B.S. Meter on Latest NFL Offseason Buzz
At this point on the NFL calendar, with OTAs in the books but training camp not yet underway, there's no shortage of speculation going on around the league.
For every report that contains a kernel of truth, many more are, in the immortal words of William Shakespeare, "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."
In an effort to sort through the smoke and locate the fire, let's go the high-tech route by breaking out an incredibly advanced forensic tool: "The BS Meter." It grades on a scale of one to five, with one being the gospel truth and five being a typical statement from a politician.
After running the latest NFL buzz through the meter, here's where things stand.
No Hangover in Hotlanta
The "Super Bowl Hangover" is a real phenomenon. It's been almost a quarter-century since the team that lost the Super Bowl made it back the following year. It's been more than 40 years since a Super Bowl loser won the big game the next year.
Despite being on the wrong side of the worst collapse in Super Bowl history last February, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan told D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the team has turned the page.
"We're already back at it," Ryan said. "When we started as a team in April, we got together before that as players down in Miami. It was time to move on. It was time to look forward. Anytime that we kind of dwell on that is wasted time. We have to focus on trying to become the best football team that this group can be."
The BS Meter isn't buying it.
Ryan had no choice but to say the Falcons have moved on from the biggest faceplant in Super Bowl history. What's the alternative? "We were up 28-3 and we blew it. WE BLEW IT! OH MY GOD, WE BLEW IT!"
But every time this gets brought up—which will be daily from now until forever—some variation of that thought will likely go through Ryan's head.
When the Falcons play the Green Bay Packers in Week 2 after an opening-week tune-up against the Bears, we'll find out just how hungover they are. Until then, the notion that they aren't still sick about what happened against the Patriots doesn't pass the smell test.
BS Meter: 3.7
Hackenberg to Start for Jets?
Throughout the offseason, veteran free agent Josh McCown appeared to be the overwhelming favorite to open the season as the New York Jets' starting quarterback. However, Brian Costello of the New York Post recently cautioned not to count out second-year pro Christian Hackenberg.
"He has made some strides," Costello said, "and I'm not sure McCown starting Week 1 is a sure thing."
Hackenberg told Jeff Moeller of the York Daily Record he feels as though he fared well in OTAs: "I thought it was a good minicamp overall. I thought we got a lot of great work in as a team. I think everyone is kind of excited for this break. I think it's going to be good moving into training camp. Everyone will be refreshed and ready to rock."
On some level, it makes sense for the Jets to start Hackenberg, or at least give him every chance to win the job. The Jets are in the early stages of a ground-up rebuild. McCown isn't part of Gang Green's future, but Hackenberg might be.
Still, this is the same Christian Hackenberg who completed fewer than 40 percent of his preseason passes in 2016 and sailed a number of throws into reporters during OTAs.
Unless both of McCown's legs fall off—a distinct possibility, given his lengthy injury history—it's hard to imagine a scenario where the Jets look at Hackenberg and believe he gives them the best chance to win.
Him giving them the best chance at the No. 1 overall pick in 2018 is another story altogether.
BS Meter: 2.6
Laquon Treadwell Turning It Up
There's been plenty of chatter from Minnesota regarding rookie tailback Dalvin Cook, but there's another young skill position player generating some buzz up north.
Per Mike Wobschall of the team's website, second-year pro Laquon Treadwell has shined in OTAs as the Vikings' third receiver.
"The coaches have given Treadwell an opportunity to win that job and he's done a good job of taking advantage of that opportunity," Wobschall wrote. "There's no doubt that, for me, Treadwell has been a standout in the first six OTAs."
Here's where the BS Meter's caveat alarm started blaring.
Treadwell reportedly made a number of nice catches in OTAs, but he did so with very little contact or direct interference from defenders. There's a world of difference between snaring passes in shorts and shells and doing it in games that count.
When the Vikings selected Treadwell out of Ole Miss with the 23rd pick in the 2016 NFL draft, it's not as though the entire draft community laughed in unison. Some pundits considered the 6'2", 215-pounder the top receiving prospect in his class. While Treadwell's rookie season was a mess, it's not like the wideouts taken ahead of him (Corey Coleman, Will Fuller and Josh Doctson) set the world on fire.
This isn't to say Treadwell is certain to set the world on fire in his second professional season, or that he'll even win the No. 3 receiver job. But it would be a nice boost to a Minnesota offense that could use help at wideout and in the red zone.
BS Meter: 1.8
Gonzo for Goff
The rookie season of 2016 No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff did not go well. With a new head coach in town, however, there's hope 2017 will be better.
Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times believes "there are signs—some obvious and some subtle—that Goff could be much improved in his second season." According to Klein, Goff has picked up McVay's offense relatively quickly—a development that drew praise from the coach.
