Published On: Fri, Jun 15th, 2018

Fact or fiction: Breaking down the boldest offseason takes from NFL teams

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The slowest parts of the offseason generally tend to consist of team personnel talking excessively positively about the players in attendance at voluntary workouts or minicamp.

The players most prone to this exaggerated praise are typically the newcomers, or younger players in positions for their best seasons to date.

Here, we attempt to decipher some of the loftier commendations as teams conclude early practices, and get set to break until the start of training camps in roughly a month’s time.

Fact

Tarik Cohen’s “a player you get giddy about” – Bears HC Matt Nagy


New Chicago Bears head coach Matt Nagy appears to have big plans for sophomore running back Tarik Cohen.

“He’s actually the one kid on this team that I knew had a lot of talent, but he comes out here and runs every route the right way, catches most balls and he doesn’t make a lot of mistakes … He’s a player you get giddy about,” Nagy said, according to Adam Hoge of WGN.

Cohen caught 53 of 71 targets for 353 yards and one touchdown while playing just 36.4 percent of offensive snaps in his rookie season. It was the same amount of receptions Kansas City Chiefs lead back Kareem Hunt finished with in 2017 (in 64.9 percent of the snaps) while working under Nagy, then offensive coordinator of the Chiefs.

While Jordan Howard is expected to remain as the Bears’ No. 1 option in the backfield, Cohen’s diverse skill set and expertise in the passing game will keep him on the field in a big role.

Jay Ajayi will be the workhorse this season – Eagles RBs coach Duce Staley


Running back Jay Ajayi was able to help the Eagles win Super Bowl LII after being acquired at the 2017 trade deadline, but the 25-year-old could be asked to fill a larger role in his first full season with the team.

“Just him being focused, coming in, knowing he’s the guy, knowing he’s the guy that’s going to step up there and just put everything on his back and ride with him,” running backs coach Duce Staley said, according to Dave Spadaro and Chris McPherson of PhiladelphiaEagles.com.

The former Miami Dolphins lead back formed a committee with LeGarrette Blount and Corey Clement upon his arrival in Philadelphia last season, but with the former now gone, Ajayi seems likely to pick up extra work.

He received at least 14 combined touches in each of his final five games before the Super Bowl and he could be set to absorb the majority of Blount’s average of nearly seven carries per game in those same outings.

Veteran Darren Sproles will return from injury to help in the passing game, and Clement earned a significant role with his 100-yard receiving game in the Super Bowl, but Ajayi will lead the way.

49ers could use Jimmie Ward as a backup at every secondary position – HC Kyle Shanahan


The 49ers’ quickly rebuilt secondary could be pushing 2014 first-round pick Jimmie Ward back to a bench role after he started 16 of 18 games played over the past two years.

“If Jimmie doesn’t earn a starting role, there’s also a good chance he’s the first backup at every single position: strong safety, free safety, nickel (corner), (outside) corner, because he’s capable of being a starter at all of those positions,” head coach Kyle Shanahan said, according to Eric Branch of SF Gate.

Ward is currently in competition with Adrian Colbert for the free safety job Colbert assumed following Ward’s 2017 injury. Jaquiski Tartt is locked in as the strong safety, with Richard Sherman, Ahkello Witherspoon, and K’Waun Williams likely to take the three corner back jobs.

Fiction

Tavon Austin will get 12-24 touches per game – Cowboys VP Stephen Jones


No offseason is complete without the annual Tavon Austin hype and predicted breakout.

The Cowboys acquired the former eighth overall pick of the St. Louis Rams in exchange for a sixth-round pick in late April.

Cowboys Executive Vice President Stephen Jones got right to work in setting expectations for the 28-year-old.

Austin averaged 4.5 offensive touches per game for 317 total yards from scrimmage (4.4 yards per touch) over a full season with the Rams in 2017. He returned a combined 13 kickoffs and punts in 16 games.

It would be a sub-optimal strategy for the Cowboys to then devote 12-24 touches per game to Austin while he’s in an offense with running back Ezekiel Elliott, who compiled 322 carries and 32 receptions in his rookie season and is now coming off a suspension-shortened 2017 campaign.

Factor in the free-agent additions of wide receivers Allen Hurns and Deonte Thompson, and the third-round draft selection of Michael Gallup, and the Cowboys would be wise to look elsewhere on offense.

Kenyan Drake “looking to bust out … can do multiple things” – Dolphins HC Adam Gase


Kenyan Drake composed one half of the tandem that replaced Ajayi following the trade deadline. Damien Williams was allowed to walk in free agency, seemingly clearing the way for Drake, a third-round pick in 2016, entering his third season with the team.

“I think we just have a guy that’s really looking to bust out,” head coach Adam Gase said in May, according to Jason Lieser of The Daily Dolphin.

“I think we’ve got a guy that can do multiple things. You could put him in the slot if you wanted to. You can use him in empty, you can use him from the backfield,” Gase added.

The Dolphins then chose to sign Frank Gore as a free agent in mid-March, and they used a fourth-round pick on running back Kalen Ballage in April.

While Drake seemed capable of handling that No. 1 role, the Dolphins found the need to add competition in the backfield and now seem intent on using the hot hand.

“The guy that gives us the best chance to win, that gives the Miami Dolphins the best chance to win, that’s who’s got to be the guy who’s out there for us and helping us win football games,” running backs coach Eric Studesville said this month, according to Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald.

(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)



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