AROUND THE NFL

NFC NORTH

 

MINNESOTA

There were rumors that WR STEFON DIGGS wanted out, away from KIRK COUSINS, but the Vikings are saying he is not on the block.  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

In 2013, the Vikings had no intent to trade Percy Harvin. In 2019, the Vikings have no plans to trade Stefon Diggs.

 

So. Yeah.

 

Tom Curran of NBCSportsBoston.com reports that the Vikings have no plans to trade Diggs. The speculation, which began last week, reached a fever pitch on Wednesday when Diggs missed practice for reasons unrelated to injury.

 

The Vikings are thin at the receiver position, but as we pointed out last week, Diggs is a luxury the team can’t afford — especially since they’re not using him.

 

Diggs quietly had seven catches for 108 yards in Sunday’s loss to the Bears, more than doubling his output in the three prior games in each category. Still, Minnesota has become a run-based, pass-challenged offense. It arguably makes sense to flip Diggs for draft picks or help at other positions.

 

The fact that they reportedly have no plans to trade him, if 2013 is any guide, should be the first clue that it’s coming at some point between now and October 29.

 

But as we go to press, more rumors.  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Yes, receiver Stefon Diggs seems to want out of Minnesota.

 

That sense has been percolating for a while now, and Diggs did nothing to defuse it after missing work on Wednesday, supposedly because he was sick. He’s definitely sick — sick of playing for a team that has jammed the pendulum from too much pass to too much run.

 

Diggs was back with the team on Thursday, and he met with the media. In so doing, it became crystal clear that it may take a minor miracle to make the man responsible for the Minneapolis Miracle want to stay in Minnesota.

 

“I feel there’s truth to all rumors no matter how dress you it up,” Diggs said regarding the rumor that he could be traded, via Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. “I won’t be saying nothing on it. I won’t be speaking on it at all. But there is truth to all rumors, I guess.”

 

While saying nothing he said plenty. And he said more.

 

“The space that we’re in right now is definitely is a lot of questions,” Diggs said. “I can’t sit up here and act like everything is OK because obviously it’s not but I can say at this point I’m just trying to work through it.”

 

Diggs said he hopes to play Sunday against the Giants in New Jersey. Via Tomasson, offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski was asked whether Diggs will indeed play.

 

“We’ll see,” Stefanski said.

 

We raised last week the question of whether Diggs is a luxury the Vikings can no longer afford, given that they don’t use him. If he wants out, that makes it an even more pressing question.

 

The Vikings reportedly have no plans to trade Diggs, but other than Patrick Mahomes no current NFL player is untouchable. If someone else makes the Vikings an offer that they like, it would be wise to give it serious consideration.

 

Even if Diggs stays in Minnesota through 2019, it’s starting to feel like he won’t be there next year. The question for the Vikings will be whether they can get more for him now, or later.

 

Of the 30 teams that have played 4 games, the Vikings are the only one not to have thrown 100 passes this year.  Their 99 passes is 20 less than any of the other 29.

 

NFC EAST

 

NEW YORK GIANTS

The Giants have won their last two without much help from RB SAQUON BARKLEY and there are signs his ankle is getting better.  Jordan Raanan of ESPN.com:

 

New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley was on the practice field Wednesday, running and cutting 10 days after suffering a high ankle sprain against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

 

Coach Pat Shurmur would not rule out Barkley for Sunday’s game against the Minnesota Vikings, although it is highly unlikely he plays.

 

Barkley, who was officially listed as did not practice on Wednesday, worked on a side field with a trainer.

 

“I don’t know yet. I don’t know yet,” Shurmur said when given the opportunity to rule out his star running back for this week.

 

Barkley is not expected to play, according to multiple sources. His eyes are on the following week, when the Giants visit the New England Patriots on Thursday night.

 

It’s still likely the Giants will play it safe with their top playmaker. The original timetable for Barkley’s injury was set at four to eight weeks.

 

“Some people’s doctors had him eight weeks,” Shurmur said. “Not my doctors.”

 

The Giants (2-2) haven’t put a timetable on his recovery. They don’t intend to, either.

 

“Doesn’t matter. We’ll just see,” Shurmur said. “I mean, it’s one of those things — we’ll see how fast he comes back.”

 

Barkley left Tampa on crutches and in a walking boot. He told ESPN over the weekend that he ditched the walking boot and was taking it day to day.

 

“Good start,” Barkley said.

 

Shurmur added Wednesday that Barkley said he “felt good.” The running back was not available for comment.

 

The Giants have lost rookie LB RYAN CONNELLY, who had been starting.  The 5th-rounder from Wisconsin tore his ACL on a non-contact play during the win over the Redskins.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

NEW ORLEANS

QB DREW BREES is keeping us updated on his project – and so far it is “thumbs up.” 

Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

All those thumb exercises seem to be working.

 

Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who was seen repeatedly during Sunday night’s win over the Cowboys flexing his surgically-repaired thumb on the sideline, tells WWL radio that his thumb is getting stronger every day.

 

Via Garland Gillen of WVUE-TV, Brees said that he can now brush his teeth, floss his teeth, and pick up a glass of water. Brees added that he couldn’t do those things only a few days ago.

 

Brees originally expected to miss six weeks after surgery to repair a thumb that was injured in Week Two against the Rams. He’s been pushing to get back even sooner than that.

