Thu Aug 5 2:38pm ET
By CHARLES ODUM
AP Sports Writer
Atlanta Falcons tight end Kyle Pitts (8) runs drills with linebacker Deion Jones (45) during NFL football practice on Friday, July 30, 2021, in Flowery Branch, Ga. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
Atlanta Falcons head coach Arthur Smith walk on the field during NFL football practice on Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2021, in Flowery Branch, Ga. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
Atlanta Falcons linebacker Deion Jones (45) talks with other players during NFL football practice on Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2021, in Flowery Branch, Ga. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) Deion Jones describes his career-high 4 1/2 sacks last season as ''just another taste'' of his pass-rush potential.
There may be more big-play opportunities for the Atlanta Falcons' middle linebacker in new defensive coordinator Dean Pees' scheme this season. Pees has a reputation for creating blitz opportunities in his multiple packages.
Jones is eager to build on last season's success in rushing the passer.
''I like to do it all,'' Jones said Wednesday. ''I love to get after the quarterback. That was something new I got to do and I loved it.''
Jones, a second-round pick from LSU in 2016, was a Pro Bowl selection in 2018 but never had more than one sack in a season before 2020.
''I think last year was just another taste of something I can do,'' Jones said, crediting ''a little more pass rush'' opportunities.
''From here on, just whenever the opportunity comes up, just hone into it and take it serious, like I did last year,'' he said.
The bad news for Atlanta: Jones' 4 1/2 sacks led the Falcons, who finished 4-12 for their third consecutive losing season. The team's 29 sacks were evidence of a weak pass rush that ranks near the top of first-year coach Arthur Smith's long list of areas that need improvement.
One of Smith's most notable moves in preparing for his first camp was bringing the 71-year-old Pees, who most recently was Tennessee's defensive coordinator in 2018-19, out of retirement.
Jones said Pees has made a strong first impression.
''I'm loving it,'' Jones said of Pees' defense.
''It's been good. Real hands on with everything, making sure we get an understanding of the defense.''
The Falcons need to see an edge rusher such as Dante Fowler Jr., who had only three sacks last season, lead the pass rush. Fowler opened training camp on the reserve/COVID-19 list after having his contract restructured in the offseason.
For now, the strength of the defense is at linebacker, where Foye Oluokun joins Jones to form an established tandem. Oluokun led Atlanta with 116 total stops and added three sacks and two interceptions. Jones had 106 tackles.
Oluokun said he and Jones provide different strengths to the defense.
''I'm trying to become more of a playmaker myself, like him, and he's trying to become more of the cerebral player in identifying formations and stuff,'' Oluokun said.
''As long as we're communicating with each other, we're learning how to take our shots and make plays.''
A rare encouraging sign for the defense last season came when Oluokun and outside linebacker Jacob Tuioti-Mariner won NFC defensive player of the week honors in a span of four weeks.
Oluokun had 10 tackles, one sack and four quarterback hits in a Week 9 win over Denver. Tuioti-Mariner had five tackles, one sack, one forced fumble and his first two career fumble recoveries in a Week 12 win over Las Vegas.
Jones ranks with defensive tackle Grady Jarrett and cornerback A.J. Terrell as the most established starters.
''He is playing multiple roles,'' Smith said of Jones. ''He's doing a nice job of handling every position we've asked him to because we're going to be a multiple defense.''
NOTES: TE Jaeden Graham was placed on the injured reserve list after hurting his right knee in practice Wednesday. Graham had three catches for 25 yards while playing in all 16 games in 2020. ... The team signed WR Trevor Davis, a fifth-round draft pick by Green Bay in 2016. Davis also has spent time with the Raiders, Dolphins, Bears and Washington.
Washington Football Team running back Antonio Gibson is heading into his sophomore season as the team's unquestioned number one option in the running game after his impressive rookie campaign. Gibson had to deal with a turf toe injury that limited his explosiveness and his ability to make cuts at a high level. After Gibson and head coach Ron Rivera reassured everyone that the turf toe will no longer limit him, Gibson can have a true breakout season in year two. Team Reporter Zach Selby noted that Gibson has improved his vision and burst upfield while watching him participate in red-zone drills. After playing primarily as a receiver in college, Gibson is starting to learn the little things that translate into being a successful running back in the NFL. In what will be a much improved Washington offense, Gibson has RB1 upside while going in the second round of fantasy drafts. By the end of preseason, Gibson's ADP could rise into the first round.
Washington Football Team wide receiver Terry McLaurin is coming into his third season as the unquestioned top receiver in a Scott Turner offense that is notorious for being a high-volume passing attack. Team reporter Zach Selby said that he believes we will see the Ryan Fitzpatrick and McLaurin connection in the back of the end zone often this year. Fitzpatrick has gravitated towards McLaurin often in training camp, and the two have built on the chemistry that they initially started at OTAs. In 15 games last season, McLaurin had 134 targets in 2020 which turned into 87 receptions for 1,118 yards and four touchdowns. Going into the 2021 season, McLaurin will be the main beneficiary of improved quarterback play which will give him a bump in his overall efficiency. McLaurin can realistically improve in every category, most notably the touchdown department. He is a WR1 option in fantasy and has a high ceiling.
