Thu Jun 23 8:01pm ET
By TERESA M. WALKER
AP Pro Football Writer
Tennessee Titans tight end Chig Okonkwo takes part in a drill at the NFL football team's practice facility June 1, 2022, in Nashville, Tenn. Okonkwo has a really good reason not to be working with the rest of the Titans' rookies as they wrap up their offseason at the team headquarters. Okonkwo, the rookie who ran the fastest 40-yard dash among tight ends earlier this year at the NFL Combine had somewhere better to be: Tight End University, (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)
San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle runs against the Houston Texans during the first half of an NFL football game Jan. 2, 2022, in Santa Clara, Calif. Tight End U is back for a second straight year in Nashville, Tenn., the offseason home of Kittle. Kittle, a three-time Pro Bowler, started this a year ago with seven-time Pro Bowl tight end Travis Kelce and another three-time Pro Bowl tight end in Greg Olsen, who's now retired. (AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn, File)
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Tennessee tight end Chig Okonkwo has a really good reason not to be working with the rest of the Titans' rookies as they wrap up their offseason at the team headquarters.
Okonkwo, the rookie who ran the fastest 40-yard dash among tight ends earlier this year at the NFL Combine, had somewhere better to be.
Tight End University, the equivalent of a master class at the rookie's position.
''It's just so amazing to be able to be here and do this ...,'' Okonkwo said Thursday. ''And it's just awesome. There's like 80 of us out here. ... And there's so many Pro Bowl guys, so many big contract to the guys. It's just really nice to be able to go out there as a rookie in my first season.''
Going into his first NFL season, Okonkwo is trying to be a sponge, soaking up everything he can, especially when seven-time Pro Bowl tight end Travis Kelce of the Kansas City Chiefs speaks.
''He showed me something that I've never seen before,'' Okonkwo said. ''And I was like, `I think I should probably start working on that because he's really good, he's the best in the business.' So just learning things like that, like being able to just take little tidbits like that from different guys.''
That was the whole reason for Tight End U - or TEU for short.
A three-time Pro Bowler for San Francisco, George Kittle already had been working with eight to 10 tight ends in the offseason after moving to Nashville five years ago. He talked with Kelce and three-time Pro Bowler Greg Olsen about expanding the group, and Olsen said to invite everybody.
They expected 20, with 50 in attendance last year at the high school where Kittle's father, George, works as an assistant football coach for former NFL quarterback Trent Dilfer. The invite list grew so much for this week's camp they had moved to Vanderbilt University and had at least 85 tight ends in attendance.
Kelce, Kittle and Olsen also had to tell a bunch of young tight ends no.
''We're still expanding and trying to find room for everybody to be able to come out here because everybody sees what kind of turnout it is,'' Kelce said. ''And on top of that, to hear the stories from the guys that are coming through and what they've learned, we know how unique of a situation it is. We're going to keep trying to make it bigger and better every year.''
The tight ends spend camp working through problems like blocking 300-pound linemen to running routes against much faster players. They picked the brains of veterans like Olsen in a classroom before moving onto the field to hone the physical techniques to thrive in an NFL season.
Getting that many people together costs money.
TEU has Bridgestone, Charmin, Gatorade, Levi's and Bud Light as sponsors. The tight ends also raised money again for the Boys and Girls Club. Dawson Knox of Buffalo winning the competition with Okonkwo second, and they brought in more than $131,000. Bridgestone brought that to $681,000 with a further donation Thursday.
More TEU expansion is likely in the future. Kelce said they would like to bring in more tight ends, possibly tight end coaches and maybe even college tight ends.
For now, everyone leaves having learned something, whether it's a new release on a route, a blocking technique or something off tape.
''And everyone here is hungry and everybody here wants to be a great NFL tight end,'' Kittle said. ''And so when you put all that hunger together, it's just big ol' nasty beast, and that's what a tight end is.''
The Carolina Panthers made waves when they announced Baker Mayfield as the team's starting quarterback for Saturday's preseason opener against Washington, and then did so again when it was announced Christian McCaffrey and D.J. Moore would be inactive for the contest. McCaffrey has been bothered by myriad injuries over the past few seasons, lending to the Panthers attempting to keep him fresh heading into Week 1 of the regular season. Moore's absence is also likely a byproduct of Carolina attempting to keep key playmakers healthy for the season ahead, even though fewer reps alongside Mayfield may make some fantasy managers trepidatious about the wideout's ceiling entering 2022. The duo's next chance to suit up comes Friday vs. the Patriots.
New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson is set to be sidelined for the next 2-4 weeks by a bone bruise and meniscus tear in his right knee, per Brian Costello of the New York Post. Wilson left Friday's preseason contest against the Eagles due to the injury and was in significant pain prior to his departure. Initially, there were concerns that Wilson may be facing a long-term absence, but the team remains optimistic that their 23-year-old signal caller will be back in the fold soon. Joe Flacco and Mike White remain the team's top two internal candidates to start under center if Wilson isn't cleared by Week 1, with Flacco having sizable intrigue due to the matchup with Baltimore, a franchise he led to a Super Bowl in 2012.
