Team Notes week 1 2023

By Bob Harris
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Directly from the desk of FlashUpdate Editor Bob Harris. The good; the bad; and yes. ... Even the Bears. There is no better way to jump start your weekend than browsing these always educational -- often irreverent -- team-by-team, Fantasy-specific offerings. ...
Access specific teams by clicking on a team name in the schedule appearing directly to your left or by clicking on a helmet below; return to the helmets by hitting the link labeled "Menu" following each teams notes. ...

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Arizona Cardinals

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 4 September 2023

Kyler Murray's first month will look much like how he's spent most of 2023: On the mend.

Murray, who tore his ACL on Dec. 12, will start the 2023 regular season on the physically unable to perform list, meaning Murray will miss at least the first four games of the campaign.

The Cardinals also released Colt McCoy last Monday, the team announced. McCoy was thought by many earlier this offseason to be the leading candidate to be the team's Week 1 starting QB, so it appears Arizona and first-year head coach Jonathan Gannon will go with the recently acquired Josh Dobbs or rookie Clayton Tune.

"Every spot is open competition," Gannon said. "I think we've got a pretty good plan in place, but I want to see them both go through the next two weeks."

Murray has spent all of training camp and preseason action on PUP, where he doesn't occupy a roster spot and is afforded the time to fully recover from the ACL injury that cut his 2022 season short and required surgery. Based on the timing of his injury (Dec. 13, 2022), it's fair to expect Murray to miss more than a month, too. NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported in January Murray could miss as much as half of the 2023 season.

What's the team's view of Murray?

"He's doing great," Gannon said.

With Murray unavailable, Arizona's situation at quarterback is less than great, but it remains intriguing.

McCoy entered the preseason as the expected replacement for Murray, but the Cardinals ruled that out when they released him Monday. Arizona acquired Dobbs via trade with the Browns late last month, bringing him over to a Cardinals offense coordinated by Drew Petzing, Dobbs' former quarterbacks coach in Cleveland.

Dobbs has familiarity with stepping into an offense and quickly making the best of it. Last season, Tennessee signed him from Detroit's practice squad and quickly turned to him, naming Dobbs the Titans' Week 17 and 18 starter less than two weeks after joining the team.

He might need these skills again to help the Cardinals before Murray returns.

"He's a mobile guy who understands the system," Gannon said of Dobbs. "He can make throws, play in the pocket or play outside the pocket."

As's Josh Weinfuss notes, Dobbs will end up having had about two weeks to learn the Cardinals' offense, his teammates' names and their tendencies before Arizona plays the Washington Commanders in Week 1. Even though Gannon declined to name a starting quarterback for the season opener, Dobbs said he has put the expectations of being a starter on himself.

"I know the QB situation's gonna play out however the coaches see fit," Dobbs said of the team's decision between him and Tune, who despite flashing some potential is still in the very early stages of his development. "But, for me, I come in ready to compete every single day. I push myself, but also approach the room in that way, and so I'm excited to be a part of it and be a part of the team."

Should Dobbs have the opportunity to start against Washington, having played just eight games in six seasons, he said he feels like he'll be ready because of the time it has taken him to reach the point of being a Week 1 starter.

"If that is the case, you know, I put in a ton of work," he said. "I have a ton of sweat equity, and I'm extremely prepared for the opportunity, but that doesn't mean I'm ever complacent, using every hour, every minute of the day. ... To continue to prepare for that opportunity, whatever opportunities come after it."

For the record, the team's unofficial depth chart lists Dobbs OR Tune as the starter, and Petzing was revealing nothing during his media availability Tuesday.

He wouldn’t even say if the quarterbacks are sharing reps during practice.

“It’s been a great process,” Petzing said, via Jose Romero of the Arizona Republic. “The guys in that room, I have a lot of faith in them. The way they work, the way they work together, type of personalities they bring to it. So it’s been a lot of fun over these last couple of days, couple of weeks and excited to see kind of where it goes moving forward.”

Remember, Dobb's familiarity with Petzing is compounded by the fact Arizona's quarterbacks coach, Israel Woolfork, was a coaching fellow working with the Browns quarterbacks last season.

"Obviously there's similar schemes to Cleveland, knowing Drew and Izzy came from there, but every coach has their own nuances and spins that they like to put on the playbook as well as combining stuff that has been here and stuff that the players here have done well for a long time," Dobbs said.

Tight end Zach Ertz said there's already been "a lot" of communication with Dobbs between reps to talk about what Dobbs wants from Ertz against certain looks. Ertz's initial impression of Dobbs, who was an aerospace engineering major at Tennessee, is that he is "smart, obviously."

"I think that's well noted. He's an astronaut or whatever he is," Ertz said with a smirk.

"He's a guy that understands football. He's played a lot of football. He's got a really good grasp of this offense. Obviously, he's played it in the past. So, him coming into the huddle, calling the plays, calling the formations has been seamless so far and he throws a very catchable ball, which as a receiver you like."

When Dobbs arrived at the facility, one of the first teammates he met was Murray. Since then, Dobbs has been picking Murray's brain in the quarterback's room.

"I know we'll continue to build a rapport during my time here, and it's all part of getting to know your teammates," Dobbs said. ...

We'll obviously be keeping a close eye on the position heading into Sunday's opener; watch the Late-Breaking Updates section for more in coming days. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Whether it's Dobbs or Tune as the trigger man, Weinfuss confirms Marquise Brown will assume the WR1 role (now that DeAndre Hopkins is gone) and will be part of a wide receivers room that has a lot of speed but not a lot of height.

Michael Wilson, the rookie out of Stanford, has impressed throughout the offseason and has been getting a significant amount of reps with the first team, which should help him be a factor on offense from the jump. The group also includes Rondale Moore, Zach Pascal and Greg Dortch, who will also handle punt returns.

In addition, with the Cardinals using quite a bit of 12 personnel under Petzing, the tight ends will be a key cog in Arizona's offense.

Zach Ertz has been cleared to return from ACL surgery to his left knee last year but is coming along slowly and Trey McBride has been hampered by injuries during camp. It's another situation worth watching in coming days. ...

With all the questions in the passing attack, there aren't many in the backfield.

As Fan Nation's Donnie Druin notes, James Conner is the lone formidable back on Arizona's depth chart, as Keaontay Ingram officially won the RB2 job in the desert after Marlon Mack tore his Achilles and Corey Clement was relegated to the practice squad.

Conner will have all the opportunity in Arizona's backfield, and there's a few factors working in his favor.

Petzing has been adamant the Cardinals will establish the run early and often, a good sign for Conner and his touches moving forward. Petzing comes from Cleveland and helped orchestrate the same offense that has helped backs such as Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt succeed in the past. The emphasis to establish the ground game will be even more important with either Dobbs/Tune at the helm.

Conner himself has proven he can excel in all areas, which includes as a pass-catcher and between the 20s. With plenty of check-downs likely coming his way, Conner's PPR value will be strong.

Through his two seasons in Arizona, he's managed to produce when on the field. In 15 games for the Cardinals in 2021 he tallied 18 total touchdowns. In the 13 games he played last season he eclipsed his rushing yards and receptions total from 2021, too.

As NBC Sports' Matthew Berry put it: "Coming off a season in which he was RB9 in PPG, Conner provides a lot of value in drafts. ..."

Concerns around Conner as a fantasy player are his health, and there's certainly merit there. The best ability is availability, and Conner hasn't completed a full season in his six-year career thus far.

Finally. ... For the fourth straight season, the Cardinals have named Murray one of their team captains.

Murray joins running back Conner, left tackle D.J. Humphries, linebacker Kyzir White, safety Budda Baker and linebacker/special teamer Dennis Gardeck.

Gannon went with four players with previous experience as captains in Arizona: Murray, Humphries, Baker and Gardeck. His reasoning for Murray was simple.

"He's our franchise quarterback," Gannon said. "And everything that I want our captains to be, he demonstrates it."

QBs: Kyler Murray, Desmond Ridder, Clayton Tune
RBs: James Conner, Michael Carter, Emari Demercado
WRs: Zay Jones, Michael Wilson, Rondale Moore, Greg Dortch, Zach Pascal
TEs: Trey McBride, Geoff Swaim

Atlanta Falcons

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 4 September 2023

The Atlanta Falcons aren't hiding who they want to be this season. After rushing for the third-most yards in 2022, the team doubled down by drafting the best running back prospect in years.

First-round pick Bijan Robinson received just four carries in the preseason and that was all the team needed to see before putting him in bubble wrap until Week 1. So just how good will the rookie be this season?

In a recent feature predicting the statistical leaders for the NFC South, USA Today's Natalie Miller projected Robinson to lead the division in rushing:

"When it came time to make a selection during the 2023 draft," Miller wrote, "the Falcons made zero hesitation in taking a running back with the eight overall pick, an anomaly for the position in the modern NFL. With Atlanta switching to a run focused style of offense as shown by their dedication to it last season and additions along the offensive line, Robinson will be the primary benefactor of that.

"In an effort to keep the pressure off second year quarterback Desmond Ridder, Robinson could tote the rock well over 300 times during his rookie season, and given his ridiculously high ceiling, it stands to reason his rushing numbers will be quite impressive. Fantasy managers take notice."

Most NFL analysts seem to have confidence in Robinson's ability to be a difference maker right away, despite the team having Tyler Allgeier sharing carries.

Last season, Allgeier was a healthy scratch in Week 1 and he still led the team with 1,035 rushing yards. Veteran Cordarrelle Patterson is still in the picture as well, but you don't draft a running back in the first round to be a backup.

One reason for the Robinson love is anticipated volume.

As NBC Sports' Matthew Berry pointed out, since 2012, six running backs have been taken in the Top 10 picks of the draft and they combined to average 295 touches as rookies. "The Falcons didn't take Robinson No. 8 overall to not use him in a massive way."

How massive?

Berry also reminded readers that head coach Arthur Smith was the offensive coordinator in Tennessee for two seasons, Derrick Henry had 718 touches and put up at least 1,500 rushing yards and 15 rushing scores in each season.

It will be interesting to see how the rookie handles such lofty expectations surrounding his first season in the NFL.

Beyond that, team owner Arthur Blank says this is year three of a three-year plan with Smith and added he expects an improvement from the seven-win finishes in each of Smith's first two years.

There is pressure on Ridder, in his first full season as the starter, to end the team's streak of five straight losing seasons. There could be as many as six new starters on defense following aggressive spending in free agency.

Beyond that?

There are two receiving assets of initial interest in Atlanta: Kyle Pitts and Drake London.

According to ESPN's Dan Graziano, we shouldn't be surprised if London is the second-year breakout wide receiver of the season.

Graziano went on to explain there's a ton of hype around Garrett Wilson, Chris Olave and Christian Watson, and all for good reasons. Those guys are all incredible receivers and bound for stardom if they aren't already there. But London was selected ahead of every other wide receiver in the 2022 draft. He got 117 targets (tied for 25th in the league) as a rookie in the run-heaviest offense in the NFL (51.1 percent of offensive plays) with Marcus Mariota at QB for most of the campaign, and he caught 72 of them for 866 yards.

The Falcons' offense is loaded with young skill position players, and Robinson is the apple of fantasy drafters' eyes. But London was a favorite target of Ridder when Ridder got the starting quarterback job late last season, and Graziano gets the sense the Falcons don't want to be the run-heaviest team in the league again.

If Ridder is a viable starter, London should become a superstar.

Tight end should be a deep and productive spot with Pitts, Jonnu Smith and MyCole Pruitt.

Injuries limited Pitts to just 10 games last season, and as Pro Football Network notes, Mariota's dismal play resulted in Pitts seeing catchable targets on fewer than 60 percent of passes thrown in his general direction.

Pitts' 27.3 percent target share was second in the league. He led the league in targets per route run rate at 34.3 percent. He was used downfield, as evidenced by his 13.1 average depth of target, second in the league. According to Inside Edge, Pitts has 21 receptions for 20-plus yards since the 2021 season -- sixth-most among NFL TEs.

Still, as PFN summed up, "This is a low-volume passing offense with an elite rookie running back in Robinson and a true alpha WR1 in London. Fantasy managers want to believe Pitts is also a de facto elite WR1, but he is still a tight end. London is the top guy in this offense."

As for weaknesses. ... Depth at wide receiver.

As's Michael Rothstein suggests, this is tricky with Atlanta because of how it will use all of its skill position players as pass-catchers instead of the conventional running back/wide receiver/tight end. Atlanta has a potential star in London and Mack Hollins is coming off a career year in Las Vegas (695 yards).

Behind them, no receiver has 1,000 career yards, and only KhaDarel Hodge and Scott Miller have significant experience. It doesn't look as bad when you think of Pitts, Smith, Robinson and Patterson as pass-catchers, too, but the receiver position is thin on experience.

As for this week's opener against the Panthers?

According to's Geoff Ulrich, Atlanta managed just 4.3 yards per carry in two games against Carolina last season, but that was without Robinson in the mix, who should feature heavily in this game and give the Falcons a more explosive element at RB that they were lacking at times in 2022.

Expect Atlanta to keep it simple in the opener as they attempt to wear down Carolina on the ground with a rotation of backs that is far more explosive than what we saw from them in 2022. ...

On the injury front. ... Patterson's status for the start of the season is uncertain as he recovers from what Smith described as a "soft tissue" injury. We'll watch for more on that; check the Late-Breaking Updates section for more as developments warrant.

In a related note. ... The Athletic reports that Patterson is listed as “Joker” on the Falcons’ first regular season depth chart. As Rotoworld this designation comes instead of the veteran being listed as the team's third-string running back behind Robinson and Allgeier. Patterson, drafted as a receiver out of Tennessee, has played wideout and running back during his NFL career. The Athletic’s Josh Kendall said it “remains to be seen” how Smith will deploy Patterson in 2023.

QBs: Taylor Heinicke, Logan Woodside, Kirk Cousins
RBs: Bijan Robinson, Tyler Allgeier, Cordarrelle Patterson
WRs: Drake London, Darnell Mooney, Mack Hollins, KhaDarel Hodge, Van Jefferson, Scott Miller, Jared Bernhardt, Josh Ali
TEs: Kyle Pitts, MyCole Pruitt, John FitzPatrick

Baltimore Ravens

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 4 September 2023

As the Associated Press reported, general manager Eric DeCosta had plenty of nice things to say about J.K. Dobbins.

He was also pretty reticent about the possibility of a new contract for the running back.

"I try to keep that stuff in house," DeCosta said. "We're excited to see what he is going to do this year. He's a talented player. I know he wants to be here. We want him here. I have a lot of respect for him as a person and also as a competitor."

DeCosta spoke with reporters Friday, discussing the state of the team with the season opener just over a week away. While the Ravens have put Lamar Jackson's contract saga in the rear-view mirror, Dobbins' future appears uncertain. He's entering the final season of his rookie deal -- at a moment when veteran running backs are having a hard time convincing teams of their value.

DeCosta said it's important to be smart about who you pay and when you pay them, but he insisted if the player is good enough, he's worth prioritizing, regardless of his position.

"We've paid inside linebackers. We've drafted safeties in the first round. We've drafted a center in the first round," he said. "Those aren't your typical most important positions. We've paid left tackles a lot of money. We've paid corners a lot of money. We've paid quarterbacks a lot of money.

"So I do it based on how good the player is, not necessarily, 'Well, this position you should give a ton of money to, and this position you can't give any money to.'"

Dobbins rushed for 805 yards as a rookie in 2020, but he missed the entire 2021 season because of a knee injury and missed nine games last season. He began training camp on the physically unable to perform list, but eventually began practicing. Dobbins last week called DeCosta the best GM in the game and said "whatever happens, happens" when it comes to his future.

DeCosta sounds excited to watch Dobbins on the field without any lingering injury problems.

"When he's played, he's been a warrior. He's played through injuries when he's been able to," DeCosta said. "He's a leader. I think he's respected. I have a strong affinity for him, personally, and we're very excited that he's back. He's healthy this year. He looks great, and he's ready to go."

Worth noting, NBC Sports' Matthew Berry isn't on board the Dobbins' bandwagon.

"Through two NFL seasons," Berry wrote, "Dobbins has zero games with more than 17 touches. Zero. And with Gus Edwards still around. ... And Justice Hill. ... And Jackson. ... I see zero reason Dobbins will get any kind of RB1 or even RB2-type workload this season. Especially considering the Ravens rank 28th in running back carries over the past two seasons and expectations are they are going to pass even more this year under new offensive coordinator Todd Monken."

Fair points.

Berry went on to note that since entering the NFL, Dobbins has only one game with more than 25 receiving yards. For his career he has a career target share of just 5.6 percent.

That said, Berry is all in on Jackson, who has averaged at least 20.0 PPG in all four seasons as a starter, putting up at least 750 rushing yards each season, too. Berry further noted that even last season, in what felt like a down year, Jackson averaged 21.3 PPG in his 11 full games and was second among quarterbacks in rushing yards per game with 63.7.

The Ravens, of course, finally signed Jackson to a big five-year contract during the offseason. He appears to be past the knee problem that ended his 2022 season early, and there's certainly a lot less drama now surrounding the star quarterback.

"Lamar's attitude has been excellent this year," DeCosta said. "I think last year was a challenging year for a lot of reasons, obviously, just where he was with his contract. ... He's throwing the ball very, very well. He's been able to build a great rapport with the receivers very, very quickly."

The Ravens' receiving corps combined for 1,517 yards last season, fewest in the NFL and the fewest combined yards by a wide receiver group in a single season since the Ravens in 2019.

Fortunately, the Ravens put some effort into upgrading their wide receivers, signing Odell Beckham Jr. and drafting Zay Flowers in the first round.

"It's just encouraging to have so much depth," DeCosta said. "I will say this -- it's the first year where other teams have called us looking for receivers. I actually thought it was a joke at first."

According to ESPN's Dan Graziano, we shouldn't be surprised if Flowers is the Offensive Rookie of the Year.

Graziano went on to explain Flowers' ability to create separation is really standing out in training camp.

Other than tight end Mark Andrews, there's no one in the Ravens' receiving corps who has a ton of experience with Jackson, so there's nothing stopping the rookie from becoming his second-favorite target. Graziano went on to write: "Once upon a time when I was covering the Giants, I remember Eli Manning telling us a rookie receiver named Beckham was doing a great job of getting open in practice. Beckham went on to set rookie records. If you're open, you're the QB's best friend, and Flowers can get open."

If Jackson clicks in the new offense right away, Flowers -- who went for more than 1,000 yards and caught 12 touchdowns at Boston College last season -- could put up massive numbers.

So should we expect aerial fireworks in Sunday's regular season opener against the Texans?

According to's Chris Allen, there's still a chance we won't learn about Baltimore's new offense.

"It's not because Houston has an elite defense," Allen wrote, "quite the opposite."

The Texans were 24th in dropback success rate allowed and yet only gave up one top-12 week to a WR (Michael Pittman, Week 1) last year.

Allen went on to explain teams would plow through them with their rushing attacks. Houston gave up the second-highest explosive run rate over the 2023 regular season. 15 RBs became RB1s for the weekend against Houston, from Austin Ekeler to JaMycal Hasty. But assuming we get some fight out of the Texans, Baltimore's WR trio becomes tricky.

Flowers has been working with Jackson since the early summer while Rashod Bateman worked his way back from injury. Allen agrees with Graziano, suggesting the rookie WR may have the clearest path to looks from Jackson. But that's likely because of the cloud of uncertainty hanging over Bateman.

While currently healthy, the third-year receiver has played in 18 games. But Bateman has been behind only Andrews in the pecking order when on the field. Fantasy drafters may have the "he's burned me before" mentality when deciding on Bateman.

But if there's ever a week to feel confident about starting him, given his likely share of the offense, it'll be in Week 1 against the Texans. ...

On the injury front. ... Andrews, who missed three straight practices last week with an undisclosed issue, missed another practice on Monday, but the Ravens remain unconcerned about his availability for their season opener against the Texans.

Head coach John Harbaugh said last week that there was no need to panic about Andrews' absence and he repeated that during a Monday press conference.

Harbaugh said that Andrews is expected to be back at practice on Wednesday and that would give him three days of work ahead of Sunday's game. Wednesday will also bring an injury report that will shed some light on the reason why Andrews has been sidelined.

"You don't need to panic about that," Harbaugh said. "Tell the fans it's going to be OK. He should be out there practicing next week. I expect him to play in the game and he should be fine. That's where we're at with that. ..."

In a related note. ... The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec believes Andrews "will remain Jackson's go-to target" based on what he saw in training camp.

So we'll obviously be watching for more; check the Late-Breaking Update section for any new info in coming days.

QBs: Lamar Jackson, Josh Johnson
RBs: Derrick Henry, Justice Hill, Melvin Gordon, Keaton Mitchell
WRs: Zay Flowers, Rashod Bateman, Nelson Agholor, Tylan Wallace
TEs: Isaiah Likely, Charlie Kolar, Mark Andrews

Buffalo Bills

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 4 September 2023

The Bills have won the AFC East the last three years, but a fourth straight division crown isn't seen as inevitable heading into the 2023 season.

Moves made by the Dolphins, Jets and Patriots have set the stage for a more competitive AFC East this season and it's led to some suggestions that the window may be closing for this group in Buffalo. During an appearance with Adam Schein on SiriusXM NFL Radio, Bills quarterback Josh Allen was asked about that perception and he said it isn't one that he's paying any attention to heading into the season.

"One thing I do know is it's hard to win in this league, it's hard to win consistently in this league," Allen said. "But the type of men that we have in this facility, in this locker room, it's a special group. So I don't really hear all that outside noise. I know the type of guys that we have, the energy and the juice that we can bring and how special this team can be."

With a Week 1 trip to face the Jets coming up soon, the Bills won't have to wait long to make a statement about their fitness as championship contenders in 2023.

If they get there, Stefon Diggs will need to be a reason why.

Diggs, 29, is one of eight Bills captains alongside Allen, center Mitch Morse, first-time captain wide receiver Gabe Davis, safeties Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer, pass-rusher Von Miller and linebacker and special teams player Tyler Matakevich.

In each season with the Bills, Diggs has totaled 1,200-plus receiving yards, at least eight touchdowns and 100-plus receptions.

As's Alaina Getzenberg reminded readers, this offseason was one of significant and oftentimes unfounded outside speculation surrounding Diggs, especially after he was not present for one mandatory minicamp practice after being in the building earlier in the day, but head coach Sean McDermott clarified the following day that Diggs was excused from that practice.

Since minicamp, Diggs has been present and fully participated in every Bills practice and has continued to look in sync with Allen. He reiterated at the start of training camp, when asked, that he "100 percent" still wants to retire as a Bill after signing a four-year, $104 million extension in April 2022 with his contract going through 2027 and that his focus is on winning and winning Super Bowls.

Diggs said that blocking out the noise was an important part of this offseason.

"I mean, you know, with everything that went on as far as like with the offseason and everything going into this season, it's just like ... blocking out the noise," Diggs said. "It's been one of those, it's been one of those offseasons, like, it's been a lot of chatter. It kind of was an ongoing thing, but you block out the noise, you focus on football, you focus on your team, and you focus on the guys around you. So, for me, it meant a lot. And so, I just keep working hard, keep putting my head down and bring my lunch pail to work each and every day, and I'm giving everything I got."

Part of what makes Diggs appreciative is that the opinion of his teammates in the locker room is meaningful to him.

"I don't take things personally from people I don't know personally, and I know those guys in there personally," Diggs said. "You know their family, you know their kids, and you spend so much time with them, blood, sweat and tears ... so my appreciation really goes for those. They're damn near like your loved ones, and how they look at you and how they respect you, how they appreciate you, goes a long way."

Meanwhile, NBC Sports' Matthew Berry notes that last season, Gabriel Davis led all players in aDOT (15.3) and his 17.4 YPR was second in the league. And that was on what we found out this off-season was a high ankle sprain Heading into this season, Allen says he wants the Bills to put Davis in more "catch and run" situations.

Beyond Diggs and Davis, the challenge on offense is for second-year coordinator Ken Dorsey to utilize his various new weapons -- speedy receivers Deonte Hardy and Trent Sherfield, and rookie tight end Dalton Kincaid -- to counter defenses which too often bottled up the Bills over the final two months last season.

For fantasy managers, all eyes will be on James Cook.

And the good news there?

According to ESPN's Dan Graziano, we shouldn't be surprised if Cook becomes a star in this offense.

Graziano explained the Bills were 20th in rushing attempts last season (430), but they were second in yards per rush (5.2). And you're saying, "Yeah, but that's because of Allen." But the Buffalo's running backs were actually tied for first in yards per rush last year at 4.9 yards per carry, and Cook averaged 5.7, which NBC Sports' Matthew Berry notes was second-highest among backs with at least 80 carries.

Dorsey knows he needs to tweak the approach.

And even if they don't run more, Cook is a really good pass-catcher and can contribute there. According to Graziano, Cook has drawn rave reviews throughout training camp. Cook was the 63rd pick in the 2022 draft, well ahead of Rachaad White and Dameon Pierce -- two players I know you're more fired up about drafting in fantasy than you are about Cook.

