The date is August 7, which means we are well into mock draft season. In many ways, this is the most bizarre time on the entire fantasy football calendar. We haven’t seen any real football yet, aside from Thursday night’s sluggish Hall of Fame Game featuring a rough-around-the-edges Lamar Jackson and the ghost of Robert Griffin III (Breshad Perriman and his iron mitts also made a cameo in Canton).
Obviously, we’re more informed than we were a few weeks ago before the start of training camp, but it’s still a fairly uncertain time with beat writers trying to make sense of what they’ve seen at practice the past two weeks. Early depth charts may provide some clarity, though it doesn’t help when coaches like Adam Gase are openly trolling us. Mike Gesicki as the Dolphins’ fifth-string tight end? Come on, Adam—at least make your lies believable.
Which leads us to the Buccaneers. No team has more moving parts and confusing narratives at play than this bunch. In the two mocks I conducted for our Draft Guide (one auction and a two-quarterback mock), no one was brave enough to take a stab at Bucs receiver Chris Godwin. It’s understandable why the general public would fade Godwin. Talent is clearly not the issue as the 22-year-old compiled an impressive 209 receiving yards over his final two games last season while cementing his status as a dirt-cheap lineup-filler in DFS tournaments.
Of course, the bulk of Godwin’s production came while veteran DeSean Jackson was nursing an ankle injury down the stretch. Further complicating the case for Godwin is a jam-packed Bucs pass-catching corps featuring the likes of perennial 1,000-yard receiver Mike Evans, slot man Adam Humphries, the aforementioned Jackson and dueling tight ends O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate. The Bucs will also be without starting signal-caller Jameis Winston for the first three games (he was suspended for violating the league’s personal conduct policy), though as substitutes go, you won’t find a more prepared backup than Ryan Fitzpatrick. The veteran Ivy Leaguer shouldn’t be a major downgrade from Winston, a shameless gunslinger with a penchant for costly turnovers.
It’s a frustrating situation because if Godwin played anywhere else, he would be an extremely worthwhile fantasy target. But with so many mouths to feed in Tampa, interest in the Penn State alum has mostly been limited to deeper best-ball leagues and dynasty formats.
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However, that may be about to change. OC Todd Monken alluded to Godwin’s importance earlier this offseason when he said the second-year receiver had “earned the right” to start. It was an interesting tidbit at the time but ultimately did little to impact the wideout’s ADP.
But as training camp has progressed, it’s become clear that Monken’s praise was more than just coach-speak. Per Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times, the current plan is for Godwin to start opposite Evans in two-wide sets, replacing D-Jax as TB’s preferred deep threat. Jackson lacked chemistry with Winston last year but has reportedly shown well in training camp and could see more reps out of the slot this season. If that plan materializes, it would come at the expense of Humphries, who soaked up a career-best 61 catches while working as the Bucs’ primary slot target in 2017.
On the surface, transitioning Jackson, once considered among the NFL’s elite downfield burners, into a more possession-centric role would seem to be a risky maneuver. But after last season’s debacle, hot-seat head coach Dirk Koetter can’t afford any false steps. Jackson’s career resume and lofty salary are good indicators of his ability, but he’s also 31 and coming off easily his worst season. Koetter and his staff seem to have embraced the idea of a meritocracy (after years of coasting off past accomplishments, underachiever Doug Martin finally got the boot this offseason) and if Godwin gives the Bucs the best chance to win, Tampa Bay won’t hesitate to feature him alongside Evans.
I’m not telling you to go nuts—in a cramped receiving room, Godwin still qualifies as more of a deep sleeper. But he’s not a bad name to have in your back pocket come draft season, which, for most of us, is fast-approaching.
Cleveland Courting Dez?
The Cowboys made Dez Bryant a surprise cap casualty in mid-April, putting an end to his eight-year run in Dallas. Bryant’s Cowboys tenure included three Pro Bowl nods, two playoff appearances and a franchise-record 73 touchdown receptions. Dez has mostly heard crickets since becoming a free agent with the exception of a multi-year offer he turned down from Baltimore (the Ravens eventually filled their receiver vacancy by pivoting to ex-Saint Willie Snead). Instead of participating in training camp with a new team, the famously high-maintenance receiver has spent the summer trading barbs with ex-teammates including Sean Lee, who Dez recently called a “snake.”
Airing dirty laundry on Twitter isn’t a great look for Bryant, especially considering his employment status. But despite his controversial nature and declining production, the 29-year-old is drawing interest from at least one potential suitor—the Cleveland Browns.