 

Meanwhile, the Saints have won two straight games without Brees, beating the Seahawks in Seattle and the Cowboys in New Orleans.

 

 

TAMPA BAY

Congratulations to LB SHAQ BARRETT who is the NFC Defensive Player of the Month for September after 9 sacks in 4 games, plus 3 forced fumbles.  Prior to September, Barrett had 14 career sacks in 4 years.

 

The last Buccaneers player to be named NFC Defensive Player of the Month?  LB Barrett Ruud in September of 2007.

– – –

A prediction from Terez Paylor of YahooSports.com:

 

Chris Godwin, 23, is on pace to catch 104 passes for 1,544 yards and 16 touchdowns. He could easily earn his first Pro Bowl honors this season, especially with the undermanned Bucs — who figure to be down a decent amount this season — being led by new coach and passing guru Bruce Arians.

 

To that end, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Godwin and Mike Evans, Tampa’s No. 1 receiver, go nuts on Sunday against a New Orleans Saints defense that has allowed a stunning 13 passes over 20 yards, the third-most in the league.

 

– – –

Bruce Arians inherited a top receiving combo – and he will use them.  Kevin Patra of NFL.com:

 

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers deploy the most productive receiver duo currently running in the NFL.

 

Mike Evans is the Pro Bowl, No. 1 target that causes defensive coaches to lose sleep. Chris Godwin is the rising stud, who makes plays every time his number is called.

 

The duo has been ripping apart defenses through four games in 2019.

 

Roll coverage to attempt to eliminate Evans, and Godwin will rip your heart out with chunk gains over the middle and leave secondary defensive backs in his dust. Adjust and leave Evans one-on-one, he toasts you like French bread.

 

As the season begins its second quadrant, coach Bruce Arians has a message for QB Jameis Winston: Keep feeding the horses.

 

“They can do so many different things,” Arians said, via the Tampa Bay Times. “They’re not always sitting in one spot. They’re both good blockers so they can get through play action because they block. They have great hands and they’re good receivers. Just keep throwing the damn ball to them.”

 

Arians and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich move the duo around the formation to create mismatches, and Winston has found his top targets time and time again early this season.

 

Through four tilts, Godwin leads the Bucs with 28 catches for 386 yards — third-most in the NFL — and four TDs (tied for most). Evans has 18 receptions for 368 yards — sixth-most — and also 4 TDs. They are the only two players in the entire NFL with 350-plus receiving yards and four touchdowns.

 

Evans and Godwin have been the top WR duo through four weeks, and it hasn’t been particularly close. The next closest tandem is Cleveland Browns stars Jarvis Landry (18/328/0) and Odell Beckham (21/308/1).

 

The start of the season isn’t exactly an outlier though. Since the start of 2018, Evans and Godwin have combined for 3,120 receiving yards, the most by a teammate WR duo over that span, beating out Julio Jones and Mohammed Sanu (3,071), per NFL Research.

 

“It’s early in the season,” Evans said. “I’ve said it at the beginning of the year and I’m going to stick with it. I wouldn’t trade our receiving room for any in the league. The production is there and it shows. Not every receiver is going to get the ball a lot. We do a really good job of feeding off each other and Jameis has been playing great this year.”

 

Godwin’s production was blocked at times last season by DeSean Jackson and Adam Humphries. With those receivers gone, Godwin’s potentially has been fully unlocked, as Arians predicted this offseason, and the duo has exploded.

 

With the Bucs facing a New Orleans Saints defense that shut down the Dallas Cowboys last week, Tampa will need another sterling performance from its wideouts once again. If New Orleans deploys Marshon Lattimore to slow Evans, it could mean another week of a massive target-share for Godwin coming Sunday.

 

AFC WEST

 

DENVER

Should the 0-4 Broncos start “the process” of tanking?  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

As the Broncos rocket toward three straight losing seasons for the first time since 1970-72, it could be time to consider building for the future.

 

In other words, it could be time to tank.

 

And here’s one way to grease the skids toward earning one of the top picks in the draft: Listen to offers for linebacker Von Miller, cornerback Chris Harris Jr., and/or receiver Emmanuel Sanders.

 

Denver’s 0-4 start to the season based on the next four games (at Chargers, Titans, Chiefs, at Colts) could become 2-6 or 1-7 or even 0-8. Two days after that eighth game, the trade window closes. If/when (when) it’s clear that the Broncos have no chance to make it to the playoffs, why not consider dumping salaries and obtaining draft picks for players who likely won’t be around by the time what has become a disaster in Denver turns competitive again?

 

The most valuable asset is Super Bowl 50’s Most Valuable Player. Von Miller, who turned 30 earlier this year, is signed through 2021 at salaries of $17 million this year, $17.5 million next year, and $17.5 million in the final year of his deal. As the market currently goes, that’s a fairly attractive price for a guy who may still be able to do plenty of damage in the right defense. Maybe there’s a contender that would give up a pair of first-round picks for him.

 

Of course, G.M. John Elway may not be interested in compiling future draft picks if there’s any risk that he won’t be there to use them. (His status remains unclear, especially with no owner in place.) It nevertheless may be in the best interests of the franchise to explore the benefits of shedding cap dollars, adding draft picks, and folding the tents on 2019 in the hopes of a better 2020 and beyond.

