AFC South Camp Preview: Matt Ryan's Colts Honeymoon
NFL Offseason - Can Matt Ryan make the Indianapolis Colts Super Bowl contenders? Can Dameon "Three Pitbulls" Pierce make Houston Texans camp bearable? Is Derrick Henry the last man standing for the Tennessee Titans? Will the Jacksonville Jaguars make Travis Etienne run around on a high school field? The answer to these questions and more are here in Walkthrough's 2022 AFC South Training Camp Previews!
Houston Texans 2022 Training Camp Preview
Heading into Camp: The Team That Auto-Draft Built is back and less relevant than ever.
Camp Battles to Watch: The Texans upgraded a pass rush that ranked 23rd in adjusted sack rate last year the same way they have upgraded all of their units during the Jack Easterby/Nick Caserio epoch: by signing veterans that successful teams slough off. Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison arrive from the Bills with about 25 snaps of pass-rush sizzle left in them each. Rasheem Green quietly cobbled 6.5 sacks together for the Seahawks in 2021. Ogbonnia Okoronkwo looked good in spurts when Rams opponents were worried about Aaron Donald and Leonard Floyd. All four of them would look great coming off the bench on third-and-10. Two of them will be asked to play regularly on first-and-10.
Newcomer to Obsess Over: Dameon "Three Pitbulls" Pierce is a bruising runner with an upbeat personality that is sure to make him a fan favorite. Caserio juiced Pierce's fourth-round rookie contract with a $25,000 bonus for 2023 which may have slowed down midround rookie signings for other teams, because NFL general managers are exactly the sort of people who max their credit cards on the cabin cruiser and end up serving their guests drugstore-brand beer. Anyway, Pierce is the power back on a depth chart loaded with typical Texans rummage-sale-acquisition speed backs (Rex the Chargers Killer Burkhead, Marlon Mack), and his alpha pitbull mentality could help him emerge as a fantasy sleeper.
Circle-It Date: No idea. When web searching for Texans news in early July, articles about the Rams, Patriots, and Supreme Court rulings kept popping up. Will someone please check on the Texans press pool and make sure that, like, Easterby didn't serve them any special Kool-Aid? Anyway, if you are really dialed into the Lovie Smith/Davis Mills experience, Walkthrough ain't gonna yuck your yum, but you're on your own when it comes to camp coverage.
Indianapolis Colts 2022 Training Camp Preview
Heading into Camp: The Colts slogan over the past five years has been "We're Doing Our Best Under the Circumstances!" Indeed, Chris Ballard did a fine job pulling the team out of the Carson Wentz impact crater, liberating Matt Ryan from the Falcons, and snaring Stephon Gilmore just before free-agency closing time. Now if Ballard could just figure out who keeps making all these messes he's forced to clean up every year…
Camp Battles to Watch: Former Eagles utility lineman Matt Pryor looked decent in spot starts at left and right tackle in 2021, making him the frontrunner for the left tackle job. Third-round pick Bernhard Raimann (Central Michigan) "made a strong first impression" in minicamp, according to Frank Reich, but he's a mid-major project who was playing tight end as recently as 2019. Ryan is more or less deadbolted to his spot in the pocket these days (Walkthrough knows that Derrik Klassen disagrees with this assessment but ain't budging), so Reich is hoping Pryor and Raimann can develop suddenly into above-average blindside protectors.
Newcomer to Obsess Over: Ryan brings leadership, maturity, professionalism, and self-confidence, attributes the Colts lacked at the quarterback position last season. (Walkthrough isn't gratuitously ripping Wentz! That's practically a Ballard press conference transcript!) At the same time, Ryan's 2016 MVP season was a long time ago, and his DVOA and DYAR have been in steady decline since. Ryan should bounce back modestly from a 2021 season when the Falcons surrounded him with temps and interns, but it's hard to imagine Ryan making the Colts more than wild-card fodder in a conference full of rising star quarterbacks. For now, enjoy the summer honeymoon.
Circle-It Date: The Colts host joint practices with the Lions on August 17 and 18, the latter of which will be Fan Appreciation Day. It will be a great opportunity for fans to watch two franchises procrastinate indefinitely about finding a long-term quarterback solution.
