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.''
New England Patriots wide receivers Jakobi Meyers, Kendrick Bourne, Nelson Agholor, DeVante Parker and rookie Tyquan Thornton have regularly been taking first-team repetitions in training camp. The Patriots think Thornton has earned first-team reps and they want to see how he responds to the increased workload, according to a team source. If Thornton proves himself, the Pats will have too many high-priced receivers, especially since they're mostly expected to use two tight-end sets. A source close to the situation expects one of the team's veteran receivers to be traded or released, and that source thinks Agholor is the prime candidate. He's been productive through two weeks with the offensive schematic changes, but he might be the odd-man out. The best-case scenario for Agholor in fantasy and real life might be a trade out of New England.
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mitch Trubisky will start Saturday's preseason opener against the Seattle Seahawks, according to head coach Mike Tomlin. Although Trubisky hasn't really impressed all that much to this point in training camp practices, he remains the favorite to open the regular season as the starter under center for Pittsburgh. Mason Rudolph and rookie first-rounder Kenny Pickett will follow Trubisky in the first preseason game this weekend. The 27-year-old Trubisky will likely play only the first quarter against Seattle. While he'll open the year as the Week 1 starter, what happens after that remains to be seen, and he's unlikely to have a very long leash if he's not playing well early on.
Miami Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel said he's "encouraged" by the idea of quarterback Tua Tagovailoa not playing in the team's preseason opener on Saturday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Although the Dolphins have a new coaching staff and new offense under McDaniel this year, it's still pretty typical for NFL teams to rest most of their starters early in the preseason. With a top-two duo of Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle now at his disposal in the passing attack, Tagovailoa is expected to take a step forward in Year 3. There's certainly QB1 upside with a game-changing player like Hill now in the fold, but until he proves it, Tagovailoa will be drafted as a QB2 with upside in most fantasy football leagues.
Indianapolis Colts head coach Frank Reich said that quarterback Matt Ryan will play the first quarter of the team's preseason opener on Saturday against the Buffalo Bills. A lot of NFL teams are resting their starters in the first week of preseason action, but the Colts want to see Ryan operate the offense heading into his first season with the team. The 37-year-old has been impressive and decisive so far in training camp practices, and he should be an upgrade over what Carson Wentz gave them in 2021. It's good news for all of the Colts offensive weapons, perhaps most notably running back Nyheim Hines, who the Colts want to get more involved in the short passing game. The Colts will remain a run-first squad with running back Jonathan Taylor around, but Ryan should be a steady QB2 presence for fantasy managers.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Todd Bowles said that quarterback Tom Brady won't be back with the team until after the preseason game against the Tennessee Titans, which is on Aug. 20. Brady wasn't at training camp practice on Thursday for personal, non-football reasons. The 45-year-old GOAT will miss some valuable time to gain chemistry with the likes of receivers Russell Gage and veteran Julio Jones, but he'll probably be just fine in the long run. In his absence, Blaine Gabbert, Kyle Trask and Ryan Griffin will get more work with the offense in practices and preseason games. Fantasy managers shouldn't be too concerned right now, as Brady is expected to be ready to go by Week 1 of the regular season.
Buffalo Bills head coach Sean McDermott said that quarterback Josh Allen won't play in the team's preseason opener against the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday. Even with Ken Dorsey stepping in to replace Brian Daboll as the team's offensive coordinator in 2022, the Bills are comfortable sitting Allen out of the first preseason action. The 26-year-old finished as the QB1 in fantasy football last year by throwing for 4,407 yards, 36 touchdowns and 15 interceptions, adding 763 rushing yards and six touchdowns on 122 rushing attempts. As a result, he should be the first signal-caller to come off the board in the early rounds of your upcoming fantasy drafts.
