Vikings wide receiver Jerome Simpson was a week from returning to the Vikings' roster after a three-game suspension for drunken driving, when ESPN reported on Sept. 18 that Simpson had been cited in July for misdemeanor marijuana possession and driving with an open bottle. The Vikings released Simpson later that day, and signed Charles Johnson off the Cleveland Browns' practice squad the next day.
It seemed at the time like a move to replenish the Vikings' wide receiver depth with a known commodity -- quarterbacks coach Scott Turner had been Johnson's position coach the previous year in Cleveland -- but Johnson was less than a year removed from knee surgery, and didn't play more than 20 snaps in a game until Nov. 16. From that point on, though, he caught 25 passes for 415 yards and a pair of touchdowns, and supplanted Cordarrelle Patterson as the team's "X" receiver.
"He was recovering from that knee surgery a year ago and I don't know that he was ever 100 percent," offensive coordinator Norv Turner said. "I think he's 100 percent. He's got great work ethic, and he's a big, strong guy. He's a 218-pound receiver that can run. He's got everything you need to be a productive player in this league."
In organized team activities and minicamp, there was no mystery about where Johnson figured in the Vikings' plans, the story went on to say. He was lined up at split end all spring, and teamed with Mike Wallace and Jarius Wright in the team's three receiver sets. According to ESPN, 33 of Johnson's 58 targets were at least 10 yards downfield, and 13 of those 58 were 20 or more yards downfield. Johnson worked out in Southern California with Bridgewater and a number of the Vikings' receivers this offseason, and also spent time in Houston with Rischad Whitfield, the "Footwork King" who has counted Antonio Brown and DeAndre Hopkins among his clients. Johnson is one of 4for4.com Senior Editor John Paulsen's potential sleepers this year. We rank him 37th on our WR list and he looks to be in a good situation with the offense under OC Norv Turner and a developing QB in Bridgewater.
Monday, June 29, 2015, 9:52am
Bucs WR Mike Evans helped make the 2014 rookie receiver class one of the best in NFL history.
When asked by USA Today's Tom Pelissero recently if there is a competition within the group to be the best, Evans wouldn't constrain it to merely his own draft class.
"I'm just trying to be the best, period," he said.
While Beckham bathed in the spotlight in 2014, especially after his ridiculous one-handed catch on Sunday Night Football, Evans put up his 12-touchdown, 1,051-yard season relatively quietly on a two-win Buccaneers team. You can argue Evans' QB situation was among the worst of that group. But with Jameis Winston under the helm and Evans taking over the "X" receiver role in the Bucs' new offense under coordinator Dirk Koetter, the second-year pass catcher is confident he can push his name further into the national consciousness. We think so too as Evans is ranked eighth among our WRs this season heading into camps. He has an ADP of the third round and we project him for over 10 TDs and 1,200 yards.
Monday, June 29, 2015, 8:22am
Pittsburgh TE Heath Miller is a No. 3 or 4 option for the offense but nothing more.
He might’ve been a 1,000-yard receiver as a 25-year-old in Haley’s offense. Miller’s scoring rate is concerning. After 27 touchdowns in his first five years, Miller has 16 in his last five, for an average of 3.2 per year. He surpassed three scores in one of those five seasons.
The Steelers placed a waiver claim for tight end Tim Wright, according to ESPN’s Field Yates. When coupled with reported interest in second-round tight end Maxx Williams during the draft, the Wright claim indicates the franchise is at least exploring tight end alternatives.
The story went on to say Miller isn’t an elite tight end but he’s still very solid. He can put up 600 yards in this offense at age 32. And the truth is the Steelers still need him. He’s a safety valve for QB Ben Roethlisberger. In fact, we predict Miller for 588 yards and just under 3 TDs for 2015. However he's ranked 20th on our list and likely won't get a lot of draft attention in typical leagues. With Antonio Brown, LeVeon Bell and Martavis Bryant, that's a strong core of talent to monopolize the red zone touches.
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.