Bryant would make sense as an insurance policy for Josh Gordon, who has been a no-show through the first two weeks of Browns’ training camp. Gordon’s absence could be ending soon—the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported Sunday that the 27-year-old was “getting closer” to making his long-awaited return. However, given his erratic history, Gordon’s availability cannot be taken for granted.
Cleveland’s receiving group lost another member Sunday when the Browns traded 2016 first-rounder Corey Coleman to Buffalo in exchange for a seventh-round pick in 2020. Coleman was a disappointment in his two seasons with the Browns, though injuries and poor quarterback play both contributed to his struggles.
Dez never clicked with Dak Prescott and was critical of the team’s play-calling during his time in Dallas. There’s no guarantee either of those problems would be fixed in Cleveland—OC Todd Haley brings with him a legendary stubborn streak (at his last gig, he wasn’t even on speaking terms with Ben Roethlisberger) while Tyrod Taylor would be a downgrade from Prescott. But at least Bryant would have a fresh start and an opportunity to rebuild his value coming off a mistake-ridden 2017 campaign (he led the league with 12 drops). Maybe a training camp or preseason injury will open a door elsewhere for Bryant, but at present, the Browns are his best and only option.
With Gordon’s status a mystery and Coleman headed up I-90 to check out his new digs in Western New York, the only Browns receiver with a clearly-defined role is prolific (and highly-compensated) slot receiver Jarvis Landry. If the Browns aren’t able to lure Bryant out of unemployment, it could open up work for fourth-round rookie Antonio Callaway.
Many argued that Callaway was the most talented player in this year’s wide receiver class, though his draft stock plummeted due to off-field concerns and repeated substance abuse issues. The 21-year-old reportedly “tore up” opposing DBs in 1-on-1 drills last month and has clearly been a difference-maker at Browns training camp. Callaway’s quick development was likely the biggest factor in Cleveland’s decision to move on from Coleman despite his untapped potential. If nothing else, Callaway is another prospect to stow away for future reference, perhaps as a mid-season waiver pickup or a low-cost DFS option.
Quick Hits: Browns coach Hue Jackson reiterated Monday that Tyrod Taylor, not reigning Heisman Trophy-winner Baker Mayfield, will be the team’s starting quarterback this season. We’ll get our first look at Mayfield in Thursday’s preseason opener against the Giants … Terrell Owens, who was just inducted into the Hall of Fame in his third year of eligibility, worked out for the CFL’s Saskatchewan RoughRiders on Sunday. The 44-year-old hasn’t played professionally since 2012 when he failed to make the Seahawks’ roster out of training camp … Chris Boswell has begun contract negotiations with the Steelers. The 27-year-old booted 35-of-38 field goals last season with a long of 53 yards … According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, the Giants are making “progress” in contract talks with walk-year receiver Odell Beckham. This news came just hours after ESPN’s Josina Anderson reported the Giants were valuing OBJ at less than $16 million annually … New England’s wide receiver carousel continued Monday when the Patriots waived Malcolm Mitchell. A fourth-round pick out of Georgia in 2016, Mitchell delivered 32 catches for 401 yards and four touchdowns as a rookie but spent last year on injured reserve with a lingering knee injury … Thomas Davis said he’d like to play another season if the Panthers are open to bringing him back in 2019. The veteran linebacker had planned to retire after this year but changed his mind following a PED suspension … The Falcons locked up Ricardo Allen with a three-year, $19.5 million extension on Monday. The 26-year-old earned PFF’s No. 40 safety grade out of 89 qualifiers in 2017 … Per ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Aaron Donald has no plans to end his holdout “anytime soon.” The reigning Defensive Player of the Year is due $6.892 million in the final year of his rookie deal … The Dolphins added former Bears running back Jeremy Langford to their roster on Monday. Langford spent time on the Ravens’ and Jets’ practice squads last season, though he never saw the field … Brice Butler was listed as a starter on the Cardinals’ initial training camp depth chart. Butler was scarcely used during his three-year stint in Dallas but should be more involved with Arizona … Adam Schefter is hearing that Sam Darnold has a “very fair shot” to be the Jets’ Week 1 starter. The third overall pick was a late arrival at training camp following a contract dispute, though obviously he’s acclimated himself nicely … Blake Bortles said he finally feels “pain-free” following a wrist injury that bothered him throughout both 2016 and 2017. The Jags rewarded Bortles with a three-year, $54 million contract this offseason.
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