Gridiron Digest: Will Jadeveon Clowney Get the Seahawks Back to the Super Bowl?

Mike Tanier@@miketanierNFL National Lead WriterSeptember 2, 2019

Gridiron Digest: Will Jadeveon Clowney Get the Seahawks Back to the Super Bowl?

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    Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

    The Seahawks were the big winners of a wild Labor Day weekend of cuts and trades, swiping All-Pro defender Jadeveon Clowney from the rudderless Texans. Clowney makes the Seahawks better, but does he make them prohibitive Super Bowl favorites? Gridiron Digest will answer just that question. Plus:

    • NFL Network's Nate Burleson drops by to talk about everything from how to stop Patrick Mahomes to how to emulate Will Smith

    • Transaction Spin Zone reacts to everything the Texans did, plus all the moves made by teams that aren't run by an army of interns who got into the hash brownies

    • A 10-10-10 season preview special

    • Preseason spotlights on the Patriots and Rams

    • Kicker battles! Kicker battles! Kicker battles!

    ...and much, much more!

       

Jadeveon Clowney Still Leaves the Seahawks a Few Steps Short of the Super Bowl

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    Daniel Kucin Jr./Associated Press

    The Seahawks were already a playoff contender when they wandered into the Houston sheriff's auction with a hundred bucks and walked out with a Porsche.

    The Texans traded All-Pro defender Jadeveon Clowney to the Seahawks in exchange for a third-round pick, knockaround former prospect Barkevious Mingo and the obscure Jacob Martin on Saturday in a deal that should be investigated by the bunko squad but won't be. But the hilarity of the Texans organization is a topic for a later segment. Our focus right now is on the Seahawks. Clowney joins Ziggy Ansah—medically cleared to play in the opener after an offseason of nagging injuries—to give the Seahawks one of the most fearsome pass-rushing duos in the NFL.

    Khalil Mack joined the Bears last year in a vaguely similar Labor Day weekend blockbuster and turned a rebuilding team into division champions. So what do you get when you take a 10-6 team like the Seahawks and add versatile defensive superstar? A 13-3 team? A prohibitive favorite to face the Patriots in the Super Bowl? Should we just cancel the whole NFC schedule now?

    Not so fast.

    Clowney and Ansah will start the season as replacements for Frank Clark, who left for the Chiefs in free agency, and Jarran Reed, who will serve a six-game personal conduct policy suspension at the start of the year. (Note: Clowney and Reed don't play the same position or role; we're talking about "replacements" in the production sense.) So the Seahawks defense won't really enjoy much of an upgrade over last year until Reed returns. 

    More importantly, the Seahawks have a lot of work to do in other areas if they hope to overtake the Rams, Saints, Eagles and other front-runners in the NFC East race. Clowney may take them one step closer to the Super Bowl, but they must accomplish at least three other things if they hope to take that final step:

    Find a No. 2 receiver: The surprise release of veteran Jaron Brown leaves the Seahawks with Tyler Lockett as their top receiver and David Moore (26 career receptions), Malik Turner (two) and rookies DK Metcalf, John Ursua and Gary Jennings. (all zero, obviously) vying for all the other roles. This is one of the weakest receiving corps in the NFL, and if Metcalf (a preternatural size-speed prospect who battled injuries throughout training camp) or someone else doesn't step up in a hurry, the lack of experience and talent will feed into one of the other factors holding the Seahawks back, the next item on our list.

    Bring Brian Schottenheimer into the 21st century: The Seahawks offensive coordinator likes to run the ball and doesn't care if you or opponents know all about it. According to NFLGSIS, the Seahawks attempted just 140 passes on 1st-and-10 last season, the lowest total in the NFL (they ran the ball 248 times in that situation, for a 63.9 percent rushing rate that would make your great uncle's high school coach smile). They were almost as likely to rush (27 times) as pass (29 times) on 2nd-and-10, which resulted in lots of 3rd-and-medium-to-long conversion attempts. If the depleted receiving corps convinces Schottenheimer that he must somehow run the ball even more often, the Seahawks will lose by 16-13 final scores no matter how well the defense plays.