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson will be able to return from the COVID-19 list on Friday, however, he still has some hurdles to clear. Jackson must clear protocol and provide a negative test to return to practice on Friday. This was the second time the 2019 NFL MVP has tested positive for the virus, as he missed a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers last season. Upon his return, Jackson will need to get back in the swing of things and get on the same page as his supporting cast. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman said the team has been making progress during training camp, as new receivers Rashod Bateman, Sammy Watkins, and Tylan Wallace get familiar with the offense. Jackson will have an improved group of skill players at his disposal this season, making him a high-end QB1 in fantasy.
The Tennessee Titans have signed quarterback Matt Barkley to serve as the backup to starter Ryan Tannehill. The former Eagles, Bears, and Bills quarterback has played in 19 games (7 starts), and has amassed 2,699 passing yards with 11 passing touchdowns. The Titans added to a thin depth chart as Barkley can add some insurance with DeShone Kizer and Logan Woodside as the only other options. Barkley should not be drafted in fantasy unless you're mistaking him for Giants running back Saquon Barkley.
It has been a rough start for Las Vegas Raiders running back Jalen Richard, as he began camp on the COVID-19 reserve list, and has now been ruled out indefinitely with a foot injury. The 27-year-old will have a tough time climbing the depth chart, as Josh Jacobs and Kenyan Drake will take the majority of reps at the position. With Drake being brought in to catch passes out of the backfield, Richard will have a limited role upon his eventual return from injury. He should not be rostered in fantasy leagues unless Drake or Jacobs misses some time. If this were to be the case, he could be an interesting option in PPR leagues.
Carolina Panthers tight end Dan Arnold has earned the praise of his new head coach Matt Rhule. Rhule said the team looks to Arnold as a red zone threat, third-down threat, and vertical threat in the passing game, also calling him an "excellent receiver." Arnold is unproven at the NFL level, having tallied 51 catches for 715 yards and seven touchdowns in 31 games, though he ranks in the 78th percentile or better among tight ends in both 40 time and catch radius. Additionally, beat writer Alaina Getzenberg reports that the connection between Arnold and new quarterback Sam Darnold has been a strong one so far in camp. While he seems to be trending towards a far bigger role in the offense in Carolina, he'll still have to translate all the praise and chemistry-building onto the field come Sundays this fall. He's not worth drafting at this juncture, though fantasy managers should continue to monitor practice and preseason reports to see if he emerges as the clear starter.
Tennessee Titans wide receiver Julio Jones suffered an undetermined injury on Monday,but the team does not believe it's serious at this time. Jones is a 32-year-old receiver who has struggled staying healthy in recent seasons, even though he almost always seems to work his way onto the field come game day. The Titans are going to be cautious with their superstar receiver so early in training camp. He's currently being drafted as the WR16 on Underdog, which feels like a good spot for him. He's still one of the most talented receivers in the league, but there are some risks associated with the injury history and getting acclimated to a new team.
Tennessee Titans offensive lineman Taylor Lewan has not practiced in full yet as he continues to recover from his torn ACL injury he suffered last season. However, according to head coach Mike Vrabel he's gone through some jog-throughs and is progressing nicely. All the optimistic talk makes sense as he was not placed on the PUP list at the start of training camp. His health is a big factor for the Titans' offense, which is built around Derrick Henry's bruising running style. At this time, fantasy managers sound like they can count on Lewan starting at left tackle when the season officially kicks off.
The Washington Football Team has activated offensive guard Brandon Scherff, and defensive tackle Daron Payne from the COVID-19 reserve list on Thursday. Defensive tackle Matt Ioannidis and cornerback Chris Miller were activated from the COVID-19 list on Tuesday, allowing them to return to practice. This leaves wide receiver Curtis Samuel and offensive tackle David Sharpe as the only two players remaining on the list. Washington was one of the teams that got hit hardest by COVID-19 during the first couple weeks of training camp, but it now seems they have their situation under control. Washington should have all players cleared by the time of their first preseason game when they take on the New England Patriots on August 12th.
Washington Football Team undrafted free agent running backJaret Patterson is making some noise at training camp. The former University of Buffalo player rushed for 1,072 yards and 19 touchdowns in just six games last season, while amassing 4,155 scrimmage yards and 53 total touchdowns over his collegiate career. Patterson turned some heads last year when he rushed for 409 yards and eight touchdowns against Kent State, so it was surprising when the 5-foot-8, 195-pound back went undrafted. Team reporter Zach Selby has been raving about Patterson during camp, making note of his footwork, vision, and elusiveness while going through team drills. Patterson will be battling for the third spot on the depth chart, with Antonio Gibson and J.D. McKissic leading the Washington backfield. He could make for an interesting dynasty asset, but in redraft leagues he is not on the fantasy radar unless someone ahead of him misses time.
