Monday, July 27, 2015, 9:35am
Based on recent conversations with those inside the Bengals organization, one fact rings true: The Bengals really like WR A.J. Green. They want him to stay in stripes for a very long time, and they believe he will ultimately do that.
None of that should come as a surprise. After all, Green has been to the Pro Bowl in each of his first four seasons. In those same seasons, he has been one of two NFL receivers to end each year with 1,000 yards receiving and five touchdowns, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The other is Calvin Johnson, the league's highest-paid wide out.
What we do know, the story went on to say, is that Green isn't too concerned about the immediacy of his new deal. Earlier this month, during his football camp for kids around Cincinnati, he said he had no problem waiting until after this season to talk to the team about locking him up long term. Those comments came about a week before Bryant and Thomas got their deals that helped set the market for top-end receiver value. This past weekend, Green echoed his previous sentiments to one of his home state television stations, but he added that he knows his "time is coming." At least the way things stand now, it looks like this won't be too messy of a situation when the time comes to get a deal done and Green will remain a Bengal.
Sunday, July 26, 2015, 11:13am
The Lions return all five of their receivers from the end of last season — Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate, Jeremy Ross, Corey Fuller and Ryan Broyles — plus add TJ Jones (back from IR) and Lance Moore (free agent) to the mix. This competition will be fierce, and someone notable is guaranteed not to have a job at the end of camp.
The numbers are there, and so is the production from the two-headed monster of Johnson and Tate. But Detroit got little out of its third receivers last season (primarily Ross) and is looking for someone to step up as a complement this season.
Moore would seem to be the favorite, as the most experienced of all the candidates for the job, both in years in the league and years in this offense. He grabbed 346 passes for 4,281 yards in eights seasons with the Saints, seven of which occurred with current Lions offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi on staff.
The Lions third WR could have some fantasy value in their passing offense. Detroit touted that experience when signing Moore, and quarterback Matthew Stafford has gone on and on about how Moore sees things in this offense that other receivers don't. Competency in the offense, and reliable route-running, were issues last year, the story said. The piece also added the staff still likes Fuller a lot, because his size and top-end speed allow him to stretch a defense the way Detroit's other No. 3 possibilities cannot. Broyles and Jones are both smaller receivers who do their best work underneath, and it's hard to see a situation where both make the team.
The Dallas Cowboys and their franchised-tagged star wideout Dez Bryant have hammered out a long-term contract ahead of Wednesday's 4 p.m. ET deadline. Bryant agreed in principle to a five-year, $70 million deal with $45 million guaranteed, NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reported. While nowhere close to the $16 million per year earned by Detroit's Calvin Johnson, Bryant's $14 million average per season exceeds the $12.82 million he would have made in 2015 by signing his franchise tag. The new pact puts to bed a summer-long drama that saw negotiations flatline between Dallas and Bryant.
Bryant is coming off a monster campaign that saw him set a career mark with 16 touchdowns, and he rolls into September as the heart and soul of a Cowboys offense, especially now with RB DeMarco Murray leaving for the Eagles. Bryant has emerged over five seasons as a top-five NFL wideout, both in real life and the fantasy world. We rank Bryant fourth on our WR list, but he's getting drafted as a top-three fantasy WR, and in the first round. Owners and potential owners can now rest easy because Bryant had threatened to miss camp and games if no long-term deal was reached. He should be poised for another big season as the center point of the Dallas offense, especially with the questions surrounding the running game.
Detroit has thrown the ball more than it has rushed it every season since 2001 according to ESPN Stats & Information. The closest the Detroit Lions have come to "balance" was in 2004, when Detroit ran the ball 407 times and attempted 505 passes.
In Detroit's more successful seasons, the Lions have trended much heavier toward the pass. In 2011, one of the two seasons Detroit made the playoffs this century, the Lions rushed the ball 356 times and had 666 passing attempts, completing 423 of them.
Last season, Detroit ran the ball 396 times and threw it 604 times, completing 365 passes. So while the Lions appeared to focus their draft on improving a run game that had its worst yards per carry since 2003, don't expect to see a massive play-call shift.
