Chiefs holding unique virtual competition for punting job

Wed May 20 2:46pm ET
By DAVE SKRETTA
AP Sports Writer

In this Feb. 2, 2020, file photo, Kansas City Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt, right, hands the trophy to head coach Andy Reid after the chiefs defeated the San Francisco 49ers in the NFL Super Bowl 54 football game in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)


LEAWOOD, Kan. (AP) It's a good thing an NFL kicking operation requires no more than three players.

There's the long snapper, tasked with delivering the ball. The kicker, who is expected to send it through the uprights. And the punter, who for many teams doubles as the holder on field goal and extra-point attempts.

The reason this is important, at least for the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs, is that for the first time in 15 years they are trying to decide on a new punter. Dustin Colquitt held down the job with Pro Bowl efficiency for as long as some of the current Chiefs have been playing football. But his increasing age and the franchise's dwindling coffers forced the club to make the difficult business decision to let him go this offseason.

With teams barred from holding in-person workouts because of COVID-19, the Chiefs have been unable to bring in an endless number of potential replacements. Instead, they signed Tyler Newsome and undrafted rookie Tommy Townsend, and those two have been working out privately with kicker Harrison Butker and long snapper James Winchester.

Well below the gathering limits of 10 people that have been in place in Kansas and Missouri.

''We're kind of fortunate,'' Chiefs special teams coach Dave Toub said, ''because those guys can get together and kick and work on the operation. They can do that on our own. We can work on our skill set, whereas to play football you need 22 guys out there. You can't sit down face to face, but they video everything they do and send it to me and we talk.''

Nobody knows when teams will be allowed back at their facilities for good. Just this week, players rehabbing from injuries and certain staff were finally allowed back, but no coaches or healthy players. So that means what would typically be low-stress, good-natured workouts on a high school practice field for Newsome and Townsend have taken on extra importance.

What they show off on video could determine who has the leg up - pun intended - when training camp finally begins.

''There is nobody out in front right now. I like them both,'' Toub said. ''They've both got really strong legs, really powerful legs. They consistently hit over 5.0 (seconds) hang times, which is impressive. Tommy is a little more clean in his technique as far as consistency, whereas Tyler is a little more erratic. But the results are the same. They both bomb the ball.''

That's a good thing for the Chiefs as they attempt to replace a franchise icon.

Colquitt appeared in a record 238 games for Kansas City, easily besting the previous mark by Nick Lowery. He also set franchise records for punts, punt yardage and career-long kick with an 81-yard boot. When he was released, he was among the top 10 active players in appearances and had the eighth-most punt yardage in NFL history.

Even more impressive, he was the only man among the top 20 in total punts to have played with just one team.

''They've been with Dustin for a really long time. He's a guy that has done everything the right way,'' Townsend said. ''The biggest thing for me is just trying to make a name for myself and become my own person.''

Townsend's familiarity with Colquitt goes back to college; he began his career at Tennessee, where Colquitt holds a number of records, before transferring to Florida. As a Gator, he followed in the footsteps of his brother, Johnny, who was drafted by the Raiders a couple of years ago and has spent time in camp with the Giants.

Toub said the younger Townsend was the Chiefs' highest-rated punter in this year's draft class, even though two others - Texas A&M's Braden Mann and Syracuse's Sterling Hofrichter - where chosen in the later rounds.

Newsome punted at Notre Dame before spending last offseason with the Chargers.

''We just finished the virtual rookie minicamp and we went over schemes and stuff like that, so I got a little taste for what we're doing in Kansas City,'' Townsend said, ''and I've gotten a chance to watch all the film from the past few seasons. That's the stuff I've been working for, get the feeling for the schemes we are using here in Kansas City.''

That way, he'll be ready when the competition for the starting job finally returns to the Chiefs' own practice facility.

''Harrison and James have taken the leadership role. They know how important that part of it is,'' Toub said. ''They've been up here on their own, doing their own thing, and videoing it. And we feel good about both guys we have, Tommy and Tyler.''

Player Notes
Josh Allen May 31 9:53pm ET

Buffalo Bills QB Josh Allen has 17 rushing touchdowns in 27 career starts. Only free-agent QB Cam Newton (Panthers) has had more rushing touchdowns in his first 27 starts.

