Thursday, August 9, 2018

Brady, Smith sit as Patriots beat Redskins 26-17

New England might have found a running back in undrafted free agent Ralph Webb.
Washington may have lost one with a knee injury to second-round pick Derrius Guice.
Webb ran for two touchdowns and also scored on a pair of 2-point conversions on Thursday night as the defending AFC champions rallied from a 17-0 first-half deficit to beat Washington 26-17 in the teams' exhibition openers.
"I've been working my whole life for this, to come out here and get a chance to compete," said Webb, who was undrafted out of Vanderbilt and listed ninth among nine running backs on the Patriots' depth chart. "I'm blessed to be able to be here and say that I did it."
Guice, the No. 59 overall pick from LSU, was slow getting up after a 34-yard run that was negated by a penalty late in the first quarter. Coach Jay Gruden said he would have an MRI on his knee on Friday.
"I just said a little prayer for Derrius," Washington quarterback Colt McCoy said. "I hope he's OK."
McCoy outplayed New England's Brian Hoyer in a scrimmage of backup quarterbacks, while starters Tom Brady and Alex Smith stayed on the sidelines counting their money.
On the day that the Patriots reportedly sweetened Brady's contract with $5 million in incentives, the reigning NFL MVP sat out the game, along with tight end Rob Gronkowski.
"Some players played and some players didn't," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "We wanted to take a look at some guys."
ESPN reported before the game that the Patriots would add $5 million in incentives to Brady's contract, which was due to pay him $15 million. That would bring the 41-year-old, five-time Super Bowl champion closer in pay to less accomplished quarterbacks around the league - including Smith, who got a four-year, $94 million extension from Washington.
Brady's agent, Don Yee, did not respond to an email seeking comment. Patriots spokesman Stacey James said the team does not comment on contracts.
McCoy completed 13 of 18 passes for 189 yards and two touchdowns in a little less than a half, helping to stake Washington to a 17-0 lead before he was replaced by third-stringer Kevin Hogan.
Hoyer struggled against the Washington starters, but drove New England to a pair of second-half touchdowns, including Webb's 8-yard TD run followed by the catch on a 2-point conversion that gave New England an 18-17 lead.
In the fourth quarter, Trent Harris strip-sacked Hogan and Geneo Grissom recovered the ball and ran 53 yards before he was brought down near the goal line. Webb punched it in for the touchdown and also ran in the conversion to make it 26-17.
Hoyer was 16 of 23 for 144 yards.
TWO HALVES
The Patriots offense did little until back-to-back 20-plus yard catches by Devin Lucien set up Stephen Gostkowski's 52-yard field goal just before halftime. Mike Gillislee ran seven times for 31 yards on a drive that set up Jeremy Hill's 1-yard run.
Webb made it 18-17 with nine minutes left in the game and added an insurance score with 3:27 to play. Washington's Dustin Hopkins, who kicked a 52-yard field goal at the end of the first quarter, banged a 56-yarder off the left upright just inside the two-minute warning.
Third-stringer Danny Etling, a seventh-round draft pick, was 2 of 5 for 21 yards, with a fumble for New England. Hogan completed 7 of 9 passes for 44 yards, but also fumbled for Washington.
INJURIES
Washington was hit with a slew of injuries. Also needing medical attention: TE Manasseh Gardner (knee), and WR Trey Quinn, who took a hard shot in the side from Patriots cornerback Ryan Lewis and took a few minutes to get up before heading to the medical tent.
"Trey Quinn is getting checked," Gruden said. "Some internal stuff going on."
LEADING THE CHARGE
As usual, Brady led the team out of the tunnel before the game. But he was not carrying a helmet as he jogged onto the field. Julian Edelman, who missed all of last season with a knee injury and will miss the first four games of 2018 because of a suspension for performance-enhancers, sprinted the length of the field.
BIG PLAY
McCoy hit Cam Sims with a 57-yard pass midway through the second quarter. Sims pulled the ball down behind his defender, made one person miss at the sideline and dodged another before he was brought down at the 2. Two plays later, McCoy connected with Maurice Harris to give Washington a 17-0 lead.
NATIONAL ANTHEM
All of the players on each team appeared to stand for the national anthem, some bowing their heads and others placing their hands on their hearts. The Patriots observed a moment of silence beforehand for Weymouth police officer Michael Chesna, who was killed last month in the line of duty.
NEXT UP
Washington: Hosts the New York Jets on Thursday night in its second exhibition game.
Patriots: Play their second and final home preseason game on Thursday night with a Super Bowl rematch against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Jones, Dobbs lead Steelers over Eagles 31-14

