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.
Though it’s unwise to make sweeping inferences from a few offseason workouts, there were signs, as the Redskins wrapped up last week’s minicamp, that Pierre Garcon will be featured more prominently in the 2015 game plan as Coach Jay Gruden attempts to rally from his 4-12 debut as a rookie NFL head coach.
Gruden said more than once last season that he wanted to get Garcon more involved in the passing game. But it never really happened, whether as a result of free agent DeSean Jackson’s addition to the receiving corps, the revolving door at quarterback or the failure of Robert Griffin III to make timely, decisive reads.
When the Redskins got back to work this offseason, Garcon frequently lined up split out wide to the right of Griffin rather than in his customary spot to the quarterback’s left. According to wide receivers coach Ike Hilliard, it represented an attempt to diversify the offense and get players comfortable with other roles.
And both Hilliard and Gruden gushed about the work Garcon was putting in. Heading into his eighth NFL season, Garcon, who’ll turn 29 in August, didn’t miss a session of optional workouts or the mandatory minicamp.
After a #11 finish in PPR formats in 2013, Garcon was the #47 receiver last season. His targets dropped from 182 to 105, thanks to the addition of DeSean Jackson and Andre Roberts in free agency. The team is expected to run the ball a bit more this season, so we're not expecting much of a bounce-back season for Garcon.
Bernard’s name came up last week and Johnson appeared to welcome the comparison. Future NFL Hall of Fame running back LaDanian Tomlinson made that exact same comparison, too, during his pre-draft analysis on the NFL Network. And when you break down their measurables and numbers from the Combine, you start to understand why.
Bernard is 5-foot-9 and 208 pounds. Johnson is 5-foot-9 and 210 pounds. Bernard ran the 40-yard dash in 4.53 seconds. Johnson did his in 4.54. Both players are undersized but are tough enough to pick up yards between the tackles. And both can definitely make you pay as a receiver out of the backfield, as Bernard racked up 43 receptions for 349 yards in his second season with the Bengals while Johnson had 38 for 421 -- in three fewer games -- during his final season at Miami.
The Cleveland running game is murky at best. The team has two second-year players, Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West, who both had fantasy-relevant moments last season, but they added Johnson to the mix in the Draft. He’s the best receiver of the bunch, so he should have a role on third-down at the very least. But he’s capable of stealing carries as well. The Browns should have a good running game, but it’s going to be a headache trying to project these three on a week-to-week basis. We believe that Johnson is the best bet in PPR formats.
NFL.com writer Conor Orr:
Funchess, the 6-foot-5, 230-pound second-round pick, said as much last week during his NFL.com rookie confessional: "The goal that I've set for myself is to be Rookie of the Year."
Early reports out of camp suggest that the Michigan standout has already played at the X, Z and F slots and is learning all three at a brisk pace. He's giving himself more opportunities to stay on the field and make the plays Newton needs him to.
Funchess will be at best the third option in the passing game after Kelvin Benjamin and Greg Olsen. The Panthers are run-oriented, so their WR2 isn’t typically much of a fantasy factor. If he plays starter’s snaps, he should be fantasy relevant, but we’re not expecting fantasy-starter numbers.
49ers writer Tyler Emerick said that RB Reggie Bush was the team's best free agent addition:
If you’ve followed our offseason coverage, you’ve heard Trent Baalke, Jim Tomsula, Tom Rathman, Geep Chryst and Kaepernick all express the same sentiment: Bush, at 30 years old, looks every bit as explosive as ever. The active leader in receptions by a running back with 466 career catches, Bush has urged the 49ers to get him the ball in space. This offseason, that translated not only into the 10th-year pro catching passes out of the backfield, but also getting carries on stretch plays and returning kicks and punts on special teams. Bush sounds like a man with something to prove, and if he can stay healthy, he’ll be a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses.
Bush is expected to fill a third-down role since it looks like Carlos Hyde is ready to carry most of the rushing load, though Jim Tomsula's comments (about Bush being “a runner...not a gadget guy”) indicate that Bush's presence should be a concern for Hyde owners who were initially excited about the young back's opportunity with Frank Gore gone. The 49ers don't typically use their running backs in the passing game, though longtime OC Greg Roman is gone and new OC Geep Chryst may have a different plan in mind.
49ers.com writer Joe Fann calls Torrey Smith the team's best free agent addition:
The 49ers needed a compliment to Anquan Boldin, and they found the perfect man for the job. Smith is far more than a one-trick pony. Yes, he excels at stretching the field and getting behind defensive backs, but he’s already shown the ability to catch balls in traffic on short and intermediate routes as well. On two specific minicamp plays, Smith caught the ball on a stopping route, then spun away from his defender and accelerated away from everyone in pursuit. I’m not sure I saw him drop a ball this offseason.
Smith got off to a slow start in 2014, posting just six catches for 85 yards in the first three games. Over the final 13 games of the season, he averaged 3.3 receptions for 52 yards and 0.85 touchdowns, which equates to #20 WR-type numbers in PPR formats. As it stands, he finished as the #29 WR in PPR and #19 in standard formats (thanks to the high touchdown rate), which is the fourth time he has finished in the top 23 (in standard formats) in his four-year career. He joins a 49ers receiving corps that has lost Michael Crabtree and has a still-effective Anquan Boldin as a possession receiver. Smith will serve as a deep threat for QB Colin Kaepernick, though this move has to be considered a downgrade from an offensive/quarterback standpoint since the 49ers are typically run-heavy and Joe Flacco is pretty adept at putting touch on the deep ball. Throwing with touch has not been one of Kaepernick's strengths, though he has been working on his passing technique his offseason.