Dynasty | Rookie running back Jerome Ford scored once as a rusher and again as a receiver in his first action of the pre-season. Dynasty Analysis: Ford rushed for 57 yards on 10 carries, though a majority of his yardage came from 41-yard scamper. He also reeled in 4-of-5 as a receiver, scoring another touchdown. Found as DLF's rookie RB13, Ford hasn't gone unnoticed by the dynasty community even as the team's projected third back behind starters Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. In fact, with Chubb's name starting to percolate as a "sell now" asset and Hunt possibly not in the team's long term plans, Ford could rise quickly under the right circumstances. With an NFL profile, Jerome Ford is a well-valued acquisition target for patient dynasty coaches.
Jets quarterback Zach Wilson exited the team's first preseason game following a non-contact knee injury. Word is he has a bone bruise and meniscus tear and is expected to miss 2-4 weeks. Wilson will undergo arthroscopic surgery to address and correct the injury. The Jets consider this fortunate news.
Dynasty | Packers quarterback Jordan Love had an up-and-down game in the team's first preseason action. Dynasty Analysis: Head coach Matt LeFleur removed Love from blame on two of the three interceptions citing multiple factors but, regardless, Love's performance was inconsistent at best. The third-year quarterback also threw two touchdowns, including one to surging rookie receiver Romeo Doubs, and amassed 176 passing yards in the loss. It's Love's first preseason action on his way to what is expected to be very few snaps in 2022. Unranked on DLF, Jordan Love is no better than a free agent stash in deep-roster formats.
Dynasty | Packers rookie receiver Romeo Doubs secured his first touchdown in the Packers first preseason contest vs. the 49ers. Dynasty Analysis: Doubs totaled 45 yards on 3-of-7 receiving, including the first touchdown of his career. This wouldn't normally be news noteworthy but given that Doubs is a candidate as the fastest rising rookie of 2022, the performance is certain to keep social media buzzing. Doubs, DLF's WR102, continues to see uplift in his dynasty value and will be one to watch as the preseason continues to unfold.
Dynasty | 49ers quarterback Trey Lance was solid in limited snaps in the team's first action of the preseason Dynasty Analysis: Lance totaled 92 yards on 4-of-5 passing, highlighted by a 76 yard touchdown to rookie Danny Gray in the first quarter. Other than that, Lance's performance was nondescript but was generally a positive first game. Lance will continue to be a hot item to watch as the preseason unfolds and is found as DLF's QB8, showing that the dynasty community holds high expectations for the second-year player.
Dynasty | Flacons rookie quarterback Desmond Ridder was solid in his first preseason action Dynasty Analysis: It was a good first performance for the rookie who was often off-target on his way to 103 yards and two touchdowns on 10-of-22 passing. At the same time, he was interception free and also displayed mobility, rushing for 59 yards on six attempts. Marcus Mariota is entrenched as the starter but all eyes remain on Ridder and it will be no surprise to see the rookie see time under-center if the team gets off to a slow start to begin the season. Ridder is listed as DLF's QB30, displaying that Mariota is only believed to be a short-term placeholder.
Dynasty | 49ers sophomore running back Elijah Mitchell is nursing a hamstring injury and likely won't see action in the preseason Dynasty Analysis: It's yet another new injury for Mitchell who carries high expectations from the dynasty community. At the same time, Mitchell has shown less durability than desired and his RB22 status won't rise until he shows he can remain off the trainer's table. Following knee surgery earlier this year, the hope was for Mitchell to build momentum into the regular season, but now the hamstring injury fuels further concern about the team's deployment of a true RBBC approach. Mitchell has fine upside should he handle the lion's share of the touches but the team has a deep stable of runners and appears ready to use them all.
San Francisco 49ers running back Elijah Mitchell (hamstring) is expected to miss the entire preseason. Mitchell has been limited during training camp while he recovers from knee surgery. This hamstring issue is a new problem that will probably sideline him until Week 1. Fantasy managers could see Mitchell limited to begin the season, but this shouldn't be a long term problem. Trey Sermon, Tyrion Davis-Price, and Jeff Wilson Jr. will split up the reps until Mitchell is back on the field.
Cincinnati Bengals kicker Evan McPherson doesn't appear to have lost a step heading into the 2022 campaign. The fifth-round kicker had a surprising breakout campaign last season. Now, there is more pressure on McPherson with everyone watching as he has become one of the more reliable kickers in the game. On Friday, McPherson connected on all three of his field goal attempts in the preseason loss to the Arizona Cardinals. His long on the day was a 58-yarder, so he appears to be in mid-season form. It looks like McPherson is going to be one of the better kicking options in fantasy leagues once again.