 Malcolm Jenkins went back to raising his fist during the national anthem and Chris Long again put his arm around him as the teammates continue trying to raise awareness about racial inequality, social injustices and systematic oppression.
Landry Jones and Josh Dobbs each tossed touchdown passes and the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Philadelphia Eagles 31-14 Thursday night in the preseason opener.
But Jenkins' decision to resume his demonstration after stopping last December drew most of the attention as the defending Super Bowl champions returned to the field.
"Everybody is waiting for what the league is going to do," Jenkins said. "We won't let it stop what we stand for. I was very encouraged last year with the direction and that obviously took a different turn.
"I think it's important to utilize the platform as we can because for whatever reason, we have framed this demonstration in a negative light and often players have to defend why we feel the need to fight for everyday Americans and in actuality we're doing the right thing."
The league and the players' union have yet to announce a policy for this season regarding demonstrations during the anthem after the league initially ordered everyone to stand on the sideline when "The Star-Spangled Banner" is played, or remain in the locker room.
Cornerback De'Vante Bausby also raised his fist during the anthem, and defensive end Michael Bennett walked out of the tunnel and walked toward the bench while it played. It appeared all the Steelers stood.
"Malcolm is always a guy who is doing the work in the community, backing up whatever he's doing," Long said.
The Eagles rested several starters, including quarterbacks Carson Wentz and Nick Foles. Nate Sudfeld threw a pair of touchdown passes and two interceptions.
Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown sat for the Steelers and Le'Veon Bell still hasn't signed his franchise tender.
Jones completed all four of his passes for 83 yards, including a 71-yard TD pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster in the first quarter. Smith-Schuster made a leaping catch over Rasul Douglas at the 33 and ran untouched to the end zone.
Fitzgerald Toussaint had a 3-yard TD run and a 2-point conversion to give Pittsburgh a 15-8 lead. Dobbs threw a 29-yard TD pass to Damoun Patterson late in the second quarter.
"We moved the ball successfully," Dobbs said. "It felt good to be out there."
Sudfeld threw a perfect strike for a 63-yard TD to Shelton Gibson and fired a 15-yard TD pass to rookie Dallas Goedert. He finished 10 of 14 for 140 yards.
"I just ran my route and when I looked back, Nate stepped up and scrambled to my side and was able to hit me," Goedert said. "A great play by him."
Wentz still hasn't been cleared for contact after having surgery to repair two torn ligaments in his left knee last December. Foles, the Super Bowl MVP, has missed a few practices with muscle spasms in his neck and shoulder.
Mason Rudolph, a third-round pick competing with Jones and Dobbs for the backup job to Roethlisberger, was 7 of 12 for 101 yards.
"He did a solid job in all areas," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said.
ROOKIE REPORT
Steelers: Safety Terrell Edmunds, a first-round pick, had three tackles. Wide receiver James Washington, second-rounder, caught two passes for 44 yards.
Eagles: Goedert, a second-round pick and the team's first selection, had four catches for 66 yards and one TD. He'll get plenty of opportunities as the second tight end.
INJURIES
Ryan Shazier joined the defense in Pittsburgh's pregame huddle, just 11 months after spinal stabilization surgery. Shazier is out for the season.
WELCOME TO FOOTBALL
Eagles rookie Jordan Mailata, an Australian rugby player drafted in the seventh round, got beat for a strip sack on his first series in the NFL. Mailata began the second half at left tackle.
HONORING FORMER EAGLES
Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie announced at halftime that two-time All-Pro defensive end Clyde Simmons and three-time Pro Bowl linebacker Seth Joyner will be inducted into the team's Hall of Fame on Sept. 23.
NEXT UP
Steelers: Visit the Green Bay Packers next Thursday.
Eagles: Visit the New England Patriots next Thursday.