    Make sense of the secondary: Tre Flowers, Shaquill Griffin, Tedric Thompson and Bradley McDougald aren't bad, but they're a lightyear away from the Legion of Boom. The Seahawks traded for cornerback help from the Jets (Parry Nickerson) before the cuts, which is hardly an encouraging sign for the team's depth. Rookie safety Ugo Amadi is an up-and-comer, but overall, this unit doesn't look equipped to keep up with the high-powered offenses of the NFC contenders. Yes, the new defensive front will take pressure off the defensive backs. But a cloud-of-dust offense built to win low-scoring games will put that pressure right back on them.

    The Seahawks have gone on deep playoff runs in the past with a great defense and Russell Wilson providing most of the offense himself. But even with Clowney in the fold, they still have a not-quite-great defense, and Wilson may have to provide all of the offense by himself.

    It was a great trade, and it made the Seahawks much more interesting. But don't make any Super Bowl plans just yet.

Gridiron Digest Transaction Spin Zone

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    Michael Reaves/Getty Images

    We don't have space to cover every trade and surprising move over Labor Day weekend. Heck, we barely have space to cover every surprising move made by the Texans alone over Labor Day weekend. But let's at least scratch the surface:

    Texans trade two first-round picks, a second-round pick and change to the Dolphins for tackle Laremy Tunsil, wide receiver Kenny Stills and change: A few million words were written about this deal over the weekend, so we'll just summarize. The Texans acquired two players who will help them go 9-7 this year and possibly win the Andrew Luck-less AFC South. And all they gave up was any chance of ever solving other problems or getting better, forever and ever. Imagine if this trade, of all things, is what ultimately gets Bill O'Brien fired. 

    Texans trade offensive lineman Martinas Rankin to the Chiefs for running back Carlos Hyde: Hyde's best year came when Chip Kelly was his coach and Colin Kaepernick his quarterback. Just sayin'.

    Chiefs sign LeSean McCoy, who was released by the Bills: Shady is 31 years old and coming off an injury-plagued season in which he averaged just 3.2 yards per carry. He may well be an upgrade over Carlos Hyde. 

    Dolphins trade Kiko Alonso to the Saints for Vince Biegel: Alonso is a charter member of the A.J. Hawk club of linebackers who are more famous than good; he tore his ACL after his excellent 2013 rookie season, and the Eagles and Dolphins each spent years, millions of dollars and too much trade compensation (he was once traded straight up for Shady) waiting for him to go back to being the player he may never really have been. Biegel is young, obscure and works cheap, making him so perfect for the 2019 Dolphins that they should put him on the cover of the media guide.

    Vikings release 2016 first-round wide receiver Laquon Treadwell; Redskins release 2016 first-round wide receiver Josh Doctson: Both receivers, Treadwell in particular, looked like failed prospects and sunk costs by the end of the 2017 season, but their teams kept them around for an extra year, plus an offseason, because that's what you do with first-round picks. The Patriots don't do this sort of thing, which may illustrate why they are the Patriots and everyone else is everyone else.

    Patriots release wide receiver Demaryius Thomas and quarterback Brian Hoyer: The Patriots also don't keep veteran wide receivers just because they want to justify the offseason signing; Thomas played well in the preseason, but the Patriots were impressed by undrafted rookie Jakobi Meyers, who fills BenJarvus Green-Ellis' old role of "guy whose name sounds like a law firm." Rookie Jarrett Stidham played well enough in the preseason to make Hoyer expendable; Stidham is either the Patriots' quarterback of the future or their Jimmy Garoppolo of the future. 

Nate Burleson Talks Patrick Mahomes, the Patriots, Will Smith and More

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    Danny Moloshok/Associated Press

    You may know Nate Burleson from Good Morning Football on NFL Network, the CBS Sunday pregame show or from his long career as a wide receiver for the Vikings, Seahawks and Lions. Soon, you will also see him as the New York correspondent for the syndicated variety show Extra Extra and hear him as the voice of this year's DraftKings Daily Fantasy ad campaign. Burleson spent a few minutes with Gridiron Digest recently to preview the season and deliver some of his Bur-Lessons—about the Patriots and other topics and to discuss his plans to take over all media:

    Gridiron Digest: You said on Good Morning Football recently that Jacoby Brissett can lead the Colts to the playoffs and become their franchise quarterback. We know he has the tools. What's the biggest step he must take to achieve that potential?

