Tue Jun 2 9:37pm ET
By ARNIE STAPLETON
AP Pro Football Writer
Instead of X's and O's, the Denver Broncos spent Tuesday talking about racial injustice, police brutality and healing a nation rocked by demonstrations over George Floyd's death in Minneapolis on top of the coronavirus outbreak and its economic devastation.
Team president Joe Ellis addressed the offense and defense in separate Zoom calls that replaced the team's regular video conference sessions, which are a substitute for in-person training during the pandemic.
Coach Vic Fangio and general manager John Elway also participated in the calls in which Ellis emphasized society's need to eradicate racism and told the players that the organization shares in the outrage over Floyd's death at the hands of police.
Ellis, who told players he wanted to hear from them before issuing a statement, also listened as more than a dozen players spoke up on the calls.
''My takeaway from it was that we have to figure out what we can do, not only as a team, but as an organization,'' safety Kareem Jackson said. ''How can we get out and how can we impact the Denver community? Maybe we can get out and put together a march as a team or something like that.''
After the Zoom calls, the Broncos tweeted, ''We will stand by our players. We will lift up their voices. We can do more. We will do more.''
The team also retweeted several players' personal posts, including Malik Reed's: ''I have been one of the ones to not be outspoken about the things we go through, but that doesn't help create change. My heart goes out to everyone who has lost someone due to the wickedness of this world.''
Floyd died May 25 after a white Minneapolis officer, Derek Chauvin, pressed his knee on the handcuffed black man's neck for several minutes. He was fired along with three other officers and faces homicide charges.
Fangio started off a media call a few hours later by saying, ''I was shocked, sad and angry at what I saw a policeman do to a handcuffed George Floyd ... He should be punished to fullest extent of the law for the crimes he has been charged with in addition to being charged with treason for failing to uphold the badge.''
Fangio said he has the utmost respect for police but added that Chauvin ''failed the 99 percent of police that do a great job and we are all paying the price for that.''
Denver is among the dozens of cities where peaceful protests during daylight hours have been followed by looting and clashes with police come nightfall.
Fangio said society could learn a lot from an NFL locker room, where skin color is no barrier.
Fangio said the words of Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Broncos safety Justin Simmons especially resonated with him over a weekend of increasing unrest and said that sports brings people together ''and I look forward to the Broncos and the NFL leading that charge.''
Simmons, the team's 2019 Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee, helped lead a peaceful protest in Florida on Sunday. He called for unity and non-violence.
Simmons implored a crowd to ''understand that we are fighting for equality, not superiority. All lives matter when black lives matter. We pledge our allegiance to the flag for freedom and justice for all and we do not have our justice. So let's understand that. We will get it, (but) not by force.''
Fangio also praised Simmons, saying, ''I think Justin is one of those guys that will help us find solutions and lead us out of this mess that we're in.''
May 29th: Quarterback Preview
Former Carolina Panthers LB Luke Kuechly is considering a role in the Panthers' front office as a professional scout.
Free-agent defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan had reached an agreement on a one-year, $3.25 million deal with the Houston Texans, but the two sides have agreed to part ways and Jernigan is not expected to sign with the team, according to sources informed of the situation. Jernigan didn't take a physical with the Texans and isn't expected to do so. He was previously cleared by spinal specialist Robert Watkins after playing in just 13 games in the last two seasons due to neck and foot injuries. A second-round pick of the Ravens in 2014, the 27-year-old had his best season in Baltimore in 2016, recording five sacks, 31 combined tackles, one interception and one fumble recovery. He'll look for another one-year deal on the open market now that he's parted ways with Houston.
Arizona Cardinals S Budda Baker led all defensive backs with 147 tackles and 11 tackles for loss in 2019. It marked the second straight season he led defensive backs in TFLs (he had 13 in 2018) and amassed at least 100 tackles.
New Orleans Saints S Malcolm Jenkins - as a member of the Philadelphia Eagles - and CB Marshon Lattimore were two of only four defensive backs to record four forced fumbles last season.
Indianapolis Colts S Khari Willis and free-agent S Clayton Geathers (Colts) ranked fourth and first, respectively, among all safeties who appeared in at least 14 games in catch rate allowed in 2019, according to Sports Info Solutions. Receivers recorded a catch on 16 of the 18 passes (88.9 percent) thrown in Geathers' direction, while Willis gave up a reception on 15 times in 19 targets (78.9).
