Tue May 17 6:22pm ET
By DAVE CAMPBELL
AP Pro Football Writer
Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook laughs with his teammates as they take part in drills at the NFL football team's practice facility in Eagan, Minn., Tuesday, May 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)
Minnesota Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter takes part in drills at the NFL football team's practice facility in Eagan, Minn., Tuesday, May 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)
Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O'Connell directs his team in drills at the NFL football team's practice facility in Eagan, Minn., Tuesday, May 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)
Minnesota Vikings linebacker Za'Darius Smith takes part in drills at the NFL football team's practice facility in Eagan, Minn., Tuesday, May 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson takes part in drills at the NFL football team's practice facility in Eagan, Minn., Tuesday, May 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)
EAGAN, Minn. (AP) Danielle Hunter became the youngest player in NFL history to reach 50 sacks, an athletic marvel for the Minnesota Vikings who was as durable as they come in this violent sport.
About 2 1/2 years later, with his gaudy sack total stalled out from consecutive injury-wrecked seasons, Hunter has found himself in sort of a reinvention mode.
After legitimate question about whether he'd return this year to the salary-cap-strapped Vikings, Hunter is not only back on the roster - and healthy - but flanked by a new pass-rushing pal on the opposite side of the defense in Za'Darius Smith.
''It kind of hurts just watching people play when you're not able to play, so I'm happy just to be back with my teammates,'' Hunter said Tuesday, after one of the 10 organized practices the Vikings are allowed this spring prior to mandatory minicamp.
The Vikings converted an $18 million roster bonus into a signing bonus to spread out the cap hit and thus lessen the burden of his contract this year, but there's another megadeal awaiting him as long as he doesn't succumb to more serious injuries. Whether that comes with the Vikings or another club has yet to be determined.
''He's a really great player, so you don't just move on from great players very easily,'' new general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah said in March.
Hunter befriended Smith, who was then with the rival Green Bay Packers, at the Pro Bowl after the 2019 season when they were teammates on the NFC squad. Their relationship goes back to the 2015 draft class as products of the mighty SEC, with Hunter out of LSU and Smith from Kentucky.
The Vikings made Smith, who is coming off a major back injury that limited him to one game in 2021, their top signing in free agency with a contract worth up to $47 million over three years.
''Just to be able to be here and have a chance to be on the opposite side of him is wonderful, man. I just can't wait,'' Smith said.
Hunter is officially an outside linebacker now, no longer listed as a defensive end as the Vikings switch their base scheme from a 4-3 to the 3-4 alignment Smith played in with the Packers.
As Hunter was quick to note Tuesday in his first interview session with reporters since last Sept. 29, the Vikings lined up in a 3-4 defense often at Arizona on Sept. 19 to try to contain dual threat quarterback Kyler Murray. Hunter had three sacks in that game. So he's not concerned about a significant transition, from working out of a three-point stance to standing up on the edge.
His primary focus these days is just relishing being back on the field again. After a herniated disk in his neck required surgery and sidelined him for the entire 2020 season, Hunter was back in his usual form until he tore a pectoral muscle during the Oct. 31 game against Dallas. After a three-month rehabilitation, he said, he was back to normal strength.
''Anything can happen out there while I'm playing, you know?'' Hunter said. ''I love the game of football. That's why I'm here. If I didn't like it, I wouldn't be here.''
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Matt Ryan has made a favorable impression on his new teammates since being acquired from the Falcons this offseason. While the veteran certainly has a lot of positive attributes, his leadership ability has made him stand out the most, which was missing when Carson Wentz was under center last season. The 37-year-old finished 2021-22 by throwing for 3,968 yards, failing to amass at least 4,000 yards in a season since 2010. However, with a change of scenery and confidence from his squadmates, Ryan has an excellent opportunity to turn things around, especially with the amount of talent on the offensive end in Indy. He likely won't be in the league much longer. But managers shouldn't look past him when searching for a fantasy backup. He is also a solid option for those in Superflex formats.