But the last time the Bills rook a running back that high was C.J. Spiller in 2010, and before that, it was Marshawn Lynch in 2007.

Buffalo has all kinds of incentive to get Cook the ball and let him showcase his big-play ability.

Behind Cook, the team also has Damien Harris and Latavius Murray competing for carries, and the big question for fantasy managers is whether either player will steal goal-line work from Cook.'s Matt Bowen believes Harris is the likely candidate to land that role. Even with Allen seeing designed carries in the red zone, Bowen contends Harris is a physical runner who could bring touchdown production to fantasy lineups. ...

On defense, McDermott takes over the play-calling duties for a unit that sagged after Miller was sidelined in November. The Bills have yet to solidify their biggest offseason need at middle linebacker, after losing five-year starter Tremaine Edmunds to free agency.

Otherwise, much of the core remains in place for a team that's reached the playoffs in each of the past four seasons.

QBs: Josh Allen
RBs: James Cook, Latavius Murray, Ty Johnson
WRs: Khalil Shakir, Curtis Samuel, Trent Sherfield, Deonte Harty
TEs: Dalton Kincaid, Dawson Knox, Quintin Morris

Carolina Panthers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 4 September 2023

The Panthers traded up eight spots in the NFL draft to land Bryce Young at No. 1 overall in hopes of finally achieving stability at quarterback and snapping the organization's five-year playoff drought. With the three other NFC South teams also having either new or inexperienced QBs under center, the Panthers feel like they have a chance to win the division under new head coach Frank Reich.

Carolina entirely revamped its skill positions on offense, adding running back Miles Sanders, tight end Hayden Hurst and wide receivers Adam Thielen and D.J. Chark to the mix via free agency.

The offensive line, considered a strength last season, all return, although guard Austin Corbett may miss a few games while returning from a torn ACL.

Defensively, the Panthers will transition to a 3-4 scheme under new coordinator Ejiro Evero, who spent last year with the Denver Broncos. Brian Burns, who'll move to outside linebacker in the new scheme, is the anchor of the defense if all goes well (see below), along with linebacker Shaq Thompson and safety Jeremy Chinn.

Jaycee Horn has a chance to develop into one of the top cornerbacks in the league if he can stay healthy.

Burns and the Panthers are apparently still not close on a contract extension, so the star defender's presence week one shouldn't be a given.

Despite a particularly tumultuous season, the Panthers finished just one game short of an improbable NFC South crown in 2022.

General manager Scott Fitterer spoke with reporters last Thursday. And in his first question-and-answer session since assembling a 53-man roster, he seemed to be pretty confident about the work he's done since last season.

"We had mostly positive, a couple equals; there was one negative," Fitterer said of the team's upgrades, per Darin Gantt of "But overall, I just thought like, 'You know what? We're making progress.' It's where we want to be. Every year, I say our goal is to win the NFC South. And I think, even with all the new faces, the new staff, and all the changes that are taking place, that's our goal. And I think if we play (to) our ability, that's definitely within reach."

That goal was within reach back in January, when Carolina went into Raymond James Stadium with a chance to move atop the division in Week 17. But after coughing up an 11-point lead with 14 minutes left in their crucial matchup with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, they lost the game and their chance at the playoffs.

A few months later, it's those new faces Fitterer referred to that may get the franchise over the hump. Between Reich and Young, who have both invigorated the organization with some hope, the Panthers could be angling for their first division title since 2015.

But much will depend on Young.

Simply put, the Panthers weren't very good in the passing game last year, finishing 29th in the league. They hope the addition of Young changes that. Reich has made it clear he won't put too much pressure on the rookie and wants him to play like NBA point guard Stephen Curry and distribute the ball to his teammates and allow them to make plays.

Reich anticipates Young will spread the ball around on a weekly basis rather than focusing on just one or two targets.

As's Geoff Ulrich notes, Thielen led all Panthers receivers in the preseason with a 35 percent team target share, which is good for his PPR league prospects but not a great sign for Carolina's upside as a team.

Rookie Jonathan Mingo brings more YAC ability and acted as a near-every-down receiver in the preseason. With Terrace Marshall Jr. and Chark both battling injuries, those former two should be expected to take the bulk of the targets in Week 1.

According to ESPN's Dan Graziano, we shouldn't be surprised if Mingo is Young's favorite target.

One of the reasons the Panthers drafted Mingo, a 6-1, 220-pound receiver out of Ole Miss, with the 39th pick in April's draft was because they believed he'd be a good fit with the quarterback they took with the first selection. Mingo is behind Chark and Thielen on the depth chart at wide receiver, but there's opportunity for him to pass them early in the season if Young looks his way enough.

In the Panthers' mind, Young and Mingo can grow together in their roles and form a strong connection for years to come. Mingo caught 51 passes for 861 yards and five TDs in his final college season.

That said, Associated Press sports writer Steve Reed believes that once healthy, Chark could be in for a big season. He's developed a strong chemistry with Young in training camp. It's been a while since he posted big numbers -- he had 73 catches for 1,004 yards and eight TDs for Jacksonville in 2019 -- but he could be a big factor in the downfield passing game playing opposite Thielen.

The big concern?

Young was pressured often in his first three preseason starts, enduring at least one big sack in each short appearance. 2022 first-round pick OT Ikem Ekwonu-who was solid at points last year-has reportedly struggled in camp and looked terrible on a couple of plays in the preseason.

Whatever the case, Ulrich makes a great point when he notes fans may want the Panthers to air things out, but the circumstances mean we're likely to see an offense built around short, precision passing.

The Falcons made improvements to their interior defense this season by adding Calais Campbell and Bud Dupree to the mix, and it's possible Sanders may find it difficult to break free in his first game as a Panther.

Sanders has spent most of the preseason sidelined with an injury, although he did return to practice this week and the team has expressed no concern over his Week 1 availability.

The Falcons may not be world beaters on defense just yet, but the improvements they made on the defensive line should shine through against a rookie quarterback and offensive line that may be in way over their heads to begin the season.

On the injury front. ... Sanders (groin) and Chark (hamstring) are optimistic that they'll practice and play against the Falcons. Laviska Shenault Jr. said he has cleared the league's concussion protocol and will practice this week. Marshall, who has missed time with a back issue, has also resumed practicing but his Week 1 status is unclear.

Watch the Late-Breaking Updates section for more on all of the above in coming days. ...

And finally. ... Despite his desire to get a new contract, Burns didn't hold out of training camp. But as the season approaches and Burns remains under his rookie contract, he's holding in.

Burns again declined to participate in the Panthers' practice Monday, as he did last week. Although Burns has not explained why he has been sitting out, Reich's reference to "business" makes clear that it's about Burns' contract.

"My view of Brian Burns doesn't diminish at all. We understand there's a business side to this thing we do. I still respect and admire the way he's handled himself. I have nothing but the highest regard for Brian Burns," Reich said.

Burns is owed a base salary of just over $16 million this season, but he wants a long-term contract extension and so far the Panthers haven't shown him the money he's looking for. If he continues to refuse to practice, the Panthers could fine him for conduct detrimental to the team. If he sits out games, he would lose $900,000 a week.

Burns is coming off a career-best 12.5 sacks in 2022 and is beginning the 2023 season on his fifth-year option.

QBs: Bryce Young, Andy Dalton
RBs: Chuba Hubbard, Miles Sanders, Raheem Blackshear
WRs: Adam Thielen, Diontae Johnson, Jonathan Mingo, D.J. Chark, Terrace Marshall Jr., Laviska Shenault, Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Mike Strachan
TEs: Tommy Tremble, Stephen Sullivan, Ian Thomas, Hayden Hurst

Chicago Bears

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 4 September 2023

General manager Ryan Poles envisions more explosive plays from a revamped offense and a retooled defense creating turnovers more often.

A busy offseason has him thinking his team is positioned to make a jump. Considering the Bears finished with the worst record in the NFL last year, there seems to be nowhere to go but up.

"I really believe this team is set up to elevate and really go to the next level, which we're all excited for," Poles said Wednesday.

The Bears made some big moves after going 3-14 and setting a franchise record for losses, with Poles estimating they filled 75 percent to 80 percent of their holes. They'll start to find out if the changes paid off when they open the season at Green Bay on Sept. 10.

The Bears swung a major trade for a playmaking receiver when they dealt the No. 1 overall draft pick to Carolina for D.J. Moore and a package of draft picks. Last season, Chicago was one of two teams in the NFL that didn't have a wide receiver record at least 500 receiving yards. Moore has tallied over 1,000 yards in three of his five seasons in the NFL.

They added to their offensive line by drafting tackle Darnell Wright with the No. 10 overall pick and signing guard Nate Davis. They also brought in help for their defense, signing two-time Pro Bowl linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, linebacker T.J. Edwards and veteran edge rusher Yannick Ngakoue.

"At the end of the day, like when the lights come on and we play a real game, the energy levels differ, the speed is different," Poles said. "We'll be able to evaluate that as we go through the season. But I feel good again. Just on paper, I feel good about the progress and I feel we took a chunk out of what we needed to."

The Bears are counting on Justin Fields to improve as a passer in his third season after he dazzled with his legs last year. The former Ohio State star threw for just 2,242 yards and was sacked 55 times, tying Russell Wilson for the most in the league.

"Obviously we need to see that number change," Poles said. "It's a relationship, right? Where protection's gotta be better, and I feel better about our setup in terms of the guys in front of him, and the tackles, with Braxton going into Year 2. Darnell's doing a good job. That alone should help us. And then Justin's ability to execute our offense more efficiently and get the ball out quicker too. All of that should run together and that number should drop."

The Bears figure to be down one key blocker to start the season. Poles said left guard Teven Jenkins (leg) will open on injured reserve with a designation to return, meaning he will miss at least the first four games.

Chicago is also thin behind Fields. The Bears published their depth chart today and Nathan Peterman was listed as the backup quarterback and Tyson Bagent as third string. Peterman is a seven year veteran who played in three games for the Bears last year. Bagent was an undrafted rookie out of Shepherd University who is considered a developmental quarterback.

"He's got this moxie, he has this confidence about him," assistant general manager Ian Cunningham said of Bagent.

Both are eligible to be the third quarterback with the NFL's new quarterback rule since they are both on the active roster. Peterman could be active in a game and Bagent inactive but if Fields and Peterman were injured, Bagent could play.

If the Bears have one of the NFL's most improved offenses, a big reason will be Moore.

Despite a revolving door of quarterbacks, he had 5,201 yards and 21 touchdowns in five seasons with the Panthers. That included three 1,000-yard seasons. The Bears now have the play-making receiver they lacked and a solid 1-2 combo with Darnell Mooney in the second spot.

Mooney went from 1,055 over 17 games in 2021 to 493 over 12 appearances last season. It would obviously help if they got more from Chase Claypool, who had just 14 catches for 140 yards following a midseason trade with Pittsburgh for a second-round pick.

But if the line holds up and Fields develops as a passer, that almost certainly means Moore is putting up big numbers, too. It wouldn't be a surprise, considering he did it in Carolina with Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Teddy Bridgewater and even Cam Newton in a second stint with the Panthers.

Indeed, after watching the duo work all summer,'s Courtney Cronin advised readers the Fields-Moore connection appears to be everything the Bears hoped it would be when they made the deal.

Even with an emphasis on upgrading the receiving corps, ESPN's Dan Graziano won't be surprised if Fields keeps running.

Graziano recently asked a Bears official if the team wanted Fields to run less this season to avoid putting himself in harm's way. The response was, "Well, we want him to get hit less," which indicates it might not be as simple as running him less.

In watching the 55 sacks that Fields took in 2022, it seemed like a lot of them were the result of indecisiveness in the pocket, which is understandable for a young QB and should be something that gets better this year. Look for the Bears and Fields to keep finding creative ways to use his running ability as an asset that keeps drives alive and occasionally leads to a really big scoring play.

Fields aside, there Bears have a trio of capable running backs in Khalil Herbert, D'Onta Foreman and rookie Roschon Johnson. As Cronin suggests, Chicago's by-committee approach could bring more balance to a backfield where all three rushers are capable of handling a considerable rushing load, along with Travis Homer, a change-of-pace back and special teams contributor.

Still, NBC Sports' Matthew Berry reminded readers that Herbert is actually really good when he gets a chance. In his eight career games with 12-plus touches, he averages 105.5 yards from scrimmage and 15.9 PPG. His 5.7 yards per carry last year lead all qualified RBs. Herbert is going to get first shot at the starting job and there's a decent chance he runs away with the job.

If not,'s Matt Bowen believes Johnson has the powerful north/south running traits to emerge this season as an early-down back who has pass-catching ability out of the backfield. In his final season at Texas, Johnson averaged 3.96 yards per carry after first contact. ...

The Bears added veteran Trent Taylor on Wednesday to be their punt returner, with Velus Jones Jr. struggling in the preseason following a rough rookie season. Taylor spent the past two years with Cincinnati after playing from 2017 to 2020 for San Francisco, where he worked with Bears special teams coordinator Richard Hightower.

"Consistency," Poles said. "That's the biggest thing. You know, when the ball gets punted you can go grab a snack and go to the bathroom and come back and you feel confident about it. That's the big part."

More will be known when the official injury report is released Wednesday, but the Bears appear to be relatively healthy heading into their season opener Sept. 10 against the Packers.

"Everybody looks to be healthy right now," head coach Matt Eberflus said last week. "Looks good. The one guy that's still week-to-week is Teven [Jenkins]. We'll work through that process as we go.

"Everything looks good. We're getting guys in. They're ramping up. Guys that are out are starting to do a lot of land-based stuff, getting into speeds and cuts and moving around. We'll see where it goes, but it looks good right now."

QBs: Tyson Bagent, Nathan Peterman
RBs: Khalil Herbert, D'Andre Swift, Roschon Johnson, Travis Homer, Khari Blasingame
WRs: D.J. Moore, Keenan Allen, Tyler Scott, Trent Taylor, Velus Jones Jr., Equanimeous St. Brown
TEs: Gerald Everett, Cole Kmet, Robert Tonyan, Marcedes Lewis, Jake Tonges

Cincinnati Bengals

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 4 September 2023

Offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said last Thursday that quarterback Joe Burrow has looked the part as he returns from a strained right calf.

Burrow practiced for the second time in as many days last week after missing nearly six weeks with the lower leg injury. Callahan said Burrow's rehab has gone according to plan and that his overall physical shape, arm strength and timing seem unaffected by his absence. It all points positively toward Burrow playing in the season opener Sept. 10 against the Cleveland Browns.

"I think he's in a good place and we got a good plan in place for him to get ready for Week 1," Callahan said.

Based on the description of his practice participation, Burrow was unofficially limited in the team's final practice before the regular season officially starts.

Callahan said the next step for Burrow's progress would be involvement in "intense team periods" when the Bengals resume practice Monday.

That Monday session went well, but head coach Zac Taylor still has not announced that Burrow will start.

But Taylor noted the quarterback looked good in Monday's session.

"Today was a really good day for him. It was encouraging to see," Taylor said.

Whatever the case, Callahan believes Burrow's continuity with Cincinnati's system and the players means it doesn't take the QB long to get up to speed.

"It's part of what makes him special to begin with," Callahan said. "And so those are his strengths that he's playing into."

Callahan said the team has been cautious about having people around Burrow during practice periods to avoid any reactions to sudden movements in team periods. It's similar to what the team did in 2021, when it tried to keep Burrow free from any potential pitfalls as he made his way back from a torn ACL in his left knee.

If it were up to Burrow, Callahan said, he wants to be involved in team periods as much as possible.

"We're just trying to be smart about when and where those things occur until he is fully good to go," Callahan said.

Taylor noted that getting Burrow back for a couple of practices before the holiday weekend was part of the team's internal timeline for the quarterback's return.

When it comes to increasing Burrow's workload in preparation for Week 1, Taylor said there are no definite markers but that the quarterback is improving on the timeline the team envisioned when the injury occurred in late July. "I don't think there's a defined checklist we need to see," Taylor said. "It was just good to get him out with the team and calling plays in the huddle and all that good stuff at practice. I think that was encouraging for everybody."

Needless to say we'll all be watching for more on that in coming days; check the Late-Breaking Updates section for more as the week progresses, but one report last week is pertinent: NFL Network's Cameron Wolfe reports Burrow's mobility could be limited against the Browns, who boast a potentially ferocious Browns pass rush headed by Myles Garrett.

Still, the passing attack is a strength. Ja'Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd stand out as one of the best receiver groups in the NFL. Tight end Irv Smith was added to take over for Hayden Hurst as a pass-catcher.

Chase, the 2021 AP Offensive Rookie of the Year, catches almost everything thrown in his vicinity. It's worth noting, Callahan his lining Chase up all over the field to keep defenses off balance. Chase is Burrow's favorite playmaker and a consistent performer, with 1,000-yard receiving campaigns in each of his first two seasons.

Burrow is gifted at taking what the defense gives, incorporating his tight end and running back Joe Mixon as key pieces of the passing game.

"If anything,"'s Matt LaMarca wrote, "the offense could take another step forward after having made some upgrades to the offensive line. Cincinnati spent big money on Orlando Brown in free agency, one of the top offensive tackles available. The Bengals' offensive line wasn't exactly a weakness in 2022, but they're now spending the fifth-most money at the position in the NFL, and the line could blossom into a true strength in 2023. ..."

By the way, on the off chance Burrow isn't able to play, the Bengals have Jake Browning on their 53-man roster and Will Grier on their practice squad at quarterback. ...

Other notes of interest. ... According to ESPN's Dan Graziano, we shouldn't be surprised if rookie running back Chase Brown carves out a role in Year 1.

The fifth-round pick from Illinois has been impressive throughout camp and the preseason, particularly surprising the Bengals with his abilities in the passing game -- a place where he didn't get used a ton in college (28 catches last year). Could he leapfrog Chris Evans and Trayveon Williams for the No. 2 running back spot behind Mixon?

Maybe as the year goes on, if not right away.

Fifth-round pick status doesn't guarantee that Brown is the Bengals' long-term answer at the position, but if he keeps impressing, he could build himself a prominent role for 2024 or even sooner.

But don't count out Williams being a factor in the opener even though he, like Burrow, missed virtually all of the preseason (ankle) and returned last week in limited fashion. He says he'll be 100 percent this week. "This is year five for me," Williams said after last Thursday's practice. "I know exactly what to expect in my first action. I've made plays in big moments. I know what to expect."

Beyond all that. ... The defense is anchored by fine linebackers Logan Wilson and Germaine Pratt and edge rushers Trey Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard. Kicker Evan McPherson is among the league's most accurate kickers. The Bengals believe they have to team to get back to the Super Bowl, two seasons after improbably reaching the premier game only to lose to the Los Angeles Rams 23-20.

Burrow is also in talks on a long-term contract that will make him one of the NFL's highest-paid players.

QBs: Jake Browning, Joe Burrow
RBs: Zack Moss, Chase Brown, Chris Evans, Trayveon Williams
WRs: Ja'Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, Trenton Irwin, Andrei Iosivas, Charlie Jones
TEs: Irv Smith Jr., Mike Gesicki, Tanner Hudson, Drew Sample, Mitchell Wilcox

Cleveland Browns

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 4 September 2023

The Cleveland Browns have named quarterback Deshaun Watson one of their five captains.

Watson is entering his first full season as Cleveland's starter. Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said the players voted on the captains.

"Deshaun, it's very, very natural for him to lead," Stefanski said. "And I think he's comfortable leading from out in front. I think he's comfortable from leading and letting his teammates get credit. That's just something he's always done his whole life. And just the way he's integrated himself into this football team is impressive to watch."

Watson was suspended 11 games for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy after he was accused by more than two dozen women of sexual assault and sexual misconduct during massage sessions. Before the start of last season, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell called Watson's behavior "predatory" and "egregious." Watson has settled 23 civil lawsuits against him. Two lawsuits remain active.

After the suspension, Watson returned for Cleveland's final six games last season. The Browns traded for Watson in March 2022. They sent the Houston Texans three first-round picks in the blockbuster deal, then gave Watson a new five-year contract worth an NFL-record $230 million fully guaranteed.

"From the moment he got here until now," Stefanski said of Watson, "just seeing how he's gotten to know everybody on his team, how he pushes them, how he motivates them, I think you're seeing a lot of examples of high-quality leadership from Deshaun in particular."

All-Pro guard Joel Bitonio, linebacker Anthony Walker Jr., All-Pro defensive end Myles Garrett and deep snapper Charley Hughlett were named Cleveland's other captains.

The Browns open the season Sept. 10 against the Cincinnati Bengals and it's safe to say everything here hinges on Watson. The pressure is on Stefanski, now in his fourth year, to design an offense that complements Watson's unique skillset.

As's Matt LaMarca reminded readers, the last time we saw Watson play a full season in 2020, he was arguably the best QB in football. Watson's 4,800 passing yards led the league that year, and he threw 33 TDs with just seven INTs. LaMarca added, "The fact that he accomplished that on a Houston team with minimal supporting talent makes it all the more impressive."

LaMarca went on to note Watson certainly has more working for him with the Browns this season than he did when he was with the Texans. Amari Cooper, Elijah Moore, and Donovan Peoples-Jones give him a solid trio at WR, David Njoku is a former first-round draft pick at TE, and Nick Chubb is one of the most efficient RBs in NFL history.

Moore has the skillset -- quick, elusive -- that Cleveland's offense was missing and he seems to be an ideal target for Watson. The Browns will lean on their running game, but Moore gives them an underneath option who could turn short throws into big gains.

By the way, NBC Sports' Matthew Berry notes that Njoku led all tight ends in percentage of team red zone targets (31 percent) last season and had the second-most red zone targets total at the position. Berry further noted that Cleveland ranked fourth in total TE target share last season, with Njoku bringing in a target share of at least 18.5 percent in 11 of his 14 games.

Even assuming the offense will run through Watson, Associated Press sports writer Tom Withers notes "it's hitched to Chubb," one of the NFL's best running backs who could be poised for another big season after rushing for a career-best 1,525 yards in 2022.

The Browns have been careful not to wear out the 27-year-old, who may also benefit by having a mobile QB with him since defenses won't be able to key on him as much. Cleveland could also have some new wrinkles in its running game (see Philadelphia) with Watson. Chubb is also running behind one of the league's top lines, led by Bitonio.

As Berry pointed out, Chubb has four seasons in a row averaging at least 88 rushing yards per game and at least 100 scrimmage yards per game. He averaged at least 5.0 YPC in all five of his NFL seasons. Last season, Chubb's 7.3 percent target share was the second-highest of your career, and that should only increase with Kareem Hunt out of the picture.

Berry notes that Hunt vacates 158 touches from the Cleveland offense. Considering Chubb averaged 19.0 PPG in eight games with 20-plus touches, an even slightly increased workload will put him in line for a career year.

On the health front. ... Wideout Marquise Goodwin returned to practice after spending the summer on the non-football injury list. The veteran deep threat will likely need a few weeks to get back in football shape but is expected to be ready for the season opener.

RB Jerome Ford returned to practice last week after being out since Day 11 of Browns training camp with a hamstring injury. Despite the layoff, he still hopes to make an immediate impact for the Browns starting with Week 1 against the Bengals.

"Ever since I arrived in Cleveland, Coach has always been in my ear, reassuring me and giving me anything I need," Ford said. "I am grateful for him."

Some of Hunt's vacated touches will go to Ford, but Berry contends Ford isn't likely to jump from eight career touches to 158 in a season. Indeed, Stefanski mentioned last week he's confident Ford can help the Browns as a reliable backup to Chubb and also as a return man on special teams. ...

Finally, kicker Cade York's continued struggles throughout the exhibition season forced the Browns to trade for veteran Dustin Hopkins, who spent the past two seasons with the Chargers.

QBs: Jameis Winston, Dorian Thompson-Robinson, Tyler Huntley, Deshaun Watson
RBs: Jerome Ford, D'Onta Foreman, Pierre Strong Jr., Nick Chubb
WRs: Amari Cooper, Elijah Moore, Jerry Jeudy, Cedric Tillman, Marquise Goodwin, David Bell
TEs: David Njoku, Jordan Akins, Harrison Bryant

Dallas Cowboys

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 4 September 2023

As's Grant Gordon noted, there's been chatter aplenty concerning Dak Prescott's onus on limiting turnovers and head coach Mike McCarthy taking over the play-calling reins.

Prescott, however, believes the 2023 Dallas Cowboys offense is poised for brighter Sundays thanks to the roster being locked and loaded with playmakers.

"Yeah, a lot of speed. You can name a lot of guys," Prescott said of the offense, via the team website. "(We have a) few guys that have speed but are playmakers. Speed is one thing, but to be a playmaker is another thing."

The Cowboys' playmaker roll call includes returning fleet-footers, a rookie and perhaps the team's most-prized free-agent get.