Jacksonville Jaguars 2022 Training Camp Preview
Heading into Camp: The Jaguars bought Trevor Lawrence an Ikea receiving corps at Ethan Allen prices in free agency; made one of the top five players on the Georgia defense the first overall pick in the draft; and skipped mandatory minicamp so they could fumigate team headquarters for Urban Meyer cooties. Now it's time for Doug Pederson to finally get started turning this ragtag collection of rookies, newcomers, and Urban survivors into something team-shaped.
Camp Battles to Watch: Laviska Shenault is what a team gets when they throw themselves at Deebo Samuel and miss: a big gadget guy whose "intriguing potential" is still his primary selling point entering his third season. Shenault is one of the few veterans who stuck around for minicamp-turned-rookie-camp, perhaps realizing that he was drafted two regimes ago and does many of the same things overcompensated newcomer Christian Kirk excels at. Shenault is worth watching: if he cannot claim an offensive role, the Jaguars could polish him up for a trade.
Newcomer to Obsess Over: Carlos Sanchez does an outstanding job covering the Jaguars for the Black and Teal Report at FanSided, but he has been trapped in a temporal causality loop over the last few months.
Step One: Some tastemaker outlet criticizes the Travon Walker draft selection in a listicle.
Step Two: Sanchez dutifully notes the criticism.
Step Three: Sanchez affirms that Walker indeed has boom-or-bust potential, but the Jaguars knew what they were getting and it's best to wait and see.
Step Four: Some editor somewhere demands another Each Team's Riskiest Offseaon Move article to get through the summer, and history resets itself.
As someone who has written my share of offseason listicles and has been doing the same Minnesota Vikings shtick for four years, I can relate with what Jaguars writers/bloggers are dealing with. Let's hope they're ready for the Walker debate to rage on for the rest of the summer/2022/until he's traded in 2025.
Returnee to Obsess Over: Missing last season may have been a disguised blessing for Travis Etienne. Meyer would probably have forced Etienne into a 30-touch role, then bitten off his pinkie or something. Etienne is back from his 2021 foot injury and looking pretty spry. Etienne's fantasy ADP was hovering around 46th overall (22nd among running backs) as of mid-July. Look for it to leap up when the fantasy sharps see him in pads and realize that the Jaguars offense is gonna look downright electrifying compared to teams like the Giants and Bears. (This was complicated this weekend by news that James Robinson will surprisingly be ready for the beginning of camp instead of going on PUP.)
Circle-It Date: It's more like a circle-it location for the Jaguars, who are holding training camp at Episcopal High School, 2 miles from TIAA Field, while a new practice facility is being built. Nothing says, "forget the past, we're professionals now!" like sharing facilities with the local 15-year-olds!
Come to think of it, maybe the Jaguars should wait a while before debuting Etienne in full-contract drills.
Tennessee Titans 2022 Training Camp Preview
Heading into Camp: It's Derrick Henry, Ryan Tannehill, and Matt Vrabel versus the world! Among the challenges they face: a depleted receiver corps, a roster short of big-name talent, the Curse of 370, and a conference where several teams got significantly better in the offseason while the Titans couldn't quite break even.
Camp Battles to Watch: Dillon Radunz was drafted to play right tackle in 2021 but wasn't ready. Third-round pick Nicholas Petit-Frere (Ohio State) isn't a superior athlete or technician, but he's a huge, high-effort, high-character guy who should be able to flatten some defenders for Henry. If Petit-Frere wins a starting job, Radunz may move inside to compete at left guard with newcomer Jamarco Jones.
Also, Justin Melo of Music City Miracles reports that there could be a Titans Kicker Battle emerging between Randy Bullock and Iowa State UDFA Caleb Shudak. It's a long shot because Bullock just signed a two-year deal and Shudak suffered a minor injury during OTAs, but there's a reason Walkthrough loves Titans Kicker Battles: you can always expect the unexpected.
Newcomer to Obsess Over: First-round pick Treylon Burks missed chunks of rookie camp while dealing with asthma and then missed a pair of minicamp practices for unspecified reasons. Eh, it's not like the Titans are counting on him to immediately replace A.J. Brown as their WR1 while competing for a Super Bowl or anything.
