Team Notes week 1 2017

By Bob Harris
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NEWS, NOTES, RUMORS AND OTHER GOOD STUFF

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 6 September 2017

As the Cardinals head into this week's regular-season opener against the Lions in Detroit, there aren't a lot of questions surrounding this offense. We all know the kind of role David Johnson is expected to play and we're all aware of the expectations that are part and parcel of that -- and with his lofty fantasy draft status.

While they're getting a bit older, we all have a pretty good idea of what Larry Fitzgerald and Carson Palmer are capable of when they're on their game (the veteran wideout caught 100-plus passes a year ago as his role has evolved from big-play threat to possession receiver while Palmer is healthy, and as ESPN's Matthew Berry pointed out, is only a year removed from a top-five fantasy finish).

But one question remains: John Brown's health.

According to Arizona Republic staffer Bob McManaman, Brown said he was probably only 90 percent healthy when he hauled in two long touchdown passes during the team's victory over the defending NFC champion Atlanta Falcons in the all-important third exhibition game.

Despite outracing the Falcons' starting safeties, he said his sore quadriceps muscle was still nagging at him. "Yeah, but his 90 percent is better than most people's 100 percent," Fitzgerald said.

As significant as Johnson is to Arizona's potent offensive attack, it won't be nearly half as good as it can be if Brown isn't available. Brown's ability to stretch opposing defenses and make the tough over-the-shoulder catches makes everything else work like clockwork in head coach Bruce Arians' vast array of intricate play calling.

"Pretty simple, the playmaking ability," general manager Steve Keim said of Brown's importance. "John Brown's big-play ability helps us just in terms of putting points on the board, but it opens other things up, whether it's Larry underneath. It's tight ends. It's David in the run game. It's David's ability to motion in the slot and create mismatches with linebackers and safeties. So it does so many different things for you that defenses have to prepare for."

The hope, of course, is that Brown can remain healthy for a full season. His body, though, has been slow to recover from aches and strains and pulls because he has the sickle cell trait. The Cardinals thought they had found a remedy to speed up his recovery time, especially after Brown had a troublesome cyst removed from his spine, but the quad injury has been troublesome.

"I mean, I'm hoping I can be 100 percent but it don't matter," Brown said. "As long as I can push through it and do what I did last week (against Atlanta), it's going to be good enough. But if I'm 100 (percent), I feel like I can give us an extra boost and help a lot more."

Here's the rub, though. If Brown's body tells him he can't push through the pain, he's not going to press his luck. He said as much during training camp when Arians was getting grumpy about the health of a handful of his receivers, especially Brown. Instead of pushing through, Brown pushed back and said he will decide when he can play and when he can't.

"I'm able to speak up now that I've got more years in the league," Brown said. "If I feel like it's not good to go, I'll speak up and say something. I pray it don't come to that, though, and hopefully I can play through it for the whole season."

And if the Cardinals only get a healthy John Brown for half or three quarters of the season, will the offense still be as dangerous?

"Not when he's not out there," Arians said. "It will be different. But hopefully, we'll have somebody who can do the same things."

But if Brown is on the field, he shouldn't be overlooked.

As ESPN's Matthew Berry recently reminded readers, two years ago Brown posted a 1,000-yard, seven-touchdown season when Michael Floyd was still on the team and Fitzgerald was two years younger. ...

In a related note. ... Now in his fifth season, Jaron Brown has come off an ACL tear that ruined his 2016 with a chance -- and perhaps a Cardinals' need -- to help save the receiving corps. While he was limited at first, he seamlessly integrated into work soon enough, making plays.

"I keep feeling like they're going to hold him back," said Palmer, a veteran of two ACL rehabs. "I feel like he's going to miss some days. Like there's going to be some soreness or something, but it's like it never happened, which is amazing. ..."

With 55 catches in four years, Jaron Brown has never been a go-to target. He still is needed on special teams. But his chemistry with Palmer has grown- and the Cardinals need him to remain a viable threat, even if John Brown and J.J. Nelson click again. ...

One last note here. ... Jaron Brown is listed ahead of John Brown on the team's official depth chart for this week's game. It'll be interesting to see how the playing time works out. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Two lost fumbles during the team's third preseason game were reportedly enough for the Cardinals to rethink hitting the reset button on veteran running back Chris Johnson. The Cardinals released the veteran running back last week. He was signed just before the start of training camp, after playing just four games for the Cardinals last year because of a groin injury. He had seemingly found a niche as a backup there before the injury.

He hasn't been a game-breaking back for some time (he averaged 3.8 yards per carry last year, and hasn't topped 1,000 yards since 2013), and a few weeks short of his 32nd birthday, it might be hard for him to find another job.

Chris Johnson's departure means that Kerwynn Williams has moved up to No. 2 on the depth chart behind David Johnson, leaving Andre Ellington as the change-of-pace.

In addition to Chris Johnson, the Cardinals released wideout Aaron Dobson, who was injured for most of training camp and didn't shine during the last two preseason games.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Carson Palmer, Drew Stanton, Blaine Gabbert
RBs: Adrian Peterson, Kerwynn Williams, Andre Ellington, Elijhaa Penny, David Johnson
WRs: Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown, Jaron Brown, J.J. Nelson, Brittan Golden, Chad Williams
TEs: Jermaine Gresham, Troy Niklas

Atlanta Falcons

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 6 September 2017

The Falcons offense, which led the league in scoring last season, looked shaky against in its "dress-rehearsal" game -- the third exhibition game -- before their regular-season opener against the Bears in Chicago.

There was no running back Devonta Freeman, who was in the concussion protocol (he is fully cleared heading into this week's regular-season opener against the Bears in Chicago). They didn't get the ball to All-Pro wide receiver Julio Jones, who was making his exhibition debut after offseason foot surgery. And quarterback Matt Ryan, the league's reigning most valuable player, was off the mark on 7 of his 11 passes.

Head coach Dan Quinn was not pleased with the offense's rushing attack during the exhibition season and the hope clearly is Freeman's return will make a difference.

Freeman agreed to a five-year, $41.25 million contract extension that made him the highest-paid running back in the league earlier this month. The deal had a $15 million signing bonus and included $22 million in guaranteed money.

He left practice Aug. 13 and did not practice until the last week of August.

Last season, Freeman had 1,079 rushing yards with 11 touchdowns and 462 receiving yards with two touchdowns. In his three-year career, Freeman has rushed for 2,383 yards and 23 touchdowns.

So there's no real question fantasy owners are rolling with him their lineups. But what about Tevin Coleman?

As ESPN's Matthew Berry reminded readers, Coleman scored once on 89 touches as a rookie, but then he exploded for 11 scores on 149 touches last season.

Where does the "real" Coleman project?

Likely somewhere in the middle, and according to Berry, that's a problem considering he plays for the same team as Freeman. Only Mike Gillislee (12.6) had a lower carries-per-TD mark than Coleman (14.8) last season.

As ESPN's Mike Clay pointed out, "he registered only three carries inside the opponent's 5-yard line [he scored on all three] and had zero end zone targets." That makes the 11 TDs even more impressive/unlikely to repeat. This prompted Berry to sum up: "I prefer [Coleman] more as a handcuff to Freeman than a viable flex play this year."

So what about the passing attack?

Ryan tried to connect on a couple of deep passes for Jones in that third exhibition game, but both were off the mark. That won't keep them from trying again, of course.

"We are going to take some opportunities down the field and give our guys chances," Ryan said. "They didn't work out and that'll be something that we talk about moving forward. That's part of the game. You're going to give your guys chances down the field. Some are going to hit and some don't.

Meanwhile, Ryan is fine with offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian calling plays from the sideline.

Last season, the Falcons led the league in scoring at 33.8 points per game with former offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan calling plays from the press box.

"I've done it every which way with the coordinators throughout the years," Ryan said. "It's whatever they are most comfortable with. He's done a good job on the sidelines for us."

Former Falcons coordinator Mike Mularkey called his game from upstairs from 2008 to 2011). Dirk Koetter, who was the offensive coordinator from 2012 to 2014, called from upstairs and the sidelines.

"He's a guy who's done it from the sidelines for most of his career," Ryan said of Sarkisian. "Maybe that's where he feels most comfortable, but we'll be good either way.

Also of interest. ... Ryan played 18 snaps in that third preseason game and DraftKings' Adam Levitan notes that Austin Hooper got out-snapped 12-11 by Levine Toilolo during that span. It wasn't a pass-down only situation, as Hooper was on the sideline for four of Ryan's 11 dropbacks. "So while I remain high on Hooper's weekly ceiling as an athletic player in one of the league's best offenses," Levitan wrote. "We have to remember he's far from a featured player here. Volume is going to be a concern. ..."

That said, with Jacob Tamme gone, Hooper is the top receiving option at tight end in an offense that got 10 touchdowns from the position last season.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub, Matt Simms
RBs: Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman, Terron Ward, Brian Hill
WRs: Julio Jones, Taylor Gabriel, Justin Hardy, Andre Roberts, Nick Williams, Mohamed Sanu
TEs: Austin Hooper, Eric Saubert, Levine Toilolo

Baltimore Ravens

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 6 September 2017

Running back Terrance West said the offense only needs about a week to get in sync before Sunday's regular-season opener in Cincinnati. That's good news for them because the Ravens' starters have not been on the field together since the opening of training camp.

The better news?

They'll be there this week.

At the center of this challenge is quarterback Joe Flacco, who didn't take a snap of exhibition action because of a back injury. Ravens head coach John Harbaugh confirmed that Flacco would be available for the opener, despite the missed practice time. West was not overly concerned about the franchise quarterback going against a divisional rival with limited reps.

"I think it's going to be a great game," West said after Monday's practice. "We're going to have all of our weapons. Flacco will be back. I think we're going to do great. If everybody does their job, everything will be taken care of."

The good news? Flacco participated in team drills Saturday for the first time since July.

The starting quarterback missed all of training camp, but is expected to start the opener of his 10th season on Sept. 10 at Cincinnati.

"Joe looked good. He practiced very well," head coach John Harbaugh said after Saturday's session. "Now, one of the next pieces is to see how he responds to that over the next few days."

"It feels good to be back out here with the guys and be a part of everything again," Flacco said. "Really, it's been a weird situation the last few weeks, because it's just something you have to wait out. You're putting in all the hard work you can, but at the same time, it's a waiting game. You definitely have to fight against not doing anything, but also keep your mind fresh."

Flacco had an uneven season in 2016 one year removed from season-ending knee surgery. He threw for a franchise-record 4,317 yards with 20 touchdowns, but also had 15 interceptions.

The key now is to get him ready for live snaps less than two weeks away from the start of the season.

His progress is something we'll be watching closely in coming days; watch the Late-Breaking Updates section when it cranks up early Thursday. ...

In addition to Flacco's August-long absence, the Ravens have also been forced to shuffle the offensive line throughout the preseason because of injuries and the sudden retirement of John Urschel. Nonetheless, Harbaugh echoed West's comments about the offense being fully ready by Week 1.

"We are looking forward to putting it all together and seeing all of our guys out there," Harbaugh said. "We've been missing guys pretty much all the way through. A lot of teams have, if you look at who's played, and that sort of thing. But, probably offensively, we have more than most years. Yes, I'm looking forward to that - can't wait.

"Guys are working hard. It's been a little bit here and there with different guys out there, but they've all been out there at one time or another - besides Joe. And Joe was out there in the offseason. We'll see what it is when we get out there. I think we're going to be really good. I'm looking forward to it. We'll be rolling here next week."

Even if several players do get healthy, Baltimore has been ravaged with injuries throughout the offseason OTAs and training camp. Since June 1, running back Kenneth Dixon, receiver Tim White, tight ends Dennis Pitta and Crockett Gillmore, offensive linemen Alex Lewis and Nico Siragusa, linebacker Albert McClellan and cornerback Tavon Young have each been lost to season-ending injuries.

Meanwhile, Danny Woodhead and Breshad Perriman -- both dealing with hamstring issues -- missed time in recent weeks.

The Ravens hope both will play this week. Woodhead, 32, signed with the team as a free agent and he is expected to provide added versatility because of his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield.

According to ESPN.com, since 2013, Woodhead has 167 catches, eighth most among running backs, despite 27 missed games.

Perriman is on schedule to play against the Bengals. "That's barring any kind of setback," Harbaugh said when discussing the oft-injured wideout. Perriman has not practiced since Aug. 1 and has appeared in only one preseason game in his three seasons in Baltimore. Perriman missed his entire rookie season in 2015 with a knee injury.

Perriman seemed confident that he would be ready for Week 1. "If anybody takes some type of time off, you're going to have to knock off little bit of rust," Perriman said. "But I don't feel like there's much to knock off. I do have to get back into game shape and get my feet back under me. I'll be ready."

Like Flacco, Woodhead and Perriman returned to the practice field Saturday; I'll have more on all three in the Late-Breaking Updates section as the week progresses. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Last season was Marty Mornhinweg's first as the offensive coordinator in Baltimore and based on how he used his backfield ESPN recently suggested it should be no surprise that the Ravens signed Woodhead this offseason. Running backs and fullbacks accounted for 26.9 percent of all Baltimore receptions last season (for reference, Odell Beckham was responsible for 26.8 percent of Giants receptions), and that's saying something when you consider that the Ravens have led the league in pass attempts in each of the past two years.

Consider this: Woodhead ranks seventh among running backs in receiving yards since 2013 ad he has missed 27 games during that stretch.

As for West, ESPN's Matthew Berry contends the tailback is not great, but he is better than you think. Last year the Ravens gave nine carries to RBs inside an opponent's 5-yard line. Seven of those nine went to West. ...

And finally. ... Mike Wallace he has been a top-30 WR in seven of his eight seasons in the NFL, including last year, when Wallace finished as a top-25 WR in his first season in Baltimore (in both PPR and non-PPR). And as Berry suggests, even if Maclin is productive and stays healthy (not givens), Wallace was able to put up numbers with Steve Smith there last year and that's the role Maclin will fill.

With Smith, Pitta, Kamar Aiken, Gilmore and Kyle Juszczyk no longer in the mix, there are more than 350 targets from last year that are up for grabs and the Ravens have led the NFL in pass attempts each of the past two years.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Joe Flacco, Ryan Mallett, Dustin Vaughan
RBs: Terrance West, Javorius Allen, Danny Woodhead
WRs: Mike Wallace, Jeremy Maclin, Breshad Perriman, Chris Moore, Michael Campanaro, Kenny Bell
TEs: Ben Watson, Maxx Williams, Nick Boyle

Buffalo Bills

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 6 September 2017

The Bills will have their quarterback on the field when they open the season on Sunday against the Jets.

Tyrod Taylor has cleared the concussion protocol and will play, Field Yates of ESPN first reported.

Taylor suffered a concussion in the preseason and had been out of practice. If Taylor had been unable to go, rookie fifth-round draft pick Nathan Peterman would have started in his place.

The Bills have placed their other concussed quarterback, T.J. Yates, on injured reserve.

So the news is good. Mostly.

Yes, his receiving corps has been diminished with the departures of Sammy Watkins (traded to the Rams last month) and Robert Woods (signed with the Rams as a free agent). Expectations for their replacements, former Eagles wideout Jordan Matthews and rookie Zay Jones, are all over the board. Can they keep Taylor fantasy relevant? And vice versa?

Well. ... As ESPN's Matthew Berry recently pointed out, only one player in the NFL has at least 3,000 passing yards and at least 550 rushing yards in each of the past two seasons: Taylor.

Berry went on to note that during that time frame, there are only two other quarterbacks to do it even once: Cam Newton and Russell Wilson, both in 2015. During the past two years, Taylor has rushed for at least 30 yards in 19 of 29 games. In the same time frame, Newton has done it in 18 of 31 games. No other QB has done it more than 12 times.

But wait.

Since the beginning of 2015, only Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees have more games with at least 15-plus fantasy points than Taylor.

Over the past two years, Taylor has averaged 18.71 points per game, seventh-best in the NFL. In that same time frame, Wilson has averaged 18.95.

Also in that same time frame, Brees has averaged 20.53, or 1.82 points a game more.

Meanwhile, Berry further pointed out that with Watkins, Taylor averaged 18.9 fantasy points per game in ESPN scoring. Without Sammy: 18.3 fantasy points per game. The rushing helps keep his fantasy floor high, plus a familiarity with new offensive coordinator Rick Dennison (they were together in Baltimore) helps, as Dennison is a fan of getting the QB out in space and will certainly take advantage of Tyrod's mobility.

Taylor was a top-10 QB last season (when Watkins missed eight games and was a decoy for a few others). Could he do it again? It's worth rostering him to find out. ...

In a related note. ... Matthews spent considerable time behind the scenes last month to ensure a smooth transition to regular season football in Week 1.

Matthews wasn't able to take part in contact work since his arrival in Buffalo last month, but during special teams segments of practice he worked on the side. After practice he went an extra half hour putting in work. It all has him 100 percent confident his injured sternum will be fit for play against the Jets.

"I'm doing everything. I'm in shape," Matthews said. "I've been going against the defense. I even had a couple of the DBs stay after practice and we just (worked on) releases. I had guys press me to see how I can get off the line. I feel I'm ready to go in those aspects. When it comes to preseason games like last week, if they haven't seen me go to the ground yet, why risk it? That's the biggest thing."

Matthews said the area of pain, which was virtually his entire upper torso right after his sternum injury has been reduced considerably. His catch radius is the same as it's always been and protective equipment fashioned by the athletic trainers is capably keeping the sternum from being re-injured.

"They made me a special type of undershirt and it's padded on the chest," said Matthews. "So I've been able to go out there at practice pretty well with that. What's crazy is one of my first days with it Tyrod just darted one into my chest and I catch and the point of the ball hit my chest and it didn't shake me like I thought it would. So I'm like, 'Okay this thing works and will be able to protect me when I go out there.'"

New head coach Sean McDermott said he's cautiously optimistic that Matthews will be able to play against the Jets.

One player who won't be available?

In an unexpected move, the Bills released running back Jonathan Williams on Sunday. Williams was expected to have a backup role behind LeSean McCoy.

Williams, 23, was a fifth-round pick of the Bills in 2016. He rushed for 94 yards and scored a touchdown on 27 carries as a rookie.

Williams had ball security issues in May, prompting offensive coordinator Rick Dennison and running backs coach Kelly Skipper to have a heart-to-heart with the running back. Turns out it wasn't enough. Now we'll all be watching closely to see who emerges as LeSean McCoy's handcuff going forward.

And that might be of some interest, because given the personnel changes over the summer, McCoy is going to be very busy.

One last reminder here: Mike Tolbert now appears to be in position to be the sole goal-line vulture with Williams out of the picture.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Tyrod Taylor, T.J. Yates, Nathan Peterman
RBs: LeSean McCoy, Mike Tolbert, Joe Banyard, Taiwan Jones
WRs: Zay Jones, Andre Holmes, Corey Brown, Brandon Tate, Jordan Matthews
TEs: Charles Clay, Nick O'Leary, Logan Thomas

Carolina Panthers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 6 September 2017

The Carolina Panthers are feeling much better about their preseason progress after seeing most of the pieces in place. That's what the third preseason game accomplished, with quarterback Cam Newton finally on the field in game situations. He wasn't alone in making a 2017 preseason debut, with center Ryan Kalil and rookie wide receiver Curtis Samuel joining him.

Head coach Ron Rivera gave a thumbs-up to Newton's performance and that was as much about his decision-making as it was his production. He completed both of his passes, one resulting in a touchdown against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

"He did what he was supposed to do," Rivera said. "He read defenses. He made the right calls and did things he was supposed to do with the football."

Remember, Newton went from the NFL MVP during Carolina's 2015 run to the Super Bowl to one of the league's biggest disappointments during a 6-10 2016 season. He statistically had the worst season of his career, and then on March 30 had surgery to repair a partially torn rotator cuff.

The shoulder has been the focus much of the preseason with Newton. He was limited to only one series -- a 10-play, 75-yard touchdown drive -- against the Jags.

He took advantage of his opportunity to take snaps with a purpose, realizing there was a short window before the first game.

"A lot of guys were anxious to produce, including myself," Newton said after the Jaguars game. "We were trying to make a big splash. Now we just have to sustain that."

It wasn't just the Newton appearance that provided the encouraging aspect in the 24-23 victory. Kalil finally making it onto the field for game action, albeit limited, was another reassuring development.

And, perhaps even more important, Samuel played. He was on the field for more plays than he might have been otherwise, but it was his first preseason game and he has some catching up to do.

"One of the things that we wanted to see was the explosiveness, and he does have it," Rivera said of Samuel.

