There is a lot of absurd, fluffy rhetoric that emerges during OTAs and minicamps. Headlines such as “Eagles ready to unleash LeGarrette Blount in pass game” and “XYZ player in best shape of his life” can be mostly 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. Here are the biggest NFC takeaways from OTAs. I’ll be back with the AFC takeaways next week.
1. Jamison Crowder Ahead of Josh Doctson
One of the league’s most interesting wideout depth charts is in Washington. Kirk Cousins has thrown for 9,083 yards over the last two years (fourth-most in the NFL), but lost both DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon in free agency. What we know is that Terrelle Pryor will be the every-down X receiver and Jordan Reed will be heavily involved as the “move” tight end. After that, there will be competition. The key note from OTAs was that Jamison Crowder ran as the starter opposite Pryor in two-WR sets. In three-WR sets, Josh Doctson and Ryan Grant shared time at the Z while Crowder moved inside. The Redskins’ staff talked about how they wanted to get Crowder even “more involved” than he was last year when he caught 67 balls and seven TDs. A surefire way to do that is to give him 90+ percent of the snaps, which is what would happen if the usage we saw in OTAs sticks. As for Doctson, hope is not dead. The Redskins used three wideouts on 82.7 percent of their pass plays last year (as noted by Rotoworld’s Rich Hribar). The talent gap between Doctson and Grant is massive and is sure to shine through come training camp.
2. Christian McCaffery Working in the Slot
Due to the NFL’s archaic and asinine rules regarding rookies coming from schools on the quarter system, Christian McCaffery didn’t practice until the final day of minicamp. When he arrived, he immediately got first-team reps at both slot receiver and running back. The former is most interesting here, as we know about the value of pass-catching RBs on full-PPR DraftKings. They’re particularly valuable in cash games, where we know they’ll be involved if their team is ahead or falls behind. Running backs who get at least three receptions per game average 2.07 more DK points than salary-based expectation. Those who get under three per game average .03 fewer DK points than salary-based expectation (via FantasyLabs).
Most importantly, the Panthers instantaneously using McCaffery in the slot in his first practice shows they have a plan. That should go without saying when you use the No. 8 overall pick on a unique kind of player, but it’s not always the case in the NFL. See Tavon Austin, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Todd Gurley etc. etc. Expect the Panthers to try to get McCaffery 12-15 total touches per game, with 3-5 of those coming via the air. Whether Cam Newton, one of the worst short-ball throwers in the game, can get it to McCaffery is another story.
3. Kenny Golladay Opens Eyes in Detroit
Yes, just about every player is lauded with praise during the offseason program. But when it is an everyday love affair with a third-round rookie, we need to take notice. That’s what happened with Lions’ WR Kenny Golladay, who had beat writers/coaches/teammates fawning over him daily. “For the second straight week, no rookie caught my eye more than Kenny Golladay,” wrote beat man Kyle Meinke. “He’s catching the ball well. … I do think he’s a diligent worker, he’s serious about his craft. He tries to find every means possible to get better each and every day. So I like his progress, where he is right now,” said coach Jim Caldwell.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be overly surprised. Golladay, who rode a growth spurt through college onto the NFL radar, ran a 4.50 at 6’4/218. His 18 reps on the bench press were elite for a wideout and his 32-inch arms give him a massive catch radius. It’s early, but it’s safe to say Golladay is on track to be the No. 3 wideout behind Golden Tate and underwhelming Marvin Jones. Last year’s No. 3 receiver, Anquan Boldin, saw 95 targets and scored eight touchdowns. The Lions used three wideouts on 75.8 percent of their total offensive plays last year, third-most in the entire league (via PFF).
4. Redskins Will Use Josh Norman as Shadow Corner
One of the most head-scratching coaching decisions of last season was the Redskins’ usage of Josh Norman. They gave him a $75M contract (including $50M guaranteed) and then parked him on one side in Week 1 while Antonio Brown humiliated Bashaud Breeland. They let Dez Bryant work over Breeland for much of Week 2 before Norman got on him late. That set the tone for a season in which the Redskins ranked 25th in pass yards allowed and 21st in YPA allowed. This year, new defensive coordinator Greg Manusky will change that. He said although Norman won’t travel with opposing No. 1s at all times, they’ll definitely use him in that manner. Note that the Redskins face Dez Bryant (twice), Odell Beckham (twice) and Alshon Jeffery (twice) in the division alone. For more on how Norman has fared as a shadow corner over the last two years, check out my report on effectiveness here.
5. Packers All-In on Ty Montgomery at RB
The Packers didn’t dance around the topic of their starting running back during OTAs. Instead, they moved all-in on WR-turned-RB Ty Montgomery. He’s leading the running back room, one which consists of him on top plus five rookies (three late-round picks, two UDFAs). “He’s our starting running back,” said coach Mike McCarthy. Montgomery held that title for much of last year too, but often lost carries to Christine Michael and FB Aaron Ripkowski. TyMont had just one game with more than nine carries. However, with a full offseason plus training camp as a full-time RB under his belt, expect improvement in workload. “The running backs’ responsibility, the priority is to be able to stay on the field for all three downs,” said McCarthy. “Ty Montgomery can do that, so he will be our starter, but it’s a competitive room.”
6. Giants Crown Paul Perkins Early
Most NFL coaches place a priority on competition. They won’t name a starting quarterback in June even if it’s blatantly obvious who the better player is. And that makes sense, as you want all players to feel like they have a chance to start if they outplay their competition. However, the Giants have chosen a different route as they named Paul Perkins their starter at running back. It’s surprising because Perkins is a 2016 fifth-round pick with underwhelming measurables and was mediocre when leaned on down the stretch last year. In five games as the Giant’s top dog last year, Perkins scored zero TDs, caught a total of five passes and averaged 60.2 rush yards per game. Now Shane Vereen is back healthy to handle the pass-down, two-minute and change-of-pace role. So while the Giants are trying to throw Perkins some confidence, we still need to temper expectations in an offense now laden with pass-catchers (Odell Beckham, Brandon Marshall, Sterling Shepard, Vereen, Evan Engram).
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