    Burleson: We saw him in the 2017 season make certain throws that really caught your attention. But there were also times when he held onto the ball just a little too long. Being a big, strong-armed quarterback with a windup motion, he has to play with a little more anticipation. So being quicker and a little more decisive getting the ball out to his pass-catchers is going to be the key. 

    Digest: You also said that this might be the Patriots' most dangerous wide receiver corps in a long time. We all know Josh Gordon's potential and his past. But do the Patriots really have the depth to compensate for the loss of Rob Gronkowski?

    Burleson: I have a gut feeling that Gronk is gonna be back in Week 8. He'll take some time to relax, let his body heel, rub that CBD oil all over his body, and then he's gonna get the urge and the team's gonna have the desire to get him back out on the field. 

    But as for the guys who are there: Julian Edelman is gonna be a fixture in the offense as he always is. When Gordon is focused, he's uber-talented. N'Keal Harry has to be in an almost perfect situation. I almost envy him: playing with Tom Brady, a shining example like Julian Edelman to teach him how to get open, and the chance to talk to someone like Josh Gordon, who fumbled away an opportunity time after time but still has a chance to rewrite his narrative. And I'm just talking about the wide receivers. We haven't even mentioned the running backs, and they're as deep as it gets. 

    For 31 other teams, you focus on stopping two or three guys, and you have a great chance of stopping that offense. If you focus on two or three guys on the Patriots, you'd better guess right. Otherwise you'll get your butt lit up.

    Digest: Which of the second-year quarterbacks is poised to make the biggest improvement?

    Burleson: Baker Mayfield has an opportunity to go from 27 touchdowns in a season where he didn't even start until Week 3 to 35, maybe 40 touchdowns. 

    I also think Lamar Jackson can prove that he's a passer. There are people who think he can't throw the ball. That's ridiculous. If you look at the playoff game that they lost last year, they didn't let him throw it until late in the second half, and all of a sudden they started scoring points. When teams try to stop the run this year, Lamar's gonna shock people by throwing the rock.

    And keep in mind that it was really Patrick Mohomes' rookie season last year. He barely touched the field in 2017. I don't know if Mahomes is going to hit for 50 touchdowns again, but he's going to be pretty close. 

    Digest: Speaking of Mahomes, is there any way to stop him?

    Burleson: There's only one way to stop a good quarterback, and that's to hit him. We're talking old-school, shoulder pads in the middle of his chest, make him pick himself off the ground. So I did a deep dive on how Patrick Mahomes performs under duress, and against the blitz he threw 10 touchdowns and zero interceptions last year, which is unbelievable. 

    When you blitz most young quarterbacks, they panic. But when you blitz Mahomes, it's like he powers up, like it's a video game. He gets excited, he starts winking and doing the Tiger Woods fist pump, looking at his hand like Shaq coming back from a fast break. It's crazy. If you blitz him, you're gonna get struck. Travis Kelce is faster than your linebackers. Tyreek Hill is faster than everybody. Mecole Hardman is Tyreek Hill 2.0. 

    His interceptions came when teams didn't blitz him. He has such a big arm that he'll sit back there, burp the baby, pat the ball and then try to throw into places only Mahomes can fit it in. So put pressure on your D-line to get to him with four or five guys. Everybody else just needs to make it difficult. Collapse those windows and make the throws as tight as possible.

    Digest: You have already interviewed Tracy Morgan and Roger Federer for Extra Extra. Is there a non-football celebrity that you are dying for a chance to interview?

    Burleson: I would love to sit down with Will Smith. He's the ultimate entertainer. And I'm a guy who had a long career in the NFL, transitioned into TV and am now transitioning into the entertainment space. Will is just a walking testament of how to transition in and out of spaces. He went from local rapper to worldwide phenomenon to TV superstar, then he jumps right off that onto the movie screen, with movie after movie and single after single on the soundtracks. Then he disappears for a while, wakes up one morning and thinks, "I'm gonna take over Instagram." And he did! So I want to sit down and get the secret sauce.