Benjamin, Newton renew feud in Panthers 28-23 win over Bills

 Bills receiver Kelvin Benjamin was not interested in what Panthers quarterback Cam Newton had to say before Buffalo's preseason game against the Panthers.
"I'm just moving on from it," Benjamin said repeatedly when asked about a discussion he and Newton had on the field about 90 minutes before kickoff.
Asked what Newton was trying to tell him, Benjamin responded: "I wasn't even trying to listen."
Newton declined to comment following Carolina's 28-23 win Thursday, and merely shook his head while walking up the tunnel.
Tensions between the former teammates were raised a week ago, when Benjamin criticized Newton's accuracy in an interview with The Athletic. Benjamin, who was traded to Buffalo in October, also questioned why the Panthers ever used a first-round pick to select him in the first round of the 2014 draft, because he thought he wasn't a good fit in the offense.
The bad blood wasn't resolved Thursday.
The Charlotte Observer posted a video showing Benjamin chatting with Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis when Newton approached the two and attempted to shake Benjamin's hand. Newton waved away Davis, and then had a brief discussion with Benjamin before the receiver began walking away.
Newton followed and the two talked again. The discussion ended when Benjamin shrugged and turned to walk away, and Newton waved his hand at the receiver's back.
"I walked away to allow them an opportunity to talk things out. That's what it was," Davis said.
"Just brothers having a conversation," he added. "It's one of those things. You go up to a guy. You talk about it. You hash things out or you don't."
The discussion didn't affect the two once the game began with Benjamin and Newton playing key roles in touchdown drives in the first quarter.
Benjamin caught four passes for 59 yards, including a 28-yard touchdown reception from Nathan Peterman on Buffalo's first possession. Benjamin scored by beating former Bills cornerback Kevon Seymour off the line, and was open when catching the pass at the 2 up the left sideline.
Newton responded on the next possession, completing 4 of 5 attempts for 67 yards as part of an 85-yard drive capped by Christian McCaffrey's 2-yard run.
Newton finished 6 of 9 for 84 yards in two series. He was nearly intercepted on Carolina's second possession when he overthrew tight end Greg Olsen over the middle. Jordan Poyer got a hand on the ball, but was unable to bring it in to his body.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera noted Newton may have been "a little jacked up" with some of the passes he missed, including the one to Olsen.
Rivera doubted Newton's over-excitement had anything to do with the pre-game discussion with Benjamin.
"Cam's always excited when it's football, and he's really one of those emotional guys," Rivera said. "You'd like him just to settle in a little bit, slow down and deliver a good pass."
The Panthers overcame a 17-7 first-half deficit and went ahead for good on C.J. Anderson's 4-yard run 2:19 into the fourth quarter. Mose Frazier caught a 26-yard touchdown pass from backup Garrett Gilbert, and Elijah Hood sealed the win with a 21-yard TD reception from Taylor Heinicke with 5:05 left.
Stephen Hauschka hit a 26-yard field goal and backup running back Marcus Murphy scored on a 7-yard run in the final minute of the first half.
ALLEN'S DEBUT
One of the biggest cheers went up when Buffalo's first-round draft pick Josh Allen took over the offense to open the second half. On his first snap, Allen faked a handoff and then showed off his strong arm by sailing a 50-yard pass intended for Robert Foster that just went out of bounds at the left sideline.
Allen finished 9 of 19 for 116 yards, and hit Ray-Ray McCloud III for a 14-yard touchdown with 1:10 left.
Buffalo traded up five spots to select the Wyoming product with the No. 7 pick. Still considered raw, Allen is being brought along slowly and has spent a majority of the offseason working with the third-string offense.
QB WATCH
Panthers: Gilbert went 7 of 12 for 93 yards and a touchdown in four series in the competition to replace Derek Anderson as Newton's backup. Heinicke went 7 of 9 for 121 yards and a touchdown.
Bills: Peterman, Buffalo's returning backup, went 9 of 10 for 119 yards and an interception over two drives. Free-agent addition A.J. McCarron went 7 of 10 for 116 yards in two drives to close the first half. Peterman and McCarron have split time with the starters all offseason.
INJURIES
Panthers: S Damian Parms did not return after hurting his shoulder in the second half. CB LaDarius Gunter did not return after being placed in concussion protocol in the third quarter.
Bills: DT John Hughes limped off and did not return midway through the fourth quarter.
NATIONAL ANTHEM
Players on both teams stood for the national anthem.
UP NEXT
Panthers: Host Miami on Aug. 17.
Bills: At Cleveland on Aug. 17.

Tannehill starts fast in return; Dolphins lose to Bucs 26-24

 Ryan Tannehill completed passes on the first four plays in his return from two serious injuries to his left knee, sparking a 40-yard drive that ended with a missed field goal in his only series, and the Miami Dolphins lost their exhibition opener to Tampa Bay 26-24 Thursday night.
Tannehill, seeing his first action since December 2016, was off-target on his final two throws and finished 4 for 6 for 32 yards.
New Buccaneers kicker Chandler Catanzaro made a 26-yard field goal with 23 seconds left to cap a 67-yard drive and give them the win.
Tampa Bay's Jameis Winston played the second quarter against Miami's second team and led a group of reserves to 10 points on drives of 32 and 40 yards. He went 11 for 13 for 102 yards in four series.
Winston is suspended for the first three games of the regular season for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy.
Ryan Fitzpatrick led the Bucs on a 57-yard, six-play touchdown drive on their first possession. It was capped by Peyton Barber's 4-yard run.
Miami's David Fales, battling Brock Osweiler for the backup QB job, led the second-string offense to a field goal against the Buccaneers' first-team defense. Fales also directed a 75-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter, and he finished 8 of 11 for 115 yards.
Osweiler went 10 for 21 for 83 yards.
ROOKIE RUSHERS
Dolphins fourth-round draft pick Kalen Ballage rushed for 37 yards in 10 carries and caught three passes for 23 yards. He also lost a fumble.
Bucs second-round pick Ronald Jones was held to 9 yards in eight carries, but scored on a 2-yard run.
KICKING RESULTS
Catanzaro missed his first extra-point attempt and missed a 53-yard field goal try, but also made two field goals.
Rookie Jason Sanders, battling rookie Greg Joseph for the Dolphins' kicking job, made field goals of 29 and 23 yards but missed a 53-yarder. Joseph made a 48-yarder.
NATIONAL ANTHEM
Dolphins receivers Kenny Stills and Albert Wilson and defensive end Robert Quinn protested during the anthem. Stills and Wilson kneeled behind teammates lined up standing along the sideline. Quinn stood and raised his right fist. There were no apparent protests by the Buccaneers.
Stills kneeled during the anthem during the 2016-17 seasons and has been vocal discussing social injustice issues that inspired the protest movement by NFL players.
INJURIES
Bucs: CB Vernon Hargreaves III left in the first quarter with a groin injury and didn't return. ... First-round draft pick DT Vita Vea didn't play. He has missed most of training camp with a calf injury.
Dolphins: Reserve LB Mike Hull left the field on a cart in the second quarter with a left knee injury.
UP NEXT
Buccaneers: Tampa Bay plays at Tennessee on Aug. 18.
Dolphins: Miami plays at Carolina on Aug. 17.

