Early NFL Training Camp Takeaways

DeShaun Watson at the draft
By Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire

Attention, football fans! I have an extremely important announcement to make: the kickoff to preseason is just a few hours away. Preheat the oven, thaw the wings, start reworking that ass groove in the couch, and chill your finest case of Budweiser, because the party we’ve all been waiting months for is finally upon us.

No longer will we be forced to read/watch/listen to whatever asinine take LaVar Ball has each day; and your fears of having to indulge in pop culture to stay entertained can be put to rest. Football is finally here! Can I get a Hallelujah? If you’re looking to bet on any of the upcoming games this season but wondering where the best place to do so is, check out our handy list of the top three sites.

Hopefully all the outlandish offseason “hot takes” aren’t costing you valuable inches off your hairline, because as long as Stephen A and Skip Bayless are employed, the blasphemous assertions will live on. Plus, that’s kind of why we’re here.

I’ve gathered the most prominent early stories out of NFL Training Camps, and offered some odds to help you decide whether the hype is warranted. We won’t be talking much about injuries, though, as I’ve already done that here and here. So let’s get started!

Ravens to Sign Kaepernick?

Here are the facts of this situation: (1) Joe Flacco hurt his back lifting before camp started; (2) Flacco has not been able to practice due to his injured back; (3) Ryan Mallett has been forced to take first-team reps; (4) Mallett is a bad QB; (5) Colin Kaepernick is still a free agent; and (6) Kaepernick is far better than Mallett.

It’s pretty hard not to conclude that Baltimore should sign Kaepernick. The former 49er has ties to both John Harbaugh, through his brother Jim, and Greg Roman. Harbaugh has voiced his support of Kaepernick, and so has GM Ozzie Newsome. But the problem is Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti doesn’t seem to be on the same page. Bisciotti not only consulted fans about the possibility of signing Kaepernick, but also former Raven Ray Lewis, who was charged with two counts of murder in 2000.

The Ravens have made a real mess of this, and proved Kaepernick’s play is not the reason he’s still a free agent. With Flacco expected to rejoin the team shortly, the likelihood of them signing Kaepernick takes a major hit.

Odds the Ravens sign Kaepernick: 13/7
Odds Kaepernick is on an NFL roster Week 1: 5/3
Odds Ryan Mallett has to start a game for the Ravens in 2017: 7/3
Odds the Ravens lose all games started by Ryan Mallett in 2017: 2/3

Colts Regressing?

Back in 2015, Frank Gore chose to sign with the Colts over the Eagles in free agency, believing he was the final piece Indianapolis needed to win a Super Bowl. The Colts were coming off an 11-5 season where they were defeated by the eventual Super Bowl champs, the New England Patriots, in the AFC Championship.

In the two seasons since signing Gore to help bring some toughness to the offense, the Colts have posted identical 8-8 seasons. The 34-year-old has recently voiced his frustrations over the organization going backwards. This comes following whispers of Andrew Luck potentially having to start the regular season on the PUP. In other words, times are a little tough in Indianapolis.

Assuming Luck doesn’t miss much more than one game (because the season is over if he does), do the Colts need to continue trying to prove to the league they aren’t soft? As much as Gore may hate hearing this, NO! The game has evolved from its traditional smashmouth roots, and Indianapolis needs to stop trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

The Colts don’t have the offensive line to “pound” the football. What they do have is one of the most talented QBs in the league and a lot of speed around him. I’m not suggesting they abandon the ground game, rather purge their playbook of the power formations they don’t have the personnel for. Chuck, I don’t want to tell you how to do your job, but please start using the threat of Luck throwing the ball to spread the field and then establish a ground game predicated around speed. Embrace your high-powered offense! Don’t overwork Gore, and stop asking him to run into the backs of his offensive linemen. Use rookie fourth-round pick Marlon Mack to gash light boxes and punish linebackers in coverage.

The Rams and the Greatest Show on Turf won a Super Bowl without a power running game; why can’t you? Besides, even if Indianapolis had a power running game, they don’t have the defense to grind out games. Unfortunately, it doesn’t sound like this is something the Colts are going to accept anytime soon.

Odds the Colts win the AFC South in 2017: 4/1
Odds the Colts post a winning record in 2017: 9/7
Over/under Colts rushing yards per carry in 2017: 4.1
Over/under total carries for Frank Gore in 2017: 245.5
Over/under total touches for Marlon Mack in 2017: 65.5

Defenses Aren’t Ready for Terrelle Pryor?

In case you missed it, this happened …

There’s no doubt Pryor is a physical specimen, and no one has ever questioned Jay Gruden’s love for putting the ball in the air. Early reports (and this video) suggest Kirk Cousins and Gruden are taking a liking to their new weapon.

Cousins led the league’s second-ranked passing attack last season, but has never had a WR like Pryor at his disposal. While there is plenty to get excited about, don’t expect Cousins to stop spreading the love. Last season, four different Washington receivers saw at least 89 targets, and that won’t change in 2017. This is why you can’t forget about Jamison Crowder in all these Pryor-hype videos.

You should anticipate plenty more of these goal line fades, though, and don’t be surprised if Pryor catches at least ten of them.

