Speaking on Sirius XM Radio on March 7, a couple of days after the NFL combine ended, Guice described his experience, saying, “It was pretty crazy. Some people are really trying to get in your head and test your reaction. … I go in one room, and a team will ask me, ‘Do I like men?’ just to see my reaction. I go in another room, they’ll try to bring up one of my family members or something and tell me, ‘Hey, I heard your mom sells herself. How do you feel about that?'”
ESPN’s Mel Kiper projects Guice as a late first-round pick.
The league’s investigation included formal reviews and reports from every team that interviewed Guice, interviews with the player, agent and others, per a source. The league could not confirm that any club made the reported inquiries.
The league spent weeks trying to figure out who had asked Guice these questions. At least one team said Guice admitted that he “made up” the statements that led to a lengthy NFL investigation, according to a source.
“Following reports concerning the interviews of Derrius Guice at the Scouting Combine, the League conducted a thorough investigation which included a formal review and report from every club that interviewed Mr. Guice during the Combine, as well as discussions with Mr. Guice, his agent and others,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said in a statement. “The investigation did not confirm that any club made the reported inquiries. Nonetheless, we used this opportunity to reaffirm our workplace standards and emphasize the importance of fully complying with all requirements of federal and state law. The NFL and each of its member clubs remain fully committed to fair and non-discriminatory employment practices.”
At the time of the accusation, the league released a statement deploring such questions.
“A question such as that is completely inappropriate and wholly contrary to league workplace policies,” the statement said.
“The NFL and its clubs are committed to providing equal employment opportunities to all employees in a manner that is consistent with our commitment to diversity and inclusion, state and federal laws and the CBA. We are looking into the matter.
“The league annually reminds clubs of these workplace policies that prohibit personnel from seeking information concerning a player’s sexual orientation.”
Tua Tagovailoa era begins: What to expect from Dolphins’ rookie QB – Miami Dolphins Blog
Following a week of debating the Miami Dolphins‘ sudden change at quarterback, the Tua Tagovailoa era begins at home Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams (1 p.m. ET, Fox). Whether the timing is the best or not, Tagovailoa’s first start will be one of the most anticipated moments of the NFL’s Week 8 schedule.
There are many questions surrounding the Dolphins’ quarterback situation, including concerns about Miami’s 2020 No. 5 overall pick, veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick and how the roster change “broke his heart” and what to expect from it all going forward in 2020.
It’s clear expectations are high for the rookie, and Tagovailoa’s teammates are doing little to quiet the hype.
“For Tua to get the opportunity to start, that kid is incredible. I’m looking forward to going out there and playing with him on Sunday,” Dolphins defensive end Shaq Lawson said. “I’ve seen a lot of him in practice, how athletic he is, how incredible of a player he is. You get to see it Sunday this week. It’s going to be incredible. He’s going to lead his team in the right way.”
Here are some burning questions headed into the start of Tua Time:
What should we expect from Tagovailoa?
There’s a need to be realistic for a rookie making his first pro start at quarterback, especially one who has overcome a career-threatening hip injury suffered in November 2019.
Fitzpatrick was playing well for the 3-3 Dolphins, and he’s very comfortable within the scheme. It should not be a surprise to see a Tagovailoa-led offense take an initial step back.
What we do know is Tagovailoa can make all the throws, including some Fitzpatrick can’t. Tagovailoa’s athleticism provides a new element, and he has spent the past few months soaking up everything from the 16-year veteran QB and 68-year-old offensive coordinator Chan Gailey.
“Obviously, throwing, making plays, [he’s] everything you want in a quarterback,” Dolphins receiver Preston Williams said. “Y’all seen his tape — that speaks for itself.”
Lawson added: “He’s so dangerous. He’s athletic. You wouldn’t think he’s a rookie if you watch him in practice. He looks like he’s been around a long time.”
How will morale be affected by the change and Fitzpatrick’s emotional response?
Coach Brian Flores has control in the Dolphins’ locker room, particularly after all the ups and downs during last season’s 5-11 campaign. There likely won’t be an issue, because as long as Fitzpatrick fully embraces Tagovailoa as the starter, the rest of the team will follow suit. And if Tagovailoa plays well, it’s a non-issue either way.
