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
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.
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.
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.
Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray benefitted from open receivers deep down the field in his rookie season and also had a very low pressure rate (13.1 percent) on his deep attempts, but it was his own dual-threat ability to use his legs as a rusher that afforded him the chance to excel deep down the field through the air. Defenses were forced to respect his ability to run for first downs, which allowed Murray to sit back and read defenses. He often exited the pocket when connecting deep down the field. Having All-Pro receiver DeAndre Hopkins will only make Murray more successful in what could be a breakout sophomore season. In Kliff Kingsbury's creative and explosive spread offense, Murray has high-end QB1 upside already.
Despite having a down year in 2019 overall, Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady was actually the fourth-best deep passer, per Next Gen Stats. He had seven touchdowns and only two interceptions on deep balls with Julian Edelman as his top target. Brady was pressured often (40.7 percent) and was throwing to receivers that were often covered deep down the field. The 42-year-old had a completion percentage of 38.9 on deep passes and an expected completion percentage of 31.4 on those throws. Brady is getting older and might not have the same arm strength, but he suddenly has the best receiving duo in the league and can still pass for a QB1, albeit a low-end one without a ton of upside.
San Francisco 49ers Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams blocked for nine different quarterbacks in the last decade with the Redskins, but he thinks quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is among the best he's played with heading into the 2020 season. "I think Jimmy G is awesome," Williams said. "I think he has proven that he's a quarterback that you can win with. In this league, it's just hard to find," Williams said. Jimmy G did help lead the Niners to the Super Bowl last year, but he remains more of a game manager in Kyle Shanahan's run-heavy offense. He rarely challenges defenses deep down the field and has a low fantasy ceiling as a low-end QB2.
San Francisco 49ers running back Raheem Mostert could land a contract extension before tight end George Kittle does, in the opinion of The Athletic's Matt Barrows. Wide receiver Kendrick Bourne is another player that could be looking at an extension in the near future. Mostert stepped up down the stretch and in the postseason for the Niners and became their lead back, but San Fran's backfield remains crowded even after they traded Matt Breida to the Dolphins. In a backfield that could change weekly based on the hot hand, Mostert will be fighting for touches with Tevin Coleman and Jerick McKinnon (if healthy), making him more of a high-end RB3/flex in most leagues.
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes' expected completion rate on deep passes is higher than most QBs in the league because of his speedy weapons, namely receiver Tyreek Hill, whose 18 touchdowns on deep targets since 2016 is second-most in the NFL behind Antonio Brown. Mahomes had a 30.3 percent rate of targets considered to be open on deep passes, which was the highest in the league. He was 7-for-11 on deep passes for 257 yards and four TDs in Week 2 against the Raiders, with his receivers being open on 27.3 percent of those 11 deep attempts. Mahomes leads the NFL with 25 deep-pass touchdowns since 2018, and although his receivers have made it easier on him, he's still an elite athlete with an elite arm. His 2019 season wasn't as good as his 2018 MVP campaign, but we still wouldn't blame you if you took him as the top QB1 over Lamar Jackson this year.
Philadelphia Eagles running back Boston Scott is expected to compete for an offensive role in training camp instead of just competing for a roster spot. Miles Sanders will be the team's lead back in 2020, but even if the team adds a veteran backup, Scott is expected to compete for a role in Philly. The coaching staff truly believes that Scott's production down the stretch last year when Jordan Howard and Darren Sproles were injured wasn't a fluke. The 25-year-old finished with 61 carries for 245 yards (4.0 yards per carry) and five touchdowns on the ground, adding 24 receptions for 204 yards through the air. Scott should have late-round appeal in deep PPR leagues, especially if the Eagles don't add another running back before the season.
Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson has been one of the best deep passers in the NFL since 2016. He threw 32 TD passes on deep throws from 2016 to 2018 and had 1.5 yards of target separation on deep passes last season, which was the lowest in the NFL. Wilson makes a habit of extended plays outside the pocket and finding his receivers deep down the field, mainly Tyler Lockett. Seattle's wideouts had 32 deep receptions in 2019, also the most in the league. Wilson led all quarterbacks with nine DIMES (30-plus air yards and a tight window resulting in a completion). If the Seahawks let Wilson throw the ball more with Lockett and D.K. Metcalf at his disposal, he should be able to finish as a top-five fantasy QB in 2020.
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott tops NFL.com's Nick Shook's list of the top-10 deep passers from the 2019 season. Prescott relied mostly on wide receiver Amari Cooper, who was efficient on deep targets by catching 12 passes for 386 yards and two touchdowns on passes 20-plus yards downfield. Prescott had a completion percentage of 44.4 percent and an expected completion percentage of 31 percent on deep throws, with a TD-to-interception ratio of 6:2 and a passer rating of 109.7. Now that rookie wideout CeeDee Lamb is in the mix, he has some of the best surrounding offensive weapons in the league. Prescott had a career year in 2019 despite not making the playoffs and could be even better in 2020. He's coming off the board as the No. 3 fantasy QB behind Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes.
Indianapolis Colts RB Marlon Mack has inherent respect as the starter, according to head coach Frank Reich. 'I see it as a 1-1 (punch),' Reich said, referring to Mack and second-round pick RB Jonathan Taylor. 'The way the league has gone and the way roleplaying has been elevated in our league, it's made it prominent. We used to say in San Diego that when we had Danny Woodhead. He was not our starter, he was our 'role-playing' starter. He played such a significant role. He had 80 catches in a year. You look at a guy like Nyheim Hines. We talk about Marlon and Jonathan, but what about Nyheim? He's such a good third-down back that he'll play a prominent (role). In some ways, (Hines) is a starter. He's a role-playing starter.'
Fantasy Spin: It sounds to be a true committee in Indy with Mack holding RB2 status in fantasy and Nyheim Hines an RB3 in PPR. Taylor could play a larger role, but he'll open draft season as an RB4 or RB5 handcuff.