To what degree the timing will develop between Newton and Samuel still could be an issue because they haven't had a lot of work together. But Samuel's presence is expected to offer a change of pace among the receiving group and that's something the Panthers have expressed that they're intent on making the most of as long as he's on the field. Samuel left the exhibition closer against the Steelers with an ankle injury.

Rivera hasn't lost his desire to make sure physical play remains a priority. So he prefers to put an emphasis on running the ball, something that could take pressure off Newton.

Now that he's on target to start this week's opener at San Francisco, the focus turns to whether or not Newton can bounce back, particularly after being surrounded with new weapons such as first-round and second-round draft picks Christian McCaffrey and Samuel.

Teammates believe the offense could be scary with a rejuvenated Newton and additions.

"We've got some weapons," said Captain Munnerlyn, who was less than complimentary about Carolina's offense last season as a member of the Minnesota Vikings. "I've been very impressed with McCaffrey. Nobody can cover this guy. He's definitely going to be a matchup problem.

"You bring in Samuel, a guy that can take the top off a defense. The offensive line, they're working real well together. So I'm expecting big things out of this offense. I'm expecting them to be back as one of the top offenses in the league."

Panthers free safety Kurt Coleman called the offense "scary" because you can't load up the box and focus on one player, as teams often did last season with Newton. Coleman likes the physicality he has seen from the offensive line and running back Jonathan Stewart. "And then you throw Christian McCaffrey into the mix, it's a scary dynamic," he said. "I've faced it firsthand. When this offense is really rolling, you don't know who they're going towards."

But it all starts with Newton.

"I know he's ready to roll," Munnerlyn said. "He's really just getting a bad taste out of his mouth. I'm excited about this year for him."

So Newton is ready to roll and teammates are excited. Should you share in their enthusiasm?

As ESPN's Matthew Berry reminded readers, Newton averaged 16.95 points per game last season, which was 18.8 percent below his average from 2011 to 2015. He finished as QB17. Last season, Newton had career lows in rushing attempts, rushing touchdowns and yards per rush. Don't get too far in front of this one people.

Other notes of interest. ... Tight end Greg Olsen didn't get the raise he was seeking, but he still has a chance to cash in with more money based on his performance.

The Panthers added $2 million in incentives to Olsen's contract, his agent Drew Rosenhaus told the Charlotte Observer late last week.

Olsen, the only tight end in NFL history to post three consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons, can collect bonuses by hitting benchmarks in receptions, receiving yards, average yards-per-catch and postseason honors, Rosenhaus said. Olsen can reach one of the incentives by hitting the 1,000-yard mark again, which he said during training camp was one of his goals.

Olsen, 32, signed a three-year extension worth $22.5 million in 2015, including a $12 million signing bonus.

But he felt like he had outperformed the contract and wanted a deal that better reflected his standing among the league's top tight ends. Olsen is the seventh highest-paid tight end with a per-year average of $7.5 million, and is 12th at his position in terms of guaranteed money.

Observer staffer Joseph Person reported in July that general manager Dave Gettleman was fired in part because of his handling of the contract situations involving linebacker Thomas Davis and Olsen.

Since taking over for Gettleman, interim GM Marty Hurney has extended Davis' contract through the 2018 season and added the incentives to Olsen's deal.

In the first three preseason games, Devin Funchess was in for all of Carolina's 2-WR sets. According to DraftKings' Adam Levitan, Funchess was in on 65-of-67 first-string snaps in those three exhibition outings. Funchess only produced four catches, 33 yards and zero TDs during that time (although, as noted above, Newton only got 10 snaps all month).

Levitan added" "Funchess has talent concerns and is certainly behind Kelvin Benjamin, Greg Olsen and Christian McCaffrey for targets. But he's still going to be on the field every snap and will be getting a lot of single coverage."

One last note here. ... After some talk the Panthers were trying to trade one their two kickers, veteran Graham Gano and rookie Harrison Butker, they wound up keeping both. GM Marty Hurney told reporters on Sunday that Gano would start Week 1 if both are still on the roster; Rivera seconded that, citing Gano's experience.

Rivera also says keeping Butker on the practice squad is an appealing option. The Eagles did that with David Akers when Rivera a Philly assistant.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Cam Newton, Derek Anderson
RBs: Jonathan Stewart, Christian McCaffrey, Fozzy Whittaker, Cameron Artis-Payne
WRs: Kelvin Benjamin, Devin Funchess, Curtis Samuel, Russell Shepard, Damiere Byrd, Brenton Bersin
TEs: Greg Olsen, Ed Dickson

Chicago Bears

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 6 September 2017

The issue of who is throwing the passes has become secondary for the Chicago Bears to who is catching them.

When wide receiver Cameron Meredith suffered a season-ending torn left anterior cruciate ligament against Tennessee on Sunday, the Bears suddenly had a receiver problem only two weeks before the start of the season.

"You feel bad for Cam," head coach John Fox said. "He's well-liked, a good teammate, obviously we'll miss him.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with him in his recovery, but somebody's got to take that spot."

Mike Glennon never seemed to be in danger of losing the starting job to rookie Mitchell Trubisky. Glennon will be under center for opening day against Atlanta after a strong effort in a preseason win over Tennessee in the all-important third exhibition game. Fox announced on Wednesday that Trubisky will be Glennon's backup, ahead of Mark Sanchez, who will serve as the third quarterback.

So now it's the receiver spot the Bears must solve with the loss of Meredith, last season's receiving leader. Meredith stepped up last season when former Bears receiver Alshon Jeffery was plagued by injuries and a suspension, and he finished with 66 receptions for 888 yards and four touchdowns.

It means 2015 first-round draft pick Kevin White must become the main receiving threat after he missed most of his first two seasons with leg injuries.

"I feel like I've got to step it up a little more," White said. "Everybody's got to take their game to another level."

White caught 19 passes for 187 yards last season before a fractured leg ended his season during the fourth game. To this point, he hasn't been able to show the big-play ability he flashed at West Virginia before becoming the No. 7 pick of the draft.

"I've said all along he needs to continue to improve," Fox said. "We saw improvement last week in Tennessee.

"I've seen that improvement because he's been able to stay healthy and stack those practices and now games together."

White said his knowledge of the Bears offense is good enough now so he can make an impact as a deep receiver or on underneath routes.

"I like to try to broaden my game in all aspects," White said. "If the ball's coming my way I try to make a play happen."

White's lack of an impact so far has made him a target for criticism after being drafted so high.

Free agent acquisitions Kendall Wright and Markus Wheaton appear next in line for consideration to play in the starting lineup at wide receiver in place of Meredith.

Wright, a former Tennessee Titans receiver, has six preseason catches. Wheaton, a former Steeler, came to the Bears with a shoulder issue. In training camp he had to undergo an appendectomy. Then he suffered a broken finger and is currently not practicing.

"As far as Markus goes, that will be the quicker we can get him back the better," Fox said. "It's a broken, surgically repaired pinky and when he's cleared he'll be out there."

Getting back to Glennon. ... If the former Buccaneer plays well and the Bears contend in the NFC North with him in the lineup, Chicago could conceivably wait until next season before turning to Trubisky, but all parties know Trubisky is going to start eventually.

"I don't know if I see Glennon tearing it up there with the weapons they have, which are not that great," a personnel director told ESPN.com's Mike Sando. "I think they are going to run the s--- out of the ball with Jordan Howard and not put too much on Glennon's shoulders, and then they are going to go to their young guy."

Howard owners will be pleased with that assessment.

It's ironic that even though Bears coaches talked extensively about using that three-back rotation to replace Matt Forte last season, they ended up finding one excellent power runner who emerged as the main back after Jeremy Langford went down with a high-ankle injury against Dallas in Week 3.

Howard moved in as the starter and established himself as the featured back of the offense, finishing the season with 1,313 rushing yards, second in the NFL only to Ezekiel Elliott. Howard, who plans to play at a slightly lighter weight this season, probably should have carried more than 252 times, considering he averaged 5.2 yards a carry, but the Bears only finished 30th in possession time.

As ESPN.com noted, in the past five years, there are only two running backs who carried the ball at least 250 times and averaged more yards per carry than Jordan Howard's 5.21: Jamaal Charles and Peterson, both in 2012. Howard also averaged 5.64 yards per carry on his 202 carries that he had against teams that won at least eight games last season (most among the 37 running backs that had at least 65 carries against such opponents).

He still needs to work on his hands in the passing offense, but make no mistake about it: Howard heads into 2017 as a high-end fantasy back. ...

In a related note. ... The Bears waived running back Jeremy Langford, former 4th rounder from 2015, on Sunday. Rookie Tarik Cohen will handle the change of pace role behind Howard. ...

For what it's worth, Meredith received arguably the best news possible regarding his injured left knee. Doctors told Meredith last Tuesday that while the ACL in the knee is torn and will require replacement, other damage is minimal. The prognosis is for a full return in perhaps as soon as eight months.

Now Meredith could be on the field as soon as the late spring when the team enters organized team activities.

Meredith is in the final year of his contract and will be a restricted free agent after the season. He led the Bears in receiving in 2016 with 66 receptions for 888 yards and four touchdowns and was slated to be the team's top receiver this season.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Mitchell Trubisky, Mike Glennon, Mark Sanchez
RBs: Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen, Benny Cunningham
WRs: Kendall Wright, Josh Bellamy, Markus Wheaton, Deonte Thompson, Kevin White
TEs: Zach Miller, Dion Sims, Adam Shaheen, Daniel Brown, Ben Braunecker

Cincinnati Bengals

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 6 September 2017

That Bengals had to be relieved with initial reports that wide receiver John Ross' right knee injury that he suffered in Thursday's pre-season finale isn't serious. It's unclear what his status is for the Sept. 10 opener against Baltimore at Paul Brown Stadium, but the news is as good as it can be.

According to Geoff Hobson of the team's official website, the damage to the rookie wide receiver's knee is not serious, and he's only expected to miss a few weeks.

Still, we'll have to wait a little longer to see Ross show his footwork in the open field, after hearing a lot about his record 4.22-second 40-yard dash at the Scouting Combine.

The Bengals were hoping the fastest man in the history of the Combine would add a new element to their offense, but his role was limited through the preseason. He got a late start because of his recovery from shoulder surgery, and had just three touches in preseason games.

That said, the team seemed pleased to get him even minimal time.

"You know," said quarterback Andy Dalton, "he's only had about a week of practice really and so the more that he is out doing things, getting the reps, the better he will be and the better feel and timing that we will have with him. But it was a good start."

In discussing the anticipated role for Ross, Cincinnati Enquirer staffer Jim Owczarski suggested that if Brandon LaFell and Tyler Boyd remain healthy all season, OC Ken Zampese will have to find creative ways to get Ross on the field and maximize his talents. It's an advantage, Owczarski thinks, because Ross doesn't have to play a ton of snaps and be amazing.

The Bengals should be able to put him in position to succeed. That's likely to come -- at least early in the season -- in the form of packages that used him on a limited basis.

But not until he returns from the knee injury. ...

So heading into Week 1, the Bengals have a bevy of offensive weapons but also a shaky O-line that probably will have problems this season. According to ESPN.com's Katherine Terrell, with additions like Ross and Joe Mixon, they could be explosive. Or they could be the same inconsistent team that finished 6-9-1 last year. The toughest games here are against the Packers, Broncos and Steelers.

The loss of Vontaze Burfict for three games certainly doesn't help, especially with tough games against the Texans and Packers among the first two contests. But the Bengals look like a much improved team from the one that started 3-4-1 prior to the bye last season. If they can defeat the Texans on Thursday night, they could potentially be 4-1 before they face the Steelers for the first time.

Dalton is certainly capable enough. Remember, as ESPN's Matthew Berry pointed out, Dalton was last year's QB12 without A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert or Giovani Bernard for most of it. He gets all of them back healthy and adds Mixon and Ross. Also worth noting: Only Cam Newton has more rushing touchdowns among QBs since 2012 than Dalton. ...

Speaking of rushing attempts. .. In each of the past four years, the Bengals and Carolina Panthers are the only teams with 440-plus rushing attempts. Cincy will continue to run the ball a tremendous amount. Even with an ineffective run game last season, the Bengals were still top 10 in rushing attempts and only five teams had more rushing scores.

So we know they'll run, but with whom?

Giovani Bernard is coming off a major injury, and in the yards-per-carry category, of the 27 running backs with at least 275 carries over the past two years, Jeremy Hill ranks 27th. You don't take Joe Mixon and all the off-the-field baggage he brings just for "running back depth."

He's going to start for the Bengals sooner than later and he's got a legit shot to be a top-10 running back on a points-per-game basis once he gets the gig.

Remember, Mixon can be used in a variety of ways, whether it's as a traditional running back or as a pass-catcher. As NFL.com noted, he's a productive inside-outside runner with elite vision, burst and cutback ability. In addition, Mixon has the power to run through defenders at the ends of runs. As a receiver, he is a polished route runner in space.

One question, after he split time with Samaje Perine during his years at Oklahoma, is Mixon's ability to be a true featured back.

Bernard and Hill probably give Mixon and the Bengals at least a season to find the answer about the newcomer's ability to carry the entire load. But that doesn't mean Mixon won't be busy enough to suit fantasy owners.

For the record, Hill was practicing Wednesday despite the ankle injury he suffered in Week 3 of the preseason.

One last note here. ... Tight end Tyler Eifert was limited late last month due to tendinitis. It is not deemed to be a serious issue. "We're trying to just make sure he's ready to go when the time comes," said head coach Marvin Lewis.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Andy Dalton, AJ McCarron, Jeff Driskel
RBs: Joe Mixon, Jeremy Hill, Giovani Bernard, Thomas Jones
WRs: A.J. Green, Brandon LaFell, Tyler Boyd, John Ross, Josh Malone, Alex Erickson, Cody Core
TEs: Tyler Kroft, Ryan Hewitt, C.J. Uzomah

Cleveland Browns

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 6 September 2017

Rookie DeShone Kizer will start at quarterback for the Cleveland Browns in the season opener against Pittsburgh, coach Hue Jackson announced last Sunday.

"He's earned the right to play through his preparation. He's established a work ethic that has earned the respect of his teammates," Jackson said.

Jackson named Kizer the starter after watching him play the first half against Tampa Bay in the team's third exhibition game. The coach saw positives in Kizer's work despite some not-so-good numbers.

"He still has a lot to learn," Jackson said. "He's going to learn a lot and gain a lot of experience and the only way you get that is by playing. And we're all excited about that."

Kizer completed 6 of 18 passes for 93 yards with an interception against the Bucs, but Jackson liked the way Kizer handled himself and said he was hurt by poor field position, a dropped pass and turnovers. Jackson made it clear that the decision to start Kizer is for the long term, and the Browns will stay with him through his rookie struggles.

"This is not just for the moment," Jackson said. "We're going to get with DeShone and ride him through it all and work with him through all this. You said it, those things are going to happen. And I think we get that. I think he gets that. We're not going to blink about it. We're just going to correct it and keep moving forward."

Kizer beat out Brock Osweiler and Cody Kessler to earn the job. He will be the first rookie to start the opener for the Browns since Brandon Weeden in 2012.

He also will be the fifth different opening day starter in the past five seasons -- Weeden, Brian Hoyer, Josh McCown and Robert Griffin III preceded him -- and the 27th starting quarterback for the Browns since Cleveland got a team back in 1999 after being without one for three seasons.

"I think we all dove into this the right way to go find a guy that hopefully can solve our quarterback issue," Jackson said. "Again, it's not over with yet. This guy's been named the starter, but he still has to earn the right to be the starting quarterback for this team week in and week out. I think he gets that. But he has the talent, he has the makeup, he has the things that we're looking for."

And once Kizer was locked in as the starter, it kept Brock Osweiler from being on that list.

Osweiler was released last Friday, bringing an end to a five-month stretch that saw him start in the preseason just long enough for Cleveland to confirm that DeShone Kizer is their quarterback of the future.

The Browns' decision to trade for Osweiler was never about having Osweiler play for him and always about acquiring a second-round draft pick from the Texans in exchange for agreeing to take Osweiler's salary. The terrible contract the Texans gave Osweiler a year ago is now the Browns' responsibility, meaning Cleveland still has to pay Osweiler $16 million this year.

But the Browns are willing to do that because they wanted the draft pick and they had the cap space. For the Browns, the trade was a success no matter what Osweiler did.

Meanwhile, as Cleveland Plain Dealer staff writer Dan Labbe framed it: "The throw lit up Twitter" was a 32-yarder to Corey Coleman against the Buccaneers. Coleman made a diving catch got up quickly, spun the ball to the ground and signaled first down. It was one of three catches for Coleman against the Buccaneers, all from Kizer and all on third down. They represented three of the five third down conversions by the Browns in the first half and half of Kizer's completions overall.

"That's huge," Jackson said. "You have a guy that you feel can win and make plays on third down, that's what you've got to do in this league. That's the money down. Everybody understands that. Normally, you've got to throw the football and you do, you've got to have somebody that's going to make a play and catch it and Corey made some plays the other day."

So with Kizer starting, the focus obviously shifts to his targets. The relationship between the Browns' top draft choice in 2016 and their pick for quarterback in 2017 could become a defining relationship for the team's offense as a whole -- not just this season but for a long time to come.

To this point, no real receiving threat beyond Coleman has emerged for the Browns. Kenny Britt caught one pass in each of the three preseason games and he put a costly football on the ground in the red zone against the Buccaneers, short-circuiting a potential touchdown drive.

Behind Britt and Coleman, Ricardo Louis, Rashard Higgins and Kasen Williams are joined by Sammie Coates, who gets a fresh start with the Browns after he was acquired from the Steelers in exchange for a sixth-round pick in the 2018 draft on Saturday. Coates started last season hot with four straight games with at least one catch of 40-plus yards, but injuries to his groin and fingers affected his confidence as he became a non-factor.

Coates will have the chance to play immediately. ...

Beyond the immediate state of the position, though, the hope is that Coleman, who turned 23 in July, and Kizer, who turned 21 in January, can represent a young quarterback-receiver combo that can grow and develop into something Browns fans will watch for a long time.

There's a long ways to go before the long view of what that combo can become is anywhere near a reality. Coleman has to stay healthy, for one, a season after dealing with a hamstring injury in training camp and breaking his hand during the season.

The other half of the equation, Kizer, is still just a raw but promising prospect who has never thrown a pass in a real NFL game. He was the fourth quarterback taken in the 2017 draft and, following a good start Saturday night, slipped into some bad habits during his final three drives. Even on some of the throws he did complete to Coleman, the second-year wide receiver had to help cover for some of Kizer's accuracy issues.

Growing pains are to be expected, though, considering the background and relative inexperience of the players involved. Developing a chemistry that both can rely on in tight situations can only help in each player's development.

Kizer knows already how important Coleman can become for him this season.

"He is a heck of an athlete and the way our offense is set up, with him backside quite a bit, if they're going to give us an opportunity to go one-on-one, he's going to have to make those plays consistently," Kizer said.

Coleman said he has let his mind wander a little bit to what the two could become together, but the focus is on the immediate future.

"We're thinking one game at a time," Coleman said. "We're going to keep on performing at a high level, but it could be a very bright future for both of us if we keep on doing what we need to do."

Other notes of interest. ... If you're interested in Isaiah Crowell, it's understandable. It starts with the offensive line, where they brought back guard Joel Bitonio while signing guard Kevin Zeitler and center J.C. Tretter to join star left tackle Joe Thomas. As ESPN.com's Matthew Berry noted, this is very quietly one of the best lines in football. Adding to the positive vibe, Jackson is keen on using the rushing attack to keep the pressure off Kizer.

As Jackson told ESPN.com's Pat McManamon: "I beat myself up [for not running Isaiah Crowell more in 2016]."

In other words, the Browns are going to be a run-first team and run they will with Crowell, who quietly had a top-15 season in 2016. In addition, Crowell is one of only six backs in the NFL under the age of 30 with at least 145 carries in each of the past three seasons, and he has never missed a game in his NFL career. Crowell averaged almost five yards a carry last season, so he has RB1 upside.

LeSean McCoy, Ezekiel Elliott, Jay Ajayi and Mike Gillislee were the only RBs in the NFL last season to average more yards per carry and have more rushing touchdowns than Crowell.

One last item here. ... Rookie DE Myles Garrett injured his ankle during practice Wednesday and was not able to finish. We'll keep an eye on this one and report back as developments warrant.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: DeShone Kizer, Kevin Hogan, Cody Kessler
RBs: Isaiah Crowell, Duke Johnson, Matthew Dayes
WRs: Kenny Britt, Ricardo Louis, Rashard Higgins, Sammie Coates, Bryce Treggs, Corey Coleman
TEs: David Njoku, Seth DeValve, Randall Telfer

Dallas Cowboys

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 6 September 2017

And here we go kids. Drama on!!