The latter is Brandin Cooks, who's coming off a forgettable stay with the Houston Texans, but still boasts speed to burn. The 29-year-old has six 1,000-yard seasons with four teams to his credit.

Last season, the Cowboys had four receptions on passes thrown 30-plus yards downfield, the same amount as Cooks had on his own in 13 games.

Wideout Michael Gallup is coming off a disappointing 2022 campaign, but also has a year under his belt back from a torn ACL that clearly hindered him throughout last season. The 27-year-old has a 1,100-yard year on his resume and five years of chemistry with Prescott.

CeeDee Lamb has emerged as one of the top wideouts in the game and made his second Pro Bowl last season, while KaVontae Turpin made his first. Turpin's all-star accolade was due to his prowess in the kicking game, but he figures to get more offensive reps in 2023.

As for the backfield, when healthy, Tony Pollard is a bona fide game-breaker and rookie Deuce Vaughn portends to have some big gains in him, too.

Despite suffering a broken leg and a high ankle sprain in Dallas' playoff loss last January, Pollard entered camp saying he feels "faster" than ever before.

That's worth noting as Pollard was RB8 overall in PPG, but NBC Sports' Matthew Berry notes he was RB2 in PPG (22.0) from Weeks 8-16.

And Ezekiel Elliott is no longer on the Cowboys.

Berry points out Elliott saw 248 touches last season and his 26 carries inside the 10-yard-line were tied for third-most in the league. That's the craziest stat because last year Pollard had nine rushing touchdowns with only 12 carries inside the 10-yard-line.

Zeke leaves 26 goal-to-go carries on the table for Pollard who averages 19.3 PPG in his career when he gets 15 or more touches in a game.

How much upside does Pollard have?

Both FantasyPros' Derek Brown and Late-Round Fantasy's JJ Zachariason ranked him as their RB1 heading into the season.

Zachariason explained: "Pollard's seen runs of 10-plus yards on at least 13 percent of his rushes in three of four seasons in the NFL. He's one of just 15 qualified running backs since 2011 with three or more of those campaigns, and he's only played four years in the league."

Zachariason added Elliott has missed three games over the last three seasons. In those contests, Pollard ended up with a high-end 73.4 percent running back rush share, carrying the ball 16 times per game, on average. In turn, he scored 31.2, 33.7, and 21.8 PPR points.

"The ceiling is evident," Zachariason summed up. "Whether or not he gets there is the obvious question. But the RB1 overall in most definitely in his range of outcomes. ..."

Added up, Prescott's complemented by three wide receivers (Cooks, Gallup and Lamb) and a running back with 1,000-yard NFL seasons to their credit.

That receiving corps will be a plus. Associated Press sports writer Schuyler Dixon reminded readers the Cowboys probably waited until too late into the 2022 season to upgrade at receiver with the December addition of T.Y. Hilton. They didn't make the same mistake this season with the addition of Cooks. With the emergence of second-year man Jalen Tolbert in training camp, Dallas has a potentially deep group of four behind Lamb and Cooks.

Gallup is now close to two years removed from the ACL injury sustained late in the 2021 season. The Cowboys believe they'll see the previous version of Gallup, who was an emerging threat before the injury.

Perhaps the most notable change on offense is that the team fired offensive coordinator Kellen Moore and replaced him with Brian Schottenheimer, who was most recently the OC for the Seahawks from 2018-2020.

However, as noted above, McCarthy will be the offensive play caller, which introduces further unknowns into exactly how the offense will function.

Those fears are compounded by Prescott's recent play.

Berry notes that Dak posted less than 15 fantasy points in six of his 12 games last season and had just four games with more than 20. His 238.3 passing yards per game were his fewest since 2017 and his dip in running production has proved to not be an aberration. Prescott has now averaged 11.7 rushing yards per game over the past two seasons, compared to 19.1 yards per game between 2016 and 2019.'s Jonathan Fuller put it like this: "Both the Cowboys and Giants will be interesting to watch in Week 1. The Cowboys for their scheme and play-calling tendencies, while the Giants have more intrigue around their depth chart and personnel groupings. ..."

Other notes of interest. ... According to ESPN's Dan Graziano, we shouldn't be surprised if Dallas adds a running back at some point. Graziano went on to notes it's not likely to be an earth-shattering addition. The Cowboys weren't in on Dalvin Cook or Jonathan Taylor at the contracts those backs were commanding. They weren't even one of the teams that brought in Kareem Hunt for a workout when teams were doing that.

If they add a big name to the RB room, it'll be at a significant discount.

Regardless, with Rico Dowdle and undersized rookie Vaughn as the primary backups to Pollard, the room might benefit from a veteran back. Fortunately for the bargain-hunting Cowboys, running back contracts are really low right now. If someone like, say, Leonard Fournette (just as an example, not to say they're interested in him specifically) were to decide he wanted to play for a contender on a low-level deal that could make some sense.

Finally. ... The Cowboys continued to lock up key pieces by signing right tackle Terence Steele to a five-year extension worth $86.8 million, including $50 million guaranteed, sources told ESPN's Adam Schefter on Sunday.

Since the start of training camp, the Cowboys have signed Pro Bowl cornerback Trevon Diggs to a five-year, $97 million deal and safety Malik Hooker to a three-year deal worth up to $24 million and reworked the contract for All-Pro right guard Zack Martin, guaranteeing him $36 million over the next two seasons.

The club would also like to sign Lamb to an extension. Prescott is signed through 2024 and All-Pro linebacker Micah Parsons is eligible for an extension for the first time after this season.

QBs: Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush, Trey Lance
RBs: Ezekiel Elliott, Rico Dowdle, Deuce Vaughn, Hunter Luepke
WRs: CeeDee Lamb, Brandin Cooks, Michael Gallup, Jalen Tolbert, KaVontae Turpin, Jalen Brooks
TEs: Jake Ferguson, Luke Schoonmaker, Peyton Hendershot

Denver Broncos

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 4 September 2023

As Associated Press sports writer Arnie Melendrez Stapleton notes, the Broncos believe they finally have the right coach/quarterback combo to help them end their seven-year playoff drought and six-year run of losing records.

Sean Payton's ground-based offensive schemes provide the foundation for fixing Russell Wilson, who's coming off the worst season of his career under Nathanial Hackett, who proved way in over his head as a first-time head coach last year, one who didn't even make it through his first season.

As pointed out, Payton's Saints teams averaged 27.6 points per game during his 15 seasons as head coach, the highest for any coach in the Super Bowl era (min. 40 games). This is a welcome sight for a Broncos team that finished last with 16.9 PPG in 2022.

But the Broncos have paid hefty prices for both Wilson and Payton, parting with five premium draft picks combined.

Without those three first-round and pair of second-round selections, their depth is thin across most position groups. The wide receiver room was their deepest position to start camp but they're down three of last year's top four pass catchers with Tim Patrick (Achilles) missing his second straight season, KJ Hamler out with a heart condition and Jerry Jeudy sidelined by a pulled hamstring.

But Payton has made establishing the Broncos' run game a priority in the 2023 season, and that strategy could bode well for fantasy football players looking to draft running back Javonte Williams.

That, of course, assumes the best in the range of possible outcomes for Williams, how is coming off a serious knee injury.

After missing the final 13 games of 2022 season, Williams has returned to action this summer and recorded four receptions and three rushes in his preseason debut against the 49ers on Aug. 19.

From his clean bill of health to his stats prior to injury to the Broncos' experienced offensive coaches, Pro Football Focus believes Williams could reach new heights in the upcoming season.

"Williams has been excellent in his two seasons at making defenders miss," PFF's Nathan Jahnke wrote. "His 3.8 avoided tackles per game while running over the last two seasons ranks fifth among running backs despite being in a committee nearly every game. ... Similarly, his 1.25 avoided tacklers on receptions per game ranked sixth last season."

Jahnke also pointed to Payton's track record of using running backs in multiple ways as a promising sign for Williams' development.

"Williams could benefit significantly from a new coaching staff and an emphasis on the offensive line," Jahnke wrote. "… The Saints running backs were targeted 2276 times from 2006-2021, which was over 300 times more than any other team. ... Williams could follow in the footsteps of several past Saints running backs, and finish among the top-five running backs if he is 100 percent after his injury."

Of course, as with J.K. Dobbins last year, we saw just how difficult it can be to return from a significant knee injury.

Williams tore his ACL and LCL last season. Return to play does not always equal return to performance. On the first day of free agency, the Broncos signed Samaje Perine to a two-year deal.

Perine caught 38 passes with the Cincinnati Bengals last regular season and offers standalone value with upside.

According to ESPN's Dan Graziano, we shouldn't be surprised if Perine is the Broncos' lead running back for a good chunk of the season.

While Williams has been practicing and even got some preseason game time, which is remarkable, in talking to people close to that situation, Graziano reports it sounds as though Williams needs to be eased in.

The Broncos signed Perine, a former Bengal, thinking he could be a complement to Williams once the latter got healthy, and because he's a potential major contributor as a third-down blocker and pass-catcher. But if Perine shows he can handle early-down work that could help Denver take its time with Williams and bring him along slowly until he's fully healed.

Perine rushed for 394 yards on 95 carries last year in Cincinnati.

In addition to Perine, the Broncos have undrafted free agent Jaleel McLaughlin.

McLaughlin of Youngstown State didn't get drafted despite being the NCAA's all-time leading rusher. The 5-7 speedster was the star of training camp and the preseason for the Broncos, carving out a role as a change-of-pace back with terrific hands out of the backfield.

Despite PFF's optimistic outlook, NBC Sports' Matthew Berry is more in line with Graziano's take.

"Before being injured in Week 4," Berry wrote, "Williams had fewer than 60 percent of the snaps in two of his three full games and received just 50 percent of Denver's running back red zone and goal-line carries. And I'm not sure what was worse for Williams' long-term fantasy prospects: tearing his ACL and LCL or Payton arriving in Denver.

"In five of Payton's final six seasons with the Saints, he gave 150-plus touches to multiple backs."

Berry believes that gives Williams a solid floor, but also a fairly low ceiling.

Adding to the concerns? A retooled offensive line.

Left tackle Garett Bolles is coming off a broken leg that ended his season early last year and he's been a tick slower than usual. Newcomers Ben Powers and Mike McGlinchey, part of Denver's foray into free agency that was the most expensive in the league, have been underwhelming.

McGlinchey (five years, $87.5 million) missed much of training camp with a leg injury and Powers (four years, $51.5 million) hasn't shown he's much of an upgrade over Dalton Risner.

As for Wilson and the passing attack. ... In an article on, author Kevin Patra selected one first-time Pro Bowl candidate for each AFC team, and his choice for the Broncos was one of Denver's most dynamic playmakers on offense: tight end Greg Dulcich.

In his rookie season, Dulcich caught 33 passes for 411 yards and a pair of touchdowns, and Patra sees the potential for the UCLA product to become one of the league's premier young tight ends.

"It's pure projection to predict Dulcich will make a massive leap after catching 33 passes for 411 yards and two TDs in his rookie season," Patra wrote. "But the talent is there. The TE owns dynamic run-after-catch and vertical ability to become a force in Sean Payton's offense."

The Broncos have versatile options at both the wide receiver and tight end positions, including wide receiver Courtland Sutton and tight ends Adam Trautman and Chris Manhertz. But with Jeudy currently battling a hamstring injury, Dulcich could play a more significant role in the passing game until Jeudy returns.

"With depth questions at receiver, Dulcich could earn more targets early in the season on his way to a breakout sophomore campaign," Patra wrote.

Meanwhile, Sutton finished with the 17th-most air yards last season among wide receivers and a 12.2 average depth of target, which was the fifth highest among those 17 WRs.

During a recent appearance with the FootballDiehards on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio, Denver Post staffer Parker Gabriel told listeners that Sutton has looked fantastic in camp.

Payton has said he has often reminded Sutton he wanted to see the "2019 version," when Sutton had his only career 1,000-yard season (1,112 yards) to go with his only Pro Bowl selection. It's worth remembering Sutton was considered one of the best receivers on the draft board in 2018 in terms of winning contested catches -- the "50-50 ball" -- and has said in camp so far he feels the biggest difference from his offseason work has come in those situations. "[When it] comes to catching the ball in traffic or just catching the ball in general, you have so much more confidence that your forearms, hands, everything is up to par where you want to it to be," Sutton said.

"You can tell he put the work in," Jeudy said of Sutton. "I think we all want to do better, but he has been out there grinding."

Sutton's big-play ability is clear, and if the Broncos are primed to push the passing game with Wilson, Sutton is a viable sleeper this season.

And if Jeudy's health is an ongoing issue, rookie Marvin Mims' Jr. could be a contributor as well.

In an article selecting one fantasy football sleeper pick for each NFL team, Yahoo Sports fantasy analyst Dalton Del Don identified Mims as the Broncos player to watch. Del Don said Mims' prime opportunity and talent could make him a valuable addition, especially in the final months of the season.

"Payton is one of the league's best play-callers, and Wilson looks poised to bounce back," Del Don said. "Mims is a rookie who'll require patience, but he was arguably the most underrated player in the draft and could be a fantasy difference-maker in the second half."'s Matt Bowen agrees.

"A burner with 4.3 speed, Mims is an explosive-play target who can stretch defenses and attack open space after the catch," Bowen wrote. "While his route tree will need to expand in the pros, he has the traits to win schemed matchups in the new Denver pass game under Payton."

Mims comes to Denver after posting impressive numbers at Oklahoma, including 1,083 receiving yards and six touchdowns in his junior season in 2022 and 20 receiving touchdowns in his three-year career.

According to Gabriel, Mims (hamstring) "has been on a full workload for the past three weeks."

QBs: Zach Wilson, Jarrett Stidham
RBs: Javonte Williams, Jaleel McLaughlin, Samaje Perine
WRs: Courtland Sutton, Marvin Mims Jr., Lil'Jordan Humphrey, Brandon Johnson
TEs: Adam Trautman, Chris Manhertz, Greg Dulcich

Detroit Lions

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 4 September 2023

As's Eric Woodyard framed it: "'Jurassic Park' was the top-grossing movie and Whitney Houston's 'I Will Always Love You' ruled the charts as a No. 1 smash hit back when the Detroit Lions won their most recent division crown.

"Now, three decades later, Lions general manager Brad Holmes says his level of confidence is 'very high' to win the NFC North with how the current roster is constructed entering his third season in the role."

The Lions haven't won a division title since 1993, when it was known as the NFC Central and featured five teams.

"I do think that we took our medicine in the past couple years. Me and [Lions coach] Dan [Campbell] talk about it all the time," Holmes said. "We've coached the Senior Bowl; we had to do 'Hard Knocks.' We've done all that.

"We've gone through a lot of darkness to get to this point, but that's where the grit comes in place in terms of just not really wavering and put your head down or get discouraged, and we just kind of put the focus in building the best roster that we can and really getting the best football players," he added.

The Lions will face the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs in the NFL Kickoff Game on Thursday night, Sept. 7.

Detroit has four prime-time games scheduled in 2023 after playing in just five prime-time games total over the past five seasons, which was the fewest in the NFL.

This is the first time the Lions are favored to win the NFC North since the division was formed in 2002 and their first time favored to make the playoffs in over 15 seasons, according to ESPN Stats and Information research.

"We're not scared of the expectations," Holmes said. "The expectations are earned through, I think, what we've built and what we've done up until this point in terms of how we finished the end of the season and through our player acquisition process. But now we've got to just prove them right."

Detroit's front office feels that it has assembled a gritty group that continues to carry an underdog spirit coming off the team's first winning season since 2017. The Lions closed out the regular season in 2022 with eight victories over their final 10 games.

"As a player, you want expectations, you want people to think you're gonna be good," said Lions assistant general manager Ray Agnew. "And the reason why we can be comfortable is because of the guys we have on this team. These guys are still hungry. They're still hungry to prove that they're great in this league, they're still hungry to prove that we belong in the conversation, so I don't worry about that. We've got a hungry group of guys."

On offense, the Lions are counting on running backs David Montgomery, in his fifth season, and rookie Jahmyr Gibbs to give them a strong running game for the second straight season.

The pair flashed during training camp.

"Seeing those guys in the explosive runs really takes your eyes back to what we've been focusing on in our room for a long time is our O-line. They were fantastic, some of those holes I think I could've gotten through," assistant head coach Scottie Montgomery said last month. "Collectively, what I did like to see from those guys is what we did on the second level, our O-line is getting us to the second level, sometimes even to the third level."

Gibbs, drafted 12th overall, has been a good fit from the get-go.

"We kind of opened it up, we said we were going to slowly give it to him at the beginning, then we just kind of threw it all at him," Scottie Montgomery said. "Physically he's been on point. He's quick, he's fast, he sets blocks."

The Lions ranked 11th in the NFL with 2,179 rushing yards in 2022 with RBs Jamaal Williams and D'Andre Swift who are no longer with the team. It was the team's best team rushing production since 1997 when the Lions ranked second with 2,464 yards -- 2,053 of those from Hall of Famer Barry Sanders.

Expectations are high.

"I think it's going to be lethal, I think it's going to be real deadly," Montgomery said of his pairing with Gibbs. "Jah does some special things and I think I can do a lot of special things too. It'll be fun to be able to get behind those guys up front, the way the wide receivers block too."

During an intersquad full contact scrimmage in camp, Gibbs' scampered nearly 30 yards for a touchdown and Montgomery scored from 1 yard out.

"I know me, I like getting hit so I've got to get out there and make sure I get hit every now and then so I get my pads loose so I can be ready to run into somebody," said Montgomery who played for the Bears the past four years.

He calls the adjustment "pretty smooth."

"I mean every day he gets more and more comfortable with what we're doing and look, it's a long year too. You can try to do everything you can possibly do to be like you're going to be ready for Week 1 -- and you are and we are, but God dang, man, it's a long season," head coach Dan Campbell said.

Scottie Montgomery credits the veteran running back in the development of Gibbs.

"The level of professionalism you learn not from coaches, you learn from your peers. That's what you do," Montgomery said. "When I came in as a rookie, I had great guys around me, this is the standard, the standard is set. If you get off the standard you're not worried about your coach saying something you're worried about the rest of the room saying something."

By the way, Tim Twentyman of the team's official website reported over the weekend that offensive coordinator Ben Johnson tipped his hand a bit on Saturday regarding the manner in which the new weapon will be deployed.

"We might use Gibbs in some ways that people don't quite think we might," Johnson said.

The comment created plenty of fascination, especially among the fantasy football crowd. Some Lions fans likely would have preferred a little more discretion -- unless the comment was a misdirection.

Currently, the Chiefs are preparing a plan for defending against the Detroit offense. That comment will likely prompt Steve Spagnuolo and company to prepare answers for the different ways Gibbs will be used.

Maybe it won't matter.

As's Mike Florio put it, "The chess-match aspect of football becomes irrelevant when one team has superior pieces."

Gibbs, who was overlooked in all the Bijan Robinson hype, could be one such piece.

That said, how creatively can a running back be used? It was already expected he'd line up as a receiver. Unless the Lions plan on deploying the Wildcat with Gibbs playing quarterback (or having him play offensive line), there aren't many things they can do with him that would be surprising.

But he can add to an already dangerous passing attack.

Jared Goff had his best season last year since he guided the 2018 NFC champion Rams, maintaining a strong connection with Amon-Ra St. Brown that flourished in the second half of the 2021 season. St. Brown was 11th in the NFL in 2022 with 1,161 receiving yards. He's now totaled 196 catches for 2,073 yards and 11 touchdowns in his two seasons.

Goff loves to throw to the sure-handed receiver, who regularly catches balls out of the JUGS machine after practices in a quest to be one of the best, but there's not much depth beyond him.

Jameson Williams, their 2022 first-round draft pick who spent much of his rookie year recovering from a torn ACL, must serve a six-game suspension for breaking league rules on gambling. Marvin Jones Jr. has returned to Detroit after two seasons in Jacksonville.

Rookie Sam LaPorta, a second-round draft pick from tight end factory Iowa, will need to produce and he has the tools to do so. As's Matt Bowen noted, LaPorta can stretch the seams, flex outside and rumble after the catch. He's a rugged mover with 4.59 speed and opportunity in an explosive offense. ...

On the injury front. ... St. Brown (ankle) has been cleared to practice. The third-year man missed practice time last week but he's not on this week's initial injury report and is on track to be ready for Thursday's opener.

St. Brown will face a Chiefs defense that allowed a fair number of receptions to opposing WRs but was also good at limiting big plays. As's Geoff Ulrich suggests, we should look for the high-energy Chiefs defense to be keying in on St. Brown in this game and potentially limiting his aDOT out of the gate. ...

While St. Brown isn't on the initial injury report, Detroit listed cornerback Emmanuel Moseley as limited with a knee injury. He was the only member of Detroit's 53-man roster who didn't participate in full. Center Frank Ragnow (toe), defensive tackle Isaiah Buggs (illness), and safety Ifeatu Melifonwu (hamstring) were also listed on the injury report as full participants.

Worth noting. ... The Lions have a good plan in place for Williams after he was placed on the suspended list this week for a gambling violation and can't be around the team. Holmes said six games seems like a long time, but Williams can return to Allen Park after Week 3 to start training and getting acclimated back to football. ...

According to ESPN's Dan Graziano, we shouldn't be surprised if Johnson is the hot head-coaching interview candidate in January.

The Lions' 37-year-old coordinator was on teams' interview lists this past January, but he politely declined the opportunities because he thought he could use more experience as a coordinator and liked what the team has going in Detroit. Johnson seems to have unlocked something with Goff, who posted the second-highest Total QBR in the league from Weeks 10 to 18 last year (behind only Patrick Mahomes) and threw 15 touchdown passes and no interceptions while the Lions went 7-2 over that stretch.

Expectations are high for a big year in Detroit, and if Johnson and Goff can carry their momentum over into this season, Johnson is going to get even more attention from head-coach-needy teams next offseason.

QBs: Jared Goff, Teddy Bridgewater
RBs: David Montgomery, Jahmyr Gibbs, Craig Reynolds, Zonovan Knight
WRs: Amon-Ra St. Brown, Josh Reynolds, Kalif Raymond, Jameson Williams, Donovan Peoples-Jones, Antoine Green
TEs: Sam LaPorta, Brock Wright, James Mitchell

Green Bay Packers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 4 September 2023

It's been quite some time since the Packers entered a season with this much uncertainty. That's mostly due to the trade of four-time MVP QB Aaron Rodgers to the New York Jets. The Packers benefited from three decades of Hall of Fame-caliber quarterback production with Rodgers following Brett Favre.

Now they're turning to 2020 first-round pick Jordan Love, who has made one career start.

His next start will come against the Bears on Sept. 10 after gaining some valuable experience through preseason play.

Love played -- and threw a touchdown -- in each of Green Bay's three exhibition games. He finished the preseason 21-of-33 for 193 yards with three touchdowns, good for a 109.8 passer rating.

Last week, general manager Brian Gutekunst said it was good to see Love command the offense.

"There's things that not everybody sees but little mistakes that I think he's going to really grow from," Gutekunst said in his press conference. "And then there's things that maybe didn't affect the play. And there's successes that he had, too, that gives him confidence to move forward. So, I think it was just really, really good.

"When you put those guys out there, sometimes you're a little bit -- we haven't done that a lot around here. But I think it was such an important thing to get out of it clean where he played really well, I think that was a real benefit to our offense. So, I'm excited about it. But I don't know if I really learned a ton. I think it was just really good for him and our offense."

As the Packers now turn to the regular season and the inevitable ups and downs that come with it, Gutekunst described Love as a "cool customer" whose even-keel approach should serve him well.

But there is still an element of the unknown with Love, even as he's going into his fourth pro season after Green Bay traded up to select him at No. 26 overall in 2020.

"I think there's certain things you see and you see him grow and you say, 'OK, he handles much differently than maybe he did a year ago, two years ago,'" Gutekunst said. "But the quarterback position, I would argue, is one of the hardest, if not the hardest position to play in all of team sports. I've only been through it the one time, seeing it up close when we went from Brett [Favre] to Aaron [Rodgers]. But even when they're able to go out there and perform at a high level, to be able to perform at a high level and then to learn how to win -- there's time that that takes. I think when Aaron went into his first two years, I think midway through that second year, we were like 10-14 or something like that. So, it just takes a little bit of time.

"But at the same time, he's done some things over the past year and a half that allows us [to say] no matter what happens within a game, he's going to be able to handle it and move forward -- which I think is a big thing. We're excited about it. But until you get into the regular season, that's a whole different ballgame."

The complete lack of experience in the passing game is a major concern.

Love's lack of a track record makes it hard to know what to expect from him. Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs showed promise as rookie receivers last year, but they'll need to take a major step forward to help out the first-year starting quarterback. Essentially, the unproven Love will be passing primarily to rookies and second-year pros, which will put more pressure on Green Bay's rushing attack.

In addition to Watson and Doubs,'s Matt Bowen believes there is a path for rookie Jayden Reed to see consistent volume as a slot target for Love. Reed can track the ball vertically, and he should also be deployed as a middle-of-the-field target on defined play-action throws in head coach Matt LaFleur's offense where he can use his catch-and-run ability.

