2024 NFL OTAs: Winners and Losers From Spring Practices Include Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Micah Parsons, and Josh Jacobs

Who were the winners and losers from May's NFL OTAs? Seahawks WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba earned praise, while new Packers RB Josh Jacobs might face early competition.

It’s almost time to turn the calendars to June, which means it’s a perfect moment in the NFL schedule to take stock.

Teams wrapped up their second session of organized team activities (OTAs) this week. Most clubs will have one more week of OTAs followed by a mandatory minicamp. Then, it’s time for most of the league to take vacation until training camp begins in July.

While some players made the most of May’s spring practices, others had a rough few weeks. Here are the winners and losers from NFL OTAs, beginning with a 2023 first-round pick hoping to ascend in Year 2.

Winners and Losers from May’s NFL OTAs

Winner | Seattle Seahawks WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba

Jaxon Smith-Njigba’s rookie campaign with the Seattle Seahawks wasn’t a disaster by any means. However, it’s fair to assume Seahawks fans might’ve been hoping for a little more out of the first wide receiver chosen in the 2024 NFL Draft.

JSN ranked seventh among rookie wideouts in receptions (63), eighth in yards (628), and 13th in yards per route run (1.32). He finished just 61st among all WRs in yards per route run, while his 11.3% drop rate was 12th-worst in the league.

Smith-Njigba is still behind DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett on Seattle’s WR depth chart. But he did enough during OTAs — including catching seven TDs from Geno Smith on Thursday — to earn significant praise from new Seahawks head coach Mike Macdonald.

“It’s great. JSN is a great player, and [we’re] expecting great, big things out of him,” Macdonald said Thursday. “He’s had a great offseason. Works his tail off. His practice habits are awesome. Moving ability is pretty elite. I think we’ve got a really cool plan for him.”

Loser | Green Bay Packers RB Josh Jacobs

Josh Jacobs suffered a minor injury during OTAs, but he returned to the field by the end of this week, so we’re not worried about that.

However, Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur’s comments about Jacobs’ potential role could concern the veteran running back, who signed a four-year, $48 million deal to join the NFC North franchise this offseason.

“Philosophically, no matter who the runner is, typically, we like to platoon those guys, whether it’s two guys or three guys,” LaFleur said. “I just think it allows the running backs to stay fresh throughout the duration of the season. It’s a very violent position they play, and some of those hits are high-impact hits.”

” … Then, when it gets down to the end of it, you’ve got to roll with whoever you feel gives you the best opportunity to win games. But I do think there’s a lot of benefit to having multiple runners in there. No. 1, I think it lengthens their careers.”

Jacobs earned first-team All-Pro honors after leading the NFL in touches (393) and total yards (2,052) for the Las Vegas Raiders in 2021. The Packers released RB Aaron Jones this offseason but re-signed AJ Dillon in free agency and used a third-round choice on USC’s Marshawn Lloyd.

Winner | Los Angeles Rams RB Blake Corum

Los Angeles Rams running back Kyren Williams may not be sidelined for long. Head coach Sean McVay said Williams’ foot injury is “nothing to worry about” and said the second-team All-Pro should be ready for training camp.

However, this is hardly Williams’ first injury issue. He missed four games last season with an ankle injury, broke his foot during OTAs in his 2022 rookie campaign, and missed more action that year due to another ankle problem.

Williams’ absence has meant more reps for Rams rookie Blake Corum, the club’s third-round pick in April’s draft. The Michigan product has been working on his pass-blocking and receiving skills and could make an impact if Williams’ injury lingers.

Loser | Dallas Cowboys EDGE Micah Parsons

While Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy initially said All-Pro pass rusher Micah Parsons had not “missed anything” by skipping voluntary OTAs, he changed his tune on Thursday.

“I think any time that you have a chance to be together, it’s an opportunity to improve,” McCarthy said Thursday. “Whether it’s in the mental realm, the physical realm, the emotional connection, and so forth. It’s a long year. Training camp is really the heightened focus for all of that, but it’s definitely an opportunity that’s been missed.”

Parsons has 40.5 sacks over three NFL seasons and is arguably the league’s best defensive player. But given that Dallas is implementing a fresh defensive scheme under new coordinator Mike Zimmer, it might’ve behooved Parsons to show up.

Winner | New York Giants RB Eric Gray

Free agent signing Devin Singletary will likely handle most of the New York Giants‘ backfield workload as they seek to replace RB Saquon Barkley. Meanwhile, New York’s RB2 battle might not be as wide open as it appeared heading into the summer.

