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Elaine Thompson/Associated Press
We have taken another major step toward the 2022 NFL season.
Over the past several days in Las Vegas, the 2022 NFL draft took place. From first overall pick Travon Walker of the Jacksonville Jaguars to “Mr. Irrelevant” pick Brock Purdy of the San Francisco 49ers, 262 players now know where their professional careers will begin. As soon as the draft ended, scores more joined teams as undrafted free agents.
There are still quite a few free agents floating around, and there could still be a trade or two. Those moves could shake the league’s landscape up a bit. But to a large extent, we know how the NFL’s 32 teams will look this season.
And how they stack up against one another.
With that in mind, Bleacher Report NFL Analysts Gary Davenport, Maurice Moton and Brent Sobleski have gotten together once again to rank the league’s teams from worst to first.
The No. 1 and No. 32 teams aren’t much of a surprise.
But there are bound to be a few surprises in between.
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David J. Phillip/Associated Press
The Houston Texans went into the 2022 draft with two things—a ton of draft capital and even more holes on the roster.
With the third overall pick, Houston drafted LSU cornerback Derek Stingley Jr., who may be the best defensive back in the class. But after two lackluster, injury-marred seasons, Stingley is no sure bet.
Then the Texans drafted Texas A&M guard Kenyon Green with the 2022 first-rounder obtained in the Deshaun Watson trade. Green is a fine player who should be an immediate starter. But in the eyes of most draftniks, he wasn’t a top-15-caliber player.
It was a theme for the Texans in the 2022 draft. Alabama wide receiver John Metchie is undeniably talented, but he tore his ACL last December. Florida running back Dameon Pierce has potential, but he carried the ball just 100 times for the Gators last year.
Now, it’s possible that all those players will pan out. That Stingley and safety Jalen Pitre will fortify a leaky pass defense. That Metchie and Pierce will help second-year quarterback Davis Mills improve one of the league’s worst offenses last year.
But the Texans remain a team with major issues on both sides of the ball. And the early favorites to be picking first overall in 2023.
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Mark Zaleski/Associated Press
The Chicago Bears entered the 2022 draft with a couple of problems. The team had glaring holes in the defensive backfield and at wide receiver, but courtesy of the Justin Fields trade the Bears didn’t have a first-round pick.
All in all, general manager Ryan Poles acquitted himself well.
The secondary was addressed first. Washington cornerback Kyler Gordon (pick No. 39) was a first-round talent in the eyes of many scouts, while Penn State safety JaQuan Brisker has a good chance to have an immediate impact.
Things aren’t as rosy at wide receiver. The team did add one on Day 2 with Tennessee’s Velus Jones, but he’s a raw prospect who could take time to become a contributor in the NFL.
The Bears are facing an uphill battle this season. Fields hasn’t exactly been put in position to succeed—he has one of the weaker WR corps in the NFL and will be playing behind a below-average offensive line. Those young defensive backs are going to have to be quick studies playing behind a front seven that lost Khalil Mack in a trade with the Chargers.
The Bears might not be terrible this year. But expecting them to be good is wishful thinking.
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Mark LoMoglio/Associated Press
Well, the Carolina Panthers got their quarterback.
Maybe. Sort of.
After speculation that the Panthers could be the first team in the 2022 draft to take a quarterback, Carolina instead waited until the latter stages of Round 3 to draft Matt Corral of Ole Miss.
Waiting that long would appear to signify that the Panthers have at least some confidence in Sam Darnold, although that confidence is tempered by the team’s pursuit of Deshaun Watson and aborted discussions with the Cleveland Browns about Baker Mayfield.
Darnold’s protection should be better with the addition of offensive tackle Ikem Okwonu. And the return of a healthy Christian McCaffrey would no doubt be a big boost for the offense. But per Davenport, it’s still fixing to be a long season in Charlotte.
“After fielding the league’s second-worst offensive line in 2021 per PFF, the additions of Okwonu, center Bradley Bozeman and guard Austin Corbett were important for the Panthers,” he said. “But outside those OL upgrades, this team looks an awful lot like the roster that pitched and lurched its way to a 5-12 record a year ago. Given the turmoil in Atlanta, the Panthers may not be the worst team in the NFC South. But they certainly aren’t any threat to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, either.”
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Aaron Doster/Associated Press
So a few things have changed in Atlanta since the season ended.
Quarterback Matt Ryan is gone, dealt to Indianapolis after the team tried and failed to trade for Deshaun Watson. Marcus Mariota was signed as a stopgap starter, and the team got Bleacher Report’s top quarterback prospect (Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder) in the third round of this year’s draft.
Wide receiver Calvin Ridley is also effectively gone—suspended indefinitely for gambling on football while on leave last year. Again, the Falcons made an effort to shore things up there, adding USC’s Drake London with the eighth pick.
Make no mistake, this is a rebuilding team with as many questions as answers. And in part because of that, at least one of our analysts believes Atlanta should give Ridder every opportunity to be the Week 1 starter.
