There is a lot of absurd, fluffy rhetoric that emerges during OTAs. Headlines like “Eagles ready to unleash LeGarrette Blount in pass game” and “XYZ player in the best shape of his life” can mostly be ignored. But that doesn’t mean there’s zero value in following the news that comes out of these non-contact practices. Coaches are installing formations and beat writers are there to capture nuggets. Below are the biggest AFC takeaways from OTAs. For the NFC takeaways, bang it here.
1. Mike Williams Falling Behind in L.A.
Williams, the No. 7 overall pick in April, was already drafted into a muddled depth chart. The Chargers feature Keenan Allen, Tyrelle the Gazelle Williams, Travis Benjamin, Dontrelle Inman, Hunter Henry and Antonio Gates. Note that Allen, who tore his ACL in Week 1 of last season, was reportedly running fluid routes at OTAs and is on track to be ready for the start of the season.
So, Williams had his work cut out for him in a big way as he tries to earn market share, which makes his mid-May back injury so concerning. It occurred during the first practice of rookie minicamp and kept him out the entire summer, later getting diagnosed as a “mild” disc herniation in his lower back. This is not some small injury to be brushed off quickly – at this point, it’s not a lock that Williams will be ready for training camp. “He’s getting behind,” coach Anthony Lynn said. Keenan Allen also chimed in on Williams’ absence: “I think, for the most part, he’s missing getting settled in. It’s just understanding Philip, understanding the offense and trying to get the confidence before training camp. … He’s just missing the reps he would get just to build confidence.”
2. Jay Ajayi the Receiver
Ajayi finished as fantasy’s No. 11 PPR running back last year despite not getting the starting job until Week 5, watching Mike Pouncey’s injury turn the offensive line into a mess and seeing just 3.06 targets per game. It’s easy to see why he currently has an ADP of 15.2 – there’s no competition for carries on a team which ranked sixth in run ratio last season. Ajayi, who averaged 20.8 carries per game over the final 11 games of last season, projects for more than 300 carries this season. Only Ezekiel Elliot (322 carries) got over the 300-attempt mark last year and only Adrian Peterson (327) did it in 2015. Ajayi’s simple rushing volume keeps the floor high.
Of course, the new news that came out during OTAs was Ajayi’s pass-game usage. “Hopefully we can go even further with the passing game,” said head coach Adam Gase. “He did do a good job of improving in that area, hopefully we can take an even bigger step.” Note that Ajayi was a capable receiver at Boise State, catching 72 balls for 757 yards in his final 27 games. “Jay is working hard to be a three-down back,” said OC Clyde Christiansen. “His receiving skills are 200 percent better than a year ago.” If Ajayi can earn pass-down reps and be the three-down back the Dolphins want him to be, we’ll have an absolute usage monster. It’s certainly possible, as Ajayi saw a 12.1 percent target share over the final 11 games of last season, well more than Ezekiel Elliot’s 8.8 percent, identical to Devonta Freeman’s 12.1 percent and just off DeMarco Murray’s 13.2 percent.
3. Danny Woodhead a Target Magnet
One refrain we heard all month was about Danny Woodhead’s volume in the passing game. Operating with no restrictions whatsoever off his Week 2 ACL tear, Woodhead settled in as a go-to-guy on his new team quickly. “I lost track of how many balls running back Danny Woodhead caught during the minicamp,” wrote the Baltimore Sun’s Jeff Zrebiec. Joe Flacco was also happy with the new addition: “Really, ever since we lost Ray Rice, we haven’t had a type of back that’s quite like how Ray was and quite like how Danny is in the pass game.” Rice averaged 67 catches per season from 2009-13. Woodhead’s outlook improved further during the spring as Dennis Pitta, who saw 86 targets last year, was injured and released.
4. Tyreek Hill Practicing as First-String Z
The “Z” position in the West Coast offense is the spotlight position. So it’s notable that in the wake of Jeremy Maclin’s surprising release, the Z is where Tyreek Hill worked. It’s also where DeSean Jackson played for Reid while that duo was together in Philadelphia. “Yeah he is still learning,” said coach Andy Reid of the 23-year-old Hill. “I’ll tell you that with the receivers because that’s what they do until they get defenses down. But, he will give you good production at that (Z) position.” I discussed my concerns with Hill in the New Starters article, which you can find here. I also battled with Evan Silva over Hill on the Edge Podcast here. My concerns aren’t with Hill’s skill set; it’s with using a late third-round pick on a still-raw Chiefs wide receiver. Alex Smith has a total of three 300-yard games and two 3-TD games in his last 46 starts.
5. Austin Seferian-Jenkins Turning a Corner?
Talent has never been the issue for Seferian-Jenkins, the 2013 Mackey Award winner and No. 38 overall pick in the 2014 draft. He measures 6’5/265 and reportedly ran a 4.56 forty with an outrageous 37.5-inch vertical. The issue for ASJ has been keeping his head on straight, as alcohol problems has at least partially led to wild disappointments on the field. Now sober for more than five months, Seferian-Jenkins was the talk of Jets OTAs as he made big play after big play. The floor is low here as we’ve seen throughout his career, but this is a situation where there’s no tight end competition and the post-Eric Decker wideout depth chart reads Quincy Enunwa, Robby Anderson, ArDarius Stewart. ASJ has a big chance to earn serious target share once his two-game suspension is over.
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