Fri Jul 30 3:01am ET
By BARRY WILNER
AP Pro Football Writer
For those who consider the Steel Curtain teams of the 1970s as the NFL's all-time best, the name Bill Nunn needs to be remembered.
Next week, that happens in Canton, Ohio, when Nunn enters the Pro Football Hall of Fame as part of the class of 2021 as a contributor.
Nunn, who died in 2014, was directly responsible for finding talent from the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). And get a load of some of the talent he came up with for the Steelers, who won four Super Bowls in six seasons in the 70s: Mel Blount, John Stallworth and Donnie Shell (all Hall of Famers), L.C. Greenwood, Frank Lewis, Dwight White, Ernie Holmes and Joe Gilliam.
''He was the authority, while working for the (Pittsburgh) Courier, on HBCU football,'' says former NFL executive Bill Polian, also a Hall of Fame member. ''He might well have been termed the `Scout-in-Chief of HBCU football.' Bill Nunn helped create one of the greatest teams of all time.''
Nunn was a sports writer and editor - his father was managing editor - at the Pittsburgh Courier, one of the most influential Black publications at the time. He developed strong relationships with players and coaches at the vastly under-scouted HBCUs. In 1970, he resigned from the newspaper to join the Steelers as a scout, though he had done part-time work for the franchise for several years.
Make that ''super scout'' given his production; he also found Jack Lambert at Kent State, and the linebacker wound up in Canton, too.
''Bill meant everything to the Steelers organization,'' current Pittsburgh general manager Kevin Colbert said. ''It's been documented, the players he was instrumental in bringing to the Steelers and the success they had. We as young scouts were fortunate to be around Bill and try and learn things they implemented when they put those teams together. There were a lot of lessons being taught to us.''
Nunn is the first African-American contributor in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
''I think the heritage of Bill, he is in here already because he is in the Black College Football Hall of Fame,'' said David Baker, president of the Canton shrine. ''The Pittsburgh Steelers would turn over every stone to find the best talent, the people who were going to be Pittsburgh Steelers: Donnie Shell, LC Greenwood, Mel Blount. All of these guys came from Historically Black Colleges and Universities.''
The Courier began selecting an annual Black College All-America Team in 1950 and did so through 1974. A well-known tale around the NFL and college football dealt with that season, and Nunn's role in getting Alabama A&M's Stallworth to Pittsburgh.
Stallworth struggled in his 40-yard dash in wet conditions before several scouts at what now is known as a pro day. While the other scouts headed elsewhere, Nunn stayed behind, went back to time Stallworth on a dry track, and the results were substantially better.
Nunn also procured some game film of Stallworth, a rarity back then, which he used to help persuade the Steelers to draft the wide receiver in the fourth round. Stallworth became, well, a stalwart on those four championship teams.
''We had side conversations that no one ever knew about,'' Shell told the Steelers' website. ''He was a confidant. If I had some issues, if I didn't do well in practice, I would talk to Bill and it wouldn't go any further than that. He would sit me down and say keep working hard and doing what you are doing, you will be fine. When you are young, that gave you encouragement to keep working hard. Nobody ever knew about that.
''I don't know if he realized it or not, but just being around Bill, his professionalism, the way he carried himself in his life, it meant a lot to me and had a great effect on me. He never would have thought that. That is the way he was, unassuming. That was Bill. That is who he was. He made people gravitate to him. You wanted to be with him. You wanted to be in his presence to listen to some of the wisdom that he had.''
Free-agent running back Alfred Morris is visiting the New York Giants on Thursday. He will get into the team's facility next week and is expected to sign then. The 32-year-old logged 55 carries for 238 rushing yards, and one touchdown over nine games for the Giants in 2020. If he makes the roster, Morris will provide the Giants running back depth and serve as the RB3 behind Saquon Barkley and Devontae Booker. The veteran running back doesn't have much left in the tank and is not on the fantasy radar in 2021.
New York Jets rookie quarterback Zach Wilson finally signed a four-year $35.1 million deal on Thursday, making him the last first-rounder from the 2021 draft to sign. The two sides had been going back and forth on signing bonus payout timeframe and offset language. Ultimately, Wilson will be getting all of his signing bonus upfront in exchange for allowing offset language to remain in the contract. Wilson displayed fantasy-friendly traits during his time at BYU, often scrambling and showing a willingness to take risks down the field. Wilson has a solid supporting cast of skill position players around him in New York, and he's been relatively underhyped compared to the other first-round quarterbacks taken in April's draft. Wilson comes into 2021 as mid-tier QB2, and his lower ADP relative to other rookie quarterbacks makes him an intriguing value pick in both standard and superflex leagues.
