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NFL Playoffs League - FFL: Preseason | NFL: Week 1

Falcons' Freeman feeling strong, says football is fun again

Thu May 23 5:15pm ET
AP Sports Writer

Players: Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman, Todd Gurley, Tevin Coleman

Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman takes a handoff from quarterback Matt Ryan as offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter looks on during NFL football practice Thursday, May 23, 2019, in Flowery Branch, Ga. (AP Photo/John Amis)

Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman walks off the field after NFL football practice Thursday, May 23, 2019, in Flowery Branch, Ga. (AP Photo/John Amis)

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) passes during NFL football practice Thursday, May 23, 2019, in Flowery Branch, Ga. (AP Photo/John Amis)

Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman runs drills during NFL football practice Thursday, May 23, 2019, in Flowery Branch, Ga. (AP Photo/John Amis)

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) The highlight of the Atlanta Falcons' first week of organized team activities has been Devonta Freeman's return to the field.

''It's been a long time,'' said coach Dan Quinn.

Freeman looked explosive in Thursday's practice, the first OTAs session open to reporters. Having Freeman again flash his dual-threat skills at running back is good news for the Falcons' hopes of returning to the playoffs.

Knee and groin injuries limited Freeman to only two games last season . The Falcons had a long list of season-ending injuries, including both safeties and both guards, but losing Freeman had perhaps the biggest impact on the team's fall to a 7-9 finish.

Without Freeman, the Falcons' ground game was stagnant , ranking only 27th in the league. The Falcons' other top running back, Tevin Coleman, signed with San Francisco as a free agent, so it was important to see Freeman in his No. 24 red jersey lining up beside quarterback Matt Ryan this week.

''It's awesome,'' Ryan said. ''Free is such a dynamic player. ... He looks great.''

The Falcons are still waiting for starting safeties Ricardo Allen (torn Achilles tendon) and Keanu Neal (knee) to complete their comebacks from 2018 injuries. Both worked on a side field with trainers but could be ready for training camp.

Freeman, 27, emerged with back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in 2015 and 2016. He had a combined 127 catches those two years, making him even more valuable.

Freeman has struggled to stay on the field since signing a five-year, $41.25 million contract before the 2017 season. At the time it was the NFL's richest contract for a running back. The deal's total value still ranks third for his position, behind Todd Gurley ($57.5 million) and Le'Veon Bell ($52.5 million).

The big contract brought great expectations, making two straight years of injury woes even more frustrating. He missed two games in 2017 following his second concussion of the year, including one in the preseason, and also was slowed by a knee injury. He was limited to 68 yards rushing in two games in 2018.

Freeman's trademark smile was back on Thursday, when he said the joy in football has returned.

''It felt good just to be out here running around and having fun,'' he said. ''This is fun. Just having fun running around brought back memories of when I was a kid, playing in the middle of the field. It was fun.''

Football wasn't fun for Freeman last season. He suffered a bruised right knee in the season-opening loss at Philadelphia, forcing him to miss three games. Then he landed on injured reserve with the groin injury.

''It was tough,'' Freeman said. ''At the time I couldn't see the blessing that God had for me. But it was definitely tough not being able to go out there and compete and battle with my brothers. Just seeing all those guys, every time I watched a game, it was like `Man, that was a missed opportunity for me.' I definitely took it to heart. I learned a lot from it, though.''

Freeman has not been restricted this week but said ''I'm still getting better.''

Freeman's grin made his coach also smile.

''It's been awesome having Free back on the field and be back to having him look like himself,'' Quinn said, adding ''to see the energy that he brings has been good.''

NOTES: OTAs are voluntary. Among players not participating: WR Julio Jones, DT Grady Jarrett, OLB Vic Beasley Jr. and LB Deion Jones. Quinn said he has been in contact with each of the four. He said Julio Jones and Deion Jones ''are still working on some rehab.'' He said Beasley is training on his own and is expected by minicamp. Jarrett signed his $15.209 million franchise tag which prevented him from signing elsewhere as a free agent. He set career highs with six sacks and three forced fumbles last season. Julio Jones missed OTAs and the mandatory minicamp last year before reporting for training camp with a promise from the team his contract would be reworked this year. Those talks are ongoing.

Player Notes
Sony Michel Aug 20 2:10am ET

New England Patriots running back Sony Michel caught all 19 passes thrown his way during competitive practice drills on Monday. Michel is playing catch-up after missing the beginning of camp recovering from minor knee surgery but is already impressing the coaching staff. Michel was a fantastic rookie runner last season, rushing for 931 yards and six touchdowns. But he was a one-dimensional weapon, albeit a highly effective one in the red zone (ranking sixth in the NFL in red zone touches among running backs). If Michel can be trusted in the passing game, he could take his game to another level this season.

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Jakobi Meyers Aug 20 1:20am ET

New England Patriots wide receiver Jakobi Meyers is making a serious case to break camp with the team and play a role in Week 1. Meyers has stood out countless times throughout camp, making catches all over the field. He has backed that up with six catches for 69 yards and two touchdowns in the first preseason game. Veteran Phillip Dorsett still is in the teams plans but has been banged up at times during practice sessions. The Patriots wide receiving room is in a state of flux, with players like Josh Gordon and Julian Edelman on the cusp of practicing for the first time all season. With key players playing catch-up, Meyers could play a role early on in the season for the Patriots.