"We have a lot of confidence in what he's done," McVay said, per Klein. "He's getting better every single day and he's definitely commanded that role."
Left tackle Andrew Whitworth has been similarly impressed, telling Klein, "He has kind of taken ownership and is trying hard to become that franchise quarterback that so many teams look for. You can tell that's his goal and his mission."
Goff will likely be better in 2017 than he was as a rookie, if only because there's nowhere to go but up after an ugly rookie year. Whitworth's arrival should also help a Rams offensive line that was 29th in pass protection last year, per Football Outsiders.
But while Whitworth will make the line better, he isn't a miracle worker. The Rams have one of the NFL's weakest receiving corps, and Goff completed less than 55 percent of his passes last year with only five touchdown passes in seven starts and a passer rating south of 65.
In other words, "much improved" is going to be a relative concept.
BS Meter: 4.2
It's been nearly a full decade since the Tennessee Titans made it to the postseason. They haven't won 10 games in a season since that last playoff trip in 2008.
However, after a nine-win 2016 season and a successful offseason in which the Titans hammered their needs at wide receiver and cornerback, Sean Wagner-McGough of CBS Sports predicts the Titans could be playoff-bound in 2017.
"They've got a young, promising quarterback who is actually living up to the hype," he said. "They utilize a pounding ground assault, something lacking in today's NFL. They're a team worth watching because they're both good and different. It's been a while, but the Titans finally matter again."
He's right—on more than one account.
The Titans appear to have their franchise quarterback in Marcus Mariota, whose rehab from the broken leg that ended his 2016 season is going well. They have a fantastic one-two punch at tailback with DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry, along with one of the NFL's better young offensive lines.
This offseason, the Titans took a buzzsaw to the receiving corps, adding a trio of rookies in No. 5 overall pick Corey Davis and third-round picks Jonnu Smith and Taywan Taylor. They got another gift in mid-June, signing veteran wide receiver Eric Decker after the New York Jets released him. One of the NFL's shallower WR corps is now hip-deep in talent.
The Titans aren't great defensively, but they aren't terrible either. And in an AFC South where every team has its flaws, they don't need to be perfect. A 10-6 record will probably be good enough to win the division.
Barring a major injury or some similar disaster, the Titans will do just that.
BS Meter: 1.0
Break Up the Dolphins
OTAs are a time of hope and optimism. You don't often see articles this time of the year lamenting a team's impending apocalypse. But based on the tone from writers in Miami, the Dolphins should start making plans for Minnesota and Super Bowl LII.
Per ESPN.com's James Walker, tailback Jay Ajayi "looks much smoother running routes and finishing receptions." If he continues working on his passing-game skills, he could improve on the 1,400-plus total yards he tallied last season.
Meanwhile, Miami offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen told reporters that he expects a "gigantic year" from wide receiver DeVante Parker in 2017. He also told Walker that tight end Julius Thomas could be a "10-touchdown guy" with his new team. And according to Joe Schad of the Palm Beach Post, quarterback Ryan Tannehill's directive from head coach Adam Gase in 2017 is simple: "Just let it rip."
Before any Dolphins fans call their travel agent, it might be wise to dial back the hype a notch or three.
Yes, the Dolphins won 10 games and made the playoffs last season. But at this time a year ago, the same breakout predictions were being made about Parker. There's a reason the Jaguars traded Thomas to Miami. And as Omar Kelly of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel pointed out, the team's revamped defense—a defense that struggled mightily in 2016—remains very much a question mark.
The Dolphins are the second-best team in the AFC East. One can make a solid argument that on paper, they are improved compared to last year. But they also have little margin for error, given that they're all but certainly resigned to battling for a wild-card spot.
BS Meter: 3.1
Given the offseason the New England Patriots had after going 14-2 and winning Super Bowl LI last year, it was only a matter of time before we started to hear about the possibility of them going undefeated.
Back in March, Greg Jennings said it was a possibility, via Nick Schwartz of Fox Sports. A month ago, ESPN.com's Mike Reiss noted NFL analysts Jeff Saturday and Louis Riddick also believe it could happen.
"I know the front four was better [in '07]," Riddick said, "but the secondary on this team is legit. The wide receiver corps is legit. The tight ends, now with Dwayne Allen and if Gronk can stay healthy, is legit. They're stacked at running back. The offensive line is developing depth. This team, on paper, oooh boy."
This chatter will likely continue through the summer, as the Patriots are loaded on both sides of the ball. They attacked the offseason with fervor, adding proven veterans on both offense and defense and stockpiling tailbacks like a squirrel stockpiles acorns.
Even so, it's far too early to start counting chickens. Especially the 700-pounder that is a perfect season.
