Mon Aug 20 6:47pm ET
By STEVE REED
AP Sports Writer
Carolina Panthers' Ian Thomas (80) is upended by Miami Dolphins' Maurice Smith (26) in the second half of a preseason NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Friday, Aug. 17, 2018. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)
Carolina Panthers' Ian Thomas (80) runs past Miami Dolphins' Reshad Jones (20) for a touchdown in the first half of a preseason NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Friday, Aug. 17, 2018. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) The Panthers are beginning to feel like they have hit on something big with fourth-round draft pick Ian Thomas.
The rookie tight end has carried over an outstanding performance in training camp to the preseason, where he showed an impressive burst of speed on a 27-yard catch-and-run touchdown reception from Cam Newton, and delivered a powerful seal block that helped spring Christian McCaffrey for a 71-yard touchdown in Friday night's preseason win over the Miami Dolphins.
And, he's still just learning.
''He doesn't even know how good he's capable of being,'' Newton said of the 6-foot-4, 260-pound Thomas.
The Panthers didn't know exactly what they were getting with Thomas when they drafted him 101st overall because he hadn't seen all that much action as a receiver at Indiana. He spent two seasons with the Hoosiers and caught 28 passes, 25 of those as a senior. He spent his first two seasons at Nassau Community College.
But Carolina's scouts became convinced Thomas has what it takes to be a playmaker, and general manager Marty Hurney was sold on him as he studied more film.
''He's kind of a little bit of an unknown because he only really played one year of major college football,'' Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. ''We are fortunate that our college scouts pointed him out as somebody they thought could help us.''
Newton said Thomas' size and versatility as a receiver and a blocker will make him a ''key asset'' this season on offense.
Thomas is making a strong case for being Carolina's No. 2 tight end behind three-time Pro Bowl selection Greg Olsen. The Panthers lost Ed Dickson to free agency and Chris Manhertz hasn't practiced since the start of training camp due to a leg injury.
Rivera said Thomas' growth has been noticeably accelerated because of the increased reps he's received with Manhertz out.
''I think as a young man, he could come in and be a very good second or third behind Greg,'' Rivera said. ''When Chris gets back, we'll have a good combination of tight ends.''
Playing alongside Olsen, an 11-year veteran, doesn't hurt either.
''I think just walking in (to the NFL) he could not have been in a better situation,'' Newton said. ''I kind of just glance over in practice from time to time and see Greg taking him up under his wing, showing him how to practice, how to finish, how to run certain routes. He couldn't have been in a better situation, learning from him every day.''
All of that is good news for Thomas, who endured plenty of heartache as a child.
When he turned 8, he lost his mother Martha to kidney failure. The next year his father Earl died of a heart attack, leaving the children's future up in the air. That's when his then-19-year-old brother Clif Farmer stepped up to gain custody of him. Farmer raised his younger brother from that point forward.
''I want to make them happy and proud,'' Thomas said, adding his goal is simply to get better and keep proving himself.
Teammates are noticing.
Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly said Thomas could be on his way to big things in Carolina.
''He does everything the right way,'' Kuechly said. ''He blocks, he catches well and he runs well. I think he has picked things up really well.''
NOTES: Panthers starting left tackle Matt Kalil was scheduled to meet with a physician Monday after missing his second straight practice with knee soreness. Kalil has been battling issues since the middle of training camp. The team had no immediate word on the extent of that injury. The Panthers can ill afford to lose a third starter on the offensive line after right tackle Daryl Williams and left guard Amini Silatolu went down with injuries.
The Arizona Cardinals officially signed free-agent wide receiver Michael Crabtree to a one-year deal on Wednesday. The 31-year-old will have to prove himself to make the roster in the next two weeks, but he does offer some intrigue in head coach Kliff Kingsbury's offense if he sticks around, although he'll have to compete with rookies Andy Isabella and Keesean Johnson. Crabtree will help replace rookie Hakeem Butler (hand), who could miss the rest of the season. The veteran had 54 catches for 607 yards and three touchdowns for Baltimore in 2018. You shouldn't be drafting him in standard leagues, but keep an eye on Crabtree's role if he makes the final squad. Trent Sherfield is also in the fold as well.