Steelers WR Markus Wheaton ran 119 routes out of the slot last year — third most on the team behind Lance Moore and Justin Brown — but had only nine receptions. While he was in the slot, the playbook was limited for him.
“The plays I had last year were customized for me,” Wheaton said. “They made it out so I had some simple stuff. Being there full time, I am going to see a lot more.”
This is actually more about Martavis Bryant than it is Wheaton. The Steelers wouldn't be moving him to the slot if they weren't prepared to give Bryant starter's snaps on the outside. Wheaton will struggle to be fantasy relevant in the slot, while Bryant is looking more and more like a solid pick in the 5th or 6th round.
“It was just something I felt like I needed to do,” Bryant said. “Just to add a different aspect to my game of being physical, being bigger.”
Bryant said he is focusing on mastering the “Z” receiver spot that places him on the outside on the strong side of the field. However, Mann said in three-receiver sets Bryant and third-year receiver Markus Wheaton would be “interchangeable” between the “Z” and the slot.
Bryant figures to be a bigger part of the offense this season. He averaged 30 snaps per game in 2014.
“He's always been strong, but to be honest with you his conditioning is way better now,” Darrius Heyward-Bey said. “That's what we look at — and me being his big bro, I tell him, ‘You gotta work on your conditioning.' And he came back in way better condition than he was last year. “You can be fast — but you need to be fast 10 plays in a row, not just two.”
One of the concerns with Bryant is playing time, but it appears that he's distanced himself from Wheaton and is in line for starter's snaps opposite Antonio Brown. He averaged 2.8 catches for 56 yards and 0.82 TD in the final 11 games of the season (including a 5-61-1 outing against Baltimore in the playoffs). Thanks to the incredible touchdown rate, those are high-end WR2 numbers in standard formats and solid WR2 numbers in PPR. Increased playing time should offset any drop in TD rate. We like Bryant to break out in 2015.
Martavis Bryant already has the Steelers' attention after averaging 21.1 yards per catch as a rookie in 2014. But he's trying to place more eyes on him with a productive offseason that included 10 pounds of added weight and his workout to enhance his footwork.
"Running routes in the sand," Bryant said. "The beach, the sand pit, wherever."
Many receivers employ this routine, Bryant said, but he's used it extensively this offseason to improve mobility he said was lacking early in his playing days.
Bryant's imprint on organized team activities with athleticism and speed has been obvious, as has potential starting slot receiver Markus Wheaton. If Bryant can be a reliable No. 2 receiver, the offense falls into place because Wheaton can take the slot and backups Sammie Coates and Darrius Heyward-Bey provide depth.
Bryant averaged 2.8 catches for 56 yards and 0.82 TD in the final 11 games of the season (including a 5-61-1 outing against Baltimore in the playoffs). Thanks to the incredible touchdown rate, those are high-end WR2 numbers in standard formats and solid WR2 numbers in PPR. What's more, he didn't play 60% of the snaps until the postseason, so there's upside here from a playing time standpoint. If he earns a starting role this offseason -- and it looks like he will -- he’ll be a middle round pick in 2015 fantasy drafts.
Thursday, June 11, 2015, 5:18pm
The team on Thursday will sign veteran backup Matt Flynn, NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reported, per a source informed of the situation. Flynn will join a quarterback room that expects to start second-year passer Jimmy Garoppolo against the Steelers come Week 1.
This time, Bryant wants to make sure he is ready to start the season in Week 1.
"I am more prepared," Bryant said. "I have more confidence. I just trained and did karate and ran routes the whole offseason to get better. I worked on the whole route tree that we run so people can see that I can do more than just catch the deep ball."
Bryant averaged 2.8 catches for 56 yards and 0.82 TD in the final 11 games of the season (including a 5-61-1 outing against Baltimore in the playoffs). Thanks to the incredible touchdown rate, those are high-end WR2 numbers in standard formats and solid WR2 numbers in PPR. What's more, he didn't play 60 percent of the snaps until the postseason, so there's upside here from a playing time standpoint. If he earns a starting role this offseason -- and it looks like he will -- he’ll be a middle round pick in 2015 fantasy drafts.
