Biggest Winners and Losers from June Minicamps
Welcome to the dark days of football.
For the next five or six weeks, NFL training facilities will remain quiet as players and coaches take "vacation" before training camps get underway.
And while it's still too early to draw major conclusions based on what happened before professional football went on holiday, this does feel like a good time to look at several players, units and teams that "won" and "lost" as squads wrapped up their offseason programs with mandatory minicamps last week.
Honorable and Dishonorable Mentions
Tampa Bay Buccaneers RB Doug Martin: Looking to bounce back after a disastrous season, the veteran looked "quicker" and "bulkier," according to Joe Bucs Fan. And general manager Jason Licht told NFL Network's Mike Garafolo that the 28-year-old two-time Pro Bowler "looks like the Doug Martin of 2015."
Miami Dolphins DE Charles Harris: The rookie first-round pick might have a chance to push William Hayes for snaps opposite Cameron Wake after he "flashed early and often during organized team activities and minicamp," per ESPN.com's James Walker.
Dallas Cowboys LB Anthony Hitchens: Trying to hold off second-year second-round pick Jaylon Smith, Hitchens "was everywhere," for the Cowboys this offseason, according to ESPN.com's Todd Archer, "especially during minicamp."
The New Orleans Saints offensive line: Still without center Max Unger (foot surgery), the Saints lost left tackle Terron Armstead to a torn labrum. He could miss four to six months, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.
Winner: Buffalo Bills WR Andre Holmes
The Buffalo Bills are looking for a savior at receiver. Three of their top four wide receivers from last season—Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin and Justin Hunter—are gone, the inconsistent, injury-prone Sammy Watkins is still being eased back from foot surgery, and rookie second-round pick Zay Jones has plenty to prove.
But the Bills could be in for a pleasant surprise this year from veteran Andre Holmes, whom they signed to a three-year, $5.2 million deal in March.
WKBW's Joe Buscaglia noted following Bills minicamp that the former Oakland Raiders role player is "separating from the pack" in the competition for a starting job.
"Of the horde of receivers that are trying to break through, Andre Holmes seems to have stood out the most," Buscaglia wrote. "It was a slow start, fighting the ball a little bit early on, but he's settled in nicely—and is even leading a lot of the positional reps during individual work. He's consistently worked with the first-team offense, and [offensive coordinator] Sean McDermott made it known that he felt really impressed by Holmes with both his offensive and special teams work."
Holmes has caught fewer than half of the passes thrown his way during his five NFL seasons (102 of 210), and he's coming off back-to-back 14-catch campaigns. It's hard to envision him suddenly becoming a star at 29, but he's winning in June and the Bills like what they see.
"I'll tell you the guy that's really stood out has been Andre," McDermott said, per Jay Skurski of the Buffalo News. "He's done a phenomenal job, not only on offense, but also special teams. Very solid performer day to day, consistent and just really—that's been a nice pickup for us so far and I really appreciate his leadership."
Loser: Philadelphia Eagles WR Jordan Matthews
Promising but sometimes disappointing former second-round pick Jordan Matthews didn't exactly face stiff competition for playing time last season. The Philadelphia Eagles receiving corps was thin, and Matthews didn't have to fight hard to earn a regular starting role for a third consecutive year.
That won't be the case in 2017.
Because not only did the Eagles bolster their wide receiver depth chart by adding former 1,000-yard wideouts Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith in March, but it also appears they're getting something more out of 2015 first-round pick Nelson Agholor.
With Matthews sidelined due to a knee injury, Agholor stepped into his vacant slot position with the first-team offense and has received rave reviews.
"I'll tell you, he's been explosive in there," Eagles head coach Doug Pederson said of Agholor at the conclusion of minicamp, per Matt Mullin of Philly Voice. "He's made some big plays for us in there this spring. And his confidence level is high right now. I'm excited to see him grow in that position, and it's been valuable for him.”
"He's always been an explosive guy, but boy, it sure seems like he might have gotten quicker and more explosive this offseason," added quarterback Carson Wentz, per ESPN.com's Tim McManus. "He's getting open, making plays. It's good to see."
Agholor, who has been prone to mental miscues and has just 59 catches and three touchdowns in two NFL seasons, still has to prove he can deliver when it matters. And Matthews should have a chance to regain favor if indeed he can get healthy in time for training camp. But at minicamp, one won and the other lost.
Winner: Seattle Seahawks CB Jeremy Lane
For five years, Jeremy Lane has been a peripheral member of the Legion of Boom. A spot starter and quality depth provider at cornerback, Lane is coming off a poor year in coverage. But he did gain valuable experience with a career-high nine starts, and it appears a strong offseason has him in line to play an even larger role in 2017.
"Jeremy has really applied himself," head coach Pete Carroll said as minicamp wrapped up, according to Liz Mathews of Seahawks Wire. "He sees the opportunity. Across the board, everybody's evaluation is that he's really focused, really tuned in; he's really ready to go for it."
