Thu Jun 4 6:09pm ET
By JOSH DUBOW
AP Pro Football Writer
In this Feb. 25, 2020, file photo, San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan speaks during a news conference at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis. Shanahan praised former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick Thursday, June 4, for trying to bring the issue of racism and police brutality to light with his protests during the national anthem in the 2016 season. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)
In this Aug. 16, 2019, file photo, San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan, right, jokes with cornerback Emmanuel Moseley during a combined NFL football training camp with the Denver Broncos at the Broncos' headquarters in Englewood, Colo. Commissioner Roger Goodell told the 32 NFL clubs on Thursday, June 4, 2020, that coaching staffs are allowed to return to team facilities starting Friday. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)
San Francisco 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan praised former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick for trying to bring the issue of racism and police brutality to light with his protests during the national anthem in the 2016 season.
The issues surrounding Kaepernick's stance have resurfaced this week as many players and teams in the league have been protesting the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Floyd was a black man who was handcuffed as a police officer pressed a knee on his neck for several minutes. Officer Derek Chauvin has been charged with second-degree murder.
New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees also apologized Thursday after being criticized for reiterating his opposition to Kaepernick's protest.
''What he was doing was a big deal,'' Shanahan said Thursday about Kaepernick. ''Whether you disagree with how he did it or not doesn't matter. It's three years later and there's still some people not understanding what his message was. Too many people aren't understanding the message that everyone's been giving for a long time, and Colin did it the strongest out of anyone. People should respect him a ton for that and admire him.''
Kaepernick protested police brutality and racism during the 2016 season with the 49ers by taking a knee during the national anthem. He was joined by several teammates and others throughout the league.
Shanahan arrived in San Francisco as coach the following year and wanted to go a different direction at quarterback. Kaepernick opted out of his contract before getting released and has not been signed by another team since.
A handful of players protested in subsequent years but it had mostly faded by last season. Shanahan said the organization led by CEO Jed York would support any player who took part in a protest this season.
''I'm all for protests, I'm all for change,'' he said. ''I hope the protests cause change. Whatever we got to do to get the change I'm for it. I know our organization is, I know Jed is, I know our players are. We always have been.''
Shanahan said he's been talking to his players all week about the issues surrounding Floyd's killing and said it's important for white people not to be ''ignorant'' about the prevalence of racism and to understand black people are scared.
He said there's been talk about what the team can do to address the problems and said the most important thing is to stress the importance of voting and to provide good examples for young people.
''We'd like to do something collectively as a team,'' he said. ''That's something we're still discussing. But the main thing is, is how do you do it now, how do you do it a week from now, and how do you do it every day of your life.''
Shanahan said the NFL isn't immune from criticism around issues of race. The league has only four minority head coaches and just two general managers. Of 13 coach openings the past two seasons, only two have gone to minorities, with Miami hiring Brian Flores in 2019 and Washington hiring Ron Rivera this offseason after he was fired in Carolina.
There were eight minority head coaches as recently as 2014. The league announced changes last month to strengthen the ''Rooney Rule,'' which was passed in 2003 to increase diversity among coaches and in the front office.
''How the heck are there only four black coaches out of 32 head coaches. How are there only two GMs?'' Shanahan said. ''The majority of our players are black. So the fact that there's that few, that's not debatable. I don't know if people are openly thinking they're doing it. But that's what the problem is. That number is not debatable. That is an issue. I think we talked about it a lot. It is something that has to get better.''
Shanahan's staff includes an Arab American defensive coordinator in Robert Saleh, a black special teams coordinator in Richard Hightower and an openly gay woman assistant in Katie Sowers.
''We have everything,'' Shanahan said. ''It's not just to show people that we're trying to be diverse. It's just because I've been around these people and they are really good at what they do and we can't win without these people. That's just how it works out.''
May 29th: Quarterback Preview
New England Patriots defensive back J.C. Jackson posted excellent coverage numbers in 2019 despite starting only six games. His overall numbers were slightly better than teammate Stephon Gilmore, but Gilmore had almost twice as many targets (96 versus Jackson's 58). Jackson allowed the lowest passer rating (21.8) as the nearest defender in coverage among all defenders who qualified and the second-lowest completion percentage allowed. He allowed a passer rating of just 8.1 in press coverage and recorded all five of his interceptions while in press. And finally, Jackson had a perfect passer rating of 0.0 as the nearest defender on deep targets. He should see a much bigger role in 2020 for a Patriots Defense/special teams that is a top-10 fantasy unit.
New England Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore earned the top spot as the best defensive back in coverage in 2019, according to NFL.com's Nick Shook. He was the only player who faced 85 or more targets and didn't allow a single touchdown, and he also picked off six passes. Gilmore allowed the lowest passer rating (38) as the nearest defender in coverage among cornerbacks. His catch rate allowed below expectation (minus-11.8) was also the lowest among cornerbacks with a minimum of 300 coverage snaps. But like most elite corners, Gilmore lacks fantasy appeal because opposing quarterbacks often shy away from his side of the field. New England's strength will be on D again in 2020, though, and their defense/special teams unit is a top-10 fantasy option.