An arbitrator denied Dallas running back Ezekiel Elliott's appeal of a six-game suspension in a domestic violence case Tuesday, but the 2016 NFL rushing champion will play in the opener because of the timing of the decision.

Elliott attorney Jeffrey Kessler told the judge near the end of a nearly 2 1/2-hour hearing in federal court that Elliott's suspension was sustained by arbitrator Harold Henderson.

At the start of the hearing, NFL attorney Daniel Nash told the judge it was "his understanding" that Elliott could play Sunday night against the New York Giants because the league didn't want to rush the judge.

U.S. District Judge Amos Mazzant said he would rule on Elliott's request for a temporary restraining order by Friday. If the request is denied and no further legal action taken, Elliott's suspension would start in Week 2 at Denver. He would be eligible to return Nov. 5 against Kansas City.

Elliott was suspended by Commissioner Roger Goodell after the league concluded he had several physical confrontations last summer with Tiffany Thompson, a former girlfriend. Prosecutors in Ohio didn't pursue the case, citing conflicting evidence.

The 22-year-old Elliott denied the allegations in sworn testimony during an appeal hearing last week. He attended Tuesday's hearing in Sherman, about 65 miles north of Dallas, sitting quietly in a suit and tie and facing away from the audience and mostly toward the judge.

The NFL Players' Association sued in federal court on behalf of Elliott last week before Henderson ruled, saying the appeal hearing was "fundamentally unfair" because the running back was prevented from confronting his accuser in the Ohio case.

Kessler reiterated most of the NFLPA's arguments before Mazzant, who pressed Nash for answers on the claim from Elliott's legal team that a co-lead investigator who questioned Thompson's credibility was left out of a key meeting with Goodell during the yearlong probe.

Henderson said in his ruling that the NFL complied with its personal conduct policy in punishing Elliott and rejected any claims that Elliott's attorneys presented new evidence at the appeal.

"In a case involving violation of a policy, fair and consistent means whether the process and result were in compliance with the terms of that policy," Henderson wrote. "This one is, in every respect."

After Henderson's ruling, the NFL filed a lawsuit asking a federal court in New York to enforce Elliott's suspension. The Southern District of New York falls under the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which last year backed Goodell's four-game suspension of New England quarterback Tom Brady over Deflategate.

According to the letter Elliott received informing him of the suspension last month, the NFL believed he used "physical force" three times in a span of five days in a Columbus, Ohio, apartment last July resulting in injuries to Thompson's face, neck, shoulders, arms, hands, wrists, hips and knees.

Prosecutors in Columbus decided about a year ago not to pursue the case in the city where Elliott starred for Ohio State, but the NFL kept the investigation open. The league said its conclusions were based on photographs, text messages and other electronic evidence.

Kessler again questioned why Henderson didn't allow Thompson or Goodell to testify at the appeal hearing, as did Mazzant. The judge seemed sympathetic to Kessler's claim that investigator Kia Roberts was kept out of the loop while believing that Elliott shouldn't be suspended.

The NFLPA has blamed the exclusion of Roberts on NFL special counsel Lisa Friel, who was hired as a result of changes three years ago in the personal conduct policy that stiffened penalties in domestic cases.

The changes came after the league was sharply criticized for its handling of the case involving former Baltimore running back Ray Rice.

Nash countered that procedures with the league's investigation and the appeal were "grounded in policy" through the labor deal with the players.

"You can't second-guess that," Nash told Mazzant.

Last year, Elliott missed a large portion of the preseason because of a hamstring injury before rushing for 1,631 yards and helping the Cowboys to a 13-3 record. Dallas didn't use Elliott in the first three preseason games this year but he had eight touches in 10 plays in his only series in the finale against Oakland as the appeal played out. ...

Meanwhile, Dak Prescott is showing no signs of a looming sophomore slump. Instead, teammates and coaches expect Prescott to take another step forward in Year 2. But that doesn't preclude some regression.

Since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, there have been only eight rookie quarterbacks to rush for six touchdowns. All of the previous seven decreased in rushing touchdowns the following season except Tim Tebow, who tied his number (and that was because they wouldn't let him throw). So Prescott's rushing will regress, and the interceptions will increase. Prescott's TD/INT ratio was 5.75. Since 2001, of QBs with at least 450 passing attempts, there have been only four seasons with a better ratio: Aaron Rodgers twice (2011, 2014) and Tom Brady twice (2007, 2010). That's it.

And ESPN's Matthew Berry wonders if opposing defenses didn't figure Prescott out.

He was QB13 from Weeks 12-16 (he didn't really play in Week 17). Dinking and dunking last season, Prescott threw only 42 passes at least 20 yards downfield, tied for 26th in the league with Alex Smith.

That said, teammates are sold on Dak.

"The guy is special," said tight end Jason Witten. "To come into training camp and really the entire offseason and approach it like he has, really building off what he did last year - his communication, his calls, his accuracy - I mean, he's made big throws not just tonight and last week, but throughout the entire training camp."

So what if Elliott's suspension stands and Dak has to throw more?

One beneficiary of potentially-increased passing volume seems would be Dez Bryant. But as Yahoo's Liz Loza pointed out, the X receiver's matchups are beyond brutal. Facing off against three of the league's most dangerous shutdown corners in the first three weeks of the 2017 regular season (NYG, DEN, AZ), Dez will have his work cut out for him.

So Loza expects the Prescott-Cole Beasley connection to be re-established.

Leading the Cowboys in targets (98), Beasley emerged as a security blanket for his young QB. Given his 76.5 percent catch rate (second best among WRs in 2016), Beasley excelled with 75 catches for over 800 yards.

Meanwhile, Jason Witten does nothing that surprises many within the Cowboys organization. Witten is going into his 15th season and appears to still be in his prime. That much was evident in Saturday's preseason game against the Oakland Raiders. Witten played only a half and led the team with six catches for 74 yards and a touchdown.

"He's the best pro football player I've been around when it comes to the whole package - player and professional and spokesman for the team and leader and all of that stuff," offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said. "That's who I would tell any one of my sons or anybody that's around me - if you want to emulate somebody, emulate that guy. ..."

Kellen Moore was re-signed Tuesday after getting released on the original cut to the 53-man roster. Coach Jason Garrett hasn't indicated whether the sixth-year veteran or undrafted rookie Cooper Rush will be the backup. The Cowboys didn't want to expose Rush to waivers.

TE Rico Gathers made the final cuts, but remained sidelined with a concussion after a helmet-to-helmet shot with safety Kavon Frazier knocked him out of an Aug. 15 practice in Oxnard, Calif. The extent of the concussion subsequently forced the Cowboys to place Gathers on injured reserve to start the season. The move means Gathers will be out for at least the first eight weeks of the regular season. He could return to practice after six weeks.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush
RBs: Ezekiel Elliott, Darren McFadden, Alfred Morris, Rod Smith
WRs: Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Ryan Switzer, Brice Butler, Noah Brown
TEs: Jason Witten, Geoff Swaim, Rico Gathers

Denver Broncos

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 6 September 2017

As the Sports Xchange suggests, even if Trevor Siemian and the passing offense struggle, the Broncos look like they can run the football and boast an elite defense once again which could be all they need to climb back into the playoff conversation.

Siemian threw his first interception of the 2017 preseason early in the Broncos' 20-17 preseason win over the Green Bay Packers in the third pre-season game, and it led to the only touchdown conceded by their first-team defense through the preseason on a 2-yard drive. But the most promising sign for the Broncos from their third preseason game was how they ran the football through starter C.J. Anderson, free-agent pickup Jamaal Charles and Siemian himself, who tossed in a 16-yard scramble to keep Green Bay's defense honest.

Anderson, Charles and Siemian combined for 76 yards on 15 carries in the first half against Green Bay working behind the first-team offensive line, averaging 5.1 yards per attempt. Their runs kept the offense on schedule and opened opportunities for the downfield passing game, which allowed Siemian to connect on four passes of 15 or more yards before leaving the game at halftime.

"That's critical for any offense to be able to run the ball and get defenses in one-high man coverage, and then it's just one-on-one (coverage)," said wide receiver Jordan Taylor, who had two of those four receptions that covered at least 15 yards. "Having this offensive line has been big. It's critical, and having this offensive line is definitely benefitting the receivers, so that's a good thing."

The performance of Charles in particular provided a boost. He carried four times for 27 yards (6.75-yard average) added 15 yards on two receptions and showed the same kind of burst he displayed during his days in Kansas City.

He also solidified his spot on the roster.

"To take the contact to find open space the way he did, he caught the ball well and his protections were good," head coach Vance Joseph said. "I was impressed with Jamaal and I was hoping he looked like that."

The Broncos' offense began breaking down at midseason last year when Anderson was injured and the running game collapsed. After he suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 7, the Broncos had the league's least productive running game, and gradually, the offense crumbled, collapsing entirely by December.

If it can run the ball from start to finish, Siemian's prospects and those of the entire offense look far different

Meanwhile, Paxton Lynch's bruised shoulder will keep him out "roughly" five weeks, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network. The team will not place him on injured reserve.

That means Brock Osweiler, who rejoined the team on Monday, will have an extended stay in Denver as Siemian's backup.

Lynch injured his right shoulder in last Saturday's preseason game against Green Bay. The MRI showed a bruise for the former first-round draft pick. Lynch's use of a sling for his throwing arm was an indication his recovery won't be as swift as the Broncos had hoped.

Osweiler went 5-2 in relief of an injured Manning during the Broncos' Super Bowl season two years ago before bolting to Houston in free agency.

The Texans traded him in March to the Browns, who will pay Osweiler his $16 million guaranteed salary this season minus the offset from the Broncos. The minimum for a sixth-year pro is $775,000.

Of course, if the conversation in Denver is more about the QBs than the RBs, it won't be good news for the team -- starting with Monday night's opener against the Chargers.

Other notes of interest. ... In assessing Anderson's chances of producing at a high level this season, ESPN's Matthew Berry recently noted that 2014-2015 were the only two seasons that we have seen Anderson play at least half of the season. Anderson was RB14 during that stretch, and we've seen nothing to suggest that he can't sustain that level of production when given the lead role (12 rushing touchdowns and 4.7 yards per carry in his 11 career regular-season games with 15-plus carries).

New offensive coordinator Mike McCoy was the Chargers' head coach from 2013-16 and his Chargers ranked second in time of possession over that stretch. Denver is going to run the ball often. Anderson just needs to stay healthy. ...

Also. ... According to multiple reports from Denver, Demaryius Thomas was on the field for Wednesday’s practice. Thomas hurt his groin in the team’s third preseason game and was removed from the contest in what was called a precautionary measure.did not practice last week because of a groin injury suffered Saturday, but is not expected to miss any time in the regular season and should be ready to play in Week 1.

Remember, Thomas is coming off a Pro Bowl season but all involved expected more of the star wideout in 2016.

Thomas ranked third in the league with seven dropped passes and his receptions, yards and touchdowns were his lowest since 2011, so there's certainly room for improvement. Yards after the catch is place to start. In 2012, his first season with Peyton Manning as his quarterback and last season with McCoy as coordinator, Thomas ranked second among NFL receivers with 561 yards after the catch.

In 2013, McCoy left, but his system stayed behind with Adam Gase and Manning, and Thomas led the NFL with 718 yards after the catch. Last season, Thomas recorded only 336 yards after the catch to rank 25th among receivers, 47th overall. Thomas hopes McCoy's return can rekindle the offensive magic from a few years ago.

And what about Emmanuel Sanders?

According to Berry, since 2014, Sanders has 16 different games with at least 20 PPR points. Among wide receivers, only Antonio Brown, Julio Jones and Odell Beckham have more such games.

And finally. ... The Broncos signed former Bills RB Jonathan Williams to their practice squad on Wednesday -- giving him a $500,000 deal. Yes. That's unusual for a practice squad player.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler, Paxton Lynch, Chad Kelly
RBs: C.J. Anderson, Jamaal Charles, Devontae Booker, De'Angelo Henderson
WRs: Demaryius Thomas, Bennie Fowler, Cody Latimer, Isaiah McKenzie, Jordan Taylor, Emmanuel Sanders
TEs: A.J. Derby, Virgil Green, Jeff Heuerman, Jake Butt

Detroit Lions

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 6 September 2017

Matthew Stafford said he was relieved to get his much anticipated contract extension done this week so he could turn his full attention to the regular season and the Lions' Sept. 10 opener against the Arizona Cardinals.

"It was important," Stafford said. "It wasn't something that all along I knew was going to be the case, but as it got into training camp a little bit I realized that I think we have an extremely talented team, and for us to be worrying about - or anybody, even myself - about my contract situation or what it was going to be, was going to be a disservice to the organization, to our team, to the players in the locker room.

"I'm just glad that we're getting this thing wrapped up and we can move on to the season."

Stafford's new five-year deal makes him the highest paid player in the NFL by every contractual measure.

His contract averages $27 million per season, includes more than $60 million in immediate guarantees and will be worth $135 million if he plays it out through 2022.

Stafford said talks remained "cordial" throughout the negotiating process, and he never truly considered the Kirk Cousins option of playing out multiple franchise tags to force his way to free agency.

"At certain points in time, everything's in play," Stafford said. "But in the back of my mind I've always wanted to be here. And from the first day I met with (my agent), after I talked with (general manager Bob Quinn) and all those guys in February, that was the first question he asked me and I said, 'Absolutely, I want to be in Detroit.' And you never know if that's always going to work out or not, but that was my wish and intention all the way back then."

Quinn said both sides "made some concessions" in order to strike a fair deal for everyone involved. Stafford received significantly more money than the last highest paid player in the NFL, Raiders quarterback Derek Carr ($25 million average), while the Lions maintained the flexibility to put a competitive roster around their 29-year-old quarterback.

"There's more money to go around," Quinn said. "And it's my job and the scouting department's job and our contract people's job to make everything fit and field the most competitive people that we can. And I think making this contract and doing this contract with Matthew and his representatives was one step into a long process that we're building. And we still have more room to grow."

Meanwhile, as ESPN's Matthew Berry framed it: "OK, so a funny thing happened on the way to Jim Bob Cooter's induction into the Fantasy Hall of Fame: The Lions kind of became a ball-control team."

Berry went on to explain that during the second half of last season, Detroit was 11th in average time of possession and averaged the third-most plays per drive. Gone was the gunslinger and instead we had more of a dink and dunk approach. Stafford was 21st in yards per pass attempt in the second half of 2016, and after a red-hot start, he had zero or one passing touchdowns in seven of his final 10 games.

Indeed, Stafford played through a dislocated middle finger for the final four-plus games of the season and saw a steep decline in his play because of the injury. In 12-plus games before suffering the injury, Stafford completed 68.4 percent of his passes with 21 touchdowns and five interceptions. In 19 quarters after the injury, Stafford completed 58.6 percent of his passes with three touchdowns and five interceptions.

Meanwhile, Stafford surpassed 30,000 yards passing for his career, becoming the fastest quarterback ever to reach the mark. Stafford did it in his 109th game. The previous record was held by Dan Marino and Kurt Warner, who did it in 114 games.

But an improved offensive line and the return of Ameer Abdullah could lead one to expect more balance this season. The Lions improved the offensive line this offseason, adding T.J. Lang and Ricky Wagner, but LT Taylor Decker's injury sets them back.

Still, expectations are high for Abdullah.

While the Lions envision having a backfield by committee this year, RBs coach David Walker recently said there is a 1,000-yard back (or two) in their midst. "I think we got guys if the situation (presents itself)," Walker said. "If you handed the ball to Ameer 250 times, he's going to get you 1,000 yards. So we'll just see if we get there."

Indeed, the Lions are banking on a bounce back season from Abdullah this fall to help lift their 2016 30th-ranked rushing attack back to a level of respectability.

Abdullah played just six quarters last fall before suffering a foot injury that required Lisfranc surgery, but he showed in brief flashes the ability to be a difference-making running back. In 18 carries last year, Abdullah totaled 101 yards rushing. Remember: Both Abdullah and Theo Riddick are returning from season-ending surgeries -- Riddick underwent double-wrist surgery and was limited to 10 games last year -- and the Lions have worked them cautiously back into the mix this summer and clearly the team believes they have a potent tandem.

But make no mistake: "Ameer's our guy," Walker said. "Theo has his role, and then the other guys, they got to kind of fit where they fit and that's how we'll go."

That doesn't mean Riddick won't excel.

In fact, DetroitLions.com's Tim Twentyman believes Riddick is one of the best red-zone threats in all of football.

Twentyman went on to explain that Cooter can do so much with Riddick from a matchup standpoint near and around the end zone. There's not a linebacker in this league that can cover Riddick out of the backfield. He can also motion out into the slot and force a defense to move pieces around to account for him there.

Riddick had five receiving touchdowns last year. All five were in the red zone and three were from one yard out. ...

Expectations are that Golden Tate is expected to be going out of the slot more, much like he was in 2015. The past two years, Stafford has thrown the eighth-most passes to the slot and that's where Anquan Boldin caught seven of his eight touchdowns last season. Rookie Kenny Golladay has generated a lot of buzz this summer, but expecting Tate to improve on the four touchdowns he had last season isn't a reach. ...

Eric Ebron missed most of the preseason with a hamstring injury but is on pace to return for the Week 1 opener against the Cardinals. This summer was the second time in as many years that he's missed the entire exhibition slate because of injuries.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Matthew Stafford, Jake Rudock
RBs: Ameer Abdullah, Theo Riddick, Dwayne Washington, Zach Zenner
WRs: Marvin Jones, Kenny Golladay, Jared Abbrederis, TJ Jones, Golden Tate
TEs: Darren Fells, Eric Ebron, Michael Roberts

Green Bay Packers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 6 September 2017

According to the Sports Xchange, the Packers' offensive line depth is a huge concern right now. And quarterback Aaron Rodgers admits he's a little worried.

"Yeah, we need to shore that up a little bit, you know," Rodgers said.

Packers starting right tackle Bryan Bulaga sprained an ankle in practice that sidelined him since mid-August. Kyle Murphy, Green Bay's sixth-round draft choice in 2016, started at right tackle during the Packers' preseason game in Denver Saturday.

Jason Spriggs, a second-round draft choice in 2016, was supposed to be Green Bay's swing tackle. But Spriggs has had a brutal summer, and right now, it would be a giant leap of faith for the Packers to play him in a meaningful moment. The Packers are also thin inside, where Don Barclay appeared set to be the top backup at both guard spots and at center. But Barclay suffered an ankle injury in the Packers' first preseason game and he was placed on injured reserve on Sunday.

Making matters worse, No. 3 center Lucas Patrick went down with a head injury in Denver, during the team's third preseason game.

Bulaga said last week he expects to play in Week 1, but his status may not be known until this week. Bulaga has missed 32 games in his first seven seasons, but just five in the last three years. And Bulaga is optimistic his latest injury won't cost him any time.

"I don't like to do timetable things, but I'm not too concerned about it," Bulaga said of his availability in Week 1. "I'm able to walk and it feels better as the day goes on. But I have to see what the results say and kind of go from there."

It's possible the offensive line issues also explain the poor rushing attack we say in August. But part of it was on head coach Mike McCarthy. By his own admission, he largely neglected the running game for the first 3½ preseason games, then tried to learn as much about his young running backs as possible in the last half of exhibition football.

So where does that leave the three running backs the Green Bay Packers drafted this offseason? They might have to keep all of them -- fourth-round pick Jamaal Williams, fifth-rounder Aaron Jones and seventh-rounder Devante Mays -- along with starter Ty Montgomery because they'd hate to let one get away without seeing more than they have in the last month.

"They improved weekly, and that's what you're looking for," McCarthy said after a 24-10 win over the Rams in the preseason finale. "If I was going to be judgmental, I wish I'd have run the ball more in the first three games. Tonight is what we needed to do. So pass protection will always be the biggest challenge for a young running back coming into the league, the ability to play all three downs. The way we balanced out their reps and their opportunities, I was very pleased with not only the quality but the quantity."

Jones, the smallest of the three at 5-foot-9 and 208 pounds, led the Packers in preseason rushing with 105 yards on 19 carries.

Williams, who has been consistently No. 2 on the depth chart behind Ty Montgomery, seems well-rounded. He finished the exhibition closer with 31 yards on 11 carries and the preseason with 61 yards on 25 carries. He also caught four passes for 52 yards in the four games.

"There's still a lot more that you haven't seen, but at the same time you've just got to make your opportunities count," Williams said. "You can't be complaining about how many reps you get or how many times you get on the field. You've just got to make the opportunities that you have count."