    Digest: What made you decide to become the voice of DraftKings?

    Burleson: It's an honor to be the voice of anything. I'm 38 and living my best life. I'm dropping a rap song on Monday on Good Morning Football. I've dropped rap recaps before, but this one's next level. It's a '90s hip-hop video: I'm rapping in the rain next to a Lamborghini with a helicopter in the background. Now, when there's a marketing push, digitally or on TV, you're going to hear me!

    Fantasy was a huge part of my life, even when I played in the NFL. I played it every single week. And I know what it's like to be out there in the fourth quarter, down by six, my quarterback gives me a wink at the line of scrimmage, it's cold, I'm freezing, my body hurts, but I gotta come down with a catch. I would relive those moments over and over again, highlights I will remember for the rest of my life, stuff that makes your soul shiver. At DraftKings, they found a way to mimic that and duplicate that feeling that the athletes get. 

    GD: Sounds like you are pulling a Will Smith and conquering yet another form of media.

    Burleson: Can you feel it? That's exactly what's happening.  

Preseason Spotlight: Los Angeles Rams

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    Kelvin Kuo/Associated Press

    Throughout the preseason, Gridiron Digest has highlighted a pair of teams per week with news, notes, observations and predictions. This week's edition features last year's Super Bowl participants.

            

    Heading into 2019

    The defending NFC champions feature Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald, coaching thought leader Sean McVay, affordable franchise quarterback Jared Goff, a diverse and colorful assemblage of talent on both sides of the ball...and almost no buzz. Perhaps that's because of the stinging memory of their inability to move the ball in the Super Bowl, or skepticism about Goff's ceiling and/or Todd Gurley's health. Or maybe we're just sleeping on a team and a wunderkind coach who are ready to finish what they started.

           

    News and notes from camp

    • All is quiet on the Todd Gurley's knee front. McVay said at the start of the preseason that Gurley hasn't suffered any setbacks and has made "steady progressions" from the mysterious state of injury he was in late last year to his current mysterious state of health. McVay did tell Peter King of NBC Sports that Gurley clocked in at 21 miles per hour on GPS sensors, which is great news for anyone who believes maximum straight-line speed is an indicator of the sturdiness of knee ligaments or the quality of a running back. No one, in other words.   

    • Cooper Kupp's health status is less of a government secret. He's expected back in the lineup after suffering an ACL tear in November. There's a school of thought that the Rams' late-season offensive dip wasn't caused as much by Gurley's injury or the league catching up to McVay as by the loss of Kupp, who joined Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods to give McVay and Goff the league's most versatile three-receiver base package. You would think that the NFL's reigning offensive mastermind would be able to compensate for the loss of one non-quarterback, but it doesn't look as though McVay will have to prove that he can, at least at the start of the season.

    • Cornerback Aqib Talib suffered a hamstring injury in practice and may be limited in the season opener. Marcus Peters has had a quiet camp, which is good, but the Rams have not extended his contract, which indicates that they may want to keep financial pressure on a defender who can go from Darrelle Revis to Toasty McBurnvictim based on his horoscope. Look for veteran newcomer Eric Weddle to be a stabilizing influence on an unpredictable secondary. Peters said Weddle "thinks like Wade"—a reference to coordinator Wade Phillips—and Donald called Weddle "a genius." Imagine what a sage Weddle would be if he just grew back his wizard beard.

           

    Player to Watch: Dante Fowler, edge-rusher

    The Rams brought Fowler back for one year at $12 million guaranteed to be their primary edge-rusher. Fowler has recorded just 16 sacks in three seasons since being drafted third overall by the Jaguars in 2015 (he missed the 2015 season with a torn ACL). He earned some positive reviews (like this one from TheRams.com's Myles Simmons) during joint practices with the Raiders, and with 33-year-old Clay Matthews as the only other experienced edge-rusher on the roster, the Rams need a breakthrough season from him. Fortunately for Fowler and the Rams, Aaron Donald's interior pressure makes life easier for the guys on the outside.

