Tue May 17 7:44pm ET
By STEVE MEGARGEE
AP Sports Writer
Green Bay Packers' Devonte Wyatt runs a drill during an NFL football rookie minicamp Friday, May 6, 2022, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
Green Bay Packers' cornerback Jaire Alexander is shown during NFL football training camp at Lambeau Field, Saturday, Aug. 7, 2021, in Green Bay, Wis. Green Bay Packers cornerback Jaire Alexander has agreed to terms on a four-year, $84 million contract extension with a $30 million signing bonus, a person familiar with the deal tells The Associated Press. (AP Photo/Matt Ludtke, File)
Green Bay Packers' Quay Walker runs a drill during an NFL football rookie minicamp Friday, May 6, 2022, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
Green Bay Packers' Quay Walker runs a drill during an NFL football rookie minicamp Friday, May 6, 2022, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) As they chase their fourth consecutive NFC North title and first Super Bowl berth in more than a decade, the Green Bay Packers may rely on a different formula than usual.
The trade of All-Pro receiver Davante Adams could force the Packers to lean more on a defense that returned most of its top playmakers and added two first-round draft picks. That defense aims to take some of the pressure off reigning MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers and help him earn his second Super Bowl berth.
''When you have a quarterback like we have, if we keep doing our job building on defense, our mindset is that we want to win a world title,'' defensive coordinator Joe Barry said Tuesday. ''We want to win a championship. That's the mindset we have every single day when we walk into this building.''
The Packers ranked ninth in total defense and tied for 13th in scoring defense last year in Barry's first season as coordinator, but their playoff performance offered an indication they're capable of accomplishing much more.
Green Bay's defense didn't allow a single touchdown in a 13-10 divisional playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers, who reached the end zone only on a blocked punt return.
''Even though from a team standpoint it was brutal, devastating - we didn't hoist the Lombardi Trophy, so in our mind it's a failure as a team - but when you do look at the specifics of the way we played, we played good,'' Barry said. ''But our goal is to play great, and our goal is to play great every single week.''
The Packers have spent the offseason adding to that defense while losing one of their top playmakers on offense with Adams now in Las Vegas.
All-Pro linebacker De'Vondre Campbell and cornerback Rasul Douglas earned new contracts after delivering breakthrough performances in their debut seasons in Green Bay. The Packers reached a contract extension with outside linebacker Preston Smith and signed free-agent tackle Jarran Reed, who has 24 1/2 sacks in five seasons with the Seattle Seahawks (2017-20) and Kansas City Chiefs (2021).
The Packers then used both of their first-round picks on defense by taking a pair of Georgia teammates, with linebacker Quay Walker going 22nd overall and tackle Devonte Wyatt getting taken 28th.
Walker said last week at the team's rookie minicamp he already was looking forward to working with Barry, who came to Green Bay after four seasons as the Los Angeles Rams linebackers coach. Barry's background includes two unsuccessful stints as an NFL defensive coordinator at Detroit (2007-08) and Washington (2015-16), but he earned praise from Green Bay's players last season for the energy he brought to the defense.
''Coach Joe B, he's everything and more,'' Walker said at the rookie minicamp earlier this month.
Green Bay does lack pass-rushing depth after releasing Za'Darius Smith, who had a combined 26 sacks for the Packers from 2019-20 and is now with the Minnesota Vikings. But they played most of last season without him already, as he played only one regular-season game and one playoff game because of a back injury.
The Packers also should get a boost from the return of star cornerback Jaire Alexander, who injured his right shoulder in early October and didn't return until the playoffs.
''No one really realizes what he did just to get back for us for the playoff game because he had a major injury,'' Barry said. ''A lot of guys would have just cashed it in and said, `Hey, I'll see you in May.' He busted his butt to get back and really was not 100%. He played his butt off in that playoff game.''
The return of Alexander, the addition of two first-round picks and the signings of Campbell and Douglas have produced the rare Green Bay offseason in which fans are nearly as enthusiastic about the defense as the offense.
Of course, that also creates heightened expectations. Packers coach Matt LaFleur acknowledged after the draft that he's excited about the looks of his defense but noted there's still plenty of work to do.
''Nothing's guaranteed,'' LaFleur said after the draft. ''You can't take anything for granted. You've got to work for it. It's going to be how our guys come together, how they come back, how they come to work.''
Free-agent QB Robert Griffin III (Ravens) said he trains every day and remains ready if a team were interested in him.