The questions on offense will force the Packers to lean heavily on a defense that underachieved last year but has plenty of talent. Green Bay produced 12 takeaways during a four-game winning streak late last season. The defense will need to deliver more of those types of plays for the Packers to contend for a playoff spot.

As for that rushing attack. ... ESPN's Dan Graziano recently advised readers they shouldn't be surprised if this is the year A.J. Dillon overtakes Aaron Jones in the backfield.

Graziano went on to acknowledge the Packers love Jones, and they love using Jones and Dillon in tandem. And Dillon did disappoint a bit last season, when the Packers were imagining a bigger passing-game role for him that never came to fruition. But Jones is 28, which is an age at which the numbers tell us running backs start to decline, and he played through some ailments last year. Dillon is 25 and fits better long term with the young offensive core that Green Bay is building around Love.

At some point this season, it wouldn't be surprising if Dillon is starting to get a bigger share of the workload than Jones, who has one non-guaranteed year left on his contract after this one and carries an untenable $17.17 million salary cap charge for 2024. (Of course, much of this changes if the Packers find a way to trade for Jonathan Taylor, whom they are/were interested in.)

Still, as things stand right now, Jones and Dillon have the ability to emerge as one of the NFL's top running back tandems. ...

The Packers are starved for a big-play tight end, and Luke Musgrave's combination of size (6-6, 253 pounds) and speed (4.61 40-yard dash, fourth fastest among tight ends at the combine) give them their best chance since perhaps Jermichael Finley a decade ago. They haven't drafted anyone at the position as high as Musgrave (No. 42 overall) in more than two decades -- Bubba Franks, 14th overall in 2000.

Musgrave knew the opportunity would be there for him, considering how high he was drafted and what the Packers lost at the position in free agent departures Robert Tonyan and Marcedes Lewis. But he didn't know what to expect from Love or the offense. "I tried to come in with little expectations," he said. "I'm really thankful. Jordan's been doing an amazing job. I couldn't ask for a better guy because he's super approachable and he gives me opportunities, and I do mess up. The whole thing's been awesome. It's been pretty ideal."

As NBC Sports' Matthew Berry put it: "A 6-6, 253-pound tight end with 4.6 speed playing 100 percent of snaps with the first team offense in the preseason? What else do you need to know? Oh, right. The guy's name probably. It's Musgrave."

With only Tucker Kraft and Josiah Deguara on the depth chart behind him, Musgrave should draw almost all of the TE targets from Love this season.

On the health front. ... The Packers don't have to release an injury report for Sunday's game against the Bears until later today. But Doubs' hamstring was an issue the last week of camp.

LaFleur wasn't going to talk about Doubs' hamstring. Nor, really, was Doubs, who was coached up on the proper way of addressing injury questions a week-and-a-half before the first game.

"Everything's fine. I'll leave those answers up to coach, however, just taking everything day by day," said Doubs. ... It's been an ongoing issue for Doubs, one you'll want to watch going forward.

Finally. ... Mason Crosby, the Packers' kicker the past 16 seasons and the leading scorer in franchise history, no longer is on the roster. Neither is Pat O'Donnell, a punter with nine seasons of NFL experience. The Packers are going with kicker Anders Carlson, while Daniel Whelan handles the punting duties. Neither has played in an NFL game.

The Cleveland Browns, in 2019, were the last team to begin a season with a kicker and punter making their debuts. It's happened 13 times since 2000.

Green Bay selected Carlson out of Auburn in the sixth round of the draft, signaling it planned to move on from Crosby. Carlson was the Packers' only kicker in camp. Crosby, who turns 39 on Sunday, remains a free agent. Carlson's preseason showcased his leg strength while also providing hints of the risks that come with using a rookie kicker. He made a 57-yard field goal and a 52-yarder while also missing three extra-point attempts.

QBs: Jordan Love, Sean Clifford
RBs: Josh Jacobs, A.J. Dillon, Patrick Taylor
WRs: Jayden Reed, Romeo Doubs, Christian Watson, Dontayvion Wicks, Samori Toure, Malik Heath
TEs: Tucker Kraft, Ben Sims, Josiah Deguara, Luke Musgrave

Houston Texans

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 4 September 2023

The No. 2 overall pick of the 2023 NFL Draft has been named the No. 1 quarterback in Houston.

Texans rookie head coach DeMeco Ryans announced that rookie C.J. Stroud will be the team's starting QB to open up the 2023 season following Houston's preseason finale against the New Orleans Saints.

"You gotta keep working. It was definitely a blessing, something that I think I've worked for and definitely earned, but at the same time nothing else really changes. I'm still going to work like the way I've been working, even more now," Stroud said in his postgame press conference. "I'm blessed to be a starter so young in this league, which isn't the easiest thing to do, but I know my coaches have faith and trust in me, and I'll go out there and try to do my best."

It's little surprise the 21-year-old Stroud has been handed the reins to the starting job, though it has been a bit stunning that it took this long for Ryans to do so. Stroud is now the third and final 2023 first-round QB to officially take his team's starting reins following No. 1 pick Bryce Young with the Carolina Panthers and No. 4 selection Anthony Richardson for the Indianapolis Colts.

Stroud, who started each of Houston's preseason games, won out over Davis Mills, who compiled 26 starts over the past two seasons after the Texans took him in the third round of the 2021 draft.

This was always Stroud's job for the taking, but Ryans had been adamant since the Ohio State product was drafted that a competition would take place. Stroud is now set to be the fourth Week 1 starting QB for the Texans in as many seasons. He'll follow Mills (2022), Tyrod Taylor (2021) and Deshaun Watson (2020) when Houston opens its season Sept. 10 at the Baltimore Ravens.

The 24-year-old Mills, who proved to be a bridge between the Texans from Watson to their next franchise QB in Stroud, went 5-19-1 as a starter.

One could also argue Mills led Houston to drafting Stroud. Mills connected with Jordan Akins for a 28-yard touchdown and then found him once more for a game-winning two-point conversion in a Week 18 win over the Indianapolis Colts last season. The victory lost the 2023 top pick for the Texans, dropping them to the No. 2 slot. The Chicago Bears subsequently traded the No. 1 selection to the Panthers, who selected Young, leaving Stroud to become the Texans' new hopeful face of the franchise.

In Houston's preseason opener versus the New England Patriots, Stroud was besieged by a hard-charging Pats pass rush. Against the Miami Dolphins in Week 2, the former Buckeyes standout showed some marked improvement. In Sunday's preseason finale Stroud played two series and on the second connected with wideout Nico Collins on a crossing route for a 3-yard touchdown pass, the first TD of Stroud's NFL career.

"I thought [Stroud] did a really good job tonight, and continued to progress," Ryans said postgame. "Had a good week last week against Miami, and to come back out this week, the ball placement was very nice."

While Mills was likely to offer a more poised and safer option for Houston out of the gate, Ryans has bestowed Stroud the opportunity to learn on the job and grow alongside his teammates, many of them youngsters, as well, such as wideouts John Metchie III, Tank Dell and second-year running back Dameon Pierce.

The Texans ranked 31st in QBR (33.3) in the past two seasons and went 7-26-1. The struggles on the field led them to select Stroud, hoping he could become the franchise quarterback they've been searching for since trading Watson away.

Stroud will debut against a Ravens team featuring the 2019 MVP in quarterback Lamar Jackson and a defense that finished third in scoring defense (18.5 per game) in 2022.

Since 2011, rookie quarterbacks drafted in the top five and started Week 1 are 4-6-1 with a 59 percent completion percentage, 22 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.

While the Texans made a major upgrade at quarterback by drafting Stroud, they didn't do much to beef up a thin receiver group after trading leading receiver Brandin Cooks to the Cowboys in March. Houston's top returning receiver is Collins, who had 481 yards receiving last season. They added Robert Woods, who had 527 yards receiving for Tennessee last season and Noah Brown, who had a career-high 555 yards receiving for Dallas in 2022.

But neither player has shown to be a true No. 1 receiver in their careers so far. That said, Collins should see a boost in target volume and receiving production. He's a long (6-4) receiver with matchup ability. Houston could also get a boost from the return of Metchie and Dell has impressed in the preseason.

Metchie returned for the start of training camp after missing his entire rookie season undergoing treatment for leukemia. He's healthy now and the second-round pick from Alabama has looked good in practice and could give the Texans some depth at receiver.

Meanwhile, Pierce could have a big season after a strong rookie campaign where he ran for 939 yards and four touchdowns in just 13 games.

As NBC Sports' Matthew Berry put it, "Here's a guy who got 19 touches per game last year and was a top 13 running back from Weeks 2-10. He got a bit banged up in the second half of the season, getting 10 or fewer touches in six of his final eight games (including not playing the final four games) but Houston, for all its issues, has a decent offensive line and should at least be better than last year. I'm not worried about Devin Singletary as Pierce is a talented running back who will flirt with 20 touches per game.

"And in games last year when he got at least 15 touches, he averaged over 103 yards from scrimmage."

Indeed, Pierce showed a knack for breaking tackles to gain extra yards last year and contributed to the passing game where he had 165 yards receiving with a score. He should have more scoring opportunities this season on an upgraded offense led by Stroud.

For what it's worth, while most observers fully expect Pierce to be the primary back and get the bulk of the workload, the Athletic's Mike Jones believes the Texans plan on "going with a platoon" this season.

As Rotoworld notes, this would go against some of what we saw this preseason when Pierce handled every-down snaps at various points in games. ...

Finally. ... Stroud has yet to play his first regular-season game, but the Texans are counting on him leading the way. They announced Monday that Stroud will serve as one of four captains for the team this season.

Left tackle Laremy Tunsil, safety Jalen Pitre and safety Jimmie Ward are the other Texans who will wear the C on their chest.

QBs: C.J. Stroud, Case Keenum, Davis Mills
RBs: Joe Mixon, Dameon Pierce, Mike Boone, Dare Ogunbowale
WRs: Nico Collins, Stefon Diggs, Noah Brown, Robert Woods, John Metchie III, Xavier Hutchinson, Tank Dell
TEs: Dalton Schultz, Brevin Jordan

Indianapolis Colts

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 4 September 2023

As's Stephen Holder reported last week, the Colts say they are attempting to move forward with Jonathan Taylor in their plans even while admitting the relationship between the running back and team is broken.

General manager Chris Ballard on Wednesday said the club wants to see its All-Pro running back return to the field this season but conceded there is significant fence-mending still to do.

"I'm not going to sit here and give you some rosy picture, like, 'Oh, everything's OK,'" Ballard said. "It sucks for the Colts. It sucks for Jonathan Taylor. And it sucks for our fans. It just does. It's where we're at and we've got to work through it and we're going to do everything we can to work through it. Relationships are repairable. They're repairable."

One day after declining trade offers for Taylor that multiple sources said did not meet the team's desired threshold, Ballard outlined his current and past decisions on Taylor, who the team informed in May it would not be giving a contract extension this offseason. Taylor is entering the final season of his rookie contract.

Taylor requested a trade when reporting for training camp and, last week, was given permission to seek a trade partner. Now, he's been moved to the physically unable to perform list and will miss at least the first four games of the season.

But his relationship with the team remains in a state of disrepair. Ballard on Wednesday tried to calm the situation.

"I want everybody to know, Jonathan is a well-respected and a really good human being and a damn good football player," he said. "I think we all know this. Things like this happen. I tell every rookie that comes in, there's going to be a point when we disagree and it's usually about money and it's going to be hard. And just know that doesn't change my care level for you. I care deeply for Jonathan Taylor.

"I won't quit on the relationship."

Another thing the Colts will not do is pay him, at least for now. The Colts have not backed off that statement. They also, Ballard confirmed, have not eliminated the possibility of using the franchise tag on Taylor after this season -- a reality that Taylor is wary of.

Asked whether he or the team could have done more to resolve the situation at any point, Ballard took a long pause before answering.

"That's a fair question," he said. "I've thought a lot about it. ... I felt I was very honest with all my discussions. I've thought through, what we could have done differently. I'm sure both sides would probably tell you, 'Man, I wish I'd have done something a little bit differently.' But the one thing I do know is it doesn't do me any good or anybody any good to sit up and say, 'It's somebody else's fault.'"

Taylor was placed on the PUP list because, Ballard said, he is "still having effects from last year's [ankle] surgery and still having pain and not 100 percent. We're not going to put a player on the field that's still complaining of pain in the ankle."

Taylor, Ballard said, will continue to rehab and there's optimism he can return to the field soon.

But getting Taylor on the same page as the Colts -- he still hasn't rescinded his trade request -- is a whole different matter, even if Ballard seems willing to try.

"If you ever in your life had a good friend, spouse, family member that you've had a disagreement with, [do you] then draw a line in the sand and say, 'This person's out of my life?'" Ballard said. "Well, no. I mean, how do you do that?"

While Ballard's press conference was -- rightfully -- dominated by discussion of Taylor, we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that when Indianapolis opens the season on Sept. 10 against the Jaguars, this year's No. 4 overall pick Anthony Richardson will line up at quarterback.

Head coach Shane Steichen named Richardson QB1 on Aug. 15. As's Myles Simmons suggests, it was no surprise, as the Colts have maintained since drafting the quarterback that he needs to play to develop.

Ballard said he's confident Richardson can handle the ups and downs of a season.

"He's a pretty cool customer," Ballard said. "I stayed on the sidelines this year, which I've done a lot, but I've done it more. I just wanted to feel it and feel him. Look, when he takes off and runs you can feel him. He's going to have moments of course. They all do when they're young. He is really poised, even after a bad play, he's really got some poise to him that's unique.

"There are going to be ups and downs -- we know it. Everybody in this room knows it, I know it. Everybody knows it. You've got to keep stepping up and learn from every situation -- the good ones and the bad ones -- and keep moving forward."

While Richardson won't have Taylor for at least the first four games as the running back is on the reserve/PUP list, Ballard said he doesn't think that will stunt Richardson's growth.

"No, not at all," Ballard said.

Richardson will begin his career against the Jaguars at home next Sunday.

According to ESPN's Dan Graziano, we shouldn't be surprised if Richardson leads the league in interceptions.

Graziano went on to contend the Colts actually think he's further along than the pre-draft evaluations had us believe. All involved know there are going to be throws and drives and even whole games in which he does things other people simply can't physically do. But Richardson started only 13 games in college, and he will be developing while playing in real NFL games.

He threw nine picks on 327 pass attempts in his final year at Florida. So he's going to make mistakes, bad decisions and head-scratching throws.

Still, NBC Sports' Matthew Berry, while acknowledging Richardson is going to struggle at times this season, went to stress the rookie QB is also going to win some weekly matchups essentially all by himself

Richardson is 6-4, 224 pounds and runs a 4.43 40.

Why is that significant?

Because last season, four of the top six quarterbacks in PPG had 700-plus rushing yards. With a chance Taylor may hold out or be traded, Richardson is very much in play to lead the Colts in rushing touchdowns this year. And don't forget: Steichen saw Jalen Hurts finish as QB2 in PPG in his first two seasons as a starter.

Since 2000, QBs finishing fifth or better in rushes among the position have an average fantasy rank of 10.2, and 67.2 percent of them finished as a top 12 fantasy quarterback with 48.3 percent of them finishing as a top eight fantasy quarterback.

Richardson will develop as a passer in time -- or at least the Colts hope he will -- but there are plenty of fantasy points to be had in the meantime.

Just maybe not as many as we'd like for Michael Pittman Jr.

Per Berry, Pittman had fewer than 60 receiving yards in 10 of his 16 games last season. His 9.3 yards per reception were 77th out of 80 qualified receivers. And despite reeling in 99 balls last season, only three of those receptions were on passes of 15 yards or more.

That said, the fourth-year receiver is big, rangy and naturally competitive and is likely to become Richardson's favorite target as long as he's healthy. WRs Alec Pierce and Josh Downs may be more explosive, but Pittman almost certainly will draw more targets over 17 games. ...

For the record, with Taylor out for at least the first four weeks of the season, the Colts won't be naming a clear No. 1 running back in his absence.

Zack Moss has returned to practice after breaking his arm early in training camp and he will join Deon Jackson and Evan Hull as options in the backfield against Jacksonville this weekend. On Monday, Steichen suggested that all three backs will get chances to show their skills and that the team will make choices about how to divvy up playing time based on how they perform.

"I think it's running back-by-committee," Steichen said, via Joel A. Erickson of the Indianapolis Star. "Whoever's got the hot hand, let 'em ride a little bit."

Steichen spent the last couple of years with the Eagles and they got contributions from several backs despite having Miles Sanders at the top of the depth chart. The Colts don't have that kind of certainty to kick off the season, but they'll be hoping to find the right formula to complement Richardson.

In a related note. ... ESPN's Jeremy Fowler reports the Colts hosted free agent RB James Robinson for a visit. The Colts met with Robinson to see what he could provide in the immediate future. Since being traded to the Jets in October, Robinson has bounced around between the Patriots and Giants this offseason, and is now in search of his third team in the last five months. ... We'll be watching for more on this. ...

Finally... In addition to Taylor, the Colts placed TE Jelani Woods on IR with a hamstring injury. He's also out for the first four games of the regular season.

QBs: Joe Flacco, Sam Ehlinger, Kellen Mond, Anthony Richardson
RBs: Jonathan Taylor, Trey Sermon, Evan Hull
WRs: Michael Pittman Jr., Josh Downs, Alec Pierce, Isaiah McKenzie, D.J. Montgomery
TEs: Mo Alie-Cox, Kylen Granson, Will Mallory, Andrew Ogletree, Jelani Woods

Jacksonville Jaguars

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 4 September 2023

Second-year Jags coach Doug Pederson returns 21 of 22 starters from last year's team that won six consecutive games before losing at eventual Super Bowl champion Kansas City in the divisional round of the playoffs. Pederson and general manager Trent Baalke feel good about the progress they made in their first year together and believe continuity and carryover will result in another AFC South title and a deeper postseason run.

Trevor Lawrence expects growth in his second year in the system and should benefit from the addition of dynamic wideout Calvin Ridley, who joins a receiving corps that includes receivers Christian Kirk and Zay Jones, tight end Evan Engram and running Travis Etienne.

Jacksonville used its top three draft picks on the offensive side of the ball, bringing in RT Anton Harrison, TE Brenton Strange and RB Tank Bigsby -- newcomers who should help bolster a unit that is looking for better results in short-yardage and goal-line situations.

The Jaguars' defense has more question marks, starting with a lackluster pass rush that's counting on 2022 No. 1 pick Travon Walker making huge strides and fellow first-round picks Josh Allen and K'Lavon Chaisson showing up in contract years.

Still, the Jaguars have perhaps their best collection of offensive talent since Jimmy Smith, Keenan McCardell and Fred Taylor starred for Jacksonville beginning in the late 1990s.

Ridley, Kirk, Engram, Jones and Etienne consider themselves an elite group of playmakers, able to stack up with any team in the league, and no one would be surprised to see Lawrence throw for 5,000 yards in the regular season.

Despite being away from football for nearly two years, Ridley looks like the same guy who tallied more than 3,000 yards receiving in his first three seasons. He caught 90 passes for 1,374 yards and nine touchdowns in 2020 despite playing through a foot injury. Now fully healthy and enjoying a change of scenery in a contract year, Ridley could be poised for huge numbers as Lawrence's go-to guy.

And what about Lawrence?

Few players have entered the NFL with expectations as high as the talented signal caller, who went to the Jaguars with the first overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft and might have been the top pick in 2020 or 2019, if he had been draft eligible.

According to his coach, Lawrence is meeting expectations. Pederson told Sky Sports (via that Lawrence is everything that everyone thought he would be when he was starring at Clemson.

"He's the real deal," Pederson said of Lawrence. "He's a sponge on the practice field, he's a great communicator with us as a staff, great leader. He's the guy we all anticipated he was, and he is. We're excited for that. He's still young. He's got a lot of ball ahead of him. ..."

Although Lawrence struggled as a rookie during the disastrous Urban Meyer tenure, Pederson said Lawrence grew over the course of his second season and is continuing to grow now.

What does the ceiling look like?

According to NBC Sports' Matthew Berry, last season, Lawrence was one of just three quarterbacks with 4,000 passing yards and five or more rushing touchdowns (Josh Allen and Joe Burrow were the others). Lawrence was also tied for fifth among quarterbacks in games with 18-plus fantasy points (9) and games with 20-plus (6).

And he had a Top 15 QBR in 2022 after finishing 27th in that metric as a rookie.

All of which to say: Lawrence's leap in 2022 was very real and spectacular. He continued to progress throughout the season, averaging 20.8 PPG from Weeks 6 to 16 (QB6 over that stretch). Berry is betting on Lawrence to continue to progress in 2023.

Meanwhile, ESPN's Dan Graziano contends we shouldn't be surprised if Kirk's production takes a dip, even as the offense improves.

With Ridley and Jones best suited for outside receiver duties, Kirk is likely going to be confined to the slot even more than he was in 2022. Last year, 27 percent of Kirk's routes, 27 percent of his targets, 29 percent of his catches, 26 percent of his yards and 50 percent of his touchdowns came when he was lined up outside. If all of those disappeared, he still would have been a productive player (60 catches, 815 yards, four touchdowns). He just wouldn't have been the No. 19 wide receiver in fantasy points per game.

Ridley's arrival could make those outside opportunities for Kirk dry up.

QBs: Trevor Lawrence, Mac Jones, C.J. Beathard, Nathan Rourke
RBs: Travis Etienne Jr., Tank Bigsby, D'Ernest Johnson
WRs: Gabe Davis, Parker Washington, Tim Jones, Jamal Agnew, Christian Kirk
TEs: Evan Engram, Brenton Strange, Luke Farrell, Elijah Cooks

Kansas City Chiefs

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 4 September 2023

The Lombardi Trophy.

That is where expectations begin and end for the Chiefs, who have won the AFC West seven consecutive seasons, hosted the past five AFC title games, reached three of the past four Super Bowls and won their second title in four seasons with a comeback win over Philadelphia in February.

Patrick Mahomes is coming off his second league MVP award, along with a Super Bowl MVP trophy, and TE Travis Kelce, RB Isiah Pacheco and one of the best interior offensive lines in the NFL return around him.

The Chiefs have new receivers in second-round pick Rashee Rice and Richie James, who replaced Juju Smith-Schuster and Mecole Hardman. They also have new OTs Jawaan Taylor and Donovan Smith.

The defense has some significant questions, though. All-Pro DT Chris Jones appears to be taking his holdout right into the regular season, DE Charles Omenihu is suspended the first six games for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy, and CB L'Jarius Sneed missed almost all of training camp with a knee injury.

But that offense?

The Chiefs led the NFL in yards per game, passing yards per game and points per game, and Mahomes was the obvious reason why. He threw for a franchise-record 5,250 yards along with a league-leading 41 touchdown passes and only 12 interceptions. The ankle that he hurt in the playoffs against Jacksonville is healed and ready to go.

But there are major concerns this week, perhaps more so for fantasy managers than the Chiefs.

Kelce hyperextended his knee during practice, head coach Andy Reid told reporters on Tuesday. NFL Network Insiders Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero reported Tuesday afternoon that Kelce is believed to have avoided a long-term knee injury (Rapoport is suggesting it's actually a bone bruise), but his status for Thursday is in doubt. Once swelling in Kelce's knee decreases, his status for Week 1 should become clearer, Rapoport and Pelissero added.

ESPN's Adam Schefter chimed in as well, advising readers the team believes Kelce's ACL is intact.

Kelce was listed as a limited participant in Tuesday's practice.

Kelce, who hasn't missed a game due to injury since 2013, absent for any period of time would be massive for the Super Bowl champs.

The tight end generated 110 receptions (third-most in the NFL), 1,338 yards (eighth), and 12 touchdowns (second) in 2022. Since Mahomes took over behind center in 2018, Kelce has generated 493 catches and 6,298 receiving yards, the most by any QB-pass catcher duo over that span. Earning eight straight Pro Bowl appearances, Kelce has led the Chiefs in receptions in six of the past seven seasons.

Noah Gray and Blake Bell are the tight ends in line if Kelce misses time.

The Chiefs entered the offseason with questions once again at receiver, with young players like Kadarius Toney and Skyy Moore expected to take on bigger roles. The safety net to all the WR discussion was the assumption that Kelce would continue to be Mahomes' security blanket and big-play target.

Now, two days from the 2023 Kickoff Game, that assumption is in question.

With the Chris Jones situation still unresolved, it's possible K.C. could be without two of its biggest stars come Thursday.

Toney, who missed most of training camp and all of the offseason after undergoing another knee procedure, is on track to play on Thursday night, although he was limited in practice Monday and Tuesday.

"Right now, he's good to go," Reid told reporters on Sunday, via Tyler Sullivan of "He's moving around pretty good."

Mahomes said Toney's return is "obviously a positive."

