By Jermaine Evans
The Cleveland Browns
As we enter the Cleveland Browns bye week the TEAM stands at 4-7 without starting quarterback DeShaun Watson, Nick Chubb enters week 9 as the NFL leading Rusher and in touchdowns. After a great win versus the Cincinnati Bengals this gives the city and its fans more hope looking at a defense headed by the dominant Myles Garrett that dominated Joe Burrow after the first seven weeks of a terrible showing with its running defense and passing defense. The Team and its Fans are looking forward to week 13 when they will get DeShaun Watson back. All fans would hope that the team can get to the .500 Mark or above before Deshawn comes back and look forward to a playoff push when hes inserted into the starting line up. As the trade deadline just passed the Browns stay put they did not move Kareem hunt which keeps the team one two punch intact. The hope is that Coach Stafanski will dominate and choose to run the ball more than he throws the ball with Jacoby Brissett even though his connection with Amari Cooper seems to go hand in hand with the offense this shows that Amari Cooper is really one of the top five route runners in the league as it seems with every catch that he makes he seems to be wide open with precise skills and hands to go with his route running ability. So going forward we will see how this team progresses throughout the rest of the season in hopes to snag a playoff spot.
With two of the best players in the country leading the way -- and a championship-game loss as motivation -- Alabama is No. 1 in the Associated Press preseason college football poll for the second straight season and ninth time overall.
Reigning Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young, national defensive player of the year Will Anderson Jr. and the Crimson Tide received 54 of 63 first-place votes and 1,566 points in the Top 25 presented by Regions Bank released on Monday.
Ohio State is No. 2 with six first-place votes (1,506 points) from the media panel, and defending national champion Georgia is third with three first-place votes (1,455 points). Clemson is No. 4. Notre Dame rounds out the top five, setting up a tantalizing opener at Ohio State on Sept. 3.
The Tide's preseason No. 1 ranking is their seventh in 15 years under coach Nick Saban. Since the preseason rankings started in 1950, only Oklahoma, with 10 appearances, has been No. 1 in the initial poll more often than Alabama.
The Crimson Tide started last season No. 1 and finished ranked No. 2 after losing the national championship game to the Southeastern Conference-rival Bulldogs.
Saban recently called 2021 a rebuilding season for his Tide dynasty, which has won six national titles over the past 13 years. He has a point. Young was in his first season as a starter last year, playing behind an inexperienced offensive line. He was unfazed, throwing for 4,872 yards and 47 touchdowns.
Anderson was a force on the other side of the ball as Alabama broke in a back seven with mostly new starters. The sophomore led the nation in tackles for loss with 33.5, 11.5 more than No. 2 on the list.
Ohio State brings back a Heisman Trophy finalist at quarterback in C.J. Stroud, while at Georgia, most of the key players from one of the best college defenses of the past 25 years are now in the NFL. Still, quarterback Stetson Bennett and All-America tight end Brock Bowers return to a Bulldogs offense that could be even more explosive in 2022.
Texas A&M, which finished last season unranked despite handing Alabama its only regular-season loss, starts this season No. 6.
Alabama has been in the preseason top five in each of the past 14 seasons and in the preseason top three in 13 straight. The Tide's 31st preseason top-five ranking this year matches Ohio State for the most in poll history.
Turning preseason No. 1 into a national championship has proved tricky throughout history, even for Alabama.
The Crimson Tide have gone on to win the national championship after starting No. 1 just once under Saban and twice overall.
Since the AP preseason poll began in 1950, there have been 11 preseason No. 1 teams that also finished the season top-ranked. Alabama was the last to do it (2017).
RARITIES AND STREAKS
• No. 13 North Carolina State is ranked in the preseason poll for the first time since 2003. The Wolfpack matched their best preseason ranking; they were also 13th in 1975.
• No. 17 Pitt is in the preseason rankings for the first time since 2010.
• No. 20 Kentucky is making its first preseason poll appearance since 1978.
• No. 22 Wake Forest made the preseason rankings for the first time since 2008.
• Texas A&M has the second-best preseason ranking for a team that finished the previous season unranked. Ohio State was No. 3 in the 1972 preseason poll after being unranked at the end of the 1971 season, and Notre Dame started No. 6 in 1983 after finishing unranked in 1982.
How did the seasons work out for those teams? Ohio State went 9-2 and finished the season No. 9. The Irish went 7-5 and unranked again.
• LSU with new coach Brian Kelly will start the season unranked for the first time since 2000, Saban's first of five seasons as coach of the Tigers.
Five schools ranked in the preseason poll have head coaches starting their first full seasons leading their teams: Notre Dame (Marcus Freeman), Oklahoma (Brent Venables), No. 11 Oregon (Dan Lanning), No. 14 USC (Lincoln Riley) and No. 16 Miami (Mario Cristobal).
This is the second time in the past five seasons that five teams with new coaches were ranked in the preseason, according to research done by Sportradar. It also happened in 2018, but before that season, that type of representation in the preseason poll for teams with new coaches was a rarity.