“Ridder actually shares some similarities with Mariota, even if he didn’t get a chance to show off his mobility a lot at Cincinnati,” Davenport wrote. “The biggest difference is arm talent—the rookie is a better passer. Period. Given Ridder’s experience in a relatively pro-style offense at Cincinnati, he’s as NFL-ready as any quarterback in this class. The Falcons aren’t going to contend for anything in 2022. But this is a situation where the team might as well see if they drafted the next Russell Wilson or the next Garrett Grayson.”
“Ridder is the wild card,” Sobleski added. “The Cincinnati product fell all the way into the third round, yet he could legitimately compete and beat out Mariota as the starting quarterback. Even if he doesn’t, the Falcons will need to play him at some point during what’s likely to be a lost season. If the franchise strikes gold with the two-time AAC Offensive Player of the Year, all of its future plans will be drastically affected. Still, plenty of uncertainty exists when an organization is so reliant on young talent.”
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Matt Patterson/Associated Press
After trading Russell Wilson to the Denver Broncos, it was widely expected that the Seattle Seahawks would either add a quarterback in the 2022 draft or trade for a veteran like Baker Mayfield or Jimmy Garoppolo.
But Seattle passed on the position in the draft, electing instead to bolster the offensive like with Mississippi State tackle Charles Cross in Round 1 and add an edge-rusher (Minnesota’s Boye Mafe) and running back (Michigan State’s Kenneth Walker III) with back-to-back selections in the second round.
Not only did Seattle pass on quarterback in the draft, but it doesn’t sound like Mayfield will be headed west any time soon. Ian Rapoport of NFL Network indicated that the Seahawks’ interest in Mayfield was “lukewarm at best” (h/t Gregg Rosenthal).
That leaves a competition under center between Geno Smith, Drew Lock and Jacob Eason. Head coach Pete Carroll told reporters that right now Smith’s experience with the team gives him an edge.
“We’ll get on the field for the first time for Phase Two this week. The coaches will finally get a chance to see the guys live and right up front. I’m really excited to see how that’s going and where they’re fitting. I know that in the meeting room, our guys are sharp and they’re precise and they know it’s on. Nobody is just going through the motions here. It’s a crucial [competition] and they’re taking to it and it’s serious. It’s great to see.”
We’ll see how great it is to see one of those uninspiring options under center instead of Wilson in 2022.
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Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press
For the second straight season, the Jacksonville Jaguars had the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft. In 2021, quarterback Trevor Lawrence was a no-brainer. But this year there was no consensus top player.
The Jaguars rolled the dice on potential over production, selecting Georgia edge-rusher Travon Walker over Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson. It’s a pick that could pay off huge. But it’s a gamble.
It also wasn’t the only curious pick the Jaguars made. The addition of off-ball linebacker Devin Lloyd with the team’s second first-round pick filled a major need. But for some reason, Jacksonville then circled back on Day 2 and drafted another linebacker in Chad Muma—despite handing Foyesade Oluokun a big contract in free agency.
The Jaguars certainly can’t be called skittish. Whether it’s drafting Walker over Hutchinson or spending big in free agency, Jacksonville was one of the league’s bolder teams this offseason.
But the likelihood that aggressiveness turns into wins doesn’t appear especially good from where we’re sitting.
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John Locher/Associated Press
Hope can be a dangerous thing for fans of the New York Jets. They haven’t made the postseason since 2010.
But after Gang Green reeled in one of the most highly regarded draft classes of 2022, Moton thinks that Gang Green could be in for significant improvement this season.
“We can make the argument that the Jets selected the best cornerback (Ahmad Gardner), the top wide receiver (Garrett Wilson) and the No. 1 running back (Breece Hall) in the 2022 draft. All of them should have big roles this year.
“On top of that, the Jets made an aggressive move for edge-rusher Jermaine Johnson II, who generated some buzz (h/t Aaron Wilson of Pro Football Network) in the predraft process. With him and Carl Lawson on the edge, Gang Green may have a formidable duo to counter the Buffalo Bills’ high-octane passing attack and the Miami Dolphins’ new-look offense with wideout Tyreek Hill in the mix.
“General manager Joe Douglas put together a draft class that can change the direction of a team in need of a turnaround, finishing last in the AFC East in five of the last six years. If quarterback Zach Wilson shows moderate improvement in his second season, the Jets can surprise some of their skeptics.”
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Doug Benc/Associated Press
The Detroit Lions have been a tomato can for so long that they should be sponsored by Del Monte. But as Moton opined, after a draft haul headlined by edge-rusher Aidan Hutchinson, things could be looking up in the Motor City.
“You won’t find many analysts who expect the Lions to take a significant leap in 2022, but that doesn’t mean we should overlook a top-notch draft class that will significantly improve their defense and bolsters a passing attack that needed an explosive playmaker.
“Detroit benefitted from the Jacksonville Jaguars rolling the dice on edge-rusher Travon Walker with the No. 1 overall pick and selected arguably the best pass-rusher in Aidan Hutchinson. In the second round, the front office added Josh Pascal, who’s a versatile 6’3”, 278-pounder capable of boosting the pass rush from the interior and immediately strengthening the run defense. Third-round safety Kerby Joseph has the ball-hawking skills to force turnovers.