           

    Bottom line

    The Rams defense is stout up the middle but full of uncertainty on the edges. The offense is loaded with "system" guys in a system that may have reached peak efficiency around Week 11 last year. Either McVay is the next Bill Belichick or the Rams will be the latest defending NFC champion to fall off the pace instead of repeating. And after that Super Bowl stumble, McVay doesn't quite look ready for that Next Belichick label.

Preseason Spotlight: New England Patriots

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    Steven Senne/Associated Press

    Throughout the preseason, Gridiron Digest has highlighted a pair of teams per week with news, notes, observations and predictions. It's time to wrap up the series by checking in on the defending champs.

              

    Heading into 2019

    The Empire has built another fully armed and operational Death Star. It's up to the rebel alliance to see if they can blow it up. You know, the standard boilerplate.

               

    News and notes from camp

    • With David Andrews placed on injured reserve with blood clots in his lung, fourth-year swing lineman Ted Karras is expected to take over at center. The Patriots traded a battery of future late-round picks for former Bengals and Bills center Russell Bodine, Cardinals tackle Korey Cunningham and Ravens all-purpose lineman Jermaine Eluemunor to provide depth all along the line. That's a lot of sudden change for a team that will also be starting novice left tackle Isaiah Wynn. Offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia has played mix-and-match in the past, but never with so many players who weren't even on the roster two weeks ago.

    • Ben Watson, the Patriots starting tight end from 2005 to 2009, will replace Rob Gronkowski, but Watson is suspended for the first four games of the season. Lance Kendricks, a longtime starter for the Rams, is also suspended for the first game of the season. There's no super-secret prospect in the skunkworks: The Patriots will be thin at tight end at the start of the year and then will settle for lumbering professionalism at the position for the rest of the year.

    • With Patrick Chung facing cocaine possession charges, the Patriots may need to fill a void at nickel safety. Veteran special teamer Terrence Brooks is the most likely candidate to step into the role if Chung becomes unavailable, but keep an eye on second-round cornerback Joejuan Williams, who played safety in the fourth preseason game. At 6'4" and 211 pounds, Williams has the size to match up against Travis Kelce-types and contribute in run support. Former Raiders prospect Obi Melifonwu also fits the profile of a safety/cornerback matchup specialist. The team traded away 2018 second-round pick Duke Dawson before final cuts (the Patriots frequently chuck second-round picks into a volcano as part of their deal with the evil football deities), so they don't appear too concerned with depth in the secondary.

                

    Player to watch: Josh Gordon, wide receiver

    Well, duh.

    You know all about Gordon. But the news and notes above illustrate just how badly the Patriots need that talented-but-troubled receiver. The Patriots are going from Gronk to old blockers at tight end. The loss of Andrews could impact both the running game and the pass protection. Brady needs both a deep threat and a blitz deterrent, and Gordon is the one receiver on the roster who can force opposing safeties to stay deep. Gordon isn't a luxury anymore. He's a necessity. The Patriots need him for 16 games and the playoffs. 

                

    Bottom line

    The Patriots crushed the Lions 31-3 in the preseason opener and sent Cam Newton limping into the locker room in the dress rehearsal. They are still very much the Patriots: Bill Belichick pretending he doesn't keep track of NFL current events (and/or being misinterpreted by the rest of the world), Brady posting creepy "just tossin' the ball around with my army of clones" Instagram videos, and the team still thinking two steps ahead by making trades before cutdowns to solve potential down-the-road problems.They're just a little older and a little more uncertain at more positions than usual. Opponents will find more weak spots to probe than usual. But as usual, Belichick and Brady are likely to find their weak spots first. 

10 Things We Cannot Wait to See in 2019

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    Gail Burton/Associated Press

    Sure, you might not want to see any of these things happen against your favorite team, or when your fantasy opponent started these players. But for the rest of us, these are the things that make us tune in every Sunday:

    • Baker Mayfield hitting Odell Beckham Jr. in stride for a deep touchdown. Beckham might not know what to do with a pass that reaches him in stride.