You have to go all the way back to 1990, when six schools with coaches entering their first full season, appeared in the preseason Top 25, according to Sportradar. That list includes some notable names: Gary Moeller, Michigan; Ken Hatfield, Clemson; Gene Stallings, Alabama; Jack Crowe, Arkansas; Paul Hackett, Pittsburgh; and John Jenkins, Houston.
For the fourth straight season, the SEC has three teams in the top six.
The Atlantic Coast Conference matched its best showing in the preseason poll with five teams. The ACC has reached that number four previous times.
SEC -- 6 (Nos. 1, 3, 6, 19, 20, 21).
ACC -- 5 (Nos. 4, 13, 16, 17, 22).
Big Ten -- 4 (Nos. 2, 8, 15, 18).
Big 12 -- 3 (Nos. 9, 10, 12).
Pac-12 -- 3 (Nos. 7, 11, 14).
American -- 2 (Nos. 23, 24).
Independents -- 2 (Nos. 5, 25).
First-place votes in parentheses.
Ohio St. (6)11-23.
By Pete Prisco
Jun 15, 2022 at 7:42 am ET•22 min read
Stars win in the NFL. Period.
The Los Angeles Rams put that on display last season in winning the Super Bowl. They are certainly a top-heavy team, with big money paid to their star players. Of course, they have to do a good job of supplementing the roster to make it work, which general manager Les Snead has done, but it's the stars who drive the team.
They also lead my 2022 list of the NFL's top 100 players. Not only do the Rams have the No. 1 player on the list, but they have three in the top 10, and none of those is their high-priced quarterback, although Matt Stafford is a top 50 player.
Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald is the No. 1 player on my list this year. That's because he's the best defensive player in the league, as well as being in the argument to be considered the best of all time. He is clearly the top player at his position, whereas an argument could be made at all the others, even quarterback.
The other Rams players in my top 10 are receiver Cooper Kupp at No. 5 and cornerback Jalen Ramsey at No. 10. Kupp showed the football world last year that he is currently the NFL's best receiver. Ramsey remains a shutdown corner, who evolved into much more last season in a variety of roles in the new-look Raheem Morris defense.
The fact that Donald tops the list moves a quarterback off the top spot. That doesn't mean the top-10 isn't quarterback heavy —as usual. In fact, the entire list is quarterback heavy because there are a lot of star passers in the league right now.
If you're wondering which team has the most players, it's the Los Angeles Chargers with nine in the top 100 -- three more than the three teams tied for the next most with six (Cowboys, Buccaneers and 49ers). The Rams ended up with five, as did the Bills, Bengals, Chiefs and Packers. The Patriots are among six teams without any in the top 100, joining the Giants, Jets, Texans, Jaguars and Lions.
So dive in and eat it up. Nobody will be happy. That much I know. But for all those out there ready to kill me for the list, I offer you this: Try it. It's not easy to do, especially in a league where there are so many good players.
1. Aaron Donald LOS ANGELES RAMS DT
2. Aaron Rodgers GREEN BAY PACKERS QB
3. Patrick Mahomes KANSAS CITY
4. Josh Allen BUFFALO BILLS QB
5. Cooper KuppLOS ANGELES RAMS WR
6. Tom Brady TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS QB
7. T.J. Watt PITTSBURGH STEELERS OLB
8. Trent Williams SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS OT
9. Myles Garrett CLEVELAND BROWNS D
10. Jalen Ramsey LOS ANGELES RAMS CB
Mahomes said he wouldn't go as far as to say Black quarterbacks are evaluated differently than their white counterparts. But he did say he found it interesting that only Black quarterbacks are subject to certain types of criticism.
"Obviously, the Black quarterback has had to battle to be in this position that we are to have this many guys in the league playing,'' Mahomes said Friday after the Kansas City Chiefs concluded a training camp practice. "Every day, we're proving that we should have been playing the whole time. We've got guys that can think just as well as they can use their athleticism. It's always weird when you see guys like me, Lamar [Jackson], Kyler kind of get that on them when other guys don't. But at the same time we're going out there to prove ourselves every day to show we can be some of the best quarterbacks in the league.''
Mahomes went on to say he still has plenty to prove.
"You always feel like you have more to prove,'' he said. "I promise Tom Brady is feeling like he has more to prove. That comes with any sport, any competitor. If you're not getting better, you're getting worse. They build you up to tear you down. You've got to kind of know that. For me, it's all about how I can make myself better, not what other people say. How can I make myself better so that we go out there and play football games? At the end of the day nothing matters until you're on that football field playing and that's where you get to prove who you are every single day.''
In a recent story in The Athletic, an unnamed NFL defensive coordinator said Mahomes' game falls apart when he is forced to go beyond his first read. However, Mahomes otherwise received glowing reviews from other coaches in the piece and was ranked as the No. 2 quarterback in the NFL. Jackson in the same story was called less than a top level quarterback, also by an unnamed defensive coach, yet was still ranked as the 10th best signal caller in the league.
Murray recently signed a contract that required him to study game material on his own for four hours per week. The Cardinals later removed that requirement from his contract.