The opportunity Carroll is referencing is a chance to earn a Week 1 starting spot in place of the injured DeShawn Shead, who tore his left ACL in last year's playoff loss to the Atlanta Falcons. Carroll isn't optimistic that the 27-year-old will make it back for the start of the season, and Lane has been taking advantage of the fact he appears to be the next man up.
“He's physically as fit as he's been in a long time,” Carroll added. “Remember, he had a really difficult offseason a couple years back [after breaking his arm and tearing his ACL in Super Bowl XLIX] and it's taken him almost a couple years to overcome all of that and he's back to full form. But more than that, his focus is really on it to seize this opportunity."
He'll have to hold off rookie third-round pick Shaq Griffin in training camp, and Shead could still make a quicker-than-expected recovery, but Lane appears to be in the pole position after a strong run through OTAs and minicamp.
Loser: Pittsburgh Steelers CB Senquez Golson
It was a surprise to some that the Pittsburgh Steelers didn't use an early draft pick on a defensive back, considering how often it felt as though that secondary was a liability last season. But it's possible Pittsburgh was hoping that two recent high draft picks, 2016 first-rounder Artie Burns and 2015 second-rounder Senquez Golson, could fill that need in 2017.
Golson was always a wild card, because injuries have prevented him from playing a single NFL snap in two years. And although the shoulder injury that cost him his rookie campaign is history and he seems recovered from the Lisfranc injury that kept him off the field in 2016, the 23-year-old's stock is still dropping coming out of OTAs.
"Defensive backs coach Carnell Lake said he hopes Golson gets his speed back before training camp, meaning the fears that general manager Kevin Colbert expressed about the 2015 second-round pick recovering from a Lisfranc injury, have played out to some extent," wrote Penn Live's Jacob Klinger. "The fact that Lake is talking about Golson needing to impress special teams coordinator Danny Smith doesn't bode well for a man who began 2016 training camp as the first-choice slot corner."
Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette tweeted in February that Colbert was indeed "apprehensive" about Golson's return, which might explain why the team used a third-round selection on Tennessee cornerback Cameron Sutton.
Per ESPN.com's Jeremy Fowler, Sutton "was productive in OTAs and seems to understand what the Steelers want out of their pass coverage."
As his stock rises, Golson's continues to sink.
Winner: Pittsburgh Steelers WR Martavis Bryant
But if wide receiver Martavis Bryant can continue to impress, the Killer B's could become a quartet.
Coming back from a season-long suspension for a repeat violation of the league's substance abuse policy, the troubled but tantalizingly talented former fourth-round pick put on a show at Steelers minicamp.
"He looks like a stud, as usual," said Roethlisberger over the weekend, per Brian Batko of the Post-Gazette, "so we're excited for him to be on the field this year and help us out."
Per Dale Lolley of the Observer-Reporter, Bryant stated last month that he had gained 10 pounds of muscle while away. Considering that he already possessed a deadly combination of size and speed, that and the strong endorsement from his star quarterback have the 25-year-old in the OTA winner's circle.
Loser: Jacksonville Jaguars S Tashaun Gipson
The Jacksonville Jaguars signed safety Tashaun Gipson to a five-year, $35.5 million contract last offseason. And although Gipson was by no means a disaster while starting 16 games in 2016, he recorded just 41 tackles (his lowest mark since his rookie season in 2012), one interception (same deal) and zero forced fumbles.
And now the 26-year-old has missed all of OTAs and minicamp due to an undisclosed injury, while his primary backup, the underrated Peyton Thompson, has excelled.
"Thompson has been getting a lot of reps, and coach Doug Marrone said Thompson has taken advantage of the extra work," wrote ESPN.com's Mike DiRocco. "Thompson was mainly a special-teams player last season but has made steady improvement, and the Jaguars are starting to believe he'd be a capable replacement if Gipson were to be injured during the regular season."
The versatile Thompson won't steal Gipson's starting job anytime soon, but he's at least applying pressure while the highly paid veteran watches.
Winner: Minnesota Vikings QB Teddy Bridgewater
It takes a special situation for a player to come away from minicamp a winner despite hardly participating. But that's the case with Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, because the serious knee injury he suffered last August threatened the 24-year-old former Pro Bowler's career.
That left knee injury—multiple torn ligaments as well as a dislocation—was so gruesome and severe that the Vikings traded for quarterback Sam Bradford immediately after. In January, Bleacher Report's Jason Cole reported that he'd miss the entire 2017 season as well.
In February, USA Today's Tom Pelissero quoted Vikes general manager Rick Spielman saying that "everybody's hoping" Bridgewater could merely resume his career at some point. In March, Pelissero reported that there was still no timetable for a potential return. And in May, the team declined his fifth-year option for 2018.
