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2018 NFL offseason – Quarterback Confidence Index rating for all 32 teams depth chart after the draft



Are you feeling any more confident about your team’s quarterback situation than you were three months ago?

Remember this before you answer: The question is about confidence. Not hope. Not optimism. Confidence. This is a great time on the NFL calendar for hope and optimism. Maybe your team signed a guy you like, or drafted one, or both. That doesn’t necessarily mean things are all fixed to the point of confidence. Draft picks take time to develop. Free-agent signings don’t always click in Year 1.

Fortunately for you, dear reader, we maintain a laser focus here with our periodic QB Confidence Index. You may not like where your team sits on our list, but before you get too angry, remember what we’re talking about here. Not hope, not even faith. Confidence.

Before we get to the list, our usual disclaimer that no one reads: This is not merely a ranking of starting quarterbacks. This is a ranking of teams based on how confident those teams are in their quarterback situation as a whole. That means it includes the reliability of the backup situation, the injury history (recent and otherwise) of the starter, the long-term plan at the position… lots of stuff other than just which starting QB is better. So try to remember that as you peruse, and thanks as always for doing so. Your attention does not go unappreciated.

Here’s the post-draft edition of the QB Confidence Index.

Click on the links below to go directly to your team:

ARI | ATL | BAL | BUF | CAR | CHI | CIN | CLE | DAL | DEN | DET | GB | HOU | IND | JAC | KC | LAC | LAR | MIA | MIN | NE | NO | NYG | NYJ | OAK | PHI | PIT | SF | SEA | TB | TEN | WAS

We kept them out of the top spot back in February because starter Carson Wentz is recovering from a torn ACL and there’s a good chance he’s not ready for Week 1. But as we’ll discuss in a second, the situation with the team that sat in this spot last time (the Patriots) has grown murkier. And if ever there were a team built to earn the top spot on a list like this, it’s a team that knows it has its franchise guy for the future and whose backup just won a Super Bowl MVP trophy. If it’s Nick Foles to start the season, the Eagles have plenty of confidence he can get it done.

Starter Aaron Rodgers is on his way back from an injury too, but there’s no indication that training camp or any part of the regular season is in jeopardy. The Packers soon will demonstrate their confidence in DeShone Kizer, who combined with Rodgers to start 24 games in the NFL last season. How many teams’ QB rooms can make a claim like that?



Tom Brady gives us a peek into his beach workout as the QB works on rushing drills in the sand while wearing a parachute.

Tom Brady turns 41 in August, hasn’t been to offseason workouts, seemed to at least dangle the possibility of retirement at one point this offseason and doesn’t seem to be on super-great terms with coach Bill Belichick. As long as Brady’s playing, he’s in the discussion for best QB in the league along with the guy we discussed at No. 2. But Brian Hoyer isn’t the most confidence-inspiring backup, given the loftiness of the Patriots’ goals, and seventh-round pick Danny Etling isn’t likely the long-term successor. Brady’s brilliance keeps the Patriots this high on the list, but a high level of uncertainty locks them out of the top spot for now.

Drew Brees is poised to set all-time career records for passing yards and completions at some point early in the 2018 season. After Sam Bradford broke his record for single-season completion percentage in 2016, Brees came right back and broke it again last year. He’s a slam-dunk Hall of Famer who, like Brady, shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. So even at age 39, he keeps the Saints at this lofty spot on this list. Tom Savage is the backup, and he’s started games in the NFL, but like Hoyer in New England he’d represent a significant drop-off should the starter get hurt.

This team is set for longer than the two teams in front of it because Russell Wilson is only 29. Had the Seahawks been a playoff team last year, Wilson — who led his team in rushing as well as passing — would have had a strong MVP case. He doesn’t miss games, which mitigates the otherwise troubling fact that Austin Davis is his backup. Seattle is a prime example of a team whose confidence in its starter is enough on its own to merit a top-five spot.

Matt Ryan was obviously due for a bit of a comedown off his 2016 MVP season. But he’s still reliably healthy and productive, and his second season with offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian should go better than his first did. Matt Schaub is the veteran backup who knows his role and the system perfectly, and the Falcons’ confidence in Ryan was made clear a couple of weeks ago by the record $100 million in guaranteed money in his new contract.

Matthew Stafford got his huge contract extension last offseason, and nothing’s changed here since then. Matt Cassel and Jake Rudock are the backups, but like the guys in front of him on this list, Stafford doesn’t miss games. He plays hurt, he loves the offensive system in which he plays, his receivers fit what the Lions are doing perfectly and they trust Stafford to get them the ball. If the Lions have problems, quarterback isn’t one of them. That’s the definition of confidence.

We get into this zone every time we do this where things start to sound the same. Throw the Falcons, Lions and Chargers into a hat and pick them out in any order you like. Philip Rivers is 36, but last year he posted his highest Total QBR since 2014 and his lowest interception total since 2009. He won’t be around forever, and Geno Smith and Cardale Jones don’t look like long-term success solutions. But Smith’s played in the league, Rivers doesn’t miss games and as long as he’s there the Chargers can be confident in what they have.