By Joel Corry
Jul 27, 2022 at 1:18 pm ET•5 min read
Kirk Cousins broke new ground by signing the NFL's first lucrative fully guaranteed veteran contract as an unrestricted free agent in 2018. The Vikings gave the quarterback a three-year, $84 million deal worth up to $90 million with incentives, which made him the league's highest-paid player at $28 million per year.
The hope was Cousins' deal would be the catalyst to more fully guaranteed contracts in the NFL. The door Cousins opened quickly shut with the next two quarterbacks who signed for more than he did.
Matt Ryan became the NFL's first $30 million-per-year player a couple of months later. The five-year, $150 million contract extension Ryan received from the Falcons had NFL records of $100 million in overall guarantees and $94.5 million fully guaranteed at signing.
Aaron Rodgers replaced Ryan as the league's highest-paid player that preseason. He signed a four-year, $134 million extension with the Packers worth a maximum of $138 million through salary escalators and incentives. There were $98.2 million of guarantees, which included the largest signing bonus ever at the time of $57.5 million.
It took four years for there to be another fully guaranteed veteran contract of a greater magnitude than Cousins' deal. Nobody expected Deshaun Watson to get a fully guaranteed, five-year, $230 million contract in March as part of his trade from the Texans to the Browns because of his alleged inappropriate sexual conduct during numerous massage sessions. It is expected that Watson will begin the 2022 regular season serving a suspension for a violation of the NFL's personal conduct policy.
Watson had four years worth $136 million remaining on the four-year extension averaging $39 million per year he signed with the Texans in September 2020. He has the type of guaranteed money typically in lucrative NBA contracts.
Kyler Murray just became the first quarterback since Watson signed to top his deal. The Cardinals gave Murray a five-year, $230.5 million extension worth up to $238 million through salary escalators. There's $160 million in overall guarantees where $103.3 million is fully guaranteed at signing. The 2019 first overall pick has an unprecedented clause in his contract requiring four hours of independent film study during each week of the regular season to prevent his guarantees from voiding.
It is unknown whether getting a fully guaranteed contract is a priority for Jackson, who represents himself. Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti acknowledged the potential impact of Watson's contract at the NFL owners meetings in March. "I wish they hadn't guaranteed the whole contract," Bisciotti said. "I don't know that he should've been the first guy to get a full guaranteed contract. To me, that's something that's groundbreaking, and it'll make negotiations harder with others." He also added, "But it doesn't necessarily mean that we have to play that game, you know? We shall see."
Nonetheless, Jackson would be justified in insisting on a fully guaranteed contract comparable to Watson's. He is more accomplished than Watson. Jackson established a new single-season quarterback rushing record with 1,206 yards on the ground and led the NFL with 36 touchdown passes in 2019 when he was league MVP. He was also the first player to have at least 3,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards in the same season.
Watson has never been a first team All-Pro, let alone NFL MVP. There also aren't any concerns about Jackson's off-the-field behavior.
The conditions could be favorable for Russell Wilson to get a fully guaranteed deal even if Jackson doesn't. Broncos general manager George Paton indicated on Tuesday that a Wilson deal will get done at the right time.
Wilson, who has two years left on his contract worth $50 million, should have considerable leverage because of his acquisition cost. The Broncos gave the Seahawks multiple players (tight end Noah Fant, defensive lineman Shelby Harris and quarterback Drew Lock), 2022 and 2023 first-round picks, 2022 and 2023 second-round picks and a 2022 fifth-round pick for Wilson and 2022 fourth-round pick.
Mark Rodgers, Wilson agent, hasn't been afraid to think outside of the box. He reportedly proposed tying Wilson's compensation in the latter years of a contract to the growth in salary cap during previous negotiations with the Seahawks. A fully guaranteed contract might be particularly appealing to Rodgers because of his experience as a baseball agent where he's accustomed to dealing with completely secure deals.
The ownership group buying the Broncos, led by Walmart heir Rob Walton, has deep pockets. Walton will easily be the NFL's richest owner with an estimated net worth of $58.3 billion, according to Forbes. The NFL's funding rules won't be an issue for him.
The same probably isn't true for family-run organizations like the Bengals and Chargers. In just two NFL seasons with the Bengals and Chargers, respectively, 2020 first-round picks Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert have entered into the elite-quarterback discussion. Burrow and Herbert will be eligible to sign extensions once the 2022 regular season ends next January.
Bengals president Mike Brown has already acknowledged that retaining Burrow is the organization's main focus. Cincinnati's veteran contracts have an antiquated and vanilla structure. The only true guaranteed money is in a signing bonus. Unsecured March roster bonuses in the second and/or third contract years, typically due on the third or fifth day of the league year, are supposed to be substitutes for additional contact guarantees. A refusal to include traditional guarantees in any new contract should be a deal-breaker for Burrow at this point.
The Chargers established records for total guarantees and money fully guaranteed at signing with non-quarterbacks in edge rusher Joey Bosa's 2020 extension. It wouldn't be surprising for the Chargers to set new benchmarks with Herbert in these contract metrics for quarterbacks without fully guaranteed contracts.
