Evaluating talent is a full-time-all-the-time endeavor in the NFL. Even if the Cowboys hadn’t seen injuries take Blake Jarwin, Leighton Vander Esch, and Cam Erving off the field in Sunday night’s opener, the team would still be expected to at least kick the tires on some new names this week.
Given the season-ending ACL tear to starting tight end Blake Jarwin, it’s not surprising to see a couple more on the club’s tryout list. Taking a look at tackle is always smart for offensive line depth, especially after Dak Prescott was sacked three times in Los Angeles. There are no linebackers trying out, so Dallas seems content to roll with who they’ve got. But they are getting an up close and personal look at a quarterback with a unique claim to fame.
Erik Swoope is likely the most familiar of the bunch. He has been affiliated with four teams after entering the league as an undrafted free agent in 2014. The University of Miami tight end played with the Colts for five seasons, catching three touchdowns in 2018. Since then, Swoope’s done a one-day stint with the Saints, a two-month stay in Oakland, and a week in San Francisco.
Cheyenne O’Grady played college ball at Arkansas, catching 85 passes from 2016 to 2019 and scoring 11 touchdowns. The tight end left the Razorbacks team in November of his senior year and went undrafted in April.
Offensive tackle Jared Veldheer was a third-round selection by the Raiders in 2010. After four years in the silver and black, he spent four more seasons with the Cardinals. He started 12 games in 2018 as a Denver Bronco. After signing a one-year deal to play in New England in 2019, Veldheer retired from football a week later, only to change his mind and be claimed by Green Bay late last season.
Quarterback Jalen Morton was an undrafted free agent out of Prairie View A&M. He signed with the Packers, but was released in early August. While Dallas’s stable of passers would appear to be full, Morton may be worth a look-see if only to gauge his notable arm strength.
According to his bio, Morton- who has a degree in mechanical engineering- can throw a football 100 yards.
“The last time I did that was late July before camp,” he told Sports Illustrated‘s Bill Huber over his summer in Green Bay. “I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m feeling good about the season. I feel good about it. I feel good about it because I know my arm strength. I used to play baseball. I know the type of conditioning to keep in shape and keep doing that. I’ve seen Aaron Rodgers flick the ball and it goes 75. I can only imagine what he would do if he takes a couple of hitches and lets it go.”
The Cowboys merely brought in all four players for tryouts. The dream may last for just one workout or the invite could lead to a spot on the practice squad. And then who knows?
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Will NFL season continue as scheduled? Titans’ COVID-19 outbreak is test
Between the big touchdowns and highlight-reel catches — not to mention regular updates from the NFL with actual numbers about how well its COVID-19 testing was going — it was easy to lose touch with reality.
Football is back, baby! Who cares that we’re in the middle of the worst pandemic in a century — we got this!
If that describes you, don’t feel bad because I’m guilty of it, too. I’ve watched so much football the last three weeks I have overworked and underpaid high school football coaches telling me I need to do a better job finding a work-life balance.
But 9:19 a.m. CT Tuesday, a wake-up call disguised as an email from the Tennessee Titans hit my inbox:
“Out of the abundance of caution, the organization has decided to work remotely today as we follow NFL protocols related to the Covid-19 virus. Several tests have come back positive and are working through the process of confirming them. We will have more information tomorrow.”
Eight members of the Titans’ organization tested positive for COVID-19, meaning the team they narrowly beat Sunday — the Minnesota Vikings — may have been exposed to it, too.
The NFL’s first COVID-19 outbreak was officially underway.
And really, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Without a verifiable NBA- or NHL-like bubble, this was always a possibility, maybe even a likelihood.
Now, we get to see how equipped the league is to contain the spread. We’ll also get a sense whether the NFL, which boasts far more players and team employees (and thus, far more risk) than any other American sports league, will actually be able to pull off a full season in the midst of a pandemic … or whether it’s always been a pipe dream.
Decision to play rests on COVID-19 test results
Players and front office types across the league are watching what happens in Minnesota and Tennessee closely. They’re using the moment as a clear reminder to everyone in their organizations about the importance of following the protocols the league has established to mitigate possible risk and exposure.