To do that, the Patriots would have to win a rematch of Super Bowl LI with the Falcons. They'd also have beat the New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Denver Broncos and Pittsburgh Steelers—all on the road.
The Pats are a great team. They're the runaway favorites in the AFC. But even that 2007 New England team came up short of a 19-0 season, losing to the upstart New York Giants in the Super Bowl.
Greatness is hard. Perfection is nearly impossible.
BS Meter: 4.7
No Cause for Concern
There's not much speculation about the Cleveland Browns going 16-0 in 2017. For most of 2016, the fear was about them doing the exact opposite.
After a solid free-agent haul and a strong draft, there's actually a smattering of emotion that's foreign to most supporters of the post-1999 iteration of the Browns: hope.
Since it's a proven scientific fact that God hates Cleveland, however, that couldn't continue for too long.
No. 1 overall pick Myles Garrett (foot) and 2016 first-rounder Corey Coleman (hamstring) each got nicked up in OTAs. According to Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com, both players are expected to be back in time for training camp. However, Cabot noted Garrett's lateral foot sprain could linger into camp, and a high ankle sprain on that same leg limited Garrett last year at Texas A&M.
Coleman is no stranger to hamstring injuries, either. Right about this time last year, he suffered a similar ailment, which contributed to his disappointing debut campaign.
The Browns haven't professed much concern about either injury, although they also haven't said they aren't worried. Maybe they believe by ignoring the questions, they (and the injuries that spurred them) will disappear.
But if either injury lingers deep into the summer, a familiar emotion is going to creep into Cleveland, whether the coaches have anything to say about it or not.
BS Meter: 2.8
The Cousins Fiasco Rolls On
If presented with a quarterback who set franchise records for passing yards in successive seasons, most NFL teams would lock up said player for the foreseeable future.
But most NFL teams are not the Washington Redskins—the team that puts the fun in dysfunction.
To be fair, new Washington vice president of player personnel Doug Williams told NFL Network's Steve Wyche (via Conor Orr) that the Redskins want to sign Kirk Cousins to a long-term deal "in the worst way."
"Let's face this thing, the last two years, Kirk Cousins has had tremendous years." Williams said. And one thing in this league that's hard to find is that guy to run the football team and Kirk does a tremendous job doing that. And with the weapons that he has and the offensive line that he has and I think our defense is a little better than what we were last year, quite naturally you want Kirk Cousins as quarterback."
And yet, Cousins remains unsigned—largely because the Redskins are operating under the delusion they have leverage in this situation despite frittering that all away some time ago.
The Redskins could have signed Cousins a year ago after his breakout 2015 season. Instead, they low-balled him and then franchise-tagged him—ostensibly to see if he could repeat that success.
Well, he repeated it. But yet again, the Redskins decided to apply the franchise tag to him rather than pony up the huge contract capable quarterbacks in the NFL command nowadays—a move that didn't seem to sit well with Cousins.
Tempers have cooled since, but it's no stretch to assume any discount Cousins might have been willing to accept is gone. And the Redskins don't appear willing to pay retail, even though they'll have invested over $40 million in a quarterback by the end of this season who they have no control over. That is, unless they tag him a third time, at a cost of over $35 million for 2018.
Now if you'll excuse me, I have to wait for the BS Meter to stop emitting flames.
BS Meter: 162.7
Too Good to Be Tru-Bisky
The Chicago Bears caught plenty of flak for moving up one spot in the 2017 NFL draft to select Mitchell Trubisky after handing Mike Glennon a guaranteed $18.5 million to be their quarterback in 2017.
But according to Adam Jahns of the Chicago Sun-Times, Trubisky has already impressed in OTAs. "Trubisky has looked like a quick learner," Jahns said. "... His accuracy stood out in every practice. Training camp will provide different challenges, but the fans who see him in Bourbonnais should come away impressed."
That's undoubtedly good news for the Bears. But as Jahns' colleague Rick Morrissey noted, there's a potentially ominous flip side to this news: Head coach John Fox, who knows he's standing on wafer-thin ice, might feel pressure to start Trubisky before he's ready.
At first glance, this gets the meter humming. The Bears have insisted time and again there's no rush for Trubisky to start. They've professed their confidence in Glennon's ability to be the guy in 2017.
So confident that Glennon didn't even get to practice with the team before it drafted his replacement.
That's the thing. They've demonstrated that at best, Glennon is a placeholder. With Fox well-aware this is likely his last year in Chicago, he could be spurred to try a Hail Mary of his own by starting the rookie.
Looking good in non-contact practices and getting it done in the NFL are two different things, and the Bears' best bet with Trubisky remains being patient. Starting him won't make a difference for them in 2017.
BS Meter: 3.4