Whether history repeats itself like in 2018 will depend on the ability of the next quarterbacks in line for paydays, particularly Jackson and Wilson, to capitalize on Watson's contract. Watson will likely become an outlier because of his unique circumstances with those two getting traditional contract structures. Multiple teams were recruiting Watson to waive his no-trade clause, so he was more like a free agent than the typical contract-extension candidate where there's a closed negotiation only with the player's team. It might take another quarterback willing to embrace franchise tags like Cousins did and hit the open market for there to be another fully guaranteed veteran contract if that door shuts again.
Now that draft picks are technically considered NFL rookies, it's time to decide which are ready to be "instant impact" players -- one of my favorite phrases to type this time of year on the NFL calendar. Because now every team is technically in "win-now" mode given how short patience has become in today's society. It's become increasingly difficult for franchises that look to be in "tank mode."
Last year, Micah Parsons was a menace immediately. Rashawn Slater blocked everything in September and never looked back. Creed Humphrey locked down the center spot in Kansas City. And Ja'Marr Chase was sensational for the vast majority of the season.
Two years ago, it was Justin Herbert who erupted out of the gate. And Tristan Wirfs. And Justin Jefferson. And Chase Young. Here's my list of the top 10 instant impact rookies from the 2022 NFL Draft class.
In 2021, I incorporated a rule to not include quarterbacks because of how outrageously obvious they would've been from the 2021 draft class. Because we had the polar opposite quarterback class in 2022, that rule is out the window. This year, only one selection from the top-five picks was allowed.
As a draft analyst who respects the way Bell changes speeds to get open because he's not overly fast or explosive, I'd love to see him thrive in the NFL. Of course, speed does matter at receiver, but had Bell run a few tenths of a second faster at the combine or his pro day, he would've been a first-round receiver. Everything else about his game is tremendous. He tracks it naturally over his shoulder and in traffic, and his unshakeable equilibrium makes him a yards-after-the-catch monster. With Deshaun Watson throwing him the ball early in the 2022 season -- we think -- Bell can be very productive in Cleveland's offense.
One can look at Wilson's situation two ways. First, given the presence of Elijah Moore, Corey Davis, Braxton Berrios, and CJ Uzomah, he'll find himself in advantageous scenarios coverage-wise early on. Or, that trio could be an impediment to Wilson being a central facet of the Zach Wilson-led passing game for Gang Green. I land somewhere in the middle there but probably lean toward the latter. Is Wilson immensely talented? Ab-so-lutely. It just feels like it'll take time for him to wrestle away a considerable amount of targets, and we haven't seen sustained high-level play from his young quarterback yet.
Hall and second-year runner Michael Carter will formulate an ideal duo in the Jets backfield as young runners who complement each other's style perfectly. The main reason Hall is lower than you probably expected.. New York's offensive line. Now, fourth-round pick Max Mitchell is an ideal zone-blocking scheme right tackle, but to presume a mid-round rookie will enter the lineup and transform the blocking unit is a bit foolish, and the Jets had a leaky offensive line, which of course directly impacts how efficient a running back is.
Olave won't have to shoulder the responsibility of facing the opposition's No. 1 cornerback thanks to the return of Michael Thomas in 2022, which is an immediate win for the rookie wideout. And, he'll get Jameis Winston throwing him the football, one of the league's most aggressive passers. Now, Winston only threw the football 30 or more times in two of his seven starts last season, but given the Saints ascension to grab Olave, it's safe to assume the pass game will return to being the focal point of New Orleans' offense, and the crisp route-running brilliance of Olave will lead to productivity out of the gate for the former Ohio State star.
Hamilton was my No. 1 overall prospect, and landing with the Ravens feels exquisite. He's a tick lower than his lofty pre-draft ranking would indicate because of the presence of newly signed safety Marcus Williams and Chuck Clark, the latter having been a trustworthy, multidimensional safety for years now in Baltimore. That's not to suggest Hamilton won't see the field early with the Ravens. In new defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald's scheme, he absolutely will. There's just a reasonable chance the Ravens won't load Hamilton's plate immediately. When they do, he'll flourish.
The Bills will get No. 1 cornerback Tre'Davious White back this season from a torn ACL he suffered on Thanksgiving against the Saints. Elam will assume No. 2 cornerback duties in a defensive scheme that got the most out of former undrafted free agent Levi Wallace and seventh-round pick Dane Jackson. Elam is head and shoulders a better all-around athlete than Wallace and Jackson and will enter the NFL with more coverage polish. In Buffalo's established scheme, Elam is going to thrive, instantly.
The Packers have to replace 248 targets from their 2021 regular season, and the receiver room shouldn't exactly be brimming with confidence right now. Green Bay traded two second-round picks in the division -- to the Vikings -- to land Watson at No. 34 overall. Not cheap. But at 6-4 with 4.36 speed, Watson has the physical makeup to be a big-play specialist with long-ball artist Aaron Rodgers hucking the football around Lambeau Field. He's raw as a route runner and not going to bounce off many tackles, but the athletic profile and opportunity is undeniably there for the former FCS star.
Offensive guards don't immediately come to mind when we think "instant impact." But I watched all of Justin Herbert's drop backs in 2021 for my weekly young quarterback grade series, and repeatedly in my head I thought "the offensive line is losing this game for the Chargers." Now, that was mostly aimed at the right tackle position, as Rashawn Slater was a Kevlar left tackle. Johnson's steady play could directly lead to Herbert taking another jump in 2022, which would send him into orbit as a superstar quarterback.
