NFL opens football academy in London

Sun Jul 14 3:03am ET

NFL player Mario Addison of the Carolina Panthers complains to the referee as he coaches a young team during the final tournament for the UK's NFL Flag Championship, featuring qualifying teams from around the country, at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, Wednesday, July 3, 2019. The new stadium will host its first two NFL London Games later this year when the Chicago Bears face the Oakland Raiders and the Carolina Panthers take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)


Youngsters play on the pitch during the final tournament for the UK's NFL Flag Championship, featuring qualifying teams from around the country, at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, Wednesday, July 3, 2019. The new stadium will host its first two NFL London Games later this year when the Chicago Bears face the Oakland Raiders and the Carolina Panthers take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)


Tahir Whitehead from Oakland Raiders coaches a young team during the final tournament for the UK's NFL Flag Championship, featuring qualifying teams from around the country, at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, Wednesday, July 3, 2019. The new stadium will host its first two NFL London Games later this year when the Chicago Bears face the Oakland Raiders and the Carolina Panthers take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)


Player Giovani Bernard of the Cincinnati Bengals coaches a young team during the final tournament for the UK's NFL Flag Championship, featuring qualifying teams from around the country, at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, Wednesday, July 3, 2019. The new stadium will host its first two NFL London Games later this year when the Chicago Bears face the Oakland Raiders and the Carolina Panthers take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)


Player Giovani Bernard of the Cincinnati Bengals coaches a young team during the final tournament for the UK's NFL Flag Championship, featuring qualifying teams from around the country, at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, Wednesday, July 3, 2019. The new stadium will host its first two NFL London Games later this year when the Chicago Bears face the Oakland Raiders and the Carolina Panthers take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)


NFL player Cameron Brate of Tampa Bay Buccaneers leaves the pitch after coaches a young team during the final tournament for the UK's NFL Flag Championship, featuring qualifying teams from around the country, at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, Wednesday, July 3, 2019. The new stadium will host its first two NFL London Games later this year when the Chicago Bears face the Oakland Raiders and the Carolina Panthers take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)


NFL player Mario Addison of the Carolina Panthers coaches a young team during the final tournament for the UK's NFL Flag Championship, featuring qualifying teams from around the country, at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, Wednesday, July 3, 2019. The new stadium will host its first two NFL London Games later this year when the Chicago Bears face the Oakland Raiders and the Carolina Panthers take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)


NFL Player Akiem Hicks of the Chicago Bears coaches a young team during the final tournament for the UK's NFL Flag Championship, featuring qualifying teams from around the country, at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, Wednesday, July 3, 2019. The new stadium will host its first two NFL London Games later this year when the Chicago Bears face the Oakland Raiders and the Carolina Panthers take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)


NFL Player Akiem Hicks of the Chicago Bears coaches a young team during the final tournament for the UK's NFL Flag Championship, featuring qualifying teams from around the country, at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, Wednesday, July 3, 2019. The new stadium will host its first two NFL London Games later this year when the Chicago Bears face the Oakland Raiders and the Carolina Panthers take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)


NFL Player Akiem Hicks of the Chicago Bears coaches a young team during the final tournament for the UK's NFL Flag Championship, featuring qualifying teams from around the country, at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, Wednesday, July 3, 2019. The new stadium will host its first two NFL London Games later this year when the Chicago Bears face the Oakland Raiders and the Carolina Panthers take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)


NFL player Tahir Whitehead gestures as he coaches a young team during the final tournament for the UK's NFL Flag Championship, featuring qualifying teams from around the country, at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, Wednesday, July 3, 2019. The new stadium will host its first two NFL London Games later this year when the Chicago Bears face the Oakland Raiders and the Carolina Panthers take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)


NFL player Tahir Whitehead reacts as he coaches a young team during the final tournament for the UK's NFL Flag Championship, featuring qualifying teams from around the country, at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, Wednesday, July 3, 2019. The new stadium will host its first two NFL London Games later this year when the Chicago Bears face the Oakland Raiders and the Carolina Panthers take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)


NFL player Samson Ebukam of the Los Angeles Rams coaches a young team during the final tournament for the UK's NFL Flag Championship, featuring qualifying teams from around the country, at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, Wednesday, July 3, 2019. The new stadium will host its first two NFL London Games later this year when the Chicago Bears face the Oakland Raiders and the Carolina Panthers take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)


