Mon Jul 27 11:13am ET
By JEFF PAUR
Sr Fantasy Writer
Gronk joins Brady in Tampa
This is the seventh preview in a series of training camp previews. We will continue to release the previews throughout the week. The previews give you a quick look at each team, going over position battles and injuries to watch in camp. The season is right around the corner.
The Falcons will look to get things going in the right direction again this year after a few disappointing seasons. Atlanta made a big change at running back, getting Todd Gurley. He should be the player to watch this camp. Can he regain the form of past years and provide a big lift to the Falcons rushing attack? We’ll get an idea, starting in camp at the Atlanta Falcons Training Facility in Flowery Branch, Georgia.
Position battle: Todd Gurley is the clear lead back for the Falcons, but his backup is up in the air. Brian Hill and Ito Smith are the top candidates to be the No. 2 back, but Qadree Ollison should also be in the mix. This job is wide open. And the winner has some fantasy value because Gurley has some injury concerns.
Injury watch: Ito Smith missed much of last year because of a neck injury. He is making his way back from the injury but might not be 100 percent recovered by the start of camp. Smith is battling for the top backup job, so he will need to get up to health in a hurry if he hopes to win that job. Nothing is certain with Smith right now.
The Saints have very high expectations this year, looking to make another run at the Super Bowl. And time might be running out for the Saints because Drew Brees is nearing retirement. This might be the last chance the Saints have to win another title with Brees at the helm. The Saints hold training camp at the New Orleans Saints Training Facility in Metairie, Louisiana.
Position battle: Tre’Quan Smith has not lived up to expectations to date, so he won’t be handed the No. 3 receiver spot. He will have to earn it. And he has some competition in Deonte Harris and Krishawn Hogan. Smith is going to need to up his game and show more consistency on the field if he hopes to hold off Harris and Hogan for the slot receiver spot.
Injury watch: Drew Brees missed five games last year because of a thumb injury. He is 41 years old and hasn’t played a full season in two years. You have to wonder if he can hold up at this stage of his career. He is not battling an injury right now, but you’ll want to monitor his health in camp to make sure he doesn’t get dinged, giving him an injury going into the season.
Carolina has a new quarterback for the first time in several seasons. Teddy Bridgewater takes over for the Panthers, replacing Cam Newton. Plus, the team has a new head coach (Matt Rhule) for the first time in a long time. These two big changes should be the focus of training camp for the team, seeing how the key pieces adjust to their new surroundings. Carolina will hold training camp this year at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Position battle: The Panthers offensive side of the ball is pretty sorted out when it comes to starters. There isn’t much debate. The one spot to watch is the top backup quarterback spot. Will Grier and P.J. Walker are the candidates for the job. Walker was arguably the top player in the XFL, turning a lot of heads with his great play. He gets a shot to make an NFL roster. Don’t discount Walker to win the backup job for the Panthers.
Injury watch: Graham Gano missed all of last season because of a knee injury. He is making good progress in his rehab and should be near full strength for the start of camp. Gano will compete with Joey Slye for the kicking duties in Carolina. Gano will need to prove he is healthy and over his injury if he hopes to start this season.
The Bucs made quite the splash this offseason, adding Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski to their team. Tampa might be the most watched team this training camp, seeing how Brady adjusts to his new team. There are going to be a lot of eyes on this team to see if Brady can lead his new squad to a Super Bowl title. Brady and teammates train at One Buccaneer Place in Tampa, Florida.
Position battle: The Bucs have a real battle on their hands for the starting running back spot. Ronald Jones and rookie Ke’Shawn Vaughn will battle it out for the right to start for the Bucs. This is a wide open competition. This might come down to the back that blocks the best. Tampa will need to keep Tom Brady upright, so the back that can pass protect best probably has the best chance to start.