Dynasty | Ravens tight end Isaiah Likely was chosen by ESPN's NFL Nation as their surprise off-season standout. Dynasty Analysis: Likely is garnering a lot of publicity this off-season as this isn't the first time we've seen his name mentioned in an off-season highlight piece. There is a long road to fantasy relevance with Likely as Mark Andrews is clearly going to be the centerpiece of the Baltimore passing attack. Still, there's some real intrigue brewing here in regards to the fourth round pick and he's starting to climb up the rookie draft rankings, coming in as our overall rookie #50.
Dynasty | Lions wide receiver Trinity Benson was chosen by ESPN's NFL Nation as their surprise off-season standout. Dynasty Analysis: While the wide receiver depth chart in Detroit has clearly been overhauled, there could still be room here for a sleeper. DJ Chark, Josh Reynolds and Jameson Williams are all likely at the top of the heap, but Benson is trying to make a move to get some meaningful snaps. While he has just ten career catches, there's some intrigue here as his talent and opportunity could meet up this Summer. Keep an eye on the news in Detroit as Benson could find himself on the radar soon.
Dynasty | Bills wide receiver Jamison Crowder was chosen by ESPN's NFL Nation as their surprise off-season standout. Dynasty Analysis: Crowder is at a turning point in his career as the seen year veteran will be battling Isaiah McKenzie for the slot receiver left vacated by Cole Beasley. This will be a position battle to watch as the Bills boast one of the league's most explosive offenses. Crowder is currently our WR89, which puts him on the fringe of roster worthiness. However, keep a close eye on this battle all Summer as the winner will have clear in-season value.
Dynasty | Patriots wide receiver Tre Nixon was chosen by ESPN's NFL Nation as their surprise off-season standout. Dynasty Analysis: Nixon was a seventh round pick of New England last year and most of the past-catching attention in dynasty leagues has been on their surprise second round pick from this year, Tyquan Thornton. However, Nixon made some waves in off-season workouts and seemingly has a legitimate shot at making the Patriots roster and avoiding another trip to the practice squad. Nixon is a name to file away on watch lists.
Dynasty | The Commanders signed receiver Terry McLaurin to a three-year extension placing him among the top-five receivers in the NFL Dynasty Analysis: The Commanders absolutely needed to secure the services of McLaurin beyond 2022 and this gets the job done. Saying he's "humbled and ecstatic" he also went on to say that he's motivated to "work even harder." In his age-27 season, McLaurin has quietly produced two back-to-back 1,000-yard campaigns, though has only scored nine touchdowns over the two seasons. It's hard to predict what type of season 'Scary Terry' can muster with new quarterback Carson Wentz under-center, but there's no question he'll remain the WR1 and garner plenty of targets. He's listed as DLF's WR16.
Dynasty | In a recent roster ranking article, the Texans were ranked last. Dynasty Analysis: It's no surprise though there are multiple teams vying for the less-than-ideal 'honor.' Sophomore quarterback Davis Mills showed that he may have NFL upside after looking like a starter late in 2021. That said, with a strong 2023 draft class, most notably at quarterback, the team will be hard pressed to keep Mills under-center unless he has a standout 2022 campaign. Similar to 10th-overall selection Josh Rosen in 2018 by the Cardinals before their selection of Kyler Murray, another coaching change or a high draft selection would likely end Mills' time as a starter as the team looks for a marquee name as its new face of the franchise. Mills controls his own destiny and should consider 2022 a resume-building season. He's found as DLF's QB30 showing that he's acknowledged as a very tenuous starter.
Dynasty | Giants receiver Kenny Golladay was listed as the team's most over-valued player Dynasty Analysis: The team gave Golladay a four-year $72M contract in 2021 and he responded with a 37/521/0 stat line. It was a brutal campaign for the 28-year-old, who was clearly a shadow of his former-self. While with the Lions, Golladay combined for 135 receptions, 2,253 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2018 and 2019 before injury limited his 2020 campaign to only five games. Bolting for the Giants and a big payday, the dynamic target was supposed to play a large role in the restoration of the struggling team's passing attack with Daniel Jones under center. That hasn't panned out and, while still clearly a starter, Golladay has one more year to find the expected production. If fully healthy and with Daniel Jones now in his own make-or-break season, Golladay, DLF's WR64, has all the potential to be a fine later-round sleeper at receiver but headwinds are blowing.