Over/under total receiving yards for Pryor in 2017: 1,050.5
Over/under total receiving TDs for Pryor in 2017: 10.5
Odds Pryor makes the Pro Bowl in 2017: 3/1

Deshaun Watson Ready for the NFL?

Bill O’Brien made headlines earlier this week when he said Deshaun Watson is ahead of any rookie QB he’s ever been around. At first, that sounds like quite the compliment. But when you actually look into the claim, it would be insulting if Watson wasn’t the most advanced rookie QB he’s ever been around.

O’Brien was with the Patriots from 2007-2011. In that time, New England drafted three quarterbacks: Kevin O’Connell, Zac Robinson, Ryan Mallett. None were highly-touted, first-round talents. Since taking over the HC duties in Houston, the team has drafted one other QB: Tom Savage. So maybe hold off on booking your ticket on the Watson hype-train for a bit.

Odds Deshaun Watson starts Week 1: 2/1
Over/under total starts for Watson in 2017: 5.5

First-Round Steals

Reuben Foster was the most talented inside linebacker in the 2017 NFL Draft, but he fell all the way to 31 due to concerns over his shoulder and possible character issues. The Bama product looks awfully healthy, though, and is wasting little time showcasing his talents in San Francisco. Foster has been the talk of 49ers camp, intercepting three passes in four days and flying all over the field. If he lives up to his potential, there will be a whole lot of teams kicking themselves for passing on him.

Joining Foster in the draft-day-fall was Ohio State corner Gareon Conley, who was accused of rape in early April. The allegations were dismissed this week and the rookie should not face any discipline from the NFL. At the moment, Conley is being held back by shin splints, but has to be relieved knowing he can strictly focus on football going forward. The former Buckeye was a Combine standout and projected top-15 talent. Oakland, in desperate need of DBs, took a gamble on him at 24, and it looks like that decision is going to pay off big for them.

Odds Foster wins DROY: 8/1
Over/under total interceptions for Conley in 2017: 2.5

Prepare for a New Cam Newton?

Word out of Panthers camp is that they are remaking their MVP quarterback. Mike Shula apparently will not be asking Newton to showcase his arm strength as much this season, rather demanding him to get the ball out of his hands quickly.

Newton has taken a beating throughout his six season career, and last year proved Carolina needs to make some schematic changes to protect and best utilize his strengths.

By Keith Allison (flickr) CC License.

Carolina used the eighth-overall pick in the draft on electrifying RB Christian McCaffrey, and plan on using him for much more than just a traditional back. The Panthers then selected versatile WR Curtis Samuel in the second-round, and again plan on using his versatility. The two are going to see heavy targets in the quick passing game, as the team tries to start protecting their QB a little better. Plus, wouldn’t you want the ball in the hands of this guy?

Over/under Newton’s completion percentage in 2017: 58.5
Over/under total rushing attempts for Newton in 2017: 95.5
Odds McCaffrey wins OROY: 6/1
Over/under total combined touches for McCaffrey and Samuel: 225.5

Holdouts

While many members of the media are busy slamming Odell Beckham Jr. for saying he wants to be the highest paid player in the league, there are two marquee players who’ve yet to report to their respective training camps.

The Steelers placed the franchise tag on Le’Veon Bell when the two couldn’t reach a long-term agreement, but Bell is still holding out. Both sides appear to be pretty far apart, largely due to Bell reportedly seeking RB1 plus WR2 money. While that may sound absurd, RBs are criminally underpaid; the top-paid back in the league is LeSean McCoy, who accounts for less than a $9 million cap hit. Combine that with the 33rd-ranked WR contract ($5.25 million), and you’ve got Bell’s asking price of around $14 million per season.

When you consider Bell touched the ball an average 28 times per game last season, and add in the short longevity of an NFL running back’s career, it makes sense why he wants to get paid. For comparison, Ezekiel Elliott and David Johnson both averaged less than 24 touches per game last season. Pittsburgh has the cap space to meet his demands, but they certainly aren’t eager to hand out any record-breaking deals to a player who has only played in 18 games over the last two years.

The other player currently holding out is two-time All-Pro DT Aaron Donald. The 26-year-old is arguably the most dominant interior defensive lineman in the game, but is still playing under his rookie contract, which is paying him $1.8 million this season. The Rams have picked up his fifth-year option for 2018, which awards him a raise to roughly $6.9 million. The problem is Malik Jackson, Marcell Dareus, and Ndamukong Suh are all set to make more than $15 million in 2017.

While the Rams may agree that Donald is worth at least as much as those three, they don’t have a lot of cap space to work with. And making matters worse, there aren’t many options available for cap relief. With LA’s switch to a 3-4 defense, under new DC Wade Phillips, there is increased demand for a dominant interior lineman who can not only eat up blockers, but also provide some pressure. The Rams will need to do some major cap hurdles to pay Donald what he’s worth.

Odds Le’Veon Bell plays Week 1: 3/7
Over/under Bell’s 2017 cap hit: $13.5 million
Odds Bell wins MVP in 2017: 16/1
Odds Aaron Donald plays Week 1: 7/8
Over/under Donald’s 2017 cap hit: $16.5 million
Odds Donald wins DPOY in 2017: 10/1