NFL player Samson Ebukam of the Los Angeles Rams coaches a young team during the final tournament for the UK's NFL Flag Championship, featuring qualifying teams from around the country, at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, Wednesday, July 3, 2019. The new stadium will host its first two NFL London Games later this year when the Chicago Bears face the Oakland Raiders and the Carolina Panthers take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)


NFL player DJ Chark speaks to young players during the final tournament for the UK's NFL Flag Championship, featuring qualifying teams from around the country, at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, Wednesday, July 3, 2019. The new stadium will host its first two NFL London Games later this year when the Chicago Bears face the Oakland Raiders and the Carolina Panthers take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)


NFL player Mario Addison of the Carolina Panthers complains to the referee as he coaches a young team during the final tournament for the UK's NFL Flag Championship, featuring qualifying teams from around the country, at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, Wednesday, July 3, 2019. The new stadium will host its first two NFL London Games later this year when the Chicago Bears face the Oakland Raiders and the Carolina Panthers take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)


NFL player DJ Chark speaks to young players during the final tournament for the UK's NFL Flag Championship, featuring qualifying teams from around the country, at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, Wednesday, July 3, 2019. The new stadium will host its first two NFL London Games later this year when the Chicago Bears face the Oakland Raiders and the Carolina Panthers take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)


NFL player Samson Ebukam of the Los Angeles Rams coaches a young team during the final tournament for the UK's NFL Flag Championship, featuring qualifying teams from around the country, at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, Wednesday, July 3, 2019. The new stadium will host its first two NFL London Games later this year when the Chicago Bears face the Oakland Raiders and the Carolina Panthers take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)


NFL Player Giovani Bernard of the Cincinnati Bengals pauses before an interview during the final tournament for the UK's NFL Flag Championship, featuring qualifying teams from around the country, at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, Wednesday, July 3, 2019. The new stadium will host its first two NFL London Games later this year when the Chicago Bears face the Oakland Raiders and the Carolina Panthers take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)


NFL player Jonathan Joseph of the Houston Texans gives interviews during the final tournament for the UK's NFL Flag Championship, featuring qualifying teams from around the country, at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, Wednesday, July 3, 2019. The new stadium will host its first two NFL London Games later this year when the Chicago Bears face the Oakland Raiders and the Carolina Panthers take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)


NFL player Josh Lambo of the Jacksonville Jaguars addresses the media during the final tournament for the UK's NFL Flag Championship, featuring qualifying teams from around the country, at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, Wednesday, July 3, 2019. The new stadium will host its first two NFL London Games later this year when the Chicago Bears face the Oakland Raiders and the Carolina Panthers take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)


General view at the NFL pitch during the final tournament for the UK's NFL Flag Championship, featuring qualifying teams from around the country, at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, Wednesday, July 3, 2019. The new stadium will host its first two NFL London Games later this year when the Chicago Bears face the Oakland Raiders and the Carolina Panthers take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.(AP Photo/Frank Augstein)


Player Giovani Bernard of the Cincinnati Bengals coaches a young team during the final tournament for the UK's NFL Flag Championship, featuring qualifying teams from around the country, at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, Wednesday, July 3, 2019. The new stadium will host its first two NFL London Games later this year when the Chicago Bears face the Oakland Raiders and the Carolina Panthers take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)


LONDON (AP) For the past three years, the only way Sergei Starodoubtsev experienced the NFL was by watching highlights of JuJu Smith-Schuster and other players on Instagram.

That the 17-year-old found himself sharing a field with the Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver - he was the one in workout clothes, not Smith-Schuster - was a little more than even he could comprehend.

''He's a different athlete and such an amazing player,'' Starodoubtsev said, awe-struck and struggling to find his words as Smith-Schuster addressed a group of fellow teenagers nearby. ''I'm trying to succeed in this career and be on the big TV and play in the NFL and be in the same situation as JuJu.''

At 6-foot-3 and 238 pounds with eye-catching quickness, Starodoubtsev is, in many ways, exactly what football coaches and recruiters across the United States desire. His only disadvantage? He lives in East London, where opportunities to play the American game are difficult to find.

That's why Starodoubtsev was at soccer power Tottenham Hotspur's new stadium earlier this month, one of 150 hopefuls trying to land one of 80 spots in the inaugural class of the NFL Academy this fall. The league, which has been playing regular-season games in London since 2007, wants to maintain a more lasting presence in the city beyond those few weekends a year. It believes it can do that - and grow the sport - by identifying and cultivating young British talent.

''In the last two or three years, this has been about, whilst being quintessentially American, could we be more British (and) locally relevant?'' said NFL UK managing director Alistair Kirkwood. ''(Can we) have grassroots and a commitment to having British players who look like you and talk like you, and then at the same time have younger kids playing the game right down to flag football?''