What will be worth watching is if neither happens — Fitzpatrick isn’t all-in on his new role and Tagovailoa struggles out of the gate. Those issues will likely bring up second-guess whispers and test the Dolphins’ chemistry. Flores said he isn’t worried about any division. Tight end Mike Gesicki, who is best friends with Fitzpatrick, said he doesn’t foresee an issue arising.
“Our locker room, it’s tight. We all believe in one another and believe in Coach Flores and [GM] Chris Grier and [owner] Mr. [Stephen] Ross and everybody that is upstairs making decisions. We all have confidence in Tua to go out and make plays,” Gesicki said. “It’s not going to be like, oh, one series here, one series there and everybody is throwing in the towel. That’s not how it is.
“We’re all excited, and honestly, I think there’s a lot of trust, a lot of belief in the players that are being put in position on the field on Sundays.”
Domonique Foxworth believes the only team that makes sense trading for Ryan Fitzpatrick is the Browns, while Ryan Clark says the Dolphins are better off holding on to him.
Why did the QB change happen now?
This move was more about Tagovailoa and his long-term development than Fitzpatrick’s play. It’s notable Flores mentioned Grier and others were involved in the decision, which indicates this was just as much an organizational choice as a team one for this season.
The Dolphins’ plan all along, it seems, was to play Tagovailoa once they deemed him ready, and they didn’t need to wait for Fitzpatrick to lose the job before they did so. Tagovailoa has improved in practice, the team views him as healthy and the organization sees more value in getting him game experience now rather than riding the Fitzpatrick wave any longer.
How should Tagovailoa handle being thrown into action during the playoff hunt?
Dan Orlovsky, an ESPN analyst and 13-year NFL quarterback, offered up some advice for Tagovailoa taking over a team that’s in the thick of the AFC East postseason race:
“The first thing is go in with zero expectations. You can put undue pressure on yourself — this is a 3-3 football team and you lose your first game, you don’t want the thought of, ‘Did I just fail my team?’ He’s got to have a long-term viewpoint of this as well. Two, you got to realize you just have to play your part. You have to be one of 11. This team isn’t asking you to be Superman right now. It isn’t asking you to carry this offense. You’ve got to be willing to be Steve Nash, just distribute the football and let the other guys make the plays.
“Finally, understand it is football and you’re playing the same game you have your whole life. Put everything you can into your preparation, take a deep breath and go play ball. Don’t overthink things. Tua’s strength is his reactions, his instincts — he’s been groomed for this for a long time.”
Will the offense change with Tagovailoa under center?
Don’t expect the Dolphins’ offense to transform overnight, but one can expect Tagovailoa-specific plays to evolve as weeks go on. Gailey and quarterbacks coach Robby Brown have been working with Tagovailoa weekly to determine what he feels comfortable with and have found some plays to install that are similar to what he ran at Alabama. Along with those college plays, the Dolphins will likely employ more run-pass-option plays, quick timing routes and vertical shots, as those fall under Tagovailoa’s strengths.
Is Tagovailoa physically ready to be hit, starting with Aaron Donald and the Rams?
Getting tackled is the last hurdle Tagovailoa has to clear, and it’s not a pleasant thought to think of Donald being the first one to do so. If the Dolphins had any worry about Tagovailoa’s health, they wouldn’t feed him to the two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year for his first start. Tagovailoa and the team believe he’s 100 percent healthy.
It’s worth noting Fitzpatrick has the third-fastest time to throw (2.41 seconds) of any NFL quarterback. This might be the most important stat for Tagovailoa to duplicate as the team tries to protect him behind an improving but young offensive line.
Matthew Berry says, in standard ten and twelve-team leagues, there are better QBs than Tua Tagovailoa on the waiver wire, but he would definitely pick up Tua in deeper leagues.
Can Tagovailoa lead the Dolphins to the playoffs?
Playoffs?!? The fact the Dolphins are worthy of being mentioned in the conversation is credit to how far they have come after being the NFL’s laughingstock over the first half of the 2019 season. The Dolphins are in second place in the AFC East, 1½ games behind the Buffalo Bills and one game out of the final wild-card spot currently held by the Indianapolis Colts.
ESPN’s Football Power Index gives the Dolphins a 28.2% chance to make the playoffs, ninth best in the AFC. So, you’re saying there’s a chance? Yes, if Tagovailoa plays well, the Dolphins, boosted by a solid defense, could make a playoff push with a manageable slate of games that ranks 18th among FPI’s remaining strength of schedule.