    • The new Ravens offense. It probably won't be a cross between playground rugby and the service academy wingbone option, but it sure would be cool if it was.

    • Le'Veon Bell, reminding us that the last time we saw him in uniform he went into Invincibility mode in a playoff game.

    • Von Miller and Bradley Chubb doing Vic Fangio's bidding. (Then the Broncos offense takes the field and we change the channel.)

    • T.Y Hilton catching 10 passes for 221 yards from Jacoby Brissett as the Colts beat the Texans while J.J. Watt gets triple-teamed without Jadeveon Clowney.

    • Travis Frederick, Zack Martin and Tyron Smith healthy at the same time and blocking for whoever is in the Cowboys backfield. 

    • An uptempo offense full of subtle creativity and wide-open college concepts. Oh, we're talking about the Patriots, not the Cardinals.

    • Saquon Barkley hitting the truck, juke, spin and sprint sticks, because when it comes to capturing the imagination (and winning fantasy leagues), running backs still matter. 

    Antonio Brown on the field, as opposed to in our timelines.

    • Week 1. Tyreek Hill vs. Jalen Ramsey. 'Nuff said.

10 Things No One Wants to See in 2019

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    Some parts of football are just no fun, even when they happen to your archrival. Well, sometimes when they happen to your archrival.

    • John Mara explaining that Eli Manning remains the Giants' starting quarterback after a three-interception, four-sack, 20-point loss because of "all he has done for the organization."

    • Josh Allen throwing across his body into the middle of the field for brain-cramp interceptions (like he did in the preseason after we said nice things about his development).

    • The Seahawks handing off on 1st-and-10 and 2nd-and-9, forcing Russell Wilson to attempt every single pass on 3rd-and-8.

    • Deshaun Watson playing with three cracked ribs and a lacerated everything while Bill O'Brien tinkers with his sixth different starting offensive line combination.

    • The Vikings frantically cutting, trading and shaming their kickers instead of asking why such an expensive, talent-laden offense keeps settling for field goals in the first place.

    • Lots of attention-seeking "Hmm, I wonder if the Eagles made the right decision?" tweets next Sunday at 1:09 p.m. ET after Nick Foles completes two straight six-yard passes to Dede Westbrook to set up a Jaguars field goal. 

    • Sideline images of Aaron Rodgers and Matt LaFleur avoiding eye contact after Rodgers audibles at the line of scrimmage, ignores an open checkdown receiver and throws a 60-yard incompletion on 3rd-and-inches.

    • Sean McVay explaining that "Todd Gurley is feeling great" and "we just wanted to get some different looks out there" after Gurley rushes 12 times for 19 yards in a Rams loss. 

    • Lots and lots of challenges that turn borderline pass-interference penalties into borderline no-calls (and vice versa).

    • Kyler Murray facing 3rd-and-20 because of back-to-back "hand clap" penalties and frantically making "jazz hands" before the snap.

10 Impact Rookies to Watch in 2019

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    Ron Schwane/Associated Press

    You don't need Gridiron Digest to tell you to keep your eyes on the likes of Kyler Murray and Daniel Jones. So to keep this list interesting: no quarterbacks, no first-round picks.

    David Montgomery, running back, Bears: Tarik Cohen is the Human Joystick. Montgomery may be the Human Modern Console Game Controller: bigger, more versatile, but still loaded with a full array of highlight juke moves.  

    Juan Thornhill, safety, Chiefs: Thornhill intercepted 13 passes in three seasons at Virginia and then a bunch more during Chiefs training camp practices. He's been getting pointers from Honey Badger Tyrann Mathieu, and he'll get a chance to show off his ball-hawk traits when opponents start throwing 60 passes per game to keep up with the Chiefs.

    Mack Wilson, linebacker, Browns: Wilson intercepted two passes in the preseason opener and was named the Browns' best rookie in training camp. But Nick Saban believes Wilson should have returned to Alabama for another year. Awww, sounds like someone's having the Clemson nightmare again. Drink a glass of warm milk, Coach, and watch Wilson pursue a Defensive Rookie of the Year award. 