New York Jets wide receiver Denzel Mims has yet to take a first-team rep through two training camp practices, signaling that the new coaching staff may be down on the second-year wideout. Mims, who starred at Baylor, is a great athlete whom many draft analysts considered to be a receiver with significant upside, but he's yet to refine his game enough to make a significant impact. Mims's skill set as a potential deep-ball threat who can go up and get it would seem to fit well with Zach Wilson's tendencies coming out of BYU, so he's worth keeping a close eye on as camp progresses. Mims is a late-round dart throw in drafts right now, but that could change with an injury to a fellow wideout or positive news out of camp in the coming weeks.
Green Bay Packers second-year running back A.J. Dillon appears to be more comfortable in year two according to his backfield mate Aaron Jones. Jones also mentioned that Dillon "worked a lot on his hands during the off-season." Dillon's skillset will always be that of a power back at 6-foot 247 pounds, but improving as a receiver could allow him to play a bigger role than anticipated, especially after the departure of Jamaal Williams to the Detroit Lions in the offseason. Dillon is a player that should be monitored closely as camp progresses, and there's a real chance that he sees goal-line work in 2021 due to his size advantage. Right now Dillon projects as a high-end RB4, but he has RB3 upside behind Aaron Jones and RB1/2 upside if Aaron Jones were to go down with an injury at any point in the season.
Washington Football Team tight end Ricky Seals-Jones was helped off the field by trainers after injuring his right leg at practice on Thursday. Seals-Jones walked off the field gingerly, but the severity of the injury is not yet known. This is a tough blow for the 26-year-old, as he is battling for backup tight end duties behind starter Logan Thomas. Seals-Jones played in just two games last year, so it would be ideal for him to get a full training camp on the field to show what he can do. Seals-Jones possesses no fantasy value even if he were to win the backup role to Thomas, and would only be on the fantasy radar if Thomas missed some time.
Tennessee Titans star wide receiver A.J. Brown is dominating training camp practices. Brown had offseason surgery on both knees, so there were some questions about his participation early in camp, but he's quickly putting those to rest. According to Austin Stanley, Brown "continues to look unguardable through 2 days of Titans camp... breaking off double moves routes, leaving DBs chasing & catching TDs with ease." This is nothing new for the hyper-efficient Brown, who totaled 70 receptions, 1075 yards, and 11 touchdowns in 2020 on just 107 targets. Brown should see favorable coverages in a Tennessee offense that projects to air it out more in 2021 following the addition of star WR Julio Jones. Brown projects as a no-brainer WR1 coming into the season.
New Orleans Saints quarterback Jameis Winston performed at a high level during the team's Thursday practice. Winston is competing with Taysom Hill for the starting job, and at this point, there isn't clarity on who is leading the competition. Winston's performance early in camp should help, however, as Larry Holder noted that he "certainly looked the sharpest of the QBs with Day 1 in the books." In the past Winston has been a great fantasy option due to his gunslinger style of play, so he would have significant upside if he wins the job outright. Due to the possibility that Winston fails to earn the job or splits time with Taysom Hill, he should be considered a boom/bust QB3 going into 2021, with a chance for that to rise if he wins the job outright.
Washington Football Team rookie wide receiver Dyami Brown has already started to turn heads at his first training camp with the team. With wide receiver Curtis Samuel (groin) on the sidelines, Brown has been able to get some action with the first-team offense. The rookie was drafted because of his size and downfield playmaking ability, and this has been put on display during the team's practices. Brown caught a 40-yard pass after getting a few steps on his man on the left sideline. Although Brown is making a strong impression so far, it is likely he will be very limited in terms of opportunity this season. Wide receivers Terry McLaurin and Curtis Samuel are No. 1 and No. 2 on the depth chart, and there have been reports that Ryan Fitzpatrick has a strong connection with slot receiver Adam Humphries. With tight end Logan Thomas also in the mix, Brown will probably be fifth in line for targets this season unless someone misses time. He is not worth a roster spot in redraft leagues as of now.
Kansas City Chiefs star tight end Travis Kelce left practice on Thursday with back and hip tightness according to the team. The issues don't seem very serious at this point in time, but it's a mildly concerning event nonetheless. Kelce has been the NFL's premier receiving tight end the last few years, and he's coming off yet another TE1 overall fantasy season in 2020 in which he averaged a whopping 20.9 PPR points per game. Kelce still projects as the TE1 overall and a first-round choice in drafts this summer, but injuries could be something to monitor, as Kelce will turn 32 this season.
Jacksonville Jaguars rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence built on his impressive showing in Wednesday's practice and took things to another level on Thursday. SI's John Shipley noted that "Lawrence just impressed time and time again," and that "there is also a sizeable difference in terms of how quick he is processing plays and pulling the trigger." Shipley even went as far as to say that Lawrence "put forth the best practice performance a Jaguars' quarterback has had during [his] three years on the beat." It doesn't get much more glowing than that, and at this point, it's hard not to buy Lawrence as an exciting fantasy option based on his pedigree and early camp reviews. Lawrence is inching towards the QB1/2 borderline and he looks primed to excel in year one.