Yeah, $84 million in guarantees for Kirk Cousins tells you they’re confident he’s the missing piece. Underappreciated in Washington, Cousins has a chance to thrive with the receivers and run game the Vikings can put around him. Backup Trevor Siemian started 24 games the past two seasons for the Broncos, and while you may not have enjoyed watching them all, that’s a better backup option than a lot of teams have. And by the way, three months ago, new offensive coordinator John DeFillippo was the quarterbacks coach for a team that won the Super Bowl with Nick Foles.



Stephen A. Smith says Dak Prescott’s next contract should be high because the Cowboys have committed to him as their franchise QB.

There may be some external trepidation about Dak Prescott after a 2017 in which he understandably fell short of the high expectations his dazzling rookie season set. But I don’t detect much of that in Dallas, where the Cowboys believe Prescott is the guy for them. They’re going to be a run-heavy team, and the release of Dez Bryant and the retirement of Jason Witten took 220 targets away from the passing game. But if Tyron Smith is healthy and Ezekiel Elliott plays all 16 games, the Cowboys believe they have a team built to help Prescott thrive in Year 3. Cooper Rush and Mike White don’t inspire a ton of confidence in the backup situation.

Uh… yeah. What’s the latest on Ben Roethlisberger and Mason Rudolph? Are they best buddies now or what? Look, this situation is weird, is all. Roethlisberger is 36 and this is the first offseason in recent memory in which he didn’t indicate at least some inclination toward retirement. Then he flipped out when they drafted a quarterback in the third round. Big Ben got through last season without missing a game due to injury, which is unusual for him and encouraging for 2018. But long-term, who knows what happens here in terms of how long he plays, who the successor is, whether Rudolph or Landry Jones is the backup this year… lots of layers to this one.

New year, new offensive coordinator for Cam Newton, who gets to try the Norv Turner experience after blossoming under Mike Shula. Same old questions about Cam: Can he survive if he keeps running the way he does, taking those hits, etc? But he keeps on ticking, and while it doesn’t always look pretty in the passing game, the Panthers know what they have in Newton, who finds various ways to win games. Backup Taylor Heinicke is a guy Turner had in Minnesota a couple of years ago and knows how to operate the system.

Well, there’s little doubt about how confident the Giants are in Eli Manning. They spent the offseason making move after move designed to support their veteran QB, including using the No. 2 pick in the draft on a running back. If they’re right, and the 37-year-old Manning has three good years left, they could look very smart. If they’re wrong, and the decline Manning has shown the past two years continues, they could be looking for a replacement sooner rather than later. Fourth-round pick Kyle Lauletta is intriguing but flawed and isn’t likely to be in position to replace Manning if they have to do that soon. And 2017 third-rounder Davis Webb remains a complete mystery.

The contract extension Washington gave Alex Smith after acquiring him from the Chiefs shows more confidence than they were ever willing to show in Cousins. Smith is a reliable 34-year-old veteran who doesn’t turn the ball over and just had the best statistical season of his career. He may not register high on the excitement meter, but you can feel confident in what you have in him. Colt McCoy and Kevin Hogan as backups don’t do anything to push the ranking higher.

Derek Carr‘s numbers dropped across the board from his stellar 2016 season, so the Raiders changed … well, basically everything around him. New coaching staff, overhauled wide receiver corps, personnel changes on defense, an influx of 30-somethings all over the roster. Can Jon Gruden get Carr back to playing the way he did two years ago? If so, the confidence meter will spike back up in a hurry. EJ Manuel and Connor Cook are the backups, each with some modicum of NFL experience. But Carr is only 27, so the bulk of the confidence index in Oakland rests with him.

Marcus Mariota, like Carr, is another young quarterback who declined instead of moving forward in 2017. We give Tennessee the slightest edge over the next team on this list because of the playoff experience Mariota got last year. He needs to show he can stay healthy, and it would help the Titans’ position on this list if Mariota and Corey Davis found a way to click in 2018. Blaine Gabbert sits there as yet another backup who we know can step in and manage an NFL game if need be.

Add Jameis Winston to the list of dudes we thought would take a big leap forward in 2017 and didn’t. Winston was hurt, and when he came back (into a lost season) he played about as well as any quarterback in the league did down the stretch. Tampa Bay is surely confident they have their guy, and they kept the coaching staff intact around him even after a disappointing season for the team. Ryan Fitzpatrick returns for another year as the backup, and he’s one of many in the building who speak highly of Winston as a leader.

Here’s where we get into the distinction we made in the intro to this column. The teams that follow Cincinnati on this list surely feel more excited about the prospects of their QB situation than the Bengals do. But Andy Dalton is more proven as a starter than the guys who start for those teams, and the three years prior to 2017 saw him complete 64.9 percent of his passes. His 2017 decline is troubling, but a midseason offensive coordinator change is never easy. If he doesn’t bounce back, Cincinnati slides down this list and could find itself moving on from Dalton before long. AJ McCarron‘s departure also leaves the backup situation shaky, as it’s now in the hands of Matt Barkley or Jeff Driskel.

A year ago, Sean McVay and the Rams’ new coaching staff weren’t sure what they had in Jared Goff. They feel much more confident now, though obviously they gave Goff a lot of help last year and will work to help him advance more on his own in 2018 and beyond. The No. 1 overall pick from the 2016 draft at least looks like one at this point, and the Rams can hope that he continues to build on his successful 2017. Sean Mannion and Brandon Allen are the backups at this point.