Dynasty | Saints receiver Michael Thomas was seen running routes in an Instagram video Dynasty Analysis: Hampered by an ankle injury suffered back in 2020, Thomas has seen his dynasty value plummet over the past two years and it's a good sign that it appears he's finally healthy again based upon the video. That said, now 29, Thomas is found as DLF's WR46 and is now squarely best utilized for competing dynasty teams willing to acquire the risk-on asset. If healthy, setback free and if he and new quarterback Jameis Winston can establish chemistry, Thomas should easily find himself the WR1 once again for the Saints and possess upside potential for the next two or three seasons.
Dynasty | It appears as though Jets tight end Tyler Conklin may be separating himself on the depth chart to be the starter come week one. Dynasty Analysis: Training camp has yet to start and it's a guess based upon the unavailability of C.J. Uzomah but it would be no surprise if Conklin factors heavily as a starter. Fresh off a 61/593/3 stat line while with the Vikings in 2021, Conklin has upside in 2022, his age 27 season if he can win the job outright. But newcomer C.J. Uzomah also had an upside 2021 campaign with a 49/493/5 line and is a "move" tight end possessing a similar skill set. Neither player carries much dynasty value with Conklin appearing as DLF's TE37 and Uzomah unranked. Both figure to possess late round sleeper value until one emerges as the starter.
Dynasty | Jets sophomore quarterback Zach Wilson was listed as a "Faller" in a recent OTA report Dynasty Analysis: It's obviously very early still and the pads have yet to go on but, nonetheless, it's not the trend we have been looking for. Citing issues with accuracy, ball placement and decision-making, labeled as "questionable at best," interceptions have been frequent. There also have been positive plays but the warning flag is up with training camp getting underway later this month. Wilson is a tenuous QB18 on DLF's quarterback ranking.
Dynasty | Steelers rookie receiver George Pickens isn't going to be asked to do much in his first season Dynasty Analysis: The Steelers have one of the best scouting departments when it comes to receivers and Pickens will have time to pick up the offense over time. That said, the team also has little experience or proven production behind starters Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool so it's not out of the question that Pickens could elevate himself, and his role, with a standout training camp. All eyes continue to be on the development of Claypool who had an underwhelming 2021 as well. It's not out of the question the team adds a veteran receiver in short order. As for Pickens, DLF's WR43, he continues to be a late first round selection in dynasty rookie drafts and seems to have a clear runway for an increasing role over the next year.
Dynasty | Colts receiver Parris Campbell was a standout in OTAs and was running with the first team. Dynasty Analysis: So we're doing this again are we? Dynasty leaguers have been burned for three seasons running on the hype and impressive camp performance(s) of Campbell, who turns 25 later this month. There's clearly upside for the fourth-year player who could be considered the WR2 behind Michael Pittman. The Colts are also high on 2022 rookie Alec Pierce but, as a rookie, nothing can be guaranteed until we see the starting lineup come week one. As for Campbell, there's no questioning the receiver's upside if he's able to remain healthy through training camp and open the season as a starter, but now sparsely ranked as DLF"s WR113, it's obvious that there's little expectation for either.
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson has high expectations heading into the season. With the Vikings hiring former Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O'Connell to serve as its head coach, the wideout believes he will benefit, similar to how Cooper Kupp thrived in the same system. The 23-year-old finished the 2022-23 campaign by posting spectacular numbers, accumulating 1,616 yards and 10 touchdowns off 108 receptions, all while averaging an impressive 15.0 yards per catch. Although having Kirk Cousins under center is a step down from Matthew Stafford, there's still no reason why Jefferson can't finish as the league's top fantasy receiver.
