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The NFL Management Council Executive Committee met on Thursday, and it "was unanimous and unequivocal that the draft should go forward as scheduled on April 23-25, 2020," commissioner Roger Goodell told teams in a memo. The draft won't be held in Las Vegas, but will be done virtually for viewers with cut-ins to team officials and drafted players at their homes. Many NFL teams are pushing for a delay because they haven't had the luxury of meeting with prospects in person without interviews and Pro Days, but it's looking like the draft will go on next month. It will be a completely different experience for fans watching, but those desperately waiting for some kind of sporting event amid the coronavirus pandemic have something to look forward to at the end of April.
Free-agent defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan had reached an agreement on a one-year, $3.25 million deal with the Houston Texans, but the two sides have agreed to part ways and Jernigan is not expected to sign with the team, according to sources informed of the situation. Jernigan didn't take a physical with the Texans and isn't expected to do so. He was previously cleared by spinal specialist Robert Watkins after playing in just 13 games in the last two seasons due to neck and foot injuries. A second-round pick of the Ravens in 2014, the 27-year-old had his best season in Baltimore in 2016, recording five sacks, 31 combined tackles, one interception and one fumble recovery. He'll look for another one-year deal on the open market now that he's parted ways with Houston.
Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner, who is a cancer survivor, isn't worried about COVID-19 when teams eventually return to the field prior to the 2020 season. "I'm 100%," Conner said. "I had a weak immune system four years ago. It's not weak anymore, thank God. I'm OK. I'm young and healthy. I went through what I went through." The 25-year-old had Stage 2 Hodgkin lymphoma in 2015 and was declared cancer-free in May of 2016. Conner was a Pro Bowler in 2018, but he's played in just 37 games in his three seasons because of injuries and just isn't reliable as an RB1 because of that. The Steelers could also choose to spread out the carries more to keep Conner healthy in 2020, which would obviously hurt his overall upside. Draft him as a low-end RB2 with upside for more if he can just stay on the field.
Former Carolina Panthers star linebacker Luke Kuechly officially was placed on the Reserve/Retired list on Tuesday, according to a source. By waiting until after June 1, the Panthers can spread Kuechly's salary cap hit over the next two years and save around $6 million against the cap in 2020. Only 29 years old, Kuechly was forced to hang up his cleats early due to head injuries, but he was one of the best sideline-to-sideline linebackers in the game during his eight seasons in the NFL. Drafted ninth overall by Carolina in 2012 out of Boston College, Kuechly went on to seven Pro Bowl selections and five first-team All-Pro honors. He compiled 1,092 combined tackles (690 solo), 12.5 sacks, 75 tackles for loss, 31 QB hits, 18 interceptions, 66 passes defensed, seven forced fumbles and nine fumble recoveries in his decorated career.
Carolina Panthers wide receiver D.J. Moore and the team's receiving corps were ranked No. 8 in the league by Pro Football Focus heading into the season. While Moore had a productive 2019, the expectations are higher for the No. 1 wideout for the upcoming 2020 campaign. With Cam Newton gone in favor of Teddy Bridgewater, the 23-year-old may get some much-needed stability in order to progress as he enters his third season in the league. Moore ranked 10th in receptions (87), 10th in targets (135), and seventh in receiving yards (1,175) last year. Though he is projected to finish behind the likes of DeAndre Hopkins, Michael Thomas, and Kenny Golladay, it wouldn't be a surprise if he ended the year as one of the league's top-five fantasy wideouts.
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen ranked third last season in passer rating when targeted, according to Pro Football Focus. Despite missing some time due to a hamstring injury that relegated him to just 10 games, quarterback Kirk Cousins maintained a 131.9 when looking toward the 29-year-old veteran in 2019 and also did not record an interception when targeting him. The expectations are mixed for the veteran in 2020 despite the departure of Stefon Diggs, with the seventh-year man expected to concede plays to running back Dalvin Cook in addition to fighting for Cousin's attention with the newly acquired Tajae Sharpe and rookie Justin Jefferson.
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster could be poised for a "huge year," according to former wideout and Good Morning Football co-host, Nate Burleson. Smith-Schuster battled a knee injury last season, which resulted in a loss of four games in addition to posting the worst numbers of his career. However, with the 23-year-old seemingly healthy, the former Trojan could be in line for a bounce-back season. He is projected to be selected somewhere in the second or third rounds in fantasy drafts for the 2020 season, but could easily surpass his ADP expectations if he performs as he did during his first two seasons in the league.
Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield's deep-ball passer rating was significantly worse in 2019 (72.9) than it was in his rookie season (106). However, he still had a positive completion percentage on his deep attempts last season, despite attempting tight-window passes down the field on 40.6 percent of his attempts. Mayfield also had the luxury of open receivers on those deep shots on just 14.1 percent of his attempts. There wasn't much to like about Mayfield's game last season, especially since he was selected in fantasy drafts with high-end QB1 expectations. If Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry stay healthy, Mayfield could have a breakout season behind a better offensive line in an offensive system that should play to his strengths as a QB. Draft the former No. 1 overall pick as a high-end QB2 with upside for more.
On the surface, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan's 3:5 touchdown-to-interception ratio and 69.3 passer rating on deep passes looks very mediocre or even below-average. Atlanta's offense didn't live up to expectations in 2019, and Ryan threw into tight windows on 34.5 percent of his deep attempts. That partly helps explain his five picks. However, he still had a positive completion percentage of 41.8 and an expected completion percentage of 36.5 on deep attempts. It didn't help his cause that he faced pressure 32.7 percent of the time while going deep downfield. The 35-year-old may have had a down year in 2019, but he remains incredibly consistent and should remain a quality top-10 fantasy QB with Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley as his top two targets.
Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick led the team in rushing last season, but he was also surprisingly effective taking shots deep down the field. The grizzled veteran wasn't afraid to throw the ball downfield, even if the coverage was tight, as 56.6 percent of his 53 deep pass attempts were into tight windows. Fitzpatrick had a 6:2 touchdown-to-interception rate on deep passes and helped the Dolphins pull out some improbable wins during their rebuild. His QB rating on deep passes was a nice 100.8. The 37-year-old defied expectations last year and could be the Week 1 starter in 2020 if Miami feels rookie Tua Tagovailoa isn't quite ready, but he's just keeping the seat warm for the future of the franchise.
Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins had a 9:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio on deep passes in 2019 and the highest passer rating (121.5) on such throws among NFL.com's Nick Shook's top-10 best deep passers last season. But his deep shots weren't nearly as risky as other QBs, as Cousins attempted deep shots into tight windows just 20.4 percent of the time and his receivers were open on 25.9 percent of his deep pass attempts with an average target separation of 2.2 yards. Cousins did this while being pressured on 31.5 percent of his deep attempts, but his probability for success was high to begin with. But losing Stefon Diggs, his No. 1 deep threat, will surely put a dent in these numbers in 2020. It's why Cousins' fantasy upside won't be as high this year while remaining in a run-first offense.
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