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.''
Dallas Cowboys pass-rusher Micah Parsons had 13 sacks as a rookie and won Defensive Rookie of the Year, but he's setting his sights higher in his second NFL season. "Yeah, 15's like the minimum. 15's what I wanna hit. But definitely 23 is that goal, to break the record," Parsons said. The 23-year-old pass-rushing linebacker also added 84 tackles (64 solo), 20 tackles for loss, 30 QB hits, three passes defensed and three forced fumbles in 16 games in his first NFL season to finish as the No. 12 linebacker in fantasy points in IDP leagues. Parsons will surely be a menace for opposing QBs again in 2022, but he'll also generate plenty of attention from opposing offensive lines.
Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr., who finished last year 18th in the NFL in receiving yards and 18th in catches, is a huge fan of new quarterback Matt Ryan. Pittman has been very impressed with the ball placement of Ryan, and the new signal-caller should help Pittman achieve his 2022 goal of proving that he's a true No. 1 receiver in the league. "Working on route discipline," Pittman said of his main area for improvement. "Sometimes you just go out there and start playing football. Yes, I can make plays like that but you want to stay on QB timing because it helps everybody else flow so I'm really working on that." The 24-year-old third-year wideout is being ranked as a low-end WR1/high-end WR2 heading into fall fantasy drafts, and he should see an uptick in production if he continues to gain chemistry with Ryan in training camp.
New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara has had a tumultuous offseason thanks to an offseason arrest following an altercation in Las Vegas back in February, and he could be looking at a suspension from the NFL. However, his court hearings have already been continued twice, each time relative to delivery of evidence to his team. His next hearing is currently scheduled for August, but if it's pushed back again or if the case moves along beyond the hearing, the process could extend into the regular season or even further. A six-game suspension is expected for Kamara, but the legal process will need to wrap up before the NFL hands down their suspension. A looming six-game suspension obviously hurts the 26-year-old's fantasy value, and he's extremely risky while on the RB1/2 borderline. If you draft Kamara, you better handcuff him with Mark Ingram II.
The Pittsburgh Steelers aren't expected to offer wide receiver Diontae Johnson anything near what Terry McLaurin got from the Washington Commanders or any other receiver that received more than $20 million per year. The Athletic's Mark Kaboly sees the Steelers offering him something, but it won't be what he thinks he can get on the market and he'll get paid somewhere else in 2023. Spotrac projects Johnson's market value at $22 million per season, but Kaboly writes the Steelers won't pay a wideout $22 million per year. The 26-year-old had his first 1,000-yard season and a career-high eight touchdowns on 107 receptions, but he could take a step back with Mitchell Trubisky under center this year. Still, Johnson should see plenty of volume as the team's No. 1 wideout, and he's a high-end WR2 in fantasy.
Atlanta Falcons running back Cordarrelle Patterson will be the team's starting running back this year after he led the team with 153 carries and 618 yards in 2021, but he had only 71 rushing yards in the last four games and averaged 2.3 yards per carry in that span. The Athletic's Josh Kendall writes that it's overly optimistic to expect Patterson to be fully available to carry a full load at RB this year. The 10-year veteran took all of the spring workouts off, and the Falcons will likely continue taking it slow with him in training camp and the preseason. He's 31 and coming off his most active NFL season -- he had 205 combined catches and carries in 2021, with his previous career-high at 85 in 2020. Don't pay for last year's production in fantasy. Patterson should be an RB3/flex target.
The Atlanta Falcons took running back Tyler Allgeier in the fifth round of this year's draft because they think he can eventually carry the bulk of the load in their backfield. He set a single-season record at BYU last year with 1,601 yards and was fourth in rushing attempts (276) in college football. Seventy percent of Allgeier's yards last season also came after contact. But if Cordarrelle Patterson is healthy, the Falcons are unlikely to rush him into the RB rotation in 2022. But if Patterson isn't healthy or if the team is trying to keep him on a pitch count, the 22-year-old could get a lot of early playing time in his rookie season. Patterson should open the season as Atlanta's starter and Damien Williams and Qadree Ollison are around, but Allgeier probably has the best chance of anyone on Atlanta's roster of making a run at the starting job in 2022.
