Thu May 23 5:15pm ET
By CHARLES ODUM
AP Sports Writer
Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman takes a handoff from quarterback Matt Ryan as offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter looks on during NFL football practice Thursday, May 23, 2019, in Flowery Branch, Ga. (AP Photo/John Amis)
Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman walks off the field after NFL football practice Thursday, May 23, 2019, in Flowery Branch, Ga. (AP Photo/John Amis)
Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) passes during NFL football practice Thursday, May 23, 2019, in Flowery Branch, Ga. (AP Photo/John Amis)
Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman runs drills during NFL football practice Thursday, May 23, 2019, in Flowery Branch, Ga. (AP Photo/John Amis)
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) The highlight of the Atlanta Falcons' first week of organized team activities has been Devonta Freeman's return to the field.
''It's been a long time,'' said coach Dan Quinn.
Freeman looked explosive in Thursday's practice, the first OTAs session open to reporters. Having Freeman again flash his dual-threat skills at running back is good news for the Falcons' hopes of returning to the playoffs.
Knee and groin injuries limited Freeman to only two games last season . The Falcons had a long list of season-ending injuries, including both safeties and both guards, but losing Freeman had perhaps the biggest impact on the team's fall to a 7-9 finish.
Without Freeman, the Falcons' ground game was stagnant , ranking only 27th in the league. The Falcons' other top running back, Tevin Coleman, signed with San Francisco as a free agent, so it was important to see Freeman in his No. 24 red jersey lining up beside quarterback Matt Ryan this week.
''It's awesome,'' Ryan said. ''Free is such a dynamic player. ... He looks great.''
The Falcons are still waiting for starting safeties Ricardo Allen (torn Achilles tendon) and Keanu Neal (knee) to complete their comebacks from 2018 injuries. Both worked on a side field with trainers but could be ready for training camp.
Freeman, 27, emerged with back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in 2015 and 2016. He had a combined 127 catches those two years, making him even more valuable.
Freeman has struggled to stay on the field since signing a five-year, $41.25 million contract before the 2017 season. At the time it was the NFL's richest contract for a running back. The deal's total value still ranks third for his position, behind Todd Gurley ($57.5 million) and Le'Veon Bell ($52.5 million).
The big contract brought great expectations, making two straight years of injury woes even more frustrating. He missed two games in 2017 following his second concussion of the year, including one in the preseason, and also was slowed by a knee injury. He was limited to 68 yards rushing in two games in 2018.
Freeman's trademark smile was back on Thursday, when he said the joy in football has returned.
''It felt good just to be out here running around and having fun,'' he said. ''This is fun. Just having fun running around brought back memories of when I was a kid, playing in the middle of the field. It was fun.''
Football wasn't fun for Freeman last season. He suffered a bruised right knee in the season-opening loss at Philadelphia, forcing him to miss three games. Then he landed on injured reserve with the groin injury.
''It was tough,'' Freeman said. ''At the time I couldn't see the blessing that God had for me. But it was definitely tough not being able to go out there and compete and battle with my brothers. Just seeing all those guys, every time I watched a game, it was like `Man, that was a missed opportunity for me.' I definitely took it to heart. I learned a lot from it, though.''
Freeman has not been restricted this week but said ''I'm still getting better.''
Freeman's grin made his coach also smile.
''It's been awesome having Free back on the field and be back to having him look like himself,'' Quinn said, adding ''to see the energy that he brings has been good.''
NOTES: OTAs are voluntary. Among players not participating: WR Julio Jones, DT Grady Jarrett, OLB Vic Beasley Jr. and LB Deion Jones. Quinn said he has been in contact with each of the four. He said Julio Jones and Deion Jones ''are still working on some rehab.'' He said Beasley is training on his own and is expected by minicamp. Jarrett signed his $15.209 million franchise tag which prevented him from signing elsewhere as a free agent. He set career highs with six sacks and three forced fumbles last season. Julio Jones missed OTAs and the mandatory minicamp last year before reporting for training camp with a promise from the team his contract would be reworked this year. Those talks are ongoing.
Washington Redskins quarterback Dwayne Haskins completed seven of 13 passes for 74 yards in Thursday's exhibition against the Falcons. Despite how well Haskins has played this preseason, he's still likely to start the year out as Washington's backup behind Case Keenum. The positive outlook is that Haskins has performed well enough to legitimately give head coach Jay Gruden something to think about. With Haskins looming in the background after an impressive trio of preseason outings (minus his two interceptions in the first one), Keenum's leash won't be especially long if things aren't going well. In any case, Haskins is best left on the draft board and addressed via the waiver wire when the time comes.
Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Terrelle Pryor was on the field for the first time this preseason in Thursday's loss to the Miami Dolphins, catching three passes for 26 yards before exiting with a hamstring injury. It's the same issue Pryor's been dealing with all preseason, and a flare up at this point while Pryor is fighting with Tre McBride for the final roster spot at wide receiver isn't going to help Pryor's case. Even if he does make the final roster, it's hard to see much usage for Pryor, though he could carve out a small role as a big target in the red zone.
