Fact or Fiction: What to Believe from NFL's Early Training Camp Hype

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistAugust 5, 2021

Fact or Fiction: What to Believe from NFL's Early Training Camp Hype

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    Marta Lavandier/Associated Press

    The early days of NFL training camps often generate plenty of buzz.

    Certain rookies look unstoppable. Some veterans are in the best shape of their lives. Both offenses and defenses look superb, and new arrivals seem like they're going to make the difference for their respective teams. 

    Optimism springs eternal during the offseason because every team is on the same footing. Once preseason games kick off, reality comes back into the equation. 

    With the preseason rapidly approaching, let's look at how much stock to put into some of the most buzz-worthy reports coming out of training camps across the league.

Fact: Matthew Stafford Turning Heads at Rams Camp

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    Kelvin Kuo/Associated Press

    It didn't take long for Matthew Stafford to impress his new team. 

    After spending his first 12 NFL seasons with the Detroit Lions, Stafford is now under center for the Los Angeles Rams. Both his teammates and head coach Sean McVay have been blown away by the early returns from that blockbuster offseason trade.

    "When the pros are saying 'Ooh, holy blank,' you know it’s a pretty good play," McVay said, according to Peter King of NBC Sports. "Those who know, know."

    Even on a so-so Lions team last year, Stafford threw for 4,084 yards with 26 touchdowns. It was his eighth time with 4,000-plus yards, which former Rams quarterback Jared Goff has done only twice over his five NFL seasons. 

    Tasked with providing an upgrade under center to a Super Bowl hopeful in the brutal NFC West, Stafford appears to be living up to the immense offseason hype so far.

Fiction: No QB Controversy in San Francisco

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    Josie Lepe/Associated Press

    San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan has been downplaying the possibility of a quarterback controversy between veteran Jimmy Garoppolo and No. 3 overall pick Trey Lance.

    On Monday, he said he didn't have any plans to give Lance first-team reps during training camp and didn't "anticipate Lance being able to look better than Garoppolo before the season opener," per David Lombardi of The Athletic. But one day later, Lance did receive first-team reps, per Matt Barrows of The Athletic.

    The Niners coughed up three first-round picks and a third-round pick to move up to No. 3 for Lance. Between that and the understandable hype from fans, Shanahan and the coaching staff may be feeling pressure to move him into the starting lineup ASAP.

    Garoppolo is a safer option, and he guided the Niners to the Super Bowl two years ago. However, he's played more than six games in a season only once over his four years in San Francisco, and he hasn't been exceptionally productive when on the field. 

    Once the team and fans get a look at Lance's more dynamic skill set during the preseason (particularly when it comes to navigating messy pockets), the mood about a competition will change in a hurry. He's already impressing his teammates in practice, per Peter King of NBC Sports. 

Fact: Adam Humphries Rolling in Washington

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    Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

    Of the weapons on the Washington Football Team, one would think No. 1 wideout Terry McLaurin or free-agent signee Curtis Samuel would be making big headlines to start training camp. 

    Kudos to those who instead predicted Adam Humphries.

    Humphries is the favorite target of new WTF starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick so far, per Greg Patuto of Washington Football, which makes perfect sense. Before two quiet seasons in a run-based Tennessee attack, Humphries spent the 2018 season in Tampa Bay putting up 816 yards and five scores on 105 targets while playing with Fitzpatrick. 

    On paper, it always seemed like Humpries could break out in Washington. The presence of McLaurin and Samuel along with potential breakout running back Antonio Gibson could mean 100-plus targets for Humphries on safer, quick reads from Fitzpatrick.

    While this doesn't mean Humphries is definitely en route to a career year, he's in a position to catch everyone by surprise. 

Fiction: Colts Won't Trade for Veteran QB

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    The Indianapolis Colts didn't go all-in on Carson Wentz in the hopes of contending only to sit on their hands if he went down.

