- Robert Griffin III is definitely going to start for the Browns, but it's still to early to call almost every other position battle in camp. How much attention you should pay to preseason depth charts, the buzz on rising rookies and more early August hype.
Sorting through the NFL’s hyperbole can be a challenge during the summer months, when OTAs, minicamps and training camps give rise to sweeping declarations about a player’s progress (or lack thereof). Each week, our Truth Detector will attempt to guide you toward reality.
Which remarks are to be believed, and which are merely off-season fodder?
Preseason depth charts
“I think with that game approaching, I think the depth chart will come out soon. [Media relations director Will Kiss] does the best he can, I don’t really worry about it this time of year, but we’ll have something out there for you.” — Oakland coach Jack Del Rio, via CSNBayArea.com.
Buying or selling Del Rio’s remarks: Buying, so take this as a quick reminder that those preseason depth charts are hardly gospel. Many teams (including Oakland, apparently) hand off the early preseason duties from the coaching staff to the p.r. team—the depth charts are required by the league and appreciated by fans and media, but staffs generally do not pin down their two-deeps until much later in August. Keep in mind that rosters are still at their 90-player maximum right now; they must be pared down to 53 before Week 1.
The actual rotations coaches use in the coming exhibitions are far more telling than any of the depth charts released this week.
Praise for Robert Griffin III
“I’m tickled pink. I really am. He played the way I think a quarterback has to play. I think he did it flawlessly. I think he did everything I asked him to do. But he’s got to continue to get better, too.” — Hue Jackson on Robert Griffin III, via NorthCoastNow.com.
Buying or selling Jackson’s remarks: A tentative buy. Considering that the Browns named Griffin their starting QB this week—the least surprising development of August thus far—it’s to be expected that Jackson would talk RG3 up a bit. It also falls right in line that Griffin would turn in a strong summer, especially in relation to Josh McCown and Cody Kessler in the quarterback race. Griffin always has had the natural ability to wow, and training camp allowed him ample opportunity to showcase his game.
Transitioning that progress from camp into the preseason and the regular season is another story entirely, hence Jackson’s call for Griffin “to continue to get better.” The Griffin we saw last in Washington was a mentally and physically fragile shell of his former self. He has not played a meaningful minute since Dec. 28, 2014: a 44–17 loss to the Cowboys.
The Browns have stockpiled a talented, if inexperienced, cadre of weapons for Griffin this off-season. They also have welcomed back Josh Gordon, who should ascend the depth chart rapidly once his four-game suspension ends. The pieces are there for the Cleveland offense to be quite good.
You’ll forgive folks for playing the waiting game on Griffin, though. He is a long way removed from his standout rookie season.
Tempers flare in Chicago
“Now we’re getting to the point where we’re just kind of being a dumb team. So we’ve got to find that fine line of when we’re being tough and when we’re being dumb. I think we’re right there on that edge, so now we kind have to start dialing it back and getting ready for games.” — Chicago QB Jay Cutler, on a series of training camp scraps, via CBS Chicago.
Buying or selling Cutler’s remarks: Selling, at least in regard to the Bears’ camp tussles providing any sort of insight into how disciplined (or undisciplined) they’ll be during the regular season. Of greater concern to Cutler, understandably, was that he did not want to see anyone get hurt during a pointless intrasquad scrap—the Bears already are down projected starting center Hronnis Grasu, who tore his ACL. The tipping point for Chicago’s QB reportedly came when hulking guard Kyle Long jumped into a fray over the weekend.
But every team is getting a little stir crazy right now, hence the joint practices many franchises have taken to in recent seasons. The impending start of preseason games will help, too.
If the Bears were coming off a season in which they played reckless football, this would be more of an issue. They’re not: Their 99 accepted penalties against last season was the seventh-lowest total in the league, per FootballDB.com. Provided things do not escalate, nothing to see here.