The most likely scenario is circling 2021, not 2020, for the playoffs. Regardless, the Dolphins’ rebuild is headed in the right direction.
Bucs’ Antoine Winfield Jr. relies on Dad’s FaceTime calls to help navigate NFL
TAMPA, Fla. — It will soon be a Wednesday night in Week 8 of his first NFL season, and just as he did the week before and every Wednesday and Thursday prior, Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie safety Antoine Winfield Jr. will go to his most trusted resource as he prepares for this week’s opponent, the New York Giants, on Monday Night Football: his father, Antoine Winfield Sr.
The call comes in at 6 p.m., and via FaceTime, the two discuss their plan of attack. Winfield Jr., the Buccaneers’ second-round pick, sits at either his couch or the kitchen table and points his phone at his laptop. His father, who spent 14 years in the NFL with the Buffalo Bills and Minnesota Vikings, sits on his couch more than 1,000 miles away in Texas and studies the screen.
On Wednesdays, they go over first and second downs. They talk about formations, playcalls and route concepts, with the goal of helping Winfield Jr. play fast.
Winfield Sr. has been instrumental in helping his son — Pro Football Focus’ highest-rated defensive rookie through Week 5 — adjust and even thrive in his first season in the league.
“I taught him everything I know,” Winfield Sr. told ESPN. “He plays exactly like I do, but he’s gonna be a better player than I was.”
Coaching up Junior
Winfield Jr. and the Bucs have already seen these calls pay off.
Before the Bucs’ Week 2 game against the Carolina Panthers, Winfield Jr. told his father, “Dad, keep in mind this formation. We have a blitz called, so I’ll be coming off the edge.”
So Winfield Sr. told him, “OK, of course the running back is gonna pick you up, he’ll see you coming to the line of scrimmage. When you blitz, get on the edge, get on the shoulder of the running back, because the quarterback is gonna step up and he’s gonna escape.”
He got to the point, fell back and chased quarterback Teddy Bridgewater down, sacking him and knocking the ball loose. It was recovered by Jason Pierre-Paul, setting up a 23-yard touchdown throw to Mike Evans.
“I was so excited,” Winfield Sr. said. “I [was] running around the house, yelling, jumping.”
He couldn’t be at the game, as no fans are allowed at Raymond James Stadium because of COVID-19, but distance didn’t diminish his excitement or the magnitude of the moment.
“I lose my voice every Sunday,” Winfield Sr. said. “I know this means a lot to him. He puts a lot of time in, a lot of work — I’m just ecstatic for him.”
“It was cool just to have him out there,” Winfield Jr. said. “He told me I did a great job and to keep ballin’.”
Winfield Jr. is doing what defensive coordinator Todd Bowles instructed when he named him the starter at the end of camp: “Go out and own it.” His 2.0 sacks are tied for the most among safeties in the NFL this season, while his four pass breakups are tied for third most. His 242 coverage snaps are the most of any rookie this season and his 37 combined tackles (25 solo) are fifth most. And he’s done it at different positions. When Sean Murphy-Bunting suffered a hamstring injury, Winfield Jr. moved to nickelback without batting an eye.
“He’s a good football player, regardless of this situation or any situation. He’s smart, he’s heady, he makes plays and he makes you trust him,” Bowles said.
“It’s not a lot of times you get a rookie coming in as a free safety and making calls,” defensive captain Lavonte David said. “Sometimes they’re not sure of themselves, but he’s very sure of himself. He’s talking, he’s communicating, he’s making sure you get the call. … I really like that.”
On Sunday, the Las Vegas Raiders had pulled within four points in the fourth quarter, before Tom Brady and Chris Godwin connected on a 4-yard strike to make it 31-20. But they needed some cushion to their lead. That’s when safety Mike Edwards dove in front of Nelson Agholor on a dig route, with Winfield coming down with it for his first career interception. “It just came straight to me and I just caught the ball,” Winfield said.
“It’s a great feeling, getting my first interception. I feel like I should have had it last week, but it was great finally actually catching the ball. It just felt amazing.”
‘Football’s in our DNA’
Winfield Sr. can still remember placing a football in Winfield Jr.’s hands when he was a toddler and watching him take off with it — his father gently tackling him to the ground from his knees.