“By the way, the Lions traded up to the No. 12 spot for Jameson Williams, who averaged 19.9 yards per catch in 2021 and may have been the first wideout off the board if he didn’t tear his ACL. The Alabama product expects to participate in training camp, though.
“With this group of rookies, the Lions won’t be in the running for the worst record in 2022.”
The looming question in Detroit now is this: Can Jared Goff take advantage of an improved roster and actually make the Lions competitive in 2022?
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Noah K. Murray/Associated Press
It’s usually wise to maintain at least some skepticism where draft classes are concerned. Far too often we’ve seen bad teams have “great” drafts only to go right on being bad.
But as Moton wrote, the Giants’ long-suffering fanbase has reasons for legitimate optimism after what the team did this past weekend.
“General manager Joe Schoen addressed two key needs with blue-chip prospects, which is good news for quarterback Daniel Jones and bad news for opposing offensive lines.
“Kayvon Thibodeaux comes into the league with proven production over the course of three collegiate terms, logging 35.5 tackles for loss and 19 sacks at Oregon, and high potential. Paired with Azeez Ojulari, the athletic edge-rusher has the chance to win Defensive Rookie of the Year within a supporting cast that features Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams on the front line.
“According to The Athletic’s Dan Duggan, Evan Neal will slide into the right tackle spot opposite Andrew Thomas, which gives Jones quality bookend pass protection.
“The Giants didn’t exercise Jones’ fifth-year option, but he should have plenty of time to stand in the pocket and find receivers Kenny Golladay, Sterling Shepard, Kadarius Toney and Darius Slayton.
“With a potentially strong pass rush and a better offensive line, Jones and the Giants may be headed in the right direction under the new regime.”
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Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press
Here we go again in Washington.
Last year, the Commanders hoped that Ryan Fitzpatrick would get them over the proverbial hump.
That did not end well.
This year, they have turned the offense over to Carson Wentz after acquiring the 29-year-old in a trade with the Indianapolis Colts.
Despite that trade, Washington was still sitting on a fair amount of draft capital, including the 16th overall pick after a trade back in Round 1. The team used that selection in an effort to find the No. 2 receiver the team has lacked for some time, choosing Penn State’s Jahan Dotson.
In theory, Dotson and Terry McLaurin could constitute a formidable duo of young wide receivers. The team has talent at running back and tight end. The Commanders replaced veteran guard Brandon Scherff with a similar player in Andrew Norwell. And Washington’s defense has the talent to rebound from last year’s disappointing campaign.
This team has the pieces to give the Dallas Cowboys a run for their money in 2022. But it’s all going to depend on whether Wentz can be a more consistent quarterback than he was last year.
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Stacy Bengs/Associated Press
The Minnesota Vikings just cannot (or will not) quit Kirk Cousins.
There’s a new head coach in Minnesota this year in Kevin O’Connell. A new general manager in Kwesi Adofo-Mensah.
But the same old so-so quarterback, after the Vikings decided to extend Cousins again.
Were it up to Cousins, he’d finish his career in Minnesota.
“I would like to retire as a Viking,” Cousins told reporters, “and so I would like to play my way into that, if you will. I know I’ve got to earn the right to do that. If I could draw it up, it would be to play well enough that you never have to play or wear another jersey anywhere else.”
We can talk about free-agent signings like linebacker Jordan Hicks and edge-rusher Za’Darius Smith. Or about a draft class headlined by safety Lewis Cine and cornerback Andrew Booth Jr.—a duo badly needed to upgrade a leaky Minnesota pass defense.
But in the most important respect, the 2022 Vikings aren’t that much different than the 2021 Vikings. Or the 2020 Vikings.
This team will go as far as Cousins takes them.
And that probably means not bad enough for a top-five draft pick but not good enough for the NFC North championship.
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John Locher/Associated Press
The New Orleans Saints have had quite the eventful offseason.
The Saints were in the thick of the Deshaun Watson saga, but after missing on Watson they punted on quarterback during this year’s draft. In 2022 at least, this is Jameis Winston’s team.
Winston should have better passing game weapons, at least, In addition to (hopefully) the return of a healthy Michael Thomas, the Saints used one of two first-round picks on fellow Ohio State wideout Chris Olave. The other first-rounder was used to draft a replacement for the departed Terron Armstead in tackle Trevor Penning of Northern Iowa.
Defensively, the unit that ranked seventh in the NFL last year remains mostly unchanged, outside of new starters at cornerback and safety in Paulson Adebo and Marcus Maye. The Saints may not have the talent to knock off the Buccaneers in the NFC South, but Davenport cautions that the Saints could be a team to look out for in 2022.
“Provided that the battery charge against Alvin Kamara don’t result in a lengthy suspension, the Saints have a solid array of offensive weaponry,” he said. “A decent offensive line. And a top-10 defense. If Winston can avoid turnovers like he did in his seven starts for New Orleans last year, this is a roster that’s capable of at least vying for a wild-card spot.”
“Two factors are holding back the Saints from being considered a playoff contender in the weaker NFC,” Sobleski countered.
“First, everyone needs to see how Winston recovered from his torn ACL. Even a healthy Winston still brings more questions than answers regarding his status as the team’s starting quarterback. Clearly, the Saints looked to upgrade the position before re-signing the 2015 No. 1 overall pick.