It's layup time. Hutchinson was the No. 2 overall pick to a team in dire need of edge-rushing juice. Beyond that, Detroit had to find a three-down, high-energy defender who could assume a leadership role. All that embodies what Hutchinson will bring to the field in the Motor City. Hutchinson's swim move, speed-to-power conversion, and impressive bend at nearly 6-7 and 260 pounds will make him an instant-impact rusher in Detroit.
Hall and Vita Vea together, inside on the Buccaneers defensive front, is how it's supposed to be. One advanced, penetrating pass-rusher and one enormous block-devourer. Yes, Vea can push the pocket, too. but he'll initially demand doubles on the interior, and Shaq Barrett is no slouch around the outside.
Hall's pass-rush move arsenal was the most advanced of any top-tier defensive tackle in this class. That will shallow his learning curve once he's on an NFL field. Beyond his refinement beating blocks, Hall is a uniquely freaky specimen at 6-6 and 283 pounds with enough flexibility to squeeze through gaps to disrupt the pocket on a consistent basis. That's what he did over and over in college and what he's going to do in Todd Bowles' defense as a rookie.
This was a pairing decided by the football cosmos. It will become a "well, it's the rest of the NFL's fault for letting Moore land in Kansas City" type situation. He was the sixth wideout picked in the second round! How in tarnation did that happen? Moore's film was riveting, he tested like a high-caliber athlete and doesn't turn 22 until September. Sure, there's Travis Kelce, Mecole Hardman, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and JuJu Smith-Schuster in Kansas City. Moore will, sooner than later, stand out as a Patrick Mahomes -- and Andy Reid -- favorite in the Chiefs' already dynamic offense. Do other receivers have a more clear-cut path to targets? Sure. But Moore will make the greatest impact among all rookies in 2022.
May 5, 2022 at 9:50 am ET•6 min read
With training camps now in full swing, ESPN's 32 NFL Nation reporters are about to become your eyes and ears as you prepare for your fantasy football drafts. We asked each of them to identify the biggest fantasy topics they'll be following throughout August, with some insight on how things may play out. Nearly half mentioned some form of running back timeshare -- including some tips on how RBs such as Aaron Jones, Tony Pollard, Rhamondre Stevenson, Travis Etienne Jr. and Nyheim Hines could play bigger roles in the passing game.
Who will get DeAndre Hopkins' share of the passes while he's suspended?
The first answer that comes to mind is Marquise Brown. The Cardinals traded for him on the first day of the NFL draft. And once Hopkins' suspension was announced, Brown was seen as the natural replacement for the first six weeks of the season. He has the speed and hands to be a reliable replacement for Hopkins. Brown's relationship with quarterback Kyler Murray, which dates back to college, should allow them to get on the same page quickly. That will allow Brown to become an asset to the offense quicker than if he was playing with a new quarterback. -- Josh Weinfuss
Who gets running back carries?
While a lot of the attention will be paid to Marcus Mariota vs. Desmond Ridder at quarterback, the main thing to watch will be at running back, where several candidates will compete to play a significant role along with Cordarrelle Patterson in the running game. Veterans Qadree Ollison and Damien Williams will get a shot, but pay attention to rookie Tyler Allgeier out of BYU. His size and strength are what Falcons head coach Arthur Smith likes in a running back, and he's a sneaky Day 3 pick who could have an immediate role in the offense. -- Michael Rothstein
Who is RB1 at the start of the season?
The Ravens' top two running backs -- J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards -- are on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list after tearing ACLs last summer. Dobbins is expected to be back by the start of the regular season, but it's uncertain whether he will be at full strength at that point. Edwards is farther behind Dobbins in his recovery and could miss a chunk of the season. Baltimore's other options are veteran Mike Davis and rookie sixth-round pick Tyler Badie. This is a major question mark for a team that has run the ball more than any other team over the last three seasons. -- Jamison Hensley
How will the running back carries be divided?
Last year, the Bills' running back distribution was not friendly to fantasy managers. This season could be complicated yet again. Devin Singletary is in line to get a significant portion of the carries, but rookie James Cook and 2020 third-round pick Zack Moss are both trending toward having roles in this offense. With new offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey calling plays, the breakdown will be even more difficult to predict. But as of now, Singletary should be expected to lead the group, and Cook is likely to contribute as a rusher and receiver. -- Alaina Getzenberg
No battle is anticipated more -- and none is more vital for the success of this team -- than the one between the first and third picks of the 2018 draft. Mayfield seemingly has the upper hand based on past success that Darnold hasn't had. But the recently acquired former Cleveland Browns starter has to learn a new system, which Darnold has been working in all offseason. And Darnold already has chemistry with teammates that Mayfield is just getting to know. GM Scott Fitterer says this is an open competition and reps will be split evenly, but it'll be important for one to emerge as a clear winner. -- David Newton
Darnell Mooney ... and then who?