NFL Network's Ian Rapoport said on the Pat McAfee Show that the Seattle Seahawks "have never really been that interested" in trading for Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield. Something could change in training camp, but as of now in early July, the Seahawks are comfortable having Geno Smith and Drew Lock battle for the starting gig under center entering the 2022 season. Mayfield is ready to move on from the Browns despite the fact that Deshaun Watson could be suspended for the entire season, but Cleveland will need to eat most of his guaranteed salary this year in order to entice a team to trade for him. The Carolina Panthers have been the most aggressive on the Mayfield front, but even if he is wearing a new uniform this fall, he won't be guaranteed a starting job at QB.
Contrary to a previous report from NFL Network's Ian Rapoport in an appearance on the Pat McAfee Show, CBS Sports' Josina Anderson is reporting that it's inaccurate that the Seattle Seahawks never had strong interest in trading for Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield. She thinks the rumor surfaced in case the Seahawks don't get Mayfield and because if they don't trade for him, it helps manage the path ahead with Geno Smith and Drew Lock competing for the starting job. At this point, the Seahawks and Carolina Panthers are the most likely landing spots for Mayfield, who is ready to move on after the team traded for Deshaun Watson this offseason. If Mayfield lands in Seattle or Carolina, he'd be the favorite to start, although it wouldn't be a slam-dunk guarantee.
Free-agent QB Robert Griffin III (Ravens) said he trains every day and remains ready if a team were interested in him.
Free-agent quarterback Robert Griffin III has quickly embraced his new role as a broadcaster after playing eight seasons in the NFL, but he hasn't shut the door on a potential return to football. "I am ready to go right now. I train every day. I throw and work out. I know what it takes to get my body ready and I am doing those things. Yes, it is a little bit tougher when you are flying around everywhere doing stuff for TV, but when you really want something, you make it work. So, if I get that call this year, next year, or five years from now I will be ready to play," Griffin said. The 32-year-old last played in the NFL in 2020 with the Baltimore Ravens, and it's probably a long shot that he'll return to an NFL roster since his commentating gig is going so well.
New England Patriots sixth-round rookie running back Kevin Harris has a good shot at making the team's final roster, in the opinion of Patriots.com's Paul Perillo. Harris has a solid build and a reputation for being a physical power back who can run between the tackles. Perillo said he can see Harris earning some carries in the Patriots committee approach alongside Rhamondre Stevenson and Damien Harris. Rookie offensive linemen Chasen Hines and Andrew Stueber also have a good chance to stick around as depth up front in their rookie seasons. The 21-year-old Harris won't be worth selecting in single-year fantasy drafts, but he could end up being a steal for the Pats down the road.
Buffalo Bills cornerbacks Siran Neal, Dane Jackson and Kaiir Elam will all be competing throughout training camp to win the No. 2 cornerback job opposite Tre'Davious White. Neal, who is the oldest of the three, has embraced more of a leadership role heading into his fifth season with the team. He's been a key special teams contributor, but he's also seen time at safety, outside corner and nickel corner. Since 2019, Neal has played at least 10% of the snaps on defense and more than 60% of the snaps on special teams. Neal and Jackson have more experience, but Elam is coming in as a first-round rookie. Neal has the most tenure of the three, but he might be best suited moving around the secondary because of his versatility.
New York Jets safety Ashtyn Davis was viewed as a developmental player when he was taken in the third round in 2020. He was robbed of valuable repetitions when organized team activities and minicamp were canceled in his rookie year, and then he suffered a foot injury midway through his first NFL season that put him on Injured Reserve and kept him out throughout the 2021 offseason program and training camp. But this year, Davis has been able to prepare and looks significantly improved while working with the second-team defense. The 25-year-old is flying around, but the Jets also haven't used pads yet, so it'll be interesting to see if Davis has improved while defending the run, which is what he struggled the most with last year.