“He didn’t really have a choice,” Winfield Sr. joked. “I mean, he’s my junior, my firstborn — I put a football in his hands when he came out of the womb. I think football’s in our DNA.”
He also remembers his son climbing into bed with him when he studied film after practice, which progressed into more detailed instruction when he got into high school.
“He would jump in next to me [and ask], ‘Dad, whatcha watching? Who you playing this week? Why are you always in the bed watching all this film?'” Winfield Sr. said.
“I said, ‘Son, this is my job. 24/7, 365 days we’re working. I have to get out there and perform well. That’s the tip that you get as a DB. Because quarterbacks and receivers are really good. So if you’re watching film, you can get a head start and recognize some things — that gives you an opportunity to make plays.'”
“I was like, ‘All right. … OK, I see. That’s what I’m gonna have to do when I get older and play in the NFL,'” Winfield Jr. said.
There are lessons to be learned each week, but not always X’s and O’s. When the Bucs lost a Thursday night game to the Chicago Bears in Week 5, father told son, “It’s football. You’re not going to win every one.”
“He’ll say, ‘If you have a loss, get back and get ready to go to work,'” Winfield Jr. said. “Watch the film, correct the changes and mistakes, just learn from it. Grow from your mistakes that you made so you can just get better.”
His biggest piece of advice?
“Always be prepared,” Winfield Sr. said. “When you’re prepared, that breeds confidence. Confidence leads to you going out there and making plays. I told him, ‘Every time you step on the field, you always gonna think in your mind, “I’m the best player out here. I’m gonna make the plays I’m supposed to make. I’m gonna be in the position I’m supposed to be in.” If you do that, you’ll have a long, successful career.'”
Like father, like son
The similarities between father and son are endless, even if they play different positions. Both are 5-foot-9, although Winfield Jr. plays at 203 pounds while his father played at around 180 to 185.
“They’re identical,” said cornerbacks coach Kevin Ross, who coached Winfield Sr. in Minnesota for three seasons. “They each have a 6-inch punch. [Winfield Jr.] practices very hard, he’s very smart, very instinctive. … I think he’s going to have a hell of a year.”
“I didn’t have the size,” Winfield Sr. said. “He’s definitely stronger than me. He has more knowledge of the game than I did. I was the first to do it in my family. … With me helping him from an early age, and watching him through the years, elevating his game, he’s a special player. As you see it on Sunday — he’s out there, doesn’t look like a rookie.
“He’s blitzing a lot more. He’s playing in the post. I wish I could have played like that. It’s just the awareness.”
“I would say it’s natural, but it also comes with a lot of hard work,” Winfield Jr. said. “If you do it in practice, you’ll do it in the game, so my goal is always to stay around the ball in practice. Then it shows up during game time. You have to practice it all the time for it to actually happen.”
The same could be said for their father and son film-study sessions too, which they’ve got down pat.
“He plays beyond his years right now,” Bowles said. “He plays like a veteran, he understands the game, he plays the game the right way. He makes his plays and he understands that when his opportunity comes up, he has to make a play — and he does.”
The real question will be if he can ultimately outdo his dad. With Winfield Sr.’s 20 career interceptions, he has 19 more to go.
“I’m definitely gonna try to pass him in all his stats,” Winfield Jr. said. “That’s my goal, to beat him in everything — tackles, picks, forced fumbles, whatever it is — I want to have a better game than him.”
NFL Power Rankings Week 8
As the NFL Power Rankings charge toward midseason, this is a good time for assessment. And this week, it’s about identifying who must pick up the slack over the final 10 weeks of the campaign.
While most of the selections below are individual players, position units and even coaches bear some of this burden.
How we rank in our Power Rankings: Our power panel — a group of more than 80 writers, editors and TV personalities — evaluates how teams stack up throughout the season.