“I think there will always be a concern, especially when we get into the cold and flu season and families are staying indoors more,” one executive told Sports Grind Entertainment in response to Tuesday’s developments. “But the testing is working; we just need to stay focused on the protocols.”
The league’s protocols in handling Tuesday’s developments were obvious and necessary, as both teams were sent home from the team facilities, while the individuals who tested positive have been isolated. Contact tracing investigations have already begun as they seek to narrow down who the affected individuals have come into contact with.
As such, the next 24 to 48 hours will be critical. Both teams will continue to undergo regular testing, and we know that it takes three to seven days for those who are infected to test positive for the virus. So while the Vikings are currently sitting on zero positive tests, there’s a danger that the number could rise this week as they undergo more testing.
If that comes to be, the NFL will then have a decision to make.
First, league officials will have to decide whether it is still safe for both teams to play Sunday (or possibly Monday) and risk further spread. If the answer is no, they will have to reschedule the game. From a football standpoint, in my view, that isn’t that big of a deal. The schedule is flexible enough that the league can easily play it later, either by adding an extra week to the schedule to shuffling games around or whatever.
NFL’s priority is to complete every scheduled game
In the event additional positive tests emerge, the NFL will make a decision that helps it achieve the only two things it cares about this season.
The first is doing whatever is necessary to play every scheduled game, all so it can fulfill television contracts and ensure that everybody — from the players to the teams — gets paid a significant chunk of what they’re supposed to make. TV contracts account for the bulk of league revenue, and it’s in everyone’s best interest to keep that going.
The second priority is making sure no team employee gets critically sick. If that happened, it could rightfully complicate the ability to do the former.
Some are already raising concerns about how the schedule could be affected by a postponement or how the Titans could get begin to play Sunday or Monday with only one day of on-field practice work (which seems like the best-case scenario at the moment). However, the key thing to remember here is … none of that truly matters to the NFL right now.
Don’t get me wrong: Is it fair for Tennessee to have to face a blitz-heavy Pittsburgh team with little on-field work (all while the Steelers get to practice as normal)? Of course not. But this was always going to be a year where you can throw competitive balance out the window. These guys are just trying to finish the season while averting a disaster.
Besides, we have no idea whether the Titans’ game against the Steelers or the Vikings’ game against the Texans will even be played this week.
But one thing we do know is this: The Titans played Sunday with infected players, which means we’ll get a sense for how easily the virus can transmit during a football game, something we don’t actually know yet. It will prove to be instructional, though we can already conclude that the fact the virus spread so quickly among the Titans as a significant reason why the NFL has been fining coaches for not wearing their masks on gameday.
When you’re up against COVID-19, after all, every little bit helps.
So here’s to fans, players, coaches and team executives not taking the pro football we’ve already seen this year and what we hope to get over the coming months for granted.
Tuesday’s happenings are a wake-up call that the league’s ability to finish the season — something millions certainly want — is depending on it.
More from Sports Grind Entertainment:
Chiefs unanimous No. 1 in the AP Pro32 poll
NEW YORK (AP) — Patrick Mahomes showed once again that the defending Super Bowl champs are the class of the NFL.
In a matchup of the past two regular-season Most Valuable Players, Mahomes got the better of Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens on Monday night.
Mahomes threw for 385 yards and four touchdowns and added a rushing TD in the Chiefs’ 34-20 victory over the Ravens in the highly anticipated matchup.
That victory kept the Chiefs on top in the latest AP Pro32 poll. And this week, it’s unanimous: Kansas City received all 12 first-place votes for 384 points in balloting Tuesday by media members who regularly cover the NFL.
”The Chiefs imposed their will against the Ravens on Monday night, proving they remain the best team in the NFL,” said Charean Williams of Pro Football Talk.
”Maybe they left a question about that following their overtime win over the Chargers in Week 2. There is no doubt now.”
The Ravens fell two spots into a tie for fourth with the AFC East-leading Buffalo Bills.
Russell Wilson, another QB off to an outstanding start, and the Seattle Seahawks climbed a spot to reach No. 2 in the poll.
”With a record 14 touchdown passes through the first three weeks of the season, Russell Wilson has been the definition of an MVP so far,” said Jenny Vrentas of The Monday Morning Quarterback.
