MORRISTOWN, N.J. — First time in a hotel in six months and it is strange. We’ve got plenty coming for you from the road. But for now, we’re getting to your questions …
From Antonio Vidal (@GiantsVidal1027): Where do you think Jadeveon Clowney signs?
Antonio, as I see this, Clowney would still be best off returning to Seattle. They know him there, he knows their defense and there are less than four weeks until the opener—acclimating him to their program will be less of a problem than it would be elsewhere. The Titans are another team that can at least offer that sort familiarity, where he’d have a shot to hit the ground running, given that Mike Vrabel was his position coach in Houston.
The thing is, he’s gotten good offers, and the ship has sailed on him getting anywhere close to what the top pass-rushers have been getting—and I say that understanding why he’d feel like he belongs in the club. The best plan for him now is to saddle up for 2021 free agency, and his best chance to do that is by going to a place that will be able to incorporate him quickly. Short of a return to Houston, Tennessee and Seattle are the two best places for it to happen.
From Zay (@i_zaya_): Will Tua win ROY?
Zay, love the simplicity of your question—and I don’t think it’s totally out of the question. He’d have to get in the lineup quickly, but we’ve seen in the past (and as recently as last year, with Kyler Murray getting the nod over Josh Jacobs for OROY) that rookie quarterbacks are graded on a curve by awards voters. And rightfully so, given the challenge of playing the position period.
Now, a ton of things about how Brian Flores operates, and how competitive I think he’ll be in approaching this season, tell me to bet on Ryan Fitzpatrick to start for the Dolphins. But everything I saw from Tua Tagovailoa as an 18-year-old true freshman at Alabama in 2017 tells me not to bet against him. Again, this is a young quarterback who Nick Saban turned to at halftime of the national title game. And boy, did he deliver.
So here’s what wouldn’t surprise me: This playing out like the Browns quarterback situation did in 2018. Cleveland, you’ll remember, was strongly committed to playing Tyrod Taylor … until Baker Mayfield came off the bench in Week 3, lit up the Jets on a Thursday night, and, in doing so, very clearly displayed the spark he could bring the team.
I love Fitzpatrick in the role he’s playing in Miami now. But we know he’s been a little, let’s say, streaky. Which means it’s not hard to conjure up a scenario where he throws a couple picks, Tua goes in, and the rest is history. In fact, it wouldn’t be all that unlike what happened at Alabama three years ago. We know what happened in that title game. We also know who got the call from Saban thereafter.
From D. Generate (@DGenerate15): Is Drew Lock the real deal?
D, I’m a little worried about the situation on the offensive line. Dalton Risner and Graham Glasgow will be solid at guard. But elsewhere? Well, best case, they have a rookie (Lloyd Cushenberry) at center, and the tackle spot is a smoldering mess. Garett Bolles was on the block in April and is no sure thing to win the left tackle spot, and right tackle Ja’Wuan James opted out. Demar Dotson, 34, was signed last week to potentially replace him.
How big a problem is that? Well, when you look at the young quarterbacks that broke out in Year 2 over the last three years, each had a rock-solid tackle situation. Carson Wentz had Jason Peters and Lane Johnson, Patrick Mahomes had Eric Fisher and Mitch Schwartz, Lamar Jackson had Ronnie Stanley and Orlando Brown. And I’d say that was a bigger deal than what their teams were bringing at the skill positions.
Like anyone else, I’m pumped to see what Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler can do alongside Courtland Sutton and Noah Fant, with Lock’s ability to create with his feet and get the ball downfield. But I’d worry that it might not matter if Denver doesn’t find a way to sort out what’s in front of its 23-year-old quarterback.
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From Thomas (@tws_writing): What do you think is Tampa Bay’s ceiling? Can they win their division and be a SB contender?
Thomas, we can start here—the Saints might have the best roster in football and should be considered the favorite to win their fourth straight division title. And I’m not sure that I’m gonna pick them to win it all again, but they’re in a real sweet spot with the number of guys who are already elite and still ascending in their locker room. Atlanta’s gonna be better than people think, too.
Right now, I’d wedge the Bucs between those two. Tom Brady’s got a really good skill group around him, with two top-shelf receivers (Mike Evans, Chris Godwin), obscene depth at tight end (Rob Gronkowski, O.J. Howard, Cam Brate), and options in the backfield (Ronald Jones, Shady McCoy). But beyond that? There are a lot of variables.
How quickly does Tristan Wirfs assimilate to the NFL at right tackle? What do the Bucs do at right guard? How much do Jason Pierre-Paul and Ndamukong Suh have left? Can Shaq Barrett come anywhere close to doing what he did last year? Can a young secondary deliver on the promise it showed down the stretch last year? And after being in New England for so long, will the detail-oriented Brady be able to get everyone to see the game as he does?
There are a lot of questions there to be answered. The ceiling, with Brady, is winning a Super Bowl in your home stadium. But that’s one of a wide range of potential results.
From Joey Celona (@YourAverageJoe3): How will the Bills’ backfield shake out?
The easy thing to look at is the departure of Frank Gore, the flashes from Devin Singletary (775 yards) as a rookie, and figure that this one’s academic—with the second-year back poised to take over as workhorse. But I’d keep an eye on Zack Moss. Last fall, I had scouts compare the ex-Utah star favorably to Raiders RB Josh Jacobs, and his violent style suits the kind of team that Sean McDermott wants.