Week 7 ranking: 3
Who needs to step up: S Minkah Fitzpatrick
Yes, Fitzpatrick had a pick-six against the Browns. But he needs to make splash plays more consistently. The Steelers traded a first-round pick last season for Fitzpatrick, who delivered almost immediately. He has been much quieter this season. His biggest play against the Titans was a holding call that gave Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry a fresh set of downs on the goal line after a would-be stop. Henry scored on the next play. Fitzpatrick also missed a tackle of AJ Brown that led to Brown’s 73-yard touchdown. For the defense to play at the level it reached last season, Fitzpatrick needs to have a bigger positive impact on the game. — Brooke Pryor
Week 7 ranking: 2
Who needs to step up: K Harrison Butker
Butker has missed five extra points, and his PAT rate of 79.2% is the worst in the NFL. It hasn’t cost the Chiefs yet, but it’s only a matter of time until it does. What’s puzzling about this is that Butker has been so good on field goals (93%). He hit two 58-yarders in a Week 2 overtime win versus the Chargers. — Adam Teicher
Week 7 ranking: 1
Who needs to step up: S Jamal Adams
It’s not that Adams has underperformed when he has been on the field. It’s that he hasn’t been on the field enough, missing the past three games while the Seahawks’ defense has been gashed at a historic rate. Adams was arguably their most impactful defender before he hurt his groin in Week 3. Part of his impact was as a pass-rusher: His two sacks remain tied for the team lead as Seattle has only nine sacks total. All the draft capital the Seahawks gave up for Adams will make it difficult to trade for another impact defender before next week’s deadline. They need their All-Pro safety to get back on the field and start making plays. — Brady Henderson
Week 7 ranking: 4
Who needs to step up: WR Miles Boykin
Boykin has failed to step up into the No. 2 wide receiver role for the Ravens, totaling 11 catches for 122 yards (ranking 104th among NFL wideouts). Boykin has struggled to develop any chemistry with Lamar Jackson and his increasing miscommunication with the quarterback has become a hot topic in Baltimore. With defenses loading up the box to stop the run game, Boykin can make teams pay with some big plays on the outside. The Ravens need a third option because teams are focusing their coverages to stop wide receiver Marquise Brown and tight end Mark Andrews. — Jamison Hensley
Week 7 ranking: 6
Who needs to step up: OLB Preston Smith
Though six games last year, the edge rusher had seven sacks (on his way to a 12-sack season), 12 QB hits and a pass rush win rate of 24.2%. His numbers through six games this year: a half-sack, two QB hits and a PRWR of 15.6%. Smith made a key fourth-down stop on a read-option by Deshaun Watson during Sunday’s game, and the Packers’ defense needs more of that. — Rob Demovsky
Week 7 ranking: 5
Who needs to step up: OLB/DE Jadeveon Clowney
Winning the Clowney sweepstakes was supposed to push the Titans’ defense over the top. Clowney has put some pressure on the quarterback, but the Titans have yet to experience the type of game-wrecking performance that compelled them to sign him. Tennessee is last in opponent third-down percentage (60%). A large part of that percentage is due to the Titans’ inability to get pressure on the quarterback. Through six games, the Titans only have six sacks. All of the blame shouldn’t fall on Clowney, but he hasn’t had the impact that was expected when Tennessee reunited him with Mike Vrabel. — Turron Davenport
Max Kellerman finally agrees he was wrong about Tom Brady “falling off a cliff” the past few seasons.
Week 7 ranking: 7
Who needs to step up: TE Rob Gronkowski
I wouldn’t say Gronkowski needs to step up as much as I think he needs to continue doing what he has done over the past two weeks — catching 10 passes for 140 yards and two TDs. He is starting to own the middle of the field and is having success on crossing routes and in the red zone on back-shoulder fades. This is especially important without O.J. Howard (Achilles) and with Mike Evans continuing to recover from an ankle injury. — Jenna Laine
Week 7 ranking: 8
Who needs to step up: LB Tremaine Edmunds
To his credit, Edmunds has played through a shoulder injury that he suffered in Week 1 and caused him to miss the Bills’ following game. But when he has been out there, the third-year linebacker hasn’t looked like the Pro Bowler we saw last season. His reactions seem slower, he has missed tackles and he has difficulty shedding blocks. Buffalo’s defensive struggles represent the team’s biggest surprise this season, and if the Bills are going to turn it around in pursuit of an AFC East title, Edmunds needs to lead the charge. — Marcel Louis-Jacques
Week 7 ranking: 9
Who needs to step up: The secondary