 

AFC NORTH

 

CLEVELAND

Terez Paylor of YahooSports.com says that “choking” WR ODELL BECKHAM, Jr. may be the wave of the future:

 

The on-field scuffle between Cleveland’s Odell Beckham Jr. and Baltimore Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey on Sunday drew a lot of eyeballs. Not only because it involved Beckham, a veritable lightning rod for attention, but also because Humphrey appeared to choke OBJ out (though the Ravens are pushing back against that assertion).

 

I don’t care if it was or wasn’t a choke. I’m more interested in what led up to it, which was undeniably a Beckham punch, and why the 26-year-old superstar threw it.

 

And after watching the all-22 tape of Beckham’s middling day, in which Cleveland’s No. 1 receiver caught only two passes for 20 yards on seven targets, the first of the “Things I Noticed” while reviewing an interesting spate of Week 4 was how physical the Ravens were with Beckham during their 40-25 loss.

 

And make no mistake about it, Humphrey, a second-year pro who has become a great player despite donning an all-time bad cornerback number (44), was a big part of that effort.

 

During the first four plays of the following six-play reel, you’ll see the Ravens — led by Humphrey — being physical with Beckham during every incomplete target, followed by the “scuffle.” On the last play, you’ll see Beckham’s best play of the day, a 17-yard catch in which Humphrey actually wasn’t physical with him during the course of the route.

 

Beckham is a marvelous player, someone whose track-star speed, precise route-running and glue-laden hands make him an unbelievably difficult cover. Yet, he also has a history of not taking kindly to handsy corners, as Patriots corner Stephon Gilmore once noted that Beckham seemed to take physicality personally.

 

After seeing him snap Sunday in the midst of a frustrating day, the bet here is that defensive coordinators will show their corners this tape and continue to preach the importance of being physical with one of the league’s most gifted receivers in hopes of taking him out of his game.

 

I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Browns’ next opponent, the San Francisco 49ers, follow suit. They’ll likely be starting a feisty undrafted rookie corner, Emmanuel Moseley, who enjoys contact and will be looking for any edge he can to make a name for himself against OBJ.

 

Paylor dealing out a lot of praise for an effort that held Cleveland to 40 points.

 

Meanwhile, we learn that the Ravens left another Browns receiver with a concussion.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Browns wide receiver Jarvis Landry had a great day for most of last Sunday’s win over the Ravens.

 

Landry had eight catches for 167 yards while the Browns were making their way to a 40-25 victory, but he wasn’t on the field for the final stages of the game. Landry suffered a concussion and the injury leaves him with a cloudy outlook for Monday night’s game against the 49ers.

 

Head coach Freddie Kitches said on Thursday that Landry remains in the concussion protocol. Playing Monday gives Landry an extra day to get cleared, but the nature of head injuries makes it all but impossible to predict which way things will go over the weekend.

 

Kitchens also said that cornerbacks Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams are day-to-day with the hamstring injuries that kept them from playing in either of the team’s last two games.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

JACKSONVILLE

Owner Shad Khan has stepped in between disgruntled CB JALEN RAMSEY and disgruntled team president Tom Coughlin.  Mark Long of the AP:

 

Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan has no plan to trade disgruntled cornerback Jalen Ramsey.

 

Khan told The Associated Press on Wednesday that “the best thing is to have him be part of the team.” Khan spoke exclusively to the AP as part of his announcement that he’s becoming the majority investor in the Black News Channel , which will be the nation’s only 24-hour news network aimed at African American viewers.

 

Ramsey’s agent requested a trade Sept. 15 following a heated argument with coach Doug Marrone on the sideline and a much-less-public exchange with personnel chief Tom Coughlin following the 13-12 loss. Ramsey later told a podcast featuring NFL players that “once respect is lost for both parties, I think it is time to part ways.”

 

Khan, though, has no interest in dealing his star defender.

 

“Obviously, football is a team sport and I’m sensitive to what individual insight or viewpoint or requests (there) might be,” Khan said. “But we have to do the right thing for the team. We value the values Jalen adds to us, to the Jaguars. I think we value him highly. We’re still looking at what is the right thing for the Jaguars, and I think right now the best thing is to have him be part of the team.”

 

Ramsey missed his fifth consecutive practice Wednesday for various reasons, all since playing in a 20-7 victory over Tennessee and saying goodbye to several teammates afterward.

 

Ramsey missed one practice last week because of an illness, another because of his back and two more to be home for the birth of his second child. The two-time Pro Bowl cornerback rejoined the Jaguars in time to fly to Denver, but was unable to play against the Broncos.

 

It was the first game he’s missed in his four seasons, fueling speculation about the severity of his injury and his desire to play for the franchise.

 

The Jaguars seem to be doing everything possible to repair Ramsey’s fractured relationship with the front office, specifically with Coughlin. They didn’t question his illness. They defended his back injury. Marrone told him to return to Tennessee for the birth of his second daughter and said he would return “when he’s ready.”

 

Khan has taken a hands-on role, too.

 

“I’ve met with him,” Khan said. “I think my relationship with him is pretty good. This is not a request from me or a viewpoint from me. I have no issue, obviously. I’d love for him to be part of the Jaguars.”

 

Jacksonville (2-2), which plays at Carolina (2-2) on Sunday, hopes winning will change Ramsey’s outlook on the team.