The other thing here is that, like the lighter Singletary, Moss is a capable receiver out of the backfield. That’s something that will be important for him as he tries to win snaps in Brian Daboll’s offense. I think at the very least Moss is going to carve out a significant role in the backfield—it doesn’t hurt that he traveled to work with Josh Allen more than once in the spring—and give the Bills a second promising young piece at the position.
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From īnhaneInTheMembrane (@tattsnscarz13): Will Kenyan Drake continue his success like he had last year?
Inhane, in cases like this I like to look closely at the level of investment a team has made in a player. The Cardinals traded a fifth-round pick for Drake midseason, then stuck a tag on him in March that, at more than $8 million, made him the sixth-highest paid tailback in football. So Kliff Kingsbury and GM Steve Keim have made it pretty clear that they value what Drake brings to the table.
The key to that lies in his versatility. Over the last two years, between two teams, and under three different head coaches and three different offensive systems, Drake has caught 103 balls. That, to me (and I think to Kingsbury too), is as significant as the 643 yards and eight touchdowns he managed on the ground over eight games for the Cardinals last year. More than just a back, he’s a chess piece for Kingsbury.
It’ll be fun to see how they move him around now that he has a full year in Arizona under his belt.
From Leon Kamitsis (@kamitsis_leon): Who starts at QB for the Patriots, Cam or Stid?
Leon, I was out at Patriots practice on Tuesday, and I will say that if this isn’t an open competition, then Bill Belichick’s going to great lengths to fake it as one. The quarterbacks are very much mixing with different groups, and being tested in different ways, and obviously that’s making for a different looking camp than the last 18 when Tom Brady was entrenched as New England’s starter.
That said, I think Cam Newton starts. I think, in a number of ways, he’s perfect for the Patriots for this season. He makes them less predictable. He gives them another force in the run game to take advantage of the potential that other teams may struggle with their conditioning early in the year. He allows you to make things a little easier for young receivers, in a place that’s traditionally been hard on young receivers.
I think he’s a sort of ideal for-the-COVID-season fit for Belichick and Josh McDaniels. And the bonus is that there’s potential, since he’s still just 31, for Cam to be a lot more than that.
From Zay (@i_zaya_): Will Lamar Jackson regress this year? And will Patrick Mahomes throw for 40+ TDs?
On Lamar Jackson, let’s take a look Patrick Mahomes, 2018 vs. 2019.
2018: 383-580 (66.0%), 5,097 yards, 50 TDs, 12 INTs, 113.8 rating in 16 games.
2019: 319-484 (65.9%), 4,031 yards, 26 TDs, 5 INTs, 105.3 rating in 14 games.
On the surface, that looks like regression, even when accounting for Mahomes’ knee injury, correct? Well, Year 3 wasn’t the magic carpet ride that Year 2 was for Mahomes, and I’d argue going through what he did made him more ready to pull off the unprecedented in the playoffs—overcoming double-digit deficits in three straight games to win a Super Bowl. Mahomes wasn’t less of a player in 2019. His circumstances just changed.
Point is, Jackson had the same sort of campaign last year that Mahomes had two years ago. It’s hard to duplicate those, for a lot of obvious reasons. So yes, I’d expect some statistical regression. But if it leads him where this sort of thing led Mahomes last year, I think Jackson would be OK with that.
From Tyler Brown (@TylerBr72605243): Do Cowboys need to trade for a good starting dt since the draft will be affected next year bc of covid?
Tyler, there was bad luck involved in Gerald McCoy’s injury, of course. But this is how Dallas has built its defensive line. It’s hard to get premium talent at those positions without drafting high, and so the Cowboys built theirs by using some draft risks (DeMarcus Lawrence, Randy Gregory), and gambles on older players (McCoy, Dontari Poe, Everson Griffen) as ways of cutting corners a little bit.
When you do that? Some work out (Lawrence), and others don’t (Gregory). And based on where the Cowboys are cap-wise going forward, I think it’d be tough for them to mortgage draft capital, given that they’re going to need cheap, young talent to fill out the lineup around their stars.
All that’s a long way of saying that I think their ability fill the void left by McCoy will come down to their ability to develop younger guys like Trysten Hill and Neville Gallimore on the fly.
From Brian Moehnke (@BrianChipper): Do Albert's get a bad rap? Are Albert's more or as successful Alfred's?
I think so, Brian. Albert is a name for kings (George VI) and geniuses (Einstein). Everyone knows that.
From Just For The Titans (@Drew58230496): Is this Coronavirus year going to be most helped by a) overall roster, b) coaching, c) depth, d) personal responsibility?
Titans, you really need to listen to the pod from this week—Bobby Carpenter was outstanding in breaking all of that down. Here’s how I’d rank these things …
1. Personal responsibility: I just think teams that have guys hitting the bars on Thursday and Friday nights in this particular year are gonna have problems beyond just positive COVID-19 tests. Given the time constraints and overall weirdness of this year, I think the most mature teams will have a huge edge.
2. Overall roster: Good players win games. Same as it ever has been.
3. Coaching: I think creativity will come into play, because teams will be able to hide stuff a little better without preseason games. I don’t think it was a mistake that during the 2011 lockout year, the two first-year coaches that did best (Jim Harbaugh, John Fox) were guys who unleashed something new on the league. I think that sort dynamic will be apparent, especially early on.
4. Depth: I hate putting this last, because all four elements are important. And this one is too. There could be weeks where a team is suddenly down three starting linemen or both starting corners. So your reserves figure to be as important as they’ve ever been—and given the injury rate in the NFL, depth is always important.