"It's all quarterbacking," former NFL QB Elvis Grbac said. "I got in a league where Drew Bledsoe was starting to come in and just in the last 10 years, retired since 2001, so it's been some time. But just the league in general, it's quarterback-driven. If you don't have a quarterback, you're screwed."
The story went on to say: A 50-50 split hasn't been typical for Jim Caldwell historically. In his three seasons as head coach in Indianapolis, the Colts never rushed more than 393 times in a season. They never threw less than 534 times in a year, and that was in 2011 when Peyton Manning was injured. The only sample size in which a team coordinated or led by Caldwell has had more runs than passes came during the Baltimore Ravens' Super Bowl run in 2012, when Caldwell took over leading into Week 15. Through the final three weeks of the regular season and the playoffs, the Ravens ran the ball 249 times and passed it 235 times. The following season was more in line with what happened in Indianapolis, where Baltimore had 423 rushes to 619 passes.
Much of the same is expected this year, and the story mentioned how Grbac thinks QB Matthew Stafford has progressed nicely in the offense. The team lost pass-catching RB Reggie Bush, but seems to have a more than capable replacement in Ameer Abdullah, who looks like he's going to hurt the value of Theo Riddick. Both Joique Bell and Abdullah crack our top-31 backs, with Abdullah having top-25 potential in PPR leagues. Stafford is just 13th on our QB list, but if WR Calvin Johnson can stay healthy Stafford could crack the top-10 and be a nice value at QB with an ADP of the ninth round.
Tuesday, July 7, 2015, 6:51pm
The Broncos placed their $12.82 million franchise tag on Demaryius Thomas in March and have until 2 p.m. on July 15 to secure a long-term deal. If not, Thomas can sign the one-year contract and play on the guaranteed tag this season. Elway sits two-for-two in these situations, having worked out deals with kicker Matt Prater and left tackle Ryan Clady. Going three-for-three represents a challenge even for a former top Major League Baseball prospect like Elway. The sides began discussing an extension a year ago but have been unable to bridge the gap. Thomas ranks among the game's elite. The Broncos have said they want to sign him long term. However, they would like it at a fair cost that represents a compromise by both sides.
The author says: the Broncos are attempting, it appears, to find a balance between respect and restraint. They know Thomas is a playmaker. The also know Thomas is better than Mike Wallace, the game's second-highest paid receiver with $30 million guaranteed on his contract. They also realize that the entire industry views the contract of top-paid wideout Calvin Johnson, whom Thomas has said he believes he's better than, as an outlier. It has tangled the web with Dez Bryant's talks with the Cowboys; he's in the same franchise-tag situation as Thomas. Thomas is third on our WR list but his ADP shows he's been the fourth WR off the board at the position. We project him for 106 catches and over 1,500 yards.
Saturday, July 4, 2015, 10:20am
Second-year tight end Eric Ebron has expressed interest in joining QB Matthew Stafford in Atlanta at some point over the next month, and it wouldn’t be surprising if other guys find their way down there too.
"This team is a hard-working team and when we go away, we come back in great shape," Stafford said. "But there's no substitute for running routes for a receiver and catching the ball from the guy you're going to be catching the ball from during the season."
Stafford will hook up with WR Calvin Johnson but hopes others, like Ebron, make it a point to be there, too. The offense is expected to run much smoother in year two of Joe Lombardi’s system. Stafford has already talked about being much more comfortable with it. The story went on to say Ebron is expected to play a big role this season, and continuing to work with some of the other guys – like a Jeremy Ross or veteran Lance Moore – over the next month will only help Stafford and this offense be able to hit the ground running for the start of training camp.
Dorial Green-Beckham spent weeks sidelined by a hamstring injury. That aside, his former college coach believes the Titans have landed the equivalent of a "nightmare matchup for any cornerback at any level."
"I was with the Colts with Jim Mora when he had Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne, I was with the Raiders when they had Jerry Rice, Tim Brown, Jerry Porter and some other guys on the Super Bowl team," University of Texas receivers coach Jay Norvell told the Tennessean.
