The Debrief  

Under Armour 2018  

NFL training camp winners and losers: Young receivers flashing

Print

Sunday night's trade of 2016 first-round pick Corey Coleman from the Browns to the Bills was a reminder that the trade tsunami that enveloped the league this spring could still have life left to it.

These are the dog days of training camp, when teams like Cleveland and Buffalo start to recognize that some offseason narratives were just for show. The Bills entered camp knowing they needed more receiving options. Coleman instantly becomes a favorite to start over Zay Jones, who just returned from injury. The Browns appeared to have a for-sale sign on Coleman all offseason, despite coach Hue Jackson saying that Coleman would start if Josh Gordon were out. They essentially dumped Coleman for a late-round pick because it was too embarrassing to cut the first pick of the Jackson era.

With plenty of salary-cap space leaguewide affording greater flexibility and no major roster cuts until Sept. 1, there could be plenty of similar trades after the preseason gets going. Those shiny-looking depth charts from June are already transforming. And while we're talking rosters and depth charts, here's a look at the winners and losers from the second week of training camp:

Going up

John Ross, WR, Cincinnati Bengals: Back in May, I projected Ross and Tyler Boyd as starting wide receivers for Cincinnati in a "best-case scenario," where the youngsters showed enough in camp to make replacement-level veteran receiver Brandon LaFell superfluous. It only took a week. Cutting LaFell is a great sign for this Bengals team. Cincy will sink or swim with its young talent, rather than trotting out progress-stopping veterans in a bid to win seven games. Ross' electric camp made the LaFell release possible.

The 2020 Minnesota Vikings roster: After signing Stefon Diggs to a win-win deal, the Vikings have the following players signed through 2020: Diggs, Kirk Cousins, Danielle Hunter, Everson Griffen, Xavier Rhodes, Eric Kendricks, Adam Thielen, Harrison Smith, Linval Joseph, Riley Reiff and Dalvin Cook. Most of them are signed through 2021. General manager Rick Spielman and executive vice president of football operations Rob Brzezinski deserve a lot of credit for drafting most of this core and setting the team up for rare roster continuity.

Shaquem Griffin, LB, Seattle Seahawks: Everyone's favorite 2018 draft pick is proving he's not just a human-interest story. Griffin forced turnovers on consecutive days at Seahawks practice early last week and was rewarded with some first-team reps by the weekend. Many fifth-round picks are iffy bets to make the roster. Griffin is on track not just to make it, but have a significant role on the remodeled unit.

Denver Broncos rookies: After years of swings and misses in the draft, Broncos GM John Elway needs this group to come through. So far, so good. NFL Network's James Palmer believes Royce Freeman will be the team's starting running back by Week 1. The defense is showing more 4-3 looks in an effort to get No. 5 overall pick Bradley Chubb on the field more. Denver cornerbacks told Palmer that the No. 3 receiver battle is all but over, with second-round pick Courtland Sutton grabbing the job via DeAndre Hopkins-like jump-ball displays. One Denver Post columnist says everything has changed from last year's team because of Sutton, with a headline calling him the team's best draft pick since Von Miller. Denver's first preseason game comes Saturday.

Marquise Goodwin and Dante Pettis, WRs, San Francisco 49ers: In Goodwin and Pettis, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan boasts two extreme speed threats who create matchup problems. Both are enjoying excellent camps, with Goodwin emerging as San Francisco's No. 1 receiver while Pettis, a rookie, carves out a Taylor Gabriel-like role cooking up big plays. Goodwin's development in San Francisco is a great example of how finding the right coach can change a career. He's clearly won over Jimmy Garoppolo.

"I usually do well connecting with quarterbacks. I think it's because I'm able to gain separation on my routes. I'm faster than most -- well, all receivers," the former Olympian told The Athletic last week.

Chris Godwin, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: A rookie revelation late last season for the Bucs, Godwin has a No. 1 receiver's skill set despite entering the offseason fourth on the depth chart. He won't stay there for long. After seeing him dominate offseason practices, Bucs coach Dirk Koetter and offensive coordinator Todd Monken call him a starter. What that means for DeSean Jackson and Adam Humphries' snap totals remains to be seen, but Godwin has earned the right to be on the field.

Rex Burkhead, RB, New England Patriots: Burkhead was the favorite to lead the way in the Patriots' backfield even before camp started. Following first-round pick Sony Michel's uneven start to camp and subsequent knee procedure, Burkhead's role is even more solidified. Now the former Bengal has to prove he can stay healthy, something he couldn't do last year in New England.

With tackle Isaiah Wynn currently the clear backup to Trent Brown on Tom Brady's blind side, it appears that neither of the Patriots' first-round picks will be Week 1 starters.

Backyard training camps: Whether it's Giorgio Tavecchio booting balls into a Napa family's backyard or an Indiana family setting up shop to shag balls for Adam Vinatieri, the hottest new suburban backyard accessory is a fully functioning NFL team.

A tough week for ...

People overreacting to Carson Wentz's practice habits: After a fast start to camp that included some big throws and a surprising appearance in the team's first padded practice, Wentz hasn't been involved in an 11-on-11 drill since. This has become a big story in Philadelphia, with JFK forensic file-type deep dives into practice habits and Doug Pederson quotes.

Two actual headlines: "Eagles' top-secret timeline for Carson Wentz's recovery remains a mystery" and "Carson Wentz practice pattern surprising -- but not."

These stories are the product of a football populace that demands daily updates, when sometimes there isn't much for an outsider to conclude. It's going to take time to evaluate Wentz's recovery, so here's to letting the story develop before jumping to conclusions.