 

After losing quarterback Nick Foles 10 plays into the season opener, the Jags have had chances to win each of the last three games. Backup Gardner Minshew has become a household name while helping the team win consecutive games for the first time in more than a year.

 

Ramsey’s absence, though, was noticeable against the Broncos as Joe Flacco picked on Ramsey’s replacement, second-year pro Tre Herndon.

 

“Obviously, we’re turning the season around and I think he can help the team,” Khan said.

 

Ramsey remains an alleged injury concern – and so is colorful QB GARDNER MINSHEW II.  Michael DiRocco of ESPN.com:

 

Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew will be limited in Wednesday’s practice because of the knee injury he suffered in Sunday’s victory over Denver, and cornerback Jalen Ramsey won’t practice at all because of the back injury that kept him from playing against the Broncos.

 

Coach Doug Marrone said the team will take a cautious approach with Minshew’s right knee and that backup quarterback Josh Dobbs, who was acquired from Pittsburgh in a trade on Sept. 9, will get first-team reps in practice.

 

“I think you’ve always got to be careful,” Marrone said. “And I think that’s probably the best way. I think we’ve just got to do a good job and be careful. He’ll be limited today. Anytime someone shows up on the injury report I think you just have to be mindful of it.

 

“I don’t think he can just come out here and just go, ‘Hey, everything’s fine. Everything’s great.’ I just think we have to be careful leading up to the game.”

 

Minshew was hurt on the first play of the Jaguars’ game-winning drive when he was hit low by linebacker Todd Davis. He got up limping but stayed in the game and led the Jaguars to the Denver 15-yard line to set up Josh Lambo’s game-winning 33-yard field goal.

 

Ramsey hasn’t practiced since the Jaguars’ 20-7 victory over Tennessee on Sept. 19. He missed one day with an illness, sat out another with the back injury, then left the team to go home to Nashville for the birth of his second child. Ramsey rejoined the Jaguars last Saturday and flew with them to Denver but did not play.

 

“Talking to Jalen today, basically it’s a day-to-day type thing,” Marrone said.

 

 

TENNESSEE

The Titans get a key player back in T TAYLOR LEWAN in the midst of the AFC South free-for-all.

 

The Tennessee Titans, fresh off a road win, welcome back three-time Pro Bowl left tackle Taylor Lewan ahead of a big AFC clash with the Buffalo Bills.

 

“It’s been tough to be away, obviously,” Lewan said on Wednesday, via the team’s official website. “You want to be able to compete and be with the boys. Now that I am back I am totally focused on the Buffalo Bills and Week 5.”

 

Stand-in Dennis Kelly has been fine replacing Lewan, who was suspended four games for violating the league’s policy against performance-enhancing substances, but getting the mauling former first-round pick back will be a big boost. Lewan will be an upgrade as a pass blocker for Marcus Mariota. He also will bring improved run blocking for Derrick Henry, which has been hit-or-miss through four weeks.

 

The Titans will need Lewan to be ready to rock from the jump against a Bills defense that proved last week it deserves to be discussed among the top units in the league, holding Tom Brady and the New England Patriots to just 224 total yards and 16 points. Sean McDermott’s defense brings waves of defenders at the QB, starting with game-wrecker Jerry Hughes. If Lewan and his counterparts along the Titans’ offensive line can’t control the game, it could be a cold day for Mariota & Co.

 

“You can do all the sprints in the world but when you put a helmet on it’s different — it takes a little bit of time,” Lewan said of being ready for his first game. “My main focus is to get the rust off as soon as possible and get ready to play Sunday.

 

“I am really excited to be here. I am stoked to be back with the boys and ready to get things going and hopefully play well on Sunday.”

 

If he doesn’t play well, it could be a long afternoon for Mariota and Henry versus the Bills’ D.

 

AFC EAST

 

NEW ENGLAND

More on who might get the pleasure of kicking for Bill Belichick now that PK STEPHEN GOSTKOWSKI is on IR.  Kevin Patra of NFL.com:

 

The New England Patriots continue kicker workouts Thursday.

 

With Stephen Gostkowski landing on IR, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reports that the Pats are bringing in former Chargers kicker Younghoe Koo, and Josh Gable, who spent a minicamp with the Pats back in 2017.

 

Koo played four games for the Chargers in 2017, making three of six field-goal attempts and all nine of his PATs before being replaced. The 25-year-old South Korean native has had a few tryouts since but has yet to land another NFL gig.

 

Gable, a one-time soccer player, has no experience outside the offseason audition with the Pats, but his YouTube videos are fun to watch:

 

The Patriots worked out several veteran kickers Wednesday, including Mike Nugent and Kai Forbath.

 

The search continues for Gostkowski’s replacement. Given that the Patriots are always in big games come January, whoever eventually lands the gig will have some heavy pressure on their shoulders.

 

As we go to press comes word that the likely winner is PK MIKE NUGENT.  He’s 37.  His last full-time gig was with the Bengals in 2016.  In the last three years, he’s gone 17-19 on FG attempts as a fill-in with Chicago, Dallas and Oakland.  81.4% made FGs on his 311 career attempts.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

QUARTER POLE AWARDS

From Bill Barnwell of ESPN.com (heavily edited, full thing here):

 

With four games of the NFL season in the books for most teams, it’s about time to get to the quarter-season awards. I hand these awards out every year for a few reasons. One is to serve as a good reminder of what we were thinking at the time; 12 months ago, as an example, Mike Vrabel was a reasonable Coach of the Year candidate.