No one was more dazzling in 2017 than Deshaun Watson while he was healthy. And the Texans believe he’ll be ready for training camp and the start of the season coming off his torn ACL. They are confident they have a special talent who can handle the NFL game. That confidence will skyrocket (as will Houston’s place on this list) if Watson can come back healthy and play even close to the way he did over the first half of 2017. Brandon Weeden, Joe Webb and Stephen Morris are the other QBs on the roster, and while Bill O’Brien has made the playoffs with a bunch of different dudes, obviously his hope is that things are finally settled for him at the position with Watson.

No team struggled more to figure out who to play at quarterback in 2017 than the Broncos did, which is why they tried to lure Cousins and ended up bringing in Case Keenum. A one-time backup who emerged as one of the top passers in the league in 2017, Keenum settles things down for Denver at the most important position and should be able to return the offense to some degree of respectability. If nothing else, this is the first time since Peyton Manning was there that the Broncos go into an offseason knowing who their quarterback is. Former first-round pick Paxton Lynch is still there, and they technically haven’t given up on him yet. But Keenum is the man for at least this year and next, and the Broncos feel good about it.

No team is more fired up about a relatively unproven QB than the Niners are about Jimmy Garoppolo. And hey, I get it. He’s literally never lost a game (7-0 in his career). Garoppolo is a bit like Watson in Houston, in that a continuation of the small-sample-size performance we saw last year would necessitate a big jump on this list the next time we do it. A spring and summer spent really digging into Kyle Shanahan’s offense will tell the tale, as will the way Jimmy G handles things when he inevitably does lose a game. But the contract extension screams confidence, and away they go by the Bay. C.J. Beathard, who was starting last year until the Jimmy G tornado swept into town, is in place as the backup and obviously knows the scheme.

Joe Flacco has completed an impressive 64.5 percent of his passes over the past three years, but he’s only averaging 244 yards per game and has a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 52:40 over that same time. Oh, and the Ravens just moved up to draft Lamar Jackson at the back end of the first round. Odds are, they spend this year designing an offense around Jackson’s skill set while developing him in a backup role and then move on from Flacco in 2019 or 2020. Flacco would have to play very well this year to get the Ravens to re-think that plan, and Jackson’s arrival doesn’t indicate much confidence at all in the QB situation as it stands in Baltimore.

The Jags gave Blake Bortles an extension early in the offseason, indicating they’d prefer to stick with him and what worked in 2017 than to go out and spend big on someone like Cousins. They didn’t draft a quarterback until the sixth round, and the backup as of now is Cody Kessler. The Jags are, for the moment, all-in on Bortles. The reason they’re down so low is that (a) the commitment isn’t an overly long-term one and (b) they don’t ask Bortles to do as much as other teams ask their quarterbacks to do. The Jags want to run and run and run some more, and while Bortles has played well in flashes he hasn’t shown the consistency you need to see to inspire confidence. And if he flops, there isn’t much behind him.

Yeah? You tell me. Is Andrew Luck, who hasn’t thrown a football in a year and a half, going to be ready to start the season? If he is, is he going to be confident enough in that shoulder to thrown the ball the way he used to throw it? If the answers to those questions are yes, then you’re right, the Colts need to be much higher on this list. But how can you, I, he or they really know those answers? Especially when they were all saying the same things this time last year and he missed the whole season? Jacoby Brissett was a surprisingly good backup, but the record indicates that plan didn’t REALLY work.

Mitchell Trubisky showed during his 2017 rookie season that he can handle the pressure of playing in the NFL. He didn’t show much else, mainly because the Bears didn’t ask him to do very much. But new coach Matt Nagy should change that, and we may get to see the talent that made Trubisky the No. 2 pick in last year’s draft. If Nagy can install anything like what he was running in Kansas City last year, Trubisky could move up very quickly on this list and others. Chase Daniel is the backup and knows what Nagy wants to do from their time together in Kansas City.

Patrick Mahomes has played one NFL game. In it, he dazzled with his arm strength and led us to believe his raw ability mixed with Andy Reid’s creativity and all of those offensive weapons the Chiefs have can put together something magical. The question is one of timetable, as Mahomes will surely need time to develop as a starter. Plenty of hope and excitement around this youngster, and the team feels confident enough in his readiness to give it a try that they dealt Alex Smith to Washington. But it’s a high-risk move and hard to have much confidence in it until we see how it all unfolds.

Miami’s committed to Ryan Tannehill, for this year at least, but he’s coming off a torn ACL as well and didn’t play at all last year, so confidence isn’t easy to come by. They didn’t draft a quarterback, and so far they’ve added Brock Osweiler and Bryce Petty to the backup corps. So Tannehill’s job looks safe. You just wonder about the sustainability of the whole situation in Miami, and whether changes are on tap for next offseason that would include the quarterback.

It’s got to be better. Honestly, that could be the Cleveland Browns’ official 2018 team slogan. “The 2018 Browns: It’s got to be better.” You go 0-16 with an unprepared rookie starting games ahead of unprepared backups, you can only improve your confidence and your expectations for the quarterback position. Enter Tyrod Taylor, late of the Buffalo Bills, to start while No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield gets ready. Taylor is fine, and makes the Browns better, and Mayfield… who knows? Obviously, they believe he’s the guy there long-term. He provides hope while Taylor should provide the week-to-week competence and stability the Browns lacked at QB last year.