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Cody Kessler Aug 19 11:30pm ET

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Cody Kessler (concussion) has resumed practicing. He was the main backup to starter Carson Wentz after Nate Sudfeld (wrist) got hurt, but the Eagles signed Josh McCown after watching their two backups go down. McCown will serve as the primary backup once the season starts, and Kessler's likely only around until Sudfeld is able to return.

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Mike Evans Aug 19 11:04pm ET

Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans (quadriceps) and running back Ronald Jones II (knee) both missed practice on Monday, putting their availability for the preseason game on Friday against the Browns into question. Head coach Bruce Arians said the injuries are nothing serious, and both players are day-to-day. Jones is expected to play Friday, but the team is less certain about Evans. Evans has yet to make a catch in the preseason so far. Barring setbacks, both players should be ready for Week 1. Evans is a WR1 in fantasy and should be even more valuable in head coach Bruce Arians' offense. Jones was a bust as a rookie but will have plenty of opportunities to become the team's lead back in 2019.

Charcandrick West Aug 19 11:04pm ET

Former Kansas City Chiefs running back Charcandrick West signed with the Indianapolis Colts on Monday after they moved recently signed running back D'Onta Foreman to Injured Reserve. Behind running backs Nyheim Hines and Marlon Mack, there are some snaps available that West could capitalize on while fellow running back Jordan Wilkins is recovering from injury. West showed some flashes during his time with the Chiefs, and he will be fighting for a roster spot as camp winds down.

Aaron Rodgers Aug 19 10:40pm ET

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (back) returned to practice on Monday after being scratched as a precaution before the preseason game last Thursday against the Ravens due to back tightness. However, it's still uncertain if Rodgers will play in the preseason game Thursday against the Raiders in Canada. Head coach Matt LaFleur said Rodgers "looked pretty good today to me" on Monday. Even though he's learning a new offensive scheme, it's not necessary that Rodgers play in the remaining preseason games. There's obvious rebound potential for Rodgers and Green Bay's offense in 2019 under LaFleur. He's a top-five fantasy signal-caller.

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Cam Newton Aug 19 10:30pm ET

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (shoulder) will make his preseason debut on Thursday against the Patriots, according to head coach Ron Rivera. It's unclear how much Newton will play in the contest. The 30-year-old is coming off a second straight offseason with right shoulder surgery, and reports out of training camp suggest he has a new throwing motion designed to take pressure and torque off his shoulder. Running back Christian McCaffrey, linebacker Luke Kuechly and tight end Greg Olsen will also play Thursday. Many will be down on Newton based on how his 2018 season ended, but he'll still have plenty of QB1 potential if he's healthy. Newton could be a value as a low-end QB1 this year.

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Adrian Colbert Aug 19 10:23pm ET

Updating previous reports, San Francisco 49ers S Adrian Colbert (hamstring) and DE Damontre Moore (thumb) will not return to the preseason game Monday, Aug. 19, because of their injuries.

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Adam Shaheen Aug 19 10:20pm ET

Chicago Bears tight end Adam Shaheen is still working his way up to full speed with three weeks until the regular season begins. The third-year tight end suffered a back injury early on in camp and has been slow to get back into the swing of things. Shaheen has excellent 50/50-ball talent and is a red zone threat but has struggled mightily staying healthy during his short career. The chances of Shaheen making an impact early on in the regular season are getting slimmer by the day.

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Vance McDonald Aug 19 10:20pm ET

Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Vance McDonald is dealing with an unknown ailment that head coach Mike Tomlin calls "day-to-day." While the coach didn't expand on details in his media presser, he didn't seem the slightest bit concerned about it saying, "he'll be fine." Likely just a stinger, it shouldn't keep McDonald out of the team's third preseason game on Sunday against the Titans. McDonald has been getting some serious fantasy hype amongst a relatively barren tight end position. His ADP has crept up and he is going as high as the seventh round in mock drafts. Granted he can stay healthy, he provides a nice mix of safety and upside, compared to guys going around him like Eric Ebron and David Njoku.

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Drew Lock Aug 19 10:20pm ET

Denver Broncos rookie quarterback Drew Lock (hand) and rookie tight end Noah Fant (foot) were both injured in Monday's preseason game against the 49ers and are questionable to return. Lock went 7-for-12 for 40 yards before departing, while Fant caught two passes for seven yards on three targets. Both players will be instrumental to Denver's future, but it remains to be seen how much they'll play in their rookie seasons. Fant has the better chance to be fantasy relevant as Denver attempts to finally get some production from the tight end position. Lock could see some starts at some point if Joe Flacco falters. Both players are most attractive in dynasty/keeper formats in 2019. Stay tuned for more information on their respective injuries.