Norvell spent last season coaching the red-shirted Green-Beckham in practice at Oklahoma, saying: "When you go through the history of the draft and look at the guys with size and speed and all that, he is just unique. Calvin Johnson is probably one of the closest comparisons physically because of his size."
"He's not a finished product, but most players aren't," Norvell said. "So he's going to have to learn the pro game and that's a completely different game from college. But he's got some natural gifts that will help him in that game, and in some ways, the NFL is probably a better game for him than college football, just because of the bump rules and (less) contact and all of that. So there are some advantages he has. ... That's why they picked him."
If Green-Beckham picks up things quickly and proves he’s not as raw as his detractors say — one offensive coordinator said he was “completely lost” at the whiteboard in a pre-draft interview — he could certainly start early in the season opposite Kendall Wright, since it seems that Justin Hunter is on the outs with the current coaching staff. If he sees starter’s snaps, he should be fantasy relevant as a rookie, though he'll have to prove he's ready for the mental side of the game. Long-term, he has a chance to flourish if both he and Marcus Mariota are the real deal.
Monday, June 29, 2015, 8:25am
While league rules have carved into the amount of offseason practice time — which some have called unnecessary — others are looking for more.
According to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford wants to bring receiver Calvin Johnson and the rest of his targets together for some pre-camp work of their own.
Such camps aren’t new, as Peyton Manning has been taking his receivers to Duke every spring, and others do the same. But Stafford said he thought it would help.
“I think it’s big,” Stafford said. “I’m obviously in Atlanta quite a bit, so Calvin’s right there, throw with him some. But try to find a way to get together with some of the other guys as well. . . ."
Stafford went on to say there's no substitute for running routes for a receiver and catching the ball from the guy you’re going to be catching the ball from during the season. The Lions got good numbers out of Johnson and Golden Tate last year, but the rest of the offense struggled at times. They were 22nd in the league in scoring offense, and no other non-Johnson or Tate receiver had more than 322 receiving yards, the story said.
Inaccuracy has been Matthew Stafford's calling card his whole career, completing under 60 percent of his passes in four of his six seasons. Of the top 10 passing quarterbacks in 2014, Stafford had the lowest completion percentage (60.3) while attempting the fifth-most passes in the league (602).
However, news out of Lions minicamp is that Stafford has turned things around and is impressing coach Jim Caldwell. "He's improved," Caldwell told MLive.com on Tuesday. "He has a better feel for the system. You can see our timing's better, receivers have a better sense of the routes that they're running. All around I think we've made some improvement."
"I mean, it's obviously always a work in progress," Stafford offered. "But there's no question we've taken strides forward this spring." Caldwell went on to say that, concerning Stafford's completion percentage, he expects "an improvement from where he was last year."
Stafford finished as the #17 QB last season, but in the three previous seasons, he didn’t finish outside the top 10. Stafford tends to struggle when Calvin Johnson isn’t fully healthy, as was the case last year. He should improve his numbers in his second season in Joe Lombardi's offense, especially with a healthy Johnson back in the fold.
A quick canvas of the league revealed 10 No. 1-caliber receivers: Calvin Johnson, Julio Jones, Alshon Jeffrey, A.J. Green, Dez Bryant, DeMaryius Thomas, Jordy Nelson, T.Y. Hilton, Odell Beckham and Antonio Brown.
Robinson, the Jaguars’ second-year receiver, is below that level, but on this team at this moment, he’s the best.
Robinson averaged 5.2 catches for 61 yards and 0.22 TD from Week 2 to Week 10, which extrapolates to an 84-974-3.6 over the course of a full 16-game season. He posted fringe WR2-type numbers before suffering a stress fracture in his foot. The Jacksonville receiving corps should feature Robinson, Marqise Lee and Allen Hurns. If QB Blake Bortles can progress, this could be a dangerous passing game, and Robinson would be the primary beneficiary.
One area Lions QB Matthew Stafford significantly altered was his willingness to attack opposing defenses downfield. In 2014, he attempted just 63 passes that traveled 20 yards or more beyond the line of scrimmage. At just 10.5 percent of his total pass attempts, it was the lowest rate of deep shots in his six-year career.