"The talent that he has, the competitor that he is -- to be able to go out there and have that weapon would definitely be a huge positive," Mahomes said in his Sunday press conference. "He's done a great job in the practices that he's been in so far, and I'm looking forward to him continuing to step up and be even better and be more like his normal self.

"Honestly going out there the first few days and seeing him, he looks like KT. I'm excited for that, he put a lot of time in that rehab process so that he can get himself ready, hopefully, to play in this first week."

Toney, a 2021 first-round draft pick of the Giants, was traded to the Chiefs last season. The Chiefs are hopeful that he can become the true No. 1 receiver they haven't had since trading Tyreek Hill during the 2022 offseason.

In seven regular-season games with the Chiefs, Toney had 14 catches for 171 yards and two touchdowns. He added 59 rushing yards and a touchdown. During Super Bowl LVII, he had one catch but it went for a key second-half touchdown as the Chiefs came from behind to beat the Eagles.

The stories on Kelce and Toney will advance when the team releases its official injury report Wednesday; we'll obviously be watching closely and will bring you any developments via Late-Breaking Update in advance of Thursday's kickoff. ...

Meanwhile, The Ringer ranked every offense in the NFL on Monday in anticipation of the upcoming season, and following a campaign in which the Kansas City Chiefs led the league in both scoring (29.2 points) and total offense (413.6 yards), the reigning Super Bowl champions nabbed the top spot.

Here's a portion of what the article's author, Sheil Kapadia, wrote about Kansas City:

"Surprised? I didn't think so. The Chiefs had the best offense last season, and it wasn't close. They ranked first in expected points added per drive, and the difference between them and the second-ranked Eagles was the same as the difference between the Eagles and the 16th-ranked Packers."

Indeed, the Chiefs' offense was nothing short of prolific in 2022. Kansas City racked up the most total yards (7,032), touchdowns (61), first downs (408) and points (496) of any team in the league. The Chiefs also recorded the most passing yards (5,250) and passing plays of 25-plus yards (49) of any team.

In fact, those 49 big passing plays were the third-most for any team since at least 1994, trailing only the 2019 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (54) and the 2018 Chiefs (52).

Additionally, since Mahomes became the Chiefs' starter in 2018, Kansas City has never finished a season outside of the top six in either scoring or total offense. The Chiefs have ranked as the top scoring offense twice (2018 and 2022) and the top overall offense three times (2018, 2020 and 2022) during that span.

It's all to say that the Chiefs have routinely fielded one of the league's best offenses, and according to Kapadia's article, Kansas City once again enters this upcoming season with the top scoring attack in the league and nobody should be concerned about a change of coordinator.

Expect the offense to keep humming with Matt Nagy back as coordinator. Eric Bieniemy left for the same job with Washington, and Nagy is back in the position after using it as a springboard to a four-year stint as the head coach in Chicago. His voice will be familiar to Mahomes and the offense shouldn't change much.

Also of interest. ... It was a difficult rookie season for Moore, but moving from Western Michigan to the NFL is quite the leap. This season, he can be a second-year breakout receiver that we often see.

The target hierarchy with the Kansas City Chiefs behind Kelce -- assuming he's available, is up in the air. Moore could be the Chiefs' top slot receiver in 2023, a valuable role for fantasy.

So while Marquez Valdes-Scantling offers the biggest upside in terms of yardage, Moore could easily pace the Chiefs in receptions this season.

But others bear watching.

Looking at Kansas City receivers as potential "sleeper" candidates has been a struggle, but Rice brings a few differences that could potentially land him as Mahomes' top wideout for years to come.

Entering the season with second-round draft capital from April, Rice is behind a trio of holdovers on the depth chart that commanded just 133 targets last season. Rice drew 158 himself at SMU last year and has proven to have the durability to play every regular-season game for the Mustangs since the start of 2020 as a redshirt freshman.

This is an offense looking to Rice, Moore or Justyn Ross to step forward.

That being the case, it's worth noting's Matt Bowen believes Ross has all the physical tools to win perimeter matchups for quarterback Mahomes. ...

As for Thursday night's game,'s Geoff Ulrich notes the Chiefs are masters of motioning Kelce into beneficial matchups, and he scored 13 TDs against man coverage in 2023. The Lions struggled against this position last season, allowing the sixth-most fantasy points per game to TEs overall, and the second-most TDs to opposing TEs in the league.

If he plays, the Lions will try to limit him, but Ulrich believes Kelce's stat line in week 1 will likely end like it did most weeks for him in 2022-with a TD (or two) punched onto a busy reception and yardage line.

The Lions also allowed 15 rushing TDs to RBs last season, and while KC's DBOE (drop back over expectation) is above league average in nearly every game situation, it's likely that one of Jerick McKinnon or Pacheco will get a few solid goal line attempts against this weaker run defense.

Ulrich added that McKinnon could be a sneaky TD pick given Pacheco's lack of training camp work (he's coming off shoulder and hand surgery), but if the injury news stays rosy on the second-year back, then he'll be the favorite to handle the short-yardage stuff.

QBs: Patrick Mahomes, Blaine Gabbert, Carson Wentz
RBs: Isiah Pacheco, Clyde Edwards-Helaire
WRs: Marquise Brown, Rashee Rice, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Justin Watson, Kadarius Toney, Richie James, Justyn Ross, Skyy Moore, Mecole Hardman
TEs: Travis Kelce, Noah Gray, Blake Bell, Jody Fortson

Las Vegas Raiders

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 4 September 2023

Josh Jacobs, the NFL's reigning first-team All-Pro running back, said last Wednesday he isn't carrying any grudges after sitting out all of the Las Vegas Raiders' offseason program and training camp in a contract dispute.

"I mean, s---, we here," he said after practice on a conference call with reporters on site at the team facility. "We made it happen, so it ain't no hard feelings now. It's a clean slate with me. It was never. ... No hate on each side. I understood it, but at the same time I understood my value, too. So it was just about meeting in the middle."

Jacobs, who led the NFL in rushing yards (1,653), yards from scrimmage (2,053) and touches (393) last season, did not sign his $10.091 million franchise tag by the July 17 deadline.

As's Paul Gutierrez reminded readers, Jacobs agreed to an adjusted one-year deal worth up to $12 million with per-game bonuses on Saturday and reported to the team for the first time since locker clean-out day on Jan. 8. He is currently on the roster exemption/commissioner permission list, as the Raiders have 54 players on the roster with Jacobs.

Jacobs would not say Wednesday how large a load he might be able to carry going into the season opener at the Denver Broncos on Sept. 10, but he did say, "Physically, I ain't missed a step. I didn't have no errors [in practice]. I came in and it didn't feel like I missed a step."

Fellow running back Brandon Bolden concurred.

"Same old Josh," Bolden said. "He was away from football, he missed it, we missed him. Back to work, and having him out there today was big for everybody, including him.

"When you get that whole [running back] room to come back, it's just that much more energy in the room. It's great to have everybody back. Really great to have everybody back."

Jacobs said he stayed in shape working out at home in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

"With the high school guys back at my old high school," he said, "and, you know, just being able to mentor them and be around them and show them how, what it takes to get to the next level. I think that was just, it was just a fun experience, honestly."

Still, he missed being around his Raiders teammates, he said.

"You want to grind with your guys, especially knowing there's a lot of new guys coming in," he said. "You want the guys to know who you are and respect what you do, respect your work. That was just the biggest thing, not being able to have that camaraderie.

"But I wouldn't say they was just all negative, you know? Being at home allowed me to spend a lot more time with my kids and help my dad do his diet plans and get in shape and things like that. So, I mean, it was pros and cons on both sides, but at the end of the day, I wanted to play football. I wanted to be here with the guys. So, I'm just glad it worked out."

Jacobs also was wearing a new number, having traded in No. 28 for the No. 8 he wore at McLain High School and in college at Alabama. He said he wanted to switch digits last year.

"But they wanted to charge me $3.5 [million] for it, so I was like, 'Yeah, I'm not going to do that,'" he said, with a laugh, of having to reimburse the NFL for the inventory. "But, man, I mean, just all my life, that's the number I've always worn.

"That 8 just makes me feel like, you know, a superhero."

And what should we expect from Jacobs this week?

Maybe what Denver head coach Sean Payton is expecting: To see the running back who has run all over the Broncos in his first four seasons.

"Our plan defensively is, here are the key players," Payton said, via Mike Klis of 9News Denver. "He certainly is one of the more dominant running backs in the NFL, so that's how we'll approach the game."

Jacobs has posted several of his best games against the divisional opponent. He's rushed for 721 yards with nine touchdowns in seven games versus Denver. He has 574 rushing yards in eight games against Kansas City and 585 yards in seven games against Los Angeles.

Last season, Jacobs rushed for 144 yards and two TDs in a Week 4 win and 109 yards in Las Vegas' Week 11 victory.

The Raiders have beaten the Broncos in six consecutive matchups and seven out of the last eight. The only time Denver's won since 2019 was the last game of that season -- when Jacobs didn't play due to injury.

Still, Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels said a player needs practice time to get up to speed before getting a full complement of plays, so it's quite possible Jacobs will be eased back on the field.

"He's one of the smartest football players that you're going to coach," McDaniels said. "I think he'll acclimate very easily back into the system and what he's doing, and then we'll just see how the overall conditioning and readiness to play, how many snaps is that going to be, etc. We'll figure that out here in the next 10 days."

McDaniels has also indicated the team will rely heavily on the star running back again this season once he's rolling. Jacobs had nearly 400 touches last season between rushing and receiving.

Jacobs said he came away impressed with this year's team after his first practice.

"We got a lot faster," Jacobs said. "We've got a lot of guys that love the game. We've got a lot of guys with high IQs. That's the first thing I noticed.

"It's got me really excited for the season."

We'll continue watching for more on possible playing time restrictions or lack thereof as the weekend draws nearer; watch the Late-Breaking Updates section for more. ...

The Raiders got a new starting quarterback after signing Jimmy Garoppolo in the offseason but health is always a concern with him. If he can stay upright, Garoppolo has top-flight weapons in Davante Adams and Jakobi Meyers, but plays in a division with Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert -- and maybe a revitalized Russell Wilson.

Las Vegas' offense must hope its long-struggling defense improves enough so it doesn't have to win a lot of shootouts.

Fortunately, Garoppolo will have plenty of downfield weaponry if the need arises.

Led by Adams -- one of the league's top receivers -- the Raiders are talented and deep. The addition of Meyers gives Las Vegas a tremendous 1-2 punch, Hunter Renfrow is as good of a route runner as any receiver in the NFL and Tre Tucker is capable of stretching the field. Michael Mayer was drafted to replace Darren Waller, a tough task, but like his predecessor he possesses strong receiving skills. ...

For what it's worth, the Raiders kept three quarterbacks, opting to retain 15-year veteran Brian Hoyer in addition to Garoppolo and rookie Aidan O'Connell.

"The guys with some experience offer their hand to Aidan when he has opportunity to learn from them, and those guys are hard at work trying to get ready themselves," McDaniels said. "So that's a position that's important, obviously, and having some depth there is never a bad thing."

He said there wasn't a designated No. 2 quarterback necessarily, but the team would have to declare one each game, indicating Las Vegas would use the new emergency QB rule. ...

Fantasy managers have learned that Daniel Carlson is among the league's top assets for them.

He made 34 of 37 field goals last season, including 11 of 13 from 50-plus yards. Carlson was in midseason form in the preseason, making all seven field goals, including a 62-yarder against Dallas. ...

One last note here. ... According to ESPN's Dan Graziano, we shouldn't be surprised if we start to hear Adams' name thrown around as the trade deadline gets closer in October.

Graziano acknowledged it's far more likely Adams will get traded in the offseason, but October isn't out of the realm of possibility. He turns 31 in December and has $16.89 million in guaranteed salary on the books for 2024, so it wouldn't necessarily be easy. But if he continues to perform like he has, there should be interested teams.

Just last season, he broke 1,500 receiving yards for a second consecutive year and caught 14 touchdowns.

QBs: Aidan O'Connell, Gardner Minshew, Brian Hoyer
RBs: Alexander Mattison, Zamir White, Ameer Abdullah, Brandon Bolden
WRs: Davante Adams, Jakobi Meyers, Tre Tucker, Hunter Renfrow, DeAndre Carter, Kristian Wilkerson
TEs: Michael Mayer, Austin Hooper, Jesper Horsted

Los Angeles Chargers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 4 September 2023

The Chargers are looking to make consecutive postseason appearances for the first time since 2009. They have Justin Herbert, the league's highest-paid quarterback in annual salary, and an offense with plenty of talent at the skill positions.

The biggest questions surround the defense, ranked 23rd and 20th in Brandon Staley's two seasons as coach.

A solid defensive core is in place with linebackers Khalil Mack, Joey Bosa and safety Derwin James. Still, it is a unit prone to giving up big plays. While the players insist they have moved on from last year's 31-30 loss to Jacksonville in the wild-card game, where they blew a 27-point, first-half lead, there remain questions about whether this team can excel in close games consistently along with being able to play a complete game against some of the top teams in the league.

But the offense is our focal point here, and there's plenty to like.

Herbert's 2022 season -- his third in the NFL -- can best be described as a grind. He endured and played through fractured rib cartilage, not to mention an ever-revolving lineup around him due to injuries, with Keenan Allen, Mike Williams and Rashawn Slater all missing significant time.

The Bolts run game wasn't a factor and couldn't help take any pressure off him.

Yet he still finished second in the league with 4,739 passing yards and helped lead the Bolts to double-digit wins and the playoffs. Through Herbert's first three NFL seasons, he has the most passing yards and the second-most passing touchdowns by a quarterback in NFL history.

If Herbert (and the rest of the Chargers offense) can stay healthy in 2023, bigger things could be on the horizon.

According to Pro Football Focus, Herbert's average depth of target was just 7.2 yards in 2022, a stat that ranked 30th among quarterbacks with at least 300 pass attempts.

Put another way, Herbert and the Bolts simply weren't taking many deep shots down the field.

That aspect has been different in recent months under new Chargers Offensive Coordinator Kellen Moore.

Although Herbert needed time this offseason to recover from surgery to his non-throwing shoulder, he flourished in the spring and summer with one deep ball after another to Allen, Williams, Josh Palmer and first-round pick Quentin Johnston.

"Obviously, Justin has a cannon," Allen said in late May.

"When Mike goes deep, he has a new guy named Johnston, he can go deep. We're probably going to be going deep," Allen added with a laugh.

As NBC Sports' Matthew Berry notes, Herbert ranks Top 5 in completions and attempts on passes of 15-plus air yards. Johnston, who averaged 19 YPR in his college career, is 6-3, runs a 4.49 40 and has a 40.5-inch vertical. Berry added: "If/when Allen and Williams miss time due to injury, per usual custom, Johnston is in line to produce even more. ..."

For what it's worth. ... The Athletic's Daniel Popper believes Palmer will be the Chargers' No. 3 wideout to start the season. Palmer, Popper said (via Rotoworld), "will get a majority of the snaps as that third receiver early in the season." During a recent appearance with the FootballDiehards on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio, Associated Press Chargers reporter Joe Reedy said the same, noting at the same time that Johnston -- taken in the first round of the 2023 draft -- will be relegated to a rotational role in the regular season's early going.

Whatever the case, as Herbert enters Year 4 with a freshly minted contract extension in hand, the quarterback laid out what he's looking for in 2023.

"Just being a better quarterback," the reserved Herbert said. "Continuing to improve and continuing on the mistakes that we made last year, fixing those and getting better.

"I think we have the talent outside to be able to push the ball down the field and get it to those guys," Herbert added. "The NFL is a long season. We're doing everything that we can to stay healthy as long as we can. I'm just excited to get back out there and play football."

If everything clicks for Herbert and Co. on offense, don't be surprised if the quarterback is in the MVP discussion around the holidays.

Beyond that, ESPN's Dan Graziano advised readers not to be surprised if Herbert sets statistical career highs across the board.

For the record, Herbert's current career highs include 2021's 5,014 yards and 38 touchdowns and last season's 68.2 percent completion percentage.

Why could he surpass those marks this year?

Graziano believes Moore is the answer.

Meanwhile, besides dispensing fantasy football advice on a weekly podcast on Yahoo Sports, Austin Ekeler has been racking up points for those who have him on their teams. He leads the league with 38 scrimmage touchdowns in the past two seasons. He was seventh in the NFL last year with 311 touches and became the fifth running back in league history with at least 100 catches in a season.

But there are weaknesses here.

As's Lindsey Thiry notes, while Ekeler is the established starter, it's unclear if Joshua Kelley and Isaiah Spiller have made enough progress in their development to provide Ekeler a breather and be relied on to shoulder some load. At tight end, where the Chargers opted not to add depth in the draft, Gerald Everett will be depended on as the starter with Donald Parham Jr. behind him. ...

Regarding the Kelley-Spiller competition,'s Matt Bowen is betting on the upside of Spiller, given his second-level elusiveness and lower-body balance, to emerge as the top insurance back for the Chargers. ...

As for this week's game against the Dolphins in Los Angeles?'s Chris Allen notes that Miami didn't get beat deep often and allowed the ninth-lowest explosive play rate in '22. So, teams took to the interior. Pass-catchers manning the slot totaled 11 of the 26 passing touchdowns scored against the Dolphins last season.

As a result, fantasy managers should have Allen locked into one of their starting spots come Week 1.

Per Chris Allen, the 31-year-old veteran had a 64.3 percent snap rate from the inside last season. And, when healthy, led the Chargers' receivers in red-zone targets.

While Miami's defensive front was top 8 in rushing EPA and success rate allowed, Chris Allen notes that Ekeler's dual-threat ability keeps every opponent on their toes. He was the only RB with top-5 marks in red-zone carry rate and overall target share. And with Miami allowing the fourth-most PPR points to RBs, Ekeler will remain in the RB1 discussion to start the season.

QBs: Easton Stick, Justin Herbert
RBs: Gus Edwards, Joshua Kelley, Isaiah Spiller, Elijah Dotson, J.K. Dobbins
WRs: Josh Palmer, Quentin Johnston, Jalen Guyton, Derius Davis
TEs: Donald Parham, Stone Smartt

Los Angeles Rams

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 4 September 2023

This is not great news. ... All-Pro wide receiver Cooper Kupp was in Minnesota on Monday to see a specialist in the hopes of getting at the root of his hamstring issues, coach Sean McVay said.

The visit comes after Kupp had a setback with his recovery from a hamstring injury last week.

McVay said Kupp remains day-to-day, adding that he should have more clarity on Kupp's availability for Week 1 on Wednesday. The Rams open their season Sunday at the Seattle Seahawks.

"I think you just move forward, and you have to be able to operate with the situation and the guys we do have and if he's able to go then that's outstanding for us and, if not, then that's kind of how we've been operating it," McVay said.

"I think the most important thing is that whenever he's ready to take the field, whether that be this week, whether that be Week 2, whatever it is, as long as he's able to have that return to performance, he's feeling like the Cooper Kupp that we all know and love and he's got some clarity on what is really going on, I think that will be a really good situation for us."

Kupp, 30, was first injured in a training camp practice Aug. 1 and missed all three preseason games.

McVay said Kupp's absence has "forced growth and development" for the rest of the Rams' receivers, who include Van Jefferson and Tutu Atwell.

"Here's what I'll say: I know how badly Cooper wants to be available and wants to be available for his teammates, so I first feel for him. The second thing is what we're not going to do is to get caught up with things that are outside of our control. I'm not doing that," McVay said.

NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported that exercising caution for that matchup is the likely outcome -- but he mentioned there remains no firm word on his status.

Kupp has been the engine that's made the Rams' offense go for several seasons now, so it is imperative he get right if L.A. is to redeem itself coming off a dismal 5-12 campaign.

The Associated Press Offensive Player of the Year during the team's Super Bowl run a season prior when he led the NFL in receptions (145), yards (1,947) and touchdowns (16), Kupp saw similar results through nine games in 2022 with 75 catches for 812 yards and six scores, operating at the top of his talents even as the team struggled to mount a championship defense.

A high ankle injury knocked him out for the season's final eight games, after which the Rams fell into a deeper rut, going 2-6 in Kupp's absence.

Hamstring injuries notoriously linger, so Kupp's visit to a specialist will hopefully give the wideout information that allows him to stay on the mend and avoid such a scenario again.

Otherwise, the Rams could find themselves up against it again in 2023.

Stay tuned. I'll obviously follow this story closely and report back further via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

Other notes of interest. ... As the Associated Press suggested, less than two years after their Super Bowl championship season, the Rams are hard to recognize.

They're voluntarily taking most of their major salary cap hits this year by gutting their roster and making no major free agent additions, leaving a skeleton crew of youngsters and castoffs to play around Aaron Donald, Matthew Stafford and Kupp.

The defense is particularly barren, with unimpressive ex-backups and untested rookies or second-year players expected to take on major roles in the absence of any proven talent.

Not everything is grim, however: Stafford appears to be healthy and re-energized after missing half of last season, and McVay seems enthused and confident about his ability to build a winner from a humble starting point, just like he did in 2017. The team that McVay inherited six years ago was more talented than the group that will try gamely to compete in 2023, but the Rams believe they're on the way back up, with playoff contention not out of the question one year after the worst season by a defending champ in NFL history.

Stafford and McVay are likely the best in the NFC West in their respective jobs, and that's the primary reason for any optimism about a team with clearly subpar talent on both lines and in the defensive backfield.

If Stafford stays healthy and feels rejuvenated after last season's struggles, he has the playmakers necessary to dial up enough offense in McVay's schemes to win a few high-scoring games. Two skill-position players will be particularly motivated in their contract years: running back Cam Akers and Jefferson.

According to NBC Sports' Matthew Berry, cheap volume is also a hallmark of Akers, who has no real competition in the Rams backfield and was the 5th best running back in fantasy over the final six games last year, averaging over 19 touches per game, despite running behind one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL.

The Rams' only addition to the mediocre, injury-plagued O-line that allowed Stafford to get crushed repeatedly last year was second-round pick Steve Avila, who looks sharp at guard so far. The rest of the group is fairly unimpressive. ...

That said, everything depends on health for a Super Bowl MVP who missed the second half of last season, but if Stafford and Kupp are both at full strength, Kupp has the chance to recapture the form that won him the NFL's triple crown of receiving in 2021.

The Athletic's Jourdan Rodrigue reports (via Rotoworld) that Jefferson would be the Rams' No. 1 receiver if Kupp misses time.

As Rotoworld reminded readers, Jefferson didn't play a single snap with Stafford in 2022 as Jefferson recovered from an ACL injury just in time to return to the lineup when Stafford was sidelined. Jefferson last season served as the team's nominal No. 1 wideout after Kupp went down with a season-ending ankle injury, catching 24 passes for 369 yards with three touchdowns over 11 games.

Puka Nacua and Atwell, according to Rodrigue, would function as the Rams' second and third receivers if Kupp is out.

Tyler Higbee is coming off a season in which he had the third-highest target share (20.9 percent) among all tight ends, was Top 5 at the position in targets, receptions and red zone targets, and Top 10 in receiving yards. So he'll continue to be busy, Kupp or not.

QBs: Matthew Stafford, Jimmy Garoppolo, Stetson Bennett
RBs: Kyren Williams, Royce Freeman, Zach Evans, Ronnie Rivers
WRs: Cooper Kupp, Puka Nacua, Tutu Atwell, Ben Skowronek, Demarcus Robinson
TEs: Tyler Higbee, Brycen Hopkins, Colby Parkinson, Hunter Long, Davis Allen

Miami Dolphins

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 4 September 2023

As the Associated Press suggests, the Dolphins have a roster built for contention, and they're targeting a deep postseason run after losing to Buffalo in last season's wild-card round. They just need to stay healthy.

Miami brought back essentially every key contributor from last year's offense, which finished sixth in total offense and second in yards per play. Now, quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and explosive receivers Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle have one year in Mike McDaniel's system under their belts. The Dolphins showed their confidence in Tagovailoa by picking up the fifth-year option on his rookie deal, and he has been training in the martial art Jiu Jitsu to better protect himself on the field after being diagnosed with two concussions last year.

The Dolphins are also transitioning to a new defense under Vic Fangio. They traded for All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey, but an injury during training camp will sideline him through the start of the regular season. Miami has plenty of talent on that side, which features veteran cornerback Xavien Howard, safety Jevon Holland and linebacker Jaelan Phillips.

Defensive tackle Christian Wilkins has not participated in team drills during training camp as he seeks a new contract.

Still the passing attack should be poised for another dominant season, and Hill said he's eyeing a 2,000-yard campaign after finishing 2022 with 1,710 yards receiving.

While that seems like it reach, it would be that much harder if Tagovailoa misses time.

Miami travels to Los Angeles on Sept. 10 to take on the Chargers, who have two of the best pass-rushers over the past decade. Since defensive end Joey Bosa was drafted in 2016, he and teammate Khalil Mack have combined for 126 sacks, 159 disrupted dropbacks and 36 forced fumbles.