”The only downside of his performance is that he’s almost required to play this well for his team to win, as the Seattle defense has given up nearly 500 yards per game.”
And the Green Bay Packers also gained a spot to reach No. 3. The Packers will look to stay unbeaten when they close out Week 4 by hosting the winless Atlanta Falcons on Monday night.
”Aaron Rodgers is off to a spectacular start, and the Packers get out of the gate at 3-0, looking very much like an early Super Bowl contender,” Newsday’s Bob Glauber said.
The Pittsburgh Steelers remained at No. 6 and are scheduled to face the Tennessee Titans, who moved up three spots to No. 8, in the only matchup of 3-0 teams.
But Sunday’s game could be in doubt after the Titans suspended in-person activities through Friday after the NFL said three Titans players and five personnel tested positive for the coronavirus.
The New England Patriots gained a spot to No. 7 and will head to Arrowhead Stadium to face the Chiefs on Sunday.
The Los Angeles Rams slipped two spots to No. 9 after their comeback fell just short in Buffalo in a 35-32 loss.
And Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers round out the top 10; they jumped five places after beating the winless Denver Broncos.
”Brady & (coach Bruce) Arians still figuring out all their options on offense, but the defense is rock solid,” Fox Sports’ John Czarnecki said.
The Broncos, who are ranked No. 30, will open Week 4 when they head to the Meadowlands on Thursday night to face the New York Jets, who remain last at No. 32.
”What’s even more cringe-worthy than watching the league’s worst team is seeing (quarterback) Sam Darnold’s regression in a pivotal third NFL season,” said Alex Marvez of Sirius XM.
More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP-NFL
Projections to help with sit-start decisions
With a healthy dash of context, it could be helpful — actionable, even — to know how a defense is being attacked.
Are opposing offenses peppering the middle of the field against a certain defense, leading to a glut of tight end opportunity? Are wide receivers having their way against a defense, commanding a massive target share? Are running backs seeing plenty of dump off opportunities against a particular defense?
These are questions I’ll address in this space, examining which positions are seeing the most opportunity against a certain defense in an exercise that might serve as the tiebreaker in your agonizing start-sit decisions.
We’re going to glean from 2019 target data to start, but with every passing week, our understanding of how offenses are going after defenses should improve. Context will be key, as a bunch of targets to Travis Kelce doesn’t mean Tyler Eifert is going to see the same kind of opportunity against the same defense. If only it were that easy.
These numbers are compiled weekly by my lovely Living The Stream co-host, JJ Zachariason.
Devin Singletary (Buffalo Bills) vs. Raiders: In 12-team leagues, you might be torn on using Singletary in the flex this week after he got the backfield gig to himself in Week 3 and failed to cap off an otherwise productive day with a touchdown. Fantasy managers in 10-team leagues might not consider Singletary this week, depending on roster construction. But wait!
Singletary’s peripherals, even with rookie Zack Moss in the lineup, have been encouraging, bordering on spectacular. In Week 1, he out-snapped Moss 59 percent to 45 percent, seeing seven targets to Moss’ four, and running 26 routes to Moss’ 20 routes. Yeah, Moss caught the touchdown. The opportunity belonged to Singletary though. In Week 2, Singletary again out-snapped, out-targeted, and ran more routes than the rookie. Moss, in fact, didn’t run a single route that week, seeing eight carries to Singletary’s 10.
With Moss out of the Buffalo lineup last week, Singletary drew five targets (16 percent target share) while running the fifth most routes among running backs (36). TJ Yeldon went without a target and got three totes. That’s a long winded way of saying that even if Moss is activate for Week 4 against the Raiders, Singletary looks an awful lot like the primary pass-catching back for the Bills.
Running backs have seen 32.3 percent of the targets against the Raiders through Week 3. Only the Panthers have allowed a bigger target share to backs. You may furrow your brow and say, but wait dear fantasy analyst, didn’t the Raiders play Christian McCaffrey and Alvin Kamara in the season’s opening weeks? You would be correct, dear fantasy analysis consumer. But CMC saw just four targets against the Raiders in Week 1. Kamara had nine targets in Week 2, and perhaps most tellingly, Rex Burkhead saw 10 targets against Vegas in Week 3. Patriots backs totaled 14 targets against the Silver and Black. No defense has been beat for more running back receiving yards than the Raiders.