Giants coach Tom Coughlin said last week after the final practice of minicamp that it is “not the intent” to put WR Victor Cruz on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list at the start of training camp, which opens July 30.
“Obviously coming off an injury like the one I had, you want to be able to come back stronger and come back in tip-top shape,” Cruz said during an interview with Giants.com. “And I think I’m headed there. I think I’m about a little over 80 percent. These six weeks will be huge for me to continue to build on that and continue to be the force that I was before. So [I’m] just taking it one day at a time.”
Cruz tore his patellar tendon in mid-October, so it's no sure thing that he'll be back for the start of the season, though recent reports are positive. He's not going to get the same number of targets given Odell Beckham's emergence as a top-flight wideout. Cruz will likely play the Randall Cobb role in OC Ben McAdoo's offense, so there is some upside if he's fully healthy by Week 1.
"I feel really great about the playbook. I learned most of it," he said. "Everything that they installed at OTAs and minicamp I've learned. All the positions: X, F, Y, Z. I learned them all. I love football and studying football, so it hasn't been really that hard for me."
This versatility will help Dorsett find his way onto the field, though snaps are a major concern given all the talent the Colts have at the receiver position.
Buccaneers QB Jameis Winston has exceeded everyone's expectations. The first-overall pick arrived in Tampa Bay with plenty of questions, most of them off-field-related. But he's shined through minicamp and OTAs, and even if coach Lovie Smith won't anoint Winston the starter, there's no denying the quarterback's work ethic.
“I thought he would be a certain way, and that's what he's been," Smith said, via the team's website. "All of the positive things you've heard about Jameis is what we've been able to see. He is very smart. He is a gym rat -- football junkie. He does have personality. His glass is half full every day."
By all accounts, Winston has had a great offseason and is fitting in well with the Buccaneers. He is a shoo-in to start immediately, so opportunity is plentiful. He has two established weapons to throw to in receivers Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson, and TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins is expected to make strides in his second season. The situation from a skill position standpoint is very good, though the offensive line isn't. The Bucs did add two offensive linemen in the 2nd round, so there should be improvement up front. Rookie QBs are generally poor fantasy bets, but Winston should be a committee/streaming option in 12-team leagues.
Tuesday, June 23, 2015, 12:59pm
During organized team activities and minicamp, Cowboys RB Lance Dunbar has been one of Tony Romo’s favorite targets in third down situations. One of Dunbar’s best traits is his ability to take advantage of open space. Romo targeted DeMarco Murray 130 times over the last two seasons. A large chunk of those passes could be headed in Dunbar’s direction.
Buccaneers RB Doug Martin had his best offseason in three years, and the upswing in his play could not have come at a better time. Charles Sims is good enough to start and he’ll push Martin hard for the bell-cow role. But the Bucs are probably better with Martin in the lead, Sims filling a third-down pass catcher’s role and Bobby Rainey backing up both.
The coaching staff reportedly loves Charles Sims, but OC Dirk Koetter fought to keep Martin with the team during the offseason, and he still sits atop the team's depth chart after a strong offseason. He's going in the 8th or 9th round, so he's a good target for those owners who are looking for potential starters in the later rounds.
Rashad Jennings ran primarily with the first-team offense. Free-agent acquisition Shane Vereen was mixed in constantly, especially on passing downs. Where does that leave Williams, the second-year back out of Boston College, after a strong rookie season? Williams might have trouble finding a role if the other two stay healthy. Jennings may even be a better, more effective short-yardage and/or goal-line back.
Williams averaged 3.3 YPC as a rookie (Jennings averaged 3.8 YPC), so the team probably isn't making it a priority to get the second-year back on the field. It appears that Williams will serve as Jennings' backup, so as long as Jennings stays healthy, he should see the bulk of the carries on 1st and 2nd down.
Royal got off to a fast start in his first year, catching 91 passes for 980 yards and five touchdowns while Jay Cutler was throwing for a career-high 4,526 yards en route to the only Pro Bowl appearance of his career.
It was the only year that the two men worked together, but both remember it fondly and Royal says they’re putting in the same work now that they did then to build the same chemistry.
Cowboys beat writer Todd Archer projects that Ryan Williams won't make the 53-man roster.
Archer: How in the world could I keep Ryan Williams off the roster? It was a tough decision, but the fact that he was limited in the spring because of a swollen knee didn’t help his cause. He can work his way into the mix this summer and with his work in the preseason games. Even if I can envision the Cowboys keeping four tailbacks, I have a hard time seeing them taking all four to the game, which makes that spot tenuous at best on the 53-man roster, as teams generally use back-of-the-roster spots on players they might want to groom.
Williams was recently a dark horse in the running back competition, but he's still experiencing swelling in his knee. It's good news for Joseph Randle who is currently in line for a big jump in touches after a productive (if limited) role last season.
"He has great hands, man," Sproles said last week, via CSN Philly. "His hands and his route running are just great, really. He's about to be a superstar."
Ertz has earned praise from coaches and teammates for his impressive showing in OTAs and minicamp.
Ertz was the #13 TE in both standard and PPR formats despite only playing half of the Eagles’ snaps in his second year. Ertz played mostly (73%) on passing downs, so if his playing time is going to increase, a majority of the additional snaps are likely to come in run formations. Still, there’s upside with Ertz if he begins to see starter’s snaps. The Eagles lost their leading receiver -- first DeSean Jackson and then Jeremy Maclin -- in back-to-back seasons, so there will be opportunity from a targets standpoint.