Sammy Watkins returns
"I was impressed. I mean, he looks like he’s in good shape. Sometimes that’s the first thing you worry about is the guy’s, you know, the kind of shape he’s in. Because he really hadn’t been doing football-specific. You know, he’s been doing drills but ’til you put the pads on, you run against somebody. But he appeared to me to be in pretty good shape. And obviously, you know, makes a great catch in the endzone." — Bills coach Rex Ryan on Sammy Watkins, via the Buffalo News.
Buying or selling Ryan’s remarks: Buying. Buying, buying, buying. Spoiler alert for any of our forthcoming NFL season preview coverage, but I’d argue Watkins is a definite top-10 receiver when healthy and could finish in the top five in yardage this season. Whether or not he plays all 16 games is another issue.
Watkins topped 100 yards receiving in four of his final six games last season (and had at least 80 yards in each of those outings), finishing with 1,047 yards despite missing three Sundays. He also enjoyed a stretch that saw him hang a combined six touchdowns over four weeks against the Chiefs, Texans, Eagles and Redskins.
The Bills took longer than they should have to figure out how exactly to utilize Watkins last season, although his time missed to injury didn’t help. But the third-year receiver is among the NFL’s most dynamic weapons. Better yet, he has the speed and body control to excel downfield, which is where Tyrod Taylor is at his most dangerous as a passer. The Taylor-Watkins duo should connect for more than their share of home-run plays this season.
Darian Thompson, starting safety?
“[Thompson’s] a young pro. He’s a guy that goes about his business the right way. He’s done it since he walked into the building. He’s mature. He studies his game, he communicates the game and we expect him to get better with reps.” — Ben McAdoo on rookie safety Darian Thompson, via ESPN.com.
Buying or selling McAdoo’s remarks: Maybe the Truth Detector is too jacked up for the start of preseason play, because this is another buy. Thompson’s slow 40 times contributed to a slide into the third round of this year’s draft, but we had him ranked as a top-20 prospect within the class. Throughout his career at Boise State, he was a playmaking safety. And despite his 19 career college interceptions, he eventually could wind up being even more effective in the box at the pro level.
McAdoo offered a simple one-word answer when asked if Thompson was in position to start alongside Landon Collins: “Yes.” There just is not much else in the cupboard at free safety after walking illegal hit Brandon Meriweather, a 12-game starter last season, was not re-signed by the Giants.
The Giants’ 2016 draft class could wind up being a game-changer. Not only did they swipe Thompson on Day Two, they also landed receiver Sterling Shepard in the second round and then found dazzling UCLA running back Paul Perkins in Round 5. Add those names to first-rounder Eli Apple, and the Giants could have four rookie starters in the lineup when they open the regular season next month.
Trevone Boykin’s rise
“I don’t want to go too far with it too fast. But he’s done a great job. He really is a good football player.’’ — Seahawks coach Pete Carroll on QB Trevone Boykin, via the Seattle Times.
Buying or selling Carroll’s remarks: Tougher read for the Truth Detector on this one. Boykin, an undrafted free agent, has been battling with 2015 UDFA Jake Heaps for the backup job behind Russell Wilson, and Carroll has compared Boykin to Wilson multiple times.
Does that mean that Boykin is ready to handle the No. 2 gig? Or that the Seahawks’ season somehow would not be lost if Wilson went down with an injury? We’ll find out the answer to the first question shortly, as Seattle decides whether or not to add a veteran QB somewhere along the road in the preseason. If not, it is probable that Boykin fends off Heaps for the backup job.
That doesn’t change the fact that Seattle would be in dire straits without Wilson. For all of Boykin’s athletic upside and for the creativity that reminds Carroll so much of Wilson, there is a massive gap from QB1 to QB2 on the depth chart. Boykin probably would have been drafted were it not for a late-season arrest (he has since been charged with assault), but even as a late-rounder, he would have been viewed as a very long-term project.
He did improve as a passing quarterback throughout his career at TCU, his skill set—pros and cons—definitely reminiscent of Wilson’s. Do the Seahawks really trust him as Wilson’s backup already? TBD.