Chicago Bears wide receiver Anthony Miller (ankle) hasn't practiced since Aug. 10 due to a sprained ankle and also missed most of the team's work at organized team activities and minicamp while recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. The 24-year-old has plenty of potential but could start off slow in 2019 because of his lack of practice due to injuries in the offseason. He needs more time to learn the nuances of head coach Matt Nagy's offense and must become more detailed as a route runner. The biggest challenge is the timing with the quarterback, Nagy said Wednesday. Thats the No. 1 challenge. Temper expectations with Miller to begin the season. His fantasy stock is falling, and he's not even a lock to be ready for Week 1.
Cleveland Browns running backs coach Stump Mitchell talked up running back Nick Chubb on Wednesday. "I think hes going to be special like he was last year," said Mitchell. "Hell be used a little more in the passing game than he was last year. Nick just continues to improve on the skillset that he has, and I think he has a fantastic skillset." In a rising offense as the lead back that could see more work catching passes in his second season, Chubb has low-end RB1 appeal. The 23-year-old had 192 carries for 996 yards and eight touchdowns in his rookie season and caught 20 passes for 149 yards and two more scores. Chubb could lose some playing time on passing situations once Kareem Hunt returns from suspension in the second half of the season, but it shouldn't make him any less appealing.
Baltimore Ravens rookie running back Justice Hill caught a short pass from quarterback Lamar Jackson and darted upfield, causing two Eagles defenders to collide in Monday's joint practice. Hill is the Ravens leading rusher after the first two weeks of the preseason, amassing 82 yards on 20 carries. According to the Baltimore Beatdown, Hill forced a missed tackle on nine of 12 touches in Baltimore's Week 2 game against Green Bay. Hill's running style is intriguing; he's lightning-fast, he breaks tackles and he can catch the ball well. The first-year back currently sits fourth on the Ravens depth chart and likely won't see a ton of touches at the start of the season, but keep him on your radar toward the end of your drafts. He's being picked up in the 12th round of most drafts and poses as an exciting sleeper to handcuff to Mark Ingram.
The Arizona Cardinals are closing in on signing free-agent wide receiver Michael Crabtree, according to sources. The Cards released former first-rounder Kevin White on Wednesday, and it looks like Crabtree is who they'll replace him with. It remains to be seen how Crabtree might fit in head coach Kliff Kingsbury's offense behind Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk, but the veteran wideout should make Arizona's offense more versatile and give them another weapon. He had 54 grabs for 607 yards and three touchdowns last year with Baltimore in a run-first offense. Crabtree is a nice red-zone option, but he'll have to battle for targets with rookies Andy Isabella and Keesean Johnson.
Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker has been a top-five fantasy option for the last five years and holds the crown as the most accurate field goal kicker in NFL history. "I think we've got an if it ain't broke, don't try to fix it type of situation going on here," Tucker told the media after Tuesday's practice. Drafting a top kicker in your leagues might not win you the championship, but drafting one who has made 89.7 percent of his field goals in his seven seasons will obviously help. If you happen to catch the run for kickers at the right time in your drafts, Tucker is the best kicker you should be looking to target.
New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold had another solid practice Wednesday as he prepared for what will likely be his last preseason action Saturday vs the Saints. Darnold completed 10 of his first 11 passes in team drills Wednesday and also threw four straight touchdowns in red-zone drills, a major area of weakness in his rookie season. Head coach Adam Gase said the starters will play the first half plus one series in the team's third preseason game Saturday so this is the best look fantasy owners will get at the sophomore QB before drafts. Darnold has been having a strong camp and has higher upside than a lot of the other quarterbacks expected to be drafted as backups in fantasy.
Pittsburgh Steelers kicker Chris Boswell has had the cards stacked against him this preseason. After hitting just 13 of 20 field goals and only 43 of 48 extra point attempts in 2018, head coach Mike Tomlin was very vocal that he was going to test Boswell this preseason. However, the fifth-year kicker knows there's nothing wrong with a challenge. "It does bring out the best in everybody. Well see where it goes, he said. The team brought in rookie Steven Wright from UCF to challenge Boswell this preseason. However, the incumbent has answered all doubts, hitting both field goal attempts, including a 47 yarder, along with all three extra point attempts. If your fantasy league utilizes kickers, you can leave Boswell in the player pool on draft day, but if he proves he is capable of hitting the necessary kicks, he could be a solid streamer after the first few games.