Eric Gray, the club’s fifth-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, was working as the Giants’ No. 2 back at OTAs. Gray “got a lot of run” with New York’s first-team offense on Wednesday, playing ahead of Jashaun Corbin and 2024 fifth-rounder Tyrone Tracy.

Gray (5’9″, 206) rushed for over 1,300 yards during his final season at Oklahoma but didn’t test like an athlete at the 2023 Combine. Although he played just 65 offensive snaps and handled 17 rushing attempts in his rookie campaign, Gray could emerge with a significant role, especially if Singletary suffers an injury.

Loser | New York Giants WR Darius Slayton

Not everything is rosy in New York. While things are looking up for Gray, veteran Giants wideout Darius Slayton had to return to OTAs with his hat in hand after holding out for an extension.

Instead of giving him a new deal, New York added $650,000 worth of incentives to Slayton’s deal this week. He’d previously been able to earn $1.5 million via incentives; now, he can secure up to $2.15 million.

It’s not much of a concession from the Giants. General manager Joe Schoen has proven to be a tough negotiator with his own players.

Last season, when Barkley failed to report after receiving the franchise tag, Schoen agreed to add only $909,000 in difficult incentives to the former No. 2 overall pick’s deal. Barkley didn’t meet any of his incentive thresholds in 2023 before signing with the Philadelphia Eagles this offseason.

Winners | Indianapolis Colts and Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Although the Indianapolis Colts and Tampa Bay Buccaneers might not have done anything notable during OTAs, both clubs look like winners after the recent spate of wide receiver extensions.

A.J. Brown ($32 million), Amon-Ra St. Brown ($30.002 million), Jaylen Waddle ($28.25 million), DeVonta Smith ($25 million), and Nico Collins ($24.25 million) have each received new deals since April, resetting the market at one of the NFL’s most valuable positions.

Meanwhile, the Colts franchised Michael Pittman Jr. before extending him on a three-year contract with just a $23.33 million annual average value. The Bucs kept Mike Evans on a two-year pact worth only $20.5 million annually.

Indy and Tampa Bay are probably pleased with how these extensions have aged in just a few months. However, Pittman and Evans might wonder if they should’ve held out for more or waited to reach the open market (Pittman in 2025, Evans in 2024).

Loser | San Francisco 49ers WR Ricky Pearsall

With Brandon Aiyuk holding out from OTAs while waiting on a contract extension, San Francisco 49ers first-round WR Ricky Pearsall is getting more reps in practice. That’s the good news.

The bad news for the Florida product is that his path to playing time early in his NFL career has seemingly been cut off. Despite ample rumors surrounding both, San Francisco held onto Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel during the draft, failing to find a trade partner for either wideout.

On Wednesday, the Niners signed WR3 Jauan Jennings to a modest two-year extension through the 2025 campaign. Suddenly, Pearsall looks like a lock to spend most of his rookie year on the bench.

Winners | Justin Reid and Tarik Cohen’s New Kickoff Roles

The NFL’s new kickoff return rules should allow for a wave of special teams creativity, and a few players are already benefiting from the coming changes.

The New York Jets took a bet on Tarik Cohen on Wednesday, signing the veteran returner to a one-year pact. Cohen made the 2018 All-Pro team as a returner but has played in just three games since 2020 after suffering ACL and Achilles injuries.

“With the new kickoff rules and these kick returners, they’re going to touch the ball over 100 times a year, which is significant,” Jets HC Robert Saleh said this week. ” … And a guy like [Cohen], he’s still young, obviously coming off his injuries, but we’re excited to have him aboard.”

Wide receiver Xavier Gipson was New York’s primary returner last year, returning 33 punts and 22 kickoffs. The Jets ranked dead last on kickoff returns in 2023, according to FTN’s DVOA data.

Meanwhile, the Kansas City Chiefs are considering replacing Harrison Butker on kickoffs. Chiefs ST coordinator Dave Toub estimated that kickers were involved in 25-40% of kickoff return tackles in the XFL, whose rules the NFL is adopting this season.

“I like to have someone who can go back and make a tackle,” Toub said. “Butker’s able to make a tackle, but I really don’t want him making tackles all year long.”

Kansas City will explore using starting safety Justin Reid as a kickoff specialist in 2024. He filled in for an injured Butker in 2021, converting one of two extra points while kicking three touchbacks on kickoffs.

Listen to the PFN Inside Access Podcast!

Listen to the PFN Inside Access Podcast! Click the embedded player below to listen, or you can find the PFN Fantasy Podcast on iTunes, Spotify, and all major podcast platforms.  Be sure to subscribe and leave us a five-star review!

Related Articles