Mayfield and Barkley show the goods, Browns beat Giants

Baker Mayfield and Saquon Barkley lived up to early expectations as the top two picks in the NFL draft in their first action as the Cleveland Browns beat the New York Giants 20-10 on Thursday night.
Replacing starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor late in the first quarter, Mayfield hit 11 of 20 passes for 212 yards, two touchdowns, and converted two fourth-down plays with his feet. The Heisman Trophy winner who was the No. 1 overall pick found tight end David Njoku on a 10-yard TD pass to cap a 14-play, 72-yard drive on his second series. He finished his debut with a completion on a 54-yard slant and run to fellow rookie Antonio Callaway.
Taylor, expected to be coach Hue Jackson's starter as Mayfield learns this season, hit all five of his passes in two series, including a 36-yard touchdown pass to Njoku, a New Jersey native.
Barkley, the No. 2 pick, electrified the fans at MetLife Stadium, taking a handoff from Eli Manning on the opening play from scrimmage and turning no apparent hole into a 39-yard run down the sideline in front of the Giants' bench. It set up a 42-yard field goal by Aldrick Rosas.
The Penn State running back finished with 43 yards on five carries.
Jalen Simmons scored on 5-yard third-quarter run for the Giants' other score. It came three plays after C.J. Board fumbled a punt return and Zak DeOssie recovered at the Browns 16.
Manning played two series and hit 4 of 7 passes for 26 yards. Star receiver Odell Beckham Jr., returning from major ankle surgery, dressed but was held out by new coach Pat Shurmur, who is trying to rebuild the Giants after a 3-13 season.
The Browns went 0-16 last season after winning their four preseason games.
CALLAWAY: The troubled fourth-round pick played despite being cited for marijuana possession and driving with a suspended license. Police also found bullets and a gun part in his car this week. He had three catches for 87 yards, including a diving 24-yarder that the Browns successfully challenged after it was ruled incomplete on the field.
NATIONAL ANTHEM: There were no demonstrations. Giants DE Olivier Vernon and S Michael Thomas, who both knelt during the anthem last season, each stood.
NEXT UP:
Browns: Host Buffalo Bills on Aug. 16.
Giants: At Detroit Lions on Aug. 16.

Dalton sharp in new offense, Bengals beat Bears 30-27

 Andy Dalton made a solid debut in Cincinnati's revamped offense, throwing for a pair of touchdowns as the Bengals beat the Chicago Bears 30-27 on Thursday night.
The Bengals (1-0) were last in the league on offense last season, the worst finish in franchise history. They overhauled their leaky offensive line, and coordinator Bill Lazor injected more diversity into the playbook. It showed the first time out.
Dalton went 6 of 8 for 103 yards, completing four passes of at least 20 yards. He also had an interception that wasn't his fault - John Ross fell on his route and Kyle Fuller returned the pickoff 47 yards to the end zone.
The Bengals are hoping that Ross and running back Joe Mixon - their top two picks last season - emerge in the redesigned offense during their second seasons.
Ross had a 20-yard catch. Mixon - moved into the starring role with Jeremy Hill gone - made the game's most impressive play. He caught a short pass, stiff-armed one defender and spun away from another for a 24-yard touchdown .
The Bears (0-2) rested most of their starters during a 17-16 loss to the Ravens in the Hall of Fame game, including quarterback Mitchell Trubisky . His preseason debut Thursday didn't go very well.
Trubisky was in for two series that netted minus-1 yard on eight plays. The Bears' only first down on those series came on Carlos Dunlap's penalty for roughing the quarterback, a late hit on Trubisky. He missed on a deep sideline pass to Kevin White on his opening throw and finished 2 of 4 for 4 yards.
NATIONAL ANTHEM
There were no protests. Bears players, coaches and staff stood with arms linked for the anthem. Bengals players stood by themselves on the sideline.
PRESEASON TRICKERY
The Bengals pulled off a fake punt in the second quarter, with safety Clayton Fejedelem going 49 yards after a direct snap. He finished as Cincinnati's leading rusher with the one run.
HEADS UP
Chicago's Demarcus Ayers drew a personal foul for lowering his head to tackle Fejedelem on the fake punt. Fejedelem was flagged for the same infraction in the third quarter when he was on defense.
INJURIES
Bears: LB Josh Woods suffered a hand injury in the first half and didn't return.
Bengals: LB Vincent Rey hurt his right ankle while blocking on a punt return and was helped off the field in the first quarter. He didn't return.
NEXT UP
Bears: Play at Denver on Saturday, Aug. 18.
Bengals: Play at Dallas on Saturday, Aug. 18.