The New York Jets kicking competition between Greg Zuerlein and Eddy Pineiro this offseason has been "neck and neck," according to special teams coordinator Brant Boyer, but it's mainly because neither kicker has impressed all that much. The Jets brought in Greg the Leg this offseason after Pineiro made all 17 of his kicks in five games. Zuerlein made 29 of his 35 field-goal attempts for the Dallas Cowboys last year, but he was released in March. The kicking competition will continue in training camp and into the preseason, and it remains to be seen who will come out on top, but fantasy managers can probably avoid the situation in drafts.
The New York Jets drafted Jason Pinnock as a cornerback in the fifth round last year but converted him to safety toward the end of 2021 out of necessity. Pinnock impressed in the role and finished with six tackles, two forced fumbles and a pass breakup in 175 defensive snaps. The Jets have made his position switch permanent, and it's paying off already. The 23-year-old received the majority of the first-team repetitions next to Jordan Whitehead in offseason workouts with Lamarcus Joyner working his way back from injury. Pinnock looks like he belongs, but he's unlikely to be in contention to retain a starting job once Joyner is healthy. If Pinnock continues to improve, he could wind up being a steal for Gang Green.
It's still early in the offseason, but The Athletic's Connor Hughes writes that New York Jets second-year quarterback Zach Wilson wasn't overly impressive through four media-open organized team activity practices. Wilson struggled with his accuracy, and his decision-making was questionable, at best. It wasn't all bad for the 22-year-old, but Hughes was hoping to see more conviction and decisiveness. For what it's worth, the Jets aren't concerned and see signs of improvement as he trusts his reads much more. If Wilson's struggles continue into training camp, then there might be a little panic from the Jets, but for now, it's just something to watch. Wilson has some new toys in the passing game and he should take a step forward in 2022, but he'll still only be a low-end QB2 in fantasy.
New York Jets tight end Tyler Conklin seized the majority of the repetitions at tight end during offseason practices because of the absences of C.J. Uzomah and Jeremy Ruckert. Conklin made the most of his extra work in the spring, and quarterback Zach Wilson is looking Conklin's way more often, especially in the red zone. Offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur will use all of his tight ends this year, but Conklin might be separating himself as the top option heading into training camp. The 26-year-old had a career-high 61 catches for 593 yards and three touchdowns in 17 games with the Minnesota Vikings last year and he can be a valuable red-zone weapon, but he'll likely have a low fantasy ceiling while sharing snaps with Uzomah and others.
New York Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur was impressed with rookie second-round running back Breece Hall during offseason workouts. "He's 220 pounds, and he's covering a lot of yardage when he doesn't look like he's covering a lot of yardage," LaFleur said. "He's fast, so he gets up on people pretty quick. And then he's such a fluid, big-body target that when he makes his move it's not like a smaller running back when you feel like you have to put it on them. He's got a big catch radius and I know the quarterback is going to feel that." Hall and Michael Carter are expected to share RB duties in 2022, but Hall is expected to take over the lion's share of duties sooner than later, making him an RB2 target in fantasy in his rookie season.
New York Jets safety Lamarcus Joyner (triceps) is still the starter despite missing organized team activities and minicamp, but there's a chance that Ashtyn Davis and Jason Pinnock could push him for playing time this year if their strong OTAs turn into strong training camps. Joyner is 31 years old and his future with the team is unlikely to extend beyond the 2022 season. Joyner is reportedly healthy heading into training camp at the end of July after he played in just one game in 2021 due to a season-ending triceps injury. He projects to open the season as a starter next to Jordan Whitehead, but Joyner will have to play well and stay healthy to hold off both Davis and Pinnock in the Jets secondary.
The real star of the New York Jets organized team activities was tight end Lawrence Cager, who was converted from a receiver. He worked mostly with the third-team offense, but he was making two or three catches every day. Cager is clearly the most athletic player the Jets have at the tight end position, and it has led to mismatches when the defense tries to cover him with a linebacker or safety. The 24-year-old's chances of making the final roster will come down to his blocking ability, which he didn't do much of throughout OTAs. Cager isn't on the fantasy radar at all, but he'll be one to watch this summer and might be a dark horse to make the team heading into the regular season.