The good news is that tight end Austin Hooper emerged as Ryan Tannehill's favorite target during minicamp. Of course, Tannehill really didn't have anyone else to throw to.
Circle-It Date: The Titans-Ravens preseason game scheduled for August 11 would be a snooze except for one man: Malik Willis. Preseason is going to be Willis Szn in Tennessee, and while the third-round pick from Liberty will probably spend that Ravens exhibition running for his life (that's what rookies usually do in the preseason, and if Tannehill has no one to throw to, imagine who Willis' receivers will be), it will probably be most fans' first real look at a quarterback who was rarely on television in college.
30 comments, Last at 29 Jul 2022, 10:10pm
#1 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jul 25, 2022 - 10:15am
It's more like a circle-it location for the Jaguars, who are holding training camp at Episcopal High School, 2 miles from TIAA Field, while a new practice facility is being built. Nothing says, "forget the past, we're professionals now!" like sharing facilities with the local 15-year-olds!
What's the spread against Episcopal?
#4 by serutan // Jul 25, 2022 - 11:08am
The Jaguars bought Trevor Lawrence an Ikea receiving corps at Ethan Allen prices in free agency
In fairness, the Jags had no choice. Neither the team (seemingly always stuck in the "crawl" part of 'crawl, then walk, then run') nor the city are appealing to FAs right now so overpaying is the only way to get any to come.
#5 by theslothook // Jul 25, 2022 - 11:48am
"Now if Ballard could just figure out who keeps making all these messes he's forced to clean up every year…"
I realize Tanier is being tongue in cheek with this line, but really the mess they are in is the result of the best path taken at the time of Lucks retirement and subsequent decisions since.
Really, there are only two realistic alternative paths left for a team in the Colts particular situation. Either mortgage your entire future for a QB prospect (49ers) or go into the year intentionally signing up for QB hell (Texans, Falcons, Seahawks).
The latter move sounds the most sensible, until you realize that as the GM and the coach, you are not going to survive the rebuild. I would be very surprised if Arthur Smith is coaching the next good Atlanta falcons team. So, while you or I might prefer one year of QB hell and a shot at the next top draft pick, it's not my job that's on the chopping block to make this happen.
And the former path is also similarly fraught. I asked Bryan Knowles; despite all of the success Kyle shanahan has had. If Trey lands busts, something that easily could happen, does it mean Shanny and Lynch will get fired. He said unfortunately yes.
Staying good is the safer route. Staying good is better for job security.
#7 by Pat // Jul 25, 2022 - 2:24pm
"Either mortgage your entire future for a QB prospect (49ers) or go into the year intentionally signing up for QB hell (Texans, Falcons, Seahawks)."
Davis Mills was a 3rd round rookie last year and put up just around replacement-level QB numbers. I don't think giving him another year is "signing up for QB hell." I mean, Hurts was a 2nd round rookie, put up garbage numbers his first year and I don't really think people considered the Eagles signing up for QB hell because of him.
Obviously there are plenty of other reasons to consider the Texans as intentionally tanking but I actually don't think Mills is one of them.
#8 by theslothook // Jul 25, 2022 - 2:31pm
There was a discussion some years back about Gardner Minshew. On a bad Jaguars team; he basically acquitted himself quite well as a rookie. The discussion, had by PFF at the time; debated what the Jaguars should make of Minshew going forward; noting that he had done essentially as good as Kyler Murray and Daniel Jones.
Really, the point came down to this. Murray and Jones had a first round pedigree, which effectively justified giving them more time because ostensibly first rounders are more likely to improve. Minshew, on the other hand, was an unknown and most of the time unknowns don't improve. Yes Tom Brady lurks out there and maybe Jalen Hurts does as well.
Its maybe an unanswerable question, but for me personally, unless that unknown plays like Tony Romo or Kurt Warner right out of the gates; I try to avoid pinning my hopes that a low round unknown QB is going to blossom further down the line. That just feels like a wasted year. And btw, I do anticipate the Texans to be terrible next year and part of that is I believe Mills will be one of the 5 worst starting QBs in week 1.