Pedro Gomez says Josh Rosen did not disappoint at his first Cardinals rookie mini camp appearance.

When we did this three months ago, the Cardinals had literally no quarterbacks on their roster. They ranked last on the list. And you can argue that the addition of Sam Bradford in free agency alone should move them higher up this list. I could argue in return that Bradford’s health history gives me pause, that backup Mike Glennon was a mess as a starter for the Bears last year and that No. 10 overall pick Josh Rosen is at this point an unknown from an NFL standpoint. If Bradford’s healthy or Rosen advances quickly throughout the summer, no issue moving the Cardinals up ahead of some of the questionable situations ahead of them. But we’ll need to see at least one of those things to believe them.

They brought back veteran Josh McCown, who’s a known quantity and played well for them last year. They added Teddy Bridgewater, who’s a major health concern and basically hasn’t played in two years. And they drafted Sam Darnold No. 3 overall, which could be fantastic down the road. Heck, Darnold (or Bridgewater!) could theoretically beat out McCown for the starter’s job this offseason. But it’s tough to feel confident about this situation in the short term or long term, even if there’s reason to hope either or both could be OK.

Someone has to be last. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with the way Buffalo addressed the QB position this offseason. AJ McCarron deserves a shot, and maybe he’ll take advantage of this opportunity and establish himself as an NFL starter while No. 7 overall pick Josh Allen gets ready as a backup. Maybe Nathan Peterman shows enough in camp to get a shot ahead of McCarron. There are some maybes here that can help Bills fans build a case for optimism. But confidence? Hard to make any kind of confident bets on any of these guys right now. Even if it’s legal now.

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Best of ‘Hard Knocks’: What Browns said to Antonio Callaway – Cleveland Browns Blog



The Cleveland Browns‘ eventful training camp is under the microscope on the HBO series “Hard Knocks.” Here are a few highlights from the second episode Tuesday night:

Dealing with Callaway: Off-field issues knocked receiver Antonio Callaway to the fourth round in the 2018 NFL draft when many believed he had first-round talent. The Browns took a chance on Callaway, who was suspended for his final season at Florida in 2017 and then tested positive for marijuana at the scouting combine. Their trust in him was soon tested after they found out he had been stopped by police last week and cited for marijuana possession and a suspended license.

Callaway, who looked shaken during the first practice following the incident, was asked by coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley what was wrong.

“”You look like a puppy dog,” Haley tells Callaway. “Come on, we need you. This is very important. Everything will work out the way it’s supposed to. You can’t try to control all that. The guy upstairs is controlling that. You just try to be the best you can possibly be.”

Callaway keeps quiet until he is called into general manager John Dorsey’s office once the news of the incident breaks. After being asked to explain what happened, Callaway is told by Dorsey that he has to be smarter than that because everyone is watching.

“This isn’t college football. This is the National Football League, and just to put it out there plainly, you’re under the microscope,” Dorsey says. “They want to see you f— up. You’ve got to prove to them f—-rs that you know what, I’ve learned from my past, I’ve learned from my mistakes and we’re moving forward.”

Jackson tells Callaway he can’t slip up again.

“All of this can be prevented … you can’t take a chance. You can’t put yourself in this situation and you can’t put us in this situation,” Jackson says. “Listen, you’ve got talent, but talent ain’t everything I’m looking for. I want you to become a man. Be responsible and accountable to John and me and your teammates or else I wouldn’t keep you on the team. I’m just being very honest with you. If s— comes up, you have my number, you’ve got John’s number, you call us ASAP. That’s what I expect from you from here on in. I believe you, but if I’m wrong on this one, then I’m going to have your ass.”

Jackson makes a public show of support for Callaway during a team meeting and calls the rookie up to apologize to the team. “I gotta carry myself like a professional. It won’t happen no more,” Callaway says.

The Browns choose to punish Callaway by playing him on every offensive snap during their preseason opener against the New York Giants. He wears down during the game but still manages to shine with a 54-yard touchdown reception and the respect from teammates, including Baker Mayfield.

“He’s got so much talent. Everything I heard about him is he is a really good kid. You’ve just got to realize, ‘OK, how do you transition and become a pro?'” says veteran quarterback Drew Stanton.

Exit for Coleman: One receiver was earning respect from teammates and another was on the outs in Cleveland. Corey Coleman, a first-round pick in 2016 by the Browns, reached the end of his underwhelming run as a Brown, but not before he let his frustrations be known to Jackson.

“Why am I running second team?” Coleman asks as he walks in Jackson’s office. “If y’all don’t want me to play, why won’t y’all just trade me?”

And that’s exactly what the Browns did on Aug. 5, sending Coleman to the Buffalo Bills for a seventh-round pick in 2020.

Garrett, the poet: Myles Garrett revealed a different side of himself when he discussed his love of poetry. Crediting his grandmother and Muhammad Ali for getting him into it, the No. 1 pick in the 2017 draft said he writes at night and sometimes during lunchtime.

But don’t expect him to write about football.

“Most people want me to write about me sacking the quarterback, but that’s not what goes through my mind when I’m trying to get away from football,” Garrett says. “I was a boy who liked to write long before I was a man who liked to hit people. I’m not going to change for anybody else; I’m not going to hide who I am. I’m just going to stay true to myself.”

