits.
Cincinnati Bengals running back Joe Mixon will look to improve after a solid 2018 season. After accruing just 626 yards on the ground during his rookie campaign, Mixon eclipsed the millennium mark last season to finish with 1,168 yards to go along with nine total trips to the end zone. Though it has been argued that he isn't a top-five back, he will begin his first season under the tutelage of new head coach Zac Taylor, who served as an assistant under Sean McVay. Taylor, who will mirror some parts of the Rams' playbook initially, will utilize the same packages that helped running back Todd Gurley become a fantasy success. As a result, Mixon has a better chance than most to have a dominant season despite being behind a weaker offensive line, and as long as he can remain healthy.
Jacksonville Jaguars RB Alfred Blue is the 'frontrunner' for the No. 2 spot behind RB Leonard Fournette, in the opinion of The Florida Times-Union's John Reid.
Fantasy Spin: There are some other recognizable names on the depth chart, including Thomas Rawls and rookie Ryquell Armstead, but Blue has been penciled in as RB2 since he signed with the Jags. He remains a decent late-round handcuff for Fournette owners.
Tennessee Titans tight end Delanie Walker (ankle) is expected to be ready for the start of the regular season, in the opinion of Titans Online's Jim Wyatt. Tight end Jonnu Smith (knee), whose season ended in Week 14, isn't a lock to be ready after having missed all of the offseason workouts. Walker could be on the Physically Unable to Perform list during training camp, but the veteran should be ready for Week 1. The 34-year-old is more of a risk now than ever as a TE1, but he could come at a nice value later in drafts if he can stay healthy. After all, he has had at least 800 receiving yards since 2014 if you take out last year's injury.
Denver Broncos wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (Achilles) said he's "definitely not going to be full-go from the jump" at the start of training camp. He will gradually work into full activities and wants "to be ready for Week 1." It's no lock that the 32-year-old will be ready for Week 1, so that definitely makes him a risky fantasy proposition going into the 2019 season. Sanders started his Denver tenure with three straight 1,000-yard seasons from 2014-16, but he's underwhelmed since. He bounced back some with 71 receptions for 868 yards and four touchdowns in only 12 games last season. Sanders hasn't played in a full season since 2016 and will obviously have injury concerns again this year.
Denver Broncos TE Jake Butt (knee) was limited to individual drills for most of the offseason as he continued to recover from surgery on his torn anterior cruciate ligament. He believes he will do more 'team things' at start of camp while the team slowly works his reps back to where they were, according to Aric DiLalla of the team's website.
Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald has been impressed with the tempo of new head coach Kliff Kingsbury's offense. The Cardinals ranked 20th in the league in pace (time between plays) in neutral situations last year, but that is expected to change drastically in 2019. Fitzgerald said the new offense contains less verbiage that when Bruce Arians was the head coach, and players are expected to process pre-snap adjustments faster. It means that Arizona's skill players should see more bulk this year, which is good for their fantasy value. The offense will ebb and flow based on how rookie quarterback Kyler Murray fares, but the early returns are very promising.
Denver Broncos quarterback Drew Lock, a second-round pick, remains the only unsigned rookie on the team. Offensive guard Drew Risner, who was selected a pick before Lock at 41 overall, signed a deal worth $7.14 million on Tuesday. According to multiple sources, Lock's representatives are seeking a "quarterback premium." There is hope that he'll sign before the team's first meeting on Wednesday and first practice on Thursday, but there's also the chance that Lock isn't present for the start of training camp. The Broncos made assurances to Risner that Lock won't receive a richer contract. Lock has long-term upside in dynasty/keeper leagues, but he won't have much redraft value as the expected backup to veteran Joe Flacco to begin the season.
Chicago Bears WR Javon Wims is a player who 'probably deserves more attention' after performing well during offseason workouts and appears primed to compete for a role on offense in training camp, according to Larry Mayer of the team's website.