 

To try to get a handle on who is currently winning the major award races, I went through several of the long-standing Associated Press awards and identified my top three candidates after Week 4. To be clear, in each case, I’m talking exclusively about how a player has performed over the first month of the season as opposed to their chances of winning it at the end of the season, although I’ll discuss the latter as I explain each pick. I’m also nominating the players I want as opposed to the players I think are the actual favorites to win.

 

In addition, I also came up with a few awards that aren’t yet official, including stuff like Acquisition and Miscalculation of the Year. I’ll finish with Most Valuable Player, but let’s start with rookies and go from there.

 

Defensive Rookie of the Year

 

3. Devin Bush, LB, Pittsburgh Steelers

This is an award in which there’s no clear favorite after four weeks. I could make the entire list out of edge rushers, though I only ended up using one of the three spots on a pass-rusher. Even among the players I ended up nominating, I could justify any order to myself. There’s a lot more differentiating to come.

 

I think Bush, for whom the Steelers traded up in April and drafted at No. 10 overall, could have a Derwin James-sort of rise as the season goes along and he grows more comfortable in his role.

 

2. Darnell Savage, S, Green Bay Packers

There’s a lot to like about what we’ve seen from Savage through four games. It’s telling that the Packers have played Savage on every one of their defensive snaps and felt comfortable moving him around the defense to play in multiple roles….Savage, the No. 21 pick, has shown some early signs of being a playmaker, with one pick and one forced fumble over the first month of the season. .

 

1. Brian Burns, DE, Carolina Panthers

The defensive awards tend to go to pass-rushers, and with apologies to Chase Winovich, Josh Allen and a handful of other defenders, Burns has been the most disruptive pass-rusher from this rookie class through four weeks. The No. 16 overall pick has 2.5 sacks, but where he really stands out is with nine quarterback knockdowns, which is tied for second in the NFL behind Shaq Barrett.

 

Offensive Rookie of the Year

 

3. Josh Jacobs, RB, Oakland Raiders

The only running back taken in the first round, Jacobs has been the best back of the class so far. He’s also the only full-time starter of the bunch, but he has been efficient with his chances. The former Alabama back is averaging 5.0 yards per carry and ranks 13th in the NFL in success rate.

 

2. Terry McLaurin, WR, Washington

Though McLaurin missed a Week 4 game against the Giants because of a hamstring injury, he has been the only bright spot for what has otherwise been a depressing Washington offense. McLaurin racked up 257 yards and three touchdowns over the first three games of the year, and those numbers would have been higher if Case Keenum hadn’t missed an open McLaurin on what should have been a 73-yard touchdown in the opener.

 

1. Gardner Minshew, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars

I didn’t expect this one! One of the higher-drafted quarterbacks has a better shot of coming away with this award, but Daniel Jones has played only about 60% as many snaps as Minshew, and the Jaguars’ quarterback has significantly better numbers than Kyler Murray. Though the first overall pick led the Cardinals back for a dramatic tie against the Lions in Week 1, and Jones followed with a last-gasp victory over the Buccaneers in his first start, Minshew brought the Jaguars back twice in the fourth quarter to take and retake the lead against the Broncos.

 

He has also improved with more experience. He was mostly checking things down and playing conservative football over the first two weeks of the year, but in the wins over the Titans and Broncos, he has averaged an even 9 air yards per attempt. The book on Minshew coming out of Washington State was that he lacked an NFL-caliber arm, but on the final drive of the Broncos game, Minshew had no trouble hitting a 16-yard deep out to Dede Westbrook on the left sideline from what was nearly the opposite hashmark. The sixth-round pick’s size was supposed to be a problem, but it helped him duck away from pass pressure and scramble to convert a third-and-14.

– – –

If there was a late-round quarterback the scouts would miss on and underestimate, though, it would be someone like Minshew. The 23-year-old is just under 6-foot-1 and ranks in the sixth percentile of height for quarterbacks. He doesn’t have prototypical arm strength. He spent two years as an anonymous passer at East Carolina before transferring to Washington State, where he excelled in his lone season in Pullman. His coach there was Mike Leach, who runs the Air Raid and doesn’t think scouts are very smart.

 

Should the Jaguars tell Nick Foles he’s going to be a backup when he comes back? No. It has been only three starts for Minshew, and there have been long stretches in those games where the Jags haven’t been able to do anything on offense. They are also realistically committed to paying Foles at least $21.1 million after 2019, and Foles had thrown all of eight pass attempts as a Jaguars quarterback before breaking his collarbone. At the same time, the Jaguars clearly have something with Minshew. He’s the best quarterback Jacksonville has drafted during the David Caldwell era.

 

Coach of the Year

 

3. Matt LaFleur, Green Bay Packers

The most common Coach of the Year candidates are coaches who take over a new team and lead them to a much-improved season during their debut. Well, seven NFL teams hired coaches from outside their organization this offseason. LaFleur’s Packers are 3-1, and the other six teams are a combined 2-20-1. Welcome to the list, Matt!

 

2. Sean McDermott, Buffalo Bills

I’ve gushed about the Bills’ defense repeatedly in recent weeks, and the duo of McDermott and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier deserves tons of credit for molding a defense without big names into arguably the league’s best.