Mooney is WR1 in his third season after reaching 1,000 receiving yards for the first time in 2021. His ability to top that production hinges on the development of Justin Fields, but he's the only wideout with a proven connection with the Bears' QB. Byron Pringle and Velus Jones Jr. will compete for the No. 2 job, while N'Keal Harry and Equanimeous St. Brown hope to capitalize on a fresh start and provide consistent production on the outside. Jones may be a 25-year-old rookie, but his blazing 4.3 speed and ability to line up across the formation has him in line for a significant target share as a WR2. -- Courtney Cronin
Is Joe Mixon an all-purpose back?
Mixon ranked third in the NFL in total touches last season despite primarily being used on neutral and run-heavy downs. But because of his absence on third downs, it left his usage lacking in passing situations a bit for fantasy managers. So that leaves him in a tricky spot, especially in PPR leagues, because Mixon's value will depend on his touchdown rate. In 2021, he had plenty of those -- 11 red zone touchdowns at a rate of 3.35 scores per carry inside the 20-yard line, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. But the lack of targets, something that isn't expected to increase drastically, will leave him in a precarious ADP spot for fantasy drafts. -- Ben Baby
The Browns have a clear No. 1 running back in the All-Pro Chubb and an obvious go-to receiver in Cooper. But after that, is anyone else among Cleveland's skill players worth significant draft investment? When healthy, Kareem Hunt has found ways to be productive both rushing and receiving, despite backing up Chubb. But the player to watch in Cleveland might be tight end David Njoku, who got a four-year, $57 million extension in the offseason. Njoku has yet to perform like a top-10 fantasy tight end, but the Browns are banking that Njoku has the talent to still become just that. -- Jake Trotter
Ezekiel Elliott or Tony Pollard?
For the Pollard fans, tread lightly. Not that he won't get more work, but it might not be solely at the expense of Elliott. Mike McCarthy called Elliott one of the keystone pieces of the team. Before getting hurt last season, Elliott was on pace for more than 1,500 yards. He finished with 12 touchdowns. He will always be a primary red zone option over Pollard. Where Pollard might excel is as a pass-catcher while the Cowboys look to replace Amari Cooper's production. Of course, if Elliott gets injured, Pollard would see an RB1 workload. -- Todd Archer
Who, exactly, will be RB1 or WR1?
The Broncos have a new head coach/playcaller on offense in Nathaniel Hackett, a new quarterback in Russell Wilson, and several skill players who have flashed potential but have never played with a quarterback like Wilson. Javonte Williams is expected to be the top back. And how things shake out at receiver still remains to be seen since Jerry Jeudy missed plenty of the on-field work in the offseason program. But this team may frustrate fantasy managers early in the season as it gets sorted out, and Hackett shows his hand with how much Williams and Melvin Gordon III may or may not split carries. -- Jeff Legwold
Who will lead the team in receiving yards?
Detroit has equipped quarterback Jared Goff with strong offensive weapons in tight end T.J. Hockenson, new free agent wide receiver DJ Chark and rookie receiver Jameson Williams (who is still recovering from a torn ACL). But if I were a betting man, I would put my money on receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown. All signs are pointing to St. Brown enjoying a breakout second season after setting numerous rookie records in 2021. St. Brown's production skyrocketed when Lions coach Dan Campbell gave former tight ends coach Ben Johnson a bigger role in playcalling responsibilities. Johnson is now the offensive coordinator and will find creative ways to use the Lions' rising star. St. Brown also led the squad in receiving yards (912) as a rookie and logged six straight games of eight or more receptions. He'll certainly be a target for defenses this season, but the Lions' staff is confident he'll be ready. -- Eric Woodyard
Who gets the 169 targets Davante Adams left behind?
Aaron Rodgers spoke of Allen Lazard from Day 1 of training camp as the No. 1 receiver. But that doesn't mean he'll get 100-plus targets. Don't be surprised if a running back gets a bigger share. Aaron Jones ranked second on the team last season in targets (65). And with the Packers wanting to get AJ Dillon on the field more often, perhaps moving Jones around and getting him the ball in space might be something they try even more. -- Rob Demovsky
Does it matter who Brandin Cooks' QB is?
Cooks should be an impactful fantasy receiver. Throughout his career, the QB hasn't mattered for Cooks. Whether it has been Jared Goff, Tom Brady, Deshaun Watson, Davis Mills, Drew Brees or Tyrod Taylor under center, Cooks has produced. So even though Mills is still viewed as an unknown, it won't stop Cooks' production. He's finished with 1,000 yards or more in six of his eight seasons. The Texans' receiving weapons aren't deep, and Cooks is the only proven threat. This screams double-digit targets per game for Cooks. -- DJ Bien-Aime
Matt Ryan's arrival marks the biggest change in the Colts' offense, but Indianapolis is also trying to rethink running back Taylor's workload in 2022. Taylor, last season's rushing leader, led the NFL in carries in 2021 as the Colts became overwhelmingly run-heavy in the latter portion of the season. They intend to have a more balanced approach this season, which is where Hines enters the picture. Hines, who is often used as a receiver, posted career lows in targets and receptions last season. The Colts have vowed to change that, and Ryan's history of targeting running backs bodes well for Hines. -- Stephen Holder
Robinson is recovering from a torn Achilles, but the team didn't place him on PUP, and the hope is he'll be fully cleared in mid-August. Head coach Doug Pederson said in the spring that the team still views Robinson as the top back. However, Etienne will be heavily involved in the passing game (he has lined up out wide and in the slot multiple times in practices). Offensive coordinator Press Taylor said he can see Etienne being used similar to the way Philadelphia used Brian Westbrook years ago. Educated guess: Robinson has more carries than Etienne, but Etienne could have a slight lead in total touches by the time the season ends. -- Michael DiRocco
Who's the No. 1 wide receiver?
