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NFL Insiders predict best, worst teams after free agency and draft



Our panel of ESPN NFL Insiders is breaking down what all the offseason action means for the 2018 season throughout the week.

Next up: Which offseason addition — via free agency, the draft or trade — will make the biggest impact this year?

Insiders make their picks, plus dig into these topics:

Which offseason addition will make the biggest impact in 2018?

Matt Bowen, NFL writer: Tyrann Mathieu, S, Houston Texans. His past injuries have to be discussed, but the former Cardinal played faster on tape toward the end of 2017. He’s an upgrade in Houston at a position of need, and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel can utilize Mathieu’s versatility in the game plan. Think of a defensive matchup weapon here who can find the ball and play multiple roles for a secondary that struggled last year.

Mike Clay, NFL writer: Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib, CBs, Los Angeles Rams. It’s hard to mention one without the other, so I’m going to cheat and go with the two trades the Rams made to acquire superstar corners Peters and Talib. Yes, Peters has some off-field concerns and Talib is now 32, but both have been top-10 performers at the position over the past few years and, along with Ndamukong Suh, help position the Rams as legit Super Bowl contenders in 2018.

Dan Graziano, national NFL writer: Nate Solder, OT, New York Giants. The Giants haven’t scored 30 points in a game since Week 17 of 2015 — Tom Coughlin’s last season as their head coach. There are myriad reasons for the drought, but the main reason the offense hasn’t worked is that the line hasn’t played well. Moving on from 2015 draft bust Ereck Flowers and replacing him with a reliable veteran at left tackle should allow the Giants at least a chance to see how good their offense really can be. The price tag on Solder was massive, and could cause the Giants problems down the line. But he should make a big difference in 2018.

KC Joyner, NFL writer: Jimmy Graham, TE, Green Bay Packers. Rodgers has the reputation of not throwing to his tight ends often enough, yet over the past four years Rodgers ranks 10th in completion percentage (51.6) and touchdown percentage (51.6) on end zone throws to tight ends. Those numbers should vault close to the top of the league now that Rodgers has a jump-ball tight end of Graham’s caliber, so this pairing could combine for double-digit touchdowns this season.

Mike Sando, senior NFL writer: Case Keenum, QB, Denver Broncos. It’s either Keenum or Tyrod Taylor, simply because they are competent quarterbacks joining teams that were horrendous at the position last season. Even average play from them will provide massive upgrades. I’ll go with Keenum because there isn’t a highly drafted quarterback waiting to take his job.

Aaron Schatz, editor-in-chief of Football Outsiders: Tyrod Taylor, QB, Cleveland Browns. Or Baker Mayfield. It doesn’t matter which one of them it is; either should be a massive upgrade on what Cleveland had at the quarterback position last season.

Kevin Seifert, national NFL writer: Jimmy Graham, TE, Green Bay Packers. Rodgers has a strong history with tight ends that provide even the slightest mismatch. He looked often for Jermichael Finley from 2009 to 2013 (5.6 targets per game) and Jared Cook (5.1) in 2016. Even if Graham’s best days are behind him, he is with a quarterback who wants to use the tight end as much as any in the NFL.

Field Yates, NFL Insider: Saquon Barkley, RB, New York Giants. It’s hard for me to look past a player who is primed for the possibility of handling 250-plus total touches right away. We’ve seen rookie running backs make an immediate impact in recent seasons, and Barkley has a decidedly clear avenue to doing the same for the G-Men.

Which team declined most this offseason?

Yates: Buffalo Bills. Note an important caveat: There is a long-term building process that was followed and not in any way compromised this offseason. The Bills performed exceptionally well in single-score games last season (6-2), which played an integral part in snapping their postseason drought. But it was clear they were not sold on Tyrod Taylor as the long-term quarterback solution, and they utilized their robust draft capital to select Josh Allen seventh overall. Factoring in the QB transition and offensive-line shuffle, Buffalo profiles as a regression team in the short term.

Seifert: Miami Dolphins. Their plan is difficult to discern. They’ve parted ways with most of their best players, from Ndamukong Suh to Jarvis Landry, and added a crew of aging veterans that includes tailback Frank Gore (35 when the season begins), receiver Danny Amendola (32) and guard Josh Sitton (32). Their faith in quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who is returning from ACL surgery, is risky at best. The Dolphins aren’t rebuilding in any functional way, but their roster is not ready to compete for a playoff spot, either. That’s a major step back.