Washington Football Team wide receiver Dyami Brown is showing out at his first NFL training camp. What many labelled as the "steal of the draft" after falling to the third round, Brown is making an immediate impact with Washington as Curtis Samuel is sidelined with a groin injury. Washington reporter Lake Lewis Jr notes how impressive he has been as a rookie, which made him compare Brown to teammate Terry McLaurin when he was in his first season with Washington. He is not the only one who has made this comparison, as McLaurin himself said he sees some of his own attributes in Brown's game. Brown has shown his explosiveness and his ability to be a dangerous deep threat so far at camp, and is potentially moving up the depth chart with his play. He will be challenged for targets in this offense, but if Samuel feels the lingering effects of his groin injury during the season, Brown could have a bigger role in the offense. As it currently stands, Brown is not worth a roster spot in redraft formats.
Washington Football Team wide receiver Steven Sims Jr. said that he feels like "I've got two good wheels this year" when asked about his health heading into 2021. Sims played in 12 games last year, tallying 27 receptions for 265 yards and one touchdown. Going into his third season, head coach Ron Rivera made note of the burst he has shown this training camp, largely due to the fact he is now fully healthy. Team reporter Peter Hailey said that when Sims has the ball in his hands, he is a fantastic playmaker as he is showing what he is capable of so far at camp. Sims will likely be buried on the depth chart with a fully healthy roster, so he is not on the fantasy radar to begin the season.
Jacksonville Jaguars running back James Robinson appears to have added some extra speed to his game this offseason. SI's John Shipley noted that "Robinson's added speed is noticeable when defenders have to meet him in the hole." Robinson doesn't exactly profile as a burner, so some extra speed could unlock more big-play upside in his game. Shipley also noted that Robinson outperformed rookie RB Travis Etienne Jr. on the ground, which shouldn't be a surprise based on Robinson's success as a runner last year. Robinson seems to be solidifying his role as the team's go-to early-down runner, and he still projects as a low-end RB3 with little receiving upside.
Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver D.J. Chark Jr. had his most impressive showing yet in Tuesday's practice. Per John Shipley, Chark "was uncoverable in one-on-ones, beating both Shaquill Griffin, D.J. Daniel, and Daniel Thomas for easy catches." Chark's elite size and speed combination was on full display in practice, and those unreachable facets of his game drive his upside. Chark is coming off of a disappointing 2020, but by all accounts, he's worked hard to get stronger and it seems to be paying off. Chark is currently being drafted as a WR3 in the seventh round in most leagues, but he could be a major value there if Trevor Lawrence locks onto him as the offense's number one target. However, It's worth noting that Chark will have plenty of competition for targets in Travis Etienne Jr., Marvin Jones Jr., and Laviska Shenault Jr.
Jacksonville Jaguars veteran wide receiver Phillip Dorsett II missed practice on Thursday with an undisclosed injury. The severity of the injury is unknown, but it figures to be minor considering that there was no noted concern amongst the coaching staff. Dorsett has had an up and down camp, but at this point in time, he's the favorite for the fourth wide receiver spot in Jacksonville. Dorsett's injury doesn't help matters, however, and it's alarming considering that he missed all of last season due to injury and has had other durability issues throughout his career. Collin Johnson, who is competing with Dorsett for the fourth WR spot, reportedly had a nice day while Dorsett was out. Dorsett isn't a fantasy consideration at this point in time, and he needs to stay healthy to have any chance of changing that this season.
New York Giants wide receiver Kenny Golladay (hamstring) will miss 2-to-3 weeks due to a hamstring pull. "The expectation after Kenny Golladay's doctor visit is that that he'll probably miss 2-3 weeks due to a hamstring pull," per Pat Leonard of NY Daily News Sports. Golladay initially hurt his hamstring during Tuesday's practice and will miss a few weeks of training camp. Fantasy managers should continue to monitor the situation, but there's no cause for concern to move the Giants wide receiver down fantasy draft boards. Sterling Shepard, Darius Slayton, and Kadarius Toney will see expanded roles while Golladay is sidelined. Stay tuned.
Minnesota Vikings QB Kirk Cousins was activated from the Reserve/COVID-19 list Thursday, Aug. 5.
Fantasy Spin: Cousins is a Qb2 in fantasy without a lot of upside.
The Houston Texans and Philadelphia Eagles have been discussing a trade that would send quarterback Deshaun Watson to Philadelphia. Multiple sources, including Chris Trapasso of CBS Sports, claimed that the talks have been "heating up." However, other sources have pumped the breaks, citing that a deal is far from imminent. The most complicated factor of the deal is that Watson is still wrapped up in cloudy legal trouble. If Watson is indicted on charges of sexual misconduct, he would face jail time. NFL teams are likely to want to wait until they have more of a clear picture on the situation. A trade to the Eagles would of course give Watson's fantasy value a big boost, assuming he faces no jail time. It would also relegate current Eagles starter Jalen Hurts to a backup role.
Minnesota Vikings RB Dalvin Cook has taken multiple snaps from center as part of a Wildcat package practice during training, and the package was used in the red zone Wednesday, Aug. 4.
Fantasy Spin: Cook has already been one of the most prolific runners in the red zone the last couple of years, and it sounds like the Vikings are looking for even more ways to make sure that continues. If he stays healthy, Cook should remain one of the top fantasy options in 2021.