Fantasy Spin: Despite below average accuracy, Newton has been a high-end fantasy quarterback for much of his career because of his rushing stats. Allen may never reach Newton's level, but his running ability can keep him in the QB1 mix.

From TheHuddle

Robert Woods May 31 8:03pm ET

Los Angeles Rams WR Robert Woods registered 613 yards after the catch in 2019 - the third-highest total in the league.

From TheHuddle

John Ross May 31 8:03pm ET

Cincinnati Bengals WR John Ross averaged 7.3 yards after the catch in 2019 - tied for the fourth-highest average in the league among players who amassed 50 targets last season.

From TheHuddle

Le'Veon Bell May 31 7:13pm ET

New York Jets RB Le'Veon Bell has enjoyed a target share of between 17 and 18 percent in four of his last five seasons, with the only exception coming in 2015 (15 percent). His 17.3 percent share in 2019 was the second-highest mark of his career.

From TheHuddle

George Kittle May 31 7:13pm ET

San Francisco 49ers TE George Kittle has compiled two of the three best seasons for a tight end in terms of producing yards after the catch since at least 2015 over the last two years. His 871 receiving yards after the catch in 2018 are the most by any player over the last five seasons (and 208 more yards than second-place Travis Kelce compiled in 2016), while his 623 receiving yards after the catch in 2019 led all tight ends and trailed only Chris Godwin (629) among all players last season.

From TheHuddle

Kareem Hunt May 31 6:43pm ET

Cleveland Browns RB Kareem Hunt ranked sixth among running backs with 44 targets from Week 10 until the end of the 2019 regular season. Additionally, Hunt's 49 slot snaps also ranked sixth among running backs in the league for the year despite playing only eight games.

From TheHuddle

Calvin Ridley May 31 5:33pm ET

Atlanta Falcons WR Calvin Ridley was on track for 66 catches for 853 yards and nine touchdowns on 101 targets prior to the Falcons trading Mohamed Sanu to the New England Patriots following a Week 7 loss. Over his final six games and before succumbing to an abdomen injury that ended his season prior to Week 15, Ridley's 16-game pace over the final six contests was 91 receptions for 1,315 yards and eight touchdowns on 131 targets.

Fantasy Spin: Six games is a relatively small sample, but it provides a bit of rationale to those that believe Ridley could be this year's Chris Godwin. The third-year pro finds himself in a wonderful environment to make it happen, as Julio Jones will continue to command the most respect from defensive coordinators and Atlanta's defense may struggle at times yet again. As such, Ridley should be viewed as a high-end WR2 with WR1 upside.

From TheHuddle

Jake Butt May 31 3:53pm ET

Denver Broncos TEs Albert Okwuegbunam, Austin Fort and Jake Butt are expected to be competing for two roster spots during training camp. Okwuegbunam is considered a favorite for one of the spots.

From TheHuddle

Melvin Gordon May 31 3:10pm ET

Denver Broncos running back Melvin Gordon III had 6,000-plus scrimmage yards and two Pro Bowl selections in five seasons with the Chargers, but he thinks the Broncos running scheme is better suited to his strengths as an explosive, downhill runner. Gordon had 2,587 rushing yards and 29 touchdowns in his final year in college in a zone-based offense similar. He had his moments as a perimeter runner with the Bolts, but his straight-line running style is better suited in an offense with more downhill runs. Denver has a zone-based system that's expected to feature more downhill plays under offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur. The Broncos plan on using Gordon as their lead back despite Phillip Lindsay's presence, and in an offense better suited to his strengths as a runner, Gordon could be more efficient and give fantasy owners RB1 upside at an RB2 cost.

From RotoBaller

Lamar Jackson May 31 3:03pm ET

Baltimore Ravens QB Lamar Jackson hopefully will try more downfield throws this upcoming season when the team faces one-on-one coverage, according to head coach John Harbaugh. 'Those corners are going to be one-on-one and those safeties are going to be one-on-one against receivers, especially on downfield throws, and we got to make them pay for it,' Harbaugh said. 'I really do believe that's the next step for this offense from an execution standpoint. I really do believe Lamar is going to take the next step and our receivers are going to take the next step.'