“Secondly, Dennis Allen received a second opportunity to be an NFL head coach. The opportunity proved to be overwhelming much earlier in his career. Can he be the stabilizing influence the franchise needs after Sean Payton chose to step away from the game? Allen can be rock solid and still have a difficult time replacing one of the game’s best coaches.
“Until those two really settle into their roles, the Saints present more questions than answers.”
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Michael Dwyer/Associated Press
After six Super Bowl wins, Bill Belichick has earned the benefit of the doubt in most areas. But for all the success the Pats have had under Belichick, drafting well hasn’t exactly been one of them. And as Moton wrote, the 2022 draft was no exception.
“Belichick doesn’t care about your prospect rankings or mock drafts. Though he shouldn’t let outside perception influence his big board setup, New England has to at least read the draft room.
“The Patriots selected interior offensive lineman Cole Strange in the first round, which made Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay laugh out loud. New England probably could’ve picked the Chattanooga product in the second or third round. The B/R Scouting Department projected wideout Tyquan Thornton as a fourth-rounder, and the Patriots drafted him midway through the second round.
“As a defensive-minded head coach, Belichick may have nailed cornerbacks Marcus Jones and Jack Jones in the third and fourth round, respectively, though. However, if Strange and Thornton struggle to earn starting spots, the Patriots didn’t do any favors for second-year quarterback Mac Jones.”
The Buffalo Bills are undoubtedly the class of the AFC East. The Miami Dolphins were aggressive in improving this offseason, swinging a blockbuster trade for Tyreek Hill.
And the Patriots—well, the Patriots drafted Cole Strange.
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Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press
It’s the dawn of a new age in Pittsburgh.
The question is which one.
With Ben Roethlisberger retired, the Steelers needed a new starting quarterback. Now there are potentially two—three if you count Mason Rudolph.
You shouldn’t, but whatever.
First, the Steelers signed 2017 No. 2 overall pick Mitch Trubisky in free agency. Then, the Steelers became the only team in the league to use a first-round pick on a quarterback, drafting Pitt’s Kenny Pickett at No. 20.
“It was two things that really attracted us to him from a floor standpoint,” Tomlin said. “We thought he had pro-level anticipation. We thought he had pro-level accuracy. Oftentimes, those are two variables that really require a lot of adjustment from a quarterbacking standpoint. We felt he came ready-made in those ways. Hopefully, that’s an asset to him in terms of being able to compete and being ready, if his performance dictates it.”
It will be an interesting competition. Trubisky has been an up-and-down starter who spent last year backing up Josh Allen in Buffalo. But he also led the Chicago Bears to the playoffs twice in four years.
And this Steelers team, for all its flaws, still has aspirations of making the postseason.
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Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press
It’s Tua time in Miami in 2022.
And Tua trial.
For most of the offseason, the Dolphins focused on improving the offense. One of the league’s worst offensive lines got a major boost with the signings of guard Connor Williams and Pro Bowl tackle Terron Armstead. The ‘Fins added two running backs to boost last year’s third-worst run game in Chase Edmonds and Raheem Mostert.
Oh, and then there was the blockbuster trade that brought wide receiver Tyreek Hill to South Florida.
The team’s four-player draft class isn’t likely to make nearly the impact that all those free-agency moves did. But head coach Mike McDaniel has a bevy of weapons to game-plan with. And Tagovailoa said recently that he’s excited to get to work.
“I guess the only word that can describe that is exciting,” Tagovailoa said Thursday on The Fish Tank podcast, via the Miami Herald. “It’s exciting times for all of us. Aside from guys we have acquired, it’s going to take work from all of us. … We’ve got to do the most important thing as to why we’re here, which is just win games.”
That excitement is justified. But there’s also pressure. If Tagovailoa and the Dolphins don’t move the ball and do some damage in the AFC East in short order this year, it won’t take long for the grumbles to start.
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John Amis/Associated Press
The Philadelphia Eagles made some serious noise in the 2022 draft.
It wasn’t so much the players they drafted, although first-round pick Jordan Davis (a mauling defensive tackle from Georgia) and second-rounder Cameron “Beef Jergy” Jergens (a center from Nebraska with the best nickname in his draft class) have a chance to make an early impact for the team.
No, the headline-grabber was Philadelphia’s trade with Tennessee that brought wide receiver A.J. Brown to the City of Cheesesteak. With Brown joining fellow wide receiver DeVonta Smith and tight end Dallas Goedert, third-year quarterback Jalen Hurts now has an impressive array of passing-game weapons.
He’s also fresh out of excuses if he can’t produce.
Head coach Nick Sirianni told reporters that he thinks Brown’s arrival could open the door for a huge second year from Smith.
“I saw it firsthand with [Chargers receiver] Keenan Allen, he had a little bit of a slip from Year 1 to Year 2 because defenses were keying on him a little bit more. Well, this is going to make that an awful lot harder for defenses to do with a proven commodity like A.J. Brown on the opposite side of him,” Sirianni said. “I think most definitely this helps our passing game, this helps DeVonta. It’s just good for the Eagles.”