The Chiefs are not only looking to fill Tyreek Hill's role, but also trying to figure out which other wide receivers will make the biggest statistical contributions. Free agent additions Marquez Valdes-Scantling and JuJu Smith-Schuster and rookie Skyy Moore join the returning Mecole Hardman to form the main group of wide receivers. But beyond that, everything is up for grabs. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes went to Valdes-Scantling often and with success in offseason practice, and that could be a sign of things to come. -- Adam Teicher
Are there enough balls to go around on offense?
While tight end Darren Waller caught a franchise-record 107 passes two seasons ago, slot receiver Hunter Renfrow had 103 catches last season, and new wideout Davante Adams has averaged 111 receptions the past three seasons. Figuring out how to spread the wealth and keep guys happy will be a "good" problem for quarterback Derek Carr to navigate through in camp. Throw in the fact that the Raiders are learning a new scheme via new head coach Josh McDaniels, and storylines abound. -- Paul Gutierrez
What to expect from the tight ends?
Justin Herbert's top targets are well established between receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams and running back Austin Ekeler. But what about the tight ends? The Chargers signed Gerald Everett to a two-year, $12 million contract in free agency, Donald Parham Jr. returns for a third season, and Tre' McKitty returns as a second-year pro. Herbert has already established a rapport with Parham and McKitty, but how quickly the sixth-year pro Everett can ingratiate himself with Herbert and learn the offense will be worth watching throughout training camp. - Lindsey Thiry
Can you trust Allen Robinson II as a WR2?
The Rams' top three receivers appear to be set going into the season: Cooper Kupp, Robinson and Van Jefferson. And Los Angeles didn't substitute much late last season. There are questions about Robinson after his troubling lack of production with the Bears in 2021, but Matthew Stafford will be by far the best quarterback he's played with. Offensive coordinator Liam Coen pointed to Robinson's route-running quality and versatility as to why he'll thrive in 2022. To start the season, the Rams are paying Robinson too much money to not feed him often and see what he can do. But Jefferson could also break out in Year 3. There's also the logical possibility of Odell Beckham Jr. returning later in the season to consider if you're thinking of drafting Robinson. -- Sarah Barshop
How will this backfield workload play out?
With Raheem Mostert cleared for practice after recovering from knee surgery, the Dolphins' backfield is one of the more crowded in the NFL. Mostert, Chase Edmonds, Sony Michel and Myles Gaskin have all been lead backs at some point in their careers and will form what is expected to be a committee. New head coach Mike McDaniel's offenses in San Francisco weren't afraid to feature a lead back despite a shared workload, so whoever can establish himself this summer may be worth taking a mid-round flier on come draft day. -- Marcel Louis-Jacques
How many targets will Irv Smith Jr. get?
Smith is in line to be the Vikings' starting tight end a year after suffering a season-ending right knee injury. Quarterback Kirk Cousins likes targeting tight ends. Since he became a full-time starter in 2015, he ranks fourth among quarterbacks in tight end targets. But Cousins has a lot of options among the Vikings' talented group of skill-position players, and training camp will give us our first glimpse at understanding how Cousins and head coach Kevin O'Connell will disperse the ball. -- Kevin Seifert
Will Rhamondre Stevenson earn a bigger role in the pass game?
By the end of last season, Stevenson was a strong 1B option alongside the Patriots' 1A Damien Harris. The two are back again atop the RB depth chart, with Stevenson vying to make himself more of a factor in obvious passing situations -- which is traditionally James White's role. It sparks a relevant fantasy football question: With White coming off a serious hip injury, can Stevenson position himself for some of White's duties? -- Mike Reiss
Will Michael Thomas return to WR1 status?
Thomas' return to practice on Day 1 of training camp was a huge step in the right direction. His fantasy floor will become a lot safer with each day we see him continue to progress this preseason. I do expect him to be the Saints' WR1. But his fantasy ceiling is a trickier question, since we don't know how long it will take him to return to peak physical form. He will also be splitting time in a more-crowded WR group alongside Jarvis Landry and Chris Olave; and he is now playing with a different style of QB in Jameis Winston, who might not pepper him with targets the same way Drew Brees and Teddy Bridgewater did. -- Mike Triplett
Which Giants WR is worth investing in?
