Wed Jun 16 6:27pm ET
By DAVE CAMPBELL
AP Pro Football Writer
Minnesota Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter runs through a drill during NFL football minicamp practice Wednesday, June 16, 2021, in Eagan, Minn. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
EAGAN, Minn. (AP) Neck injuries are no joke for an NFL player, and Danielle Hunter's was serious enough to sideline him for the entire 2020 season.
Wincing while the Minnesota Vikings struggled badly without their two-time Pro Bowl defensive end, who became the youngest player in league history to reach 50 career sacks, Hunter developed a deeper appreciation for his place in the game - and for sports medicine.
''I'm just very thankful I'm able to come back from whatever has happened and being able to have a second opportunity going back onto the field and thankful for all these kids that are in school. Just because of them, it's the reason why I'm here right now,'' Hunter said, later explaining that he was referring to people entering the fields of sports medicine.
The opposite of an attention seeker whose soft-spoken demeanor has long contrasted with his imposing stature on the field, Hunter predictably declined to divulge the nature or cause of his injury while addressing reporters Wednesday for the first time in 14 months.
He was hurt at the beginning of training camp last year, a condition initially believed to be minor enough that coach Mike Zimmer vaguely described it as a ''tweak,'' but by midseason he was recommended for surgery.
Hunter praised the support and education from head athletic trainer Eric Sugarman and his staff, as well as the uplifting presence of family members while he entrenched in the often-lonely process of rehabilitation. Hunter spoke weekly to defensive line coach Andre Patterson, too, a strong connection that undoubtedly influenced his decision to accept a renegotiated contract and report for minicamp this week after skipping the earlier spring sessions.
''We were trying everything that we could possibly try for me to get back to the field the correct way, but it just ended up being the outcome that it had to be,'' Hunter said.
NFL Network reported last year that Hunter would seek a trade if the Vikings didn't make him the highest-paid defensive player in the league. That hasn't happened, at least not yet. The bridge toward extending Hunter's time in Minnesota was built this week in the form of a rework of the deal he signed in 2018, converting some of his 2021 salary into a signing bonus for cap relief for the Vikings. In turn, they added an $18 million roster bonus, according to NFL Network, which will kick in next March - unless he's either given a new contract or released to become a free agent.
As for his absence from the practices prior to this week, Hunter sidestepped that question, too.
''The best thing at that time was for me to get myself back in the best shape and in the best healthy shape as possible. With the media, I don't think I've ever discussed anything business-wise, so I'll leave it at that. I'm happy to be back, and I'm ready to go,'' the 26-year-old Hunter said.
He said he's 100% recovered from the injury, but the only way he can get back in actual game shape, of course, is to play in a game. That hasn't happened in 17 months.
''We weren't sure that he was healthy until he came in and did his physical. He looks fantastic, and he should be ready to go. All the other stuff, the money part and the contract and all that, it's out of my paygrade,'' coach Mike Zimmer said.
Hunter and linebacker Anthony Barr, who also missed most of the 2020 season injury, are almost like free agent additions this year. Their return plus the actual newcomers - defensive tackles Michael Pierce, Dalvin Tomlinson and Sheldon Richardson, cornerbacks Patrick Peterson, Bashaud Breeland and Mackensie Alexander and safety Xavier Woods - has given the Vikings a brighter outlook on a defense that fell apart last season.
''I was pretty excited about what I saw when I came back. I think we're pretty stacked,'' Hunter said.
Said Richardson, who was with the Vikings in 2018, with a smile: ''I always seem to be playing with some kind of freak-of-nature defensive end.''
With the return of Hunter and the reacquisition of Richardson this week, the defensive line suddenly looks a lot more like the formidable front fours the Vikings fielded in the last decade than the depleted group of 2020.
Fitting with the primary minicamp storyline, former defensive tackle Kevin Williams was announced Wednesday as the latest entrant in the Vikings Ring of Honor.
The five-time All-Pro pick, who was the ninth overall selection in the 2003 draft, played 11 of 13 seasons in the league for Minnesota. He missed only three games to injury. Now residing full-time in his native Arkansas, Williams was invited to Vikings headquarters on the premise of producing some gameday promotional content and surprised by owners Zygi Wilf and Mark Wilf with the news.