Players in the United States have a well-developed path to playing professional sports, progressing from youth leagues to high school and college. The setup in Europe differs significantly. It's far more common for prospects to join a sports club's academy at a young age and receive coaching in a structured environment all the way through to a senior-team debut.

Kirkwood wants to follow that model - with a twist. By partnering with Barnet & Southgate College in north London, those who have been selected to enroll in the NFL Academy will begin classes in September with up to 12 hours of football practice added on each week.

The initial enrollment will include boys ages 16-18. Kirkwood speculated about plans to target other age groups, and even girls, at other locations over time.

''I'd be taking over the world by now if I had this opportunity,'' said Carolina Panthers defensive end Efe Obada, who was raised in London, played in several local leagues and made his NFL debut last season. ''For it to now be real, and to be getting kids who are 15, 16, introduced to the sport and having them surrounded by some major role models and real NFL players ... it's crazy. It's amazing.''

More than 1,500 prospects applied for a spot in the academy, with 150 finalists drawn from that pool after two months of workouts and interviews. Those finalists, invited to join Obada, Smith-Schuster and other program ambassadors at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, were put through a final round of combine-style workouts, including the 40-yard dash, the broad jump, the vertical leap and the 20-yard shuttle run.

Nearly half the participants were from London, the rest from other parts of Britain - a few traveled from elsewhere in Europe, including Poland's Kacper Jaszewski, who completed the fastest shuttle run in 4.3 seconds.

Tony Allen, who will serve as the academy's head coach, believes applicants' backgrounds aren't important as long as they show some degree of athletic ability. Starodoubtsev, for example, plays rugby. David Ani, a 16-year-old from Manchester who is already 6-foot-2, has a basketball background. Some said they are sprinters, a few play handball and one even said he plays water polo.

''I just don't think it's fair to bring in a kid with a rugby, soccer or cricket background and run them through positional drills because they're going to look like Bambi the first time around and be falling over the bags,'' said Allen, who was formerly the NFL's director of international player development and a coach with the London Monarchs of NFL Europe.

''I don't know where we'll start from. It could be, `This is a center and this is a guard,' in all honesty, but we'll give them bespoke training, in class, film analysis, kind of fast-tracking them so that when they get on the field, they know what drills to do.''

The finalists will be put through another round of character assessments before the initial class is decided in late July. Although Kirkwood and Allen both said they'd be pleased for the program's graduates to obtain Division I scholarship offers, the goal, for now, is personal development.

Still, nearly all who tried out harbor that NFL dream. Starodoubtsev, who thinks he'll be a defensive end, was reassured he'll have a place in the initial class once a coach saw him run the 40-yard dash in 4.85 seconds. Ani, who plays in a league in Manchester as a tight end, wants to be back at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, which begins hosting NFL games in October.

''Hopefully, when I'm older, I'll be here,'' Ani said, gesturing toward the field. ''I'll be here balling out for everybody.''

Player Notes
Michael Crabtree Aug 22 1:10am ET

The Arizona Cardinals officially signed free-agent wide receiver Michael Crabtree to a one-year deal on Wednesday. The 31-year-old will have to prove himself to make the roster in the next two weeks, but he does offer some intrigue in head coach Kliff Kingsbury's offense if he sticks around, although he'll have to compete with rookies Andy Isabella and Keesean Johnson. Crabtree will help replace rookie Hakeem Butler (hand), who could miss the rest of the season. The veteran had 54 catches for 607 yards and three touchdowns for Baltimore in 2018. You shouldn't be drafting him in standard leagues, but keep an eye on Crabtree's role if he makes the final squad. Trent Sherfield is also in the fold as well.

From RotoBaller

Anthony Miller Aug 22 1:10am ET

Chicago Bears wide receiver Anthony Miller (ankle) hasn't practiced since Aug. 10 due to a sprained ankle and also missed most of the team's work at organized team activities and minicamp while recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. The 24-year-old has plenty of potential but could start off slow in 2019 because of his lack of practice due to injuries in the offseason. He needs more time to learn the nuances of head coach Matt Nagy's offense and must become more detailed as a route runner. The biggest challenge is the timing with the quarterback, Nagy said Wednesday. Thats the No. 1 challenge. Temper expectations with Miller to begin the season. His fantasy stock is falling, and he's not even a lock to be ready for Week 1.