Free-agent DT Timmy Jernigan verbally agreed to a one-year contract with the Houston Texans in April, but he never passed his physical with the team and no deal was ever processed by the league. As a result, he will not sign with Houston. However, Jernigan has been cleared by Dr. Robert Watkins and is expected to draw interest from other teams, according to Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle.
Free-agent DE/LB Jadeveon Clowney (Seahawks) has reportedly received interest from the New Orleans Saints recently, according to WBOK Radio's Nader Mirifiq.
Denver Broncos WRs Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, KJ Hamler and Tim Patrick are considered locks to make the 2020 team, according to Ryan O'Halloran of The Denver Post. WRs Diontae Spencer, DaeSean Hamilton, Tyrie Cleveland and Juwann Winfree will compete for the returner and sixth receiver jobs.
New England Patriots RB Sony Michel led all NFL running backs with a touch rate of 63 percent in 2019.
Fantasy Spin: Michel amassed 1,006 yards from scrimmage with seven combined touchdowns on his 259 touches as a sophomore. His usage should rise even higher while supporting Jarrett Stidham or Brian Hoyer rather than Tom Brady in 2020. He should be drafted as a mid-tier RB2.
Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner, who is a cancer survivor, isn't worried about COVID-19 when teams eventually return to the field prior to the 2020 season. "I'm 100%," Conner said. "I had a weak immune system four years ago. It's not weak anymore, thank God. I'm OK. I'm young and healthy. I went through what I went through." The 25-year-old had Stage 2 Hodgkin lymphoma in 2015 and was declared cancer-free in May of 2016. Conner was a Pro Bowler in 2018, but he's played in just 37 games in his three seasons because of injuries and just isn't reliable as an RB1 because of that. The Steelers could also choose to spread out the carries more to keep Conner healthy in 2020, which would obviously hurt his overall upside. Draft him as a low-end RB2 with upside for more if he can just stay on the field.
Carolina Panthers wide receiver D.J. Moore and the team's receiving corps were ranked No. 8 in the league by Pro Football Focus heading into the season. While Moore had a productive 2019, the expectations are higher for the No. 1 wideout for the upcoming 2020 campaign. With Cam Newton gone in favor of Teddy Bridgewater, the 23-year-old may get some much-needed stability in order to progress as he enters his third season in the league. Moore ranked 10th in receptions (87), 10th in targets (135), and seventh in receiving yards (1,175) last year. Though he is projected to finish behind the likes of DeAndre Hopkins, Michael Thomas, and Kenny Golladay, it wouldn't be a surprise if he ended the year as one of the league's top-five fantasy wideouts.
Former Carolina Panthers star linebacker Luke Kuechly officially was placed on the Reserve/Retired list on Tuesday, according to a source. By waiting until after June 1, the Panthers can spread Kuechly's salary cap hit over the next two years and save around $6 million against the cap in 2020. Only 29 years old, Kuechly was forced to hang up his cleats early due to head injuries, but he was one of the best sideline-to-sideline linebackers in the game during his eight seasons in the NFL. Drafted ninth overall by Carolina in 2012 out of Boston College, Kuechly went on to seven Pro Bowl selections and five first-team All-Pro honors. He compiled 1,092 combined tackles (690 solo), 12.5 sacks, 75 tackles for loss, 31 QB hits, 18 interceptions, 66 passes defensed, seven forced fumbles and nine fumble recoveries in his decorated career.
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen ranked third last season in passer rating when targeted, according to Pro Football Focus. Despite missing some time due to a hamstring injury that relegated him to just 10 games, quarterback Kirk Cousins maintained a 131.9 when looking toward the 29-year-old veteran in 2019 and also did not record an interception when targeting him. The expectations are mixed for the veteran in 2020 despite the departure of Stefon Diggs, with the seventh-year man expected to concede plays to running back Dalvin Cook in addition to fighting for Cousin's attention with the newly acquired Tajae Sharpe and rookie Justin Jefferson.
Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield's deep-ball passer rating was significantly worse in 2019 (72.9) than it was in his rookie season (106). However, he still had a positive completion percentage on his deep attempts last season, despite attempting tight-window passes down the field on 40.6 percent of his attempts. Mayfield also had the luxury of open receivers on those deep shots on just 14.1 percent of his attempts. There wasn't much to like about Mayfield's game last season, especially since he was selected in fantasy drafts with high-end QB1 expectations. If Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry stay healthy, Mayfield could have a breakout season behind a better offensive line in an offensive system that should play to his strengths as a QB. Draft the former No. 1 overall pick as a high-end QB2 with upside for more.
