Fact or Fiction: What to Believe from NFL's Early Training Camp Hype
NFL teams have become accustomed to Zoom meetings and unofficial practices to install schemes because of COVID-19 restrictions. Although clubs have yet to incorporate contact workouts, some players have garnered hype with their focus on conditioning and recovery.
Typically, at this time, we read glowing reports about early camp standouts in shorts and T-shirts. Without live practices, players made sure to rejoin their teams in tip-top shape with a renewed focus.
With time to look over the depth charts, team representatives and reporters have highlighted players to monitor going into the 2020 term because of their potential or production from the previous season.
We'll see what the buzz is all about and decide whether to believe the hype or not with a fact or fiction verdict.
Arizona Cardinals TE Dan Arnold Is a Breakout Candidate
Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins isn't the only Arizona Cardinals pass-catcher generating buzz this offseason. The club claimed Dan Arnold after the New Orleans Saints waived him in December 2019, and he's gained widespread popularity on social media.
Arnold scored touchdowns in two of his three outings with Cardinals last year. He had an impressive high-point grab against the Cleveland Browns in Week 15 and logged four receptions for 76 yards and a score in the season finale against the Los Angeles Rams.
In April, The Athletic's Scott Bordow wrote that Arnold "has a chance to make a real impact" in the upcoming term. On the Cardinals Cover 2 podcast, Craig Grialou and Mike Jurecki discussed him as a 2020 breakout candidate, citing his ability to become a mismatch for linebackers and safeties downfield (starting at 18:10).
Coming into 2020, Arnold has 20 catches for 277 yards and three touchdowns in 15 games. With a shot at the starting role, he'll likely see an uptick in production. However, a breakout sounds a bit strong for a player who's probably the fourth or fifth pass-catching option behind Hopkins, Larry Fitzgerald, Christian Kirk and Kenyan Drake out of the backfield.
While Arnold has a chance to showcase his receiving skills, the Cardinals have too many weapons to comfortably suggest he'll have a standout season.
Defenses Will See a New Marquise Brown
The Baltimore Ravens selected Marquise Brown in the first round of the 2019 draft, hoping to threaten defenses with his speed. The Oklahoma product came into the league on the mend while recovering from Lisfranc surgery.
P.J. Quarrie, a trainer who works with the Ravens, thinks the team saw a lesser version of Brown because of his injury, per Jonas Shaffer of the Baltimore Sun.
"He pretty much played on one foot," Quarrie told Shaffer. "That's why all of the Ravens fans, what they saw last year of Hollywood, they didn't see the real Marquise Brown. He wasn't full speed coming out of his breaks, running full speed, stuff like that. He was still fast. Imagine what he can do full speed, healthy, for a whole season."
Brown only lined up for 51 percent of the Ravens' offensive snaps last season, indicating he played with some limitations. Now healthy, the 23-year-old can take the top off of defenses on a more frequent basis.
Furthermore, Brown bulked up from 157 to 180 pounds during the offseason. His added weight will allow him to absorb hits and handle contact from 200-pound safeties over the top. More importantly, he's maintained his quickness.
"His body understands, 'OK, I got this extra 15 on, but we know how to move with it,'" Quarrie said. "And it doesn't look like he lost one step. If anything, he's more explosive and maybe even faster at 180."
The Ravens could see more of Brown's speed and explosiveness because of his offseason training regimen. He's an electric playmaker to keep an eye on as his rapport with quarterback Lamar Jackson grows in their second year together.
Bryan Edwards Will Make Immediate Impact in Las Vegas Raiders Offense
The Las Vegas Raiders double-dipped at wide receiver in April's draft, taking Henry Ruggs III at No. 12 and Bryan Edwards with the 81st pick.
While Ruggs generates excitement because of his speed, Edwards has emerged as an intriguing rookie to watch in 2020. Offensive coordinator Greg Olson had an encouraging thought about the wideout's recovery from a broken foot that likely caused him to slip in the draft.
"Right now he looks healthy," Olson told reporters (starting at 4:35). "Again, we haven't had a chance to go full speed, but the thing that jumps out at you is just how thick of a person he is. He has great size and again, has great ball skills. We're looking forward to seeing what he can do when we get up to full speed."
While discussing the offense with reporters (h/t Raiders Wire), Olson talked about using Ruggs in the slot, which would open up a spot on the boundary for Edwards opposite Tyrell Williams.
Quarterback Derek Carr sees some of his former Fresno State teammate Davante Adams in Edwards.
"Bryan is a very violent route-runner and that's a good thing," Carr told reporters (starting at 6:47). "He's very violent and aggressive in his cuts, in and out of his cuts. ... He reminds me of, when the ball is in the air, of Davante [Adams]. Great ball skills."
At 6'3", 212 pounds, Edwards could draw some attention in the red zone, where the Raiders struggled in 2019, ranking 22nd in touchdown percentage inside the 20-yard line.
Le'Veon Bell's Improved Conditioning Means More Productive Year
This offseason, Le'Veon Bell put in extra work with early-morning boxing lessons. Head coach Adam Gase took note of the running back's physique and positive attitude coming into camp, per Eric Allen of the New York Jets' official website.
Despite Bell's condition and desire to play his best football, he's probably going to share touches with Frank Gore and rookie fourth-rounder La'Mical Perine.
Before the Jets signed Gore, Gase had talked about spreading touches as opposed to going all-in on a workhorse running back, per ESPN's Rich Cimini.