Vegas linebacker Cory Littleton has been taken advantage of by opposing runners this year, allowing 14 receptions on 19 targets for 130 yards. All of five linebackers have given up more catches this season. Vegas linebacker Nicholas Morrow has been less terrible, giving up six catches on 12 targets for 59 yards and a touchdown. Singletary could continue the running back pass-catching onslaught against Vegas if he gets matched up with Littleton. He should see solid opportunity either way.
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Dalton Schultz (Dallas Cowboys) vs. Browns: A mere six tight ends ran more pass routes than Schultz last week against Seattle. In Week 2, only seven tight ends ran more routes than Schultz. He’s a mainstay in a high-powered offense that averages a league-high 76.7 offensive snaps per game. It’s hard to ask for much else from a fantasy tight end plucked off the waiver wire two weeks ago.
Schultz, with 16 targets (16 percent of the Cowboys’ target share) over his two games as starter, gets a prime matchup this week against Cleveland. Nearly 26 percent of targets against the Browns this year have gone to tight ends — the fifth highest rate in the league. That comes out to 31 tight end targets over three weeks. Only the Saints and Falcons have allowed more tight end receptions than the Browns.
It didn’t amount to much, but last week Logan Thomas had seven targets against the Browns, finding himself open on most of those looks. He didn’t get many catchable balls from Dwayne Haskins, infuriatingly enough.
Opponents using their tight ends against Cleveland is hardly a mystery: the team has struggled to fill injury gaps at safety and linebacker, leaving backups and special team players to cover tight ends. Safety Andrew Sendejo has been targeted seven times, resulting in five receptions for 86 yards and a touchdown. Fellow safety Karl Joseph has given up seven grabs for 59 yards and a score on just eight targets. Meanwhile, Browns linebacker B.J. Goodson is the most targeted linebacker in the NFL, allowing 18 catches for 167 yards and a touchdown on 25 targets through three weeks. Schultz will likely see coverage from some combination of Goodson, Joseph, and Sendejo this Sunday.
Dallas has an implied total of 29.75 points. Good process says we play tight ends on teams with high totals. Let’s go.
Greg Ward (Philadelphia Eagles) at 49ers: It’s something less than fun to tout a guy catching passes from Carson Wentz, but here I am, doing just that.
Despite their best efforts to improve their receiver grouping this season, the Eagles are once again left with Ward as the presumed No. 1 option. We saw Ward last week command a 25 percent target share, the 11th highest of Week 3. The converted quarterback ended up with 72 yards and a touchdown against the Bengals while running 46 routes, more than all but six wide receivers in Week 3.
Ward in Week 4 goes against a 49ers defense that’s seen 68 percent of opponents’ targets go to wideouts. Only two teams — Seattle and Philadelphia — have a higher rate. It’s not quite the opportunity that it might seem because the 49ers are allowing 63 offensive plays per game, the ninth lowest in the NFL.
I’m not sure we can put much stock in the Giants’ Week 3 performance against the Niners. The entire New York offense was a raging dumpster fire — an unholy sight that should inspire a new horror movie franchise. Their main wideouts, Darius Slayton and Golden Tate, each saw a meager seven targets. It wasn’t so bleak in Week 2, when the practice squad guys playing receiver for the Jets saw 25 targets against the 49ers. Arizona receivers, led by DeAndre Hopkins, saw 27 targets against the Niners on the opening Sunday.
Alshon Jeffrey is expected to miss another week in his long, slow comeback from offseason foot surgery. DeSean Jackson is banged up, as per usual. Jalen Reagor is out for at least another month. That leaves Ward and rookie John Hightower — who ran more routes than Ward in Week 3 — as the team’s lone healthy wideouts. With the Eagles likely to face heaps of negative game script (they’re 7 point road underdogs) this week, you could do worse than Ward as a flex play in deeper formats.
C.D. Carter is co-host of Living The Stream, owner of DraftDayConsultants.com and author of fantasy football books, including How To Think Like A Fantasy Football Winner. He can be found on Twitter @cdcarter13. He never logs off.
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