    Miles Boykin, wide receiver, Ravens: The draftnik darling from Notre Dame was the best all-around receiver in Ravens camp, although that's not a very high bar to clear. First-round pick Marquise Brown is supposed to be Lamar Jackson's deep threat once he gets back up to speed from a foot injury, but Boykin may emerge as Jackson's jump-ball specialist. That's an important role, because Jackson is gonna throw a lot of jump balls. 

    Tony Pollard, running back, Cowboys: Zeke Who's replacement during the holdout and backup when he returns, which is expected to be very soon. Pollard may be scarier as a fresh set of legs behind Zeke and the Cowboys line than he would be as a starter getting force-fed to the line. 

    Hunter Renfrow, wide receiver, Raiders: Short, balding and a little too old for the job, Renfrow is a wish fulfillment fantasy for a certain type of fan. He's also the Raiders' likely slot receiver, meaning he could catch a zillion passes in Antonio Brown's shadow. Middle-aged sportswriters want to be him; Patriots fans are jealous they cannot root for him. Luckily… 

    Chase Winovich, defensive end, Patriots: Patriots fans love his "motor." Gridiron Digest loves his athleticism, bend when turning the corner, hand placement…and, yeah, his motor.  

    Deonte Harris, wide receiver, Saints: The tiny receiver from tiny Assumption college delivered electrifying kick and punt returns throughout the preseason. Want to make Drew Brees and the Saints offense even more dangerous? Give them better field position.

    Deebo Samuel, wide receiver, 49ers: Samuel caught six preseason passes and added 59 yards on a pair of end-arounds. He's going to be an all-purpose weapon and a yards-after-catch machine. Fellow Niners rookie Jalen Hurd also had a fine preseason, giving Kyle Shanahan a pair of mix-'n'-mismatch playmakers to tinker with.

    Mitch Wishnowsky, punter, 49ers: Wishnowsky delivered a 62-yard preseason punt and a kickoff tackle so devastating that the Madden programmers boosted his Hit and Tackle Power ratings. The 49ers even polled fans to coin a nickname for the Aussie punter like "Thunda From Down Undah." Ugh. Keep trying, guys. 

Gridiron Digest Sportsbook: Trends for 2019

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    Steven Senne/Associated Press

    Most gambling "trends" are just brief streaks of randomness ready to fade back into the probabilistic static the moment they are noticed. But some reveal an inefficiency in the point-spread system: the house or public reacting late to a team's decline or improvement, a misperception of how good or bad or high- or low-scoring a team is in a given situation, and so forth. 

    Here are a few recent trends (via teamrankings.com) that pass the Gridiron Digest Sportsbook sniff test for being slightly more than statistical noise. Use them to gain a slight edge this year. But beware: The house catches on quickly, and even the most reliable trends are subject to the merciless gravity of central tendency. 

    The Patriots are 21-8 against the spread at home since 2016: The Patriots are 40-17 ATS overall in their last three Super Bowl seasons, a sign that even the house can't keep up with how good they are. They often settle in as six-point-or-so favorites in Foxborough against decent competition. They were -6 against the Texans and Vikings and -5 against the Packers last year, for example. They won all of those games by a comfortable touchdown or more. Oh, hey, look, they are hovering around -6 (via Caesars) against the Steelers in Week 1. You know what to do. 

    The Chiefs are 14-33-1 going over as home favorites since 2013: Andy Reid's early Chiefs teams often struggled to clear the number at home. They were 2-5 clearing the over as home favorites in 2015, 2-7 in 2016. Patrick Mahomes' arrival has brought more shootouts but also some sky-high over/unders. The Chiefs were just 4-5-1 going over as home favorites last year, and the one push (a 30-23 victory over the Broncos) gives a sense of just how high the offensive expectations have gotten. Tread on 50-plus overs carefully in Kansas City, especially if the Chiefs secondary sorts itself out and/or the opponent is unlikely to keep up its half of the shootout. 