From RotoBaller

Nick Chubb Aug 22 1:00am ET

Cleveland Browns running backs coach Stump Mitchell talked up running back Nick Chubb on Wednesday. "I think hes going to be special like he was last year," said Mitchell. "Hell be used a little more in the passing game than he was last year. Nick just continues to improve on the skillset that he has, and I think he has a fantastic skillset." In a rising offense as the lead back that could see more work catching passes in his second season, Chubb has low-end RB1 appeal. The 23-year-old had 192 carries for 996 yards and eight touchdowns in his rookie season and caught 20 passes for 149 yards and two more scores. Chubb could lose some playing time on passing situations once Kareem Hunt returns from suspension in the second half of the season, but it shouldn't make him any less appealing.

From RotoBaller

Justice Hill Aug 22 12:30am ET

Baltimore Ravens rookie running back Justice Hill caught a short pass from quarterback Lamar Jackson and darted upfield, causing two Eagles defenders to collide in Monday's joint practice. Hill is the Ravens leading rusher after the first two weeks of the preseason, amassing 82 yards on 20 carries. According to the Baltimore Beatdown, Hill forced a missed tackle on nine of 12 touches in Baltimore's Week 2 game against Green Bay. Hill's running style is intriguing; he's lightning-fast, he breaks tackles and he can catch the ball well. The first-year back currently sits fourth on the Ravens depth chart and likely won't see a ton of touches at the start of the season, but keep him on your radar toward the end of your drafts. He's being picked up in the 12th round of most drafts and poses as an exciting sleeper to handcuff to Mark Ingram.

From RotoBaller

Michael Crabtree Aug 21 11:19pm ET

The Arizona Cardinals are closing in on signing free-agent wide receiver Michael Crabtree, according to sources. The Cards released former first-rounder Kevin White on Wednesday, and it looks like Crabtree is who they'll replace him with. It remains to be seen how Crabtree might fit in head coach Kliff Kingsbury's offense behind Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk, but the veteran wideout should make Arizona's offense more versatile and give them another weapon. He had 54 grabs for 607 yards and three touchdowns last year with Baltimore in a run-first offense. Crabtree is a nice red-zone option, but he'll have to battle for targets with rookies Andy Isabella and Keesean Johnson.

Justin Tucker Aug 21 11:00pm ET

Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker has been a top-five fantasy option for the last five years and holds the crown as the most accurate field goal kicker in NFL history. "I think we've got an if it ain't broke, don't try to fix it type of situation going on here," Tucker told the media after Tuesday's practice. Drafting a top kicker in your leagues might not win you the championship, but drafting one who has made 89.7 percent of his field goals in his seven seasons will obviously help. If you happen to catch the run for kickers at the right time in your drafts, Tucker is the best kicker you should be looking to target.

From RotoBaller

Sam Darnold Aug 21 10:30pm ET

New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold had another solid practice Wednesday as he prepared for what will likely be his last preseason action Saturday vs the Saints. Darnold completed 10 of his first 11 passes in team drills Wednesday and also threw four straight touchdowns in red-zone drills, a major area of weakness in his rookie season. Head coach Adam Gase said the starters will play the first half plus one series in the team's third preseason game Saturday so this is the best look fantasy owners will get at the sophomore QB before drafts. Darnold has been having a strong camp and has higher upside than a lot of the other quarterbacks expected to be drafted as backups in fantasy.

From RotoBaller

Chris Boswell Aug 21 10:20pm ET

Pittsburgh Steelers kicker Chris Boswell has had the cards stacked against him this preseason. After hitting just 13 of 20 field goals and only 43 of 48 extra point attempts in 2018, head coach Mike Tomlin was very vocal that he was going to test Boswell this preseason. However, the fifth-year kicker knows there's nothing wrong with a challenge. "It does bring out the best in everybody. Well see where it goes, he said. The team brought in rookie Steven Wright from UCF to challenge Boswell this preseason. However, the incumbent has answered all doubts, hitting both field goal attempts, including a 47 yarder, along with all three extra point attempts. If your fantasy league utilizes kickers, you can leave Boswell in the player pool on draft day, but if he proves he is capable of hitting the necessary kicks, he could be a solid streamer after the first few games.

From RotoBaller

Taylor Bertolet Aug 21 10:20pm ET

New York Jets kicker Taylor Bertolet is making a strong first impression on his new team. Bertolet was signed only a few days ago after Chandler Catanzaro abruptly retired but has already made an impression on the team. Bertolet went 4-for-4 on field goals during team drills connecting from 44, 40, and twice from 33 yards away. Bertolet won't be one of the top kickers drafted, but if he keeps this up could be worth a look on a Jets team that finished 30th in the NFL in red-zone conversion rate last season.