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Derrius Guice Aug 19 10:10pm ET

Washington Redskins running back Derrius Guice (knee) is expected to play in the preseason game against the Falcons on Thursday, but it'll likely be his only preseason action, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. Guice tore his ACL and missed his entire rookie season and had several setbacks along the way in his recovery. Washington would like Guice to see most of the backfield touches in his second year, but it remains to be seen if he'll be able to handle that kind of a workload. The 'Skins also have Adrian Peterson, Samaje Perine and Chris Thompson, so they could choose to play it safe with the young back early in the year. Despite the risk, Guice is a worthy investment in the middle rounds.

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Eddy Pineiro Aug 19 10:10pm ET

Chicago Bears kicker Eddy Pineiro will be the team's starting kicker for the final two preseason games after the team released Elliott Fry. Pineiro reportedly converted on 84 percent of his kicks during training camp while Fry kicked at an 81 percent clip. Pineiro is 3-for-4 through the first two preseason games and will handle all of the kicking duties to convince the team he should stick around for Week 1. The Bears do not appear to be committed to Pineiro at all at this time, so look for them to scour the league for available kickers after teams make their final cuts. The Bears kicking situation should be closely monitored all the way up to Week 1 of the 2019 season and avoided in fantasy leagues.

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Trey Burton Aug 19 10:10pm ET

Chicago Bears tight end Trey Burton is confident he will be ready to take on the Packers in Week 1 of the 2019 season. Burton is recovering from sports hernia surgery and has suffered some minor setbacks during training camp. The veteran tight end wasn't happy with his strength when he initially came back and took a week off to get his body right. Burton still has not practiced with the team but hopes to be out there with his teammates September 5 in Chicago. Burton's poor second half in 2018, combined with his current injury situation, pushes the talented tight end out of the top-8 among his position group in fantasy.

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John Ross Aug 19 10:10pm ET

Cincinnati Bengals head coach Zac Taylor said that wide receiver John Ross (hamstring) is set to start practicing as early as Sunday. Ross, 23, has blazing speed but has yet to put it all together in the NFL in his two seasons. Injuries continue to hamper him along the way. He had just 21 catches for 210 yards with seven touchdowns in 13 games last year. The upside remains evident, but most fantasy owners want to see more consistency before they take a chance on him. Consider him worth a late-round flier for receiver depth.

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Ryan Succop Aug 19 10:00pm ET

Tennessee Titans kicker Ryan Succop passed his physical and was removed from the Physically Unable to Perform list on Monday. Succop should be ready for the regular season, barring any setbacks. The 32-year-old kicker is in his sixth year with the Titans. He made 26 of his 30 field goal tries last year (86.7 percent) and 28 of his 31 extra points. Succop is an adequate kicker, but Tennessee's run-first offense often stalls due to their lack of a consistent deep threat. Succop can be a decent bye-week filler when the time comes, but you can probably do better with your starting kicker.

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Anthony Miller Aug 19 10:00pm ET

Chicago Bears wide receiver Anthony Miller is expected to be questionable to practice this week after injuring his ankle during a practice drill last week. The second-year receiver is also recovering from shoulder surgery, further complicating his possible availability for Week 1. Miller needs reps with quarterback Mitch Trubisky and is missing valuable time. He is not expected to see the field during the preseason but his fantasy value currently is tied to whether Miller is in lock-step with the offense right out of the gate in 2019. Miller has the potential to lead Bears receivers in fantasy points this season but health is a concern moving forward.

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Cordarrelle Patterson Aug 19 10:00pm ET

Chicago Bears running back/wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson is not expected to play in the Bears final two preseason games. Patterson signed with the Bears in the offseason and is expected to play multiple roles in the offense this season. The veteran is expected to return kicks, run deep routes and even pick up a few carries from the backfield. Patterson scored five total touchdowns (one rushing, one returning, three receiving) for the Patriots last season and is expected to be the focal point of some interesting play-calls this season. Patterson's fantasy value is tied to touchdowns but his lack of projected touches makes him unusable in most fantasy formats.

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Riley Ridley Aug 19 9:50pm ET

Chicago Bears wide receiver Riley Ridley's professional debut was a success in the Bears second preseason game, catching three passes for 19 yards. But the rookie made positive plays on the field that don't show up in the stat sheet, leading Bears receivers in blocking efficiency during his 28 snaps played. Ridley looked smooth out of his breaks, a step in the right direction after the talented receiver hurt his hamstring early in camp. Rookie pass-catchers often struggle to make an impact right out of the gate so Ridley's value, at this time, is tied solely to dynasty and keeper leagues for the 2019 fantasy season.

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Dan Bailey Aug 19 9:50pm ET

Minnesota Vikings kicker Dan Bailey only had a few chances on Sunday night but he made them count, knocking in a 24-yard field goal in the first quarter and an extra point in the third. Newcomer Kaare Vedvik was brought in for an extra point in the fourth quarter, and there's a non-zero chance that the Norway product is gunning for Bailey's job. It seems more likely that Vedvick will serve as the punter, but it's crucial for the Vikings to figure out their special teams situation as it has been a major issue during the Zimmer era. Bailey was a disappointing 21-for-28 (75%) last season - a far cry from his 86.6% career average on field goal attempts. He's currently being taken as the 17th kicker off the board. Keep an eye on this situation as we move through the preseason.

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