Jacksonville Jaguars rookie running back Travis Etienne Jr. put his talent on display for the first time in Thursday's practice. Per John Shipley, "Etienne broke off several long runs on Thursday," and "made several nice catches out of the backfield, showing off the ability to catch outside his frame." Etienne's performance littered with big plays and catches out of the backfield illustrates his path to being a legitimate RB2 in 2021. Etienne has the burst and skillset to make the most of his carries while he dominates the passing game work. Etienne is currently being drafted as a high-end RB3 in drafts, but in PPR formats he's a worthy candidate to see his ADP rise into RB2 territory as camp progresses.
Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Phillip Dorsett II has been shaky in early practices, failing to take advantage of ample opportunities. Per John Shipley, Dorsett "has struggled with the consistency of his hands more than the other top receivers." The former first-round pick of the Indianapolis Colts is competing primarily with second-year wideout Collin Johnson for the fourth wide receiver job. Dorsett can hardly afford poor performances like this considering that Johnson is the younger and more projectable of the two players. Dorsett is firmly off the radar in all fantasy formats right now, and he's in danger of falling behind in the race for the fourth wide receiver spot.
The Cleveland Browns will be without wide receiver Rashard Higgins for the next few days. Higgins rolled his ankle during practice on Wednesday and will be out at least for Thursday's session. Head coach Kevin Stefanski told reporters that Higgins should be fine. With Higgins out, Donovan Peoples-Jones should see some extra reps with the first team. Higgins will attempt to win the WR3 job on the team behind starters Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. in camp.
Carolina Panthers wide receiver Robby Anderson (illness) was held out of Thursday's practice due to an illness. Anderson was at the team's training facility, but trainers held him out, indicating that it's more of a minor ailment and nothing related to the COVID-19 virus. The 28-year-old should be expected to rejoin the team for Friday's practice. Anderson will be looking to follow up a career year in 2021 after thriving in offensive coordinator Joe Brady's system, corraling 95 of 136 targets, 10th among all pass-catchers, for 1,096 receiving yards. Anderson seems fairly priced as a WR3 in fantasy drafts at the moment, considering his success in the system and that he'll be reunited with former Jet Sam Darnold.
Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley (foot) participated in drills during the team's first day of training camp on Thursday. Ridley underwent minor foot surgery and missed most of the offseason workouts but is back in action. Per Michael Rothstein of ESPN, Ridley looked good, making sharp cuts and looking smooth in his route-running. That's good news for both the Falcons and fantasy managers eyeing the 26-year-old- who posted career-best numbers in targets, receptions, and yards in a breakout 2020 campaign- as their starting wideout in drafts. Ridley figures to be a target hog for Atlanta in 2021 and appears set to return or possibly exceed value at his current second-round draft price.
Updating previous reports, Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott (shoulder) has a slight shoulder strain that the team is optimistic he'll return in a few days from.
Fantasy Spin: Prescott will have some questions after that nasty broken leg last season, but he was in MVP form beforehand. He'll be a midrange QB1 option with boom/bust potential.
Atlanta Falcons WR Calvin Ridley (foot) returned to practice Thursday, July 29.
Fantasy Spin: The time is now for Ridley, who takes over as the go-to weapon alongside TE Kyle Pitts in what could be the dynamic duo for the next five years. He'll be a WR1 with some sneaky upside.
Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Marquise Brown left the field early in practice on Thursday and was seen having his legs stretched out by a team trainer. Luke Jones of WNST reports that it "didn't look to be anything serious," but noted there is "no reason to push it so early in camp, especially with Lamar Jackson not out there." We should probably assume Brown is fine, and with Jackson on the COVID-19 list, there aren't really concerns about how this could impact anything when it comes to regular-season chemistry. Brown remains an upside WR3 play.
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott strained his shoulder in training camp, but the team is optimistic that Prescott can return after a few days rest. Locked in as the team's starting quarterback for the foreseeable future, there's no reason to push things with Prescott, especially with him coming off of an ankle injury last season. Prescott's status for the regular season isn't in doubt at all at this point, so fantasy managers can continue to draft him as a fantasy QB1.
Miami Dolphins wide receiver Will Fuller left practice early on Wednesday and does not appear to be practicing Thursday, as head coach Brian Flores says that Fuller is "dealing with something." Normally, some slight injury this early in camp wouldn't be a huge concern, but Fuller has a history of injuries, especially when it comes to his hamstring. Monitor this situation, though Fuller's field-stretching speed still makes him a strong mid-round fantasy pick assuming this issue doesn't linger on past next week. If it does, we might need to readjust our draft boards.