Best quote: “This is kind of fun, I’ll be honest.” — Mayfield on the field during a break in his strong preseason debut against the Giants in which he passed for 212 yards and two touchdowns.

What’s next: Episode three airs Aug. 21 at 10 p.m. ET on HBO.

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NFL Power Rankings – 32 surprise players to watch 2018 preseason



Don’t look now, but the NFL regular season kicks off in less than a month. So where do teams stand now, and what has changed since our post-draft edition?

The ESPN power panel — a group of more than 80 writers, editors and TV personalities — evaluated how all 32 teams stack up, with a look at players who could be surprising contributors or veterans who are in danger of being left off the roster.

2017 record: 13-3
Post-draft ranking: 1

RB Wendell Smallwood. There was some thought that the third-year back out of West Virginia was on the outside looking in entering training camp, but coach Doug Pederson has seen Smallwood flash, and, just as important for roster security, special-teams coach Dave Fipp has been utilizing him quite a bit on his units. That puts him in decent position as he competes for the fourth running back spot with the likes of Donnel Pumphrey and rookie Josh Adams. — Tim McManus

2017 record: 13-3
Post-draft ranking: 2

CB Jason McCourty. One of the feel-good stories of the offseason when he was acquired by the Patriots in a trade from the Browns — to be paired with his twin brother Devin — McCourty didn’t play in the preseason opener and is fighting for a backup spot behind starters Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe and projected top nickelback Duke Dawson. The last time twins played a regular-season game on the same professional football team was 1926, when Gene and Tom Golsen were with the Louisville Colonels. Whether that happens with the McCourtys in 2018 is in question. — Mike Reiss

2017 record: 11-5
Post-draft ranking: 4

WR Tre’Quan Smith. The rookie third-round draft pick from Central Florida has made some of the flashiest plays throughout training camp and the preseason opener, showing a good combination of size and speed at 6-foot-2, 210 pounds. Coaches have still been harping on him for issues such as communication, alignment, etc. But his big-play ability should get him on the field as a third or fourth receiver. — Mike Triplett

2017 record: 13-3
Post-draft ranking: 5

WR Kendall Wright. All signs pointed to the former first-round pick securing the No. 3 receiver job when he signed with Minnesota in free agency, but Wright just has not stood out. The sixth-year receiver has seen only limited reps with the first-team offense and hasn’t been used on special teams, which coach Mike Zimmer said would be important for receivers battling for the last roster spots. Laquon Treadwell, Stacy Coley and Brandon Zylstra appear to be leading the way for the Nos. 3-5 receiver jobs. While Wright has been a constant presence in the slot with the second unit, he needs to have a breakthrough these next three weeks to show why he belongs. — Courtney Cronin

2017 record: 13-3
Post-draft ranking: 3

RB Stevan Ridley. The former 1,000-yard rusher was out of football in 2017 before the Steelers called him in Week 16. Ridley added 108 yards and a touchdown in two games and is running hard in training camp this year. The Steelers have drafted running backs in consecutive drafts to back up Le’Veon Bell, which steepens Ridley’s path to a solidified role. But he can still do one thing well: “In between the tackles, I can do it as good as anyone,” he said. “Over four quarters, I will bang it out.” — Jeremy Fowler

2017 record: 11-5
Post-draft ranking: 6

RB John Kelly. He has a strong chance of making the 53-man roster. A sixth-round pick from Tennessee, the rookie has impressed throughout training camp despite limited opportunity in a position group that features Todd Gurley, fourth-year pro Malcolm Brown and second-year pro Justin Davis. Kelly broke off a 40-yard run in a preseason opener against the Baltimore Ravens and finished with 77 yards in 13 carries. — Lindsey Thiry

2017 record: 10-6
Post-draft ranking: 7

WR Jaydon Mickens. He joined the Jaguars’ practice squad last September and ended up winning the punt-return job, averaging 10.3 yards per return and taking one back for a TD. He also filled in at receiver and caught two TD passes against Houston. He’s fighting for the sixth receiver spot with Rashad Greene, who also returns punts. Mickens has a burst and shiftiness that makes him hard to pin down in the open field. He needs to perform well as a receiver in the next three preseason games to nail down that roster spot. — Mike DiRocco



Aaron Rodgers says his comments last week about the Packers’ wide receivers were professional and not meant to be personal.

2017 record: 7-9
Post-draft ranking: 9

WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling. The Packers have been looking for a No. 3 receiver after they cut Jordy Nelson. While Geronimo Allison looks like the obvious candidate, rookie Valdes-Scantling threw himself into the mix with five catches for 101 yards and a touchdown in the preseason opener. The fifth-round pick looks like the most NFL-ready of the three receivers the Packers drafted this year. — Rob Demovsky

2017 record: 10-6
Post-draft ranking: 8

LB Foye Oluokun. The rookie seventh-round pick from Yale already has drawn plenty of praise from coach Dan Quinn and special-teams coordinator Keith Armstrong. Oluokun showed up in the first exhibition game with some sure tackling. He might have a chance to earn a serious look as the third linebacker alongside Deion Jones and De’Vondre Campbell, especially if Duke Riley slips up. — Vaughn McClure