It wouldn’t be fair to single out just one player in the Saints’ secondary, since every one of them has taken turns with busted coverages or pass interference penalties — which have become New Orleans’ most nagging problem all season. The Saints have now allowed six passes of 48-plus yards in their past four games. And they have just one interception since Week 1. They need cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore and Janoris Jenkins to live up to their potential as one of the league’s best CB duos, and they need a lot more consistency from the talented safety trio of Marcus Williams, Malcolm Jenkins and C.J. Gardner-Johnson. — Mike Triplett
Week 7 ranking: 10
Who needs to step up: K Samuel Sloman
It could be too little, too late for Sloman, a seventh-round pick from Miami (Ohio), after the Rams signed veteran Kai Forbath to the active roster from the Bears’ practice squad ahead of Week 7. Sloman has lacked consistency, especially on PATs and kickoffs, while his field goal range remains somewhat of a mystery because of the Rams’ ability to score touchdowns. A ninth-year pro, Forbath could take over the job at any moment. — Lindsey Thiry
Week 7 ranking: 16
Who needs to step up: RB Chase Edmonds
Even if Kenyan Drake‘s ankle injury isn’t serious, Edmonds will still need to keep playing like he did during Sunday night’s win over the Seahawks. Edmonds gained 145 total yards, had a major impact in overtime and helped kick-start the Cardinals’ run game. He showed, yet again, that he can handle whatever is thrown at him. If the Cardinals want to make a run to the playoffs, Edmonds will need to play a significant role. — Josh Weinfuss
Week 7 ranking: 11
Who needs to step up: QB Nick Foles
Chicago is positioned for a playoff run. The Bears have a championship-caliber defense and a better-than-expected kicker, Cairo Santos, but the offense is suspect. Coach Matt Nagy benched Mitchell Trubisky in favor of Foles to smooth out the rough edges and play a more consistent brand of football. The results have been average. The Bears are winning, but the offense under Foles doesn’t look a ton better than it did when Trubisky ran the show. Foles is under pressure to elevate his game. The season hinges on it. — Jeff Dickerson
Week 7 ranking: 12
Who needs to step up: WR T.Y. Hilton
Hilton is on pace for the least-productive season of his nine-year NFL career. He has 20 receptions for 242 yards and no touchdowns through the first six games. What makes Hilton’s lack of production even worse is that the soon-to-be 31-year-old will be a free agent at the end of the season. — Mike Wells
Marcus Spears details how big of a loss it is for the Browns that Odell Beckham Jr. will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL.
Week 7 ranking: 13
Who needs to step up: WR Rashard Higgins
With Odell Beckham Jr. out for the season with a torn ACL, the onus will fall on Higgins to replace him in the lineup. Higgins and QB Baker Mayfield, who also are close friends, have enjoyed a rapport on the field going back to Mayfield’s rookie season in 2018. The Browns will need Higgins to be Mayfield’s security blanket alongside new No. 1 WR Jarvis Landry if the Browns are to finally snap the league’s longest playoff drought, which dates to 2002. — Jake Trotter
Week 7 ranking: 17
Who needs to step up: QB Jimmy Garoppolo
Over the past two weeks, the 49ers have gotten back to their formula of running the ball, playing good defense and having Garoppolo steer an efficient play-action passing attack. But the schedule is about to get tougher, and the burden is probably going to fall more on Garoppolo to deliver. That means pushing the ball down the field more consistently and taking advantage when opposing defenses stack the box to stop the run. Garoppolo has done it before, but for the Niners to remain in the NFC playoff hunt, they’ll likely need him to do it again. — Nick Wagoner
Week 7 ranking: 15
Who needs to step up: RT Trent Brown
The enigmatic and highly paid right tackle rarely practiced in training camp due to a cranky calf, played three snaps in the season opener after aggravating the injury and was a force in the Raiders’ upset win at Kansas City on Oct. 11. Then he tested positive for COVID-19 last week, and because he was not wearing his tracker in the team facility, the four other starting offensive linemen had to self-quarantine and miss practice the rest of the week before facing a fearsome Tampa Bay defense. Since signing a four-year, $66 million deal with the Raiders, Brown has played 10-plus snaps in just 11 of 22 games. Las Vegas needs a better return on its investment. — Paul Gutierrez
Week 7 ranking: 18
Who needs to step up: TE Ian Thomas
It would be easy to say the entire defense that just allowed the Saints to convert 12 of 14 third downs and has been horrible on third down all year. But I’m going with Thomas, because in seven games, he has only seven catches for an offense in which he should thrive. Sure, the tight end has been downplayed somewhat in Joe Brady’s scheme. But one reason it has been downplayed is the lack of consistent playmaking ability by Thomas. It makes that position a possible target before the trade deadline. — David Newton
Ryan Clark breaks down why Cam Newton hasn’t turned out to be exactly what the Patriots needed thus far.