 

I have big-picture concerns about second-year quarterback Josh Allen, but the Bills have built a good enough team to win without competent quarterback play.

 

1. Bill Belichick, New England Patriots

Has there been a week over the past 15 years where anybody doubted Belichick was the best coach in football? Virtually every person who works inside the NFL or watches it closely would pick him as the league’s best coach, and with that knowledge, he has won this award … three times. It took 14-2 seasons in 2003 and 2010 and that famous 16-0 campaign from 2007 to earn Belichick this nod. Consider that 14-2 seasons weren’t enough for him to win this award in 2004 (when it went to Marty Schottenheimer and the 12-4 Chargers) or 2016 (Jason Garrett’s 13-3 season with the Cowboys).

 

Guess who’s back? Even after a narrow victory over the Bills, the Patriots finished the first quarter of the season with the third-best point differential of any team since the 1970 merger at plus-95. It’s coincidentally the best mark any team has posted since 2007, and you can probably guess who pulled off that feat. The Pats also face the league’s easiest schedule over the remainder of the season. FPI projects the Patriots to win 13.1 games; if they top that total, I think it’s about time for Belichick to win this award again.

 

Coordinator of the Year

 

3. Greg Roman, OC, Baltimore Ravens

Did anybody expect the Ravens to be third in offensive DVOA after the first month of the season?

– – –

Roman, who built offenses around Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick in San Francisco and then around Tyrod Taylor in Buffalo, was the ideal fit for Jackson in Baltimore. This is one of just 10 offenses since the merger to average 7.5 yards per pass attempt and 5.5 yards per rush attempt. Five of the other nine teams finished in the top six in points scored at the end of the season. Strangely, defense is the thing to be worried about in Baltimore.

 

2. Todd Bowles, DC, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Do you remember how bad the Bucs were on defense last season? They finished last in the league in DVOA. They allowed opposing quarterbacks to post a passer rating of 110.9, the same figure Russell Wilson posted on the other side of the ball. The Bucs posted the second-worst red zone defense since 2001. Oh, and star pass-rusher Jason Pierre-Paul went down during the offseason with a neck injury and hasn’t played in 2019.

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I’m not sure this is going to be the seventh-best defense in football over the remainder of the season, but Bowles has managed to coax some upside out of this unit. Unsurprisingly from a Bowles defense, Tampa is blitzing a ton — 41.8% of the time — and allowing the league’s 12th-fewest yards per dropback when it does. Tampa also leads the league in rush defense DVOA and yards per carry against.

 

1. Kellen Moore, OC, Dallas Cowboys

It has to be Moore, right? Even after a rough night against the Saints in New Orleans, the Cowboys rank second in offensive DVOA and are virtually right in line with the Chiefs. This same core — sans returning center Travis Frederick — ranked 24th in offensive DVOA a year ago. As much as Ezekiel Elliott’s role in the offense has been fetishized, his carries per game and yards per carry are both down. The offense has gotten significantly better as Elliott has played a smaller part.

 

Moore has been able to take Dak Prescott to a new level, and while Prescott has played his tail off through four weeks, the Cowboys have made it easier for their star quarterback to succeed. Dallas was 11th in play-action rate last season; this season, it is all the way up to third, and Prescott has a league-best 97.6 Total QBR on play-action passes. Of course, the fourth-year quarterback is a lowly second-best in the league when the Cowboys don’t use play-action, too. We still have to see the Cowboys excel as their schedule gets tougher, but Moore is an easy pick here.

 

Comeback Player of the Year

 

3. Delanie Walker, TE, Tennessee Titans

The track record of healthy tight ends making an impact during their age-35 seasons isn’t exactly lengthy, as only six tight ends in league history have finished that year with 500 receiving yards or more. Things got more complicated when Walker went down in the opening week of 2018 because of a severe ankle injury, costing the former 49ers tight end the remainder of the season.

 

What did Walker do to announce his return? He caught two touchdown passes in a blowout victory over the Browns, of course. Walker is on pace for 68 catches and 648 receiving yards while playing just under half of Tennessee’s offensive snaps. He has struggled at times because of a nagging knee issue, but for Walker to get back on the field — let alone look like the tight end we saw before the injury — is impressive.

 

2. Cooper Kupp, WR, Los Angeles Rams

Kupp suffered a pair of injuries to his knee in 2018, first tearing his MCL on a horse-collar tackle before tearing his ACL one month later. In his final four healthy, complete games during the 2018 season, he racked up 24 catches for 412 yards and five touchdowns. Over the first four weeks of the 2019 season, a returning Kupp has grabbed 32 passes for 388 yards and three scores.

 

1. Travis Frederick, C, Dallas Cowboys

I don’t think it’s realistic to pick anybody else. Frederick’s recovery from Guillain-Barré syndrome didn’t have the familiar time frames and rehab markers that players can rely upon in recovering from broken bones and muscle tears. While athletes in other sports have suffered from the rare disorder, Frederick was the first prominent player to suffer from the ailment during an NFL career. The Cowboys initially believed he could come back quickly after being diagnosed last summer, but their star center ended up missing the entire season.

 

Thankfully, Frederick made his way back to the team and has been something close to his usual self during Dallas excellent start to the season. His pass block win rate is at 88.4%, which isn’t far off from the 92.6% mark he posted during his last healthy season in 2017. The Cowboys’ pivot also hasn’t committed a penalty during the first four games.