Injury watch: The Bucs were able to get Rob Gronkowski out of retirement. He should be a big part of the offense, but health is always a concern for Gronk. He has not played a full season since 2011. Gronk has missed 13 games his last three seasons in the NFL. The year off should have done him some good in getting back to full strength, but you never know with Gronk. He has taken a lot of punishment throughout his career.
Jeff Paur is a two-time finalist for FSWA Fantasy Football Writer of the Year and won the FSWA award for Best Fantasy Football Article on the Web in 2011. He also was the most accurate expert in 2012, winning the FSTA Fantasy Football Accuracy Award. If you have any questions for Jeff, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Jeff on Twitter @jeffpaur.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are retaining defensive coordinator Keith Butler for at least one more season, according to a source. The 64-year-old has been with the team since 2003 and in his role as the defensive coordinator since 2015. Pittsburgh's defense was a top-five unit in 2020, finishing first in total QBR (55.9) and sacks (56). However, they began to fall apart in the final month of the season. They allowed 111.4 rushing yards per game and 4.31 yards per carry after being the best run defense in the first half of the year. They ranked third in the NFL in passing yards per game (194.4) and yards per attempt (5.91). Losing linebackers Devin Bush and Bud Dupree to injuries during the season was a big reason why Pittsburgh's defense wasn't as strong to close out the year. Despite the disappointing finish, this unit should be a top target for fantasy managers late in drafts in 2021.
Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said on Wednesday that he's "not apologizing" for quarterback Lamar Jackson's style of play or the team's run-first approach on offense. Baltimore scored just three points in the Divisional Round loss to the Bills, and offensive coordinator Greg Roman received criticism for what looked like a simplistic passing attack. The Ravens finished last in the NFL in passing for the first time since 2003. Harbaugh points out that they finished seventh in scoring in 2020, averaging 29.3 points per game. While Baltimore doesn't air the football out like other teams, they've also led the league in rushing each of the last two years, and Jackson has been a big part of that. Despite his limitations as a passer, Jackson remains a high-end QB1 for fantasy managers entering the 2021 season. Running back J.K. Dobbins will only see his stock rise as well in one of the NFL's most run-heavy offenses heading into his second season.
The Buffalo Bills Defense has improved dramatically since their Week 11 bye, allowing only 17.1 points per game, fewer than 340 total yards per game and just a 35.1 third-down conversion rate since Week 12. Buffalo's D held the Baltimore Ravens to just three points and 340 total yards in the their win in the Divisional Round last weekend. The Bills defense made a point to limit big plays in their Week 6 loss to the Chiefs. They held wide receiver Tyreek Hill to three catches for 20 yards and tight end Travis Kelce to five catches for 65 yards and two touchdowns. KC carried the ball 46 times for 245 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Buffalo will have their hands full again and will probably be avoided in most DFS formats this weekend, making them mostly a contrarian play if Patrick Mahomes (concussion) is active.
Former Washington Football Team quarterback Dwayne Haskins has a visit with the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday, according to sources. Haskins could represent potential quarterback depth and upside. The free agent and former first-round pick also had a recent visit with the Carolina Panthers after being cut by Washington after their Week 16 loss. Although Ben Roethlisberger is expected to return for another season in 2021 following a disappointing end to their season, the Steelers could use more depth behind Big Ben and Mason Rudolph, with Joshua Dobbs being the other signal-caller currently on the roster. The 23-year-old Haskins has struggled mightily in his two seasons in the NFL, and he hasn't helped himself with some off-field issues. He's hoping to rehabilitate his image and eventually get another shot with a new organization.
Miami Dolphins WRs Albert Wilson, Jakeem Grant and Allen Hurns are all potential cap casualties, in the opinion of The Miami Herald's Barry Jackson.
