NFL PLAYER NEWS
Jerick McKinnon seeing first-team work in Vikings' backfield
Minnesota Vikings running back Jerick McKinnon opened OTAs handling "most of the first-team reps" out of the backfield.
With Latavius Murray nursing an ankle injury and Dalvin Cook fresh out of Florida State, it's no surprise that McKinnon is handling first-string work, but it likely doesn't mean much. A perennial darling of the analytics and fantasy communities, McKinnon averaged just 3.4 yards per carry in Minnesota last season and failed to establish himself as a lead back. Plenty of that can be blamed on a porous offensive line, but with Cook and Murray now in tow, McKinnon may very well fall to third on the depth chart this offseason.
McKinnon's -0.13 Rushing Net Expected Points per carry last season were lowest among the 27 running backs to see 150-plus carries. In related news, the Vikings were worst in the NFL in 2016 in Adjusted Offensive Rushing Net Expected Points per play.
Bears' Kevin White (leg) 'working to align his stride'
Chicago Bears third-year wide receiver Kevin White has spent the last several months "working to align his stride" when running, the Chicago Tribune reports.
The Tribune also reported just a few days ago that the Bears simply "don't know" whether White will regain his explosiveness. A fractured left tibia cost him his entire rookie season, and then issues in the same leg limited him to all but four games in 2016. The opportunity will be there if his health allows it, but White is a late-round flier littered with question marks entering fantasy drafts this season.
Among the 32 wide receivers to see between 25 and 50 targets last season, White's 0.29 Reception Net Expected Points per target was ahead of only Braxton Miller (0.22) in that group.
Branden Oliver looks impressive at Chargers' OTAs
Los Angeles Chargers running back Branden Oliver (Achilles') has looked as good as new at Chargers OTAs, according to quarterback Philip Rivers.
"It’s been great (having him back)," Rivers. "Gosh, we had really such high expectations for him going into last year. ... He looks good. He looks explosive. I know it’s early, but I think he really is a great complement to Melvin (Gordon). Their styles are different, but similar. (We) have two backs who can run all the same plays." Oliver missed all of 2016 after tearing his Achilles' tendon in August, but he'll be one of the more valuable handcuffs for fantasy owners this upcoming season.
Oliver averaged -0.03 Rushing Net Expected Points per attempt on 31 carries during his last regular-season action back in 2015. That would have ranked in the bottom-half of the 23 backs to see between 25 and 50 carries last season.
Chiefs unlikely to remove Spencer Ware as starter
Kansas City Chiefs running back Spencer Ware will return as the team's starter, according to the expectations of The Kansas City Star.
This comes at odds with ESPN Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher, who previously projected third-round rookie Kareem Hunt as the favorite to lead in rushing attempts and catches out of the backfield. Head coach Andy Reid may wind up going with more of a split backfield after Ware's production trailed off a bit as the season progressed. After averaging 5.2 yards per carry (YPC) through the first six games of 2016, Ware saw that number fall to 3.6 over the final eight contests.
Out of 42 running backs to see 100-plus attempts last season, Ware's -0.07 Rushing Net Expected Points per attempt was 11th-least. Meanwhile, Pro Football Focus charted Hunt with the second-most missed tackles forced (98) in the nation in 2016, and he put the ball on the ground just once on 856 college touches.
Dolphins say Jay Ajayi could push for 350 carries
Miami Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi could see as many as 350 carries this season, according to head coach Adam Gase.
Health and game-flow will also be a factor, but it's a clear indication of how much confidence the Dolphins have in Ajayi to successfully lead their offense. "I'm ready for it," Ajayi said when asked about his feature back usage. "I prepare myself every season to take a huge workload and be able to carry the team, and I think I'm ready for that." The 24-year-old (in June) running back is currently going in the second round of fantasy drafts, and he offers top-ten overall upside.
Ajayi was supremely efficient with his rushing touches in 2016, coming in sixth in Rushing Net Expected Points per attempt among the 42 running backs with at least 100 carries on the year.
Victor Cruz inks a one-year deal with the Chicago Bears
The Chicago Bears have signed wide receiver Victor Cruz to a one-year contract.
The Bears wide receiver corps is very crowded right now, though they aren't exactly deep with talent at the position, with Cameron Meredith, Kevin White and Kendall Wright sitting atop the depth chart. Cruz is not a lock to make the 53-man roster.
Cruz averaged 0.66 Reception Net Expected Points (NEP) per target last season, ranking 53rd among the 93 wideouts to see at least 50 targets on the year. That was the lowest mark among New York Giants wideouts in the group.
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