#9 by Pat // Jul 25, 2022 - 3:58pm
Minshew was a 6th round pick, Mills was a 3rd round pick. There's a pretty big difference there. If you plot average AV per round for QBs, 2nd round is 70% of round 1, 3rd round is 53% of round 1, 4th round is 30% of round 1, and then 5th round drops to 6% (jumping back up to 10% in the 6th primarily due to Mr. Brady).
I try to avoid pinning my hopes that a low round unknown QB is going to blossom further down the line. That just feels like a wasted year.
It's not a "further down the line" - Mills probably has to show significant improvement this year and it's not like the Texans aren't tossing this year anyway.
Seeing if Mills can improve isn't even a waste. It's at least a few $M windfall relative to literally any other option.
#11 by theslothook // Jul 25, 2022 - 4:07pm
If you plot the log of av, which fits the data extremely well, you essentially see a very marginal benefit between later round picks like third round and sixth round. It essentially decays rapidly before plateauing.
I would love to see the probabilities of finding a long-term starter conditioned on draft slot. I would be pretty surprised if the probability of finding a long-term starter was anything higher than 10 percent between 3rd and 6th.
Also saying that the Texans are just tossing away this year, assuming it's true, doesn't mean its a costless move. Lovie Smith is not going to survive one wasted year another year spent grooming another quarterback and then a third year where that quarterback then has to develop. Given he's a defensive coach, he's probably going to get fired. And if this year is a wasted year, what was last year? Are we now in the land of the sixers where they can toss away 3 to 5 years?
And really this is a question about the Colts. Instead of trying to find a stable upgrade at quarterback, should they have gone the route of trying to develop a David Mills at quarterback and if it failed it just saying oops so be it? I don't think that is a sensible strategy in practice at all
#12 by Pat // Jul 25, 2022 - 5:08pm
AV for QBs at this point basically is starting percentage. There's extremely little difference between AV earned by starters, which is a little disturbing (Davis Mills prorated out to 11 AV last year: Derek Carr racked up 12, Prescott 14, Brady 16, and we all know about the epic Jalen Hurts year that racked up 17).
"And really this is a question about the Colts. Instead of trying to find a stable upgrade at quarterback, should they have gone the route of trying to develop a David Mills at quarterback"
No, I think I'm saying they should do both. They kindof are, although if Eason didn't show anything last year it would've made sense to draft higher not lower. And then it's just a case of if you've got some cheap-round QB who shows something it's not the end of the world to give him a year.
#13 by theslothook // Jul 25, 2022 - 5:28pm
I think teams tried that in the past and it was a waste. I remember the Browns did that with Charlie Frye. The Jaguars did it with Minshew. Essentially, the guy has to be a massive upgrade immediately or people just don't care and its a year wasted.
And while it seems in retrospect, what's a wasted year when you are still bad 5 years from now. The point is getting on with it and cycling through real qb options until you land one. No point giving meaningful snaps to a guy who has to be amazing for you to gain a vote of confidence. Maybe right, maybe wrong - but first rounders get the rope to develop because they are first rounders. Unless you are going to afford your low rounder the growing pains necessary, it becomes a pointless no win solution.
#15 by Pat // Jul 25, 2022 - 6:06pm
Essentially, the guy has to be a massive upgrade immediately or people just don't care and its a year wasted.
Eh. Don't really agree there. Teams control fan narrative through PR, and the teams you're mentioning have utterly godawful PR because their owners are terrible. Again, the Eagles are carrying Hurts into year 3 and the narrative for Hurts is a ton different than the narrative for Tua, for instance, even though functionally they're identical situations.
And while it seems in retrospect, what's a wasted year when you are still bad 5 years from now. The point is getting on with it and cycling through real qb options until you land one.
In my opinion trying to find a cheap QB is more important than trying to land a top one. I don't actually believe that the Browns, Cowboys, Packers, and Vikings are in a great place to compete (this is basically the order of the top QB contracts). Maybe the Packers.
#16 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jul 25, 2022 - 6:09pm
I think teams tried that in the past and it was a waste.
Every Cowboys QB since 2006 was either a 4th-rounder-or-later, an injury replacement for that 4th-rounder-or-later, or both.
Romo and Dak worked out pretty well. Russ is a 3rd rounder. Brady a 6th. 30% of the top-ten passers were later round guys. It's not crazy to see if one of the better ones does okay.