    The Seahawks are 6-10-1 ATS as road favorites since 2015 and are 6-11 going over as road favorites since 2015: The Seahawks are 11-6 straight up as road favorites in the post-Super Bowl era, so this trend is all about the public overrating the Seahawks as a road team and underrating their ability to get into close, gnarly, low-scoring victories (like last year's 20-17 win at Arizona) and losses (25-17 at the Chargers last year). Be on the lookout for the Seahawks as three-to-four-point favorites against their division foes and at the Falcons, Panthers and (maybe) Browns this year, and be ready to pick the home dogs.

    The Chargers are 26-13-2 ATS as away underdogs since 2013 and 16-25 straight up as away underdogs since 2013: The Chargers basically play 16 road games per year these days, so hostile crowds don't faze them, and they handle cross-country and international travel pretty well. They beat the Steelers and (in the playoffs) Ravens outright last year as well as the Titans in London. The ATS/straight-up disparity tells you to watch for backdoor cover opportunities when the Chargers are getting four-plus points against opponents like the Chiefs (in Kansas City and Mexico) and Bears this year.

    The Jaguars are 4-20 ATS in nonconference games since 2013: Everyone knows the Jaguars are bad, but somehow they have also been overrated by the house in the Gus Bradley and Doug Marrone eras. Perhaps the team's annual spending sprees, plus a record buoyed by six Sun Belt Conference games per year, misleads the public into taking the Jaguars and the points more often than they should (which is practically never). The Jaguars were even 1-3 straight up and ATS against the NFC in their 2017 playoff season. They face the NFC South this year. The smart money is on the NFC South.

And Here's the Kicker

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    Mark LoMoglio/Associated Press

    This offseason's kicker battles were more difficult, troubling and hilarious than those of past offseasons. Here's where the teams with high-profile kicker woes stand…for now:

    Bears: Eddy Pineiro won the competition in camp and then celebrated in the preseason finale by missing an extra point that looked like he fouled a fastball off his foot. The Bears will keep an eye on the waiver wire. Their fans may want to ask their doctors about increasing their dosage of Lisinopril.

    Browns: Rookie Austin Seibert made his final six field goals of the preseason to win the job from Greg Joseph. Earlier in camp, he went 1-of-4 on clear, windless days twice, and he had other tragic days of practice. But hey, six straight field goals means all is well, right? Right???

    Buccaneers: Rookie Matt Gay hit 55- and 53-yarders in the preseason to win the job from Cairo Santos. Gay is a Gridiron Digest favorite, and we would be excited that the Bucs have finally found a kicker if we weren't scarred by their history with rookie kickers.

    Falcons: The Falcons officially didn't have a kicker at all at final cuts; they axed Blair Walsh and Giorgio Tavecchio, trimming their roster to 52 instead of 53 players while waiting for the toner to dry on a one-year deal for 44-year-old Matt Bryant. Hey, our brother-in-law never drafts a kicker for his fantasy team, either; he just grabs a familiar name off waivers in Week 1. And he usually finishes with about the same record as the Falcons.

    Jets: Chris Cataranzo pulled a micro-Andrew Luck early in camp. Taylor Bertolet missed two preseason extra points and three field goals in the preseason finale as his replacement. So the Jets claimed Kaare Vedvik off waivers from the Vikings. More on him in a moment.

    Panthers: Graham Gano was placed on IR with a leg injury. Undrafted Virginia Tech rookie Joey Slye, grabbed off the wire from the Giants in August, went 7-of-8 with a 59-yarder in the preseason to win the job. The fact that this is the third- to fifth-least worrisome kicker situation in the NFL at the start of the season speaks volumes about this year's kicker situations.

    Packers: Veteran Mason Crosby held off a strong challenge from Sam Ficken. Based on how other competitions went, holding on to a veteran makes sense.

    Vikings: Kaare Vedvik, acquired early in camp from the Ravens in exchange for (LOL) a fifth-round pick, missed field goals, displayed a line-drive tendency on punts and appeared to faint at the thought of tackling a returner. Vedvik was waived and landed with the Jets, meaning Dan Bailey remains the Vikings kicker. So the Vikings retain the fifth-most accurate kicker in NFL history, the Jets end up with their castoff and the Ravens end up with an extra fifth-round pick. Sometimes, a team comes out ahead despite itself.