Los Angeles Rams running back Cam Akers reported he's 100% after tearing his Achilles last season. While getting back on the field from such an injury is a feat in itself, the 23-year-old wasn't satisfied with his play upon returning. "I wasn't happy with my postseason performance. I just felt like I left a lot on the field. There was more out there to be had," Akers said before adding he's committed to working hard this offseason in hopes of becoming a top-three option at the position in 2022-23. Nevertheless, despite Akers' production during the playoffs being somewhat discouraging, he seems determined to turn things around. Managers shouldn't forget about him during fantasy drafts, especially after all of the elite options have come off the board. Still, nobody should be reaching too far for him, either.
Sue L. Robinson, the NFL/Players Association disciplinary officer, has told each side in Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson's case to submit a brief due the week of July 11, according to a source. Robinson will make her ruling on Watson after that. Watson's disciplinary hearing concluded on Thursday after three days. He has been accused in civil lawsuits by 25 women of actions ranging from sexual assault to inappropriate behavior during massage sessions. The NFL has been pushing for a suspension of at least a year, but both sides have engaged in multiple attempts to reach a settlement while the hearing was taking place, which was unsuccessful. If you have Watson rostered in a keeper/dynasty league or have already drafted for the 2022 season, hopefully you have an insurance policy in place in case Watson is hit with a year-long suspension.
Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker Tyus Bowser (Achilles) tore his Achilles in the Jan. 9 regular season finale against the Pittsburgh Steelers, but head coach John Harbaugh thinks he'll be back for training camp next month. "I think Tyus will be back for the start of the season. I think Tyus will be back for training camp. That's my prediction. That's my timeline, so I'm going to stick with that," Harbaugh said back on Jan. 31. Bowser showed up for the start of the offseason program without a boot on his foot or an obvious limp, but he's still only about 5 1/2 months removed from surgery, and the timetable for Achilles returns has been anywhere from nine to 12 months. But other players have returned much earlier, and Bowser has a chance to be ready by Week 1. It would be huge for Baltimore's D, as Bowser is one of the best athletes on the team.
Baltimore Ravens running back J.K. Dobbins (knee), who tore the ACL in his left knee in the final preseason game last fall, is highly unlikely to play in the preseason this year. There have been reports that Dobbins also sustained LCL damage to his knee, although the Ravens have only confirmed the torn ACL. The 23-year-old was mostly a bystander during organized team activities, although he did catch some balls from the Jugs machine. There has been outside pessimism about Dobbins' availability and effectiveness in 2022, but the Ravens say he's on track and expect him to be a factor. The most logical expectation is for him to start training camp on the Physically Unable to Perform list. Dobbins will be an extremely risky RB2/3 selection for fantasy managers coming off his serious knee injury.
Baltimore Ravens three-time Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Peters (knee) tore his ACL in a Sept. 9 practice and missed the entire 2021 season, but as long as he continues to progress, he should be back at some point over the summer, which would give him a chance to play in Week 1. Peters' focus isn't on being on the field for the start of training camp at the end of July, and the Ravens won't be rushing him back after the first major injury of his career. The goal will be to have Peters on the field in September. The 29-year-old has been working hard in his rehab and spent considerable time rehabbing at the team's facility in recent weeks. Getting Peters back on the field will be a huge boost to a Ravens secondary that was decimated by injuries in 2021.
Even though the Buffalo Bills drafted rookie running back James Cook as a pass-catching threat out of the backfield, the coaching staff remains firmly behind Devin Singletary as an important piece of the backfield puzzle. Singletary ended last year as the team's every-down starter, yielding minimal snaps to Zack Moss as the backup. The Bills aren't going to cut Singletary out of the offense just because of Cook, and for now, The Athletic's Joe Buscaglia expects Singletary to remain the lead back by playing time, but Cook will have a role. Cook will likely mix in on obvious passing situations and when the team feels comfortable enough to use two-RB sets and split him out wide. Singletary's fantasy ceiling is definitely lowered with Cook now in the fold, but he could still end up as a top-30 fantasy back.