2017 record: 9-7
Post-draft ranking: 12

RB Detrez Newsome. An undrafted rookie out of Western Carolina, Newsome came to life in the second half against the Arizona Cardinals, scoring on a 6-yard run and doing a backflip for his touchdown celebration. He also finished with four receptions for 34 receiving yards. Newsome, who also had a 37-yard run for a score called back due to a clipping penalty, has a chance to earn a roster spot as the No. 3 running back. — Eric D. Williams

2017 record: 10-6
Post-draft ranking: 10

CB Tremon Smith. Sixth-round draft picks from smaller schools aren’t supposed to push for playing time so quickly. But Smith, from Central Arkansas, is getting a long look as a backup, in part because the depth chart is thin. He’s the fourth cornerback, and he’ll get some playing time if he stays in that spot. Smith is also working as the primary kick and punt returner, though Tyreek Hill will return punts when the regular season begins. — Adam Teicher

2017 record: 11-5
Post-draft ranking: 11

WR Jarius Wright. He was signed as a free agent from Minnesota in large part because of his familiarity with Norv Turner’s offense and ability to play slot receiver. He has had some big days in camp. But if the Panthers are forced to keep five receivers — and Torrey Smith, Devin Funchess, DJ Moore and Curtis Samuel are locks — do they go with a young, fast receiver such as Damiere Byrd, since they have others who can play the slot, including running back Christian McCaffrey? Or do they go with Wright, a proven player Turner loves? Wright made a big play in the preseason opener to set up a touchdown, so this will be one to watch. — David Newton

2017 record: 9-7
Post-draft ranking: 14

DT Antwaun Woods. He did not sign with the Cowboys until May 30, but he has worked his way up the depth chart to find himself as their starting nose tackle. He dropped 20 pounds after signing with the Cowboys and has the quickness Rod Marinelli wants in that spot. The Cowboys have had their eye on him for a while and tried to sign him off the Tennessee Titans‘ practice squad last year. He might not start opening day, but he has impressed enough that he would have to be in the mix as part of the defensive line rotation. — Todd Archer

2017 record: 9-7
Post-draft ranking: 13

CB LeShaun Sims. The acquisition of Malcolm Butler has not stopped Sims from pushing for a spot in the CB rotation. The third-year corner drew praise from coach Mike Vrabel for his pass defense against the Packers in the preseason opener. All of the attention is going to Butler, Adoree’ Jackson and Logan Ryan, but Sims is in the mix as well. — Turron Davenport

2017 record: 4-12
Post-draft ranking: 17

TE Jordan Akins. The third-round pick has impressed during camp and put that on display in the Texans’ preseason opener, catching two touchdown passes from Brandon Weeden. Akins will be competing for playing time with starter Ryan Griffin and several other young tight ends on the roster, but if he continues to impress, he could be the backup and see plenty of snaps. — Sarah Barshop

2017 record: 6-10
Post-draft ranking: 15

G Joshua Garnett. The former first-round pick worked hard to get in shape to fit better in coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense and was in position to battle for a starting job at right guard. But Garnett, who missed all of last season with a knee injury, hasn’t been on the field much because of another issue with the same knee. Because Garnett doesn’t play any other positions, his chance of winning a roster spot could be in danger if he doesn’t get back on the field and win a starting spot. — Nick Wagoner

2017 record: 9-7
Post-draft ranking: 16

CB Tre Flowers. The Seahawks have been thrilled with how Flowers, a rookie fifth-round pick, is coming along in his conversion from college safety to the type of oversized, physical cornerback Pete Carroll’s defense is known for. Injuries to veterans Byron Maxwell and Neiko Thorpe have given Flowers a chance to play with the starters both in practice and in Seattle’s preseason opener. He could see the field on defense sooner than many expect. — Brady Henderson

2017 record: 6-10
Post-draft ranking: 19

RB Chris Warren III. The undrafted rookie from Texas was lambasted by coach Jon Gruden for having a high pad level as he hit the hole in a joint training practice with Detroit. Message received, because the next time Warren touched the ball, his pads were definitely lower and he absolutely leveled Lions linebacker Jarrad Davis. The massive Warren (listed at 6-foot-2, 246 pounds) was the Raiders’ leading ground-gainer in their preseason opener against those same Lions, with 86 yards on 13 carries, including a 26-yard burst. The son of the former Seahawks Pro Bowl running back has been so impressive early in camp, he might push the likes of Doug Martin, DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard for a roster spot. — Paul Gutierrez

2017 record: 7-9
Post-draft ranking: 18

WR Maurice Harris. Really, he’s a lock at this point after entering camp as someone fighting for a roster spot. But his early play has elevated him into being the No. 4 receiver; that was the case even before fellow wideout Robert Davis was lost for the season with a knee injury. On Sunday, coach Jay Gruden referred to Harris as a great all-around receiver because he can run routes from all three positions and he’s a willing blocker. He’s not fast, but his strong hands and route-running have turned him into a guy now fighting for solid playing time. — John Keim

2017 record: 9-7
Post-draft ranking: 20

RB Kerryon Johnson. The second-round pick was taken with the expectation he would play, and possibly play early. But for portions of training camp and in the preseason opener Friday night, Johnson looked like he might be the best running back on the roster. Midround running backs have been effective in past years (Alvin Kamara and Kareem Hunt last season; Jordan Howard in 2016), and Johnson has the tools and the opportunity to potentially make an early impact. He has shown ability both running the ball and catching out of the backfield, giving Detroit an all-around presence it hasn’t had since Reggie Bush in 2013. — Michael Rothstein