Jaguars' Bortles solid in exhibition opener against Saints

Blake Bortles completed 6 of 9 passes for 53 yards and scored on a short bootleg in Jacksonville's 24-20 loss to New Orleans in the exhibition opener for both teams Thursday night.
Bortles was poised in the pocket and nearly perfect in one series of work, a significant improvement from the way his preseason started a year ago. Bortles had a five-interception performance during a training camp practice in 2017 and continued to struggle during joint practices with New England. He was benched two weeks into the preseason and had to earn the starting job.
A year later, his starting spot is as solid as just about anyone's on the team. It showed against the Saints.
Playing without two starting offensive linemen - left guard Andrew Norwell (calf) and right tackle Jermey Parnell (precaution) - Bortles led the Jaguars on a 15-play, 79-yard drive to open the game. He converted both third-down passes he faced and finished off the series by going untouched around the right side.
Saints star Drew Brees got the night off, allowing backup Tom Savage to play the first half. Savage completed 10 of 14 passes for 70 yards. Brees only played in one preseason game in 2017.
Mark Ingram, suspended the first four games of the regular season for violating NFL policy on performance enhancers, carried seven times for 23 yards and a touchdown. Ingram scored against Jacksonville's backups and after a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty kept the drive alive.
The exhibition game involved two teams playing for the first time since heartbreaking postseason exits.
The Saints were on the losing end of the "Minnesota Miracle" in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs. The Jaguars led New England by 10 points in the fourth quarter of the AFC championship before falling 24-20.
NATIONAL ANTHEM
Jacksonville had four players in the locker room during the national anthem, but team officials said it would be up to the players to explain why they weren't on the field. Cornerback Jalen Ramsey, linebacker Telvin Smith, and running backs Leonard Fournette and T.J. Yeldon joined teammates on the sideline after the anthem.
GAME CHANGERS
The Saints overcame a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter to win. Jayrone Elliott's strip-sack set up rookie Jonathan Williams' 4-yard touchdown run with 2:16 remaining. Elliott had another strip-sack late in the game, but the Jaguars recovered.
SOLID OUTING
Jaguars backup quarterback Cody Kessler completed 14 of 17 passes for 139 yards, with a touchdown . Jacksonville acquired Kessler in a trade with Cleveland in March.
INJURIES
Saints backup cornerback P.J. Williams appeared to get the wind knocked out him while making a tackle. He jogged to the bench but later headed to the locker room. ... The Jaguars had 10 guys who didn't suit up, including All-Pro defensive end Calais Campbell (calf) and rookie defensive lineman Taven Bryan (abdomen).
UP NEXT
Saints host Arizona next Friday night.
Jaguars travel to Minnesota on Tuesday for two joint practices with the Vikings before their exhibition game on Aug. 18.