Mays, the biggest of the backs at 5-10 and 230, has shown more as a receiver (five catches for 56 yards over the preseason) than a runner (16 carries for 43 yards).

"I mean, with there being so many running backs, we don't get that many opportunities, so when we do, you just need to make the best of it," Mays said. "You've got to do the best with what you get. It's pretty different, but it's expected coming in as pretty much one of the last backs on the roster and then having so many running backs at the same time."

And what about the quarterback?

As ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky noted last month, Aaron Rodgers has never had any arm trouble, but the quarterback decided this year to change his offseason throwing routine anyway. He said that he took off more time than ever before from throwing, in part to concentrate on other aspects of his conditioning and fitness and in part to just rest his arm.

Demovsky went on to note that Rodgers looked as sharp as ever during training camp practices.

"I worked hard in the offseason on my body and my core strength," Rodgers said. "I took a break from throwing for about a month. I kind of let my arm come all the way back. It's felt good this year, as usual. But my legs, I think, have felt better the last couple years than maybe the previous couple years, probably due to the training and maybe eating better. I think when your legs are underneath you and you're throwing from the ground up, you're probably going to be a little more accurate."

Rodgers said he didn't throw much, if at all, once the offseason program ended in June. According to Demovsky, Rodgers' arm has looked strong all camp. McCarthy said earlier in training camp that Rodgers was not on a pitch count but that the Packers would "take care of his arm."

Apparently that's all working out pretty well. ...

Also of interest. ... Jermichael Finley finished as a top-10 fantasy tight end in both overall scoring and on a points-per-game basis back in 2011.

And as ESPN's Matthew Berry notes, it's also the only time that has happened for an Aaron Rodgers tight end. Meanwhile, Martellus Bennett had never been a huge touchdown machine, and three of his seven last season came against Cleveland. If that doesn't worry you, how about this:

The percentage of Rodgers' completions that have gone to TEs: 2008-10: 19.6 percent; 2011-13: 18.6 percent; 2014-16: 17.1 percent.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Brett Hundley, Joe Callahan, Aaron Rodgers
RBs: Ty Montgomery, Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams, Devante Mays
WRs: Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams, Randall Cobb, Geronimo Allison, Jeff Janis, Trevor Davis
TEs: Martellus Bennett, Richard Rodgers, Lance Kendricks

Houston Texans

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 6 September 2017

The Houston Texans start the 2017 NFL season September 10th at home when they host the Jaguars. As Yahoo! Sports' James Mastrucci reminded readers, the two teams met last season in Jacksonville as the Texans prevailed 24-21.

Starting this season off on the right foot is key for not only the team, but the city of Houston as well. According to Mastrucci, a win in Week 1 can lift the spirits of a community that desperately needs it after the devastation from Hurricane Harvey. There is no doubt that this will be an emotional game as Houston looks to feed off the energy from the home crowd. If the home crowd can carry the team to victory, it will be the first in what can be a successful season in Houston.

With Tom Savage as the starting quarterback in Houston, the Texans will focus on their rushing attack. The Texans rushing attack last season was one of the best in the NFL. Houston ranked eighth in yards (1,859) and yards per game (116.2), but 29th in touchdowns (eight) and 19th in yards per attempt (4.1). The approach last season was volume based rather than results based, as they ranked sixth in attempts last season with 456.

A run based attack will be a tough task for Houston as they face a capable Jaguars rush defense. The Jaguars had the 14th ranked rushing defense last season, allowing 106.4 yards per game. However Jacksonville also allowed the ninth-most rushing touchdowns with 17. This leaves open the opportunity for Houston to score on the ground rather than the air.

The Texans passing attack last season was less than stellar. Ranking 29th in passing yards per game (198.5), 30th in touchdowns (15) and 25th completion percentage (59.5). This is due to the average play of Brock Osweiler and Savage. Neither quarterback is overwhelming by any means and Savage could be just a placeholder for rookie Deshaun Watson.

A pass heavy offense is not beneficial for the Texans as Savage is relatively unproven as an NFL quarterback. In five career games, Savage has completed 60.9 percent of his passes for 588 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. Savage took over as the starter last season for a struggling Osweiler before suffering an injury ending his season.

If the Texans have trouble rushing the ball, passing the ball will not be any easier. On the other side of the ball, the Jaguars had one of the better pass defenses in the NFL last season. Jacksonville allowed the fifth-fewest yards per game through the air (215.2) and touchdowns allowed (20).

The Houston defense was one of the best units in the NFL last season. Allowing the 12th fewest yards rushing per game (99.7) and 13 rushing touchdowns which ranked 17th. Defending the pass is where the Texans made a name for themselves last season. Allowing the second-fewest passing yards per game (201.6) and fifth-fewest touchdown passes (20).

Other notes of interest. ... Nick Novak was an important part of the Texans' offense last season due to the team's struggles in the red zone. The 36-year-old made 85.4 percent of his field goals last season and made all 24 of his field goal attempts from less than 40 yards. Instead, the Texans will go at kicker with second-year pro Ka'imi Fairbairn, who made 3 of 4 field goals this preseason and has a strong leg. The Texans kept Fairbairn around on injured reserve last season because they thought he had a future in Houston.

Informed by the San Francisco 49ers and the New York Jets that it was time to turn in his playbook as he was cut by them, Bruce Ellington displayed a lot of determination as he worked to earn a spot on the Texans' roster.

Propelled by his impressive speed, Ellington also benefited from multiple injuries at wide receiver. Pro Bowl alternate DeAndre Hopkins is recovering from a thumb injury and has been out since the preseason opener. He's expected back this week -- Hopkins proclaimed himself 100 percent on Wednesday, as is Braxton Miller as he recuperates from a sprained ankle suffered against the Carolina Panthers.

Will Fuller has a broken collarbone that could force him to start the season on injured reserve and be designated to return. Plus, wide receiver Jaelen Strong has to miss the opening game because of a one-game NFL suspension for violating the NFL substance-abuse policy. Strong lost his appeal of the punishment, which stems from a possession of marijuana arrest from last year in Arizona.

So Ellington might have a role right out of the chute.

Meanwhile, things aren't looking all that great in the backfield. D'Onta Foreman has been out of practice with a groin injury and Alfred Blue is still recovering from a high ankle sprain, which hasn’t led to head coach Bill O’Brien ruling them out but is a source of uncertainty for Week 1.

“I’m not sure about either one,” O’Brien told the Houston Chronicle. “It was good to get Braxton back. At this point, I would say that both guys have a chance to play on Sunday, but I won’t know that until later in the week.”

If neither back can play, the Jaguars will likely be getting a heavy dose of Lamar Miller in Houston on Sunday.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Deshaun Watson, Tom Savage
RBs: Lamar Miller, D'Onta Foreman, Alfred Blue, Tyler Ervin
WRs: DeAndre Hopkins, Bruce Ellington, Braxton Miller, Will Fuller
TEs: Evan Baylis, Ryan Griffin, Stephen Anderson, C.J. Fiedorowicz

Indianapolis Colts

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 6 September 2017

As ESPN.com's Mike Wells reported, the Colts have officially ruled Andrew Luck out for Sunday's game at the Los Angeles Rams, and the quarterback is still not to the point where he can practice, general manager Chris Ballard said Monday.

"Still no timetable," Ballard said about Luck practicing. "He's in the training phase right now. He's done excellent in his rehab, and we're still continuing to take it week to week."

Scott Tolzien will start against the Rams. Jacoby Brissett, whom the Colts acquired from the New England Patriots for wide receiver Phillip Dorsett over the weekend, will be Tolzien's backup.

Luck, who was taken off the physically unable to perform list Saturday, has not done any on-field work with his teammates since Week 17 of last season. He underwent right shoulder surgery in January after originally getting injured in Week 3 of the 2015 season.

Had the Colts kept Luck on the PUP list, he would have been required to miss the first six weeks of the regular season.

The biggest reason the Colts are not putting Luck on the practice field yet is because they want him to practice full-time. Luck was limited in practice at least one day per week every week last season.

"I think we need to think about this with every player. Every player needs to practice," Ballard said. "[They] need to be with their teammates, they need to be able to practice, and Andrew is going to need the same thing. That came in a lot with the decision of the PUP because, when he is back, we want to incorporate him back into practice.

"I think Andrew will tell you, 'I want to get back to where I can practice every day, I can throw to our receivers every day, I can feel the pocket, I can feel the pressure every day.' We want to get back to that point. That's why I'm being extra conservative here to where I want to make sure when we get Andrew back, he can practice every day. It'll be a little bit of a process to get him to that. But we will. We don't want to jeopardize for the short term here over the long haul. Andrew is a young player still, and we have to have a long-term view of where we're going."

Luck took every meaningful snap during the first three years of his career as the Colts reached the playoffs each season. But he has missed 10 games over the past two years as Indianapolis finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs in both 2016 and 2017.

"Any time you're hurt, as a player you're part of the team but you're not because you're not going through practice, you're not doing the daily activities with them," Ballard said. "That's hard. When you're a competitor -- and he is a rare competitor; you've seen it -- that's hard for guys. But we visited [Sunday] for a long time, and he is in a really good place right now."

Getting back to the trade for Brissett. ... Last year, in his rookie season with the Patriots, Brissett saw action in three games with the Patriots, starting two, and completed 34-of-55 passes (61.8 percent) for 400 yards, also running the ball for 83 yards and a touchdown, before he was placed on Injured Reserve on Oct. 7 with a designation to return. He was activated to the New England 53-man roster on Dec. 21, but was inactive for the team's two final regular-season games, as well as its three playoff contests.

Brissett made his first NFL start on Sept. 22 against the Houston Texans, completing 11-of-19 passes for 103 yards and scoring his first-career touchdown on a 27-yard first-quarter run, as he led the Patriots to a 27-0 victory over the Colts' AFC South Division rivals.

In his second and final start the following week, Brissett completed 17-of-27 passes for 205 yards in a 16-0 loss to the Buffalo Bills.

Dorsett, meanwhile, was selected 29th overall by the Colts in the 2015 NFL Draft out of the University of Miami, where he became one of the top deep targets in college football over his last two years with the Hurricanes.

In two seasons with the Colts, Dorsett played in 26 games with seven starts and caught 51 passes for 753 yards and three touchdowns.

In two preseason games this year for Indianapolis, Dorsett caught five passes for 75 yards. He did not play in the team's first game against the Detroit Lions or its final preseason contest on Thursday against the Cincinnati Bengals.

One other related note here: The Colts waived QB Stephen Morris on Sunday. ...

In other injury news, Ballard said cornerback Vontae Davis would be out a few weeks. Davis suffered what the team called a significant groin injury on Aug. 26 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Earlier Monday, the Colts placed tight end Erik Swoope on injured reserve. He has been sidelined with a knee injury.

Receivers Donte Moncrief, who has been nursing a shoulder issue throughout the summer, and Chester Rogers, who was limited Wednesday by an ongoing hamstring issue, are both worth watching in coming days.

On the other side of the ball, CB Vontae Davis is expected to miss multiple games after it was disclosed Tuesday that he suffered what Pagano described as a "pretty significant" groin injury.

I'll be following up on Luck big-picture progress and the rest as needed via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

Other notes of interest. ... In the past three years, 25 percent of Luck's completions, 24 percent of his passing yards and a whopping 37 percent of his touchdowns have gone to tight ends. Ballard let Dwayne Allen go and instead signed Doyle to a $19 million deal, in part because no tight end had a higher catch percentage last season than Doyle. And with Swoope on IR, Doyle will be used even more extensively as a receiver. ...

The Colts claimed running back Matt Jones on waivers Sunday. A third-round pick in 2015, Jones fell sharply out of favor in Washington last year.

Jones captured plenty of attention by gaining 123 yards on 19 carries (6.5 yards per attempt) in Week 2 of his rookie season. He had more than 50 yards only two more times that season. Last year, he played in only seven games - but Jones had 117 yards against the Browns and 135 on only 16 carries (8.4 yards per attempt) against the Eagles.

Fumbles have been an issue. He dropped the ball five times in 2015, and three times last year.

Regardless, he has shown enough potential to be worth a chance elsewhere, and the Colts currently need all the running backs they can get. With Luck injured and the rest of the quarterback depth chart currently talent-challenged, Indy's best approach may to be constantly ground and pound. And maybe punt on third down.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Jacoby Brissett, Scott Tolzien, Andrew Luck
RBs: Frank Gore, Marlon Mack, Matt Jones, Robert Turbin
WRs: T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief, Chester Rogers, Kamar Aiken
TEs: Jack Doyle, Erik Swoope

Jacksonville Jaguars

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 6 September 2017

As ESPN.com's Michael DiRocco put it, "Maybe the nine-day competition was good for quarterback Blake Bortles. ..." HC Doug Marrone said Bortles has been very good in practice during the three-day stretch since being renamed the starter. So good, in fact, that Marrone said he has never seen Bortles better.

"I think he's doing a nice job," Marrone said Monday afternoon. "I really do. For me, personally, it's the best I've seen him."

In case you missed it, following the Jaguars' third preseason game with Tampa Bay, Marrone declared the quarterback job was up for grabs. The job had belonged to Bortles for nearly three years, ever since Bortles replaced Chad Henne at halftime of the third game of the 2014 season.

For the rest of that season and all of 2015 and 2016, the quarterback spot belonged to Bortles. So much so, that Henne took just one snap - last year on the final play of the first half against Detroit when he was brought in to take a knee after Bortles had gone to the locker room early to tend to an injury. Otherwise, whether the Jaguars were winning or losing, Bortles took every snap in the 45 games since the Jaguars game with Indianapolis in Week 3 of the 2014 season.

But following the Tampa Bay game, Marrone shook things up with the announcement that the two quarterbacks would share starting reps during practice for the next game against Carolina on Aug. 24. They did so and the night before the game, Marrone named Henne as the starter. Henne played the entire first half, Bortles all of the third quarter and into the fourth. Neither distinguished himself. Both made some good throws, both made plays they wish they hadn't made.

It looked like another week of sharing the reps in practice until Saturday afternoon when Marrone surprised many by naming Bortles the Week 1 starter against the Houston Texans on Sept. 10.

Of course, it may not matter who is at quarterback. If the offensive line doesn't do a better job of protecting Bortles and opening some holes for the running game, a Peyton Manning or Steve Young or John Elway or even Tom Brady might not have much success with this offense.

When you mix average quarterback play (Bortles or Henne) with a subpar line, the chances of success are minimal.

The only offensive lineman that appears capable of getting the job done on a regular basis is starting center Brandon Linder. None of the guards who played - either on the right side or the left - looked good in the Carolina game. Starting tackles Cam Robinson and Jermey Parnell have struggled in the last two preseason games. With the starting line likely to sit out this week's fourth preseason game against Atlanta, it means improvement with this group will have to come in the next two weeks of practice leading up to the regular-season opener in Houston.

"We need the work and we're going to get ready to get after that work," Marrone said. "We have less than two weeks to play. We can get ready for our season opener."

Meanwhile, Bortles expressed pleasure when he was informed that he would be under center for the start of the season. Bortles is playing 2017 for his quarterback future. The Jaguars exercised the option on a fifth year of his original contract several months ago, meaning if he plays in 2018 it will be for close to $20 million. It's not guaranteed (other than by injury), but if he plays well this year the Jaguars are likely to reward him with a new, lucrative contract shortly thereafter.

"I think anytime you get named the starter, it's a cool feeling," Bortles said. "It doesn't change anything, it doesn't change the mindset. As of now, I'm promised the first snap with the first group today at practice, and after that, who knows? I think it's a constant effort, as it was a couple of weeks ago, to try and earn the respect of the players and the coaches through every snap, going out there and doing it and proving that."

Bortles said he tuned out all the negative talk about the open competition between him and Henne for the starter spot. He stayed off social media, didn't listen to talk radio and didn't read the local paper. His only focus was on getting better and doing what he could to help the Jaguars be ready for the Texans in a couple weeks.

"I honestly never really thought about (the controversy)," he said. "I thought about the whole situation, how everything happened, how I could handle it the best way I possibly knew how and the rest was kind of out of my control. It was (the coach's) decision to decide who's the starting quarterback and who's going to play Week 1 and who's going to do all that, and all I could do was focus as much as I possibly could on getting better, each and every rep, and doing everything I can to help this football team win."

He'll need to do just that because Marrone has shown that he's willing to make a change at any position on the team if someone is not doing their part to help the team win. ...

In a related note. ... When new Marrone says he wants Blake Bortles throwing it zero times a game, he means it and not just because he has watched Bortles throw. As head coach of the Buffalo Bills in 2013-14, Marrone rushed on 41 percent of plays, seventh most in the NFL. He wants to slow down the game, control the clock and grind out wins with his defense.

As ESPN's Matthew Berry noted, whether that will work remains to be seen, but either way, Fournette is going to touch the ball a lot.

The Jags were ninth in rushing yards before first contact per rush last year, so they can actually block and now they have someone to block for. ...

In yet another related note, also according to Berry, Allen Robinson's yards per reception dropped from 17.5 in 2015 to 12.1 last season, due in part to his yards after the catch dropping from 4.4 to 2.8. Robinson posted career lows in reception percentage, targets per route and receptions per route.

He was brutal last season and it never got better (Weeks 11-15, he was WR75).

With the above-mentioned run-heavy game plan expected this year, you can no longer count on volume to help. ...

Dede Westbrook was questionable to play in the exhibition final after Jaguars had him see a specialist in Philadelphia earlier in the week to check on his lower body injury. But Westbrook did play -- and play well.

TE Mychal Rivera's status remains in limbo after the tight end missed his third consecutive preseason game.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Blake Bortles, Chad Henne, Brandon Allen
RBs: Leonard Fournette, Chris Ivory, T.J. Yeldon, Corey Grant
WRs: Marqise Lee, Allen Hurns, Arrelious Benn, Keelan Cole, Max McCaffrey, Jaelen Strong
TEs: Marcedes Lewis, Ben Koyack

Kansas City Chiefs

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 6 September 2017

A season-ending injury for running back Spencer Ware means rookie Kareem Hunt stands next in line for the Chiefs in the backfield heading into the regular season and a Week 1 matchup against the Patriots.

"We got a challenge and we all just want to help out and don't want to miss a step, miss a beat off this," Hunt said. "We've just got to come prepared and ready to work every day."

This isn't the first time an injury propelled an inexperienced Hunt into a starting role. During his freshman year at Toledo in 2013, starting running back David Fluellen suffered an ankle injury in mid-October. The senior back tallied 1,121 yards in the injury-shortened season with a gaudy 6.7 yards per carry.

The Rockets offense, however, did not skip a beat with Hunt in the backfield. The true freshman topped the 100-yard mark five times in the team's last six games of the season. He rushed for 866 yards and six touchdowns, averaging 6.3 yards per carry.

Now Hunt must help carry the load for the Chiefs in his rookie season.

"It's not the way I wanted it to happen but now it's my time to step up and fill some big shoes," Hunt said.

Head coach Andy Reid showed no worries in leaning on a rookie for a team with championship ambitions.

"I've had some rookies that have played for me," Reid said. "As long as they come in and learn. He did that. He's handled himself the right way. We feel like he can handle it."

Quarterback Alex Smith agreed.

"I think everybody is confident with him back there," Smith said.

So what's Hunt all about?

This is from ESPN.com's scouting report on Kareem Hunt: "Has exceptional ball security ... his elusiveness in space should make him a receiving weapon in the NFL. While he lacks top-end spend, Hunt creates his own yards thanks to a high-level combination of balance, vision and lower-body strength."

Meanwhile, as DraftKings' Adam Levitan noted, "Not only is Hunt good as shown by earning Profootballfocus.com's No. 1 RB grade in all of college football last year, but Reid's offenses are also extremely fantasy friendly."

As noted by PFF's Graham Barfield, Reid's backfields have finished inside the top-10 in team RB PPR points seven times in the last 10 years. In addition, the No. 1 back in a Reid offense has been top 10 in nine of the past 13 seasons. Charcandrick West isn't a serious threat to a potentially massive workload for Hunt.

All of which prompted Berry to write: "I say Hunt finishes as the No. 1 rookie RB this year in both PPR and non-PPR and flirts with top-five running back numbers. ..."

My thinking: A talented kid, who was already drawing rave reviews before Spencer Ware's injury now gets the starting gig to himself. This year, it becomes 10 of 14.

Of course, fantasy nation's feelings on Hunt became apparent as his ADP shot through the ceiling once Ware was hurt. Now all Hunt has to do is take advantage of his opportunity. ...

In a related note: When the Chiefs cut C.J. Spiller on Saturday, they were left with two tailbacks on the roster. They remedied that on Sunday by reversing course. Terez Paylor of the Kansas City Star reports that Spiller re-signed with the team. ...