A number of factors contributed to Stafford holstering his cannon more often than not last season. It starts with the conscientious effort to reduce turnovers. Then there was the decreased time in the pocket due to inferior pass protection. And you can't discount the injury issues which hampered top downfield weapon Calvin Johnson much of the season.
The Lions made a serious effort to improve the blocking up front this offseason, using the team's first-round draft pick on guard Laken Tomlinson. Detroit also parted ways with long-time center Dominic Raiola -- an average pass-blocker last season -- making way for last year's third-round pick, Travis Swanson, to take over at that spot.
In addition to the investment in the offensive line, Johnson should be back at 100 percent to start the season. In the first three games last year, before the star receiver first injured his ankle, Stafford attempted five deep passes per game. That dropped to 3.6 attempts the final 13 weeks.
Stafford finished as the #17 QB last season, but in the three previous seasons he didn’t finish outside the top 10. Stafford tends to struggle when Calvin Johnson isn’t fully healthy, as was the case last year. Stafford is a serious threat to finish with QB1 numbers, though we have more confidence in the passers ranked ahead of him.
In the two previous OTA practices open to the media, Ebron struggled with drops, which has further fueled his critics. To his credit, the young tight end has responded in a promising way this current week of practice. During Wednesday's session, he didn't let a pass touch the ground.
"This week specifically, he's been phenomenal catching the ball and after the catch," Tate said. "The linebackers are having a tough time covering him and even the safeties."
In April, offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi noted it's common for tight ends to experience tremendous growth in their second season. He also stated the Lions are counting on Ebron to be the team's third receiving option behind Tate and Calvin Johnson. Tate echoed his coordinator's optimism.
"He's improved a whole lot," Tate said. "We're excited for him this year. I think he's going to be a huge player for us this year."
Ebron turned 3.8 targets into 1.9 catches for 19 yards and 0.08 TD as a rookie. He played half the snaps, so his lack of production is somewhat alarming. Tight end is a tough position to learn as a rookie, so there is some reason for optimism given Ebron's skill set and the investment (a first round pick) the Lions have made in him.
Lions WR Calvin Johnson has had a healthy offseason, he says he feels young and his comfort level in Joe Lombardi’s offense is high heading into the second year of the scheme. He sees a lot of great things ahead for this offense and plans to play a big role in 2015.
For the first time in five seasons, Johnson finished outside the top 6 in wide receiver scoring, thanks to a nagging ankle injury. He finished in the top 10 on a points per game basis. He has also had knee problems throughout his career, but as long as he’s healthy, he’s very likely to post WR1 numbers. His fantasy stock hasn’t been this “low” since his rookie season.
Monday, April 6, 2015, 10:39am
WR Ryan Broyles led the Lions with 11 catches for 144 yards during the preseason, but was a nonfactor in the regular season. He was active for just five games, when Calvin Johnson was dealing with a high ankle sprain, and caught two passes for 25 yards.
But HC Jim Caldwell says he saw growth from Broyles during practices, and is hopeful he'll play himself into the picture at receiver now that he's finally gone a year without suffering a major injury.
"I think he's a guy you have a lot of respect for because he's had three major injuries, and he's fought his way back from them, and I think that's hard to do," offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said last week. "Listen, when the guy's been in there, he's been productive. And we're excited to see where he is now after a full season of not coming back from an injury. He's had a full year to be healthy, and we're excited to see what he does here in the offseason and heading into camp."
The story went on to say now that Broyles is healthy and freed from the perpetual rehab process, Detroit is hopeful he can turn his focus to improving his game. But it's not that simple for Broyles. Even when he was healthy last year, he was not a factor because he filled a virtually identical role in the offense as Golden Tate. And Tate is the much better player. So it stands to reason Broyles could be healthier this year, and better this year, and still not be a part of the offense's plans.
Friday, January 2, 2015, 5:04pm
Lions WR Calvin Johnson (ankle, probable) took full practice reps again Friday and is probable for Week 18. Megatron will be fine for what should be a high-scoring game against Dallas.
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