The duo played only five games together last season as Bosa missed 12 with a groin injury, but now healthy, the tandem should provide an immediate test for Tagovailoa and an offensive line that still has questions to answer.

According to's Marcel Louis-Jacques, Miami's pass block win rate of 55.6 percent ranked ninth worst in the NFL last season -- an improvement from its league-worst 46.6 percent in 2021.

Pro Bowl left tackle Terron Armstead and center Connor Williams added an influx of talent to the OL a season ago, and they return to their roles in 2023. So does right guard Robert Hunt, who has started the past 34 regular-season games at his position.

The two biggest questions remain at left guard and right tackle.

At guard, Liam Eichenberg, who started there last season, has been limited with an undisclosed injury, and Robert Jones, who is also vying for that spot, has an MCL sprain. Right tackle Austin Jackson has a lot to prove after battling an ankle injury last year.

Adding to the concerns, the Dolphins still don't have Armstead back at practice, but head coach Mike McDaniel said Monday that Armstead is "progressing well."

Armstead was carted off the practice field Aug. 17 with a right leg injury.

He has never played a full season in any of his 10 seasons. That includes four games on the sideline last season in his first season in Miami.

Armstead underwent arthroscopic surgery on his knee this offseason.

The Dolphins did have safety Brandon Jones, running back Devon Achane and Waddle return to practice Monday.

Achane was considered "week to week" after injuring his shoulder in the second preseason game on Aug. 19. Achane figures to be a perfect fit for McDaniel's offense and will likely immediately see a role as a receiver out of the backfield after a solid camp and preseason, shoulder willing.

Waddle injured his right midsection in an Aug. 9 joint practice with the Falcons.

Waddle, the No. 6 overall pick in 2021, led the league with 18.1 yards per reception in 2022, catching 75 passes for 1,356 yards with eight touchdowns.

Jones is returning from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in Week 7 of last season.

Jeff Wilson Jr. will start the season on injured reserve because of midsection and finger injuries. McDaniel said there is a possibility that Wilson can play this season.

"It was a midsection injury compounded by some finger issues, and really, we just made the assessment that he couldn't protect himself and be himself the way we know him to be," McDaniel said, "so time is the best healer. Knowing Jeff, his true passion in life is to play this game, so he'll do everything he can. I definitely wouldn't be surprised if he would make a return this season, but we'll let his body tell us."

Wilson's injury leaves Miami with veteran Raheem Mostert, Achane, Salvon Ahmed, Chris Brooks, who made the team as an undrafted rookie free agent, and fullback Alec Ingold in the backfield.

Ahmed, who left Miami's preseason finale against Jacksonville with an injury has resumed practicing. Ahmed had a strong preseason, with 16 carries for 142 yards and 8.9 yards per carry.

Mostert, who dealt with various injuries in 2022, led Miami in rushing with 891 yards on 181 carries.

Wilson joined the team in November via a trade with San Francisco, but led Miami's ball carriers with five rushing TDs. Both Wilson and Mostert averaged more than 4.6 yards per carry and were expected to share lead running back duties in 2023.

Mostert spent much of the offseason hearing talk that the team was going to bring in another running back to supplant him on the depth chart. There was talk of a trade for Josh Jacobs, signing Dalvin Cook and most recently, trading for Jonathan Taylor.

Mostert ignored it all.

So when McDaniel was asked what he has seen from Mostert as he prepares for this season, he praised Mostert for not letting anything distract him.

"Outstanding focus," McDaniel said of Mostert. "I couldn't highlight a guy in a better light. He's someone that's directly heard a ton of noise for months and months and months. It's almost like every day that it's loud, you see extra focus, and that epitomizes the journey of an NFL player.

"We're in a very fortunate business to be able to do the things we do on the stage we do and be compensated the way we are. However, it comes at a cost, and that's a lot of people having opinions that directly or indirectly relate to you, and you can't control that at all. I think the sooner that you open your eyes to that, the better. So to have a guy like Raheem, who I've had such a cool journey with, and to watch him work, is the exact thing that you have to do in this business at some point in time. Look, we're all earning our day to day and not entitled to anything, and he shows exactly that with how he carries himself. I'm so proud of him as a professional. Just another reason why I have such a strong human connection with that player."

Mostert is coming off a season in which he gained a career-high 891 rushing yards for the Dolphins last season.

Now that they know he's the No. 1 running back, the Dolphins are hoping for even more from Mostert this season.

But Miami's passing attack is the apple of fantasy managers' minds.

Not sure about Tagovailoa's upside?

NBC Sports' Matthew Berry would like to remind you that Tua led all quarterbacks in passer rating in 2022 and had the third-highest QBR (68.8), behind only Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes. He led all quarterbacks in yards per pass attempt and completion rate on deep passes, had the second-highest touchdown rate and was fifth in passing yards per game, putting up at least 270 passing yards in eight of his 12 full games.

All that made him QB10 in PPG despite the health issues.

Beyond that, the Dolphins were tied for most completions of 50 or more yards (eight) in the NFL last season, and probably would have led outright if Tua remained healthy the entire season.

And's Chris Allen advised his readers if the preseason is any indication, the Dolphins' passing attack will pick up where it left off in 2022. When Tagovailoa was under center, Miami had a +5.3 percent pass rate over expected (PROE). Only the Chiefs, Bills, and Bengals threw the ball more.

But none of them had the same depth. Tua's 10.1 passing aDOT ranked second in the league. And with his receiving options, it's easy to see why.

Hill and Waddle accounted for 67.4 percent of Tua's yards. Across his 12 healthy games, Hill (3.43) and Waddle (3.13) were first and second in yards per route run (YPRR). They were both top 10 in total YAC. And, theoretically, their ability to turn a big gain into six points would put them at an advantage.

The Chargers allowed the third-highest explosive pass rate last season (9.9 percent). But Allen points out that Chargers' HC Brandon Staley doesn't slouch when it comes to defensive game planning.

Tua's average time to throw was 2.5 seconds in his 12 other games. He got the ball out as fast as Joe Burrow. But when Tua faced LA last season, it was like his controller got disconnected while playing Madden. He averaged 2.76 seconds to throw and only mustered eight first downs.

A third option in the aerial attack would keep the offense moving, and Achane, who posted a 4.32-second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, could be it. ...

In a related note. ... The backup quarterback competition between Mike White and Skylar Thompson has been the most significant one of camp, and we have a winner.

White will be Dolphins QB2 backing up Tagovailoa to start the season, per McDaniel. But all three QBs will be active on game days due to a new NFL rule change. ...

And finally. ... Hill said last month that he was not concerned about getting suspended by the league as a result of a June altercation at a Florida marina and he has no reason to change that view.

The NFL said last Thursday that Hill will not face any discipline for the incident under the Personal Conduct Policy.

Hill reached an undisclosed settlement with a worker at the marina who accused Hill of striking him during a disagreement on June 18. Hill did not face any criminal charges after an investigation by the Miami-Dade Police Department.

Now that the league has also declined to discipline Hill, the wideout is fully on track for the start of the 2023 season.

QBs: Tua Tagovailoa, Mike White, Skylar Thompson
RBs: Raheem Mostert, De'Von Achane, Jeff Wilson, Salvon Ahmed, Christopher Brooks
WRs: Tyreek Hill, Jaylen Waddle, Odell Beckham, Braxton Berrios, Cedrick Wilson, Chase Claypool, River Cracraft
TEs: Durham Smythe, Jonnu Smith, Julian Hill, Tyler Kroft

Minnesota Vikings

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 4 September 2023

After an NFC North title in head coach Kevin O'Connell's rookie season behind an NFL-record 11 wins in one-score games, second-year general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah took a longer view in the offseason with moves that prioritized future salary cap flexibility over 2023 competitiveness.

The Vikings dumped four players with a combined 10 Pro Bowl appearances, most notably RB Dalvin Cook after his fourth consecutive 1,000-yard rushing year and first season without missing a game. They also declined to extend the contract for QB Kirk Cousins, putting him in another prove-it year.

Still, the division is wide open for the taking.

Last season's record will be awfully tough to match, but returning to the playoffs wouldn't require it.

As long as WR Justin Jefferson is around, Cousins ought to have another solid year with greater comfort in O'Connell's system.

As Associated Press sports writer Rob Maaddi notes, Jefferson has been setting records and terrifying defenses since the Vikings selected him in the first round of the 2020 NFL draft.

The All-Pro wide receiver already broke four franchise records, including surpassing Hall of Famers Cris Carter and Randy Moss for receptions and yards in a single season. He not only holds the NFL record for most 100-yard receiving games (24) in a player's first three seasons, but will also have the most through four seasons even if he doesn't have one such game in 2023.

Jefferson became the youngest player in NFL history to lead the league in yards and receptions last season on his way to earning the AP Offensive Player of the Year award.

It's no surprise Jefferson was voted No. 1 wide receiver in the NFL by The Associated Press.

A panel of nine AP Pro Football Writers ranked the top five players at wide receiver, making their selections based on current status entering the 2023 season. First-place votes were worth 10 points. Second through fifth-place votes were worth 5, 3, 2 and 1 points.

Jefferson received seven first-place votes. Davante Adams and Cooper Kupp also received first-place votes. Jefferson and Tyreek Hill were the only wideouts named on each ballot.

Ja'Marr Chase, Stefon Diggs, DeAndre Hopkins and CeeDee Lamb also received votes.

Of course, it's hard to believe four wide receivers were drafted ahead of Jefferson. Henry Ruggs III went No. 12 to the Raiders. Jerry Jeudy went at 15 to Denver. Lamb was the 17th pick by Dallas. The Eagles took Jalen Reagor one pick before Jefferson at No. 21, leading to a celebration in Minnesota's draft room.

The Vikings knew what they were getting. Jefferson has exceeded high expectations.

But Cousins has more than just Jefferson to throw to, with K.J. Osborn, rookie Jordan Addison and TE T.J. Hockenson capable of the stretching a defense.

Addison's emergence in practice has been a welcomed sight.

According to ESPN's Dan Graziano, we shouldn't be surprised if Addison leads all rookie wide receivers in catches.

Graziano went on to acknowledge the Vikings' offense will still center around Jefferson, because how could it not?

But they drafted Addison in the first round for a reason, and he has been nothing short of awesome all summer. He offers an upgrade over what Minnesota got from a 32-year-old Adam Thielen last season, and he can help diversify the passing game and take it to another level in the second year under O'Connell.

Graziano contends it wouldn't be surprising to see Addison push the 80-catch mark in his rookie season, and Graziano believes the newcomer could do that without cutting into Jefferson's production very much at all. ...

Meanwhile, Hockenson was back on the practice field last Thursday, having seemingly put a summer's worth of injuries and illness behind him.

A sudden infusion into his bank account surely helped the healing process.

Hockenson signed a four-year contract extension that will pay him at least $66 million and up to $68.5 million, sources told ESPN's Adam Schefter, in a deal that resets the tight end market. A source told Schefter that the average annual value of the deal is $17.125 million and that Hockenson will make $42.5 million guaranteed -- both the highest for a tight end in NFL history.

Hockenson quickly became one of Cousins' top targets last season after a midseason trade from the Lions, hauling in 60 receptions for 519 yards and three touchdowns in 10 games, and then another 10 receptions for 129 yards in a wild-card playoff game against the New York Giants.

As NBC Sports' Matthew Berry pointed out, from Weeks 9 to 17, Hockenson was TE2 in PPG (14.1), averaged 9.4 targets per game, 6.6 receptions per game and had 11 red zone targets, which was Top 3 among tight ends over that stretch. Hockenson finished second among NFL tight ends last season with 86 receptions for 914 yards in 17 combined games with Minnesota and Detroit.

Whatever the case, Minnesota ranked third in pass attempts last season (672) so there's plenty to go around here. ...

As previously noted, Cook is no longer on board so all eyes are on Alexander Mattison.

Now the unchallenged featured ball carrier, Mattison ranked fifth in the NFL by converting a first down on 28.4 percent of his attempts last season among running backs with 250 rushing yards or more. In five career games with 20-plus carries, Mattison totaled 522 yards and two touchdowns on 114 rushes and 207 yards and two scores on 22 receptions.

But is he a true difference maker?'s Matt LaMarca notes that over the past two seasons, 74 RBs have had at least 100 carries. Among that group, Mattison ranks just 68th in yards per carry and 45th in success rate, which LaMarca suggests "shouldn't make you feel warm and fuzzy inside."

Volume matters, so Mattison will have value. It'll be interesting to see if he can surpass expectations.

QBs: Nick Mullens, Jaren Hall, Sam Darnold
RBs: Aaron Jones, Ty Chandler, C.J. Ham, Kene Nwangwu, Cam Akers
WRs: Justin Jefferson, Jordan Addison, K.J. Osborn, Brandon Powell, Jalen Nailor
TEs: Josh Oliver, Johnny Mundt, Nick Muse, T.J. Hockenson

New England Patriots

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 4 September 2023

This was an offseason of change for the Patriots after posting their second sub-.500 season since the departure of Tom Brady. The good news is the defensive side of the ball is also mostly intact, despite veteran safety Devin McCourty retiring.

But there might be reason for optimism beyond that.

Bill O'Brien is back at offensive coordinator and will look to restore order to a unit that regressed under Matt Patricia last season. In fact, Mac Jones and the Patriots' offense had a tough time adjusting to life without an official offensive coordinator in 2022.

As notes, the Patriots scored 31 offensive touchdowns, 17 fewer than they did in 2021. Their red-zone efficiency also dipped significantly as they scored a touchdown on a league-worst 42 percent of their red zone drives (19 TDs in 45 trips).

With O'Brien as their offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, Jones might look more like his rookie-year self in 2023.

Bill Belichick didn't acquire receiver DeAndre Hopkins in free agency, but did get Jones some assets help in receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and running back Ezekiel Elliott.

The question is whether the improvements will be enough for New England to compete in a division that features both Josh Allen and Aaron Rodgers. Much will depend on the play of Jones and the offense.

As's Zack Cox reminded readers, Belichick said days into training camp that the Patriots would give Jones and Bailey Zappe "a chance to compete" ahead of the 2023 season.

If there ever was any real competition between the two quarterbacks, Jones won it in a landslide.

The third-year pro enjoyed a far better summer than his second-year counterpart, quickly meshing with O'Brien's new (and, to Jones, familiar) offensive scheme while Zappe scuffled. New England's surprise decision to waive Zappe during final cuts was the final ten-count in this lopsided roster battle.

How was Jones able to run away with the starting job?

Belichick -- who repeatedly refused to declare Jones as New England's QB1 in the months prior -- offered an explanation Monday during an appearance on WEEI's "The Greg Hill Show."

"Mac's had a really solid spring and camp," Belichick said. "Very similar to what we talked about with (wide receiver) Kendrick Bourne. Out there every day, ready to go. (He's) in excellent physical condition and, I would say, made a lot of improvement over the course of the spring and training camp in reads, decision-making and timing, getting more work timing with the guys he's throwing to.

"He seems like he -- again, similar to what we talked about with KB -- had a good camp, works hard, ready to go. I'm looking forward to the season here with Mac."

Belichick shared similar praise for his signal-caller when speaking with reporters, saying Jones had a "good offseason" and "a really good camp."

"Comes to work every day, comes in early, stays late," Belichick said in a Monday morning video conference. "Works hard, understands the offense, how it works, how to get his teammates involved, how to help them be productive. He's had a really good stretch here in training camp and had a good spring to propel himself into this time period. It's been pretty consistent all the way through."

The first real test comes this week against the defending NFC champion Philadelphia Eagles and their sack-happy front seven in this Sunday's season opener at Gillette Stadium. ...

It remains to be seen whether Zappe or waiver-wire pickup Matt Corral will serve as Jones' primary backup for that game. The Patriots can call Zappe and Malik Cunningham up from the practice squad three times each before they would have to be exposed to waivers again, so it may be a while before anything's fully settled about the backup quarterback job in New England. ...

Meanwhile, according to ESPN's Dan Graziano, we shouldn't be surprised if wide receiver DeVante Parker has a big season.

Graziano went on to note that Parker, a first-round pick by Miami in 2015, had an outstanding summer as the Patriots' top wide receiver and could be poised for a great year in O'Brien's offense.

Now, yes, we've heard this kind of stuff before on Parker.

Somewhat amazingly, he's headed into his ninth NFL season. In only one of the previous eight has he managed to stay healthy enough to play every game. He has always seemed to have the ability to be a No. 1 wide receiver, but he has never really sustained that level of performance.

But little seems to be expected of this Patriots offense this season, and if you're looking for a spot where they could surprise, take another look at Parker, who averaged 17.4 yards per catch with New England in 2022.

Also worth noting, rookie receivers and sixth-round picks Demario Douglas and Kayshon Boutte were the stars of the spring, adding speed and athleticism to an offense sorely in need of both. They will have to fight for playing time behind veterans Bourne and Parker. But with Tyquan Thornton opening the season on IR, their playmaking ability is something the coaching staff will surely find a way to take advantage of. ...

One possible issue?

During a recent appearance on NBC Sports Boston, Sports Illustrated NFL insider Albert Breer cast doubt on the long-term viability of Smith-Schuster and specifically his knee.

"The underrated story here: Smith Schuster's knee is a mess, and that thing could explode at any point," Breer said. "So, you almost have to keep an extra receiver because of that."

This concern from Breer comes despite Smith-Schuster undergoing surgery this offseason after hurting it in the AFC Championship between the Kansas City Chiefs and Cincinnati Bengals before playing on it in the Super Bowl. But why is this still an issue?

Breer didn't exactly give details on what is causing Smith-Schuster's knee to be a "mess," but it likely has something to do with the delay he suffered in the rehab process this offseason. … Although, even with the delay in the rehab process, Smith-Schuster didn't sound concerned when asked about it last week.

"I don't think my knee is a ticking time bomb," Smith-Schuster said in an interview after last Wednesday's practice. "If anything, it's something that's getting stronger every day."

This seems to be true, as he managed to be a full participant in training camp and even played - albeit sparingly - in the preseason for the Patriots. Yet, it is hard to ignore the 26-year-old's injury track record, as he's only played in 16 games three times since entering the league in 2017.

For a Patriots receiving core that still doesn't look to have that elusive No. 1 option, they will rely on Smith-Schuster to help fill that void. And if injuries prove to be a problem, then the Patriots situation could prove troublesome. ...

Despite the Patriots' issues on offense last season, Rhamondre Stevenson rushed for 1,040 yards and five touchdowns, to go along with 69 catches for 421 yards and a TD. Elliott may be used more in short-yardage situations, but Stevenson will continue to be the workhorse for New England's offense and it should add up to lots of fantasy points.

That said, Elliott has fit right into the Patriots' culture and offense in his short time with the club.

"I think if you look at my play style and the culture of this team, it's a good match. I think I'm a good fit," Elliott said last week. "I was at home for a long time, so I thought I definitely should come in and be kind of an energizer boost. The transition has been good. I've been getting along with the team. Love the coaches, love the atmosphere and love this program. Just having fun."

With Elliott coming off career lows of 876 yards and 3.8 yards per carry last season, the question is how much the 28-year-old has left in the tank.

Elliott isn't worried about the outside perception. "I don't think any outside entity could put more pressure on me than any pressure I have for myself," he said. "So, it's not really to go out and prove anything to anyone but just go out there and show what kind of player I am."

Elliott profiles to share carries behind Stevenson and seems likely to get the bulk of the red-zone work, where he still showed prowess last season, earning 12 touchdowns.

Elliott's pass-blocking ability -- which remains among the best in the league -- should also earn him some snaps in non-rushing situations.

"He's a back that has a similar running style as me," Elliott said of Stevenson, "so I think we'll be able to complement each other very well."

The Pats clearly needed a veteran back to pair with Stevenson after the youngsters on the roster did nothing to stand out during training camp or preseason. Elliott won't see the 240-plus carries he got used to in Dallas, but he can certainly have a role in New England's offense.

The lightened workload may actually make Zeke a more effective back at this stage of his career.

One concern?

The offensive line.

The Patriots placed right tackle Riley Reiff on injured reserve Monday. Reiff hurt his leg or knee in the final preseason game.

He will miss a minimum of four games before returning.

The Patriots promoted tight end Pharaoh Brown to the active roster from the practice squad.

Calvin Anderson is expected to start at right tackle during Reiff's absence after coming off the non-football illness list last week. Mike Onwenu and Cole Strange are working their way back from injuries.

Veteran left tackle Trent Brown also dealt with unspecified injuries throughout camp.

If this group struggles it will be another long year for Jones. ...

Finally, before Brown's promotion, Hunter Henry and former Dolphin Mike Gesicki were the only two tight ends on the roster. Gesicki had an impressive offseason, but Henry has been dominant this summer while the newcomer dealt with a shoulder injury. Plus, Jones is at his best when throwing timing routes to the middle of the field, where Henry excels.

ESPN's Seth Walder is a believer.

"Henry will produce a career high in receiving yards," Walder wrote in making a bold prediction for the season. "Henry finished fourth in open score (68) among tight ends a year ago, and I'm betting on the Patriots offense to kick it up a notch or three under the direction of an offensive coordinator with experience, well, coordinating an offense.

"Henry's career-high receiving yardage is only 652, so this is certainly within reach."

QBs: Bailey Zappe, Jacoby Brissett
RBs: Rhamondre Stevenson, Antonio Gibson, JaMycal Hasty
WRs: DeVante Parker, Demario Douglas, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Tyquan Thornton, Kayshon Boutte, Matt Slater, Kendrick Bourne
TEs: Hunter Henry, Pharaoh Brown

New Orleans Saints

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 4 September 2023

As the Associated Press notes, the Saints are looking to avoid missing the playoffs for a third straight season and appear confident they can contend in the NFC South following some key roster moves and the healthy return of star players who were injured much of last season.

Their biggest move in free agency was to attract veteran quarterback Derek Carr, giving them a nine-year veteran with four Pro Bowl appearances under center.

His top receiving playmakers will include second-year star in the making Chris Olave and former two-time All-Pro Michael Thomas, who missed 14 games last season with a foot injury.

Thomas is as healthy as he's been in years and on track to be on the field for the start of the regular season after playing in just 10 games over the last three seasons.

Ankle and toe surgeries were part of the reason for his absence. In both cases, hardware was inserted to help Thomas' healing process but it did not wind up having the desired effect. Thomas said that the recovery from both surgeries was complicated by his body's resistance to the outside hardware.

"Your body responds and healing responds to it. Whatever, I guess is, the 1 percent? I guess I'm in that category. ... I don't want to use this as an excuse," Thomas said, via Katherine Terrell of "But also, when you get surgeries and they put hardware in, sometimes your body rejects the hardware. ..."

Now that the wideout is healthy again, New Orleans will be hoping that any surgical issues will be part of Thomas' past rather than his future.

If you're searching for a sleeper candidate to make a leap in 2023, add's Kevin Patra to the list of those touting TE Juwan Johnson.

An undrafted free agent in 2020, Johnson transitioned from receiver to tight end, showing signs the arrow was pointing up last season. In 2022, Johnson generated 42 catches, 508 yards and seven touchdowns, tied for third-most among all tight ends. During offseason work and camp, Johnson has reportedly been a favorite target of Carr.

Given the Johnson's size, athleticism, run-after-catch ability and catch radius, he has the skill set to break out in 2023.

"I've always seen myself being a good player," the tight end said, via the team's official website. "That's how I've always carried myself, going into high school and college, me being a good player but I know I always could be great. That's the tier I'm trying to break into, being great. ..."

As Patra points out, the connection with Carr got to the point during camp that beat writers were openly pondering whether the Saints were intentionally not targeting Johnson during practices to get others involved. Johnson came on strong last season, with seven of his TDs coming in a seven-game stretch. The question is whether he'll see enough targets to really break out.

With the Saints hosting the Titans this weekend, it's worth noting Tennessee tied for allowing the most top-12 finishes to WRs last season (13). According to's Chris Allen, 11 different receivers (including two from the same team in the same game) reached the century mark going up against Tennessee's corners.

Four had multi-touchdown games. With those numbers in mind, Carr's passing options are noteworthy. Olave had the third-highest air-yard share of any receiver. He tied Justin Jefferson in targets per route run (0.28). As NBC Sports' Matthew Berry notes, over the past two seasons, Carr ranks Top 5 in deep ball rate and deep completions. Olave's 14.2 aDOT -- fourth-highest among qualified receivers last season -- should remain high as Carr will likely go deep to his new No. 1 receiver early and often.

Of course, at his peak in 2019, Thomas was first in everything from target share to efficiency. The duo will be tough for anyone, but Johnson could make it even tougher on opposing defenses. ...

So could Rashid Shaheed, who had double-digit PPR production in five of the 12 games he played last season. He is a vertical target who also has route-running chops to uncover underneath -- and he can scoot after the catch. ...

Meanwhile, the Saints now know dynamic running back Alvin Kamara will be eligible for their final 14 regular-season games after the NFL announced his three-game suspension in connection with a February 2022 arrest in Las Vegas.