“While the Cowboys were treading water in the NFC East this offseason, the Eagles improved on both sides of the ball with Brown and edge-rusher Haason Reddick,” Davenport said. “If Hurts can up his game as a passer, the Eagles could be the team to beat in the division.”
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Ron Schwane/Associated Press
We can talk about the draft picks the Cleveland Browns made in 2022. The free agents the team signed. The trade for Pro Bowl wide receiver Amari Cooper.
But the Browns will be defined in 2022 and well beyond by one player.
The megadeal that included three first-round picks and the $230 million fully guaranteed contract that followed could well be the riskiest trade in the history of the NFL. Watson’s talent is undeniable—when healthy and on his game, it can be argued that he’s a top-five quarterback. He’s only now entering the prime of his career.
But multiple women have accused Watson of sexual assault and misconduct. Two separate grand juries in Texas declined to press charges, but there are still 22 civil lawsuits against him. There’s also the matter of the NFL’s own investigation and the very real possibility of a lengthy suspension for violating the personal conduct policy.
It’s a trade that has divided the fanbase in Cleveland. And with so much uncertainty about Watson’s status for 2022 (and the fact that Baker Mayfield remains on the team after his trade market dried up), it’s next to impossible to know what the Browns will look like when they take the field in Week 1.
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Jae C. Hong/Associated Press
The Arizona Cardinals got into this year’s wide receiver merry-go-round on the first night of the NFL draft, making a trade with the Baltimore Ravens that netted the Redbirds Marquise Brown to ostensibly pair with DeAndre Hopkins.
The Cardinals also brought in an heir to Zach Ertz at tight end, using a Day 2 pick on Colorado State’s Trey McBride, considered by many the top prospect at his position in the class.
There was quite a bit of offseason drama surrounding a potential extension for quarterback Kyler Murray—and his displeasure for not already having one. But at his introductory press conference, Brown said his arrival has his old Oklahoma teammate all smiles.
“I’m pretty sure you know he loves it here, and I know they love him,” Brown said. “So they’ll figure it out.”
That smile didn’t last. Per ESPN’s Josh Weinfuss, Hopkins received a six-game suspension Monday for violating the NFL’s PED policy. The suspension left the star wideout “confused and shocked.”
“I am very mindful of what I put in my body and have always taken a holistic approach, so I am working with my team to investigate how this could’ve happened,” Hopkins tweeted.
It also left the team without its best offensive weapon for a big chunk of the regular season.
“Brown’s arrival makes up for the loss of Christian Kirk,” Davenport said. “And these Cardinals have already shown they can peel off wins in September and October. But between the late-season swoons the past couple of years, all the contract drama with Murray and the Hopkins suspension, I can’t take the Cards seriously as a Super Bowl contender. Not until they show they can win when it counts.”
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Kyusung Gong/Associated Press
The San Francisco 49ers weren’t a big factor in the 2022 draft. Not after mortgaging their future a year ago to trade up and draft quarterback Trey Lance.
The question now, after Lance spent most of 2021 watching Jimmy Garoppolo lead the Niners to the NFC title game, is whether Lance will get his chance to start this season.
If he does, teammate George Kittle thinks that the sky is the limit for the youngster.
“I love all of my quarterbacks. Trey has an insane ceiling,” Kittle said recently on the I Am Athlete podcast. “Just needs some reps here and there. Just gotta throw the ball a little bit more. You can’t really get better without playing games. How much better were you your rookie season to your third year? Just going against competition. Getting hit and getting back up. Dealing with adversity. How do you deal with it? Guys that come to the NFL and win their entire life and get hit in the face a couple of times, it’s different. It’s a learning process. Jimmy was a fantastic person for Trey to learn under for sure.”
Garoppolo (who had offseason shoulder surgery) remains on the roster for now, though, and so long as he does all anyone will want to talk about in the Bay Area is who will start under center for the team in Week 1.
Well, that and whether the team will acquiesce to the demands of top wide receiver Deebo Samuel, who has requested a trade. General manager John Lynch remains hopeful that the fence can be mended.
“I don’t think [the obstacles] are insurmountable,” Lynch told KNBR (h/t David Bonilla of 49ers Webzone).
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John Amis/Associated Press
The Tennessee Titans are the two-time defending AFC South champions and last year’s No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs. But as Moton said, after a draft that saw the team stunningly trade wide receiver A.J. Brown and select a quarterback in the third round, there could be trouble brewing in Nashville.
“The Tennessee Titans’ draft class isn’t a bad group, but we cannot ignore the loss of wideout A.J. Brown, whom the team dealt to the Philadelphia Eagles in a shocking draft-day trade. Treylon Burks may fill that void, but he’s probably not going to match the numbers of a Pro Bowl-caliber player in an offense that struggled under offensive coordinator Todd Downing last year.
“When healthy, running back Derrick Henry could mask Downing’s underwhelming play-calling and the absence of a lead wideout, but he’s coming off an injury-riddled campaign, and quarterback Ryan Tannehill doesn’t look like the same player since Arthur Smith took the Atlanta Falcons’ head coaching job.
