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Saints' first offseason work sharpens focus on new faces

Thu May 24 8:29pm ET
AP Sports Writer

New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton walks on the field during an NFL football practice in Metairie, La., Thursday, May 24, 2018. (AP Photo/Sophia Germer)

New Orleans Saints quarterback J.T. Barrett (5) stands by as running back Trey Edmunds is handed the ball by quarterback Tom Savage (12) during NFL football practice in Metairie, La., Thursday, May 24, 2018. (AP Photo/Sophia Germer)

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) is handed the ball during an NFL football practice in Metairie, La., Thursday, May 24, 2018. (AP Photo/Sophia Germer)

METAIRIE, La. (AP) Patrick Robinson spied Drew Brees stepping up to throw deep down the middle, sprinted back toward his own end zone and made an outstretched interception of a ball that initially looked to be thrown beyond anyone's reach.

''Impressive,'' was how Saints coach Sean Payton described the play by Robinson, a cornerback who is one of several recent additions aimed at strengthening a club that nearly advanced to the NFC title game last season.

The onset of offseason practices this week has provided Payton and his staff a chance to begin forging roles for players such as Robinson, as well as fellow newcomers such as linebacker Demario Davis, safety Kurt Coleman, receiver Cameron Meredith and first-round draft choice Marcus Davenport.

It's also a chance to see if any of the club's younger running backs - such as rookie Boston Scott - might fill the void created by Pro Bowl rusher Mark Ingram's four-game suspension for use of a banned substance.

''Obviously, we hate to miss a guy like that. He's such huge part of what we do and such a great teammate, too,'' Brees said of Ingram after Thursday's non-padded practice, the first open to reporters this offseason. ''We'll manage.''

Alvin Kamara is on track to emerge as New Orleans' top running back after being selected as the Offensive Rookie of the Year last season.

But while Kamara played a more versatile running and receiving role that Payton calls a ''Joker back,'' Ingram was a force on more traditional runs.

At only 5-foot-7, Scott is smaller than Ingram, but Payton won't discount the rookie's ability to compete for snaps Ingram might otherwise have gotten.

''He's shorter, but he's built pretty well. He is someone who has good instincts,'' Payton said.

''It's early, but he's done some really good things. There's a running ability he has as well. I wouldn't look at him as a ''Joker'' back, if you will. He's got some of those traits, but he does a pretty good job with some of the in-line runs.''

The preseason performance of Scott, a sixth-round draft choice out of Louisiana Tech, as well as that of Trey Edmunds, a second-year pro out of Maryland, could determine how the Saints cope with Ingram's suspension.

''I'm going to work, do everything I can to learn the playbook and just grind,'' Scott said. ''By the time preseason rolls around, I'll be ready.''

The Saints hope they've bolstered the passing game by adding receiver Cameron Meredith during free agency. Meredith led Chicago in receiving two seasons ago, but is coming back from a major knee injury that wiped out his 2017 season.

Meredith did some route-running and catching on Thursday, after which Payton pronounced him ''way ahead of schedule.''

''He's going to factor in this year,'' Payton said.

Meredith, meanwhile, discussed his motivation to regain his 2016 form.

''It was a major injury. I'm not going to downplay it,'' Meredith said. ''I'm excited to go out there and prove people wrong.''

On defense, the Saints cannot yet be sure how well 2017 starting end Alex Okafor will come back from his torn Achilles.

In the meantime, Davenport is expected to get a lot of offseason work as the Saints try to refine his pass-rushing skills in time for the fall.

''He's a tremendous worker,'' Payton said. ''He's coming along really well. There's a strength element you feel.''

The Saints expect the linebacker group to be strengthened by Davis, a former defensive leader with the New York Jets, as well as the return of second-year pro Alex Anzalone, who started four games as a rookie before the rest of his season was cut short by a shoulder injury.

Both can play multiple roles.

''I'm down with whatever my coaches want me to do,'' Davis said. ''I'm here to win.''

Robinson, Payton said, has returned to the club that drafted him in 2010 a more confident and capable player after winning a Super Bowl with Philadelphia last season.

Robinson ''has played on the biggest stages and had success,'' Payton said. ''It's good seeing him back in our building.''

Notes: Ingram was not at practice, even though the terms of his suspension allow him to participate in all offseason and preseason work. Payton said he disagreed with Ingram's decision, but respects it and has had friendly phone conversations with Ingram about it. Brees said he also has spoken with Ingram, adding, ''I know Mark's doing what he needs to do to get himself ready to play this season. He's doing what's best for him and therefor what's best for the team.''

Player Notes
Doug Marrone Aug 21 8:10pm ET

Jacksonville Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette could see more action on third down this year, according to head coach Doug Marrone. The Jaguars used Fournette on third down plays with the first team offense in Saturday's preseason game against the Vikings and Marrone said the second-year back "seems to be doing a good job" in the situations. If Fournette can be a true three-down back for Jacksonville this year, he could see his value in PPR formats vault into the top five by the end of the season.