Three questions facing Columbus Blue Jackets

1. What does the future hold for Artemi Panarin?
Panarin could become an unrestricted free agent July 1 and has said he's unsure about signing a long-term contract with the Blue Jackets. Last season, the 26-year-old forward set a Columbus record with 82 points (27 goals, 55 assists) in 81 games, 34 more than its second-highest scorer among forwards, rookie Pierre-Luc Dubois, who had 48 points (20 goals, 28 assists) in 82 games.
Trade speculation has already begun. The Blue Jackets could test the market for Panarin before or during the season, but they wouldn't be dealing from a position of strength.
2. Can they finally get past the first round?
Boone Jenner said the Blue Jackets must follow the example set by the Washington Capitals if they want to advance past the Eastern Conference First Round in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in their history. 
The Capitals, who had failed to reach the Eastern Conference Final since Alex Ovechkin entered the NHL in 2005-06, won the Stanley Cup last season for the first time in their 43-season history. During its run, Washington rallied from down 2-0 to eliminate Columbus in the first round in six games.
"That's a team that might have learned to lose before they learned to win," Jenner said. "I think that's a lesson for some teams like us going through some of that now."
3. Will Anthony Duclair take advantage of the opportunity?
Few teams were interested in Duclair after the Chicago Blackhawks did not extend him a qualifying offer, making him an unrestricted free agent July 1. Duclair, who agreed to terms on a one-year, $650,000 contract with Columbus on July 5, had 23 points (11 goals, 12 assists) in 56 games with Chicago and the Arizona Coyotes last season. He scored 20 goals in 81 games as a rookie with Arizona in 2015-16.
The Blue Jackets hope the 22-year-old forward can have similar success to forward Sam Gagner, who had an NHL career-high 50 points (18 goals, 32 assists) in 81 games after signing with Columbus on Aug. 1, 2016, following a disappointing season with the Philadelphia Flyers.
"That's a good analogy," Columbus general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said. "Both have high-end skill. Both have, in the big picture on their career paths, fallen a little bit short, needed a fresh start, needed a new opportunity.
"This is about the opportunity, not about the dollars."

Columbus Blue Jackets fantasy preview for 2018-19



Artemi Panarin, C/LW* (NHL.com rank: 31) -- He had an NHL career-high 82 points (27 goals, 55 assists), including 21 power-play points, 228 shots on goal and a plus-23 rating in 81 games last season. However, Panarin is a possible 2019 unrestricted free agent and could be traded before or during the season. He's scored at least 27 goals and 74 points in each of his three NHL seasons and has the potential for 90 points this season, especially if he carries over his late-season chemistry with center Pierre-Luc Dubois and right wing Cam Atkinson.
Sergei Bobrovsky, G* (38) -- The 2016-17 Vezina Trophy winner regressed in goals-against average (2.06 to 2.42), save percentage (.931 to .921) and shutouts (seven to five) last season. After winning 41 games in 63 starts two seasons ago, he took a slight step back with 37 wins in 65 starts. However, the 29-year-old has been consistent with at least 30 wins and a .918 SV% in four of the past five seasons, and he should excel in his contract year. Bobrovsky is in the upper echelon of fantasy goalies and should be one of the first five selected at his position.
Seth Jones, D (58) -- He had 57 points (16 goals, 41 assists), a plus-10 rating, 24 PPP and 249 SOG last season, each an NHL career high. Jones took nearly 100 more SOG in 2017-18 than the previous season (152), going from 2.02 SOG per game to 3.19. Anchoring the first power-play unit, Jones is in the top 10 at his position in fantasy with a ceiling among the top five.
Cam Atkinson, RW (101) -- Two seasons ago, Atkinson scored 35 goals and had 62 points, 21 PPP and a 14.6 shooting percentage, each an NHL career high. Last season, he was limited to 65 games because of injury, scored 24 goals and saw his power-play production slip (10 PPP). If healthy, he's a candidate for 30 goals on a line with Panarin and Dubois. Atkinson had a strong finish to the regular season (37 points in final 39 games) and an impressive showing at the 2018 IIHF World Championship (11 points in 10 games for the United States).
Zach Werenski, D** (106) -- The 21-year-old scored more goals (16) and had more SOG (207) last season than he did as a rookie in 2016-17 (11 goals, 188 SOG). However, he had 10 fewer points (37), went from plus-17 to plus-8, and had 10 PPP, compared to 21 two seasons ago. The dip in production means Werenski could slip in drafts, making him a potential defenseman bargain. In his third NHL season, expect Werenski to put up numbers closer to his rookie season, when he was a finalist for the Calder Trophy and finished among the top 20 fantasy defensemen.
Pierre-Luc Dubois, C/LW (134) -- In his first NHL season, Dubois tied for seventh in goals among rookies with 20 and had 48 points, third on the Blue Jackets. Dubois was plus-8 and had 15 PPP, also third on Columbus. He had 165 SOG (12.1 shooting percentage) and played center on the top line with Panarin and Atkinson down the stretch. Even if he's not with Panarin, Dubois has a chance to take a big step forward this season and finish among the top 100 with Atkinson.
Oliver Bjorkstrand, RW (231) -- The upside is there for the 23-year-old, who had 40 points (11 goals, 29 assists) in 82 games in his first full NHL season. He has room for improvement on the power play (nine PPP) and could end up on the first unit, especially if Panarin is traded. Bjorkstrand will likely go undrafted in standard leagues but should be on your radar as an early-season pickup. If second-line center Alexander Wennberg (35 points; eight goals, 27 assists in 66 games) bounces back, don't be surprised if Bjorkstrand is along for the ride.
Other players with fantasy upside in late rounds or off waiver wire: Alexander Wennberg, C (237); Nick Foligno, C/LW/RW (247), Boone Jenner, C/LW; Josh Anderson, RW; Markus Nutivaara, D
*Potential 2019 unrestricted free agent
**Potential 2019 restricted free agent

