There is no such thing as a pessimist at an NFL minicamp.
Everyone's undefeated. The rookies all look "sharp" (other than Corey Coleman). Even the veterans who are rehabbing injuries or holding out are confident that everything will be just fine by the start of training camp. It's always sunny at minicamp, even in Philadelphia, where both Carson Wentz and Sam Bradford are singing "Kumbaya," though not in the same room at the same time.
May is the time for empty-calorie cheese-puff predictions and proclamations from rookie camps, minicamps, OTAs or veteran players cornered by reporters during charity golf tournaments. Some of the soundbites are sillier than others, but all are utterly insubstantial. The only thing worse than analyzing them as if they were philosophical statements by learned scholars (not polite musings by guys who just got done stretching) would be to rank them from most to least reasonable.
Wait, did someone say "rank the minicamp predictions from most to least reasonable"? That sounds like a brilliant idea for a column!
DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans, to the Houston Chronicle's John McClain: "I feel like we've earned that title to be the team to beat in the AFC South."
Reasonability level: Very high
Let's see…the Texans won the division last year, kept their J.J. Watt-led defense intact and significantly upgraded their offense by adding Brock Osweiler, Lamar Miller, Nick Martin, Will Fuller and Braxton Miller. Meanwhile:
- The Colts spent the offseason pretending 2015 never happened.
- The Titans drafted about 40 players in the first three rounds but still look suspiciously like the Titans. And…
- The Jaguars climbed two-thirds of the way out of their well, but they are still in their well.
If Hopkins declared the Texans to be the "team to beat" in the AFC, he would be pushing things. No one in the AFC ever says that, of course; Hopkins was eight years old the last time the Patriots had a losing season, for heaven's sake! But "team to beat in the AFC South" is not some optimistic minicamp boast. It's a statement of the obvious.
Reasonability level: Moderate
The Vikings don't pass the media sizzle test for a trendy Super Bowl pick. They were not "one player away" last year and did not make a free-agent splash. Peterson is their only true superstar, and Super Bowl predictions are rarely made based on the merits of 30-something All-Pro running backs.
From a football-logic standpoint, though, the Vikings look like legitimate contenders. They went 11-5 last season, came within a missed field goal of winning a playoff game and have a broad, deep nucleus of young talent acquired through years of strong drafts. If Teddy Bridgewater continues to develop, the offensive line coalesces and a true go-to receiver emerges from many candidates, the Vikings offense can catch up with the defense and produce a 12-win season in a conference full of tough-but-flawed front-runners.
Now, a spritz of cold water: The early Football Outsiders projections predict a 9-7 season for the Vikings. Last year's Vikings won some close games in unusual ways and lost to most of the contenders they faced last season (Seahawks, Cardinals, Broncos, a split with the Packers). They look like they are two years away from contention, not one. They're closer than they have been in five years, though: close enough for a veteran leader to talk about "winning it all" without eliciting groans or giggles.
Isn't "definitely could" a wonderful phrase? It sounds like "definitely" but means "possibly." Bears offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains told reporters that Cutler and the Bears' passing game "definitely could be better," and they absolutely might be. The Bears were down to putting their fourth and fifth wide receivers in the starting lineup last year. Just getting Alshon Jeffery and Kevin White inarguably may provide Cutler with an upgrade over Marc Mariani and Josh Bellamy.
Speaking of White, Bears receivers coach Curtis Johnson, who used to coach at the University of Miami, compared White to former Hurricanes Wayne and Andre Johnson. "They're both big and physical and fast," the coach told reporters of White and Andre Johnson, noting that White has "hands similar" to Reggie Wayne.
White was the seventh overall pick last year, so there's nothing controversial about comparisons to other great receivers. All Bears fans want to know is if he's healthy after missing last season with a shin injury. He looks healthy so far; the comparisons are just gravy.
Jeffery, on the other hand, is a franchise-tagged holdout. "We all wish Alshon was here," Loggains said.
The only actual information that ever comes from minicamp is health and holdout news. The Bears receivers have good and bad news on that front, which definitely could be a reason why Cutler may or may not be better in 2016.