 

Acquisition of the Year

 

3. Jamie Collins, LB, New England Patriots

It just so happens that all three of the acquisitions here are front-seven pieces. The Patriots seemed ready to wash their hands of Collins when they traded him to the Browns in 2016, with rumors suggesting he had a habit of freelancing to try and make plays. You can imagine that wouldn’t go over well with the guy whose team motto is “Do Your Job.” Collins signed a four-year, $50 million deal with the Browns, but he was playing as a strong-side linebacker and part-time player before the Browns cut him in March.

 

The Patriots signed Collins to a one-year, $2 million deal in May and found a motivated, talented player.

 

2. Clay Matthews, Edge, Los Angeles Rams

Even before Matthews hit the market, I suggested that the Rams should make a move for Matthews. It was too good of a story, given that Matthews grew up in Southern California and walked on to the USC football team, where he played at the Coliseum. The Rams, of course, now play on the same field.

 

I wasn’t surprised when Matthews signed a two-year, $9.3 million deal with the Rams. What has surprised me, though, is just how effective he has been since joining the team

 

1. Shaq Barrett, Edge, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

I’m going to write about Barrett in the Defensive Player of the Year section. In short, the Bucs gave Barrett a one-year, $4 million deal and would have been thrilled if he responded with nine sacks and three forced fumbles. He has done that with 12 games to go.

 

Miscalculation of the Year

 

3. New York Jets sign Ryan Kalil

I was in favor of this deal. The Jets needed to surround Sam Darnold with all the help he could get, and after adding guard Kelechi Osemele to their line on a salary dump from the Raiders, coaxing Kalil out of retirement made sense. New York gave the long-time Panthers standout a one-year, $8.4 million deal to end his brief retirement and immediately installed the 34-year-old as the starting center.

 

As is the case with most things related to the Jets this season, Kalil’s tenure in green hasn’t gone well. He has two penalties in three games after never topping three in a 16-game season. The Jets benched Kalil for a period during the Week 2 loss to the Browns. Coach Adam Gase has suggested that the Jets might make changes to their offensive line after returning from the bye, and while it’s probably too early to give up on the five-time Pro Bowler, Kalil certainly hasn’t helped what has been a dismal offensive line.

 

2. Melvin Gordon holds out

If Gordon was trying to prove his value to the Chargers by expecting them to struggle in his absence, it didn’t work. The Chargers went 2-2 without the running back in the lineup, and while Austin Ekeler averaged only 3.9 yards per carry, he was efficient and productive while shouldering a much larger workload.

 

1. Everything related to Antonio Brown

This was all a big waste of time. The Steelers lost the least, since they ended up with two draft picks, but they were still stuck with $21.1 million in dead money on their cap for Brown in 2019. The Raiders paid a $1 million signing bonus for a player who didn’t want to be in Oakland, although they probably made some of that money back in jersey sales. The Patriots paid about $100,000 for Brown’s one game with the team, but given that it came against the Dolphins, I suspect they could have made do without the mercurial wideout.

 

The guy who lost the most, though, was AB himself.

 

Defensive Player of the Year

 

3. Logan Ryan, CB, Tennessee Titans

Best cornerback in football is always going to be an inexact science, but you can make a strong case for Tennessee’s top corner through four weeks. Ryan has filled up the stat sheet, with 1.5 sacks, a tackle for loss, two interceptions and six pass deflections, with the latter figure tying for the league lead. With Ryan as its lead corner in the slot, Tennessee has allowed a passer rating of just 62.8 to slot targets this season, the second-best figure in the league.

 

2. Devin McCourty, S, New England Patriots

The Patriots remain far enough ahead of the pack on defense that it seems impossible to leave their starters off this list entirely. Thankfully, there’s one obvious candidate to sneak on — the elder of New England’s McCourty twins. The longtime Patriots stalwart has an interception in each of his first four games, making him the first player to pick off a pass in four straight games since the 2016 season.

 

1. Shaquil Barrett, Edge, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Where on earth did this come from? Barrett, an undrafted free agent in 2014, was a breakout candidate years ago in Denver across from Von Miller, but when he got his chance to start in 2017 with Shane Ray going down, Barrett flopped. He racked up four sacks on 12 knockdowns while playing two-thirds of Denver’s snaps, and the Broncos closed his path to the starting lineup by drafting Bradley Chubb after the season.

 

The Bucs signed Barrett to a one-year, $4 million deal this offseason. His numbers so far are unreal. He has nine sacks, three forced fumbles, seven tackles for loss, two pass breakups and an interception of Jared Goff. To put that in context, since the league started counting sacks as an official stat, no player in history has topped nine sacks over his first four games. Barrett is tied with Mark Gastineau (who finished his season with 22 sacks), Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila (13.5), and Kevin Greene (15).

 

Those three totals tell you Barrett is probably not going to stay on this pace and end up with 36 sacks. The 26-year-old only has 10 quarterback hits, which we would typically associate with a sack total somewhere closer to half of his actual output. He has racked up a couple of coverage sacks and had one in which the 49ers essentially decided not to block him and paid the price almost immediately.

 

You know what, though? Every pass-rusher has sacks like that, and Barrett has come across the majority of them by beating opposing tackles. He’s hardly a one-trick pony, either; watch the spin move he put on Rob Havenstein to set up Ndamukong Suh’s game-sealing touchdown against the Rams. Barrett’s four sacks against the Giants all came in different ways.