The Saints wide receiver ranked second in the NFL in catch percentage among wide receivers playing in 25 percent of the snaps in 2014 by Pro Football Focus.
Drew Brees targeted Cooks 65 times with the wideout tallying 53 receptions. Only two of those missed opportunities were drops by Cooks. Brees also compiled a 110.9 quarterback rating when throwing to Cooks.
Brown's 129 catches came on 178 targets, resulting in a 72.5 completion percentage when targeted. The Steelers' stud receiver led the NFL in completion percentage when ranking the players taking at least 50 percent of the snaps in 2014.
The article discusses how Cooks has gone to Brown for advice about becoming a better wide receiver. Through Week 11, Cooks was the #22 WR in PPR formats and #25 in standard scoring systems. He caught at least five passes in seven of 10 games, and is likely to lead the Saints in targets with Jimmy Graham no longer on the roster. Solid WR2 numbers are well within reach, and Cooks could conceivably finish as a WR1 in PPR leagues.
Steelers RB DeAngelo Williams is considered a bridge back until LeVeon Bell returns from suspension, but he shouldn't be alone on that bridge. The Steelers will need just as much from Dri Archer as from Williams, who signed a two-year, $4 million deal worth $1.13 million in signing bonus money but no incentives in 2015.
Williams is exactly what the money suggests he is -- a veteran who can get you 10-12 carries at a respectable clip and nothing more.
There's not much to love about the idea of starting Williams against the Patriots, 49ers and Rams during Bell's three-game suspension, but we believe that the team will try to get him closer to 15 carries per game. He should be healthy to start the season, and there are reasons why he only averaged 12.2 carries per game in his career -- he was splitting time with Jonathan Stewart and QB Cam Newton carried much of the rushing load for the Panthers. The biggest concern is Williams' 3.5 YPC last season, but he battled injuries the whole way. We think he'll provide low-end RB2 numbers while Bell is sidelined, provided he's healthy.
In 2015, the Lions hope a veteran like Moore can help Stafford feast on opposing defenses as he brings plenty of familiarity with offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi's scheme.
"He seems like a great guy," Stafford said last week at Taste of the Lions. "He obviously has knowledge of the system. It's changed a little bit. We talked about that, but not too much to where it's going to be tough for him to learn it."
Moore is turning 32 this summer and it's not clear how much he has left in the tank. He was only targeted 26 times last season as the Steelers' WR4, but he does seemed to be a handpicked choice for Lombardi's offense. He could serve as the team's WR3 if he has a good summer.
Moore is turning 32 this summer and it's not clear how much he has left in the tank. He was only targeted 26 times last season as the Steelers' WR4. At this point, he's competing for a roster spot, not a major role in the passing game.
"From what I saw on tape, I think we got a guy that needs some work but is a great athlete. He has good speed and can take the top off of the coverage. He’s a guy who can track the ball down field very well. He has some problems straight ahead catching a football but that’s why we have drills. With a chance to coach him up, we feel like we can make that better. The thing that you can’t coach up is his athleticism."
Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown didn’t report to the start of the team’s offseason conditioning work along with his teammates and his absence was tied to a report that he was looking for a new contract and mulling an extended absence that could lead him to miss mandatory work at both minicamp and training camp. Brown chimed in later in the week to say that he was hanging out with his new child and was looking forward to getting back to work with the team.
The wait for his return to the team’s facility wasn’t a particularly long one. The Steelers posted some pictures from Monday’s workout session and Brown is among the featured players.
There was a report that Brown was planning to hold out for a new contract, but that doesn't seem to be the case. Counting the playoffs, Brown has caught at least five passes and/or a touchdown in 38 straight games. He followed up a #3 finish in PPR formats in 2013 with a #1 finish (in both PPR and standard formats) last season. He’s an extremely safe pick in the first round of PPR drafts and is currently the first receiver off the board in early best ball drafts.
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