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Adam Shaheen Aug 21 4:40pm ET

Chicago Bears tight end Adam Shaheen's Week 1 status is in doubt due to a right ankle sprain. Shaheen rolled the ankle hauling in his third reception of the game against the Bengals on August 9. Shaheen racked up 53 yards in the preseason affair but this is just another injury that could stunt his development. Shaheen also had a strong performance last season against the Bengals but exited that game as well with a chest injury at the time. The sprain is not being characterized as serious right now but this certainly hurts his value as a TE2 in deeper leagues moving forward. Expect Shaheen to miss the rest of the preseason.

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Allen Robinson Aug 21 4:20pm ET

Chicago Bears wide receiver Allen Robinson made his preseason debut against the Broncos last Saturday. It has been a long road back from a torn ACL for the talented receiver and his appearance marks his first game action since the injury in Week 1 of last season. The free-agent acquisition was not targeted in the game but his rehab is right on course to begin the season at full speed. When healthy, Robinson is a professional route runner with the physical tools to win on 50-50 balls and is a big-time red zone threat. He currently is being slotted as a low-end WR1 and is in line for tons of targets in the Bears revamped offense.

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Saquon Barkley Aug 21 4:10pm ET

New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley missed practice for the sixth straight day with a tweaked hamstring on Tuesday. Barkley was not in uniform for the team's second preseason game last Friday and the team is being ultra cautious with their top draft pick. Barkley has the talent and skill-set to deserve the top-6 fantasy status he currently is getting in most rankings. At this time, the Giants will do everything they can to get their rookie up to 100% before Week 1 and should be ready to roll when the lights come on. His draft status should not be altered because of this injury for now.

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Devonta Freeman Aug 21 3:50pm ET

Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman will once again be inactive for the third preseason game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Freeman has not yet seen a single minute of preseason action, and it now looks increasingly likely that he will not suit up at all this preseason. Freeman not playing in the preseason is not an issue for his fantasy value entering the season. If anything, given his history of concussions, not playing is a bonus to his fantasy value. If Freeman can stay healthy for the majority of the season he should be in contention to be a top-10 running back at the end of the season.

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Matt Bryant Aug 21 3:50pm ET

Atlanta Falcons kicker Matt Bryant will kick again in Wednesday's practice. Bryant has an undisclosed injury and has not played in either of the first two preseason games. He did kick 15 balls last week, but that was not enough to convince the Falcons to activate him for the second preseason game. How Bryant fairs Wednesday could determine his status for the third preseason game. Right now Bryant is still the front runner to remain the Falcons kicker into the season, and he should be treated as such in fantasy drafts.

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Rishard Matthews Aug 21 3:40pm ET

Tennessee Titans wide receiver Rishard Matthews has missed all of training camp dealing with an undisclosed injury, however, head coach Mike Vrabel said on Tuesday that he is hopeful the receiver will return shortly. Lack of injury updates and the emergence of Taywan Taylor have both caused a bit of a drop in Matthews' draft stock this year, but should he be able to return early in the season, he still has a chance to be Mariota's favorite weapon. Despite the possible value, proceed with caution regarding Matthews until we receive news that he is able to return to practice.

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Julio Jones Aug 21 3:40pm ET

Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones will not suit up against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the Falcons third preseason game. Given that the third game is often the one where the starters play the most time, it is now looking as if Jones is not going to suit up for any preseason games. This should not be an issue for fantasy owners entering the season. As long as Jones remains present at Falcons practice you should consider him good to go when the season begins. As it stands Jones remains a top-five fantasy wide receiver, despite the lack of preseason action.

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Trey Burton Aug 21 3:30pm ET

Chicago Bears tight end Trey Burton gave fantasy owners a taste of his forthcoming expanded role with his new team in the Bears 24-23 preseason win over the Broncos. Burton caught four passes for 45 yards, including a touchdown catch on a fantastic play drawn up by new head coach Matt Nagy. Burton was used in motion on several plays out of the slot, including an excellent sideline catch for 12 yards for a first down. Burton's career high for receptions in a season is only 37 but glimpses at the new Bears offense indicate he could blow by that number. Burton's value will continue to rise leading up to fantasy drafts over the next few weeks.

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Terrance West Aug 21 3:20pm ET

The New Orleans Saints have released running back Terrance West, according to the NFL Network. West racked up 36 yards on seven carries over two preseason games, including a 21-yard run. The team appears to be favoring youth and running back Jonathan Williams has continued to impress in camp. The team is looking for a player to combo with Alvin Kamara while Mark Ingram serves his suspension to begin the season. West enjoyed his best season in 2016 when he racked up six total touchdowns and 1,010 all-purpose yards for the Ravens. West surely will get a look with another team at some point this season.