Washington Redskins running back Samaje Perine carried the ball four times for 16 yards in Thursday's preseason game, with his highlight coming in the form of a three-yard touchdown trot. Perine's teammate and ostensible lone competition for the fourth RB spot, Byron Marshall, racked up only 11 yards on as many carries. Neither Perine nor Marshall have looked the least bit interesting this preseason outside of the touchdown by the former, so it's anyone's guess as to whether Thursday's performances helped or hurt either in the depth chart battle. Either way, keep your distance from this situation in all fantasy formats.
Washington Redskins running back Adrian Peterson did not play on Thursday night against the Falcons, ceding the backfield work to Derrius Guice and Chris Thompson instead. Both had positive showings in his absence, especially Guice, who had not played a live game since tearing his ACL in August 2018. There's not much to see here in terms of Peterson being given the night off. He's 34 years old with a well-documented track record of high-level performance in the regular season. Peterson's 2019 ceiling is limited thanks to Guice, and could be much lower if Guice runs away with the workhorse role at some point in the season. But he could be looking at a high floor early on as the Redskins split carries between the two in order to ease Guice back into action.
Washington Redskins wide receiver Trey Quinn didn't play against the Falcons on Thursday. Per a Redskins.com report, Quinn rested so as not to aggravate a thumb injury he sustained earlier in the preseason. Like teammate Paul Richardson, Quinn has not appeared in either of Washington's last two preseason games. Unlike Richardson, Quinn has PPR intrigue in his role. You're probably better off avoiding both on draft day, but Quinn isn't a bad bet to begin the season seeing a usable target share out of the slot.
Washington Redskins wide receiver Paul Richardson did not play on Thursday against the Falcons, sidelined with a quad injury, per Redskins.com. Richardson has not been utilized in any of the Redskins' three preseason games to this point, and with the fourth contest traditionally serving as a last stand for fringe 53-man roster hopefuls, he might not get any action in prior to Week 1. Richardson's big-play potential may resurrect his fantasy value at some point down the line, but you don't need to factor him into your draft plans.
Washington Redskins tight end Jordan Reed exited Thursday's preseason game due to injury, and was subsequently evaluated for a concussion, per an NFL.com report. Reed's injury borders on uncanny, as his otherwise good health leading up to it has been one of the more positive stories from Washington's camp. From a human standpoint, you just hope he's okay and the head injury is nothing serious or long-term. From a fantasy standpoint, you'll obviously want to monitor his situation if you were planning on drafting him in the next couple of weeks (or if you already did). We're a little over two weeks away from the first NFL Sunday, which isn't an extensive amount of recovery time. If Reed is unable to go to start the season, Vernon Davis and Jeremy Sprinkle would both figure to see more snaps--though neither would be a viable fantasy option.
Washington Redskins quarterback Case Keenum completed nine of 14 passes for 101 yards in Thursday night's preseason game. He also lost a fumble, but from a passing standpoint it was his best performance of the preseason. Keenum has probably shown just enough to fend off Dwayne Haskins for the Week 1 starting job. It's worth noting his most successful season as a quarterback came in 2017 with a Vikings team that ran the ball often and played exceptional defense--the same formula the Redskins are going to try to win with in 2019. Keenum likely won't be asked to do enough to vault himself into the upper echelons of fantasy scoring among QBs, but he has much higher upside than any of the Redskins' options at the position from last year. He's at least worth paying attention to early on.
Oakland Raiders kicker Daniel Carlson lifted his team past the Green Bay Packers in Thursdays Week 3 preseason contest. On an 80-yard shortened field in Winnipeg, Carlson didnt have any problems kicking on the questionable turf nailing all three field goals including the game-winner from 33 yards out with eight seconds remaining. His other two kicks went for 40 and 42 yards, keeping his perfect preseason kicking percentage intact. The 2018 fifth-rounder was given the boot after Week 2 by the Vikings last season, but the Raiders have reaped the benefits of his new team-record 94% success rate since picking him up for the final 10 games of 2018. On this improving offense, Carlson could hold sneaky fantasy value for fantasy footballs most overlooked position.
New York Jets tight end Chris Herndon is getting a significant amount of work this training camp as head coach Adam Gase made it clear he wants the sophomore tight end to be ready when his suspension is up. Gase wouldn't even rule Herndon out for the team's fourth preseason game, a rarity for NFL starters. The league hasn't decided if Herndon can be around the Jets practice facility during the suspension, but Herndon said he has a trainer lined up just in case to make it as game-like as possible to stay sharp if he needs to be away from the team. Herndon caught 39 of 56 targets last season for 502 yards and was a favorite target of Sam Darnold on third down and in the red zone. The sophomore tight end won't be available until week 6, but he is a great stash candidate in deep leagues if you miss out on a top-flight tight end.