 

Let’s say he retreats to his old self and his previously established level of play from Denver over the remaining 12 games of the season. He would finish the year with 11.5 sacks and 17 knockdowns, numbers the Buccaneers would have been delighted to see for how much they paid. That sort of production also would get him a big deal in free agency (or the minimum of a franchise tag) next offseason.

 

There’s little on the tape to suggest Barrett is supremely lucky or a gimmick, either. He might not get the same level of production over the remainder of the season, but he’s playing like a superstar. He’s the biggest reason the Bucs have finally looked competent on defense for the first time in years.

 

Offensive Player of the Year

The NFL seems to oscillate between using this award to honor the best non-quarterback and to reiterate its support for the quarterback who ends up winning MVP. It’s more interesting to use it as the former, so I’ll do that here.

 

3. Chris Godwin, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

One of the rare trendy breakout picks before a season who actually proceeds to live up to lofty expectations, Godwin has become a critical component of a surprisingly effective Bucs offense. The third-year wideout is third in the league in receiving yards and ninth in yards per target, and has turned nearly 70% of his touches into first downs or touchdowns, which leads all receivers who have run 100 or more routes.

 

2. Keenan Allen, WR, Los Angeles Chargers

The league’s leading receiver by nearly 70 yards, Allen has kept the Chargers afloat single-handedly at times. It would be one thing if he had inflated his statistics with a huge game against the Dolphins last week, but after racking up 404 yards and three touchdowns over the first three weeks, Allen took it easy with five catches and 48 yards against Miami. The Chargers would be absolutely lost without him.

 

1. Christian McCaffrey, RB, Carolina Panthers

Can you imagine, though, what the Panthers would look like without their star halfback? McCaffrey’s backups are fifth-round pick Jordan Scarlett and 2018 practice-squadder Reggie Bonnafon, who have combined for a total of two career touches. McCaffrey has played every one of Carolina’s offensive snaps this season and has logged 111 touches, 19 more than any other player through four weeks.

 

Most Valuable Player

 

3. Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks

Realistically, there are two tiers of MVP candidates right now. I see two guys at the top and a drop-off before a group of three quarterbacks in the second tier. Wilson is the best option in that second tier, just ahead of Lamar Jackson and Tom Brady.

 

2. Dak Prescott, QB, Dallas Cowboys

I had Prescott as my MVP pick after three weeks, but a 22-for-33, 223-yard performance in his first game against a competent defense soured me a bit on nominating Prescott as my top choice. Some of Dallas’ issues against the Saints weren’t Dak’s fault, notably the two fumbles, but the Cowboys weren’t able to strike for a big play against a defense that has historically been susceptible to throws downfield.

 

I mentioned how Prescott has blown away his expected completion percentage, and it’s staggering, actually. Prescott is averaging just over 10 air yards per pass attempt this season, which is third most in the NFL behind Matthew Stafford and Jameis Winston. Over the past decade, we’ve seen 19 instances of a starting quarterback averaging 10 or more air yards per pass in a season. Only one of those passers — Ryan Fitzpatrick in 2018 — has completed more than 65% of his passes in such an offense. Prescott is at 72.4%.

 

The difference between Prescott and the quarterback at the top of this list is turnovers. Prescott has three interceptions, although he hasn’t fumbled after leading the league with 12 fumbles a year ago. The guy in first place has zero interceptions, which makes him hard to top given his ability to do just about whatever he wants on a football field.

 

1. Patrick Mahomes, QB, Kansas City Chiefs

No, MVPs do not often repeat. Just three players have won back-to-back MVP awards: Joe Montana, Brett Favre and most recently Peyton Manning, who took home his third and fourth nods for the 2008 and 2009 seasons. Mahomes might be the natural successor to Montana and Favre, so a second consecutive award isn’t out of his range.

 

The best MVP candidates have a winning record and are the best fantasy player at their position. Mahomes’ Chiefs are 4-0 after their star quarterback led them on a 13-play drive with 2:20 to go to take the lead over the Lions last week. The previous week, with the Ravens breathing down Kansas City’s neck down 33-28 with two minutes to go, Mahomes calmly took the ball and picked up a third-and-9 to Darrel Williams to end the game.

 

His numbers are predictably gaudy. Mahomes is completing nearly 68% of his passes while throwing the ball 9.2 yards in the air. He has a great set of weapons when healthy, but thanks to injuries, Mahomes has been forced to complete passes to 14 different receivers in 2019, which is tied for the league lead. He has become virtually unsackable, as he has been taken down on just 1.6% of his dropbacks. He has thrown for 10 touchdowns without an interception. Mahomes hasn’t taken a huge leap forward in 2019, but given that his baseline in 2018 was the best player in football, improving at all is unbelievable.

 

Mahomes is on pace for the first 6,000-yard season in NFL history. If he gets there, I don’t see any way to vote against him as a repeat MVP. Even if he doesn’t, Mahomes is a viable option given his team’s desire to throw. Over his past 16 starts, Mahomes has completed nearly 67% of his passes, topped 9 yards per attempt and thrown for 54 touchdowns against 12 picks. He’s redefining our expectations of what’s possible from an NFL quarterback. It’s only fair that he simultaneously redefines our established historical preferences for who wins MVP.