Week 7 ranking: 14
Who needs to step up: QB Cam Newton
Would the real Cam Newton please stand up? Is it the QB who electrified New England in the first weeks of the season? Or the struggling QB who hasn’t looked the same over his next three games? The contrast is striking. Fewer interceptions and better accuracy and decision-making are where the improvement starts. — Mike Reiss
Week 7 ranking: 19
Who needs to step up: RB Matt Breida
The Dolphins brought in two veteran running backs this offseason — Breida and Jordan Howard — to upgrade their run game, and both have been outplayed by second-year back Myles Gaskin. Breida was brought in for his speed and big-play ability, but he has yet to break an impact play. Over the past four games, he has 21 carries for 56 yards (2.67 yards per carry). With Tua Tagovailoa as the new starting QB, Breida needs to be more of a playmaker. — Cameron Wolfe
Week 7 ranking: 21
Who needs to step up: The defense
Melvin Ingram is back from IR and is the leader of the group. In his absence, the D gave up 17-point leads to Tampa Bay and New Orleans and lost both games. The defense also was in danger Sunday versus the Jaguars, losing a 16-point lead at one point. Justin Herbert might be all that, but if the defense doesn’t step up, it won’t matter. As Ingram said, “We can’t keep making the same mistakes. We come in, we look at each other in the eye as men and say, ‘It’s got to stop somewhere, so why not today?'” The close losses have to stop, and Herbert can’t do it on his own. — Shelley Smith
Week 7 ranking: 22
Who needs to step up: DT Fletcher Cox
Carson Wentz has picked up his game, so now it’s critical for the primary driver on defense to do the same. Cox has 1.5 sacks through seven games, putting him on pace for 3.5 this season — a far cry from his 10.5-sack campaign in 2018. Cox draws plenty of double-teams and has had his share of impact plays, but big expectations come with an average salary of $17 million and the billing as one of the NFL’s best defensive players. With Hassan Ridgeway lost for the season and Malik Jackson dealing with a quad injury, it’s as important as ever that Cox sets the tone for a defense that’s yielding 28 points per game. — Tim McManus
Week 7 ranking: 23
Who needs to step up: RB Adrian Peterson
While the Lions are seeing better play from rookie D’Andre Swift, they need to get more from the Peterson. The future Hall of Famer’s numbers might not look too bad, but his production is trending down. He has gone from 6.64 yards per carry in Week 1 to 2.64 yards per carry in Week 7. If Detroit is going to give Peterson 10 or 11 carries a contest instead of, say, going to Kerryon Johnson or using Swift more, Peterson needs to be doing more with those opportunities. It’s not all his fault: The playcalling hasn’t always been advantageous to him, often resulting in runs in fairly predictable situations. Some playcall diversification from offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell might help. — Michael Rothstein
Week 7 ranking: 24
Who needs to step up: QB Drew Lock
Broncos coach Vic Fangio is correct when he calls the team’s passing-game struggles “an 11-man operation.” And the Broncos certainly have issues in pass protection (13 sacks combined in Weeks 2 and 3), dropped passes and a propensity for negative plays. Yet Lock is just a 53% passer since returning from a shoulder injury that kept him out of two games. He has looked impatient in the pocket at times, leaving his progressions too early and passing up easier completions to make riskier and unsuccessful throws downfield. He needs help, but he can control how he operates in the pocket and how he handles the way defenses are playing him. — Jeff Legwold
Week 7 ranking: 25
Who needs to step up: QB Kirk Cousins
The Vikings’ QB was brutally honest after throwing three interceptions in the first half of Minnesota’s fifth loss of the season. “The reality is, if the pace I’m on in terms of the interceptions, if that were to continue, I won’t finish the season,” Cousins said. He is tied for the league lead in interceptions (10) after throwing just six last season. If Cousins’ poor play continues, the Vikings will need to make a decision about his future. Yes, it would be financially catastrophic to move on from the QB who has two years (basically guaranteed) left on his contract, but if Minnesota is going to try to rebuild and Cousins continues to play poorly, his status will be debated. — Courtney Cronin
Rex Ryan considers the Cowboys’ failure to extend Dak Prescott to be the reason for the team’s on-field struggles.