#19 by Pat // Jul 25, 2022 - 7:30pm
To be fair every one of those guys save Brady came out of the gates like gangbusters, which is partly theslothook's point. I don't agree necessarily with the examples: Frye showed nothing with the Browns in year 1, letting him start was pointless. He was like -20% DVOA in year 1 and -19% in year 2 or something. Minshew's a better example.
I fully admit that probably the best success of a "low round guy shows something but isn't fantastic" meme is probably Kirk Cousins and obviously Washington didn't even keep him (well, or Brady). But I still think it's worth it given the upside and the fact that patience in the draft is by far the best way.
#10 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jul 25, 2022 - 3:59pm
Murray and Jones had a first round pedigree, which effectively justified giving them more time because ostensibly first rounders are more likely to improve. Minshew, on the other hand, was an unknown and most of the time unknowns don't improve.
I find it amusing that half the crowd thinks that justification is sunk-cost fallacy and the other half thinks it is wisdom of the crowds.
#14 by theslothook // Jul 25, 2022 - 5:30pm
Its probably both though and the latter justification becomes rhetorically convenient justification for the former. It takes someone especially gutsy to rip the band aide and admit the mistake right when it happens; a la Arizona.
#25 by Scott P. // Jul 27, 2022 - 12:13pm
Really, there are only two realistic alternative paths left for a team in the Colts particular situation. Either mortgage your entire future for a QB prospect (49ers)
The Colts could have had Mac Jones for two third-round picks (what the Jets paid to get Minnesota's pick -- Colts 1st rd pick was higher, so they would have had the higher bid).
#22 by ImNewAroundThe… // Jul 26, 2022 - 12:14pm
I'd suggest they not make these deals pre draft. Let the draft play out to see how the QBs shake out and you'll at least have more cap space to work with, even if the QB isn't the best.
But I guess they don't use the cap space anyway lol
#23 by Pat // Jul 26, 2022 - 12:49pm
*AND* actually proposes one (1) single idea of what they'd have done differently.
Not signed Rivers. The Colts in '20 had over $45M dedicated to the QB spot with Rivers+Brissett. It's not a question of "was Rivers better?" Sure he was. But Brissett plus $25M could've been just as good. And the money would've let them actually burn higher draft resources on a QB as well. I mean, Hurts was still available at the high 2nd spot they were at, which would've been a decent flyer option.
It's tough to say after that because it's hard to guess as to what Brissett would've demanded in free agency again. But at that point they could've pivoted to going with Wentz or the higher draft pick. I also wouldn't've gone with Wentz, but assuming I did, I wouldn't've pitched him this year. One of those two things was definitely a mistake.
Alternatively to not signing Rivers would be not extending Brissett in '19. Same deal with Wentz, one of those two things was a mistake. Kindof a pattern with the Colts.
#29 by Ryan // Jul 29, 2022 - 11:54am
Didn't mind the trade at all. Give it a shot to see if you can recreate the magic. Regardless, a later event (cutting him) doesn't determine the wisdom of an earlier event (trading for him). The key is accepting when you've made a mistake and moving on. You don't keep Wentz just because you traded for him. He sucked. Trading him was 100% correct. Reich "apologizing" (if you can really call it that) is a face-saving publicity move.
#30 by theslothook // Jul 29, 2022 - 10:10pm
Loath as I am to agree with Pat, nothing Wentz did should have come as a shock to the Colts brass. In fact, unlike in his prior seasons, he stayed healthy and rebounded to exactly career average. If you think straddling the toilet was an extreme, unlikely to repeat outcome, replicating his near MVP season should have been as well.
I infact think Wentz was better than average last year considering the injuries to the o line and the fact that the receiving core is just OK. For all of his high profiled disasters, he did a lot of amazing things off script.
I think it speaks terribly for the entire front office and coaching staff that they saw last year's performance and felt so thoroughly blindsided by it that they had to cut bait.
#24 by Ben // Jul 27, 2022 - 9:24am
Only tangentially related to this article, but Darius Leonard has requested the media use his middle name, Shaquille (dunno if he goes by “Shaq” or not). Apparently that’s the name he grew up using. “Darius” made it into the media guide and he didn’t want to bother with trying to fix it as a rookie.