NFL Football is back! No matter what
The NFL returned to action yesterday and what better way than to do it on NBC and Peacock! The NBC Sports team welcomed the arrival of the fantasy football GOAT Matthew Berry. After a long tenure at ESPN, the fantasy pioneer comes back to where it all started for him, Rotoworld. After personally getting to know him, it's an honor to be under the same umbrella and work with someone who believes in me in this industry. Now let's get to the Hall of Fame Game. The first overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, Travon Walker, made his presence felt early. The rookie had a pressure (which drew a flag) and recorded a sack. Josh Jacobs handled a full workload (I'm kidding, kind of) in a game that didn't matter. That was interesting...social media went nuts. A lot of quarterbacks played but none really stood out. Jarrett Stidham was the most effective, running for a score. Many (including myself) were impressed by Raiders rookie running back Zamir White. He took 11 carries for 52 yards and added three receptions for 23 yards. His stock is on the rise. Veteran back Ameer Abdullah was also effective and scored a touchdown. NFL Football is being played again and it's more beautiful than my prom date.
Another receiver, new money
Despite reports that Diontae Johnson and the Steelers were far apart in contract talks, they have sealed the deal. Johnson signed a two-year, $36.71 million deal with $27 million guaranteed. At 26 years old, the deal ensures Johnson will get to enter free agency again before his age 29 season. The contract also includes $2.79 million in incentives. Johnson now joins his 2019 wide receiver-classmates Deebo Samuel, A.J. Brown, DK Metcalf, Terry McLaurin and Hunter Renfrow in getting that bag. Other notable names from that class like Marquise Brown, Parris Campbell and Mecole Hardman will likely need career years in 2022 to secure long-term deals from their current (or future) teams. Johnson has carved out his own little nice career, emerging as the Steelers' top option in the passing game. For a hot second, it looked as if JuJu Smith-Schuster would be the team's WR1, but injuries and inconsistency kept him from building upon a Pro Bowl season in 2018. Johnson has steadily improved in each season in which he's played.
It makes sense that the Steelers would make sure to lock down their guy. Johnson chose not to hold out, instead “holding in” at training camp. This is when a player shows up to training camp but doesn't actively participate in team activities (see Samuel before his contract). It is somewhat a sign of good faith on the players' part. Steelers GM Omar Khan maintained that they wanted to keep Johnson in Pittsburgh and it came into fruition. In 2021, Johnson was able to put together a season in which he hauled in 107 receptions, 1,161 yards and eight touchdowns, which was good for WR8 in fantasy PPR formats. While his projections will take a slight hit into WR2 territory, it's not because of his skill. Long-time Steelers' QB Ben Roethlisberger retired and was known for churning out top receivers in fantasy (do yo' dance AB). Coming into 2022, there's now seemingly a three-man competition at quarterback that includes their current first-round pick Kenny Pickett, who is far and away in dead last. Mitch Trubisky was recently told it's his job to lose and Mason Rudolph has been closing the gap. With that situation still figuring itself out, it remains to be seen how high Johnson's ceiling can be going forward. He'll lead a receiving group that includes rookie George Pickens (who's been turning heads) and Chase Claypool, who's trying to put it all together. What Johnson does have is a lot of skill and a whole lot of new money.
The harsh realities of football
Broncos receiver Tim Patrick suffered a torn ACL earlier this week at practice. The 28-year-old receiver was looking to build upon two nearly identical seasons in which he averaged 52 receptions, 738 yards and five touchdowns. Patrick had become such a reliable player for the team, they struck a three-year $34 million ($18.5 million guaranteed) deal with him this past offseason. Despite the presence of Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy, some believed he was poised for a breakout season in 2022. Thus far, Patrick had played the role of a complimentary outside receiver. In 2021 he played almost 80% of his snaps out wide (per PFF) and that was likely to be his role in 2022. We wish Patrick a speedy recovery.
Patrick provided quality football, especially in the red zone where he caught eight touchdowns in the past three seasons. With Sutton and Jeudy locked in as their 1A-1B duo, a plethora of talented yet unproven pass-catchers must step forward. KJ Hamler, who was recently taken off the PUP list, looks to come back in a major way. After playing nearly half of his snaps out wide in 2021, he could hold down that spot while also providing a deep threat. The wildcards will be tight ends Albert Okwuegbunam and rookie Greg Dulcich. Both are competing to earn targets from Russell Wilson and both can help in the red area. Keep a lookout for rookie wideout Montrell Washington out of Samford. All the fifth-round pick has done is make plays in training camp. He's been able to use his speed to form a deep-ball connection with Wilson early in camp. With Patrick down, someone will get a shot.
Other NFL news
Earlier this week, Browns' quarterback Deshaun Watson was handed a six-game suspension by Sue L. Robinson. The NFL quickly decided to appeal that notion and it is expected they'll seek a greater penalty. The league has appointed Peter C. Harvey to hear the appeal. Watson has been practicing in training camp and is planning on playing in the preseason. With a suspension of at least six games looming, however, Jacoby Brissett has started taking more first-team reps with the offense. Should Watson's suspension stay at six games, the schedule includes very winnable games for the Browns (Panthers, Jets, Steelers and Falcons). If it goes longer, then we may get a more full body of work from Brissett, something we saw in 2019.
Cardinals receiver Marquise Brown was arrested and charged with criminal speeding earlier this week. I don't know anything about speeding laws in Arizona, but 126-mph is fast as hell anywhere. While no one was hurt, the league has shown that it doesn't need convictions or guilty pleas to inflict punishment. Brown looks to improve upon a season in which he went 91/1,008/6 and looks to do so on an offense he feels suits his game more. With DeAndre Hopkins already serving a six-game suspension, Brown facing any potential discipline would be a blow for the Cardinals. If that is the case, my personal opinion is that I don't expect much.