Here we are. Less than two weeks away from the 2019 NFL preseason kicking off with the Hall of Fame Game between Denver and Atlanta. The Broncos will see the late, great Pat Bowlen enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame alongside legendary cornerback Champ Bailey, while the Falcons will celebrate Tony Gonzalez — who made four Pro Bowl appearances in five years with the club — as he makes the cut in his very first year of eligibility. In the meantime, though, training camps are opening up around the league, and we know you’re hungry for injury updates, insider information on depth chart developments, and any other miscellaneous narratives that may be going on in the NFL at the moment. We got you, baby. For the diehard NFL fans and newcomers alike, welcome into a Saturday edition of the often imitated, never replicated Rotowire Training Camp Blog.
Guarantees in life include death, taxes, and an absolute media circus surrounding the Jets. Well, things have calmed down somewhat now that Joe Douglas has replaced the unceremoniously-fired Mike Maccagnan as general manager, but a report from NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport indicated that No. 3 overall pick Quinnen Williams did not report to rookie training camp Friday with his draft class peers. Thankfully, unlike many storylines that permeate from Jets camp, this latest development may very well be benign in nature. Last year’s first-round pick Sam Darnold did not report for the beginning of rookie camp, either, but signed his deal after missing just a few practice sessions and went on to have a mostly encouraging debut campaign. The team hopes that Williams will quickly assimilate with other members of the front seven — including C.J. Mosley, Avery Williamson and 2015 first-rounder Leonard Williams — to help New York improve upon a 26th-place finish in rush defense.
The Ravens, meanwhile, have placed defensive tackle Michael Pierce on the non-football injury list to open training camp. He was pulled off the practice field during mandatory mini-camp because of his conditioning (or lack thereof), and based on this latest story it appears that he’s still a distant ways from being in the best shape of his career. Pierce returning to form will go a long way in determining how successful this Baltimore defense is in 2019. With so much defensive personnel departing over the offseason, Pierce’s presence in the lineup should serve as a stabilizing force. Since his NFL debut he’s led the Ravens defense in run-stop percentage each year, and his 12 percent mark in 2018 ranked second among all interior defenders behind only Damon “Snacks” Harrison (per Pro Football Focus).
In Houston, second-year man Jordan Thomas enters training camp atop the tight end depth chart. A 2018 sixth-round pick out of Mississippi State, Thomas managed only 20 catches for 215 yards while playing on 40.3 percent of the Texans’ offensive snaps last year. He did, however, put up a respectable four touchdowns on the year, with all four scores coming after Week 7. Thomas may have become more productive as the season wore on, but fantasy expectations remain low regarding the outlook of this position group. Since Bill O’Brien assumed responsibilities as head coach in 2014, no Texans tight end has exceeded 600 receiving yards or four receiving touchdown in any season.
Staying in H-Town, it’s expected that Texans receiver Will Fuller (knee) will be healthy for the start of the regular season. In what was his third NFL season last year, Fuller broke the 100-yard threshold three times and scored touchdowns in four of his seven appearances before suffering a torn ACL in a late-October matchup against the Dolphins. Being the explosive, down-field playmaker that he is, Fuller is expected to thrive statistically if capable of suiting up for an entire NFL season – something that he has never been able to do. His skillset matches organically with star quarterback Deshaun Watson, who last year finished fifth among quarterbacks in average completed air yards, per Next Gen Stats.
We stay at approximately the same latitude, but travel 800 miles east to Tampa Bay where No. 5 overall selection Devin White is set to sign his rookie contract. The best LSU linebacker to enter the NFL since Deion Jones in 2016, White has been the Tigers’ leading tackler over the past two seasons by counts of 67 and 36, respectively. Folks, in 2017 this guy had more than twice as many tackles than the team’s second-leading player in the category. Tampa Bay’s secondary remains in a ghastly, nightmarish state, but the front seven will be excellent with White now secured to his rookie deal, as well as Ndamukong Suh and Shaquil Barrett joining the team via free agency.
Perhaps the following is a story with less gravitas, but significant implications nonetheless: veteran safety Kurt Coleman has agreed to a one-year deal with the Bills. The 31-year-old has never been a Pro Bowl-caliber player at the highest level, but he brings a steady veteran presence and 83 career starts to the back end of a Buffalo defense that last year allowed 15 fewer passing yards per game than any other unit in the NFL. Just another solid player on the depth chart for one of the NFL’s more underrated defenses. Adding a talented pass rusher to the fold would be greatly beneficial, but this is a team that knows how to take the ball away even without suffocating pocket pressure. The Bills defense has finished top 10 in takeaways in each of Sean McDermott’s two years as head coach despite ranking 26th or worse in sacks during 2017 and 2018.
To wrap up this Saturday’s column we head out to the Rocky Mountains, where the Broncos elected to have their veterans report to training camp a full four days before any other NFL team. Friday was Denver’s first official practice of the summer, and early indications out of camp are that Royce Freeman may become more involved in the offense during his second season out of Oregon. Benjamin Allbright of KOA News Radio reports that Freeman could see an elevated role in short-yardage and goal-line situations during 2019, a position he has potential to thrive within given his bulky 6-foot, 230-pound frame. He was a hot commodity in fantasy football heading into draft season last year, but ended up severely underperforming expectations due both to an ankle injury as well as the emergence of fellow rookie Phillip Lindsay, who averaged 5.4 yards per carry and earned a Pro Bowl nomination after not even receiving an invite to the NFL Combine. Pac-12 offensive numbers are undoubtedly inflated with a number of suspect defensive units within the conference, but let’s not forget that Freeman is Oregon’s all-time leading rusher, and a player who Denver was willing to invest an early third-round pick in just a year ago. Lindsay is the more electrifying player and sure to be more active so long as his late-season wrist injury does not flare up again, but Freeman carries under-the-radar value in fantasy football this year given his skillset and potential high-volume workload near the end zone.
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We’ll see you next Saturday for another weekend edition of the Training Camp Blog, by which point each of the 32 franchises will have had veteran players report to the team facility. In the meantime, however, another week of excellent and pertinent football blogging awaits — starting tomorrow when Erik Siegrist brings the heat for his first training camp breakdown of the 2019 NFL campaign.