''I'm still kind of in a fairy tale now, man,'' Williams said after watching practice and addressing the players on the field afterward.
Williams, whose 60 sacks rank third all-time among Vikings defensive tackles behind Pro Football Hall of Fame members John Randle and Alan Page, is tied for the franchise record with four career defensive touchdowns. His addition will bring the Vikings Ring of Honor to 26 members.
Free-agent running back Alfred Morris re-signed with the New York Giants on Monday. The 32-year-old had modest success last season and had averaged 4.2 yards per carry. He logged 55 carries for 238 rushing yards and one touchdown over nine games for the Giants in 2020. Morris will compete for a spot on the Giants running back depth chart behind Saquon Barkley and Devontae Booker. The veteran RB is a depth signing and won't have much fantasy value unless Barkley and Booker miss time. Fantasy managers can avoid Morris in upcoming drafts.
Las Vegas Raiders RB Jalen Richard (illness) is expected to come off the COVID-19 list and return to practice Monday, Aug. 2.
Minnesota Vikings QBs Kirk Cousins, Nate Stanley and Kellen Mond were placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list Sunday, Aug. 1.
Dallas Cowboys WR Amari Cooper (ankle) came into training camp in great shape, according to head coach Mike McCarthy. 'Everything's been extremely positive from the strength staff,' McCarthy said. 'His weight is as low as it's been since I've worked with him, so he looks great.'
Fantasy Spin: Cooper is expected to be recovered from an ankle injury in time for the start of the season, and with Dak Prescott back under center, he should be in line for another steady campaign as a main target in a potent pass attack. Consider Cooper a WR2.
Las Vegas Raiders tight end Foster Moreau had an impressive rookie campaign, finishing his inaugural season with five touchdowns. However, injuries plagued the 24-year-old in 2020, and he ended with just seven catches for 140 yards and two touchdowns. Nonetheless, head coach John Gruden remains excited about the duo of Moreau and Darren Waller in two tight end formations, so it appears as if he will get some attention from signal-caller Derek Carr. Although Waller is still listed above Moreau on the depth chart, it seems as if there could be plenty of room for him to flourish as well heading toward the new year. As a result, managers looking to fill the void at the position in the later rounds of fantasy drafts should keep him in mind.
Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Amari Cooper (ankle) is still working his way back from ankle surgery in January. Although Cooper currently sits on the physically unable to perform list, head coach Mike McCarthy recently touted the veteran's weight loss during the offseason. While his fantasy outlook is rocky based on his health ailments and competition with Michael Gallup and CeeDee Lamb for looks from Dak Prescott, the upside is certainly there, so he is worth the risk for those looking for a practical option at the position.
Cincinnati Bengals left tackle Jonah Williams reportedly bulked up during the offseason. Currently weighing in at around 315 pounds, a 10-pound increase from last season, the 23-year-old hopes the added bulk will make him better equipped to handle opposing defenders. With Joe Burrow and Joe Mixon both suffering season-ending injuries during the 2020-21 campaign, Cincy's offensive unit will undoubtedly benefit from Williams' increase in strength and size.
Cincinnati Bengals running back Joe Mixon has been impressive during training camp. After a foot injury limited him to just six games during the 2020-21 campaign, the former Sooner is getting plenty of attention based on his physical appearance. With an improved offensive line, the return of Frank Pollack, and the departure of Giovani Bernard, Mixon has first-round upside, so fantasy managers should be prepared to jump on him early in upcoming fantasy drafts. Nonetheless, as long as the 24-year-old remains healthy, the potential is there for him to finish as a top-10 back this season, possibly higher.
Miami Dolphins tight end Mike Gesicki (illness) was placed on the COVID-19 injured list on Sunday. Gesicki, along with co-offensive coordinator George Godsey, tested positive for the Coronavirus. Although they will likely be ready to go when the season begins in September, it's still unsettling for fantasy managers, primarily if the 25-year-old suffers any long-term effects of the virus. Gesicki has been one of the top producers at the position by compiling at least five touchdowns in each of his last two seasons.
Free-agent TE Tommy Stevens (Panthers) and WR Andy Jones (49ers) are scheduled to work out for the New York Giants.