New England Patriots running back James White announced his retirement from professional football on Thursday on his official Twitter account. White played in just three games in 2021 due to a hip injury that he was still attempting to come back from this summer. The 30-year-old former fourth-rounder will now hang up his cleats and will finish his eight-year career (all with the Patriots) with 381 catches (511 targets) for 3,278 yards and 25 touchdowns, adding 1,278 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns on 319 carries in 95 games. With White out of the picture in 2022, it will mean bigger roles for Rhamondre Stevenson, Ty Montgomery and rookie Pierre Strong Jr.
Detroit Lions rookie first-round wide receiver Jameson Williams (knee) will miss Week 1 of the regular season. The Lions aren't putting a public timetable on Williams' return. 'We're going to be very smart with him," general manager Brad Holmes said. "He's in a good place right now." The 21-year-old tore his ACL last December in college, and he won't be ready for the start of the regular season. There's also a chance he'll miss up to the first four games of the season if he remains on the Non-Football Injury list to open Week 1. Williams will cost a pretty penny in dynasty/keeper leagues, but he'll be nothing more than a late-round flier in redraft formats in 2022. Amon-Ra St. Brown and DJ Chark will be Detroit's top two pass-catchers for much of the year.
Miami Dolphins running back Chase Edmonds looks like the favorite to lead the backfield this season, according to Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald. Edmonds has adapted well to the Dolphins' new offensive scheme, which is something that tailors well to his speed and explosiveness as a ball carrier. The backfield is crowded as of now, with Raheem Mostert, Sony Michel, as well as Myles Gaskin, who is on the roster bubble, in the mix. Still, Edmonds could return fantasy managers RB3/flex value as he should see a significant workload early on. If Mostert or Michel, who have missed their fair share of action in the past, miss any time this season, Edmonds could vault into RB2 territory.
Dallas Cowboys running back Tony Pollard could have an increased role in his fourth season, as the team has made it known that they would like to get their dynamic playmaker more involved. The 25-year-old has been working in the offseason as a slot receiver, which would mean that he and Ezekiel Elliott could be on the field at the same time, something that we have not seen much of during his first three years with the team. With the Cowboy's wide receiver room more shallow than last season, it may be a necessity that Pollard takes on a bigger role in the passing game. "In the offseason, during the season, it's not going unnoticed. Guys are noticing the things that I can do with the ball to help the team, just knowing that I can contribute more and more to the team." As one of the most explosive weapons on the Dallas offense, a significant role as a receiver would mean some standalone value for Pollard as an RB3/ FLEX option. If his running mate misses any time, his fantasy value would skyrocket.
New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones and the rest of the first-team offense are not expected to play in Thursday's preseason opener against the New York Giants, according to Mike Reiss of ESPN. Brian Hoyer and rookie Bailey Zappe will get some playing time with Jones not suiting up, so the two will need to battle to earn the backup job behind the former Alabama collegiate star. Zappe has been impressive during his first training camp with the team and has a good opportunity to show what he can do in a game situation. The fourth-round pick out of Western Kentucky is likely the best option for any preseason DFS tournaments
Chicago Bears wide receiver N'Keal Harry (ankle) will undergo tightrope surgery on Thursday after suffering a high ankle sprain and is expected to be held out of action for eight weeks. The 24-year-old was looking for a fresh start in Chicago after being acquired from New England, as the former first-round pick couldn't live up to expectations with his former team. Harry played three seasons with the Patriots, racking up just 57 receptions for 598 yards and four touchdowns. With a thin wide receiver room in Chicago, Harry likely could have earned some playing time as the depth chart seems to be wide open behind Darnell Mooney locked in as the No. 1 option. When he returns to action, the newly-acquired wideout will be competing with Byron Pringle, Velus Jones Jr., and Equanimeous St. Brown for targets, which will keep him off the fantasy radar for now.