Jamaal Williams, signed as a free agent this offseason, is expected to figure prominently in the Saints' run offense after rushing for 1,066 yards and 17 touchdowns on 262 carries last year with the Lions. The workload may even be a bit more than the expectation early, with Kamara out and rookie running back Kendre Miller slowed by a hamstring injury.

Miller did not practice Monday; his status likely will be revealed on Wednesday's injury report.

Williams said he believes he has joined an offense in which he can thrive.

"When you have receivers that are threats, and we're throwing the ball and just getting people out of the box is what I really want to get to," he said. "The more people we get out of the box -- I really don't care who's in the box -- but as long as we get less people in the box, I can be able to make more plays. But I'm just grateful to be on a team with a lot of weapons."

We'll have more on Miller via Late-Breaking Update as developments warrant in coming days. ...

A few final notes. ... Veteran kicker Wil Lutz was traded to the Broncos. The Saints signed Blake Grupe as an undrafted free agent out of Notre Dame in the spring and he'll be the team's kicker entering the 2023 season. Grupe also played at Arkansas State from 2017-2021. He connected on 5-of-6 field goals in the preseason, his only miss coming from a long 60 yards. ...

Taysom Hill is listed at quarterback on the latest roster. "Probably more of a clerical thing than anything else," head coach Dennis Allen said of the player who was previously listed at tight end. "Taysom took, I think, almost 50 percent of his snaps last year at the quarterback position. I don't know that there's anything really to that other than a guy that plays a lot of positions. ...

And last. ... The Saints entered this season with a measure of uncertainty along the offensive line. The club hopes 2022 first-round draft choice Trevor Penning is ready to step in at left tackle after missing most of last season with a foot injury. He's a ferocious run blocker but his pass sets remain a work in progress.

The Saints also are hoping left guard Andrus Peat can stay healthy and that Cesar Ruiz can improve in his fourth season.

QBs: Derek Carr, Jake Haener
RBs: Alvin Kamara, Jamaal Williams, Kendre Miller
WRs: Chris Olave, Rashid Shaheed, A.T. Perry, Keith Kirkwood, Lynn Bowden, Michael Thomas
TEs: Juwan Johnson, Taysom Hill, Foster Moreau, Jimmy Graham

New York Giants

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 4 September 2023

The Giants are a better team than the one rookie head coach Brian Daboll led to the playoffs in 2022 for the first time since 2016. The offense is much improved with playmaking receivers to go along with quarterback Daniel Jones and running back Saquon Barkley.

Jones had a career season and Barkley had his best season since his rookie year in 2018. Their average of 21.5 points could go up with tight end Darren Walker and receivers Jalin Hyatt and Parris Campbell in the mix.

Defensively, the additions of linemen A'Shawn Robinson and Rakeem Nunez-Roches and inside linebacker Bobby Okereke should help Leonard Williams and Dexter Lawrence stop the run. Placekicker Graham Gano is among the best in the league. The Giants haven't made the playoffs in consecutive seasons since 2007-08. That should end this year.

Waller, who was acquired in a trade with Las Vegas before the draft, has had a strong training camp.

The 6-foot-6, 255-pounder has amassed 298 catches for 3,572 yards and 19 touchdowns in 74 games (52 starts) for the Raiders (2018-2022) and Ravens, who originally selected him in the sixth round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Waller caught seven passes for 76 yards in his single postseason appearance with Las Vegas.

Waller's 107 receptions in 2020 are tied for fourth-most by a tight end in NFL history. Only six others have reached the 100-catch plateau: Zach Ertz, Travis Kelce (three times), Jason Witten, Mark Andrews, Tony Gonzalez, and Dallas Clark. Waller is one of six tight ends to record 200 receiving yards in a single game, hitting that exact number in a 2020 game against the New York Jets.

Waller had back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in 2019-20. The Giants have had only one tight end reach 1,000 receiving yards in a single season. Mark Bavaro had 1,001 in 1986.

But that was all in the past.

Waller's future is tied to Jones, and the two forged an immediate bond on and off the field.

"I learned he's a smart guy, he's funny, he's driven," Waller said of Jones. "He's one of the hardest workers as far as coming in early for preparation and staying after for recovery and doing what he needs to do, having a routine, having a plan. I feel like that sets the tone when you know like, OK, this guy that's stepping in the huddle telling us what we need to do, where we need to go, he's really out here putting all the work in and then some, and then he also wants you to have a good time while you do it. That's what I've learned about him."

Although they took the field for just one series in the preseason, it was nearly flawless. Jones accounted for all 75 yards, completing three passes to Waller for 30 yards to set up a touchdown on the opening drive vs. Carolina.

"They work at it," Daboll said. "They work at it, they work hard at it, probably got a long way to go still with it, but the off-season stuff, OTAs, we give them a lot of reps together. In the passing game, that's really what it's about -- as much chemistry as you can get. Still a way to go with it."

According to ESPN's Dan Graziano, we shouldn't be surprised if Waller leads the team in catches.

Graziano went on to notes that Daboll remembers that it took a couple of years for the Bills to build a wide receiver corps around Josh Allen when Daboll was their offensive coordinator. The Giants have an intriguing wide receiver room, but no one in it has established himself as a true No. 1 target, and it's possible the team will still be looking for a WR1 next offseason.

In the meantime, Waller is the guy who can best create mismatches in the middle of the field. If Waller can put his injury issues from recent years behind him, he's the strongest candidate on the roster to emerge as the top receiver -- at least until Daboll finds whoever his Stefon Diggs will be in New York.

For now, however, there are some intriguing prospects.

If you need speed, look no further than Campbell, who ran a 4.31 40-yard dash at his NFL Scouting Combine.

A second-round draft pick by Indianapolis in 2019, Campbell played in 32 games with 24 starts for the Colts, recording 97 receptions for 983 yards and five touchdowns. Campbell is coming off his most productive season yet. He played all 17 games (16 starts) after injuries limited him to just 15 games (eight starts) over his first three seasons combined.

"My career is what it was," Campbell said when he signed. "The injuries that I had, there were things that were just freak accidents. You couldn't really draw it up. They weren't avoidable to me. They were things that happened and just had some bad luck. Like I said, was able to play all 17 last year, so I was extremely blessed."

In 2022, he caught 63 passes for 623 yards and three touchdowns in addition to carrying the ball five times for 58 yards (long of 28 yards). In Week 17, Campbell had a season-long 49-yard reception against the Giants. It was the second-longest of his career (he had a 51-yard touchdown against Houston in 2021).

The Giants have plenty of competition in their wide receiver room, but's Matt Bowen would take a chance on Hodgins based on his tape and numbers in 2022. Over the final five weeks of the season, Hodgins posted four games with 14 or more PPR points -- and he did that with Jones targeting him at all three levels of the field.

One big concern? Pass blocking.

According to's Jordan Raanan, the interior of the offensive line and right tackle Evan Neal all come with questions. Neal was 58th out of 64 qualifying tackles last season with an 81.1 percent pass block win rate. He needs to improve drastically.

Combine that with uncertainty at guard and a rookie center in John Michael Schmitz Jr. and a lot will ride on the coaching staff's ability to scheme around this deficiency.

There is no uncertainty in the backfield.

With a new contract in hand, Barkley has shown he can be a 1,000-yard, 10-touchdown performer whenever he's healthy.

Barkley had a career-high 295 rushing attempts last year, and the only teammate siphoning those off from him may be Jones, who perhaps literally found his legs in 2022 and scored seven touchdowns on 120 carries -- some designed runs, some scrambles. But Barkley is the most talented weapon the Giants have. In their first year with Daboll and offensive coordinator Mike Kafka, they showed a willingness to utilize Barkley in the passing game, and while he finished the year without a receiving touchdown, don't expect consecutive goose eggs there.

Bottom line? This year's Giants offense shouldn't struggle for playmaking ability the way last year's offense did.

However, they will need to hit the ground running against the Cowboys, who had a top-five scoring defense in 2022.

QBs: Tommy DeVito, Drew Lock, Daniel Jones
RBs: Devin Singletary, Matt Breida, Gary Brightwell, Eric Gray
WRs: Darius Slayton, Wan'Dale Robinson, Jalin Hyatt, Parris Campbell, Isaiah Hodgins, Sterling Shepard
TEs: Darren Waller, Daniel Bellinger, Lawrence Cager, Chris Myarick

New York Jets

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 4 September 2023

It's been a long time since the Jets have been this closely watched. They had intense media coverage when Bill Parcells was there from 1997-99 and before that with Joe Namath way back in the day.

All eyes are on the Jets because they have a chance to do something that hasn't been done since Namath did it in Super Bowl III.

Aaron Rodgers pointed out when he arrived in New York that the one Lombardi Trophy looks "a little lonely."

The star quarterback said last Thursday the Jets have a "legitimate chance" to win the Super Bowl.

"Obviously, there are a lot of expectations," Rodgers said, via Rich Cimini of ESPN. "A lot of people are going to be pulling for us to fall flat -- the crows as [Robert] Saleh referred to them. A lot of people are in our corner, too, which is a good thing."

Saleh's opening speech in "Hard Knocks" focused on the naysayers, using the analogy of an eagle soaring high enough to suffocate a pursuing crow, the only bird that will attack an eagle.

Rodgers said he relishes the spotlight and insists he ignores the "negative energy."

"There will be a lot of eyes on us," Rodgers said. "That could be pressure to some people; that could be expectation; it could be excitement. I choose to look at it as excitement. There's a lot of people that are going to be tuning in, a lot of people are going to be following along throughout our season. A lot of people are going to have a lot to cheer about, I think."

While he called the Jets "really talented," Rodgers would not compare it to the best teams he played on in Green Bay.

Rodgers won his only Super Bowl ring in 2010 on a team that included Hall of Famer Charles Woodson. ...

Meanwhile, recently signed running back Dalvin Cook is eager to find out his role in the New York Jets' offense.

Whatever it is, he expects to form a dynamic tandem with Breece Hall.

"The talent that Breece has -- the young talent he has -- we're going to be something special together," Cook said Tuesday.

Cook practiced last week for the first time since finalizing a one-year, $7 million contract on Aug. 14, declaring afterward that he did "everything" in practice and will be ready for the season opener against the Buffalo Bills on "Monday Night Football."

It took so long to get on the field because he returned to South Florida for the birth of his first child. He also was held back because of his left shoulder, which was surgically repaired in February. The Jets wanted to give him extra time before putting him in team drills.

The Jets plan to have Hall and Cook both in the lineup against the Bills on Monday night.

Head coach Robert Saleh said at a press conference that Hall did not practice on Monday because of a planned rest day as he returns from last season's torn ACL, but that he is on track to be in the lineup for the season opener. Hall has been practicing with the team since being activated off the PUP list on August 15.

Given the limited practice time for both players, Saleh said that the Jets will be smart with how they deploy both backs in the opener but that neither one will be on a predetermined snap count for the opener.

Hall hasn't played a game since Oct. 23, when he suffered his season-ending knee injury against the Denver Broncos. The current plan is to play him in the opener, but the Jets will be cautious.

"We've never been worried about his availability; we just have to be smart," Saleh said. "The excitement is, 'Well, let's just throw him out there,' but we need to be smart, we need to be diligent. I think in his mind, he probably feels like he can take 30 touches, but we just have to be smart with him, make sure we're constantly communicating with him and just being diligent."

Cook said he couldn't speculate on his potential workload for the opener even though he believes he's in excellent shape.

"You never know until you go out there and do it," he said. "I think once you're out there, everything goes out the window. It's kind of like, 'Let's play ball.' The conditioning part is going to take care of itself. Other than that, I've been working my tail off. I'm ready to go play."

Saleh said he feels comfortable with Cook, Hall and Michael Carter at running back. They also have rookie Israel Abanikanda.

Cook is a high-volume back -- he averaged 19 carries per game over the past four seasons -- so it will be interesting to see how he handles a reduced role. He said he's willing to sacrifice personal stats for a shot at a championship, one of the reasons he chose the Jets.

For what it's worth, ESPN's Dan Graziano believes we shouldn't be surprised if Cook is the Jets' leading rusher in the first half of the season.

The Jets view Cook as the ideal runner for their scheme, as well as a guy who can make big plays as a receiver out of the backfield. They like his ability to block in the passing game. He likely will open the season as something close to a three-down back and remain that at least through September, while the team increases Hall's workload carefully and gradually.

We'll all find out if Graziano is right soon enough. ...

As for the receiving corps. ... Rodgers, who has thrown for 4,000 yards in 10 seasons of his career (tied with Matt Ryan for the fifth most all-time), will have the opportunity to mesh with young offensive talent such as 2022 AP Offensive Rookie of the Year Garrett Wilson and other young playmakers like Mecole Hardman. Additionally, trusted receivers Allen Lazard and Randall Cobb have also joined Gang Green.

But one clearly stands out. Wilson won Offensive Rookie of the Year last season with a quarterback trio of Zach Wilson, Mike White and Joe Flacco. As NBC Sports' Matthew Berry put it, "That's like winning on All-Madden level with your eyes closed."

Despite the limitations at quarterback, Wilson still averaged 16.1 PPG in his 12 games with at least seven targets. He also received 43 percent of his team's end zone targets last season, third among all wide receivers.

Rodgers has already compared Wilson to Davante Adams and Berry expects their on-field relationship to be similar to his and Adams, including all the cheap close touchdowns.

"Look," Berry summed up, "if Wilson could go for 83-1,103-4 last season, good for WR21 overall, he should easily beat all those numbers in 2023. ..."'s Matt Bowen notes that Lazard averaged 11.7 PPR points per game last season with Rodgers in Green Bay, and it's a seamless transition to the Jets, where former Packers coordinator Nathaniel Hackett is now running the offense. Lazard has the upside of a WR3 in deeper leagues.

Worth noting: Corey Davis' decision to step away from football at the end of training camp was a stunner that scrambled the depth chart a bit for a receiving group that's still solid. ...

By the way. ... . The Jets have had one season with a 4,000-yard passer in their history -- 1967 by Joe Namath, the first player to pass for 4,000 yards in a season in NFL history. ...

The Jets' schedule appears to be brutal, and they will need to be on their game right from the jump as they face a Buffalo Bills team that is in Super Bowl or bust mode. As notes, after exiting in the Divisional Round of last year's playoffs, the Bills have pushed all their chips in for 2023.

They'll be a tough test for this Rodgers-led Jets team.

QBs: Trevor Siemian, Tyrod Taylor, Aaron Rodgers
RBs: Breece Hall, Israel Abanikanda
WRs: Garrett Wilson, Xavier Gipson, Jason Brownlee, Allen Lazard, Randall Cobb, Mike Williams, Charles Irvin
TEs: Tyler Conklin, Jeremy Ruckert, C.J. Uzomah, Kenny Yeboah

Philadelphia Eagles

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 4 September 2023

As the Associated Press notes, Philadelphia cruised through the regular season and NFC portion of the playoffs in 2022 before falling just short to Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs in the Super Bowl.

The Eagles have reloaded and have their sights on another run at the Lombardi Trophy this season.

With last year's MVP runner-up Jalen Hurts leading the offense under center, and talent and depth up and down the roster, it's no surprise that Philadelphia is among the favorites to win this season's NFL title.

Hurts threw for 3,701 yards, rushed for 760 and combined for 35 touchdowns during the regular season a year ago. In the 38-35 Super Bowl loss, Hurts tossed for 304 yards and a TD and rushed for 70 yards and three scores.

He is in his third season as the Eagles' starter. In front of him is a veteran and talented offensive line, anchored by four-time Pro Bowl RT Lane Johnson and six-time Pro Bowl C Jason Kelce. A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith return after becoming the first Philadelphia wide receiver duo to each top 1,000 receiving yards in a season.

Brown caught 88 passes for 1,196 yards and 11 touchdowns last season. Teammates have said he looks even quicker this year, and the chemistry between him and Hurts figures only to get better in their second year together in coach Nick Sirianni's offense.

Defensively, the front returns most players who helped Philadelphia set a club record with an NFL-leading 70 sacks last season. Haason Reddick had 16 sacks in 2022 from his edge position and figures to be a menace again. Five-time Pro Bowl CB Darius Slay headlines a strong secondary.

So what do the Eagles do the best?

As's Tim McManus framed it: "Put defenses in a bind."

With Hurts running an offense based on the run-pass option, he can keep the ball, hand it off or fire a pass depending on what the opponent does post-snap. The results last season tell the tale: Philadelphia finished third in total yards (389.1 per game), fifth in rushing yards (147.6) and ninth in passing yards (241.5 per game).

Still, ESPN's Seth Walder predicts the Eagles will rank in the top 10 in designed pass rate. They ranked 22nd in the category last season but move up to 12th if we look only at plays run when a game's win probability is between 15 percent and 85 percent.

In other words, the Eagles want to pass; they just were winning by too much too often last year. This is relevant for Hurts and the Eagles' pass-catchers in fantasy.

While the passing attack will funnel through the aforementioned receiving assets, the backfield rotation remains unclear.

There is still big production to replace at running back, where Miles Sanders rushed for 1,269 yards and 11 TDs last season. The competition for the No. 1 RB spot has been hotly contested in training camp, with free-agent signee D'Andre Swift likely the front-runner. Also in the mix are returnee Kenneth Gainwell and veteran offseason addition Rashaad Penny.'s Matt Bowen believes Gainwell, who has the traits to impact both the run and the pass game, is a late-round bench stash who could emerge from the pack to see consistent touches.

That said, NBC Sports' Matthew Berry notes that among running backs with 150-plus carries over the past two seasons, Penny ranks first in both YPC (6.2) and yards after contact per rush (4.4). And now he gets dropped into that Philadelphia offense, one that ranked third in red zone rush late last season. ...

Are there any weaknesses here?

The Eagles thought they upgraded at backup QB when they signed veteran Marcus Mariota in the offseason. But the 2014 Heisman Trophy winner struggled in the preseason, prompting questions about whether the Eagles were in good shape in the event Hurts gets injured.

QBs: Jalen Hurts, Marcus Mariota, Kenny Pickett, Tanner McKee
RBs: Saquon Barkley, Kenneth Gainwell, Boston Scott, Rashaad Penny
WRs: A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith, Julio Jones, Olamide Zaccheaus, Quez Watkins
TEs: Dallas Goedert, Jack Stoll, Grant Calcaterra, Albert Okwuegbunam

Pittsburgh Steelers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 4 September 2023

As the Associated Press notes, Kenny Pickett's solid if not always spectacular finish to his rookie season reinforced to the Steelers that they made the right call when they took him in the first round of the 2022 draft. Coach Mike Tomlin speaks frequently about the jump from a player's first season to his second is an important one.

Pickett certainly looked ready to take a step forward during the preseason, when he led the starting offense to touchdowns in each of the five drives he played.

If Pickett and the offense can take care of the ball and occasionally throw in some of the "splash" plays the group has been missing for the past couple of years, the Steelers believe they will be a threat to return to the playoffs despite playing in perhaps the most competitive division in the NFL.

LB T.J. Watt, DL Cam Heyward and S Minkah Fitzpatrick give Pittsburgh difference-makers at all three levels of a defense that could be among the best in the league. While Pickett may be improved, the recipe remains the same: control the ball, don't turn it over and let the defense win it late.

So could Pickett have a breakout sophomore season?

It's possible, given the fact that he had a higher completion percentage (63 percent), Total QBR (52) and yards per attempt average (6.2) than Trevor Lawrence had in his rookie season. He closed 2022 with a 5-1 record and threw just one interception in his final eight games.

Plus, as NBC Sports' Matthew Berry suggests, his paltry 1.8 percent TD rate as a rookie has to experience at least some positive regression to the league average of 4.4 percent, right?

Pickett will certainly have a pair of talented pass-catchers to help.

In 2022, Diontae Johnson earned the best score at getting open in the NFL, while George Pickens was tied for the top score at catching the football, per ESPN Analytics receiving metrics.

As for the touchdowns?

Johnson didn't catch a single scoring pass after making 20 over his first three NFL campaigns. The Steelers threw a league-low 12 as a team, and as Berry noted, that count will need to improve. But they need to improve their overall scoring as well. The Steelers found the end zone on just 51.9 percent of their trips inside the 20, the 11th-worst percentage in the league.

The 6-foot-3 Pickens tantalized at times as a rookie in 2022, when his combination of size and athleticism created matchup problems for defensive backs.

Pickens should benefit greatly from Pittsburgh's increased commitment to pushing the ball downfield, something that happened rarely last season thanks to a game plan designed to minimize risk. Offensive coordinator Matt Canada insists the playbook will be more diverse in 2023 and based on the preseason, he's not kidding.

If that momentum carries over to the regular season, Pickens could have a breakout year. Remember: As a rookie, he had the second-highest aDOT among qualified receivers and was Top 10 among receivers in yards per target. ...

Even with the Steelers' quarterback situation in disarray for much of the 2022 season, tight end Pat Freiermuth still had the second-most targets on the team and finished with career highs in yards and receptions. Freiermuth will likely never be the type of guy to supply a monster stat line, but he's consistent on a game-to-game basis and can also work downfield.

Scoring happens to be the one area that makes him a fantasy liability, but much of that can be attributed to Pittsburgh's lack of success in the red zone as a team.

Pickett's development is also going to play a huge role in how Freiermuth performs, and Pickett will now have the chance to utilize Allen Robinson II's services. The addition of Robinson is really no reason to fret, though, as the 29-year-old wideout has not come anywhere close to living up to expectations in each of the past two seasons.

As for the rushing attack. ... According to ESPN's Dan Graziano, we shouldn't be surprised if Jaylen Warren, an undrafted free agent, who took 77 carries for 379 yards last season, is the lead running back by the end of the season.

Graziano acknowledged that Najee Harris was the team's first-round pick in 2021. He has been a productive and reliable No. 1 back in his first two years, even as the offense overall struggled. And yes, he was coming off a foot injury at the start of last season, which helps explain why his production didn't live up to that of his rookie year.

So Harris is still firmly in the Steelers' plans and opens the season as their top back.

But Graziano contends Warren's performance in practice and games has demanded a larger role for him than what Pittsburgh had planned a year ago. He has shown the ability to spell Harris whenever asked, and he has actually looked more explosive in some areas.

Unless Harris looks more like the 2021 version of himself than the 2022 version, Warren's opportunity could increase dramatically as the year goes on.

Of course,'s Dale Lolley said the "narrative" that Warren will become the team's No. 1 running back is "simply not true."

"Both will have their roles. Harris is the No. 1. Warren is the third-down back," said Lolley, who is a knowledgeable fantasy writer in addition to working for the Steelers' team site. "Both will be valuable. But Warren isn't pushing past Harris."

What is the Steelers' biggest weakness?

Offensive line.

It's hard to fully gauge an offensive line before the start of the regular season, and the starting unit has performed well in small in-game sample sizes. Both the run blocking and pass protection have looked better than they did even late last season -- did you catch the perfectly blocked 62-yard Warren preseason touchdown? -- but the biggest test will come this weekend against a 49ers defense that added former Steeler Hargrave to a front that already has reigning DPOY Nick Bosa -- holdout notwithstanding.

Finally. ... The Steelers announced their team captains for the 2023 season on Monday, and the list includes Pickett. The quarterback earned the honor in his second season.

Pickett, who was a team captain in his final two years at the University of Pittsburgh, replaces Harris and quarterback Mitchell Trubisky as the offensive captain. Harris and Trubisky wore the captain logo a year ago.

QBs: Justin Fields, Russell Wilson, Mason Rudolph, Mitchell Trubisky
RBs: Najee Harris, Jaylen Warren, Anthony McFarland Jr.
WRs: George Pickens, Allen Robinson, Calvin Austin III, Miles Boykin
TEs: Pat Freiermuth, Darnell Washington

San Francisco 49ers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 4 September 2023

The San Francisco 49ers began their first game week preparation of the season with their best defensive player nowhere to be found.

Defensive Player of the Year Nick Bosa's contract holdout that kept him out of all of training camp is now seriously threatening to last into the regular season as the two sides have been unable to come to a resolution.

"We just have to play with who we've got," All-Pro safety Talanoa Hufanga said Monday. "We'd love to have Bosa, obviously. That's a no-brainer. Best defensive player in the NFL and it shows. We just have to prepare as if he's not going to be here. That's an upper-echelon, that's a front-office question. I don't know if I can answer more on that. Once he's here we'd love to have him."

For now, the Niners will prepare for the opener at Pittsburgh on Sunday with Drake Jackson and Clelin Ferrell as the starters at defensive end.

Quarterback Brock Purdy returns from right elbow surgery to start Week 1.

He's a perfect 5-0 in the regular season. Purdy recorded six straight games with multiple passing TDs in the regular season, which is tied for the fourth-longest streak by a 49ers quarterback since the merger. He was especially effective when dealing with pressure last season. From Week 13 on, he had the second-highest completion percentage (58.3 percent) and second-highest yards per attempt (8.2) when pressured.

Meanwhile, Christian McCaffrey had to do a lot of cramming after being traded to the 49ers in the middle of last season, but he doesn't have that problem this summer.