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster could be poised for a "huge year," according to former wideout and Good Morning Football co-host, Nate Burleson. Smith-Schuster battled a knee injury last season, which resulted in a loss of four games in addition to posting the worst numbers of his career. However, with the 23-year-old seemingly healthy, the former Trojan could be in line for a bounce-back season. He is projected to be selected somewhere in the second or third rounds in fantasy drafts for the 2020 season, but could easily surpass his ADP expectations if he performs as he did during his first two seasons in the league.
On the surface, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan's 3:5 touchdown-to-interception ratio and 69.3 passer rating on deep passes looks very mediocre or even below-average. Atlanta's offense didn't live up to expectations in 2019, and Ryan threw into tight windows on 34.5 percent of his deep attempts. That partly helps explain his five picks. However, he still had a positive completion percentage of 41.8 and an expected completion percentage of 36.5 on deep attempts. It didn't help his cause that he faced pressure 32.7 percent of the time while going deep downfield. The 35-year-old may have had a down year in 2019, but he remains incredibly consistent and should remain a quality top-10 fantasy QB with Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley as his top two targets.
Pittsburgh Steelers RB James Conner said Tuesday, June 2, he won't be keeping track of how many carries he gets in 2020. 'It's our job to be at our best no matter how many carries,' Conner said, via Ed Bouchette of TheAthletic.com. 'We got to start fast, we have to hit first as a back. That's what I'm going to take pride in this year, just to start fast, whether I'm the guy, however this year works. I said the goal is to win. We need to be ready at all times. Can't warm up to it. That's our slogan, that's what we've been saying: 'Can't warm up to it.' I'm not really paying attention to how many carries I need, I don't really believe in that.'
Fantasy Spin: Conner projects to lead a backfield including Jaylen Samuels, Benny Snell Jr. and rookie Anthony McFarland Jr. The 25-year-old was named to the Pro Bowl in 2018 after racking up 973 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns on 215 carries while adding 497 yards and one more score as a pass-catcher. He took a step back in 2019 while battling injuries and finished with 715 yards from scrimmage with seven total scores. He'll be a high-end RB2 if healthier this season, even if he does share the workload more than he did in 2018.
Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins had a 9:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio on deep passes in 2019 and the highest passer rating (121.5) on such throws among NFL.com's Nick Shook's top-10 best deep passers last season. But his deep shots weren't nearly as risky as other QBs, as Cousins attempted deep shots into tight windows just 20.4 percent of the time and his receivers were open on 25.9 percent of his deep pass attempts with an average target separation of 2.2 yards. Cousins did this while being pressured on 31.5 percent of his deep attempts, but his probability for success was high to begin with. But losing Stefon Diggs, his No. 1 deep threat, will surely put a dent in these numbers in 2020. It's why Cousins' fantasy upside won't be as high this year while remaining in a run-first offense.
Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick led the team in rushing last season, but he was also surprisingly effective taking shots deep down the field. The grizzled veteran wasn't afraid to throw the ball downfield, even if the coverage was tight, as 56.6 percent of his 53 deep pass attempts were into tight windows. Fitzpatrick had a 6:2 touchdown-to-interception rate on deep passes and helped the Dolphins pull out some improbable wins during their rebuild. His QB rating on deep passes was a nice 100.8. The 37-year-old defied expectations last year and could be the Week 1 starter in 2020 if Miami feels rookie Tua Tagovailoa isn't quite ready, but he's just keeping the seat warm for the future of the franchise.
Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson enjoyed throwing the ball deep in 2019, attempting a deep pass on 14 percent of his throws last year, the fifth-highest mark among signal-callers. With receiver Will Fuller V on the field, Watson attempted a deep pass on 17 percent of his throws since 2017, as opposed to 11 percent with Fuller on the sidelines. The QB has completed 43.2 percent of his deep throws with Fuller on the field since 2017, as opposed to 34.3 percent without him. Watson had an average air-yards mark of 30 last season and only had Fuller for 11 games. But with All-Pro DeAndre Hopkins now in Arizona, many expect Watson's efficiency to fall. The good news is that he can still be a very solid QB1 because of his ability to scramble and make plays with his legs. But Watson's QB1 stock will take a hit without Hopkins picking up the slack.