2017 record: 9-7
Post-draft ranking: 22

RB Gus Edwards. The undrafted rookie out of Rutgers received the start in the Hall of Fame game and averaged 4.8 yards per carry (58 yards on 12 attempts) in his second preseason game. Edwards stands out by how hard he runs with the ball. The Ravens are set at the top of their running back depth chart with Alex Collins and Buck Allen. But if Kenneth Dixon can’t stay healthy, Edwards could win the No. 3 job. — Jamison Hensley

2017 record: 5-11
Post-draft ranking: 21

RB Phillip Lindsay. The Broncos have a crowd of youth at the position — Devontae Booker, in his third season, is the oldest player on the running back depth chart — and Lindsay is the undrafted rookie in the mix. But he has shown explosiveness, good vision in the open field and good work as a receiver and has presented himself as a potential option as a kickoff returner. He led the team with 40 receiving yards in the preseason opener and certainly has the Broncos’ attention at a spot where the decisions will be difficult. — Jeff Legwold

2017 record: 3-13
Post-draft ranking: 26

LB Mark Herzlich. This might be the year he really doesn’t stick around. Herzlich is in a fight for a roster spot and could lose out to a younger player such as Calvin Munson or Tae Davis. — Jordan Raanan

2017 record: 8-8
Post-draft ranking: 23

WR/PR Christian Kirk. You only had to watch Kirk’s first preseason touch to get a look at what he offers as a punt returner. His explosive ability in that area guarantees him a role as a rookie, and it’s not out of the question that he could factor into the mix at wide receiver as well. Larry Fitzgerald‘s role is cemented, but there are more roles to sort out in that room among the likes of Brice Butler and J.J. Nelson. — Dan Graziano

2017 record: 5-11
Post-draft ranking: 24

S Jordan Whitehead. He missed a lot of OTAs after injuring his hamstring in rookie camp, but he had two tackles and two pass breakups in the first preseason game. The Bucs love his downhill style (he was a two-way player at Pittsburgh, playing both safety and running back) and his big-hit potential, which head coach Dirk Koetter believes we’ll see more of now that they’re playing in actual games. He has even started getting some first-team reps when the Bucs are in big nickel with Justin Evans manning the slot. It doesn’t hurt that he’s a cousin of future Hall of Famer Darrelle Revis. — Jenna Laine

2017 record: 5-11
Post-draft ranking: 28

RB Tarik Cohen. The diminutive Cohen averaged 8.7 touches per game as a rookie last season and showed flashes of playmaking ability. Those touches should increase in the creative system run by new Bears coach Matt Nagy, who figures to do just about everything to find ways to get the ball in his hands. Jordan Howard is the workhorse back, but Cohen will be the one to keep an eye on to see if the new regime can better utilize his tremendous natural ability and add another dimension to the offense. — John Roberts



Dan Graziano likes rookie WR Antonio Callaway’s chances to contribute to the Browns this season if he stays out of trouble.

2017 record: 7-9
Post-draft ranking: 29

WR Auden Tate. The seventh-round draft pick was quietly doing some nice things in camp before having a breakout moment when he scored a touchdown in the first preseason game. Keeping Tate would mean making a hard decision and cutting one of the veteran receivers. But if Tyler Eifert‘s status is uncertain, the 6-foot-5 Tate could be a nice complement to the team as a red zone threat. — Katherine Terrell

2017 record: 9-7
Post-draft ranking: 25

RB Marcus Murphy. His name came up before the Bills’ wild-card playoff game in Jacksonville last season when LeSean McCoy‘s status was in doubt because of an ankle injury. Murphy did not play in that game but was efficient in the Bills’ preseason opener, rushing seven times for 35 yards and one touchdown while catching four passes for 30 yards. He has a chance to earn the Bills’ No. 3 running back role and potentially cut into Chris Ivory‘s time behind McCoy. — Mike Rodak

2017 record: 4-12
Post-draft ranking: 32

WR K.J. Brent. The second-year receiver out of Wake Forest was already having an impressive training camp, but the unfortunate loss of rookie Deon Cain (torn ACL) makes Brent one of the favorites to be the Colts’ fourth receiver behind T.Y. Hilton, Ryan Grant and Chester Rogers. Brent was on the receiving end of Andrew Luck‘s first long touchdown pass early in training camp. — Mike Wells

2017 record: 5-11
Post-draft ranking: 27

CB Rashard Robinson. His roster spot is in jeopardy, which didn’t seem possible last fall. The Jets made a deadline deal for Robinson, trading a fifth-round pick to the 49ers. They now regret the deal. He hasn’t panned out on the field, and he didn’t help his case with an offseason marijuana arrest that resulted in a four-game suspension. — Rich Cimini

2017 record: 0-16
Post-draft ranking: 31

WR Antonio Callaway. The fourth-round rookie has already made some not-so-good headlines, but assuming he can keep the focus on the field, he has the opportunity for a fairly significant role in the offense. The Browns don’t know exactly when they’ll see Josh Gordon. They just traded former first-round pick Corey Coleman. Jarvis Landry is the No. 1 wide receiver, and this should be a run-heavy offense, but they need something at wide receiver, and they hope Callaway can turn into a draft-day steal. — Dan Graziano