"I do think we have some guys that can help maybe lessen the load on [Bell] to where it's not all on him," Gase said.
Gore and Gase have some history after working together during the 2018 campaign in Miami. The five-time Pro Bowler led that team in rush attempts with 156.
Despite Bell's rigorous training method, his conditioning won't necessarily lead to more touches. Gore joins Gang Green with experience in the offensive system and more gas left in the tank after recording 166 carries in Buffalo last season.
Along with Perine, Gore will eat into Bell's workload in 2020. The two-time All-Pro may have the mindset to put together one of his best seasons, but he's not in an ideal situation to handle a high volume of touches, which puts a limit on his production.
Ezra Cleveland in Competition to Start at Right Guard for Vikings
The Minnesota Vikings released Josh Kline in March just one season into his three-year deal, creating a void on the interior of their offensive line. They have plenty of options to fill the position, though.
Dakota Dozier logged starts at both guard spots last year. Dru Samia started at right guard for most of his three seasons at Oklahoma before Minnesota selected him in the fourth round of the 2019 draft.
Add second-round pick Ezra Cleveland to that mix. Offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak talked about the rookie as a candidate to start, per Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
"We're working him at guard right now," Kubiak said. "... The nice thing is we think (Cleveland) has flexibility. We know he's played tackle for a long time. ... He's a very bright player."
Kubiak would take a significant risk if he attempts to plug a former tackle into the guard spot without a full offseason or preseason. Coming out of Boise State, Cleveland is a fluid athlete, though his limitations in strength may hurt his chances to beat out two natural guards.
The Vikings will give Cleveland a chance to win the job, but don't expect him to start Week 1 over candidates more equipped for the role.
Seattle Seahawks WR DK Metcalf Primed to Take Next Step
Despite his impressive NFL Scouting Combine workout, DK Metcalf slipped to the end of the second round, where the Seattle Seahawks scooped him up with the 64th overall pick of the 2019 draft. But he landed in an ideal situation that allowed him to contribute immediately.
Two-time Pro Bowler Doug Baldwin retired last offseason, which allowed Metcalf to start right away. The Mississippi product caught 58 passes for 900 yards and seven touchdowns, all of which were top-three numbers among rookie wideouts.
Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll thinks Metcalf will improve this season because of his ability to line up in different spots:
"He's going to be better this year. He had an incredible offseason. He spent, I don't know, at least a month with Russell (Wilson) working out, they found a way to do it, and they had a phenomenal summer in that regard. ... Now we know we can move him around, we can we can ask him do a lot of different stuff."
During the offseason, the Seahawks discussed their intent to expand Metcalf's route tree. Carroll seems prepared to execute that plan on the practice field.
If so, Wilson will have a versatile wide receiver duo with Tyler Lockett also able to line up in the slot or on the outside.
Ronald Jones II Is 'Main Guy' in Tampa Bay Buccaneers Backfield
On paper, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers backfield resembles a running back by committee. Ronald Jones II, LeSean McCoy, Ke'Shawn Vaughn and Dare Ogunbowale each have the ability to play on all three downs.
For now, head coach Bruce Arians dubbed Jones the featured running back in the group, per Scott Smith of the team's official website. The Buccaneers' lead skipper also expects McCoy to "find his niche easily."
Heading into his age-32 season, McCoy will likely take on a pass-catching role to lessen the number of hits he takes throughout the year. Once Vaughn comes off the reserve/COVID-19 list, he could take some snaps on early downs.
Jones split carries with Peyton Barber (172-154) last season, while Ogunbowale handled the primary receiver duties, hauling in 35 passes for 286 yards. Still, Jones logged a career-high 1,033 yards from scrimmage.
Jones' workload won't be threatened by an older running back with a niche role or an early-round pick who's been unable to join the team at the beginning of camp. He should start the season as the clear RB1, handling the majority of carries.
Dwayne Haskins Ready for 'Monstrous' 2nd-Year Leap?
Dwayne Haskins' rookie campaign doesn't inspire anticipation for a breakout sophomore term. He threw for 1,365 yards, seven touchdowns and seven interceptions while completing only 58.6 percent of his passes.
Despite his mediocre performance in a small sample size, ESPN's Louis Riddick (h/t 106.7 The Fan) expects him "to have an absolutely fantastic, monstrous year." He specifically highlighted Haskins' offseason regimen, which helped him shed 11 pounds and 7 percent body fat.
Riddick isn't the only one optimistic about Haskins' 2020 outlook.
"Brandon Scherff says Dwayne Haskins is 'doing a great job' and the team is excited to watch his improvement and growth," JP Finlay of NBC Sports Washington tweeted Wednesday.
Head coach Ron Rivera is pleased with Haskins' progress as well, per Finlay:
"He's done a great job of studying, preparing and getting himself ready for this. He's been great. He's been on the field, doing the things we've asked of him. He's done the extra stuff that he and I talked about in the offseason. He's done the things that, I think, puts him right there where he needs to be at this junction of where we are in our training..."
Haskins has seemingly taken the right approach to his preparation for the season. However, he's still short on quality offensive weapons. The Washington Football Team needs to see Steven Sims Jr. build on his short flashes from last season or rookies Antonio Gibson and Antonio Gandy-Golden produce early to take some pressure off Terry McLaurin.
Haskins' progress hinges upon how he fits within new offensive coordinator Scott Turner's system. If he struggles, Kyle Allen, who played under Rivera and Turner in Carolina last year, could slide into the starting role.
For now, temper your expectations for Haskins.