The Giants' offense has been a fantasy cesspool the past two years. You didn't want to have any of their playmakers on your roster. It's hard to find a receiver that is worth any sort of investment this year, either. The best bet would probably be Kadarius Toney. He's young and explosive, and at least is on the field early this summer. Toney was targeted on 29.8% of his routes run his rookie season, the eighth-highest total in the NFL. Even though the offense and playcaller have changed, the desire to get him the ball has not. Questions also still remain about Kenny Golladay and Sterling Shepard, which only adds to Toney's value. -- Jordan Raanan
Carter is the incumbent after leading the team in rushing as a rookie, but the sense is that Hall will overtake him at some point. Carter did a solid job in 2021, rushing for 639 yards and 4.3 per carry, but he's on the smaller side and doesn't have breakaway speed. Hall is bigger, faster and a better receiver than Carter. Hall was drafted 36th overall, but he was 18th on the Jets' draft board, which illustrates how much they like his potential. There will be early growing pains as he learns to transition away from his ultra-patient running style, but he should leapfrog Carter on the depth chart once he finds his rhythm. -- Rich Cimini
How will the running back rotation shake out?
Miles Sanders is the projected starter, with Kenneth Gainwell and Boston Scott slated for playing time as well. Sanders is in a contract year. Running behind one of the best offensive lines in the league and alongside Jalen Hurts, the opportunity is there to have a monster season. But injuries have kept him from reaching his full potential to this point, including in 2021 when he finished with 754 rushing yards and zero touchdowns in 12 games. Gainwell, meanwhile, is coming off an impressive rookie season with 544 yards from scrimmage and six touchdowns. Ideally, the Eagles would like Sanders to take the lead role and run with it. But if he gets banged up or isn't performing at a high level, Gainwell could move into a more featured role. -- Tim McManus
How will Diontae Johnson's targets shake out with a new QB?
Johnson was a favorite target of Ben Roethlisberger, but with Roethlisberger's retirement, the wide receiver is going to be catching passes from a new quarterback. Johnson still figures to be the top wide receiver on the team, but will he still get the lion's share of the targets with Chase Claypool looking for a bounce-back year and rookies George Pickens and Calvin Austin III joining the team? Johnson is also missing time early in camp as he is "holding in" while hoping for a new contract, giving younger guys more opportunities to build chemistry with the quarterbacks. -- Brooke Pryor
How will the running back situation play out?
Wash, rinse, repeat. Yes, this is always one of the primary fantasy questions about the Niners under Kyle Shanahan, and that probably won't change any time soon. San Francisco has had a different leading rusher in each of Shanahan's five seasons at the helm, which makes it hard to put trust in the player at the top of the depth chart in August. Elijah Mitchell will be that player this year, and he will get the first crack at keeping his job after setting the franchise record for rushing yards by a rookie last season. But the team drafted Tyrion Davis-Price in the third round, brought back Jeff Wilson Jr. and still has JaMycal Hasty and Trey Sermon in the mix. Ideally, Davis-Price offers short-yardage and goal-line help with Mitchell handling the bulk of the work. But injury concerns about Mitchell are real, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see Davis-Price and Wilson involved early and often even if Mitchell hangs on to the starting spot. -- Nick Wagoner
Chris Carson's retirement means Penny will head into the season as the Seahawks' clear-cut No. 1 option for the first time in his career. But the "as-long-as-he-stays-healthy" qualifier might apply to Penny as much as any player in the NFL given that he's missed 30 of a possible 69 games due to injury (playoffs included). He has also carried the ball 20-plus times in a game just twice in his career. The Seahawks will have to manage his snaps and give some of the backfield work to Walker, but Seattle's rookie second-round pick will have to show coaches that he's ready. -- Brady Henderson
Will Chris Godwin be ready for Week 1?
The receiver underwent surgery to repair a torn ACL this offseason, and while the Bucs did not place him on the PUP list to open camp, sources say they will work him back in slowly. And the signing of future Hall of Famer Julio Jones affords them the chance to do that. But exactly when Godwin will be ready is not clear at this point. -- Jenna Laine
Can Austin Hooper return to Pro Bowl form?
Hooper has made it his personal mission to develop chemistry with Ryan Tannehill since joining the team. The two have put in extra work during downtime in practice. They are in constant communication after reps during team and 7-on-7 periods. Tannehill complimented Hooper's savvy route-running ability and quickness that helps him get open. There will be more targets to go around since Tannehill's previously favored pass-catcher A.J. Brown is now with the Eagles. Since Tannehill took over as the Titans' starter in Week 6 of the 2019 season, 24% of his targets have gone to tight ends. Tannehill has also thrown 25 of his 76 touchdown passes to the tight ends. -- Turron Davenport
McLaurin missed the OTA workouts and mandatory minicamp while awaiting a new contract, but he did spend time with Wentz and other teammates in California earlier this month. Wentz appeared to mesh with rookie receiver Jahan Dotson during the spring, but for this offense to work he must have chemistry with McLaurin. It helps that McLaurin excels on contested catches -- especially important with a quarterback who is sometimes inaccurate. Wentz will be able to trust McLaurin, an outstanding route-runner. And, for McLaurin's sake, Wentz will be the best passer he's played with. In his first three seasons, McLaurin has played with eight different starting quarterbacks, none as good as Wentz. That's why there's reason to believe they'll work well together. -- John Keim