“If the Titans’ passing attack doesn’t improve early in the upcoming term, fans will likely want to run Downing out of town and replace Tannehill with rookie third-rounder Malik Willis, who has intriguing physical tools but isn’t quite ready to start yet. After two division titles, Tennessee may be on the decline.”
With the Colts upgrading at quarterback with the addition of Matt Ryan, a third straight division title is far from a sure thing.
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Zach Bolinger/Associated Press
The offseason chatter in Las Vegas has been all about the big-name additions—the signing of edge-rusher Chandler Jones and the trade for wide receiver Davante Adams.
The latter left the Raiders without a pick in the draft’s first two rounds. But Moton thinks Vegas did a fine job of making good use of the draft capital it did have this year.
“Without a first- or second-round pick, the Las Vegas Raiders had one primary objective with two layers—shore up the trenches. They kept it simple and checked off that box, drafting two offensive linemen and a pair of defensive linemen among their six selections.
“Dylan Parham and Thayer Munford come into the league with a ton of experience at multiple positions across the offensive line. The former lined up at both guard spots and right tackle, but B/R NFL scout Brandon Thorn believes the Memphis product has the ability to play center. The latter transitioned from left tackle to left guard last season at Ohio State. As four-year starters, they’re both capable of competing for first-string positions.
“At Tennessee, Matthew Butler played in a varied front, which makes him an ideal fit in defensive coordinator Patrick Graham’s scheme. He’s a disruptive defensive tackle who can make an impact on passing downs. Neil Farrell Jr. does his best work on early downs, stuffing the run.
“With all the talk about the addition of wideout Davante Adams and a revamped aerial attack, the Raiders added some gritty players who can help them win at the line of scrimmage.”
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Michael Conroy/Associated Press
The Indianapolis Colts tried swinging a trade for a veteran quarterback last year, acquiring Carson Wentz in a deal with the Philadelphia Eagles. But thanks to a late-season swoon, the Colts missed the postseason.
Well, if you don’t succeed, try, try again.
The Colts went right back to the veteran quarterback route in 2022, swinging a trade with the Atlanta Falcons that brought 2016 NFL MVP Matt Ryan to town. Team owner Jim Irsay told reporters that he hopes Ryan can put a stop to the carousel of starting quarterbacks in Indy the past several years.
“Matt is different than Philip (Rivers), this is definitely different than that,” Irsay said. “It’s not drafting Andrew Luck, but it’s different than Philip. We knew Philip was going to be a one-year sort of thing and we view this as very possibly a three-year thing. Who knows. It’s hard to put a number on it.”
The Colts have a playoff-caliber roster. Despite a dearth of draft capital, they procured a running mate for wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. in Cincinnati’s Alec Pierce. An excellent offensive line. Impact players on defense. According to Sobleski, it’s all there.
“The Colts quietly went about their business this offseason and emerged as one of the league’s most improved teams.
“Indianapolis ranked among the bottom eight in sacks last season, so general manager Chris Ballard traded for Yannick Ngakoue. The Carson Wentz experience proved to be a failure, so the organization traded him and landed Matt Ryan as a replacement and upgrade. The secondary looked thin on paper, so the front office inked veterans Stephon Gilmore and Rodney McLeod. Ryan needed more weapons, so Ballard selected standout athletes Alec Pierce and Jelani Woods with the team’s first two draft picks. Left tackle remained suspect even with Matt Pryor on the roster, so the Colts chose Bernhard Raimann, who was considered a first-round talent but slid in the draft because of his age (24).
“With A.J. Brown out of the division and Derrick Henry showing some signs of wear and tear, the Titans are ripe to be dethroned as the AFC South champs. The Colts are the obvious choice to do so.”
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David Zalubowski/Associated Press
The Denver Broncos weren’t major players in the 2022 NFL draft. Denver’s first pick didn’t come until the final selection of Round 2, when the team selected Oklahoma edge-rusher Nik Bonitto. Bonitto and UCLA tight end Greg Dulcich headline a relatively modest draft class.
Of course, that’s what happens when a team mortgages its future for a certain Super Bowl-winning quarterback.
From the moment the Broncos made the trade for Russell Wilson, this offseason has been all about the 33-year-old signal-caller. Veteran safety Justin Simmons told reporters that there’s a whole new vibe on the team now that Wilson is in the Mile High City.
“There’s no denying the different energy and vibe in the building,” Simmons said. “The confidence that the guys are walking around with. And so, it’s great. Having a guy like that that can do that just with his presence is exciting.”
On paper, the Broncos have everything they need to be a contender in the AFC. A solid two-headed running attack. Talent at wide receiver and in the trenches. One of the league’s more underrated defensive backfields.
But given the ridiculous amount of talent added by every team in the AFC West in 2022 (save maybe the Chiefs, who have won the West six times in a row), running that gauntlet of a division won’t be easy.
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The Dallas Cowboys entered 2022 with the same edict as every season—Super Bowl or bust.
On paper at least, the Cowboys look like the best team in a weak division. But there are areas for concern. Multiple areas of concern.