Fantasy Spin: Jackson is one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL and would be an even more valuable fantasy option if he is able to connect on more downfield throws. Hs should be one of the first quarterbacks selected in all drafts and is a must-start option in fantasy leagues.

From TheHuddle

Baker Mayfield May 31 2:50pm ET

NFL.com's Bucky Brooks thinks that Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield is primed for the best season of his career in new head coach Kevin Stefanski's offense. Cleveland's 12-personnel packages featuring tight ends Austin Hooper and David Njoku, along with receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, and running back Nick Chubb, will be hard to stop. Mayfield averaged 9.0 yards per attempt (third-most in the NFL) in 12-personnel setups last year, and that formation is Stefanski's preference. Mayfield was also much better on play-action passes last year, so the Browns should look to feature those types of plays to take the pressure off the third-year passer. Cleveland's rebuilt offensive line should also give Mayfield better protection in 2020. All of this should add up to Mayfield being much more productive under Stefanski, making him a fine QB2 target with QB1 upside after his disappointing 2019 campaign.

From RotoBaller

Dak Prescott May 31 2:10pm ET

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott has not yet signed the franchise tender as he seeks a long-term deal from the team. History suggests the sides will come together before the July 15 deadline or Prescott may not be with Dallas beyond this season. Since the franchise tag was introduced in 1993, only eight quarterbacks have been tagged and all but two, Drew Brees in 2005 and Kirk Cousins in 2018, got extensions prior to the season. Prescott is coming off the best season of his four-year career throwing for 4,902 yards and 30 touchdowns. He enters fantasy draft season as a top-three option at quarterback in fantasy.

From RotoBaller

Clay Matthews May 31 1:33pm ET

Free-agent LB Clay Matthews (Rams) is not receiving interest from the Cleveland Browns at this point.

From TheHuddle

Kareem Hunt May 31 1:13pm ET

Cleveland Browns RBs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt probably will be on the field at the same time on occasion this upcoming season, in the opinion of The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Mary Kay Cabot.

Fantasy Spin: Chubb will continue to receive most of the work at running back this upcoming season, but Hunt was a solid receiver out of the backfield in 2019. Chubb should be a No. 1 running back in fantasy leagues, while Hunt can be a flex option in most leagues and likely will be more valuable in point-per-reception leagues.

From TheHuddle

Jadeveon Clowney May 31 1:03pm ET

Free-agent DE Jadeveon Clowney (Seahawks) is still receiving interest from the Cleveland Browns even though he has not accepted their contract offer at this point.

From TheHuddle

Stefon Diggs May 31 12:53pm ET

Buffalo Bills WR Stefon Diggs has only worked with QB Josh Allen during drills at the recent workouts in Florida.

Fantasy Spin: The team has not been able to hold offseason workouts, but Allen and Diggs have found a way to work on building their chemistry. Diggs likely will be the top option in the passing game this upcoming season and should be considered a No. 2 wide receiver in most fantasy leagues.

From TheHuddle

Olivier Vernon May 31 8:43am ET

The Cleveland Browns could release DE Olivier Vernon if the team signs free-agent DE Jadeveon Clowney, in the opinion of 710 ESPN Seattle's John Clayton. The Browns currently have Vernon and Myles Garrett at defensive end and also signed DE Adrian Clayborn earlier this offseason to a one-year, $3.75 million deal.

From TheHuddle

Willie Snead May 31 12:03am ET

Baltimore Ravens WR Devin Duvernay is expected to compete with WR Willie Snead for playing time in three-receiver sets.

From TheHuddle

Ezekiel Elliott May 30 11:43pm ET

Dallas Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott had 355 touches in 2019, making him the first running back since Ladainian Tomlinson in 2006 and 2007 to have back-to-back seasons with at least 350 touches.

Fantasy Spin: Even with the Cowboys finishing with the second-most passing yards in the league, Elliott still handled a huge workload. The volume alone should keep him firmly in the RB1 mix in 2020.

From TheHuddle

Tyler Lockett May 30 9:23pm ET

Seattle Seahawks WR Tyler Lockett's 11.23 yards per target and 18 receiving touchdowns over the past two seasons rank second in the NFL, and he has caught 77.2 percent of his targets in that stretch, the third-best mark.

From TheHuddle