Schatz: Buffalo Bills. The QB situation is a mess. Even if you’re a believer in Allen (I’m not), you have to admit he’s the kind of quarterback who will likely require a lot of work to transition. The offensive line is a mess, too, with Buffalo’s three best linemen gone via either trade or retirement. Football Outsiders’ free-agency analysis also shows edge rusher Trent Murphy as one of this year’s signings least likely to live up to the value of his three-year, $22.5 million contract.

Sando: Miami Dolphins. They subtracted Suh, Landry and Mike Pouncey. They appear to be a less talented team as a result.

Joyner: Seattle Seahawks. Mel Kiper gave them his lowest grade of the draft, and their free-agent additions were arguably the least inspiring in the league. Those might be enough to drop Seattle to the bottom of this list, but how in the world did the Seahawks do so little to upgrade the offensive line, which was arguably the worst in the league last season?

Graziano: Seattle Seahawks. The decline obviously started last season, sooner than most of us expected. But losing Michael Bennett, Richard Sherman, Cliff Avril and Sheldon Richardson in the same offseason (with Kam Chancellor‘s situation still unresolved) is to see a foundation crumble underneath you. Pete Carroll is not to be underestimated as a puzzle-solver, but does he have enough pieces?

Clay: Miami Dolphins. It was hard not to think of the Chip Kelly-era Eagles when watching the Dolphins chase “culture” while moving on from talented players such as Jay Ajayi, Suh, Pouncey, Landry and Michael Thomas over the past several months. Miami is weak or below average at most positions and is suddenly a candidate for the first overall pick in next April’s draft.

Bowen: Seattle Seahawks. The “Legion of Boom” used to dictate the flow of the game. Play three-deep coverage, challenge routes and physically control the middle of the field. No free passes there. However, with Sherman now in San Francisco, Chancellor facing an uncertain future and a front-four pass rush that must be retooled, the Seahawks have crucial roles to fill on the defensive side of the ball in a division that features quarterbacks Jared Goff and Jimmy Garoppolo.

Which team improved the most this offseason?

Bowen: Los Angeles Rams. The arrow is pointing up for the Bears and Browns after productive offseasons, but I’m looking at the Rams due to the proven, veteran talent they brought in via trades and free agency. Cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib have the playmaking skills to find the ball in the secondary. Go get it. Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh bolsters the interior of the front line next to All-Pro Aaron Donald. Wide receiver Brandin Cooks is an upgrade for the passing game. Strong, aggressive moves put this squad in position to win the NFC West and make a serious playoff run.

Clay: Cleveland Browns. They had the league’s worst quarterback play in 2017 but solidified it by acquiring Tyrod Taylor and first overall pick Baker Mayfield. Joe Thomas and Danny Shelton are gone, but Cleveland stocked up with talent: E.J. Gaines, TJ Carrie, Carlos Hyde, Jarvis Landry, Chris Hubbard and Damarious Randall as well as early-round rookies Denzel Ward, Austin Corbett and Nick Chubb. This is a team on the rise.

Graziano: Chicago Bears. The problem is that because of the strength of their division, I don’t know that the improvement will necessarily show in the standings. The Bears spent big in free agency, which isn’t always the best way to go, but they’ve improved their wide receiver corps and kept their secondary intact with that spending. I believe their top three draft picks — Roquan Smith, James Daniels and Anthony Miller — are guys who can help them right away at positions of significant need.

Joyner: Cleveland Browns. It’s incredible that the Browns were able to improve in as many ways as they did this offseason. They added two quality quarterbacks, have a logjam of good running backs with the additions of Hyde and Chubb, brought in three solid cornerbacks in free agency and acquired the best coverage cornerback in the draft (Ward). Three new offensive linemen give the Browns one of the deepest blocking walls in the NFL, and they added Landry, arguably the best possession receiver in the league.

Seifert: New York Jets. Stay with me for a moment. There is no doubt that the Browns have raised their talent level more from 2017 to 2018. But they also had the furthest to go. The Jets’ drafting of quarterback Sam Darnold establishes a long-term focus for what was already a decently talented roster. For the first time in six years, the Jets know whom they’re building around. Don’t underestimate the value in that, even if Darnold doesn’t make a huge impact in 2018.

Yates: Cleveland Browns. From a talent-added standpoint relative to where the team was last season, Cleveland takes the cake. That, of course, includes the fact that this team was historically bad in 2017, becoming just the second to go 0-16. The Browns have cultivated a short- and long-term plan at quarterback and talent across the offense, and they reshaped the secondary.

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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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