Dallas sported the best offensive line in the NFL last year, per Pro Football Focus. But that line lost two starters in free agency in left guard Connor Williams and right tackle La’el Collins. First-round draft pick Tyler Smith could be viewed as a replacement for Collins, but his NFL readiness isn’t certain. Neither is that of Ole Miss edge-rusher Sam Williams, who was drafted in Round 2 as a potential replacement for the departed Randy Gregory.
That’s the problem for these Cowboys. Dallas a was a good team last year, although it didn’t show it in the postseason loss to San Francisco. But at best the Cowboys appear to have treaded water in the offseason. At worst the team took a step backward due to moves like the cap-cutting trade that sent Amari Cooper to Cleveland.
“The Cowboys may not be a great team. But they are a good team—certainly good enough to win the NFC (L)East,” Davenport quipped. “What’s much less certain is whether these Cowboys would have a real shot in a postseason game against the likes of the Los Angeles Rams or Tampa Bay Buccaneers.”
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The 2021 season ended in bitter disappointment for the Los Angeles Chargers—a Week 18 loss to the rival Raiders that kept the Bolts out of the postseason.
The Chargers were aggressive in chasing a better ending in 2022. There was the trade that brought 2016 Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack to Los Angeles. The signing of cornerback J.C. Jackson. The addition of players like offensive lineman Zion Johnson and safety JT Woods in the draft.
Add it all together, and Sobleski thinks the Bolts have the makings of a dangerous team.
“The AFC West talent-collection race this offseason has been absolutely wild. The Chargers, Denver Broncos and Las Vegas Raiders all made significant, headline-stealing moves in an attempt to dethrone the Kansas City Chiefs.
“The Chargers should be considered the best of the rest thanks to Justin Herbert, plus critical additions to the offensive and defensive lines. Khalil Mack and Sebastian Joseph-Day change the entire complexion of the Chargers’ previous Charmin soft defensive front.
“On the flip side, the Chargers had another tailor-made, first-round blocker land in their laps for the second consecutive year. Rashawn Slater and Zion Johnson should form an extremely strong left side and allow Matt Feiler to play right tackle, thus solidifying another major need area. Oh, the Chargers just happened to sign the top cornerback, J.C. Jackson, in free agency, too.”
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It’s been an eventful offseason for the Baltimore Ravens, who missed the playoffs in 2021 thanks largely to a litany of injuries.
There’s the ongoing contract saga of MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson, who is entering the fifth and final season of his rookie contract.
There was the stunning draft-day trade that sent wide receiver Marquise Brown to Arizona, seemingly leaving Jackson none too pleased.
But there was also the 2022 draft—a draft navigated masterfully by Baltimore general manager Eric DeCosta.
In the first round, DeCosta added the best safety (Notre Dame’s Kyle Hamilton) and the best interior offensive lineman (Tyler Linderbaum of Iowa) of the class. Then on Day 2, DeCosta circled back for a wildly talented (albeit injured) edge-rusher in David Ojabo of Michigan and a space-eating defensive tackle in Travis Jones of Connecticut
Add in a Day 3 that included a staggering six fourth-round picks, and the Ravens came out of the draft as improved as any team in the league.
Throw in the return of injured starters like cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey and running back JK Dobbins, and the Ravens are well-positioned to be right back in the thick of the hunt in a loaded AFC North.
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Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers needs a hug.
It can be argued that the Packers didn’t really have a choice but to trade star wide receiver Davante Adams. If Adams wanted out as badly as has been reported, there wasn’t a lot general manager Brian Gutekunst could do.
What doesn’t make sense is that the Packers passed on a wideout with both of their first-round picks, although while speaking to reporters Rodgers tried to make the best of Green Bay’s waiting until Day 2 to draft North Dakota State’s Christian Watson.
“I’m sure Packer nation will be wondering why we didn’t take a receiver or trade up but at this point, you’ve just got to have some faith in the organization. … We’re going to find a way in Matt’s offense to be successful like we always have,” Rodgers said on The Pat McAfee Show.
Watson’s physical talents are undeniable—he’s 6’4″ with 4.36 speed. But after playing at the FCS level, Watson could take time to acclimate to the NFL. And even if he’s a quick study, the reality is that Rodgers doesn’t throw to receivers he doesn’t trust. He doesn’t force passes. He just doesn’t.
It’s going to take time for Rodgers to build a relationship with Watson. And a Green Bay passing game spearheaded by Allen Lazard, Sammy Watkins and Randall Cobb isn’t likely to terrify opposing defenses.
There’s a lot for these Packers to work on in OTAs and training camp.
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The Kansas City Chiefs had a rather unsettling offseason.
It’s bad enough that the rest of the AFC West acquired a lot of talent. The Denver Broncos added Russell Wilson. The Los Angeles Chargers brought in Khalil Mack and J.C. Jackson. The Raiders signed Chandler Jones and added Davante Adams in a trade with the Packers.
But to make matters worse, the cap-strapped Chiefs wound up trading Tyreek Hill to the Miami Dolphins.
Add it all together, and Sobleski thinks hosting a fifth straight AFC Championship game isn’t going to be an easy feat.