Also of interest. ... In 2016, Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill made a major impact on the offense despite averaging fewer than six touches from scrimmage per game. In 2017, Hill will be used much more extensively.

And the Patriots will be the first team to get a taste of how he'll be deployed.

"It looks like he might be more of a receiver this year, but I'm sure they can use him for specialty plays or put him back there," Patriots coach Bill Belichick told reporters on Saturday when asked about Hill's rushing attempts as a rookie. "[L]ast year they did it sometimes and he was the running back, so there's no other running back on the field. So that wasn't that hard to figure out. If he's out there with another running back, which he usually is in these formations - the formations that they're showing this year - then they could obviously switch the two players, switch a running back and a receiver, but now you've got a running back at receiver."

The Chiefs have had seven months to come up with ways to get the ball to Hill when the defense doesn't expect it, creating mismatches and misdirections with one of the most elusive players in the league.

"I'm sure that they have a lot of different ways to use him and he's a very versatile player, so he can run, he can catch, he can run as a receiver, reverses and plays like that," Belichick said. "I'm sure they use him as a decoy. He's a very explosive player that can affect all three levels of the defense. I mean, he can run by you and he can take a short play and turn it into a long run, so those guys are hard to defend. I don't know exactly where he'll be, but you certainly have to be conscious of him whenever he's on the field, including in the kicking game."

Belichick has a long history of taking away what the opposing offense does best. And so it's safe to say he'll be planning for ways to neutralize Hill, forcing the Chiefs to go elsewhere.

If, that is, Belichick has the horses to contain Hill. The Patriots didn't play the Chiefs in 2016. In 2017, the Chiefs would love to both disrupt the banner raising and send the team many think can go 19-0 to 0-1.

Other notes of interest. ... The Patrick Mahomes hype train hit top speed last week after the rookie's final preseason appearance. The first-round quarter back flashed his unvarnished talent, including uncorking a ridiculous 46-yard bomb on the run while getting drilled by a defender. The Kansas City Chiefs' brass, however, continues to pump the breaks on the Mahomes hype.

General manager Brett Veach noted Saturday that the rookie remains a work in progress and well behind Smith in ability to run an offense.

"Coach made a statement a few days back, there's no gray area. Alex is our quarterback," Veach said, via the team's official website. "Alex is so far advanced from the mental side of things in regards to his ability to read coverages, to shift to better plays and really play the chess game. He's so far ahead of what Pat (Mahomes) is.

"I don't think it's even close right now. But going back to Pat, the development he has made and the strides he has taken in those departments has exceeded our expectations to this point. So we're excited where we are and again the longer that Alex and Pat are together, the better we will be."

Smith opens the season as the starting quarterback after leading the Chiefs to the playoffs three of the past four seasons. The veteran signal-caller should remain under center as long as he's healthy and K.C. remains in the playoff hunt.

As NFL.com notes, Smith owns the smarts and veteran savvy, but Mahomes' talent is undeniable. The rookie's arm and athleticism could eventually open a restricted Chiefs offense. While Kansas City hopes it doesn't have to play the rookie at all this season, at some point Mahomes will take over. And whenever Mahomes is ready to rock and roll, perhaps the restrictor plate will finally come off the Chiefs' offense.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Alex Smith, Patrick Mahomes, Tyler Bray
RBs: Kareem Hunt, Charcandrick West, Akeem Hunt, C.J. Spiller
WRs: Tyreek Hill, Albert Wilson, De'Anthony Thomas, Jehu Chesson, Demarcus Robinson
TEs: Travis Kelce, Demetrius Harris, Ross Travis

Los Angeles Rams

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 6 September 2017

It's been a mostly positive offseason, training camp and preseason for second-year quarterback Jared Goff, who guided the Los Angeles Rams to three touchdowns and a field goal over the first six possessions he directed during the preseason.

But in the all-important third exhibition game, Goff took a bit of a step back by turning the ball over on a fumble and interception to help the Los Angeles Chargers score 14 points in their 21-19 win over the Rams.

The fumble was returned 76 yards by Melvin Ingram for a touchdown, and while Goff was guilty of holding onto the ball too long, it didn't help that Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa blew past right tackle Rob Havenstein to strip-sack Goff.

The interception, though, was Goff's fault as he overthrew a wide open Sammy Watkins into the hands of Jason Verrett.

Although head coach Sean McVay hinted the interception might have been the result of a miscommunication with Goff and Watkins -- likely the result of Watkins still learning his way with a new team -- Goff took all the blame.

"No, I just kind of came off it a little bit," he said. "I can't do that. I can't make that throw. Just a bad throw. I came off it."

Goff finished 5 of 6 for 56 yards, and on the preseason is 24 of 30 for 250 yards and a touchdown.

McVay is focusing on the big-picture numbers rather than getting caught up in the two mistakes.

He said, "I think he's improved a lot. I think the sample size is the thing that I'll continue to go back with. He got a chance to play 35 snaps against Oakland where you can really get into a real rhythm. Even after the turnover with the interception, we ran the football a lot on that drive, had a couple throws. But, I think when you get a chance to kind of really fight your way back from some adversity that you've faced throughout the course of a game, those are where you get the best indicators of how a guy responds. I thought his demeanor, the way that he handled it was good and we're going to continue to grow every single day. Just like I was saying, it's going to be very important for us to maximize practice if that's the direction where we go where he doesn't play against Green Bay next week."

Goff is likely to sit out the Rams' final preseason game against the Packers Thursday, and if so, he believes he's ready to start the regular season Sept. 10 against the 49ers.

"Yeah I think so. I think, like I said, I would've liked to have finished the day on a little bit of a better note, but I think in all three games as a whole I feel like I did a good job and feel like I got a lot out of it - got some good work and some good situational stuff," he said." A lot to learn from and a lot of stuff that we can get better from.

Meanwhile, Todd Gurley's usage this summer was markedly different compared to the bubble wrap former head coach Jeff Fisher put him in last year.

Unlike last year, Gurley was more involved in practice and preseason games.

"I feel good," Gurley said. Coach has been doing a great job, (strength and conditioning coach) Ted (Rath) and (director of sports performance) Reggie (Scott), just the whole staff. We've been doing a great job communicating with them and they've been doing a great job of just helping us out. The days we do work, we want to make sure that we're out there getting work in and not half-assing it or anything because you don't want a coach to be looking out for you and you're up here jogging around and not going hard. So, just the main focus is just making sure we're all on the same page."

Gurley went from rushing for 1,097 yards through 12 starts in 2015 to rushing for 885 yards through 16 starts in 2016. Those 885 yards were the fewest ever for a running back with at least 275 carries in a single season. It vaulted Gurley out of the discussion for the elite running backs in the game, mere months after he was thought to be in position to lead it.

Gurley's 3.18 yards per attempt ranked 41st among 42 qualified running backs. He averaged 1.59 yards before first contract, which was also the second-worst mark in the league.

Last month, however, Gurley told reporters that he had "definitely been loving" McVay's style of offense, which has the back focusing on daily preparation and being a "situational master."

According to NFL Network's Gregg Rosenthal, the Rams were moving the third-year back all around the offensive formation: in motion out of the backfield, outside the hashes, etc. In addition to a new coaching staff, Gurley has mentioned Goff's progress as a reason for optimism. We'll see about all of that. But one this is certain: Gurley's comments this summer are a far cry from what he was saying just seven months ago about the state of L.A.'s attack.

Following the Rams' loss to Atlanta in Week 14 -- a defeat that proved career-fatal for Fisher -- Gurley mused that his unit looked like a "middle school offense out there."

It's still early in the process, but as Gurley suggested: "It can't get any worse than it did last year."

As for Watkins' chances of a big season, ESPN's Matthew Berry isn't expecting much.

"McVay is not a miracle worker," Berry wrote. "Watkins is a deep threat going to play with a guy [quarterback], at least last season, didn't want to throw deep, as his 6.94 air yards per pass attempt was ahead of only Alex Smith and Sam Bradford. But Goff needs to improve greatly to be a significant upgrade. In the past 10 years, there have been 349 instances where a QB attempted 200-plus passes. Goff's 2016 season ranks 345th in yards per pass attempt. The four guys he beat? Jimmy Clausen (2010), JaMarcus Russell (2009), Brady Quinn (2009) and Ryan Fitzpatrick (2008).

Given the "dink and dunk" nature of Goff's game so far, Berry believes rookie Cooper Kupp will outscore Watkins in PPR this season. With Kupp working out of the slot, Goff will dump off to Kupp much more than he'll throw deep to Watkins. Assuming, of course, that Watkins is on the field and healthy, which is no sure thing.

Of course, it's possible Goff gets better in Year 2 with some actual playmakers around him, including a good coach, but expecting high-end production from his wideouts still seems like a reach.

Tavon Austin has made "huge progress" in his recovery from a hamstring injury and is expected to be ready for Sunday's game, McVay said Sunday.

Now it's a matter of figuring out how he fits now that the Rams have added Robert Woods, Kupp and Watkins. That will be the challenge over the next week or so as McVay and the Rams ease Austin back into a position group that's changed dramatically since he last took the field. ...

And finally. ... Though defensive tackle Aaron Donald has not reported to the Rams as the club and his representation negotiate a contract extension, McVay said on Monday he has not ruled Donald out for Sunday’s season opener agains the Colts.

“He is not ruled out, but right now he’s not here. Guys are ready to go and we’re getting a plan in place and the preparation goes on,” McVay said. “Fortunately, we’ve got a bunch of guys that we feel confident in that are ready to step up. Like we said, our message continues to remain the same: If he’s here, great, we’ll accept him back with open arms. But in the meantime we’ve got to get ready to play a football game and we know the Colts are getting ready as well.”

McVay said there is no hard deadline on when Donald must arrive in order to play in Sunday’s game, adding that the Rams are continuing to work on getting him back in the building as soon as possible.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Jared Goff, Sean Mannion
RBs: Todd Gurley, Malcolm Brown, Lance Dunbar
WRs: Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, Tavon Austin, Pharoh Cooper, Josh Reynolds
TEs: Tyler Higbee, Gerald Everett

Miami Dolphins

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 6 September 2017

The Buccaneers and Dolphins will take Week 1 off and play each other in Miami in Week 11 instead.

The NFL decided Wednesday morning that having the two teams meet on Sunday, November 19 — when both teams initially had their bye week — was the best option. The league decided Tuesday that the game would not be played Sunday in Miami because of Hurricane Irma, although it was unclear whether the game would move to another stadium or another date.

Hurricane Irma is expected to hit Miami this weekend.

Looking at where the Dolphins stand heading into their unexpected bye week. ... Jay Cutler got a passing grade in the team's third exhibition game, a 38-31 loss at Philadelphia. Some might even argue the strong-armed Cutler, who was 5 for 8 for 105 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions, and showed his usual penchant for throwing deep, earned an "A."

Cutler, signed Aug. 7 after a three-month retirement, slung the ball all over the field, showing no reservations about showing off his arm or spreading the receptions.

Among Cutler's five completions, two were to tight end Julius Thomas, and one apiece went to wide receivers DeVante Parker, Jarvis Landry and Kenny Stills.

The highlight was Cutler's 72-yard completion to Parker, in which he threw the ball up high and allowed Parker to yank it out of the air and run another 30 yards.

"It was just 1-on-1 (coverage)," Cutler said. "A guy like that, 1-on-1 opportunities, you've got to try and find those matchups for him and give him a shot at the ball, and he can do things like that."

Showing he's not afraid to stretch the field, Cutler drew a 42-yard pass inference penalty while throwing to Stills in the end zone, and had a 30-yard incompletion to Landry.

While that was going on, center Mike Pouncey (hip) started and played two series, and running back Jay Ajayi had nine carries for 53 yards and two touchdowns. That included a 26-yard run and showed off the form that led him to 1,272 yards rushing and a Pro-Bowl berth last season.

But we all know what to expect from Ajayi. It's the passing attack that still offers some mystery.

The good news? Cutler seems to be successfully fast-tracking his connections with his receivers.

"They're really good players," he said. "They're going to get open, they're going to create opportunities for themselves. It's just kind of my job to get them the ball."

DeVante Parker had a 72-yard reception from Cutler against Philadelphia, further boosting hopes he'll benefit greatly from Cutler's presence. Cutler has developed a knack for throwing the ball up for grabs to Parker on deep patterns.

Aside from the 73-yard reception, Cutler went to Parker for a 31-yard completion against Atlanta that was negated due to a holding penalty, and the pair had a 30-yard completion in practice on one of Cutler's first days with the team.

"I feel like during practice that he just wanted to launch it up one time and see what happens, and he did and I came down with it," Parker said. "Hopefully I can continue this connection with him."

Jarvis Landry, however, doesn't think Cutler favors Parker over the others.

"No," Landry said in response to whether he thinks Cutler favors Parker. "Honestly, for us that's what DeVante is here to do, that's what Kenny Stills is here to do and that's what any guy put in a position with the matchup (advantage) is here to do, is to make plays regardless if it's down the field, underneath, a screen...

"We all find our roles and we all buy into it, and that's what's going to make this team better. It's not about the targets and who gets them, and where they get them. It's about making the plays when they come to you."

But for Landry, volume might be a problem.

According to ESPN, with Gase calling plays in Chicago in 2015, the Bears had the fifth-highest rush percentage in the NFL. Last season, Miami called the second-fewest passes in the league. With Parker a big-play threat, will there be sufficient targets to continue fueling Landry's high-end PPR production. ...

Health, not talent, has always been the issue for Julius Thomas and while he no longer has Peyton Manning, he is reunited with Gase. Cutler likes his tight ends - the past three years, 27 percent of his completions have gone to tight ends. That's Andrew Luck territory -- so Thomas makes a nice, cheap, upside pick at his current price of TE20 (14th round). ...

And of course, Jay Ajayi will be keeping opposing defenses honest. And then some.

Ajayi doesn't mind thinking of himself as more of a workhorse than a thoroughbred. He was the NFL's fourth-leading rusher in 2016 but his 17.3 carries-per-game average with only 11th most league-wide. So if 260 carries was good, Ajayi thinks more than that -- maybe 320 to 350 carries -- is better.

"I feel like I'm a workhorse and I get better as the game keeps going and I continue to be a part of the game," Ajayi said earlier this year. "So, yeah, I feel like if I continue to get certain amount of carries, that will be good for our team as well."

Gase joked earlier this offseason he might want to give Ajayi the ball between 22 and 25 times a game. That probably is too much because now we're talking up to 400 carries for the season. But if you consider Ajayi getting 20 carries and maybe catching a pass or two every game, that's a lot of touches for a player who had a breakout year in '16 and is working toward improving in 2017.

"He's our bell cow running back," Gase said of Ajayi. "At the same time he's our top third-down guy and red area and two-minute guy. He wants to be the guy that no matter what the situation is we'll have him in the game." That sounded great in June. But the reality is going to have to be managed with care in October, November and December.

That will fall on how Ajayi's body reacts to getting more work and how well coaches manage him. Still, fantasy owners will be hard-pressed to find a RB in line for the kind of workload Ajayi is likely to get.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Jay Cutler, Matt Moore, Brandon Doughty
RBs: Jay Ajayi, Damien Williams, Kenyan Drake
WRs: Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker, Kenny Stills, Leonte Carroo, Jakeem Grant
TEs: Julius Thomas, Anthony Fasano, MarQueis Gray

Minnesota Vikings

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 6 September 2017

In one of the more surprising moves before NFL teams reached the league-wide mandate to narrow down rosters to 53 players on Saturday, the Vikings and left guard Alex Boone parted ways.

Boone's release was a stunner, for sure.

The 30-year-old signed a four-year, $26.8 million contract with the Vikings in March 2016 and instantly became the team's starting left guard. Boone was set to make $6.6 million this season and his release isn't going to be cheap for Minnesota, given $3.4 million of his salary this year is guaranteed. Initial reports indicated that the Vikings asked Boone to take a pay cut and when he refused, the guard was released. ESPN's Adam Schefter reports that Minnesota unsuccessfully tried to trade Boone.

With Boone gone, Nick Easton will fill the void at left guard after battling rookie Pat Elflein for the center spot throughout the preseason. The move holds its heaviest significance as the Vikings will have new starters at every spot on the offensive line: Riley Reiff at left tackle, Easton at left guard, Elflein at center, Joe Berger at right guard (who was primarily at center last season) and Mike Remmers at right tackle.

So there will be pressure -- something Sam Bradford is used to.

But as ESPN.com's Mike Sando suggested, every quarterback ever would love to experience the kind of pressure Bradford is facing. Not yet 30 years old, Bradford will pass the $100 million mark in career earnings this season while playing for a team unlikely to find an obviously better alternative. A rough season or another serious injury could leave Bradford on the outside, but for now, he's in prime position to earn another lucrative deal.

"He is an accurate thrower and he does a good job taking care of the ball, but they don't do anything where it is stressed," a defensive coordinator told Sando. "He doesn't throw the ball more than 10 yards down the field, hardly."

But he has some solid weapons.

As Adam Levitan of DraftKings reminded readers, last year, Stefon Diggs ran 62 percent of his routes from the slot. That was important, as offensive line woes combined with Bradford's lack of aggression resulted in 6.46 catches per game.

Only Antonio Brown, Larry Fitzgerald and A.J. Green averaged more.

But the Vikings have decided to change up their alignment this year, moving Diggs to the outside. During the team's third exhibition game, the first-string slot receiver snaps were Adam Thielen 20, Laquon Treadwell two and Diggs 0. It creates a bit of a conundrum when trying to project Diggs' volume. Last year, Bradford ranked 36th out of 36 qualifying QBs in average depth of target.

But will Diggs' presence on the outside combined with (hopefully) improved offensive line play allow Bradford to push the ball downfield more?

That seems unlikely.

Treadwell has clearly made strides this offseason. Treadwell's efforts to prove himself will be aided by Michael Floyd's four-game suspension to start the season. Floyd has had the better camp and, frankly, is the better player. His absence gives Treadwell more opportunities as the No. 3 receiver.

Meanwhile, Dalvin Cook enters Week 1 as the starter at running back for the Vikings, which is not something his current position coach Kennedy Polamalu could have imagined a few months ago before the draft.

He has been watching Cook since his high school days and career at Florida State.

"Probably the first film that I put in was him against Miami, because that's his hometown - to see how he plays and how he reacts," Polamalu said, via the team website. "And then him against Clemson, another big opponent. And the bowl game against Michigan … you want to see how he reacts."

What sticks out about him is the ability to block out the noise in big games, the coach says.

"The kid loves football," Polamalu said. "He is very competitive, and his enthusiasm is contagious."

Part of what makes Cook so valuable to the team is how versatile he is. Polamalu was blown away by the way that he handled every situation thrown his way during his college football career.

"You see him run behind the quarterback, and then in the shotgun, you see him catch the football. You see him check protection," Polamalu said. "And those are things that are usually very difficult to watch because a lot of colleges are in the tempo, shotgun offense."

Cook was expected to go near the top of the draft, but slid to the Vikings in the second round in April.

"I didn't think we even had a chance at drafting him," Polamalu said. "I didn't think he was even going to be close to where we were going to be drafting."

Cook and the Vikings open the regular season Monday night against the New Orleans Saints -- and former Viking superstar Adrian Peterson -- at home.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Case Keenum, Sam Bradford
RBs: Jerick McKinnon, Latavius Murray, C.J. Ham, Stevan Ridley
WRs: Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, Laquon Treadwell, Jarius Wright, Rodney Adams, Stacy Coley, Michael Floyd
TEs: Kyle Rudolph, David Morgan, Blake Bell

New England Patriots

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 6 September 2017

A year after the New England Patriots proved they could with the Super Bowl without Rob Gronkowski, they will head into 2017 trying to defend their title without Julian Edelman.

The slot receiver went down with a non-contact knee injury in the first quarter of Friday night's third preseason game in Detroit. A day later the team confirmed that Edelman would be lost for the season with a reported torn ACL in his right knee.

"We feel badly for Julian and hope that he will have a speedy and complete recovery," head coach Bill Belichick said the afternoon after the injury took one of his team's most consistent, respected contributors. "But yeah, the team will have to move on and we'll have to compete in this season without him. It's unfortunate, but that's the way it is, so we'll have to figure that out."

Edelman is coming off a season in which he led New England with 98 catches for 1,106 yards and three touchdowns. He had another 21 catches for 342 yards and a score in last winter's march to another Lombardi Trophy, including a diving, finger-tip grab in the Super Bowl that is now known simply as "The Catch" in New England.