McCaffrey's had an extended period of time to absorb what head coach Kyle Shanahan wants to do on offense and he said that he's enjoyed moving into a new stage of appreciation for the scheme. McCaffrey said he feels "like a football nerd every time I'm in those meetings" because he's able to fully grasp the offense rather than trying to pick it up on the fly.

"Yeah, it's much better," McCaffrey said. "OTAs were great, just to really understand the concepts and really, not just learn the running back position, but the whole offense, and understand timing with what the quarterback sees and what Kyle sees, and getting timing right with the O-line, and [fullback Kyle Juszczyk], and the tight ends. So coming into camp, you're not playing catch up. So it's been great to be able to kind of not just learn the offense, but master it."

As suggests, McCaffrey did just fine while playing catch up last year and the prospect of him having the entire offense down pat is likely a troubling one for opposing defenses.

In fact, ESPN's Dan Graziano believes we shouldn't be surprised if McCaffrey has 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving.

McCaffrey has already accomplished this feat once in his career, back in 2019, his second year in the NFL with Carolina. He was 259 receiving yards short of doing it last year despite being traded to San Francisco midseason and having to learn a new offense on the fly. Left tackle Trent Williams told Graziano when he was at Niners camp that it's amazing to see how much better McCaffrey knows the offense now than he did last season, and the 49ers expect to see him take off like a rocket ship as a result.

San Francisco will still take McCaffrey off the field more than Carolina did and use Elijah Mitchell and/or Tyrion Davis-Price in spots, because they know McCaffrey's injury history and want to avoid overloading him. But the efficiency he should be able to attain in a full season in Kyle Shanahan's system could be enough to propel McCaffrey to new career-best numbers.

Of course, in Shanahan's schemed run game,'s Matt Bowen believes you can tag Mitchell as one of the league's top backup runners. If McCaffrey were to miss time, Mitchell would move up as an RB2 with his decisive running style and short-area speed to produce rushing totals. ...

As for the receiving corps. ... NBC Sports' Matthew Berry wrote, "I'm not saying Purdy and Brandon Aiyuk are the new Joe Montana and Jerry Rice, but the 49ers may have themselves a pretty nice QB-WR combo here.

Berry went on to remind readers that Aiyuk, at just 25 years of age, is coming off of career-highs in targets, receptions, yards and touchdowns. He was one of just 11 receivers last season with at least 75 receptions, 1,000 receiving yards and eight touchdowns. He also tied for the San Francisco team lead in red zone targets and was a Top 15 WR in PPG from Week 6 on.

He could easily have as good a fantasy season as Deebo Samuel (who likely runs less with CMC around) at a much lower price point.

Clearly the 49ers have done an amazing job stacking their offense with playmakers.

The bad news is that they might have a few too many to keep George Kittle's managers happy. As Berry notes, in the seven games last season in which Kittle, McCaffrey, Samuel and Aiyuk were all active, Kittle had a target share of just 15.7 percent. He also got less than 30 receiving yards in five of those seven games, and he had seven games on the season with fewer than eight fantasy points.

But ESPN's Seth Walder sees upside here.

Making a bold prediction for the 2023 season, Walder predicts Kittle will reach 1,000 receiving yards for the first time since 2019.

"Despite fewer receiving yards over the past few seasons," Walder wrote, "Kittle's receiving ability hasn't wavered. In each of the past four seasons, he has ranked in the top two in the receiver tracking metrics' overall score among tight ends. He also established a rapport with Purdy late last season that will pay off in 2023. ..."

On the injury front. ... After three days off, the San Francisco 49ers returned to the practice field on Monday. However, the team is still missing several key players as it prepares for Sunday's regular-season opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Kittle, dealing with a groin issues, is among them.

Rookie K Jake Moody (quadriceps) didn't practice but did kick some short field goals on a side field. Moody said the injury started acting up two weeks ago and he is "slowly working back into it." His status for Week 1 remains in question and San Francisco signed K Matthew Wright to the practice squad as insurance.

Receivers Danny Gray (shoulder) and Ray-Ray McCloud (broken wrist) also sat out as Jordan Mason (foot sprain).

49ers players will have Tuesday off. On Wednesday, the team will begin its first normal game-week practice schedule of the regular season, with three consecutive days of practices. San Francisco will issue official injury reports for each of those practices.

QBs: Brock Purdy, Josh Dobbs, Brandon Allen
RBs: Christian McCaffrey, Elijah Mitchell, Jordan Mason, Kyle Juszczyk
WRs: Brandon Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel, Jauan Jennings, Ray-Ray McCloud, Ronnie Bell, Danny Gray
TEs: George Kittle, Charlie Woerner, Brayden Willis, Ross Dwelley, Cameron Latu

Seattle Seahawks

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 4 September 2023

As the Associated Press notes, coming off an unexpected playoff berth last season, the Seahawks believe they can close the gap on San Francisco in what's expected to be a two-team race for the NFC West title.

Geno Smith proved to be a more than capable starting QB and had an entire offseason knowing he is the starter.

He'll be helped by second-year running back Kenneth Walker III and one of the better wide receiver trios in the NFL in DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett and Jaxon Smith-Njigba.

Defensively, the Seahawks made key free agent signings that brought in defensive linemen Dre'Mont Jones and Jarran Reed, safety Julian Love and brought linebacker Bobby Wagner back to Seattle. The playoffs are the baseline expectation for this group, and if a second straight draft class filled with promise can contribute right away, that gap with the 49ers may be gone by the end of the season.

Smith set the single-season Seahawks record for passing yards (4,282) and completion percentage (69.8 percent).

In fact, Smith led the NFL in completion percentage and was second in completion rate on deep passes. As NBC Sports' Matthew Berry notes, he was tied for the most games with multiple touchdown passes with 12. He was Top 10 in passing yards per game (251.9), had 17-plus fantasy points in 11 of his 17 games and he even put up some yards on the ground, posting eight games with 20-plus rushing yards.

Those are all legit numbers. It makes you wonder... There have been only five instances in NFL history of a team having three players who recorded 1,000 receiving yards in a single season -- the last being the Cardinals in 2008.

Could the Seahawks be next?

If he's healthy, Smith-Njigba could be in for a big year. Even with two of the best pass catchers in the league with Metcalf and Lockett, the Seahawks have struggled in the red zone in part because of the lack of a consistent No. 3 option. Enter Smith-Njigba, taken No. 20 overall in the draft, who may be slowed at the start following surgery for a fracture in his wrist.

If Lockett and Metcalf continue to command the bulk of the attention from defenses, Smith-Njigba -- and fantasy players -- could be the beneficiaries.

So how healthy is the rookie?

During the portion of last Tuesday's practice open to the media, the former Ohio State star was seen catching passes in wet conditions without much issue -- save for one bobble -- with part of his left hand heavily wrapped. Media members were permitted to watch only the warmup period of last Wednesday's practice, during which Smith-Njigba wore a similar-looking wrap.

"I think it's a great statement about his competitiveness and his mentality," Carroll said. "He's not going to be held out. He's going for it. Really, you couldn't ask for more. You couldn't ask for a better approach, and then his discipline about coming out and working and getting everything done. He hasn't even flinched. Awesome."

Carroll was asked if he thinks Smith-Njigba will be ready for Seattle's opener against the Los Angeles Rams.

"I'm hoping," he said. "I don't know. We'll see what happens. He looks great right now. ..."

I'll have more on Smith-Njigba's status via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

In a semi-related note. ... In selecting a fantasy sleeper candidate from this offense,'s Matt Bowen chose tight end Noah Fant. Per Bowen, Fant, who averaged 7.7 PPR points per game in 2022, fits as a deeper-league TE2 with the physical profile to produce on the bootleg/play-action concepts of the Seahawks' offense. ...

Meanwhile, the backfield is also worth noting. ... Walker, who was great as a rookie a year ago, has a groin injury that's limited him in camp, should be good to go against the Rams this weekend. And second-round rookie Zach Charbonnet is ready to go as well.'s Dan Graziano contends that -- assuming Walker and Charbonnet are both healthy, the sense he gets is a) Walker will still be the starter and get the bulk of the work and b) Charbonnet will also have a role, perhaps in the two-minute or four-minute offense.

People Graziano spoke to in Seattle believe they complement each other well, and the team anticipates using them in tandem to some extent.

Several people Graziano talked to in Seattle mentioned how great an offseason Walker had, and they foresee improvement from him in 2023. They could add a back just because they're short on bodies for camp and preseason games, but they like what they have in veteran DeeJay Dallas and seventh-round rookie Kenny McIntosh. ...

Of some concern? The interior offensive line.

Seattle's future seems secure at both tackle positions with left tackle Charles Cross and right tackle Abraham Lucas entering their second seasons. But the interior offensive line may be the grouping with the most uncertainty. Damien Lewis is solid at left guard, but right guard Phil Haynes has never had the chance to be a regular starter and Evan Brown is an unheralded center who won the job after rookie Olu Oluwatimi was slowed by injury in camp.

Finally. ... Wide receiver Dareke Young will miss at least the first four games of the regular season after being placed on injured reserve on Monday. Young needed surgery to address an abductor injury. Young was a seventh-round pick in 2022 and he made seven tackles as a key part of their special teams units as a rookie. He also caught two passes for 24 yards.

The Seahawks signed guard Ben Brown off the practice squad to take Young's roster spot. Brown was in camp with the Bengals, but signed with Seattle after failing to make the cut last week.

The Seahawks also signed quarterback Holton Ahlers and safety Brady Breeze to the practice squad. Running back Bryant Koback was released to make room for one of the new arrivals.

QBs: Sam Howell, Geno Smith
RBs: Kenneth Walker III, Zach Charbonnet, DeeJay Dallas, Kenny McIntosh
WRs: DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Jake Bobo, Cody Thompson, Dareke Young
TEs: Noah Fant, Will Dissly

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 4 September 2023

Tom Brady retired but the seven-time NFL champion's departure didn't leave the Tampa Bay Buccaneers devoid of talent. Coach Todd Bowles says there are lots of ways to win games, and the Bucs are confident they can remain competitive after winning a Super Bowl and two NFC South titles in three years with Brady at quarterback.

Baker Mayfield steps into Brady's old job, relishing an opportunity to jumpstart his career in an offense installed by new offensive coordinator Dave Canales.

The competition between Mayfield and Kyle Trask for the starting QB job was the biggest story of the summer, extending through the second preseason game.

Since Mayfield's debut in 2018, he has a 42 percent completion percentage on throws 20-plus yards downfield, which ranks ninth out of 33 quarterbacks with 100 such attempts in that span. On throws less than 20 yards downfield, Mayfield's 64 percent completion percentage ranks 39th of 42 qualifiers.

Receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin lead a group of capable playmakers around Mayfield. Bowles is counting on a veteran defense to revert to Top 10 form, too, as the Bucs aim for a third straight division crown.

Evans and Godwin form one of the best receiving tandems in the NFL, which is one of the reasons the Bucs are confident the passing game can thrive regardless of who's at quarterback.

Worth noting. ... Evans has set a Week 1 deadline to receive a new contract from the Buccaneers, with his representation indicating that Evans will look to play elsewhere in 2024 if no deal is reached.

Evans' representation, Day 1 Sports and Entertainment, said in a release last Friday that the wide receiver "wants the next phase of his career to be with an organization who wants him and wants him to help win a Super Bowl. Which is why we have informed the Buccaneers organization that we will discontinue contract discussions as of September 9, 2023.

The Buccaneers open the regular season Sept. 10 at the Minnesota Vikings.

"I want to be in camp and practice to help Baker get ready so we can win this year," Evans said in a statement. "I don't want to be a hold out and hurt our team."

Evans is entering the final season of a five-year, $82.5 million extension he signed in March 2018. He is set to make a base salary of $13 million and received a $1.5 million roster bonus in March. His current deal includes three void years for 2024 to 2026.

Evans has posted nine straight 1,000-yard seasons with the Buccaneers -- the first player in NFL history to do so to start his career. He is third in NFL history for most 1,000-yard seasons, behind Jerry Rice (14) and Randy Moss (10). Evans also owns just about every Buccaneers franchise receiving record, including most career touchdowns (81), career receptions (683) and career receiving yards (10,425).

According to ESPN's Dan Graziano, we shouldn't be surprised if one or both of Evans and Godwin end up in the trade mix.

Evans is the more moveable one, because he's making just $13 million in salary this year and is a free agent at year's end, while Godwin has a (non-guaranteed) $20 million due in 2024. But you'll hear these names kicked around in October for sure.

Although Evans and Godwin are proven playmakers with a knack for getting into the end zone, the player the Bucs feel could be poised for a breakout season is second-year RB Rachaad White.

He shared playing time as a rookie with Leonard Fournette, but Bowles and general manager Jason Licht feel he's durable and versatile enough to be an effective runner and receiver. White had one 100-yard game and finished 2022 with 481 yards and one touchdown rushing.

He also had 50 receptions for 290 yards and two TDs. In fact, White was one of only 10 running backs with 120-plus carries AND 50-plus receptions.

With Fournette no longer on the team, White will get an opportunity to be a three-down back.

But's Jenna Laine notes that running the ball isn't a strength. The Buccaneers had 1,308 total rushing yards with 3.4 yards per carry last season -- both the worst in the NFL. Canales has brought in a wide and mid-zone rushing scheme that could help improve this, but Tampa Bay is going to be fielding another remade offensive line so expect there to be growing pains.

Still, asked for a sleeper candidate here,'s Matt Bowen went with RB Sean Tucker. The undrafted rookie can handle early-down volume and produce between the tackles if called upon. Tucker opens the season listed as the team's RB2 behind White.

QBs: Baker Mayfield, Kyle Trask
RBs: Rachaad White, Chase Edmonds, Sean Tucker, Ke'Shawn Vaughn
WRs: Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Trey Palmer, Kaylon Geiger, Deven Thompkins, Rakim Jarrett, Russell Gage
TEs: Cade Otton, Ko Kieft, Payne Durham

Tennessee Titans

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 4 September 2023

The Titans are targeting another AFC South title after missing a third straight division championship last season. The Titans have led the NFL in most players used each of the past two seasons because of injuries with 137 and it finally caught up with them in the final minutes of a seventh straight loss.

The Titans missed the playoffs for only the second time in coach Mike Vrabel's five seasons. QB Ryan Tannehill had surgery and stuck around all offseason to learn new offensive coordinator Tim Kelly's offense. Tannehill is in a contract year. He also now has three-time All-Pro WR DeAndre Hopkins to help Treylon Burks and TE Chig Okonkwo rev up a passing offense that was one of the NFL's worst last season.

Derrick Henry also is in a contract year and motivated to prove great RBs deserve better pay. He ranked second in the NFL in 2022 after a broken foot cost him nine games in 2021.

According to Associated Press sports writer Teresa M. Walker, Henry, who has run for more yards than anyone else since the start of the 2016 NFL season, seems like a man on a mission.

In addition to making the case for his third contract, Henry wants to remind the rest of the league that the run game still matters in the NFL and that running backs should be paid more.

Henry notes that running backs touch the ball sometimes almost as much as quarterbacks and remain very marketable in commercials.

"Have you all witnessed it? I'm pretty sure you all have," Henry said. "So yes, just trying to show that we are valuable as any other position. They use us in commercials and all over the place. And we just want our share due."

That's why Henry organized the group chat among the NFL's top running backs before training camps opened. He wanted to help fellow running backs improve the market rate for the position in the near future.

Henry knows how fellow running backs who got the franchise tag this year felt. He was tagged himself in March 2020, and the Titans barely beat the deadline before signing Henry to a four-year extension that goes through this season.

"It's tough right now," Henry said early in training camp. "Just want to do anything possible to help show our value, do it on the field but definitely try to be together as a movement to improve the situation."

Henry became the eighth man in NFL history to run for at least 2,000 yards in 2020.A strong regular season puts Henry in range of Eddie George's career franchise rushing mark of 10,009 yards.

Vrabel has seen Henry's value up close the past five seasons.

"We've relied on Derrick as a large part of our offense and our success, and he's had a level of consistency to be able to handle a workload," Vrabel said.

Henry is already the franchise's record holder for most touchdowns scored (81) and rushing TDs (78). He can join Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson (nine) and Adrian Peterson (seven) as the only NFL players with at least 10 rushing TDs for at least six consecutive seasons.

If Henry runs for 1,500 yards and has 15 TDs in 2023, Henry would become the first player in NFL history to reach both marks in the same season for the third time.

The 6-3, 247-pound Henry is ready to work when the Titans open the season Sept. 10 at New Orleans. The Titans drafted Tyjae Spears in the third round out of Tulane to hopefully finally find a running back to ease Henry's workload.

Henry said too often people focus more on the workload with the number of touches, and he's has had at least 303 carries in three of the past four seasons. What people miss when it comes time to talk contracts and pay is the production, which almost is used against running backs.

"All you can do is try to be the best player you can and hope the team understands your value and appreciate you trying to do the best you can to carry the load to help your team win games and get to the Super Bowl," Henry said. ...

Meanwhile, Hopkins, in his first season with the Titans, has been one of the top wideouts in the NFL since he entered the league in 2013. He has 853 career receptions, the fourth most by any player within his first 10 seasons in NFL history behind Marvin Harrison (927), Brandon Marshall (882) and Torry Holt (869). His former team, the Cardinals, was significantly more effective with Hopkins. Arizona scored 6.4 more points per game (25.9 compared to 19.5) when he played.

But Burks might be the wideout to watch here.

The 18th draft pick overall in 2022 out of the trade sending Pro Bowl WR A.J. Brown to Philadelphia struggled early with conditioning, then was limited to six starts in 11 games by injuries. Burks finished with only 33 catches for 444 yards and one touchdown.

A full offseason spent working with Tannehill has Burks looking much more like the WR the Titans wanted until he hurt his left knee during a joint practice with Minnesota putting his availability to start the season in question.

Okonkwo has been a top sleeper pick all offseason after averaging 14.1 yards per catch -- on 32 receptions -- last season. He enters 2023 as the Titans' No. 1 tight end, with a skill set to create second-level matchups and find open grass in the Titans' schemed play-action concepts. ...

Vrabel has not named a backup quarterback heading into Week 1's preparation against the Saints.

The job is presumably going to go to Malik Willis, although nothing has been formally announced yet. As Rotoworld notes, between Willis and rookie quarterback Will Levis, it was Willis who had the stronger preseason, due in part to Levis missing the final two preseason games with a thigh injury. The QB2 could be a position of flux for the Titans as the season goes along, as both Willis and Levis have plenty of room to grow. ...

The Titans placed WR Kyle Philips on injured reserve Thursday. They waived OT Justin Murray and signed OLB Trevis Gipson, who had been released by Chicago after 40 games and 10 sacks in three seasons, and brought back C Corey Levin. They also signed K Cade York to the practice squad and released OLB Sam Okuayinonu.

QBs: Will Levis, Malik Willis
RBs: Tony Pollard, Tyjae Spears, Julius Chestnut
WRs: Calvin Ridley, DeAndre Hopkins, Treylon Burks, Nick Westbrook_Ikhine, Tyler Boyd, Kyle Philips, Colton Dowell, Chris Moore
TEs: Chigoziem Okonkwo, Josh Whyle, Trevon Wesco

Washington Commanders

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 4 September 2023

Under new ownership, there's an eye toward the playoffs internally, even if from the outside the Commanders are being picked to finish last in a loaded NFC East. The pressure is certainly on fourth-year coach Ron Rivera to show a group led by Josh Harris and including Magic Johnson that he deserves to stick around beyond this season.

To try to make that happen, he has hired Eric Bieniemy as offensive coordinator, fresh off the longtime assistant winning the Super Bowl again with Kansas City.

Bieniemy has the tough task of turning around an offense that has struggled to find consistency under Rivera. Over the last three seasons, the Commanders rank 27th in points per game (19.8), 29th yards per play (5.0) and have the league's third-lowest team Total QBR (39).

Rivera and Bieniemy are also putting faith in another new quarterback, 2022 fifth-round pick Sam Howell, to be the starter after just one game of NFL experience. The offense keeping up with the defense, which ranked third in the league last year and again should perform at a high level, is the key to whether Washington can contend for a wild-card spot.

The remade offensive line is a huge question mark, and in turn that affects how well Howell might handle being a starter in the pros for the first time. The North Carolina product has plenty of talent around him in wide receivers Terry McLaurin, Curtis Samuel and Jahan Dotson and running backs Brian Robinson Jr. and Antonio Gibson and should be helped by Bieniemy's expertise.

Washington's offense has to prove it before anyone will believe this unit can take a step forward.

One player who expects to step forward is Robinson, whose introduction to the NFL a year ago was humming along smoothly, with his training camp and preseason performances putting him on course to be the Washington Commanders' top running back.

Then, on a Sunday evening, that trajectory stopped in an instant. Robinson was shot twice in the right leg as part of an attempted robbery/carjacking in the city.

Robinson was hospitalized, underwent surgery and recovered so quickly he played football six weeks later, finishing his rookie season with nearly 800 yards rushing in 12 games. A full year removed from the shooting, Robinson is finally feeling himself again, and his role in Washington's new offense has him primed for what could be a breakout season.

Robinson, now 24, said he feels more like himself every day -- free from some of the lingering issues he dealt with in his right knee and hip from the shooting.

Incredibly, the bullet that struck his knee missed all the bones and ligaments in it, allowing him the possibility of getting back on the field, but that didn't mean he was pain free.

With Gibson also on the roster, the coaching and medical staffs were patient with Robinson, putting him on the non-football injury list and ruling out a return in the first four weeks of the season. The 2022 third-round pick out of Alabama got a chance to ramp up once he made his pro debut, splitting carries with Gibson before taking over as the No. 1 back.

A bruised thigh derailed the end of his season, just after Robinson started to find a groove.

"I think he is coming in with a whole different perspective," Rivera said. "Last year, he was a wide-eyed rookie and went through a very traumatic situation very early and just never really got a chance to enjoy it and show his personality to who he really is. ...

"Now, folks are going to get to see who he is."

Robinson looks to be one of the keys to Washington's offense.

Robinson said he can do anything in the playbook, including catching the ball out of the backfield. He considers the next step in his progression to be breaking off game-changing runs of 50-plus yards and getting into the end zone after just two touchdowns last season.

"I just don't want to be one-dimensional and I don't want to be just a power back: I want to be able to run routes, run down the field, catch the ball with soft hands and continue to grow my game," Robinson said. "(There are) no limits on what I can do."

But there might be limiting factors. Like the offensive line.

As's John Keim noted, Washington revamped its line after last season when it had one of the worst groups in the NFL. The Commanders have new starters at four line positions, so they remain a work in progress as well as a question mark. They lack high-end talent (no first-rounders on the roster and one picked in the second) and experienced depth. The run blocking has been solid this summer, and an emphasis on quick passes and RPOs should help the protection. If this group has a good year, so will the Commanders.

According to ESPN's Dan Graziano, we shouldn't be surprised if wide receiver Dyami Brown has a real role in the offense. Brown has been a standout in the offseason, even in a talented Commanders wide receiver room. Big things are expected of 2022 first-round pick Dotson and McLaurin is still looked at as the No. 1.

The Commanders are hoping McLaurin will be healthy enough to play the season opener Sunday, but Nicki Jhabvala of the Washington Post reports that McLaurin’s status remains uncertain.

McLaurin injured his toe in an Aug. 21 preseason game against the Ravens and was diagnosed with turf toe.

He is progressing in his recovery, per Jhabvala, and the Commanders consider him day to day. CBSSports' Jonathan Jones offered a more optimistic view, advising his social media followers that his sources in Washington are optimistic about McLaurin, reporting the wideout has responded well to work on the field so far with a few days of practice remaining before sold-out home-opener against Arizona.

Rivera said Tuesday he would not update any injuries until Wednesday when it is required by the league.

I'll have more on that via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

The Commanders have been impressed with the improvements Brown has shown this offseason, and they like his ability to make contested catches and win in crowded parts of the field. And it absolutely does not hurt that he spent two years playing at North Carolina with Sam Howell.

That said, McLaurin, as long as a preseason toe injury doesn't slow him down, should be good for another season of 1,000-plus receiving yards. Despite a revolving door of quarterbacks, McLaurin has done that each of the past three years. If Dotson continues to progress in his second season and Samuel stays healthy, that's even more reason to believe in McLaurin producing a significant number of yards, catches and touchdowns.

Finally. ... The Commanders on Tuesday announced the promotions of Juan Castillo to the role of run game coordinator, Randy Jordan to the role of senior offensive assistant/running backs coach, Travelle Wharton to the role of offensive line coach and Todd Storm to the role of tight ends coach.

RBs: Brian Robinson Jr., Austin Ekeler, Chris Rodriguez
WRs: Terry McLaurin, Jahan Dotson, Dyami Brown, Jamison Crowder, Byron Pringle, Mitchell Tinsley
TEs: Logan Thomas, Cole Turner, John Bates