    Wentz will miss 5-12 weeks after undergoing surgery on his foot, which could jeopardize his availability for the start of the regular season. However, ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported that the Colts do not plan to trade for fill-in options such as Nick Foles, Marcus Mariota or Gardner Minshew II "at this time."

    Wentz has missed at least three games in three of the past four seasons, and he dramatically regressed with the Philadelphia Eagles last year, throwing a league-high 15 interceptions in only 12 games. Although he might return by Week 1 if he recovers at the early end of that timetable, he could also be out until October.

    With 2020 fourth-round pick Jacob Eason now taking first-team snaps in Wentz's absence, the Colts should be exploring their options elsewhere. It likely wouldn't cost them much to acquire Foles, Minshew or Mariota, and all three would be upgrades over a second-year player who has yet to take a regular-season snap.

Fact: Tua Tagovailoa's Improvement

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa had an uneven rookie season. He completed only 64.1 percent of his passes while throwing for 1,814 yards, 11 touchdowns and five interceptions in 10 games (nine starts), and he got yanked for veteran journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick at times.

    Safety Eric Rowe is one of many teammates noticing a big change in Tagovailoa during training camp this year, according to Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald

    "Last year, I even noticed his playbook was condensed to slants and bubbles. They really wouldn't let him show his arm. Now seeing training camp, a lot more deep routes, they're allowing him the opportunity to throw it deep. That's what we need. Tua is making that jump. I see each day he's getting better from the first day."

    It makes plenty of sense that the Dolphins will spend the summer expanding the playbook. And before suffering a hip injury at Alabama, Tagovailoa was in the mix with 2020 No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow and 2021 No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence in terms of hype and upside in college.

    For now, it seems safe to buy into the positive Tagovailoa buzz coming out of Dolphins training camp.

Fiction: Trevor Lawrence Struggles

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    As the No. 1 pick this year, everything Trevor Lawrence does is destined to go under a massive microscope. 

    It started with his offseason surgery on his non-throwing shoulder. Now it has escalated to his three-interception day after Jacksonville Jaguars coaches gave defenders the all-clear to play tight coverage. 

    But these things happen, even to passers who flirted with the generational tag as a prospect and threw 90 touchdowns and 17 interceptions in college. 

    A down performance is nothing to panic about for Lawrence. He's adjusting to pro speed and trying to get on the same page with his new teammates. Some of those teammates, like veteran wideout Marvin Jones Jr., are also new to the Jaguars.

    Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes once got shredded for throwing three picks in a training camp practice, too. That one seemed to work out nicely for the Chiefs.

Fact: Elijah Moore Unstoppable in New York

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    With Corey Davis, Denzel Mims, Keelan Cole and Jamison Crowder on the New York Jets' receiver depth chart, rookie second-round pick Elijah Moore seemed to face an uphill battle for snaps. 

    Or not. 

    According to the New York Daily NewsDJ Bien-Aime, Moore has been "unstoppable" during training camp. He's making plays both deep down the field and after creating separation while working all over the alignment. 

    Moore caught 16 touchdowns at Ole Miss, including six or more in each of his final two seasons. His natural ability makes him pro-ready, and if his rapport with No. 2 overall pick Zach Wilson is already this good, he deserves to be on the field plenty during his rookie season. 

Fiction: Jalen Hurts Poised for Big Leap?

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts isn't high up on the hype totem pole compared to other first- or second-year passers this summer. But the team has raved about how he's looked in camp so far.

    "I saw some really good, great throws, like big-time throws," new Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni told reporters Saturday.

    Still, it's hard to buy into a Hurts breakout when the organization hasn't even committed to him as the starter, much less its quarterback of the future.

    The Eagles did select him with a second-round pick last year, and they felt comfortable enough in him to trade away Carson Wentz this offseason. However, he completed only 52 percent of his 148 passing attempts as a rookie, throwing six touchdowns and four interceptions. 

    There's a big difference between hitting throws in drills and 11-on-11 periods and doing so in live action. For now, pump the brakes on the Hurts hype until the pads go on and he distances himself from veteran Joe Flacco during the preseason.