Though it will clearly be a challenge to replace quarterback Tom Brady's close friend and trusted receiver who has topped 92 receptions in three of the last four seasons, New England certainly has the depth of pass-catching options to, as Belichick put it, figure out how to keep the offense cruising.

Beyond a now-healthy Gronkowski, the addition of Brandin Cooks in a trade this offseason now looks like an even bigger move. Receiver Chris Hogan, who tied for the NFL lead averaging 17.9 yards a catch, has had a tremendous summer and looks quite ready to have an even more productive second season in New England. Danny Amendola will also be leaned on more consistently, bringing a similar skill set to the slot position. The Patriots also sport one of the deepest groups of pass-catching running backs in the NFL with Super Bowl hero James White, dual threat Dion Lewis and free-agent addition Rex Burkhead.

Brady will be the man tasked with distributing the ball in different ways than he has become accustomed to in recent years with his good friend Edelman as the top option to get drives going and move the chains.

"It's tough any time a teammate goes down," Brady said in Detroit, shortly after watching Edelman get carted to the locker room. "So you know, we've all been playing long enough where when someone does, the people have to step in and fill a void."

Brady supported Edelman on social media after New England announced that the receiver would be lost for the season, posting a picture on Instagram of the two teammates embracing with the word, "Gladiator."

Edelman himself texted CSNNE.com on the night of the injury saying simply, "I am relentless."

So, too, are the Patriots. They have overcome major injuries in the past on the way to successful seasons. Last year's Super Bowl win without Gronkowski was just the latest, best example.

New England will have to do so once again.

But even Belichick, normally as cold-blooded and matter of fact as you'll find, admitted that as his team moves on without Edelman in terms of putting together the team and trying to win games, it's not necessarily that easy off the field.

"There's a personal side. I mean, you never move on," Belichick said. "Julian will be here on a regular basis doing his rehabilitation and so forth. So you never really move on from that standpoint."

On the field, it's a different story. It's next man up. Do your job. And on to Kansas City for the season opener. Because the NFL season waits for no man. Not even Edelman.

Meanwhile, when wide receiver Phillip Dorsett was coming out of the University of Miami in 2015, he was projected as a good fit for the Patriots. If he would have been available at pick No. 32, perhaps the Patriots would have pounced.

But the Indianapolis Colts surprisingly took him three picks earlier at No. 29.

Two-plus years later, with an unexpected need at wide receiver and returner, the Patriots zeroed in on the speedy Dorsett while asking the question: Is shedding a third layer at the game's most important position, quarterback, a fair price to bring him aboard after two underwhelming seasons with the Colts?

The answer from Patriots coach Bill Belichick and director of player personnel Nick Caserio came to the forefront Saturday as the club shipped No. 3 quarterback Jacoby Brissett to Indianapolis for Dorsett, as first reported by ESPN's Field Yates.

The Colts had an unexpected need at quarterback with Andrew Luck's availability in question. So in essence, this is an unusual player-for-player deal that helps both teams plug notable voids.

For the Patriots, it is a good example of how they adjust on the fly, because it is hard to imagine the receiver/returner spot was on their radar until the final two weeks of the preseason.

But according to ESPN.com's Mike Reiss, with Amendola's snap count expected to be managed with long-term preservation in mind and Malcolm Mitchell's availability a moving target because of a knee injury, the Patriots were probing receiver options around the NFL.

Edelman also was the Patriots' top punt returner. When Cyrus Jones tore his right ACL in the preseason finale, that further thinned the ranks.

So if the Patriots could find a receiver/returner, it would help them account for two areas in one transaction.

Now the question is whether the 5-foot-10, 185-pound Dorsett can fill that void. He hadn't met first-round expectations in Indianapolis as a receiver or returner. In his first game as a rookie in 2015, he muffed two punts, losing one. The Colts didn't use him as a returner again.

There are, of course, other questions with this offense -- something fantasy owners know all too well.

The backfield has been an annual thorn in the side for those of us trying to divine how the playing time will be divided in any given game. This weeks' opener will give us our first opportunity to make an assessment when the snaps count. In the meantime, start with caution and set expectations accordingly.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo
RBs: Mike Gillislee, James White, Rex Burkhead, Dion Lewis, James Develin
WRs: Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola, Phillip Dorsett, Malcolm Mitchell, Matt Slater
TEs: Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen

New Orleans Saints

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 6 September 2017

Adrian Peterson made his preseason debut for the Saints last Saturday, but he wasn't on the field for the first offensive play. Peterson didn't even take the field for any of the first four snaps as Mark Ingram opened the game as the starting tailback. He'll likely have to get used to that.

As New Orleans Times-Picayune staffer Josh Katzenstein reminded readers, Ingram last year ran for 1,043 yards and averaged 5.1 yards per carry. Until further notice, Ingram is the projected starter, and no matter how the Saints split carries between Ingram and Peterson, the experience of sharing the backfield with another feature back is new for the 32-year-old Peterson.

"It's something I'm not used to, but coming here, it was something that I was expecting," Peterson said Tuesday. "But, actually going through it, it's like, OK, this is different."

Being the No. 1 running back doesn't just mean a player is on the field for the first snap of the game. Ingram sits in the first spot among running backs in the stretching line. In some practices, Ingram receives more work with Drew Brees while Peterson spends time with backups.

"Of course it's strange, but anything you want, you work for," Peterson said. "I'm not the type of guy -- no matter my status -- to come in and be like, hey, I'm the first guy now. Mark, he's been here for a long time, so I'm OK with that.

"I've been the guy for 10 years. I'm comfortable and confident with my ability and what I'm able to do, so I don't let things like that bother me."

Ingram, meanwhile, has been in a timeshare since joining the Saints in 2011. Even when he was clearly the No. 1 back last year, Ingram played just 46 percent of snaps as coaches frequently utilized Tim Hightower (25 percent) and Travaris Cadet (21 percent) in the backfield rotation. Ingram's career-high snap percentage is 63 percent from 2015, according to Pro Football Reference. Peterson played 75 percent in 2012, 74 percent in 2013 and 65 percent in 2015 (Pro Football Reference's snap percentages only go back to 2012).

Peterson is hoping to prove that he deserves to be the go-to back, and he's sure other players have a similar personal goal.

"It better be or you're cheating yourself," he said. "When you want to be great, you have to expect big things from yourself."

As much as Ingram and Peterson will want the ball every play, Brees says the duo has gotten along well in their few months together.

"I think those are both prideful guys," Brees said. "I also think those are both real great professionals, and I think they both really want to win. Are there going to be moments where both are champing at the bit and yet only one guy can get the carries on that given play? Yeah, I'm sure. But I think it'll also bring out the best in them when their opportunities do come."

Peterson and Ingram have both said as much when discussing the timeshare they'll likely experience this year. Whether it drives them both to have big years remains to be seen, but competition typically leads to success.

"For me, it's never about being selfish," Peterson said. "It's all about being in a position to score and win the game. I'm sure I'll have my opportunities to get in there as well, but when you have that many playmakers, you have to put them in the game."

Of course, Peterson's presence in New Orleans makes Monday night's game against the Vikings one of this week's most anticipated matchups.

In an interview with Mark Craig of the Minneapolis Star Tribune this week, Peterson didn't downplay facing his former team to start the season.

"In my mind, we're starting and ending the season in Minnesota," Peterson said, referring to Super Bowl LII being played in Minneapolis. "Of course I want to stick it to them. I want to stick it to everyone we play. But going back to Minnesota, playing the Vikings? Yeah, I want to stick it to them."

The veteran running back told Craig it was "obvious" he and the team needed a split. Peterson added that he's not upset when he hears the Vikings talking about rookie Dalvin Cook being a better fit for the offense, as a multi-dimensional back.

"Whatever floats their boat," Peterson said. "Teams run different styles of offense. The Saints are a dominant pass team. But they're trying to be more balanced, so Sean [Payton] pursued me. I know what I can do. Whatever Minnesota feels like will advance them, they should go for it. I am. ..."

So how do we assess this backfield as fantasy owners?

According to ESPN's Matthew Berry, it's very simple. The past three years the Saints have 49 rushing touchdowns, fourth most in the NFL. This is a team that scores a lot and is not afraid to run it when in close. In fact, last season there were 246 non-Mark Ingram running back touches, so there's work to be had here.

And what if Peterson can still do Peterson-like things?

In the past five years, Peterson had the second-most rushes in the NFL against eight-plus defenders in the box. You think anyone is putting eight in the box against Brees? In the same time frame, Saints RBs have been 18th in the NFL in rushes against eight-plus defenders.

So how will the split play out?

According to DraftKings' Adam Levitan, Peterson made his preseason debut in the team's third exhibition game and was in on 12 of Brees' 26. Mark Ingram started the game and got 14 of the first-team snaps as the duo rotated. Flashy rookie Alvin Kamara (rest) didn't play at all.

Levitan expects similar usage during the regular season, with Ingram acting as the "starter" but sharing early-down work. The key for Ingram is his underrated pass-catching chops - he's capable of playing the Pierre Thomas/Darren Sproles role in this offense if the coaching staff is reluctant to give it to Kamara.

Ingram is quietly averaging 3.4 catches per game over the last two seasons.

Whatever the case, this backfield looks like a sticky wicket for fantasy owners. ...

Wide receiver Willie Snead will be suspended for the first three games of the season. Head Sean Payton confirmed the news. The suspension stems from Snead being arrested on the morning of June 11 on allegations of drunk driving. "We are aware of it, on top of it and that will factor into how we go into planning the early part of this season," Payton said. "Obviously it's unfortunate, and I think knowing Willie, a bit surprising. So we kind of go from there."

The news is a big hit for the Saints, as they'll now be without one of their top receivers for games against the Minnesota Vikings, New England Patriots and Carolina Panthers. Snead caught 72 passes for 895 yards with four touchdowns over 15 games last season.

Without him, Michael Thomas and Ted Ginn will be the starters and the Saints could turn to Brandon Coleman to play a bigger role, though he doesn't typically operate out of the slot. It could potentially create an opportunity for Tommylee Lewis to make the team and potentially have a bigger role early in the year after only making seven receptions for 76 yards last season.

Ginn has never seen 100 targets in a season, but the Saints have had three 100-target pass-catchers in consecutive seasons. Considering how often the Saints go deep (and Brees' success at it), Berry believes Ginn will see more targets and a higher quality of throws than he ever has in his life while playing for a more fantasy-friendly passing offense.

How fantasy friendly?

Brees now has nine straight seasons of 30-plus touchdown passes. No other NFL team has done that during the same span. That's right. No other team, let alone quarterback.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Drew Brees, Chase Daniel
RBs: Mark Ingram, Alvin Kamara, Daniel Lasco
WRs: Michael Thomas, Ted Ginn, Willie Snead, Brandon Coleman, TommyLee Lewis
TEs: Coby Fleener, Josh Hill, Michael Hoomanawanui

New York Giants

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 6 September 2017

According to New York Post staffer Steve Serby, as the Giants walked out of the visiting locker room and out of the preseason and began the march toward this week's regular season opener against Dallas, players made it clear they're eager to get the ball rolling.

"We're eager to get this started, man," Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie told The Post. "We're going to do something special this year."

And one by one, they guaranteed Odell Beckham would be making that march on his improving sprained ankle to opening night with them.

"No doubt. ... None," Rodgers-Cromartie said after the Giants' 40-38 win in their preseason finale. "I just know him as a competitor and as a person. I just see him walking around the locker room, man. He's good."

"He's one of those guys that definitely want to be out there, and he's gonna be out there," DRC said.

One by one, "a Bring on the Cowboys mentality" gripped the Giants.

"Let's get the ball started and rolling!" Landon Collins told The Post on his way out of Gillette Stadium.

Collins was asked if he has any doubts about Beckham playing against the Cowboys.

"I have no doubts," he said.

Why?

"I just know HIM," Collins said.

"It's real close. ... Who wouldn't want to play in Big D to open up the season?" Jonathan Casillas said.

Beckham did not make himself available afterward.

"I don't pay too much attention to injuries and stuff like that, but whether it's really, really, really serious or not healthy or really, really good," Casillas said, "he's gonna play regardless. That's what I think."

Justin Pugh was asked if he had any doubts about Beckham playing against the Cowboys.

"I don't think he's gonna miss Dallas Week 1, 'Sunday Night Football'," Pugh said.

Dwayne Harris: "I have no doubt in my mind he's gonna be there."

Why?

"Because Odell is a competitor, man," Harris said. "Anybody who knows Odell, he's a competitor. He's gonna do whatever he can to get out there at the first game September 10th. I haven't really spoken to him or asked him about it, but just looking at him, I know he's gonna be ready."

Will Ereck Flowers and the offensive line be ready? Can the Giants run the ball? Will Eli Manning bounce back at age 36 with more weapons than he has ever had in his arsenal? Can the defense be dominant?

"With the talent that we have," Harris said, "we can be as dangerous as we want to be. We just gotta put the team together and play together as a team and the sky's the limit for this team."

Especially with Beckham reaching to the sky with them. ...

For the record, Beckham continues to get treatment daily, but head coach Ben McAdoo has not said if the receiver has attempted to run since suffering the sprain in the Giants second preseason game. Beckham once again did not practice on Wednesday, but he was on the field at the start for warmups and stretching as he continues to come back from a preseason ankle injury.

I'll obviously be following Beckham's progress closely in coming days and you can expect multiple updates daily through kickoff. ...

Despite the injuries, head coach McAdoo has always said that the schedule of games is the schedule of games, and that strategic planning by the coaches to allow sufficient rest and recovery time for the players is about all they can do to control the situation. On the other hand, McAdoo, who always says he likes to push his players outside of their comfort zone, believes the experience is going to help the team over the long run.

"We're building some calluses, though. That's what I like about this team - they're willing to work and willing to build the calluses, and that's going to go a long way for us when we do get our legs back."

Of course, the Giants have other weapons.

As ESPN.com's Matthew Berry recently noted, since 2012, Brandon Marshall leads the wide receiver position in red-zone fantasy points. In that same time frame, Eli Manning has thrown the seventh-most red zone passes. Even toward the tail end of his career, you could argue Manning is the best QB Marshall has ever played with. You want more numbers to back a nice touchdown bounce-back? During the past three seasons, 68 percent of red-zone wide receiver touchdowns in the NFL have gone to a player who stands at least 6-foot tall.

Beckham: 5-11. Sterling Shepard: 5-10. Brandon Marshall: 6-4.

Marshall will see the No. 2 corner for the first time in a long time in his career, as teams that shadow will put their best guy on Beckham. That makes Marshall worth watching on a weekly basis. ...

Meanwhile, it's no secret that the running game has been a major weakness for the Giants over the past few seasons, so they were pleased to find some success against the Jets in pre-season play. Paul Perkins led the team averaging five yards per carry while rookie Wayne Gallman had a team-high 43 rushing yards on 12 carries. Orleans Darkwa showed some effectiveness on the goal line, punching through for a 1-yard touchdown run.

Still, one decent preseason game against the Jets doesn't necessarily mean the problems are solved. In fact, the team averaged just three yards per carry, rushing for 90 yards on 30 attempts.

But Perkins points out that it's just about making progress at this point.

"That's the biggest thing for us," he said. "Coach's mantra is 1 percent better, so I think we're following that mantra."

The Giants certainly hope so.

The team has not had a 1,000-yard rusher since Ahmad Bradshaw in 2010, and many are hoping Perkins is the man who can bring the Giants running game back to life.

The second-year running back out of UCLA definitely sounds up for the challenge.

"We have high expectations for ourselves," he said. "We want to be the best, so just continue to progress and learn from our mistakes. ..."

Aldrick Rosas blasted a 48-yard game-winning field goal at the buzzer in the Giants' 40-38 exhibition-closing win, which earned him the kicking job over veteran Mike Nugent. Rosas, 22, is an undrafted rookie out of Southern Oregon.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Eli Manning, Geno Smith, Davis Webb
RBs: Wayne Gallman, Orleans Darkwa, Shane Vereen, Paul Perkins
WRs: Roger Lewis, Tavarres King, Travis Rudolph, Ed Eagan
TEs: Evan Engram, Jerell Adams, Rhett Ellison

New York Jets

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 6 September 2017

Josh McCown, who has played for eight teams in 15 NFL seasons, would be the first to admit he not Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers. But McCown will outdo Brady, Rodgers and other superstar quarterbacks in at least one category this season: fewest preseason snaps taken by a Week 1 starter.

New York Jets coach Todd Bowles ended one of the weirdest and most drawn-out quarterback "competitions" in memory on Monday afternoon when he named McCown the starter for the season opener against the Buffalo Bills on Sept. 10.

"He gives us the best chance to win right now," Bowles said Monday. "From his talent, he's proven it this spring and this summer."

That Bowles uttered those comments after McCown directed just one series in the preseason is a damning indictment of Christian Hackenberg.

McCown's series the first drive of the preseason opener against the Tennessee Titans on Aug. 12 ended with a touchdown, which means he led the Jets to more points in one drive than Hackenberg did in 24 full drives.

Technically, Hackenberg led the Jets to their final points Saturday in a 32-31 loss to the New York Giants when he threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to Frankie Hammond with 1:26 remaining before Elijah McGuire was stuffed on the go-ahead two-point conversion attempt.

However, coming in after Bryce Petty got hurt and marching the Jets down the field against third- and fourth-stringers was not nearly enough to undo the damage Hackenberg did while Bowles seemed to try to will him into winning the job for the rebuilding Jets.

Before relieving Petty on Saturday, Hackenberg created more points for opponents (16) than the Jets (three) in three preseason games. All the "damage" occurred when Hackenberg threw two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns, and he was behind center when Matt Forte was dragged down in the end zone for a safety.

"This has nothing to do with his development," Bowles said of Hackenberg. "He's 22 years old. He has time to grow. He'll grow from this."

Bowles' words notwithstanding, Hackenberg might have done enough this summer to prove to the Jets he never will get beyond this nascent stage.

If anything, Hackenberg fell down the depth chart in favor of Petty, who didn't play against first-stringers in exhibition action but looked competent (32 of 48 for 426 yards, three touchdown and one interception) before surviving an injury scare Saturday when he sprained a knee falling into offensive lineman Ben Braden.

An MRI showed no damage, and Petty should be fine for Week 1, when he will back up McCown (the Jets confirmed this with the release of their depth chart on Wednesday).

Petty was passable in spurts last season (75 of 133, 809 yards, three touchdowns, seven interceptions), which is essential given the fragility of the 38-year-old McCown, who has played in just 22 games the past three seasons and has never made more than 13 starts in his career.

Now McCown will look to prove he is the Jets' best option, not their only one.

"There's a standard of play I want to achieve, and I'm looking forward to playing the best ball I've ever played," McCown said Monday. "That's my goal.

Needless to say, a strong rushing attack would help this offense.

And as ISportsWeb.com's Robert Coles noted this week, through all of the murky water that has surrounded the upcoming 2017 campaign, one clear spot could be the possible emergence of running back Bilal Powell.

Powell has been with the Jets since 2011, which means he is one of the few players who has survived the drama that has surrounded the Jets since their back to back AFC Championship appearances. The reason he has stayed around? It has everything to do with production, a production that has flown under the radar for the past five years.

The Jets have never named him the starting running back going into any season, and Matt Forte is still listed as the number one running back on the roster despite having his name in trade rumors just last week.

Nonetheless, don't be surprised if the running back depth chart changes at any point in the season, as Powell has proven that he might be ready to cement himself as the most versatile player on the offense. Last season, Powell carried the ball 131 yards for 722 yards and added 388 yards and two touchdowns as a receiver out of the backfield. Those numbers were good enough to land him as the fifth-highest rated running back in 2016. Powell was arguably better than Forte last season, having 14 15 yard plays, while Forte had 16, on 59 fewer touches than Forte.

The more intriguing aspect of these numbers is that most of this production came at the end of last season, where he accrued 411 yards on just over five yards per carry.

There is no doubting that Forte is aging, at 31 years old his lifespan as a productive NFL running back is coming to an end. That showed last year, as he missed three games due to injury, while not producing the way the Jets had hoped. At the end of the day, Powell is faster, more elusive, better at breaking tackles and, most importantly, a serious receiving threat out of the backfield, something Forte no longer is.

That doesn't mean Forte is going to disappear. But expect more Powell than before. ...

And finally. ... Former Giants tight end Will Tye was claimed off waivers by the Jets.