2017 record: 6-10
Post-draft ranking: 30

TE A.J. Derby. Derby has spent a good bit of time running with starters this offseason, but his recent injuries have allowed rookies Mike Gesicki and Durham Smythe to get more reps. Those two are locks to make the roster and are likely to secure a good bit of playing time. That leaves Derby likely competing with blocking TE MarQueis Gray for a third spot, and losing that battle could make Derby a surprise roster cut. — Cameron Wolfe

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Pushing and pulling Antonio Brown helps him and Pittsburgh Steelers – Pittsburgh Steelers Blog



LATROBE, Pa. — Antonio Brown plants a neon Nike cleat into the rain-soaked grass, head fakes inside and bolts to the sideline, where Ben Roethlisberger‘s pass awaits. This is an unguardable play that Roethlisberger and Brown have refined with thousands of reps, but Brown just missed a week of practices, so he must set a tone for cornerback Artie Burns.

“You ain’t stick me since we’ve been here,” Brown said in Burns’ direction after flipping his touchdown pass to the ball boy and heading to the back of the line for another one-on-one session, where he’d later hit Joe Haden with an unfair triple move.

“Man, whatever. We’ve still got time,” Burns said.

This is how the best moments of camp are formed. Brown makes his greatness known, the cornerbacks chirp back and the physical downfield plays ensue.

There’s no diva treatment with the game’s best receiver. Brown is cool with pulling, pushing and jersey-yanking, as long as teammates know he’s giving it right back.

“We know we can take it to that extra limit. I know he’s going to bring his best, so you better bring yours,” said Burns, who matches up with Brown most often and has had modest success over the past two training camps. “He doesn’t really care what techniques I use, he’s just going to line up and try to beat me. He’s going to get real physical back.”

Brown loves facing Burns because of their connection as Miami natives, but that won’t stop him from charging at Burns with both hands during a run play, forcing the corner to reset himself.

For the player known for 10 p.m. leg-lift sessions in the Saint Vincent College gym during camp, the expectation is clear: Use physicality to get better each day, and others will follow.

“It’s a competitive league so I embrace anyone who is a Steeler,” Brown said of his practice approach. “I love everyone who is a Steeler, and hopefully these guys know what being a Steeler means when they get here — hard-nosed, physical, a championship environment, big-time first class players, blue-collar.”

‘Makes me so much better’

After seven losing seasons with the Cleveland Browns, Haden was thrilled to join a winner when the Steelers signed him before the 2017 season. High on the new-job priorities list was guarding Brown each day.

“I just love it,” Haden said. “Me and AB were going at it for years playing against each other, but having him in camp, he talks to me and says, ‘Man, Joe, I just love going against you.’ It’s the same way. It makes me so much better.”

Brown isn’t expressing that love mid-route, though. In one-on-ones Saturday, Haden had Brown covered well for about three seconds until Brown used Haden’s momentum against him, spinning off the pylon and fading into the corner for the score. Haden doesn’t sweat it, knowing Brown likely can’t buy that much time in game action. “You be running those triple moves in the end zone,” Haden said.

Haden wasn’t pushing Brown on that play but will be physical when necessary. If Haden is in press man coverage, for example, he has told Brown he will be “getting into him” as if he’s preparing for a game. That often means checking Brown with one hand at the line. If bodies bump on the turn of the route, so be it.

“That’s what I’ve got to do to get my stuff right, and he respects it,” Haden said.

Haden is finishing up his first training camp in Saint Vincent College, and his hope is the sessions with Brown will prepare him like never before. One thing stands out after dozens of reps with Brown: He never runs a route the same way. His leverage position is always changing.

“If you can cover AB, you can cover anyone,” he said.

Careful what you ask for

Brown is an equal-opportunity punisher. He’ll give that work to any corner who wants it. During last year’s camp, Ross Cockrell said publicly he wanted more reps against Brown, who quickly declared that matchup “too easy” after beating Cockrell on a deep ball and calling on Burns to resume guarding him.

Cockrell was traded before the season, largely because the Steelers were acquiring Haden. But his last practice memories in Pittsburgh were not pretty.

Second-year corner Cam Sutton isn’t about to publicly challenge Brown, but he would embrace the change. He has lined up with him a few times in team drills, though he doesn’t remember the outcomes. From jamming to playing off, Sutton is willing to try new things on Brown because that’s the point of practice.

To take the cheese, as Sutton calls it.

“What’s the risk? Doesn’t matter. You’re competing,” Sutton said. “You’re trying to make a play and so is he. If you just line up against a top receiver and play him with the same technique, it’s not going to end well for you. So I talk to [Brown] all the time, picking his brain, what he sees, what he’s thinking. Can I hold this disguise? Can I play this technique better?”

And cornerbacks get help on Brown quite often. Brown joked with defensive coordinator Keith Butler that he was “trying to rehab” after the safety came with a hard double in the red zone. Brown had just returned from a minor leg injury.

Burns prefers the head-to-head matchups. Good corners must have amnesia when it comes to getting beat, and Burns is always eyeing the next chance at a pick. Burns has noticed he and Brown are more physical with each other when officials aren’t at practice, which is about half the time.

“That helps him, too, because since he’s already seen me in training camp, that prepares him for the season,” Burns said.

The way Brown sees it, his feet and hands are always prepared.

“It is all about leading with example,” Brown said.

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