But Bridgewater took snaps and threw passes at several OTA sessions in May and June, and Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer told ESPN.com's Ben Goessling in early June that the 24-year-old was "progressing as well as anybody could expect." He continued to throw to receivers as part of individual drills at minicamp, and one of them—2016 first-round pick Laquon Treadwell—came away particularly impressed.
"He looks great—really great," said Treadwell, per Goessling. "It's like he was never hurt."
That's more than just a small victory for one of the game's most exciting, talented young players.
Loser: Colts Passing Game
This is mainly about Phillip Dorsett, who has failed to live up to first-round expectations during his first two years with the Indianapolis Colts and now might have lost more ground to free-agent addition Kamar Aiken in the fight for the No. 3 receiver job.
The 24-year-old missed minicamp due to a hamstring injury, while Aiken was out there just a few weeks after general manager Chris Ballard told him—per Zak Keefer of the Indianapolis Star—there'd be an "open competition in the receiving room."
Colts fans would love to see Dorsett emerge in his third season, but that can't happen if he's not on the field battling Aiken. Colts fans would also love to see more from quarterback Andrew Luck, but the franchise quarterback remained sidelined during OTAs and minicamp as he recovers from shoulder surgery. Ditto for top receiver T.Y. Hilton, who is battling a hamstring strain.
None of those injuries appear to be serious, but the three of them combined to put a damper on the Indy offense as the team wrapped up its offseason program.
Winner: New York Jets TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins
Could this be the year Austin Seferian-Jenkins puts it all together and becomes a reliable starting tight end? The New York Jets don't have a lot of other options after purging veterans from their roster throughout the offseason, and the good news is the former second-round pick has made a strong impression at OTAs and minicamp.
"They like what they've seen from Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who has a chance to revive his career," wrote ESPN.com's Rich Cimini, who in a post-minicamp item called Seferian-Jenkins a standout in OTAs and minicamp. "He went to rehab to address a drinking problem, dropped 25 pounds and looked terrific in the 10 OTA practices."
He'll still be suspended two games to start the season after a violation of the substance abuse policy, but that isn't stopping the 24-year-old from redeeming himself this offseason.
Loser(s): Rookies Who Weren't Allowed to Participate
Two Stanford stars, defensive end Solomon Thomas and running back Christian McCaffrey, were taken with top-10 draft picks in April, but because Stanford uses the quarter system instead of the semester system, neither was able to participate in his team's minicamp.
Fr some reason the NFL still has this dumb rule which mandates that underclassmen can't report to their new team's facility until their college's school year ends, even if—like McCaffrey—they aren't taking classes at said college.
Stanford's final exam period wrapped up in mid-June, but that was too late for Thomas and McCaffrey. The former missed the bulk of the San Francisco 49ers' offseason program, while the latter got in one practice on the final day of the Carolina Panthers minicamp.
Both missed out on precious bonding time with their new teammates, as well as about a dozen opportunities to hit the field under the supervision of their new coaches. That's a bloody shame.
Winner: Detroit Lions Receiving Corps
A year ago, the Detroit Lions abruptly lost veteran wide receiver Calvin Johnson to retirement. This offseason, they've split with veteran wide receiver Anquan Boldin. That had yours truly a tad worried about a receiving corps that features Golden Tate and a bunch of guys most casual fans have never heard of.
However, two newcomers are off to winning starts in Detroit.
Third-round Northern Illinois product Kenny Golladay was expected to need some time coming out of a small school, but Tim Twentyman of the team's official website reported Sunday that he's been on fire.
"Golladay's size (6'4", 213), speed and length were on display just about every day of the open OTA and minicamp practices," wrote Twentyman. "He made a number of difficult catches and big plays, and has impressed several of his veteran teammates, including Matthew Stafford and Golden Tate."
Even more surprising is the show Jared Abbrederis is putting on, because few probably even noticed when the Lions signed the former Green Bay Packers reserve way back in January.
"He made big plays on deep balls throughout OTAs, including a sliding touchdown catch where he beat two defenders, and will get a shot as a returner," wrote ESPN.com's Michael Rothstein of Abbrederis. "If he's able to continue the trajectory through camp, he has a real shot to make Detroit's roster."
Loser: Los Angeles Chargers
Not only did the Los Angeles Chargers have to endure one final awkward minicamp at their former home base in San Diego last week, but they were also ripped by new head coach Anthony Lynn for appearing "sluggish."
"We committed some fouls—things that get you beat," Lynn told reporters. "Things we haven't done all offseason."
It didn't help that the Bolts were without both of their top corners, Jason Verrett (knee) and Casey Hayward (ankle), as well as rookie first-round pick Mike Williams (back). None are expected to miss regular-season time, but Verrett is battling back from a torn ACL, and Williams comes in with high expectations as the No. 7 overall pick.
This is a team with several snake bite scars. Based on Football Outsiders' "adjusted games lost" formula, the Chargers were hit harder by injuries than all but one NFL team (the Chicago Bears) last season and all but six teams in 2015.
Minicamp definitely could have gone better.