New York Jets kicker Taylor Bertolet is making a strong first impression on his new team. Bertolet was signed only a few days ago after Chandler Catanzaro abruptly retired but has already made an impression on the team. Bertolet went 4-for-4 on field goals during team drills connecting from 44, 40, and twice from 33 yards away. Bertolet won't be one of the top kickers drafted, but if he keeps this up could be worth a look on a Jets team that finished 30th in the NFL in red-zone conversion rate last season.
Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier has been impressed with rookie linebacker Devin Bush, who the Steelers traded up to get with the 10th overall pick. "I think he's going to make a lot of splash for us. He's going to be a big-time player for us," Shazier said. Shazier continues to make progress in his recovery from a spinal injury he suffered in 2017, but he will not play this year. Bush is the inside linebacking presence that Pittsburgh needs in order for their defense to return to the elite ranks among the NFL. They have the potential to become fantasy relevant this year, but fantasy owners can probably wait and see.
Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Vance McDonald won't be the full-time tight end, according to offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner. In an interview with Dale Lolley of DKPittsburghSports.com, the Steelers' OC said "He's never going to play the full game. That's never going to happen." Of course, this could be coach talk and McDonald ends up sees the majority of the time at tight end. His only real competition at the position is Xavier Grimble, who was undrafted out of USC and has just 22 career receptions. Don't look into this too much as the veteran McDonald is without a doubt the top dog at this position in Pittsburgh. His ADP has jumped up into the 7th round, which is fair for a player who should command 80-plus targets this year.
Indianapolis Colts running back Jordan Wilkins (foot) missed his sixth straight practice on Wednesday. Wilkins represents a change of pace from the two running backs, Marlon Mack and Nyheim Hines, that are in front of him. Mack is an explosive player that's developing into a 3-down player, and Hines has firmly established his role as a pass-catcher. Wilkins can find his way on the field, but the team's running back is getting crowded which drags his stock down.
Denver Broncos LB Aaron Wallace (hamstring) was waived/injured Wednesday, Aug. 21, according to a source.
Indianapolis Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri (knee) has been resting for much of the preseason and training camp. That remains true, but he is expected to be ready for Week 1. Vinatieri remains one of the top kicking options in fantasy. He plays on an elite offense, and he is arguably the best kicker in NFL history. The Colts should give Vinatieri plenty of opportunities to score this season as long as he remains healthy.
Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Parris Campbell (hamstring) is still being held out of practice after he suffered a setback last week in his recovery from the injury. The third-round pick can bring an exciting and explosive dynamic to this offense. The longer he's on the sideline though makes it more difficult for him to build chemistry with quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Jacoby Brissett. His stock continues to fall with every day that he misses practice.
Seattle Seahawks QB Geno Smith (knee) will play in the preseason game Saturday, Aug. 24, and is expected to receive significant playing time.
Seattle Seahawks QB Paxton Lynch (head) will not play in the preseason game Saturday, Aug. 24.
Washington Redskins wide receiver Trey Quinn (thumb) will not play in the preseason game on Thursday against the Falcons, while wide receiver Paul Richardson (quadriceps) will "probably not" play either. Richardson played in just seven games and caught 20 passes for 262 yards and two touchdowns in his first year in D.C. He continues to be bothered by injuries and can be left alone in standard-sized leagues. Quinn, 23, had nine catches in three games in his rookie season. He is slightly more attractive in the slot in PPR leagues with quarterback Case Keenum likely to be the starter, but Quinn is no more than a late-round deep sleeper.
The Detroit Lions agreed to a one-year, $11 million extension with defensive tackle Damon Harrison on Wednesday. Snacks Harrison won't do much in the sack column -- he has just nine total sacks in his six years in the league -- but he's most known for being an elite run clogger up the middle with his size (6-foot-3, 353 pounds). The Lions run defense was much improved after they acquired Harrison from the Giants at midseason last year.
Detroit Lions DT Damon Harrison signed a one-year contract extension with the Lions Wednesday, Aug. 21, worth $11 million, according to a source.