“The Chiefs are still the Chiefs. But they’ll look a little different this fall and the surrounding competition in the AFC is far stronger than it was just a few months ago. Opponents will defend the Chiefs offense differently. JuJu Smith-Schuster, Marquez Valdes-Scantling are talented, but they can’t replicate what Tyreek Hill brought to the offense. On the other side of the ball, Kansas City swapped Tyrann Mathieu for Justin Reid, which is an even swap at best and more likely a slight downgrade.
“Plenty of talent still exists on the Chiefs’ roster to keep them counted among the AFC’s best, yet others in the conference made significant improvements to close the gap or even surpass Kansas City.”
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Mark LoMoglio/Associated Press
In the post-Super Bowl set of power rankings here at Bleacher Report, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were a bottom-10 team.
Rather a lot has changed since then.
The un-retirement of Thomas Edward Patrick Brady Jr. completely changed the complexion of Tampa’s offseason. Most of the team’s leading offensive weapons are back, including wide receiver Chris Godwin and running back Leonard Fournette. New weapons were added in wide receiver Russell Gage and rookie Rachaad White.
Even the players the team did lose, like guard Alex Cappa and safety Jordan Whitehead, were replaced with players in Shaq Mason and Logan Ryan who are just as good—maybe better.
There’s still upheaval, to be sure—Todd Bowles took over as head coach after Bruce Arians stepped down. But this team is not only the prohibitive favorite in the NFC South but also maybe the leading threat to the Rams in the NFC.
“Tampa’s draft wasn’t especially exciting, but it was solid,” Davenport said. “Defensive lineman Logan Hall and tackle Luke Goedeke are both nasty players who will help in the trenches right away. White offers depth behind Fournette at running back. And fifth-round pick Zyon McCollum offers depth in the defensive backfield. This is a team with a lot of talent—and precious few weaknesses.”
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The Cincinnati Bengals went into the offseason with a clear edict—improve an offensive line that allowed a staggering 70 sacks last year including the playoffs.
To their credit, that is exactly what the Bengals did, adding three capable veteran starters along the O-line in center Ted Karras, guard Alex Cappa and tackle La’el Collins.
Addressing the biggest need so aggressively in free agency opened things up for the team in the draft. Cincinnati’s second-biggest weakness was likely the secondary, and that’s where the team focused its early picks, taking Michigan safety Daxton Hill at No. 31 and Nebraska cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt in the second round.
Filling those holes doesn’t guarantee a return trip to the Super Bowl. The history of teams that lose the Super Bowl has not been kind. But the Bengals are loaded with offensive talent, possess a solid defense, made massive upgrades to the offensive line and possess a megastar in the making at quarterback in Joe Burrow.
“Generally speaking, the ‘Super Bowl Hangover’ can be a real gut punch—Dan Marino made the Super Bowl in his second season and never got back again,” Davenport said. “But there have also been teams who have shaken off a Super Bowl loss to win the championship the following season, as the Patriots did just a few years ago. The AFC North may be the hardest division in the game. The AFC is loaded with quarterback talent. But the Bengals have what it takes to get to Glendale.”
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Emmanuel Sanders spent the 2021 season in Buffalo. He’s not sure he’ll be back with the team. But he is sure of one thing—Josh Allen is about to be named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player.
“I’m all the way in on this,” Sanders said on Good Morning Football, via Ryan Talbot of Syracuse.com. “Everybody always asks me, I’ve played with Peyton [Manning]… I’ve played with Drew (Brees), I’ve played with so many great quarterbacks, right? And this guy right here, he always pops up in the front of my mind because he’s just so dynamic. I mean, the way he throws defensive linemen off of him, the way he spins the football, just the way he attacks the game.”
Plenty of pundits are equally bullish on Buffalo’s chances of making a trip to the Super Bowl this year. The team has a loaded offense that added veterans like wide receiver Jamison Crowder and rookies like running back James Cook.
The Bills also sport the NFL’s best defense from a year ago, and while that defense suffered a couple of losses, it also added Pro Bowl edge-rusher Von Miller in free agency and selected Florida cornerback Kaiir Elam in the draft’s first round.
From No. 1 to No. 53, there may not be a more balanced and talented roster in the NFL.
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Last year, Los Angeles Rams general manager Les Snead made it clear that the team was all-in on winning the Super Bowl. Forget the future. Live in the now.
Nothing has changed in 2022.
The realities of the salary cap called for some tough decisions. Wide receiver Robert Woods was dealt to the Tennessee Titans. Edge-rusher Von Miller chose to sign with the Buffalo Bills.
But for every impact player who left, Snead landed another one. The team signed Allen Robinson II to replace Woods at wideout. After being released by the Seahawks, All-Pro inside linebacker Bobby Wagner landed in his hometown. The departure of cornerback Darious Williams was offset by a draft-day trade that brought Troy Hill back to the team.
As reloads go, it’s about as good as could be expected. And it’s enough for one of our analysts to keep the Rams atop these power rankings.
“The Rams aren’t without their issues,” Davenport said. “With Miller gone and Andrew Whitworth retired, there are questions on the edge and at left tackle. The Rams are also going to get every team’s ‘A’ game this season—everyone wants to knock off the champs. But the Rams are indeed the defending champions and a team stacked with talent on offense and defense. The top spot is theirs until another team knocks them off it.”