The 25-year-old Tye had become somewhat of an option in the passing game for the Giants, catching 90 passes the previous two years. But the Giants changed up the offense this offseason and used a first-round pick on tight end Evan Engram, and Tye didn't respond with a great preseason. Still, with Austin Seferian-Jenkins suspended the first two games, the Giants need some help there.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Josh McCown, Bryce Petty, Christian Hackenberg
RBs: Bilal Powell, Elijah McGuire, Travaris Cadet, Matt Forte
WRs: Jermaine Kearse, Robby Anderson, Chad Hansen, ArDarius Stewart
TEs: Eric Tomlinson, Will Tye, Jordan Leggett, Neal Sterling, Austin Seferian-Jenkins

Oakland Raiders

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 6 September 2017

Oakland returns Derek Carr off a broken leg and adds Marshawn Lynch, but attention should be paid to how well its front seven performs defensively. The Raiders had to outscore many of their opponents to go 12-4 last season, and while it worked, it isn't exactly a feasible long-term plan, especially for a team that finished 23rd in points per game allowed in 2016.

Lynch came out of retirement to join his hometown Raiders, apparently the only team he wanted to play for.

In Oakland, Lynch joins a backfield that parted ways with Latavius Murray but remains deep, boasting two talented young runners in Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington. Not to be overlooked, Lynch will be working behind an offensive line that ranked fourth in the NFL last season, according to ProFootballFocus.com.

Lynch retired after an arduous 2015 season in which he struggled through a sports hernia. He missed nine regular-season games and one in the playoffs after undergoing surgery to repair the issue on Nov. 25. Lynch had missed just one game the four previous seasons. During his five seasons in Seattle, Lynch was third in the league in rushing yards (5,774), second in first downs (294) and first in rushing touchdowns.

His 51 touchdowns surpassed Adrian Peterson's second-place total by six. Yes, Lynch is 31 years old. But he's had a year to get healthy and this new situation seems to be too good to ignore.

Now the onus is on Lynch to get the job done. And it's up to you to decide if that's something he can do.

As ESPN's Matthew Berry noted, "At some point, it boils down to this: You believe or you do not believe. I'm on board."

Berry went on to explain that as s bad as Lynch was in 2015, he was still ninth in rushing yards after first contact per carry. The problem was (in addition to health), he ranked 43rd of 44 qualified runners in yards before first contact. In other words, the line was terrible. Did I mention that Oakland's line is good?

In fact, that offensive line helped the Raiders average 120 rushing yards a game and a top-six finish in rushing touchdowns.

People are worried about reports that Lynch might get only 200 carries. You know who else got 200 carries or so last season?

Latavius Murray, who was RB13 despite missing two games and is not nearly as good at football as Lynch. ...

Meanwhile, Amari Cooper has put up good numbers since entering the league as a first round pick in 2015 and his quarterback is letting the players tasked with defending him this year know that they should be prepared for an even more aggressive Cooper this time around. Cooper has gotten bigger this offseason and Carr said the duo is working on hitting more passes downfield in order to take advantage of his ability to win one-on-one battles for the ball.

"DBs better know that he's really taking it serious that he's trying to go attack them this year," Carr said. "He's not going to let them come to him anymore, and I think that just comes with age and seeing him do it out here. The guy has been going off all camp, all offseason. We were kind of just laughing at how impressed we were."

As Profootballtalk.com recently noted, Cooper has had trouble with drops at points over the last two years and he slowed down in the second half of last season, but he's only 23 and that's a good reason to believe that he should be able to continue to find new facets to his game in 2017 and beyond.

Michael Crabtree arrived in Oakland with some buzz -- and it wasn't all positive. In fact, coaches and analysts thought his negative attitude could become an issue. Due to concerns that Crabtree might tear down his quarterback or coaches, many panned the 2015 deal.

To the contrary, Crabtree has emerged as a leader amongst his position group and within the offense in general.

Cooper amassed 1,153 receiving yards and five touchdowns last year and has played every game over the last two seasons, recording back to back 1,000-yard seasons. But Crabtree has been just as durable. He totaled 1,003 receiving yards and eight touchdowns. The duo tends to disappear from time to time, but they both play integral roles in the passing offense and Crabtree, in particular, has come up big when it counts the most.

Better still, he finally has a QB capable of fitting the ball into tight windows and who's not afraid to do so. It's something Crabtree takes advantage of regularly.

And what about the addition of Jared Cook?

ESPN's Matthew Berry advises against getting too excited. Over the past two years, Cook has one touchdown. Aaron Rodgers threw for 40 touchdowns last season and literally one of them went to Cook. Here's a list of some tight ends with more touchdowns during the past two seasons than Cook: Demetrius Harris, Darren Waller, Troy Niklas, Jake Stoneburner and John Phillips.

Maybe it's because the Raiders didn't have anyone good to throw to, but during Carr's three seasons in Oakland, the Raiders rank 23rd in receptions by TEs, 28th in receiving yards and tied for 25th in receiving TDs. Last season, specifically (Carr's best season), they tied for third fewest in tight end targets. ...

And finally. ... As Profootballtalk.com notes, there’s a bit of a discrepancy brewing between a pair of NFL insiders regarding the future of Raiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski.

Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that the Raiders are squeezing the 17-year veteran to cut his $4 million salary, and that he could be cut as soon as Tuesday. Schefter points to the team’s decision to work out a trio of kickers on Monday as proof of the fact that the Raiders are serious about making a change.

But Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports that the tryouts arose from problems with Janikowski’s back, and that he looked “awful” on Monday.

It’s possible, of course, that both are accurate; the Raiders may be concerned about Janikowski’s back and also reluctant to be on the hook for the full $4 million if he’s on the roster as of Week One, given the termination pay provision of the labor deal that allows players with four or more years of service to collect their full salary if cut after Week One.

Indeed, if the Raiders will be compelled to sign and to pay another kicker for one or more weeks, the Raiders won’t be inclined to pay Janikowski more than $235,000 per week in exchange for nothing. If, however, Janikowski is injured, a decision to cut him could spark a grievance — and a claim for the full $4 million.

Either way, I'll be following up via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Derek Carr, E.J. Manuel, Connor Cook
RBs: Marshawn Lynch, DeAndre Washington, Jalen Richard
WRs: Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree, Seth Roberts, Cordarrelle Patterson, Johnny Holton
TEs: Jared Cook, Lee Smith, Clive Walford

Philadelphia Eagles

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 6 September 2017

As ESPN.com's Tim McManus reported, the Eagles have decided to carry five running backs. ... For now. Rookie Donnel Pumphrey, the fourth-round pick, did not have a strong summer. While his size (5-9, 176 pounds) brought on comparisons to Darren Sproles, the reality is Pumphrey struggled to adapt to the jump in competition after breaking the FBS record for career rushing yards (6,405) at San Diego State.

The Eagles, who haven't cut a fourth-round pick out of training camp since releasing safety Damien Robinson in 1997, informed Pumphrey shortly before the 4 p.m. ET deadline he made the initial 53. There could be some roster tweaking, with Pumphrey, Sproles, LeGarrette Blount, Wendell Smallwood and Corey Clement currently on the team.

That seems like a bit much, especially considering running back is not exactly a position of great depth.

Clement, an undrafted free agent, outperformed Pumphrey and earned a spot on the roster. Clement averaged 3.8 yards per carry (compared to 1.9 for Pumphrey) with two touchdowns this preseason and climbed up the depth chart on special teams, including as a kick returner.

Meanwhile, ESPN's Matthew Berry concedes that LeGarrette Blount may not match last year's TD total, but Berry believes people are so busy screaming "regression" from that they fail to realize the Eagles gave Ryan Mathews 69.6 percent of their running back carries inside the 5-yard line last season. Head coach Doug Pederson likes to give it to one guy when they get close and that guy, this year, is going to be Blount.

The Eagles, who last season actually had a better yards before first contact per rush average than the Patriots, have a good offensive line, especially considering they should have Lane Johnson all season.

Only one wide receiver from last year's original 53-man roster -- Nelson Agholor -- is represented in the 2017 group. Marcus Johnson, the 6-1, 204-pound Texas product who was put on the Eagles practice squad this time last year, impressed enough during the spring and summer to earn a spot. Rookie fifth-round pick Shelton Gibson made the team despite struggling with drops for a good portion of the summer.

Along those lines, there are only three rookies in NFL history to throw for more yards than Carson Wentz did last season and now they've added Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith. The Eagles were quietly sixth in total pass attempts last season, Pederson likes to throw.

As for usage, DraftKings' Adam Levitan notes that Wentz was on the field for 36 snaps over the second and third exhibition games, and the Eagles were been in a 3-WR set (Jeffery, Smith, Agholor) on 28 of them. Meanwhile, their best running back (Sproles) is a pass-catcher and Wentz is ready for a natural progression in Year 2.

It adds up to a lot of pass-centric game plans for the Eagles, starting in Week 1 against the Redskins.

Now, back to Pederson's love of the pass. So great is that love, ESPN's Matthew Berry says Wentz does something that Aaron Rodgers has done just once during his career: Throw for 4,500 yards.

Berry explained that coming off a season when Wentz threw for the fourth-most passing yards by a rookie in NFL history and the fifth-most pass attempts in the league, Wentz has now had all offseason and training camp knowing he's the guy. (People forget he was hurt most of last preseason and Sam Bradford was getting the first-team reps for much of the summer.)

Now a really good offensive line plus weapons like Jeffery and Smith have Wentz ready for a big breakout.

Nick Foles, who has been sidelined with a sore elbow for most of training camp, is expected to be ready to handle the backup duty this week.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Carson Wentz, Nick Foles
RBs: LeGarrette Blount, Wendell Smallwood, Corey Clement, Kenjon Barner
WRs: Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith, Nelson Agholor, Mack Hollins, Shelton Gibson
TEs: Zach Ertz, Brent Celek, Trey Burton

Pittsburgh Steelers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 6 September 2017

At 11:54 a.m. on Friday, Sept. 1, Le'Veon Bell drove up to the Rooney Sports Complex, where the Steelers practice and are headquartered on the city's South Side.

Bell missed all of training camp and every preseason game this year. He and the Steelers failed to agree to a multi-year contract before the NFL's July 17 deadline for franchise tagged players.

Because Bell had not signed the $12.12 million tender, he could not be fined for missing camp or preseason games. Bell turned down a contract that would've paid him $30 million in the first two years of the deal, according to the NFL Network.

Mike Tomlin said at the start of training camp that there would be consequences for Bell when he returned, though he declined to specify what they would be. The head coach has repeatedly said he stayed in contact with Bell throughout the preseason.

So reasons for concern or excitement?

Arguing in favor of Bell, ESPN.com's Jeremy Fowler notes we're talking about a 25-year-old workhorse in his prime and entering another contract year -- just like last year, when he averaged an obscene 157 yards from scrimmage per game.

Bell stayed in superb shape while away from the team and wouldn't have taken hits in training camp anyway. He might actually be fresher than usual. Bell's offensive line is one of the league's best, and the presence of Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant will provide operating room for Bell as a rusher and pass-catcher.

No running back has averaged more total yards in his first four years than Bell's 128.7 since 2013. He's about as automatic as they come, with more expansive receiving ability than he's been able to show. The answer to any rust is the Browns' 31st-ranked rushing defense in Week 1.

And the inexperience of backups James Conner and Terrell Watson will force Bell to shoulder the load once again.

Bottom line? This season is set up well for Bell as a top scorer. The Steelers are at their best with a run-pass balance, and Bell drives that equation. Bell is still a top-10 player league wide and capable of scoring as much as anyone.

In other good news, receiver Martavis Bryant is now cleared to play in the regular season.

Bryant, who was suspended for all of last season for repeated violations of the league's substance-abuse policy, had previously been conditionally reinstated. To be fully reinstated, Bryant had to go through steps including showing that he had a treatment plan in place. He's now done that, and can play.

If Bryant plays as well as he did in his first two NFL seasons, he'll be a big-play threat in the Steelers' offense.

Better still, Bryant fits the bill of a player who can win your league.

Martavis has played at least 50 percent of the snaps 15 times in his career (including playoffs), almost a full season's worth. His total receiving line in those games is 73 catches, 1,209 yards and 10 TDs.

In 2014-2015, Bryant averaged 17.3 yards a catch and had 14 receiving touchdowns. He was a top-20 WR on a points-per-game basis in 2015, and there were 183 targets to Pittsburgh WRs not named Antonio Brown last season. Big (6-4, 211 pounds), fast (4.42 40 time), with a willing QB and fantasy-friendly offense, he's a big play waiting to happen and the only thing that worries Berry is Ben Roethlisberger's uneven play.

As ESPN's Matthew Berry reminded readers, Roethlisberger has played all 16 games in a season just three times in a 13-year NFL career. During the past three years, Ben has averaged 13.71 fantasy points per game on the road, or the 22nd-best QB in fantasy. The Steelers consistently go conservative when on the road, as they are averaging 70 fewer passing yards and two fewer passing touchdowns per game away from Heinz Field the past three seasons.

Starting in 2010, here are the final finishes for Roethlisberger as a fantasy QB on ESPN: 17th, 13th, 18th, 12th, 5th, 20th and 18th.

It's worth noting. ...

Meanwhile, Sammie Coates gets a fresh start with the Cleveland Browns, who acquired the third-year receiver from the Steelers in exchange for a sixth-round pick in the 2018 draft on Saturday. The Steelers also sent a seventh-round pick in 2019 to the Browns. Coates was led to believe upon his departure from Pittsburgh that the Steelers were rolling with veterans Justin Hunter and Darrius Heyward-Bey for their final two receiver spots. ...

Unhappy with the consistency of the tight ends during training camp, the Steelers acquired tight end Vance McDonald and a 2018 fifth-round pick from the San Francisco 49ers last Tuesday in exchange for a fourth-round pick in 2018. McDonald, a second-round pick in 2013, will compete with returning starter Jesse James as well as reserve Xavier Grimble.

"The guys hadn't been consistently varsity enough for our comfort," Tomlin said. "It's as black and white as that. They had some positive moments and negative moments. We're not going to anoint (McDonald) in any way. It's reasonable to expect the guys who are here to respond the right way to his presence. The end result is we'll get more competitive play at the position, and that's what we desire."

It was quite the admission with the regular season a little more than a week away. How McDonald fits into the current group will be determined, but McDonald could get an opportunity to challenge for the starting job as long as he picks up the offense quickly.

James had 39 receptions for 338 yards last season in his first year as the starter. He had a mental error Saturday night when a missed assignment led to a sack on the Steelers' first drive.

In 48 career games, McDonald has 64 receptions for 866 yards and seven touchdowns. He struggled with injuries and drops during his tenure in San Francisco.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Ben Roethlisberger, Landry Jones, Josh Dobbs
RBs: Le'Veon Bell, James Conner, Terrell Watson
WRs: Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, Eli Rogers, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Justin Hunter
TEs: Jesse James, Xavier Grimble, Vance McDonald

Los Angeles Chargers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 6 September 2017

Out since May with a lower back disc herniation, rookie receiver Mike Williams was taken off the physically unable to perform list and placed on the active roster to start the regular season.

According to head coach Anthony Lynn, Williams has been making steady progress in his rehab during training camp, and the team remained hopeful that the Clemson product would be ready for the regular season.

"He has a chance to continue to get better and play that fourth, fifth week," Lynn told reporters when asked whether Williams would begin the regular season on the PUP list or the active roster. "And if we put him down, we might not see him until midway through the season. That's the decision we're going to have to make."

As ESPN.com's Eric D. Williams notes, the Chargers took a cautious approach to Williams' injury throughout the process in order to make sure he didn't suffer any setbacks, but appear to feel confident enough that he can get in game-shape in time to help the team sooner rather than later.

Selected No. 7 overall in this year's draft by the Chargers, Williams suffered the injury during the first rookie minicamp practice at Chargers Park in San Diego. Lynn told reporters in the past two weeks that Williams has ramped up his training on the field, including change-of-direction drills and full-speed sprints.

"It's hard to play this game at a high level without practicing," Lynn said. "But he is a playmaker, and when he's healthy we want to get him out there as soon as we can and see what he can do. ..."

Of course, there are plenty of fantasy prospects of interest here, starting with Melvin Gordon.

Lynn likes the direction Gordon is headed, but he believes he can get even more out of him. "Man, he has some upside," Lynn said in February. "He did a hell of a job from his rookie year to his sophomore year. And I told him we can take this to another level."

That is music to fantasy owners' ears.

After a disappointing rookie year, Gordon proved to be the back the team moved up the board to draft, finishing 2016 three yards shy of 1,000 yards with 10 rushing TDs in just 13 games. The question this year is whether he can match last year's production if the touchdown total diminishes.

The good news?

In addition to Gordon avoiding surgery after a late-season knee injury, Lynn's arrival is a positive. Whether as OC last season, or as a RBs coach prior to that, Lynn has constructed nine 1,000-yard rushing seasons in his 14 years coaching the position (since 2003).

Gordon's meager 3.9 yards per carry belied his burst and power to break first contact behind an offensive line that opened few holes. There's reason to believe Lynn can help with some of that.

Behind Gordon, bruising running back Andre Williams played himself out of a spot on the final roster by averaging just 1.5 yards per carry during the preseason, while Austin Ekeler did the opposite, averaging 5.8 yards per carry. Branden Oliver will be the change of pace to Gordon. ...

At tight end, Antonio Gates and Hunter Henry combine to give the Chargers one of the best tight end duos in the NFL.

But Eric Williams believes wideout is the most talented position group on the team, giving the Chargers some time to get Mike Williams into game-playing shape after sitting out all of training camp with a back injury.

Keenan Allen, Travis Benjamin, Tyrell Williams, Dontrelle Inman and Geremy Davis round out that crew.

And at quarterback, of course, the criminally underrated Philip Rivers enters 2017 having posted four straight seasons with at least 4,200 passing yards and 29 passing touchdowns, a claim that only Drew Brees can also make.

Last season's 14th-best QB, Rivers had a brutal career-high 21 interceptions, costing him 42 fantasy points. If you give him just the 13 interceptions he averaged from 2006 to 2015, he finishes last season as QB8. And realize he played last season without Allen. The two have shown some serious chemistry when Allen has been on the field and fantasy owners have benefited.

According to ESPN's Matthew Berry, if you look at his past 16 games with Rivers, Allen has averaged 17.5 fantasy points per game, which would have been WR7 last season, just one point per game less than Odell Beckham.

In addition, Berry stresses that Henry was not a fluke last year. In speaking with a Chargers offensive assistant at the combine, Berry was told that there was a concerted effort to get Gates the record for touchdowns by a tight end (he is currently tied). Said the coach, "Henry should have had 12 touchdowns last year."

With Gates' snaps being cut back even more in his age-37 season, Henry should get enough volume that will make up for whatever potential regression there might be. ...

One last note here. ... The Chargers go into the season with a backup QB known as a project over a 12-year veteran with Cardale Jones beating out Kellen Clemens for that spot. It turns out Lynn, who was with Jones in Buffalo last year, remains intrigued by Jones' upside.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Philip Rivers, Cardale Jones
RBs: Melvin Gordon, Branden Oliver
WRs: Keenan Allen, Tyrell Williams, Travis Benjamin, Dontrelle Inman, Mike Williams, Geremy Davis
TEs: Hunter Henry, Antonio Gates, Sean McGrath

San Francisco 49ers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 6 September 2017

Heading into this week's regular-season opener against the Carolina Panthers in San Francisco, BayAreaNewsGroup.com's Cam Inman examined if the 49ers "fantasy relevant" again?

Inman came up with the following breakdown of the fantasy fortunes for the team's key players like this:

Running back Carlos Hyde has yet to post a 1,000-yard season in his career but he wants to lead the league in rushing. Don't be fooled by his quiet exhibition season. He's healthy and could have more room to run if recently acquired guard Laken Tomlinson can help.

He does need better blocking.

Pierre Garcon will draw the most targets and is looking at a 1,000-yard season. Averaging only 4 touchdowns per year in his career, he's not a top scoring threat, but he is the 49ers' go-to receiver. Fellow starter Marquise Goodwin could be a sneaky play. Known for his speed, Goodwin already has a deep-threat connection with Brian Hoyer.

Hoyer threw for 3,326 yards in 13 starts the last time he was with Kyle Shanahan, and that was on the Cleveland Browns. He will air it out more than expected, especially deep, and that hasn't been seen by a 49ers QB in far too long.

As ESPN's Matthew Berry recently wrote, "I actually think Hoyer is a decent QB and he is also familiar with Shanahan's offense. ... He is certainly good enough to get it to Garcon, as Shanahan has almost always had at least one elite fantasy wide receiver in his offenses, from Andre Johnson to Julio Jones to Pierre Garcon himself. Yes, Kyle was the offensive coordinator in Washington in 2013 when Garcon had his ridiculous 113 catches (on 184 targets!), 1,346 yards and five touchdowns."

In addition, the 49ers are likely to be playing from behind and throwing a lot this season, and Garcon, who was paid well to come to the 49ers, will get a huge target share from his former coach.

