AFC Team-by-Team NotesTuesday, June 18, 2013
New England Patriots
Guys like Zach Sudfeld, Michael Jenkins, and Kenbrell Thompkins were the talk of Patriots OTAs, primarily because so many first-team Pats are on the mend. Rob Gronkowski will undergo back surgery Tuesday, sidelining him an expected 12 weeks. (The Patriots' opener is in just over 11 weeks.) Aaron Hernandez will be fine, but didn't practice much due to shoulder surgery. Julian Edelman had a setback following right foot surgery, and third-string running back Brandon Bolden missed the spring with a foot injury. Good thing the season doesn't start today. ... If Gronk indeed misses Week 1 -- and at this point I think there's a good chance he will -- Danny Amendola and Hernandez will be the focal points of the Patriots' passing offense. And don't be surprised if New England leans on its dynamic backfield more. The 2012 Pats quietly ranked second in the NFL in rushing attempts, and new passing-down back Shane Vereen has earned a bigger role after averaging 6.4 yards per touch and scoring seven touchdowns last season, including the playoffs. Vereen is a sneaky bet to finish among the top-20 fantasy backs in 2013. Danny Woodhead was 24th in 2012.
New York Jets
No news would be better news than what came out of Jets spring workouts. Second-year WR Stephen Hill experienced recurring knee problems, and ESPN New York described his on-field performance as "drop-filled." Santonio Holmes still can't run or make cuts on his surgically repaired foot and is noncommittal on his Week 1 availability. Neither Mark Sanchez nor Geno Smith separated himself in the quarterback derby. $7 million free-agent addition Mike Goodson was popped on felony gun and drug charges. Entering a hot-seat season, this surely isn't the start Rex Ryan had in mind. ... The Jets signed TE Kellen Winslow after a respectable minicamp showing, but don't expect fantasy impact from New York's tight ends. With Hill struggling and Holmes a candidate for PUP, Jeremy Kerley is currently the favorite to lead the Jets in receptions. ... Chris Ivory remains locked in as the Jets' feature back, though he didn't make a ton of noise in the spring. A violent tackle breaker, Ivory will generate more buzz when contact is permitted.
It's telling that fourth-rounder Tyler Wilson and UDFA Matt McGloin earned more media plaudits than Matt Flynn during the spring. Flynn will probably start Week 1, but he's a weak bet to last a half-season, let alone 16 games. A poor deep-ball thrower, Flynn will inevitably struggle to get the ball downfield to Denarius Moore. ... Terrelle Pryor, by all accounts, was unimpressive in OTAs. He lacks velocity on intermediate passes and possesses erratic accuracy. Pryor simply isn't an NFL-caliber thrower. He may have to change positions to forge a lengthy NFL career. ... Coach Dennis Allen singled out sixth-round pick Latavius Murray as a rookie who stood out in the spring. Compared by NFL Films guru Greg Cosell to DeMarco Murray in terms of playing style, the Central Florida product will push Rashad Jennings hard for Oakland's No. 2 back job in camp. Through five NFL seasons, starter Darren McFadden is averaging five missed games per year.
In a late-week column, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review wrote there's a "strong possibility" Heath Miller won't be ready for the Steelers' opener following Week 16 tears of his ACL, PCL, and MCL. Much less concerning than Ben Roethlisberger's knee scope is his loss of weaponry. Mike Wallace is gone, and Miller is out "indefinitely," leaving the receiving load to Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, Jerricho Cotchery, and perhaps third-round rookie Markus Wheaton. Big Ben was on pace for career-best stats in Todd Haley's offense before his own 2012 injury, but he'll be hard pressed to duplicate those numbers without significant elements of his support cast. ... The Steelers aren't handing second-round pick Le'Veon Bell their every-down back job, but he remains the heavy favorite to earn it ahead of Week 1. Jonathan Dwyer is competing for a roster spot. Isaac Redman is a plodding blitz-pickup specialist. La'Rod Stephens-Howling is a special teamer.
San Diego Chargers
$3.5 million free-agent addition Danny Woodhead generated more spring buzz than starter Ryan Mathews, which probably says more about Mathews than San Diego's new passing-down back. While Mathews will be viewed in many circles as a rebound candidate and value pick, Rotoworld won't share that opinion. Mathews offers plenty of talent, but his offensive line does not, and the Chargers are a talent-starved team that projects to play from behind frequently in 2013. In other words, they'll likely be passing a lot. And Mathews won't play on passing downs. ... San Diego would make a sensible landing spot for free agent Willis McGahee, if his knee is right. Unlike Mathews, McGahee can pass protect. ... The sorting out of San Diego's receiver corps will be a training camp situation to monitor. Vincent Brown and Malcom Floyd rotated first-team reps at Z receiver during OTAs. Danario Alexander is the X. Eddie Royal will man the slot. Third-round pick Keenan Allen has yet to make a move, but probably will in August if his own health issues resolve.
Kenny Britt. Kendall Wright. Nate Washington. Justin Hunter. Damian Williams. Kevin Walter. Delanie Walker. That's a lot of mouths to feed in a low-percentage, potentially low-volume pass offense if OC Dowell Loggains' run-first plan is to be believed. Only one receiver may emerge as a consistent producer. Despite his $4.2 million salary, the Titans promise Washington's roster spot is safe. ... Hunter caught the ire of WRs coach Shawn Jefferson this spring for missing every OTA due to a tweaked hamstring. Hunter oozes talent, but his role is likely to be very limited barring a major August turnaround. ... The Nashville Tennessean reported that Chris Johnson "looks to be in great shape" at OTAs and "has been explosive." We've heard that before. Johnson will play behind the most talented offensive line of his career in 2013, but a return to stardom is up to him. To put it kindly, Johnson's effort has been inconsistent the past two seasons.