Detroit Lions quarterback Jared Goff said that wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown is his go-to receiver. "I'm looking for him when things break down, and I'm looking for him when we need a play. Right now, he's that guy," Goff said. In his rookie year in 2021, St. Brown emerged as the Lions best receiver, catching 90 of his 119 targets for 912 yards and five touchdowns in 17 games (nine starts). The 22-year-old should remain a big part of Detroit's offense this year, but there will be some more competition for targets, namely DJ Chark, who has looked good in training camp. Rookie first-rounder Jameson Williams (knee), might not be ready for the start of the year, but he'll eventually have a role as well. St. Brown should still have big games, but he might not be the target hog he was in 2021. Target him as a WR3 in fantasy football drafts.
Dynasty | There have been no substantial talks between the Vikings and Alexander Mattison in terms of a contract extension. Dynasty Analysis: Mattison has always fared very well as the backup to Dalvin Cook, but it seems Minnesota is unwilling to pay two different running backs big contracts. While Mattison wouldn't cost nearly as much as Cook, it would be easy to argue he'd be a better value. Regardless, it looks like Mattison may end up as a free agent at the end of the season and he'd be in line for a nice value increase should that come to fruition.
Dynasty | Damien Harris could be traded ahead of roster cuts, according to Sports Illustrated. Dynasty Analysis: Any ticket out of New England would be good for Harris, who is stuck in Patriot purgatory, sharing a backfield with the likes of Rhamondre Stevenson, James White, Ty Montgomery, Pierre Strong, JJ Taylor, and Kevin Harris. There's simply no way the Pats can keep everyone in this group and it appears they've soured on Harris, our RB32. If Harris stays, expect his value to dip even further. Dynasty managers should be hoping for a deal.
Free-agent cornerback Deandre Baker worked out for the Cardinals on Wednesday. Baker was selected in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft by the Giants and finished his rookie year with 61 total tackles (48 solo) and eight passes defensed. However, after he was charged with four counts of armed robbery in May 2020, New York opted to part ways with him. The charges were eventually dropped, and he went on to appear in 10 games for the Chiefs over the last two seasons before being released in August of 2022. Nonetheless, Baker has proven he has more than enough to play at the professional level. Yet, even if he ends up signing with the Cardinals, he may not receive enough playing time to become a viable IDP fantasy option.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Julio Jones has already established a rapport with Tom Brady. During Wednesday's joint practice session with the Miami Dolphins, the duo continued to look in sync, with Brady connecting with Jones on a well-placed deep ball. Fantasy managers were undoubtedly let down by the veteran wideout over the last few years. However, with arguably the greatest signal-caller ever targeting Jones throughout the season, he should have more than enough chances to get back on track, despite guys like Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, and Leonard Fournette looking to stay involved.
New England Patriots running back Damien Harris is rumored to be on the block. The Pats are reportedly taking calls, and it comes after the 25-year-old finished the 2021-22 campaign with 929 yards and 15 touchdowns off 202 attempts. If Harris does remain in New England, he's expected to share touches with Rhamondre Stevenson, which won't do his fantasy outlook any favors. However, if the Alabama alum gets traded, Stevenson's fantasy value should increase significantly, especially with James White (hip) still on the shelf.
Free-agent wide receiver Chris Lacy inked a deal with the Raiders on Wednesday. Lacy was introduced to the NFL after the Patriots signed him in 2018. After being waived, he went on to suit up for the Lions, where he appeared in eight unproductive games over two seasons. Since then, he has made stops in Dallas and Chicago. Nonetheless, it's unknown if the 26-year-old will be on the roster come Week 1. However, even if he is, he isn't expected to do much to benefit fantasy managers.
The Saints released running back Malcolm Brown on Wednesday, only a few weeks after inking a contract with the team. The 29-year-old played his first six years in the league with the Rams, finishing with 11 touchdowns during that span. However, after signing a one-year deal with Miami last offseason, he went on to play just seven games for the Dolphins before landing on injured reserve. Brown is a capable runner, so he may draw interest from other teams throughout the NFL. Still, even if he signs with another club this season, he's not expected to receive enough touches to make any noise on the fantasy end.