Tight end George Kittle stock went way up once Vance McDonald got traded. The rookie is their top receiving tight end.

Unfortunatley, Kittle aggravated hamstring and will be limited in practice, Shanahan says

Also, undrafted rookie running back Matt Breida is quick and game ready. He's the projected No. 2 behind Hyde. "Carlos is going to be featured in this deal, but Matt Breida is very much a part of our plans," GM John Lynch said.

Running back Joe Williams underwent an MRI examination on a tender ankle last Friday and the results led the team to place him on season-ending injure reserve.

"That was kind of a surprise to us," Lynch said of the severity of Lynch's injury. "Once they scanned it, we made the decision, along with our medical staff, that this was the best course of action for Joe. That's a tough loss because he's a guy we felt could really contribute in a big way for us.

"He's going to be a big part of our future, in my mind. Disappointing we had to put him on injured reserve, but the right thing to do, in our mind."


DEPTH CHART
QBs: C.J. Beathard, Brian Hoyer
RBs: Carlos Hyde, Matt Breida, Raheem Mostert, Kyle Juszczyk
WRs: Pierre Garcon, Marquise Goodwin, Aldrick Robinson, Trent Taylor, Kendrick Bourne, Victor Bolden
TEs: George Kittle, Garrett Celek, Logan Paulsen

Seattle Seahawks

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 6 September 2017

In his first extended audition to replace George Fant as the Seattle Seahawks starting left tackle, Rees Odhiambo acquitted himself well against the Kansas City Chiefs on Friday night.

The 2016 third-round pick replaced Fant following his injury last week against Minnesota and started the third preseason game against the Chiefs.

With Odhiambo in place, the Seahawks allowed only one pass pressure in the first half. Chris Carson and Eddie Lacy averaged over five yards per carry, and Russell Wilson was sacked only once before the starters left the game after the opening drive of the third quarter.

"I thought he had one bad pass set when Russ got hit," head coach Pete Carroll said. "He just made a mistake on it, but other than that he did a pretty good job.

"There's another run play that maybe he might have targeted a little bit off but I thought he was very solid, for what I could tell."

Odhiambo was the culprit for the lone sack of Wilson.

Chiefs defensive end Chris Jones blew past him largely untouched to drop Wilson for a 7-yard loss. Odhiambo pointed to a miscommunication being the issue.

"We kind of talked about it differently," he said. "I was expecting to set out to the linebacker and we misread it. Besides that we had a pretty good day of communicating.

"Everything was pretty good for the most part. A few things we've got to clean up a little bit, but for the most part I felt like we did a really good job."

Wilson completed 13 of 19 passes for 200 yards and a touchdown. Carson and Lacy combined for 67 yards on 12 carries before leaving the game.

"We liked the way the whole group played," Carroll said of the offensive line. "They played very solid. We are making progress, you know, we have been showing consistency in all that."

And they'll need plenty of that.

Meanwhile, getting a handle on the running back rotation is still a bit of an issue.

The Seahawks are going with five running backs this year after going with four in 2016. The odd man out in Seattle's crowded backfield is second-year back Alex Collins.

Thomas Rawls and Lacy are competing for the starting position, but Rawls missed the last half of August with an injured ankle. Lacy gained 21 yards on four carries against looked Kansas City in the third preseason game, showing the kind power running that Seahawks were hoping for when they signed him to a one-year contract.

"They're battling, just as they have been the whole time," Carroll said. "I think when Thomas gets back on the field officially and he's playing, it's a great situation for us."

Carroll said Rawls is healthy and "can go" as needed. Indeed, Rawls is listed as the starter on this week's official depth chart wih Lacy listed as No. 2.

C.J. Prosise has also missed time as he recovered from a groin injury, but he was able to play in the exhibition closer. The Seahawks love his versatility to run and catch passes, but they don't like inability to consistently stay healthy. Carroll said J.D. McKissic "lit us up the last couple days with all the versatility he brought" and Chris Carson has been one of the breakout players during training camp and preseason.

Carroll is just fine with the competition and uncertainty at the position.

"We are really excited to have the different dimensions and different styles that the guys bring. Everybody's got a good attitude, everybody's got a way about them that makes them different. I've always coveted that," Carroll said. "I'm comfortable a guy taking over. If a guy takes over and it's obvious, I got no problem with that either. I guess that's pretty wide open."

At wide receiver, the team made some interesting moves in reaching the 53-man roster limit last Saturday.

What might have been the biggest surprise of the day was the waiving of Kasen Williams - after the team initially reported he had been waived as injured it was clarified that he was simply waived. Williams had seemed just about a lock after finishing third in the NFL in receiving yards during the preseason with 208. But the Seahawks may also have noticed that he caught just one pass for four yards in game three against the Chiefs when the starters played into the second half and also may have preferred the special teams prowess of Tanner McEvoy.

Amara Darboh only caught three passes in the preseason, all against the Raiders in the exhibition closer. But his status as a third-round pick made it always pretty much a given he'd be on the roster. McEvoy also remains an intriguing talent with unique size, standing 6-6.

The trade sending Jermaine Kearse to the Jets leave Doug Baldwin, Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett and Paul Richardson as the top three wideouts for Wilson.

Profootballtalk.com's Michael David Smith reminded readers that last year at this time, Wilson was saying the Seahawks had their most talented team yet. This year, Wilson is specifically citing the talent of the Seahawks' receivers. "It's exciting to see all the talent we have at the receiver position. It's been the most talented group that we've had here, in terms of the overall group," Wilson said.

Wilson is always an optimistic guy, but this year he sounds particularly optimistic about the guys he's throwing to.

Meanwhile, Jimmy Graham continues to be a player to watch.

Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell has been quoted as saying Graham should get even more red-zone looks this year. This, after a season in which he was third in red-zone targets among tight ends. And that's scary when you think of this: Graham is just 5-for-18 on end-zone targets during his Seahawks career (that's a 28 percent catch rate). League average is 37 percent.

And ESPN's Matthew Berry thinks Graham can pick up the pace. Especially when you consider that from 2010-14, Graham caught 28 of 52 end-zone targets (54 percent).

Even if he doesn't get an increase in targets, had he caught 54 percent of his end-zone targets he would have been TE2 last season.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Russell Wilson, Austin Davis
RBs: Thomas Rawls, C.J. Prosise, Eddie Lacy, J.D. McKissic, Tre Madden, Chris Carson
WRs: Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett, Paul Richardson, Tanner McEvoy, Amara Darboh
TEs: Jimmy Graham, Luke Willson, Nick Vannett

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 6 September 2017

The Buccaneers and Dolphins will take Week 1 off and play each other in Miami in Week 11 instead.

The NFL decided Wednesday morning that having the two teams meet on Sunday, November 19 — when both teams initially had their bye week — was the best option. The league decided Tuesday that the game would not be played Sunday in Miami because of Hurricane Irma, although it was unclear whether the game would move to another stadium or another date.

Hurricane Irma is expected to hit Miami this weekend.

Now that this game has been postponed, USA Today reports that running back Doug Martin won’t be eligible to return to the field until the Buccaneers face the Patriots in Week 5.

Martin was originally set to make his return against the Giants on Oct. 1. But now that the Bucs’ regular season opener has been pushed back, he’ll still need to miss the first three games of the regular season as he serves the rest of his four game PED suspension. This means the Bucs will open their regular season against the Bears next Sunday at home and Martin will return to the gridiron in Week 5 to face New England.

The good news is Martin has been hard at work preparing for the 2017 NFL season and is hoping to bounce back and return to his 2015 form when he is eligible to play again. Until Martin’s suspension is completed, Jacquizz Rodgers is expected to carry the majority of thr workload and lead the Bucs’ backfield, with Charles Sims and Peyton Barber helping out as well of course.

In games in which he has gotten at least 15 carries, Rodgers has averaged 4.4 yards per carry and was RB13 last year in Weeks 5-8 when he got a shot. And now he gets another shot. ...

Meanwhile, for all the good things quarterback Jameis Winston and the Buccaneers offense id in August, scoring touchdowns was not one of them.

Tampa Bay has had 14 possessions under Winston and the first-team offense this preseason and it produced a total of one touchdown and five field goals.

Winston completed 17 of 27 passes for 200 yards in the team's third exhibition game. But the Bucs' first possession ended when Winston threw a pass wide of tight end Cameron Brate and it was intercepted at the goal line by Browns rookie defensive back Jabrill Peppers.

"I think we've got to be better than that," Brate said. "It seems like all preseason, we've moved the ball well but it's something we've been doing, whether it be penalties, not taking care of the football as well as we should or pitch-and-catch stuff. It's just us stopping us. Luckily it is the preseason, but every time you go out to compete you want to be successful. So, we definitely have to get better the next two weeks before Miami."

Frankly, the Bucs were lucky to have that chance to begin with. The Browns extended the drive when they jumped offside as kicker Nick Folk was lining up for a 45-yard field-goal attempt.

Winston's protection wasn't stellar Saturday. He was sacked twice and hit on several other occasions. The Bucs were also playing without right tackle Demar Dotson and left guard Kevin Pamphile, so that didn't help.

While we're into damning numbers, the Bucs were 0-for-7 on third down in the first half. Winston seemed out of sync with his receivers, especially on the money downs. He fired high to rookie Chris Godwin on the sideline. He led Adam Humphries too far over the middle of the field. Brate couldn't hang onto another pass he probably should've caught at the goal line.

The lone scores Saturday came on Folk's three field goals of 31, 42 and 43 yards.

The Bucs offense is potentially the best it has been in years. Neither starting receiver, Mike Evans or DeSean Jackson, played on Saturday. It's also a game of inches, and receiver Donteea Dye came a cleat away from getting both feet down in bounds for what would've been a 24-yard touchdown strike from Winston in the third quarter.

"When you're playing good football, penalties and turnovers hurt you," Winston said. "First drive, great drive. Turnover in the red zone. It hurts you. Just as far as morale, just as far as confidence. Defense gets a stop, then we go down. Another drive. Penalty. Backed up again. Second-and-2, we're in field-goal range and we get backed out of that. We've got to, me, personally, has to stop shooting ourselves in the foot and just get over that hump."

The good news?

Winston is the only QB in the NFL to throw for at least 4,000 yards in his first two seasons, and now he adds DeSean Jackson and O.J. Howard.

Other notes of interest. ... Howard (a very good blocker in college) may be more of a run-blocker than a pass-catcher early on, especially with the emergence of Cameron Brate, who will certainly eat into his target share. Among rookie tight ends since 2001, only Jeremy Shockey in 2002 caught more than 55 passes, and only Rob Gronkowski in 2010 reached double-digit TDs.

Receiver Adam Humphries, who sidelined late last month because of a hip pointer, did not practice on Tuesday and won't play in the preseason finale against Washington. He is expected to be ready for the regular season opener at Miami Sept 10.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Jameis Winston, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Griffin
RBs: Jacquizz Rodgers, Doug Martin, Charles Sims, Peyton Barber
WRs: Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Adam Humphries, Chris Godwin, Bernard Reedy
TEs: Cameron Brate, O.J. Howard, Luke Stocker

Tennessee Titans

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 6 September 2017

Last season, from Weeks 5-12, no QB scored more fantasy points than Marcus Mariota (in fact, as ESPN's Matthew Berry pointed out, only David Johnson scored more at any position in PPR). It's cherry-picking stats given the time frame, and naysayers will point to the ridiculously easy schedule, but still, it points to the potential he has to perform at an elite level for a sustained period of time.

In addition, Mariota has been the most efficient red zone quarterback since entering the NFL (33 TD passes and no interceptions), and now the Titans add the second-highest-scoring red zone receiver since 2012 in Eric Decker, along with talented 6-3 rookie Corey Davis, to returnees Rishard Matthews and Delanie Walker.

Playing behind an offensive line that last season was fifth best in pass protection rate (the percentage of plays the offense controls the line of scrimmage on dropbacks), the 6-4 Mariota will have plenty of time to find one of his talented receivers. Berry expects the Titans to not be as run-heavy this season with more weapons to throw to, and Mariota will return top-10 value.

The Titans announced Saturday that they've placed wide receiver Tajae Sharpe on season-ending injured reserve.

Sharpe reinjured his right foot in Thursday's preseason finale at Kansas City.

Sharpe, a Titans fifth-round pick in 2016, had surgery in early June to repair a stress fracture in his right foot. He was cleared off the physically unable to perform list last week and played in the Titans' final two preseason games. "Based on our history with that type of injury, we felt like this was in his best interest for his career to make sure this thing is right before we push him back on the field again," head coach Mike Mularkey said.

Mularkey said Sharpe's injury isn't to the same extent as his initial fracture and surgery may not be required, but the team wanted to be cautious since it was a reoccurring issue.

Sharpe had 41 catches for 522 yards and two touchdowns as a rookie. He was expected to take a lesser role in 2017 due to the Titans' increased depth at receiver.

This move helped clear up the Titans' receiver battle a bit. Rishard Matthews, Davis, Decker and Taywan Taylor separated themselves as the top four receivers.

Decker and Davis were on the practice field last Tuesday for the first time in quite a while, doing only individual work.

Decker sprained an ankle two weeks ago against Carolina in a joint practice and Davis, the Titans' first of two first-round picks, has been out since the first week of camp with a hamstring injury.

Mularkey was glad to see them back on the practice field, even though their workload probably won't pick up until this week.

"They did good. I was pleased with them," Mularkey said. "That was the plan, to come out here and get limited reps, limited work. I was pretty pleased with them. They both feel good, we'll see how they feel after they've worked a little bit today."

It is unlikely that either would play in the preseason finale Thursday at Kansas City, though Mularkey did not completely rule that out.

The bigger plan is to practice next week in preparation for the season opener Sept. 10 versus the Oakland Raiders.

Mariota said he isn't worried about regaining timing with the receivers. Mariota and Davis (coming off ankle surgery in the spring) missed a good portion of offseason work. Decker didn't sign with the Titans until late June after mini-camp was done.

"It's like riding a bike. You've just got to go through it," Mariota said. "I look forward to getting back to work with those guys and I think we'll be fine."

In a related note. ... As Yahoo's Liz Loza pointed out, despite scoring nine TDs and finishing as fantasy's WR13 overall last year, Matthews has been largely overlooked by the fantasy community. But right now he's the team's most experienced and healthiest receiving option. With Decker and Davis both missing so much time in August, Matthews is in position to pick up in 2017 where he left off in 2016.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Matt Cassel, Brandon Weeden, Marcus Mariota
RBs: DeMarco Murray, Derrick Henry, David Fluellen
WRs: Rishard Matthews, Eric Decker, Taywan Taylor, Eric Weems, Corey Davis
TEs: Delanie Walker, Jonnu Smith, Phillip Supernaw

Washington Redskins

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 6 September 2017

Kirk Cousins has not had the sharpest preseason, but his price continues to rise anyway -- at least in terms of NFL compensation. The regular season could change that calculation some, but the contract extension that Detroit's Matthew Stafford a agreed to this week signals once more that Cousins was right to bet on himself by not signing a long-term deal with the Redskins.

Stafford built on the deal given to Oakland's Derek Carr in July and will earn a record $60.5 million fully guaranteed at signing that by March will push to $86 million guaranteed.

That will be music to Cousins' ears. He already earned $19.5 million on the franchise tag last season and will make $23.9 million this year. The Redskins must use the tag again for a third and final time at $34.4 million, the transition tag at $28.7 million or let Cousins hit true free agency in March. The Lions made it worth Stafford's while to sign an extension potentially worth $151 million. Cousins saw no reason to do so before this summer's July 17 deadline.

Given that the salary cap could rise close to $175 million next season, there is money in the system to pay Cousins if he hits free agency plus a desperate need for teams around the league at quarterback. Two of his former offensive coordinators - Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco and Sean McVay with the Los Angeles Rams - are now head coaches and Cousins had good relationships with both men.

Washington made an offer that included $53 million fully guaranteed to Cousins on May 2 with up to $72 million guaranteed in case of injury. The contracts procured by Carr and now Stafford - with Atlanta's Matt Ryan eligible for an extension after this season - show why Cousins and agent Mike McCartney decided to wait and spurned Washington's offer.

But a slow exhibition season has fantasy owners concerned heading into this week's regular-season opener against the Eagles.

ESPN's Matthew Berry isn't buying the concern and neither am I.

As Berry wrote, "While I have questions about Washington's defense and win total this season, the offense is going to put up points. A lot of them."

Indeed, over the past two years, Cousins is third in completion percentage, fourth in passing yards, seventh in pass attempts and third in QB rushing touchdowns with nine rushing touchdowns the past two years. Some are scrambles, but many of them were designed plays. He's much more mobile than he gets credit for.

The other thing that's great is he's not a guy who goes up and down with big games and then disappears. According to ESPN.com's Tristan Cockroft, only Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan had a higher "start percentage" -- meaning weeks they finished in the top 10 at the position -- than Cousins last season.

The one area he and the 'Skins struggled in last season? The red zone, where Cousins was 24th in the NFL in completion percentage. So what did they do? Went out and got 6-4 Terrelle Pryor, plus it looks like they'll get 6-2 Josh Doctson back from injury.

"Cousins is betting on himself this year for a contract," Berry summed up "and at the end of it, it'll be a bet he wins."

I agree with all that, with one caveat: Pryor has to deliver.

Pryor tied for the fourth-most targets on 20-plus-yard passes last season and ranked 10th in air yards per target while on the Browns. After spending a summer working out with Randy Moss and Antonio Brown, Pryor gets a great QB, fantasy-friendly offense and 216 targets available with the departure of DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon.

Of course, the Redskins breathed a sigh of relief as tight end Jordan Reed returned to game action in the third exhibition game and played 18 snaps with no setbacks to his sore big toe. That injury kept Reed out of action for most of training camp until he was activated from the physically unable to perform (PUP) list.

Jamison Crowder will also be chipping in here -- likely in a major role

As DraftKings's Adam Levitan pointed out, in the third exhibition game Crowder was in all 2-WR sets opposite Pryor. The wide receiver snap count on Cousins' 39 snaps was Pryor 37, Crowder 34, Ryan Grant 21 (with Doctson sitting out). So even though Doctson returned to practice on Sunday, it would be a surprise if he's able to get ahead of Crowder, meaning we will see the slot man play that position in 3-WR sets but also play outside in 2-WR sets against the Eagles' shaky CBs Week 1.

Remember, Crowder ranked fifth in PPR fantasy points (third in non-PPR) from the slot in 2016 and his chemistry with Cousins is established. Receivers with a higher reception percentage and more receiving yards than Crowder over the past two seasons: Larry Fitzgerald and Doug Baldwin. That's it. ...

Running back Chris Thompson isn't mentioned in the battle for a starting running back spot, but he remains a critical part of one of the NFL's top offenses last season. Thompson had just three carries for nine yards in Sunday's win over Cincinnati. But while Robert Kelley and Samaje Perine have earned more attention this preseason, Thompson's one big play against the Bengals reminded everyone of his role: A 27-yard gain off a short swing pass during a second-quarter scoring drive.

"I think we can expand Chris' role if we want to. It's just he's so good at the third-down role that I just want to keep him there," head coach Jay Gruden said. "He's a very valuable commodity to our football team, both in pass protection and getting out on the routes. The thought of him not being around scares the heck out of me."

Thompson is one reason that Kelley is better in non-PPR than PPR, but as Berry pointed out after becoming the starter in Week 8, he ranked in the top 10 in the NFL in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, yards after contact per rush and was 15th among RBs in PPR fantasy points (13th in non-PPR).

By the way, the Redskins signed Thompson to a contract extension earlier this week. Last year, Thompson recorded a career-high 49 receptions for 349 yards and two touchdowns. While he’s proven to be an option catching out of the backfield for Cousins, he also excels in pass blocking situations.

“He’s a very valuable commodity to our football team, both in pass protection and getting out on the routes,” Gruden said. “I mean, the thought of him not being around scares the heck out of me. So he’s improved every part of his game, and a lot of these young players, they do that. You either get better or worse, and he’s just one of those guys that continues to work and he’s gotten better at everything.

“His vision on the running game and his pass protection has gotten better and better, and his routes, really, are the most improved, I think, coming out of the backfield. It takes some time for those guys to work their releases and work on the linebackers and run them at the right depth and come out at the right angles and all that stuff, and he’s darn-near perfected it.”


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Kirk Cousins, Colt McCoy
RBs: Robert Kelley, Samaje Perine, Chris Thompson, Mack Brown
WRs: Terrelle Pryor, Josh Doctson, Jamison Crowder, Ryan Grant, Brian Quick
TEs: Jordan Reed, Niles Paul, Vernon Davis, Jeremy Sprinkle