Miami Dolphins TE Mike Gesicki was placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list Sunday, Aug. 1.
Fantasy Spin: Gesicki likely will miss a few practices but will be fine for the regular season. He is coming off a productive 2020 season and should be a No. 1 tight end in most fantasy leagues.
Miami Dolphins TE Cethan Carter and TE Adam Shaheen were placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list Sunday, Aug. 1.
Free-agent QB Jake Rudock (Dolphins) has decided to retire from professional football, according to sources.
Free-agent CB Prince Amukamara (Cardinals) and CB KeiVarae Russell (Packers) are expected to sign with the New Orleans Saints in the near future. Both players worked out for the team Sunday, Aug. 1.
Seattle Seahawks QB Danny Etling was waived Sunday, Aug. 1.
Atlanta Falcons running back Qadree Ollison took first-team reps on Sunday, and he appears to be the leader in the race to back up Mike Davis. Ollison is competing with Javian Hawkins and Cordarrelle Patterson for the RB2 role in Atlanta, and right now he "seems like the early favorite for RB2." Ollison had a productive career at Pittsburgh and he was selected in the fifth round of the 2019 NFL draft. In limited NFL action, Ollison has only averaged 2.3 yards per carry, but he did score four touchdowns on just 23 touches in 2019, so he could be involved near the goal-line in 2021. Ollison is a fringe late-round handcuff in fantasy leagues this season.
Arizona Cardinals veteran free agent wide receiver addition A.J. Green is reportedly enjoying a resurgence early in training camp. Per Peter Schrager of NFL Network and Fox Sports, Green "looks incredible out there at Cardinals practice." This news is especially surprising considering that Green looked completely washed up with the Bengals in 2020. Green's pathetic 5.0 yards per target mark ranked 107th among all wideouts last season. It's possible that Green was mailing it in last season, however, as he made it known that he wanted out of Cincinnati. Green figures to be competing with Rondale Moore and Christian Kirk for secondary targets in the offense, so building early chemistry with Kyler Murray is key. If Green continues generating positive buzz later into camp he could make for an intriguing late-round dart throw, but there are higher upside options worth drafting over him right now.
Arizona Cardinals rookie wide receiver Rondale Moore is making an excellent impression in his first training camp. Darren Urban had this to say about Moore's performance "It sure looks like Rondale Moore is going to be a player. He hasn't been perfect but he shows up again and again." Urban's take here meshes with what others around the team have been saying as well. Moore, who ran a 4.37-second 40-yard-dash, has elite speed and quickness to go along with major opportunity in the Arizona offense. Like Moore, the other secondary wideouts on the team are yet to prove that they deserve to be the second option behind superstar WR DeAndre Hopkins. Moore's elite athleticism could translate to plenty of production out of the slot in year one if he can mesh with Kyler Murray. Moore's upside makes him one of the best late-round selections and his ADP should continue to rise as camp progresses.
Buffalo Bills running back Matt Breida is making noise early in training camp. Per Sal Capaccio, Brieda "has really shown off his speed and quickness through the first four days... he could wind up being more of a factor in the offense than many anticipated when they signed him as a free agent in March." The Bills didn't get much production out of Zach Moss or Devin Singletary in 2020, so Breida certainly could make his mark. Breida has plenty of speed and he's primarily been a change of pace back at the NFL level, averaging a robust 4.9 yards per carry for his career. Even if Breida does take over the backfield the upside isn't huge due to Buffalo's heavy pass rate and Josh Allen's propensity for scoring rushing touchdowns near the goal-line. Breida is only worth drafting in the late rounds of deeper league drafts at this time.
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Carson Wentz is choosing rest and rehab over surgery at this point in time, and he's still hoping to be under center in week one. Per Ian Rapoport, "If all goes well, Week 1 is in play. If it doesn't improve, the answer may be surgery." It sounds like there is still plenty of uncertainty regarding Wentz's foot injury, but it is positive that rest is even an option at this point. Reunited with Frank Reich, Wentz is looking to bounce back after a rough 2020 season in Philadelphia. Wentz projects as a QB2 if he's healthy enough to play. Monitoring news on how Wentz heals over the next few days will be important, and all Colts fantasy options could see their value dip if Wentz ends up missing any extended amount of time.