Khalil Mack, Oakland Raiders, to Yahoo's Eric Edholm: The Raiders defense can be as good as the Broncos defense "if we max out and put it all together."
Reasonability level: Moderate to low
Gosh, optimistic minicamp predictions just aren't as juicy as they used to be. Mack put lots of distance and equivocation between the Raiders and Broncos defenses. "You want it to happen right away, but we have to know that coming together takes time," he said. "We have the talent now, and we can disrupt the way they do." In other words, the Raiders might someday be as good as the Broncos on defense. Heck, so might the Browns.
Mack is flanked by some exceptional talent on the Raiders' front seven: Mario Edwards, Justin Ellis, Dan Williams, newcomer Bruce Irvin, rookies Jihad Ward and Shilique Calhoun and others. The secondary has been completely upgraded by the arrivals of free agents Reggie Nelson and Sean Smith, plus first-round pick Karl Joseph. The Raiders will have no trouble topping last year's totals of 363.6 yards allowed per game and 38 sacks. But the Broncos allowed just 283.1 yards per game and registered 52 sacks. The Broncos line up statistically among the greatest defenses in NFL history. The Raiders aren't there yet.
But that's not the point. The Raiders defense doesn't have to be better than the Broncos defense for Oakland to cause serious trouble in the AFC West. The Broncos needed a historic defense to win the Super Bowl last year, and they will need another all-time effort to remain contenders with Mark Sanchez and Paxton Lynch at the helm this year. The Raiders offense is progressing along with the defense. Oakland could win the AFC West with the second- or third-best defense in the division. So aim high, Mack: Your team can accomplish a lot even by falling short.
Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles, to reporters: "I think the relationship with [Sam Bradford], and really, the other quarterbacks in the room, I think it'll be great."
Wentz vs. Bradford will end something like this:
Wentz: "Stop doing this! Stop punching me!"
Bradford: "You took my starting job from me! I will make you bleed!"
Wentz: "But think of Martha!"
Bradford: "Why did you say that name?"
Wentz: "Martha, the Eagles season-ticket holder I just spoke to."
Bradford: "I…I know a season-ticket holder named Martha, too. Come, let us work together to save the Eagles. No season-ticket holder named Martha will be disappointed this year."
But seriously, folks, Bradford has behaved as a professional for most of his six years in the NFL, give or take the last handful of weeks. But as the "Bradford is the starter" pretense fades and Wentz starts grinding slowly past him, with Philadelphia poised to skewer the second-place finisher (Bradford as overpaid crybaby; Wentz as the golden-boy rookie who wasn't golden enough), there's gonna be some friction.
Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings, to PFT Live: Teddy Bridgewater is a lot like Tom Brady because they are "great at those mediocre passes."
This is a classic minicamp headline-grabber: two Hall of Famers, a young quarterback, a crazy comparison and a backhanded compliment.
Peterson actually said Bridgewater reminds him of "a Tom Brady," as if there are nine of them. The passive-aggressiveness of Peterson's remarks extends beyond the concept of great mediocrity. "He's the type of guy that needs the receiver that runs routes and that's at a specific location that you're practicing," Peterson said of Bridgewater, in comparison to Brady. Remind me to never ask Peterson to write a foreword for my book.
There's deep wisdom hidden beneath the Bridgewater-Brady comparison. Isn't being "great at mediocre things" the secret to a happy and successful life? Show up on time, eat lots of vegetables, change your oil and smoke-alarm batteries, be polite, proofread, comb your hair, mail in the warranties and rebates, hug your loved ones. That covers about 95 percent of what it takes to be productive and content in this world. Someone who was truly great at mediocre things would win this year's presidential election in a landslide. Brady is probably one of the greatest people in human history at mastering the seemingly ordinary. (Lao Tzu probably beats him, but this is not the place to start one of those pointless Brady vs. Lao Tzu arguments.)
If you just read the last paragraph and rushed down to make a Deflategate joke on the comment thread, then you really missed the point of the last paragraph.
Mike Tanier covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.