From RotoBaller

Devin Bush Aug 21 10:10pm ET

Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier has been impressed with rookie linebacker Devin Bush, who the Steelers traded up to get with the 10th overall pick. "I think he's going to make a lot of splash for us. He's going to be a big-time player for us," Shazier said. Shazier continues to make progress in his recovery from a spinal injury he suffered in 2017, but he will not play this year. Bush is the inside linebacking presence that Pittsburgh needs in order for their defense to return to the elite ranks among the NFL. They have the potential to become fantasy relevant this year, but fantasy owners can probably wait and see.

From RotoBaller

Vance McDonald Aug 21 10:00pm ET

Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Vance McDonald won't be the full-time tight end, according to offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner. In an interview with Dale Lolley of DKPittsburghSports.com, the Steelers' OC said "He's never going to play the full game. That's never going to happen." Of course, this could be coach talk and McDonald ends up sees the majority of the time at tight end. His only real competition at the position is Xavier Grimble, who was undrafted out of USC and has just 22 career receptions. Don't look into this too much as the veteran McDonald is without a doubt the top dog at this position in Pittsburgh. His ADP has jumped up into the 7th round, which is fair for a player who should command 80-plus targets this year.

From RotoBaller

Jordan Wilkins Aug 21 8:30pm ET

Indianapolis Colts running back Jordan Wilkins (foot) missed his sixth straight practice on Wednesday. Wilkins represents a change of pace from the two running backs, Marlon Mack and Nyheim Hines, that are in front of him. Mack is an explosive player that's developing into a 3-down player, and Hines has firmly established his role as a pass-catcher. Wilkins can find his way on the field, but the team's running back is getting crowded which drags his stock down.

From RotoBaller

Aaron Wallace Aug 21 8:23pm ET

Denver Broncos LB Aaron Wallace (hamstring) was waived/injured Wednesday, Aug. 21, according to a source.

From TheHuddle

Adam Vinatieri Aug 21 8:20pm ET

Indianapolis Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri (knee) has been resting for much of the preseason and training camp. That remains true, but he is expected to be ready for Week 1. Vinatieri remains one of the top kicking options in fantasy. He plays on an elite offense, and he is arguably the best kicker in NFL history. The Colts should give Vinatieri plenty of opportunities to score this season as long as he remains healthy.

From RotoBaller

Parris Campbell Aug 21 8:20pm ET

Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Parris Campbell (hamstring) is still being held out of practice after he suffered a setback last week in his recovery from the injury. The third-round pick can bring an exciting and explosive dynamic to this offense. The longer he's on the sideline though makes it more difficult for him to build chemistry with quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Jacoby Brissett. His stock continues to fall with every day that he misses practice.

From RotoBaller

Geno Smith Aug 21 8:13pm ET

Seattle Seahawks QB Geno Smith (knee) will play in the preseason game Saturday, Aug. 24, and is expected to receive significant playing time.

From TheHuddle

Paxton Lynch Aug 21 8:03pm ET

Seattle Seahawks QB Paxton Lynch (head) will not play in the preseason game Saturday, Aug. 24.

From TheHuddle

Trey Quinn Aug 21 7:40pm ET

Washington Redskins wide receiver Trey Quinn (thumb) will not play in the preseason game on Thursday against the Falcons, while wide receiver Paul Richardson (quadriceps) will "probably not" play either. Richardson played in just seven games and caught 20 passes for 262 yards and two touchdowns in his first year in D.C. He continues to be bothered by injuries and can be left alone in standard-sized leagues. Quinn, 23, had nine catches in three games in his rookie season. He is slightly more attractive in the slot in PPR leagues with quarterback Case Keenum likely to be the starter, but Quinn is no more than a late-round deep sleeper.

From RotoBaller

Damon Harrison Aug 21 7:40pm ET

The Detroit Lions agreed to a one-year, $11 million extension with defensive tackle Damon Harrison on Wednesday. Snacks Harrison won't do much in the sack column -- he has just nine total sacks in his six years in the league -- but he's most known for being an elite run clogger up the middle with his size (6-foot-3, 353 pounds). The Lions run defense was much improved after they acquired Harrison from the Giants at midseason last year.

From RotoBaller

Damon Harrison Aug 21 7:33pm ET

Detroit Lions DT Damon Harrison signed a one-year contract extension with the Lions Wednesday, Aug. 21, worth $11 million, according to a source.

From TheHuddle