Week 7 ranking: 20
Who needs to step up: LB Jaylon Smith
Just one? Well, then it’s Smith. Or DeMarcus Lawrence. But let’s stick with Smith. Don’t be fooled by his tackle stats. He has not made impact plays, and he has been poor in coverage and out of position. He was added to the Pro Bowl last year, but his best season was in 2018. If Smith does not improve, he might be a salary-cap casualty in 2021. He is set to make $7.2 million next season, which becomes fully guaranteed on the fifth day of the league year. Given how the season has played out, nobody is safe; the Cowboys could move on from Smith if he does not pick up his performance. — Todd Archer
Week 7 ranking: 26
Who needs to step up: RB David Johnson
As interim coach Romeo Crennel said Monday, the Texans “have to establish a running game.” Houston’s running game — Johnson and backup Duke Johnson — has failed to find consistency. David Johnson, acquired in the DeAndre Hopkins trade and making more than $11 million this season, doesn’t have a 100-yard rushing game for Houston and is averaging 3.88 yards per carry. He came close with 96 rushing yards in Week 5 against Jacksonville but otherwise has not been a sufficient replacement for Carlos Hyde, who ran for more than 1,000 yards in 2019. — Sarah Barshop
Week 7 ranking: 27
Who needs to step up: S Vonn Bell
One of the Bengals’ lone healthy additions from free agency has struggled in pass coverage. When Bell is the nearest defender, he has the second-highest total expected points added of any Bengals defender, according to ESPN Stats & Information data. He has had some tough moments early on and will look to improve a pass defense that is one of the worst in the NFL. — Ben Baby
Washington coach Ron Rivera receives an ovation as he walks down the hospital hallway to ring the bell after his final day of cancer treatment.
Week 7 ranking: 29
Who needs to step up: RB Peyton Barber
There are more than a few who belong on this list, and Barber might not be needed as much if rookie Antonio Gibson becomes a consistent back. But for now, Barber keeps getting carries in Washington’s jumbo package and has averaged 2.13 yards on 38 carries. He averages only 0.63 yards after contact. It’s not like he is always getting huge holes, so his lack of production goes to the entire group. But if Washington keeps using him in this role, then the production has to be greater. This team will not win with its pass game and therefore needs to be more effective with Barber in the game. — John Keim
Week 7 ranking: 28
Who needs to step up: Interim coach Raheem Morris
Morris might have lost his chance to be a prime candidate for the Falcons’ permanent coach when they fell to Detroit on Sunday. But what if Morris leads the Falcons to a 10-1 record? The reality is, Morris isn’t just auditioning for Falcons owner Arthur Blank; Morris is essentially auditioning for a coaching position for every team that will have any kind of opening on its staff next season. — Mike Wells
Week 7 ranking: 30
Who needs to step up: DE Josh Allen
When the Jaguars traded Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue, they were counting on Allen to be an even better pass-rusher than he was as a rookie (10.5 sacks). Allen has made minimal impact, though, with just two sacks and seven tackles in five games. (He did miss two games with a knee injury.) He is getting more attention from opponents but also isn’t winning as many one-on-one battles with blockers as he should. He has to be better — much better — in the second half of the season. — Mike DiRocco
Week 7 ranking: 31
Who needs to step up: QB Daniel Jones
Jones was expected to make the jump in Year 2. That meant cutting down on the turnovers and proving to the new coaching staff he was the unequivocal quarterback of the future. Instead, Jones has looked much like he did as a rookie — flashes one play, makes a bonehead play the next. He is tied for second in the NFL with 11 turnovers through seven weeks. These final nine games are an opportunity to take that next step in his progression. — Jordan Raanan
Week 7 ranking: 32
Who needs to step up: QB Sam Darnold
In five starts, Darnold is averaging less than 200 passing yards per game, with twice as many interceptions (six) as touchdown passes (three). He might not be back next year if the Jets land the No. 1 overall pick, but they need him to play well to boost his trade value for the offseason if they decide to make a change. The thing is, if he plays well, it could result in a couple of wins, which could cost them Trevor Lawrence. Ah, such a dilemma. — Rich Cimini
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