Doug Baldwin, WR, Seattle Seahawks: Seahawks coach Pete Carroll says he's not worried that Baldwin's knee injury could keep him out for the entire preseason. But actions speak louder than words, and Baldwin's absence is especially problematic because he's so much better than any other wideout on Seattle's roster. As SiriusXM analyst Geoff Schwartz noted, "A sore knee heading into camp doesn't get better during the season, even if you take off part of camp."

This is not a season in which the Seahawks can afford to have Baldwin fighting through injury for 17 weeks.

The "Fat Rob" moniker: RIP "Fat Rob" Kelley. Long live "Fit Rob." The slimmed-down Redskins running back has been alternating first-team reps with rookie Derrius Guice during camp.

The NFL, every week that safety Eric Reid doesn't have a job: When the Titans lost safety Johnathan Cyprien to a torn ACL, it looked like Reid might finally land with an NFL team. Three weather-related flight cancellations later, the team picked up Kenny Vaccaro instead. Reid has an ongoing collusion case against the NFL that complicates matters, but it's embarrassing he hasn't found a job yet.

Reid, who has a similar skill set to Vaccaro, finished out last season playing some of the best football of his career. Versatility like his is prized in today's NFL. Vaccaro struggled last year. There is no good reason for Reid to be unemployed.

Sam Bradford's well-being: Bradford has stayed healthy at Cardinals camp, which is a big deal after his lost 2017 season. But there should be concern about whether he can stay healthy through the team's Week 3 matchup against the Rams and Ndamukong Suh.

"I always mark the calendar when I have Sam Bradford on there, no matter what," Suh told the Around The NFL Podcast on Thursday during our trip to Rams camp. "Whether it was when we were rookies, when he was in St. Louis or when he was any other place. I've always looked forward to going against him."

Asked if he talks a little extra trash to the man taken one spot ahead of him in the 2010 NFL Draft -- a slight the No. 2 overall pick has not forgotten -- Suh responded, "I'm not much of a talker, but I'll definitely try to hit him as hard as I can."

All of this was said with a smile on Suh's face. He appears remarkably calm and focused, relishing the chance to join a division champion where he's not the team leader or focus of the media. The Rams boast incredible depth on defense, especially in the secondary, where they love the contributions that cornerbacks Troy Hill and Nickell Robey-Coleman are making each day. After forcing defensive coordinator Wade Phillips to work with pieces that didn't necessarily fit his defense a year ago, general manager Les Snead stocked the roster with guys Phillips craved. Starting with Suh.

Fantasy drafters trying to figure out the Indianapolis Colts backfield: The answer is that there is no answer. Depending on the day, Jordan Wilkins, Robert Turbin, Marlon Mack, Nyheim Hines and even Christine Michael have rotated first-team snaps. The Colts' offense could be a sly source of yardage this season, but it sounds like the backfield touches will be split four ways, like it was under Frank Reich in Philadelphia last season.

I would take owner Jim Irsay's claims that Mack could reach 1,500 yards as seriously as Irsay's promises that Andrew Luck would play last year.

Anthony Castonzo, LT, Indianapolis Colts: The giddiness emanating from Andrew Luck during camp is palpable and growing with every successful practice. But the team's early setbacks on the offensive line feel all too familiar. Castonzo, Indy's stalwart left tackle, was activated off the non-football injury list on Wednesday and then re-injured his nagging hamstring issue by Friday. The issue dates back to OTAs and raises questions about whether Castonzo will be able to stay healthy all season. Early in camp, the Colts were trying Jack Mewhort as Castonzo's replacement. He's since retired because of knee troubles.

General manager Chris Ballard admitted that he "screwed up" the team's 2017 offensive line and spent the offseason building depth on the unit. That depth is already being tested, with recent signee J'Marcus Webb going from the street to first-team left tackle in less than a week.

Martavis Bryant, WR, Oakland Raiders: The Raiders gave up a third-round pick in exchange for Bryant despite the receiver's well-documented issues with suspensions and inconsistency. After some erratic practices and absences from Bryant, Jon Gruden's already expressing the kind of exasperation Steelers coach Mike Tomlin used to experience.

"He's got to get out here and play better," Gruden said via the Las Vegas Review-Journal. "He's in a competitive situation. Right now, a lot of the other receivers have had a nice camp. He's just got to learn the offense. He's got to stay out here. He's had some illnesses. He's got to get on the field. He's got to master the offense and become more versatile, and that's the key to making this team better."

Joe Williams, RB, San Francisco 49ers: I love 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan's honesty in press conferences. Asked if he wondered whether he made a mistake in pushing general manager John Lynch to move up to draft Joe Williams last year, Shanahan replied, "Yeah, of course."

In free-agent pickup Jerick McKinnon and Matt Breida (who went undrafted in 2017 but flashed as a rookie), the 49ers have an ideal tandem to run Shanahan's offense. Breida, in particular, has impressed in camp. Williams is battling just to keep his career alive.

Richard Sherman, CB, San Francisco 49ers: The first test of recovering from a major surgery is when a player can get back on the field. Sherman passed that test when he returned from his Achilles injury to collect a key bonus in his contract. The bigger test is how long a player can stay there. Sherman is expected to miss at least a week with a hamstring injury, the type of ailment that can often plague a veteran who gets back on the field too soon. With starting slot cornerback K'Waun Williams also suffering a leg injury, the 49ers' optimism about their shaky secondary has already taken a hit.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.

Print

Headlines

The previous element was an advertisement.

NFL Shop