Top prospects for Columbus Blue Jackets

1. Vitaly Abramov, F
How acquired: Selected with No. 65 pick in 2016 NHL Draft
Last season: Gatineau (QMJHL): 16 GP, 12-14-26; Victoriaville (QMJHL): 40 GP, 33-45-78
The anticipation has continued to build for the 20-year-old, who finished second in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in scoring last season with 104 points (45 goals, 59 assists). Along the way, Abramov (5-foot-9, 171 pounds) moved from wing to center.
"You have to be more responsible in the D zone. That's why I like to play center," he said. "Center has more of the puck, controls more pucks than the wingers, so he controls the play."
Abramov, who was MVP of the QMJHL in 2016-17, when he had 104 points (46 goals, 58 assists) for Gatineau, will either play for the Blue Jackets or Cleveland in the American Hockey League.
"If you earn a spot on the [NHL] roster, you then have to earn a spot in the lineup," Columbus general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said. "With all the young players, we want them to be in the lineup rather than in the press box eating popcorn."
Projected NHL arrival: This season
2. Liam Foudy, F
How acquired: Selected with No. 18 pick in 2018 NHL Draft
Last season: London (OHL): 65 GP, 24-16-40
Foudy is a late bloomer, and it surprised many that he was drafted so high, but the 18-year-old has a lot of upside, particularly his acceleration. He had 29 points (18 goals, 11 assists) in his final 24 games last season after earning more ice time.
Although he can outskate most of his peers, Foudy's finishing needs work if he's going to develop into an NHL regular.
"I know I'm a first-round pick and there's a lot of attention on me," he said. "I try not to think about it too much."
Foudy (6-0, 175) credits his early years of competing in track for helping him handle pressure. His mother, France Gareau, won a silver medal with Canada's 4x100-meter relay team at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
"In track, unless you're on a relay, it's just you out there," Foudy said. "You may be part of a team, but what you do in your event relies on what you do. There's no one there to help you when you're in the middle of competing."
Projected arrival: Next season
3. Jonathan Davidsson, F
How acquired: Selected with No. 170 pick in 2017 NHL Draft
Last season: Djurgardens (SHL): 52 GP, 10-21-31
Davidsson, 21, caught the attention of the Blue Jackets with a solid season in the Swedish Hockey League.
"I'm a speedy forward with a lot of pace," Davidsson said. "I'm a good passer. I want to score, score a lot of goals."
Davidsson (5-11, 185) knows he needs better strength on the puck.
"I want to improve that part and be able to handle the puck in small places, along the boards," he said.
Projected arrival: This season
4. Vladislav Gavrikov, D
How acquired: Selected with No. 159 pick in 2015 NHL Draft
Last season: St. Petersburg SKA (KHL): 50 GP, 5-9-14
Gavrikov, 22, declined an offer to sign with the Blue Jackets a year ago and signed a two-year contract with St. Petersburg. He also played for the Olympic Athletes of Russia in the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, when he had two goals and three points in six games to help them win gold. Though Gavrikov likely won't be an offensive threat, his size (6-3, 205) and mobility could make him a shutdown defenseman in the NHL if he decides to come to North America.
Projected arrival: Next season
5. Elvis Merzlikins, G
How acquired: Selected with No. 76 pick in 2014 NHL Draft
Last season: HC Lugano (SNL): 42 GP, 19-16-1, 2.72 GAA, .921 SV%
The 24-year-old may never get a good look in Columbus if goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who can become an unrestricted free agent July 1, signs a contract extension or re-signs next offseason. Merzlikins (6-3, 183), voted the top goaltender in Switzerland's National League last season, was 4-1-1 with a 1.50 goals-against average and .940 save percentage for Latvia at the 2018 IIHF World Championship. His contract with Lugano expires after this season.
Projected arrival: Next season