New Orleans Saints QB Drew Brees dealt with more injuries than were previously known as, according to a post from his wife on Instagram, the veteran played with a torn rotator cuff and a torn fascia in his foot. Those are in addition to the 11 broken ribs and collapsed lung that were previously reported. Brees is expected to retire during the offseason, though he has not made that official, yet.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are likely to let WR JuJu Smith-Schuster 'walk' in free agency, in the opinion of ESPN's Brooke Pryor, who notes the team's cap issues and presence of WRs Chase Claypool, Diontae Johnson and James Washington on the roster.
Chicago Bears WR Anthony Miller was warned not to get involved with New Orleans Saints CB Chauncey Gardner-Johnson ahead of the team's Wild Card matchup but ended up getting ejected from the game, which team chairman George McCaskey had a 'problem' with. That's 'bad news' for Miller's future with the team, according to the Chicago Sun-Times' Patrick Finley, who noted that Miller has just one year left on his contract.
Former Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone agreed to become the new offensive line coach at the University of Alabama on Wednesday, Jan. 20.
Seattle Seahawks S Jamal Adams has posted 78 quarterback pressures since the start of the 2017 season - 32 more than any other defensive back over that span - according to Pro Football Focus.
Arizona Cardinals S Budda Baker has posted 46 quarterback pressures since the start of the 2017 season - the second-highest total of any defensive back over that span - according to Pro Football Focus.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers CB Carlton Davis (37) and Green Bay Packers CB Jaire Alexander (30) rank first and second, respectively, in the league in most forced incompletions since the start of the 2019 season, according to Pro Football Focus.
Free-agent CB Tramon Williams (Ravens) worked out for the Green Bay Packers Wednesday, Jan. 20, and is expected to sign to either the practice squad or the 53-man roster.
Cleveland Browns DT Larry Ogunjobi said he'll assess his options in free agency as it's unknown if he'll return to the Browns. 'When I go into training this offseason, just kind of figure out what fits best for me and then obviously when you get into March, you figure out where the team wants you as, what they see you as and what role they want you to play here or somewhere else,' Ogunjobi said Wednesday, Jan. 20.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Ronald Jones II (quadriceps) and wide receivers Mike Evans (knee) and Chris Godwin (quadriceps) were all limited participants during Wednesday's practice. Jones was able to practice in a limited fashion last week before ultimately suiting up against the Saints, while Evans' and Godwin's reps are being managed as precautions. Jones has a good matchup against Green Bay's front, though he and Leonard Fournette are trending towards a timeshare after head coach Bruce Arians described them as a "1-2 punch." Meanwhile, Evans will likely tango with star corner Jaire Alexander on the outside, as tough a matchup as any. Godwin is due for a rebound performance after dropping a surefire touchdown last week and could see more targets if Evans struggles and Antonio Brown (knee) is banged up.
Baltimore Ravens QB Lamar Jackson is wanted on a long-term contract, according to head coach John Harbaugh Wednesday, Jan. 20. 'Absolutely, we want Lamar to sign a long-term deal and be with us,' Harbaugh said. 'I'm totally certain that's going to happen. When it happens, that's the details.'
Fantasy Spin: Harbaugh also said they aren't going to adjust the offense to be more pass-heavy. So long as Jackson is healthy, he'll be a top fantasy QB for the foreseeable future due to his added production on the ground.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers RB Ronald Jones (quadriceps) said Wednesday, Jan. 20, he already feels better than last week and he's all good for the NFC Championship against the Green Bay Packers.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Antonio Brown (knee) was listed as a non-participant for Wednesday's practice. Brown sustained the knee injury during the divisional-round win over the Saints, with Tampa Bay officially listing him as day-to-day. The veteran wideout will look to ramp up his activity during Thursday and Friday's sessions to give him a chance at suiting up against Green Bay in the NFC title game. Fellow wideouts Scotty Miller and Tyler Johnson- who both made big plays in the victory over New Orleans- would be in line to receive more targets if Brown isn't healthy enough to play.
Philadelphia Eagles DB Nickell Robey-Coleman was removed from the Reserve/COVID-19 list Wednesday, Jan. 20.