Philadelphia Eagles DE Josh Sweat could receive a bigger role in the defense this upcoming season after he had a solid 2019 season.
Philadelphia Eagles DE Genard Avery may only be used on special teams and as a pass rush specialist this upcoming season, in the opinion of The Philadelphia Inquirer's Les Bowen.
Seattle Seahawks running back Chris Carson used his explosiveness to shed defenders and turn upfield in 2019. He had 50 15-plus mph runs and averaged 4.3 yards gained after a defender closed within one yard of him last season. It helped him gain 1,230 yards on the ground despite not playing a full season because of injuries. Carson is coming off a season-ending hip injury, but although he's expected to be ready for Week 1, his explosiveness as a runner is tempered by the fact that he continues to struggle with injuries. If the 25-year-old can remain on the field for a full season, he should easily be an RB1, but you're much better off taking him as an RB2 and keeping your fingers crossed.
Free-agent RB Devonta Freeman (Falcons) would receive interest from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers if he lowered his asking price, according to head coach Bruce Arians.
Fantasy Spin: Freeman rejected an offer that would have paid him $4 million, so he may have to wait longer if he is looking for more than that salary. He would be part of a committee if he signed with Tampa but could lead the team in carries in that situation. Fantasy players should continue to monitor his status.
Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey comes in ranked ninth on NFL.com's Nick Shook's top-10 explosive runners of 2019, but he'll still be the No. 1 player selected in the vast majority of 2020 fantasy drafts. He reached 15-plus mph on 96 touches last season, which was the most in the NFL, with 52 of those touches coming on rushing attempts. McCaffrey had a 15-plus mph rate of 18.1 percent and was able to gain 10-plus yards on 31 of his rushes in 2019. The fact that he touched the ball so much brings his 15-plus mph percentage down on this list. But McCaffrey's superior abilities as both a runner and receiver make him stand out above the rest of the competition by a landslide.
Atlanta Falcons running back Todd Gurley II had a down year by his standards in 2019 with the Rams, but he still placed No. 8 on NFL.com's Nick Shook's top-10 explosive runners of last season. Only one of his 10 fastest touches over the last two years came in 2019, but he still reached or exceeded 15 mph on almost 20 percent of his 223 carries. Gurley's knee issues in recent seasons have sapped some of his explosiveness, but he still had 21 runs of 10-plus yards last year. Don't ignore Gurley simply because he's no longer in play for the overall RB1 in fantasy. He'll have a better offensive line to work behind in a strong Falcons offense and should see plenty of carries. Draft him as a high-end RB2 with the ability to finish as a top-10 back.
Indianapolis Colts running back Marlon Mack was the team's running game in 2019, which is why his broken hand in the second half of the season coincided with their late-season descent. He broke 15 mph on 51 runs (fourth-most among running backs) and had 28 runs of 10-plus yards. While Mack was an underrated explosive runner last year, his fantasy stock took a major hit when the Colts drafted rookie Jonathan Taylor in April. Mack could see the starting nod early in the season because of his veteran status, but Taylor is fully expected to take over this backfield at some point in 2020. The 24-year-old Mack can still make his mark with fewer touches because of his explosiveness, but he's expected to mainly be a flex option this year.
Denver Broncos running back Phillip Lindsay wasn't as good in his second season as he was in his rookie campaign, but the former undrafted free agent still had 1,011 rushing yards in 2019 despite playing with three different quarterbacks. He had 48 runs of 15-plus mph last year despite defenses keying on him in the box most of the time. The offseason addition of Melvin Gordon III makes it basically impossible for Lindsay to see the 224 carries he saw last season, but he remains an explosive change-of-pace for this improved backfield. His fantasy stock is down across the board because of Gordon's presence as the lead back, but Lindsay still has some standalone fantasy appeal as a low-end RB3/flex in PPR leagues.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been interested in free-agent running back Devonta Freeman, but head coach Bruce Arians said that Freeman is asking for more money than the team is looking to spend given their current salary cap situation. Tampa has just over $6.4 million in cap space entering the 2020 season. Freeman reportedly declined a one-year, $4 million offer from the Seahawks last month and thinks he's worth more than what he's been offered on the open market. Freeman had back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in 2015 and 2016 but has taken a dive since then and has struggled to stay healthy in recent seasons. The Bucs wouldn't mind adding veteran depth behind Ronald Jones II, but rookie Ke'Shawn Vaughn and Dare Ogunbowale should also have roles in 2020 if the Bucs don't add anyone else to the backfield.
Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones saw most of his success in 2019 between the tackles, as he tied for the league lead with 10 touchdowns on inside runs and averaged 4.1 yards per rush on runs inside the tackles in the red zone, which was the most in the NFL among those with at least 15 such runs. Jones' 53 runs on which he hit 15-plus mph were the fourth-most in the NFL. The 25-year-old had his first 1,000-yard rushing season on 236 carries last year and led the league with 16 rushing touchdowns. He also caught 49 passes for 474 yards and three TDs. Even though he might not see an RB1 workload with second-rounder A.J. Dillon now in the mix, Jones is a high-end RB2 at the worst with RB1 upside.
Arizona Cardinals running back Kenyan Drake enjoyed plenty of success in the desert in 2019 after being traded from the Dolphins. He nearly doubled his 15-plus mph rush rate when he came to the Cardinals, going from 14.9 percent of rushes in Miami to 26.8 percent in Arizona. Drake rushed the ball 123 times in Arizona and hit 15-plus mph on more than a fourth of those attempts, while he carried the ball just 47 times in Miami. The 26-year-old was a top-five running back while in Arizona for a partial season. And now that the team moved on from David Johnson, Drake surely has RB1 upside in Arizona in an offense that should be able to put up plenty of points.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians said that 12 personnel, featuring two tight ends on the field, is "our base offense" heading into the 2020 season. Arians also likes 13 personnel with a third tight end in the mix. This doesn't come as a surprise at all after Rob Gronkowski came out of retirement to join Tampa, and they've also kept both O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate around. The presence of three tight ends might make it difficult for any one of them to really stand out, but we figure that Tom Brady will lean the most on his old buddy in Gronk. Of the three, he's obviously the most attractive as a high-end TE2 with injury risk. Howard is worth a flier as a low-end TE2 with some upside, while Brate will likely be a lightly used red-zone weapon.
Chicago Bears wide receiver Allen Robinson is a candidate for a contract extension, but he's not really worried about that amid the coronavirus pandemic. Robinson is still due $15 million against the salary cap in 2021 as well. And because of COVID-19, things could look different for the salary cap, which could mean less available money under the cap and Robinson getting a smaller amount on an extension. On the football side of things, Robinson said quarterback Mitchell Trubisky has been throwing to him four times a week. The best scenario for A-Rob's fantasy value is for Nick Foles to win the starting gig under center, which is expected. In an offense without a lot of other playmakers, Robinson should see all the targets he can handle, making him a low-end WR1.
San Francisco 49ers running back Raheem Mostert hit 20-plus mph on four rushes last season, putting him in elite company among ball-carriers, as only seven players reached that benchmark. And Mostert did it with fewer total carries than anyone. He averaged a maximum speed of 13.75 mph on his touches in 2019, which is the highest mark among all running backs in the NFL with a minimum of 100 touches. Mostert did his best work in the playoffs in the run to the Super Bowl, but Kyle Shanahan prefers a committee backfield, which will limit Mostert's fantasy upside despite his abilities as a runner. Unless his usage suddenly goes up, which is unlikely, Mostert is more of a high-end RB3/low-end RB2.
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson was the most explosive runner in the league in 2019 based on runs of 10-plus yards (47), 10-plus run percentage (26.7) and 15-plus mph percentage (52.8). He did that on 176 total carries. Jackson was named the 2019 MVP in large part because defenses just couldn't stop him when he took off with the football. His total of 15-plus mph runs of 93 were 20 more than the next closest runner in the league (Dalvin Cook). It was a great season for Jackson, but you'd be wise to expect at least some regression in 2020. But even if Jackson regresses some following his MVP campaign, his upside is through the roof. Either Jackson or Patrick Mahomes will be the first fantasy QB taken in drafts.
New York Jets QB Sam Darnold is 'one of the best young quarterbacks in this league,' according to former NFL quarterback Jordan Palmer, who has trained him since Darnold's predraft process in 2018. 'I've said this a bunch, Sam is one of the best young quarterbacks in this league. He has everything. You talk to smart coaches around the league, Sam is one of those guys that they put in a different category. It's just going to be a matter of time for him. I feel like this offseason with the disarray and how crazy it's been, he's been so consistent every day doing the same things and just being methodical with his work, communicating with his teammates. He's heading into Year 2 with this system and with Sam, I don't think it's big, major changes. I think he has to continue to stay the course and he's done that,' Palmer recently said on ESPN's NFL Live.
Kansas City Chiefs WR Tyreek Hill told reporters last month he is doing yoga twice a week in an effort to open up his hips and glutes more.
Fantasy Spin: Hill has reportedly also incorporated weighted Nordic hamstring curls into his workout regimen as well. It's clear he is targeting his lower body and is trying to avoid a repeat of 2019 when he missed four games with hamstring issues. Entering his age-26 season and third full year working with Patrick Mahomes, it is possible we have yet to see his statistical ceiling. Assuming fantasy owners don't mind taking the risk that his off-field issues become a problem again, Hill is an easy top-20 pick and has overall WR1 upside.