Columbus Blue Jackets key statistics

1. Panarin on rise 
According to ice time, scoring, and shot-based metrics, Artemi Panarin is among the most valuable forwards in the NHL.
Panarin set a Blue Jackets record with 82 points (27 goals, 55 assists) in 81 games last season, 34 more than the second-leading scorer among Columbus forwards, rookie Pierre-Luc Dubois, who had 48 points (20 goals, 28 assists) in 82 games. Panarin's gap ranked third in the NHL behind Taylor Hall of the New Jersey Devils (41) and Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers (38). 
Panarin was third among NHL forwards in even-strength ice time (1,390:12), and his total ice time (1,630:35) was 266:33 more than Dubois, who was second among Columbus forwards (1,364:02). That difference ranked second in the NHL to Buffalo Sabres center Ryan O'Reilly, who played 283:51 more than Sam Reinhart.
Columbus outshot its opponents 1,484-1,143 at 5-on-5 with Panarin on the ice, for an SAT of plus-341 that led NHL forwards. Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins ranked second (plus-294).
2. Jones, Werenski flourishing
Seth Jones, 23, and Zach Werenski, 21, have become one of the best young defense pairs in the NHL.
Their combined 183 points (55 goals, 128 assists) over the past two seaons were third among NHL teams' two highest-scoring defensemen, behind Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic of the San Jose Sharks (203; 58 goals, 145 assists), and Roman Josi and P.K. Subban of the Nashville Predators (201 points; 52 goals, 149 assists). 
Jones and Werenski also have strong shot-based metrics. Over the past two seasons, Werenski, who had shoulder surgery May 3 and could be out until November, ranked 11th among NHL defensemen with an SAT of plus-396, and Jones was 14th (plus-368).
3. Bobrovsky a keeper
Sergei Bobrovsky is the only active goalie to win the Vezina Trophy twice (2013, 2017), and in his six seasons with the Blue Jackets, he ranks sixth in the NHL in starts (309), fifth in wins (176), fourth in shots-against (9,311) and fourth in saves (8,590). His .922 save percentage is third among those to start at least 50 games in that span.
Bobrovsky, who turns 30 on Sept. 20, has won at least 30 games in four of the past five NHL seasons, and he had a save percentage under .918 once in those five seasons (.908, 2015-16). His 12 shutouts in the past two seasons are the most in the NHL.

Inside look at Columbus Blue Jackets

The Columbus Blue Jackets will look to reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the third straight season, but they enter 2018-19 as the only team in the NHL that hasn't won a playoff series and with the uncertain status of forward Artemi Panarin hanging over them.
The Blue Jackets fortified their depth at forward by signing Riley Nash (three years, $8.25 million) and Anthony Duclair (one year, $650,000) following disappointing seasons from centers Alexander Wennberg(35 points; eight goals, 27 assists) and Brandon Dubinsky (16 points; six goals, 10 assists). The additions could result in Boone Jenner and Nick Foligno returning to their natural wing positions.
"There's quality there, guys there that can take up ice time anywhere from first line to fourth line," general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said. "In which order? Their performance will decide."
Duclair, 22, had 23 points (11 goals, 12 assists) in 56 games with the Chicago Blackhawks and Arizona Coyotes last season, when Nash, 29, had NHL career highs in goals (15), assists (26) and points (41) for the Boston Bruins. Nash said seeing the Blue Jackets make the playoffs the past two seasons was important.
"At this point in my career, after being in the playoffs for a couple of years, you're not getting any younger, so you want to go to a team that's in contention and trending in the right direction," Nash said.
The Blue Jackets expect to have a top line of Panarin, Cam Atkinson and center Pierre-Luc Dubois, who set Columbus rookie records for goals (20) and points (48) last season, but how long Panarin will remain is unclear.
The 26-year-old, who scored 27 goals and set Blue Jackets records for assists (55) and points (82) in 2017-18, his first in Columbus, can become an unrestricted free agent after the season. Panarin, though, will not negotiate an extension once training camp begins Sept. 13, his agent told The Athletic on July 19, and he has been unclear about whether he wants to play in Columbus beyond this season, making it possible he'll be traded.
"We want to keep him," Jenner said. "He's tremendously skilled and brings a different dynamic to our team that we all love."
Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky could also become an unrestricted free agent July 1, but Kekalainen said neither player's situation should impact on the on-ice performance. 
"We had players in that contract situation two years ago," he said. "We had 108 points. We had players in those situations last year, we had 97 points. They were never distractions."
Columbus will have to retool its defense a bit, especially since Zach Werenski had shoulder surgery May 3 and could be out until November. Seth Jones, who played in the NHL All-Star Game the past two seasons, will take on more responsibility. Gabriel Carlsson, Scott Harrington and Dean Kukan will be among those given opportunities to play bigger roles after Jack Johnson (Pittsburgh Penguins) and Ian Cole (Colorado Avalanche) left as free agents.
Columbus (45-30-7) earned the first wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference, but for the second straight season was eliminated in the first round by the eventual Stanley Cup champion. The Blue Jackets fell in five games to the Penguins in 2017 and lost to the Washington Capitals in six games last season after winning the first two.
Though making the playoffs in consecutive seasons was a first for the Blue Jackets, coach John Tortorella said the bar must be raised.
"I like our personnel, but the biggest thing to me is, we need to change our mindset here to where … that we feel we belong in the playoffs, not just be [in]," he said after the Washington series. "We're six games and we're done. That's what I want to get away from."