Free-agent quarterback Robert Griffin III has quickly embraced his new role as a broadcaster after playing eight seasons in the NFL, but he hasn't shut the door on a potential return to football. "I am ready to go right now. I train every day. I throw and work out. I know what it takes to get my body ready and I am doing those things. Yes, it is a little bit tougher when you are flying around everywhere doing stuff for TV, but when you really want something, you make it work. So, if I get that call this year, next year, or five years from now I will be ready to play," Griffin said. The 32-year-old last played in the NFL in 2020 with the Baltimore Ravens, and it's probably a long shot that he'll return to an NFL roster since his commentating gig is going so well.
New England Patriots sixth-round rookie running back Kevin Harris has a good shot at making the team's final roster, in the opinion of Patriots.com's Paul Perillo. Harris has a solid build and a reputation for being a physical power back who can run between the tackles. Perillo said he can see Harris earning some carries in the Patriots committee approach alongside Rhamondre Stevenson and Damien Harris. Rookie offensive linemen Chasen Hines and Andrew Stueber also have a good chance to stick around as depth up front in their rookie seasons. The 21-year-old Harris won't be worth selecting in single-year fantasy drafts, but he could end up being a steal for the Pats down the road.
Buffalo Bills cornerbacks Siran Neal, Dane Jackson and Kaiir Elam will all be competing throughout training camp to win the No. 2 cornerback job opposite Tre'Davious White. Neal, who is the oldest of the three, has embraced more of a leadership role heading into his fifth season with the team. He's been a key special teams contributor, but he's also seen time at safety, outside corner and nickel corner. Since 2019, Neal has played at least 10% of the snaps on defense and more than 60% of the snaps on special teams. Neal and Jackson have more experience, but Elam is coming in as a first-round rookie. Neal has the most tenure of the three, but he might be best suited moving around the secondary because of his versatility.
New York Jets safety Ashtyn Davis was viewed as a developmental player when he was taken in the third round in 2020. He was robbed of valuable repetitions when organized team activities and minicamp were canceled in his rookie year, and then he suffered a foot injury midway through his first NFL season that put him on Injured Reserve and kept him out throughout the 2021 offseason program and training camp. But this year, Davis has been able to prepare and looks significantly improved while working with the second-team defense. The 25-year-old is flying around, but the Jets also haven't used pads yet, so it'll be interesting to see if Davis has improved while defending the run, which is what he struggled the most with last year.
The New York Jets kicking competition between Greg Zuerlein and Eddy Pineiro this offseason has been "neck and neck," according to special teams coordinator Brant Boyer, but it's mainly because neither kicker has impressed all that much. The Jets brought in Greg the Leg this offseason after Pineiro made all 17 of his kicks in five games. Zuerlein made 29 of his 35 field-goal attempts for the Dallas Cowboys last year, but he was released in March. The kicking competition will continue in training camp and into the preseason, and it remains to be seen who will come out on top, but fantasy managers can probably avoid the situation in drafts.
The New York Jets drafted Jason Pinnock as a cornerback in the fifth round last year but converted him to safety toward the end of 2021 out of necessity. Pinnock impressed in the role and finished with six tackles, two forced fumbles and a pass breakup in 175 defensive snaps. The Jets have made his position switch permanent, and it's paying off already. The 23-year-old received the majority of the first-team repetitions next to Jordan Whitehead in offseason workouts with Lamarcus Joyner working his way back from injury. Pinnock looks like he belongs, but he's unlikely to be in contention to retain a starting job once Joyner is healthy. If Pinnock continues to improve, he could wind up being a steal for Gang Green.
It's still early in the offseason, but The Athletic's Connor Hughes writes that New York Jets second-year quarterback Zach Wilson wasn't overly impressive through four media-open organized team activity practices. Wilson struggled with his accuracy, and his decision-making was questionable, at best. It wasn't all bad for the 22-year-old, but Hughes was hoping to see more conviction and decisiveness. For what it's worth, the Jets aren't concerned and see signs of improvement as he trusts his reads much more. If Wilson's struggles continue into training camp, then there might be a little panic from the Jets, but for now, it's just something to watch. Wilson has some new toys in the passing game and he should take a step forward in 2022, but he'll still only be a low-end QB2 in fantasy.
New York Jets tight end Tyler Conklin seized the majority of the repetitions at tight end during offseason practices because of the absences of C.J. Uzomah and Jeremy Ruckert. Conklin made the most of his extra work in the spring, and quarterback Zach Wilson is looking Conklin's way more often, especially in the red zone. Offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur will use all of his tight ends this year, but Conklin might be separating himself as the top option heading into training camp. The 26-year-old had a career-high 61 catches for 593 yards and three touchdowns in 17 games with the Minnesota Vikings last year and he can be a valuable red-zone weapon, but he'll likely have a low fantasy ceiling while sharing snaps with Uzomah and others.