Jacksonville Jaguars rookie Ryquell Armstead played in his first preseason game on Thursday as the Jaguars lost to the Miami Dolphins and...it didn't go so well. Armstead had 18 rushing yards on eight carries and caught three passes, but finished with negative receiving yardage. As long as Alfred Blue (ankle) is out, Armstead is the number-two back in Jacksonville, but this is clearly Leonard Fournette's backfield, and head coach Doug Marrone would likely look to a healthy Blue first should Fournette deal with an injury. Armstead can be ignored in re-draft leagues.
Oakland Raiders wide receiver Marcell Ateman caught one of his four targets for 19 yards in Thursdays preseason game versus the Packers. Hes now caught one pass in each of the teams first three exhibition contests, racking up a total of 52 yards. Ateman hasnt impressed all that much so far this preseason and has been getting outplayed by the rest of the wide receiving corps. His roster spot could be in jeopardy, although he wouldnt carry any fantasy value if he made the squad regardless.
Atlanta Falcons running back Qadree Ollison was extremely active in Thursday's preseason game against the Redskins, carrying the ball 12 times for 42 yards, good for 3.5 yards per carry. Ollison has gotten a lot of run this preseason. He led the team in both carries and rushing yards in the Falcons' previous outing against the Jets with nine rushes for 44 yards. The rookie fifth round pick will likely be third on the team's depth chart at running back to start the season behind Devonta Freeman and Ito Smith. He isn't worth drafting in standard leagues but in deep dynasty formats, he's worth keeping an eye on.
Carolina Panthers wide receiver Curtis Samuel finished with two receptions for 16 yards during Thursdays loss to the New York Giants. The 23-year-old was targeted three times on the night and outproduced most of the receivers on the roster, including D.J. Moore, who caught only one pass for three yards. He continues to look impressive and could end up surpassing Moore in production despite being listed as the No. 2 option on the teams depth chart. Fantasy managers will want to grab him earlier in drafts as he has been a popular fantasy option thus far, especially in the sixth or seventh rounds, depending on league size.
Washington Redskins running back Derrius Guice finally got onto the field in the team's third preseason game Thursday, and he showed fantasy owners what they've been looking for. He rushed 11 times for 44 yards and hauled in his only target. Simply having been medically cleared to participate is a massive step in the right direction for Guice's early-season fantasy value, but to see him perform well in his first live game action since tearing his ACL is the icing on the cake. This backfield is still best viewed as a timeshare, with veteran Adrian Peterson still hanging around. The Redskins will almost certainly avoid putting too much on Guice out of the gate. His value for the first few weeks, while positive, could be capped by limited volume.
Atlanta Falcons running back Ito Smith was one of the lone bright spots in an otherwise underwhelming offensive display for the Falcons on Thursday. In a game where the team totalled just 80 passing yards and seven points, Smith had five carries for 23 yards and a touchdown and also added a nine-yard reception. Lead running back Devonta Freeman played only one drive in the game before giving way to Smith. With Freeman being healthy to enter the season, Smith doesn't have much intrigue as a fantasy target. He probably won't be seeing much more than about five touches per game out of the gate and can be left undrafted in standard fantasy leagues.
Washington Redskins running back Chris Thompson carried the ball three times for 20 yards on Thursday night, with a 16-yard scamper accounting for most of that total. He was also targeted three times in the passing game, hauling in two of them. It's not much, but just about any usage at all was going to be more encouraging than what he did last week: one carry, negative-one yard rushing, zero targets. Thompson's fantasy value stems entirely from his role in Washington's passing game, as Derrius Guice and Adrian Peterson will handle the lion's share of the ground attack. He's still probably best left alone outside of deeper PPR leagues, but his involvement in Washington's third preseason game may have reopened some eyes.
Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey made his preseason debut in the loss to the Patriots, finishing the night with 16 yards on three carries to go along with one reception (two targets) for 10 yards. With the team looking to monitor its star backs workload, McCaffrey may not suit up for the teams preseason finale against the Pittsburgh Steelers, especially after quarterback Cam Newton left this one in a walking boot. He arguably will remain the top overall fantasy pick in all drafts, regardless if he sees any more action this preseason.
Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Justin Hardy was the team's receiving yards leader on Thursday and all it took was one catch. Hardy was only targeted once in the game and reeled the target in for a 24-yard gain. The team's passing game wasn't quite operating on full efficiency, totaling just 80 passing yards on the night. Matt Ryan played the first half and was relieved by Danny Etling in the second half. The absence of lead receiver Julio Jones was a contributing factor to the low offensive output but it was a clearly conservative gameplan from the team as a whole. Hardy isn't a viable fantasy option going into the season as he's buried behind Jones, Calvin Ridley and Mohamed Sanu on the team's depth chart.
Atlanta Falcons tight end Austin Hooper had a quiet game on Thursday with just one reception for two yards on two targets. The Falcons had a pretty run-heavy attack during the game with over 30 rushes compared to just 20 pass attempts. Hooper is a low-end starting option at tight end this year. He totalled 660 receiving yards and four touchdowns last year and is likely to be right around those same numbers this year.