Carolina Panthers quarterback Baker Mayfield will make the start under center during Saturday's preseason matchup against the Washington Commanders. It sounds like Mayfield will play the first series before Sam Darnold takes over. The two of them have been splitting up the reps during training camp. Right now, it appears Mayfield has the edge over Darnold, but things can quickly change. Fantasy managers shouldn't be too interested in who wins this competition. Whoever it is will likely be a low-end QB2 most weeks anyway. It's tough to imagine either quarterback taking the next step and becoming a star this season.
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Jake Browning completed 13-of-24 passes for 190 yards and gained 14 rushing yards on four carries in Friday's preseason 36-23 loss against the Arizona Cardinals. He saw extended action on Friday after a concussion knocked Brandon Allen out of the game. The 26-year-old averaged 7.9 yards per attempt but didn't lead the Bengals offense to their first touchdown of the game in the fourth quarter. If Allen misses any regular season games, Browning could be Cincinnati's top backup quarterback to Joe Burrow.
Cincinnati Bengals running back Chris Evans rushed for minus three yards on eight carries while catching his only target for nine yards in Friday's 36-23 loss to the Arizona Cardinals. The 24-year-old drew the start with both Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine being held out. He logged 14 snaps but could not muster any positive yards with his eight rushing attempts. However, Evans did have a 75-yard touchdown run called back due to a penalty. Evans is currently third on the RB depth chart and will compete with Perine to be Mixon's primary backup in 2022. The Michigan product is worth a late-round flyer as he could have a vital role in an explosive offense if Mixon were to go down with an injury.
Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiverZay Jonescaught two of four targets for 47 yards in Friday's 24-13 preseason loss to the Cleveland Browns. Jones flashed his growing rapport withTrevor Lawrenceearly on as he hauled in a 32-yard catch on the first pass the Jaguars attempted. The former second-round pick signed with Jacksonville this past offseason in hopes of becoming a reliable weapon for Lawrence in the team's aerial attack. WhileChristian KirkandMarvin Jones Jr.are considered safer options at wide receiver, fantasy managers shouldn't overlook Jones in the Jaguars' new-look offense.
Jacksonville Jaguars tight endEvan Engramcaught one of two targets for nine yards and a touchdown during Friday's 24-13 preseason defeat to the Cleveland Browns. On Jacksonville's final drive with the starters on the field, quarterback Trevor Lawrence found Engram on a fourth-down play to give the Jaguars their only touchdown of the contest. The athletic tight end is primed to be a go-to weapon for the second-year quarterback if he can put his drop issues behind him. For fantasy managers that are buying into Jacksonville's offense being much better in 2022, Engram doesn't carry many risks in fantasy football due to his late-round ADP.
Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiverTim Jonescaught five passes for 42 yards on a team-high seven targets in Friday's 24-13 preseason loss to the Cleveland Browns. It was a nice bounce-back performance from Jones after he recorded only one reception for four yards in the Hall of Fame Game against the Las Vegas Raiders a week ago. The undrafted wideout out of Southern Miss is competing for a roster spot at a position that is now suddenly deep on the Jaguars following the signings ofChristian KirkandZay Jones. If Jones can string together a couple more productive outings in the preseason, there's a chance he will carve out a depth role in 2022.
Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Greg Dortch caught four passes for 53 yards on eight targets in the team's preseason opener on Friday night. The 24-year-old only trailed Andy Isabella in terms of yardage in this one, with his longest catch going for 30 yards. Dortch saw just three targets all of last season, so it is hard to envision him having a role in the Arizona offense that is headlined by wide receivers DeAndre Hopkins, Marquise Brown, Rondale Moore, and A.J. Green. The Wake Forest product flashed some of his ability in this one, but he will remain off the fantasy radar for now.
Arizona Cardinals running back Eno Benjamin carried the ball five times for 14 yards in Friday night's preseason win over the Cincinnati Bengals. The 23-year-old didn't have the best showing in this one, but his roster spot looks to be secure as reports out of training camp have been nothing but positive. Benjamin has a real shot to work as the team's RB2 behind James Conner, but he will also need to fight off Darrel Williams for touches. With Chase Edmonds departing in the offseason, there is a significant role in the Arizona offense up for grabs. That in itself is a good reason to consider Benjamin with a late-round flier if he is able to lock up the No. 2 spot on the depth chart.
Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Andy Isabella led the team with four catches for 57 yards in Friday's preseason opener. The speedy wideout is looking to carve out a role in a crowded wide receiver room, which may be a tall task when you consider the likes of DeAndre Hopkins, Marquise Brown, Rondale Moore, and A.J. Green are in the mix for targets. The 25-year-old saw just one target in eight games last season, so it is hard to envision him having any sort of role in the Arizona offense. He is well off the fantasy radar as we inch closer to the regular season.