New York Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur was impressed with rookie second-round running back Breece Hall during offseason workouts. "He's 220 pounds, and he's covering a lot of yardage when he doesn't look like he's covering a lot of yardage," LaFleur said. "He's fast, so he gets up on people pretty quick. And then he's such a fluid, big-body target that when he makes his move it's not like a smaller running back when you feel like you have to put it on them. He's got a big catch radius and I know the quarterback is going to feel that." Hall and Michael Carter are expected to share RB duties in 2022, but Hall is expected to take over the lion's share of duties sooner than later, making him an RB2 target in fantasy in his rookie season.
New York Jets safety Lamarcus Joyner (triceps) is still the starter despite missing organized team activities and minicamp, but there's a chance that Ashtyn Davis and Jason Pinnock could push him for playing time this year if their strong OTAs turn into strong training camps. Joyner is 31 years old and his future with the team is unlikely to extend beyond the 2022 season. Joyner is reportedly healthy heading into training camp at the end of July after he played in just one game in 2021 due to a season-ending triceps injury. He projects to open the season as a starter next to Jordan Whitehead, but Joyner will have to play well and stay healthy to hold off both Davis and Pinnock in the Jets secondary.
The real star of the New York Jets organized team activities was tight end Lawrence Cager, who was converted from a receiver. He worked mostly with the third-team offense, but he was making two or three catches every day. Cager is clearly the most athletic player the Jets have at the tight end position, and it has led to mismatches when the defense tries to cover him with a linebacker or safety. The 24-year-old's chances of making the final roster will come down to his blocking ability, which he didn't do much of throughout OTAs. Cager isn't on the fantasy radar at all, but he'll be one to watch this summer and might be a dark horse to make the team heading into the regular season.
San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Jauan Jennings is reportedly having the best offseason of his career, according to head coach Kyle Shanahan. The second-year receiver is likely to become the No. 3 option in this offense. Last season, Jennings finished with 24 receptions, 282 receiving yards, and five touchdowns in 16 games. It was a decent rookie season for Jennings considering he was a seventh round pick. Despite that, it's unlikely that Jennings has standard league value heading into next season. There probably won't be enough targets for him to have success on a regular basis. Although, he could be an interesting stash in dynasty formats.
Green Bay Packers wide receiver Allen Lazard is expected to see a heavier workload heading into next season. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers mentioned that he's excited about Lazard getting a chance to be the No. 1 receiver. Last season, Lazard set career highs in receptions (40), receiving yards (513), and touchdowns (8) in 15 games last season. The departure of Davante Adams has opened up a door for Lazard to make an even bigger impact on the roster. Fantasy managers shouldn't expect Lazard to produce like a No. 1 receiver, but his value should be on the rise.
Arizona Cardinals wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins (knee) is expected to be limited early in training camp. The superstar receiver underwent MCL surgery in December. That being said, the Cardinals are going to be cautious with Hopkins. It's worth noting that Hopkins is going to be suspended for the first six weeks of the regular season. The Cardinals have no reason to rush Hopkins during his recovery process. Fantasy managers should expect Hopkins to be a major factor on offense once he does get back on the field.
Arizona Cardinals RB James Conner forced 26 broken or missed tackles on his 202 carries in 2021, according to Sports Info Solutions. That number ranked fourth in the league, while his broken/missed tackles forced percentage of 12.9 ranked second among running backs with at least 150 carries.
Fantasy Spin: Conner enjoyed a resurgent 2021 in many areas, but there is reason for concern with him in 2022 that goes beyond his injury history. He averaged a mere 3.7 yards per carry and over 40 percent of his fantasy point total from last season came via his 18 total touchdowns. The offensive line doesn't figure to be any better this year either. Last but not least, Eno Benjamin reportedly has enjoyed a fantastic offseason and could carve out a bigger role than Chase Edmonds ever did if he can carry it over to training camp.
Seattle Seahawks RB Rashaad Penny averaged 3.7 yards after contact per carry - the most among running back with at least 100 carries in 2021 - according to Sports Info Solutions.
Fantasy Spin: The biggest caveat of Penny's fantastic finish was that at least three of the final five teams he faced over that stretch struggled to stop the run in a big way at the end of last season. It also coincided with Russell Wilson looking like his usual self following his injury. Penny will not have the benefit of Wilson taking the attention away from him this season and will be challenged by explosive rookie Kenneth Walker III, making Penny a likely hit-or-miss RB2 for fantasy purposes in 2022.
Cincinnati Bengals DE Trey Hendrickson hurried the quarterback 43 times in 2021, according to Sports Info Solutions. The number ranked fourth in the league.
Cleveland Browns DE Myles Garrett recorded a league-high 85 pressures in 2021, according to Sports Info Solutions.