From RotoBaller

Dalvin Cook Aug 21 3:00pm ET

Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook (knee) could realistically make his preseason debut on Friday against the Seattle Seahawks. Vikings offensive coordinator John DeFilippo mentioned that the team is "looking forward to possibly seeing him out there". While it seems like a foregone conclusion that Cook will play in Week 1 of the regular season, it would still be nice to get a glimpse of him before preseason is over. There have been rumblings about Cook and fellow RB Latavius Murray splitting carries during the season, but there is no doubt that Cook is the more dynamic of the two. He should still be drafted with RB1 upside, while Murray would be a smart handcuff to grab in later rounds.

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Wendell Smallwood Aug 21 12:00pm ET

Philadelphia Eagles running backs Wendell Smallwood and Matt Jones could have good outings on Thursday, making them both potentially solid DFS picks. The two backups are expected to be the only active running backs for Philadelphia's third preseason game. Darren Sproles has already been ruled out and Jay Ajayi is unlikely to play due to a lower body injury. Smallwood and Jones won't have much value during the regular season, but they could be sneaky good running backs for this week's DFS slate.

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Nick Foles Aug 21 11:40am ET

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles will play "about a half" in Thursday's preseason game according to coach Doug Pederson. Foles was forced to leave the second preseason game because of a shoulder injury, but he recovered quickly and will be in there to face the Cleveland Browns in the regular season dress rehearsal. If Carson Wentz (knee) ends up not being able to start Week 1, Foles will be in there to start.

From RotoBaller

Sam Bradford Aug 21 11:30am ET

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Sam Bradford has stated that he has been given a large degree of control over play-calling under offensive coordinator Mike McCoy. McCoy has previously worked with quarterbacks Philip Rivers and Peyton Manning, giving them the freedom to change in and out of plays and put up big numbers in the process. This is good news for Bradford fantasy owners, as the veteran quarterback could put up a solid QB2 campaign in his new offense.

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Mike Glennon Aug 21 11:30am ET

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Mike Glennon (forearm) is still nursing the same injury that kept him out of the team's second preseason game. Although he is making progress, his availability for this weekend's game against the Cowboys is still up in the air. Glennon projects to be the third quarterback on the depth chart, making his fantasy value virtually nothing for the 2018 season.

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Brice Butler Aug 21 11:30am ET

Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Brice Butler (foot) missed the team's game last week and is day-to-day heading into Week 3. However, head coach Steve Wilks is confident that the veteran receiver will be able to play. Butler has a bit of catching up to do, having lost the team's second wide receiver job to either Christian Kirk or Chad Williams for now. If Butler is able to reclaim the starting job, expect him to be a flex option this season. However, if not, Butler will likely have minimal fantasy value in 2018.

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Kenneth Dixon Aug 21 10:30am ET

Oft-injured Baltimore Ravens running back Kenneth Dixon had a strong preseason debut Monday night against the Colts. The shifty running back averaged over five yards per carry and reeled in all three of his targets Monday night. Dixon will need to continue his strong showing to close out the preseason in an effort to grab hold of the backup running back role from teammate Javorious Allen. Allen also had a solid showing Monday night, but Dixon has shown to be the more skilled of the two when he manages to stay healthy. Alex Collins has a firm grasp on the lead-back duties in Baltimore's offense, but monitor this situation closely as his hand-cuff should emerge from one of Allen or Dixon.

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Michael Crabtree Aug 21 10:30am ET

Newly-acquired Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Michael Crabtree hauled in his only target from quarterback Joe Flacco in Monday night's preseason match-up with the Colts. The connection was good for a 29-yard gain along the sidelines. Both Crabtree and new teammate John Brown, who was also a free agent signing, have shown early chemistry with their new quarterback thus far. This chemistry should translate to the regular season and boosts the fantasy stock of both Flacco and his new receivers. Crabtree is coming off draft boards much earlier than Brown, but could be a candidate for double-digit touchdowns this season. Look to draft him in the middle rounds of your fantasy drafts.

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Aaron Donald Aug 21 10:20am ET

Los Angeles Rams linebacker Mark Barron returned to practice. The former safety has excelled since converting to linebacker, and he is great in coverage. He flies around the field making tackles, which makes him a great play in IDP (individual defensive player) leagues. His return can also help soften the blow of Aaron Donald's absence if his holdout extends into the regular season. Head coach Sean McVay is hoping to have him back for the start of the season. If he progresses well, he will help strengthen the Rams' defense biggest weakness, which is the linebacker position. Linebacker is the position group management did not address this offseason, so Barron will have to take that next step.

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Lamar Jackson Aug 21 10:20am ET

Baltimore Ravens rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson had a quiet showing on Monday night against the Colts. The quarterback got off to a slow start, but flashed some elusiveness in avoiding Indianapolis' pass-rush on his first drive of the game. Jackson said after the game that he has not performed as well as he has hoped in the preseason, but, despite that, the quarterback still managed to connect for a touchdown pass in the game. Teammate Joe Flacco's strong preseason has solidified Baltimore's original plan to go into the season with the veteran having a firm hold on the starting quarterback job, so Jackson will have plenty of time to become more efficient. He is still an attractive dynasty league asset, and could have some nice value in the event of an injury to Flacco. Jackson should be drafted as the third rookie quarterback off the board in your dynasty drafts.

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