Analysis

Five Teams Primed for a Leap Forward in 2022

Five Teams Primed for a Leap Forward in 2022

One of the most exhilarating aspects of NFL football is watching teams rapidly ascend. Last year, it was the Cincinnati Bengals and the year before featured jumps from the Buffalo Bills and Pittsburgh Steelers. Predicting the group of teams most likely to make strides is a perennial topic of discussion amongst fans and analysts alike. At this point in the offseason, most acquisitions and relinquishments have come to fruition, and it is now more feasible than ever to take a stab at those who have the best chance to increase their win total from a year ago. Below are five teams that are likely to improve from their 2021 performance.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars seem like an obvious choice for this piece, considering they do not have much room to worsen (finished with a 3-14 record in 2021), and they have added talent to their roster along with new coaching. Trevor Lawrence will enter his sophomore year with three new receiving options (Christian Kirk, Zay Jones, and Evan Engram) in a new offensive structure under Doug Pederson and Press Taylor.

The Jags will also enjoy Travis Etienne’s return, Lawrence’s college teammate, and fellow 2021 NFL First-Round Draft Pick from Clemson. The Jags also bolstered their offensive line over the offseason with signings such as NFL Top 100 member Brandon Scherff, draftees such as Luke Fortner, and extensions such as Cam Robinson. Overall, the Jaguars will have six projected new starters on the offensive in 2022.

On defense, the Jaguars arguably made more changes than the other side of the ball. The Jaguars added 2021 total tackles leader Foyesade Oluokun, defensive tackle Folorunso “Foley” Fatukasi, cornerback Darious Williams, and former Georgia Bulldogs Travon Walker & Devin Lloyd. That would make five new starters on defense. All in all, the Jaguars are projected to have eleven new starters: one of the highest totals in the league and half the team’s starters between offense and defense.

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Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens missed the playoffs last year and dealt with many season-ending injuries to key players such as running backs J.K. Dobbins & Gus Edwards, defensive tackle Derek Wolfe, and cornerback Marcus Peters. The Ravens also missed franchise left tackle Ronnie Stanley, for nine games, starting tight end Nick Boyle for nine games, breakout safety DeShon Elliott for four games, and Former NFL MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson for five games.

The Ravens have not experienced much change on the coaching staff, except for 2021 defensive coordinator Don Martindale being replaced with long-time Ravens linebackers coach Mike Macdonald. The Ravens added a star safety, Marcus Williams, from the New Orleans Saints early in the free agency period and followed with signings of nose tackle Michael Pierce and right tackle Morgan Moses. With the roster healed, the Ravens should enter 2022 with a full head of steam.

Unfortunately, the Ravens lost starters Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, Anthony Averett, and Bradley Bozeman. However, the Ravens replaced Bozeman with top center prospect Tyler Linderbaum in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft.

Peters’ return should cover nicely for Averett’s departure, and former first-round pick Rashod Bateman showed enough potential last season for the Ravens to feel comfortable dishing Brown to the Cardinals on draft night. In addition to Linderbaum, the Ravens added top safety prospect Kyle Hamilton, top EDGE prospect David Ojabo (unlikely to play much, if at all, in 2022), cornerback Jalyn Armour-Davis, tight end Isaiah Likely, and tight end Charlie Kolar.

Overall, the Ravens roster is probably better now than at this same point a year ago. Couple that with an expected regression in injuries before the season, and the Ravens are primed for a leap forward in 2022.

New Orleans Saints

The Saints had their fair share of struggles last year, so a record of 9-8 is more impressive than it sounds. Although the Saints surpassed a win percentage of .500%, they missed the playoffs. Starting quarterback Jameis Winston missed from Week 7 onward due to a torn ACL; starting offensive guard Andrus Peat missed all but six games; starting defensive end Marcus Davenport missed seven games; starting linebacker Kwon Alexander missed five games; star receiver Michael Thomas missed his second straight season; and do-it-all player Taysom Hill missed three games while playing through injury in many others. Not to mention, star running back Alvin Kamara missed four games.

The beginning of the free agency period was not kind to the Saints, either. Star left tackle Terron Armstead departed for the Miami Dolphins and star safety Marcus Williams left for the aforementioned Ravens. Head coach Sean Payton retired, but the Saints replaced him by hiring from within. David Allen, former defensive coordinator for the Saints, will bring a similar attitude and coaching philosophy to a team that likely needs it.

Like the Ravens, the Saints dealt with many injuries during 2021, and this offseason allowed them to recenter themselves. Nonetheless, the Saints fleshed out their roster nicely by this point in the offseason. Most notably, the Saints added former All-Pro safety Tyrann Mathieu, safety Marcus Maye, and wide receiver Jarvis Landry. However, the draft is where the Saints added the most. In the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft, the Saints added Ohio State receiver Chris Olave with the 11th overall pick and offensive tackle Trevor Penning with the 19th overall pick. In the second round, the Saints added Tennessee cornerback Alontae Taylor.

Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins finished 9-8 like the Saints discussed above. The Dolphins missed starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa for four games last season, starting receiver Will Fuller IV for all but three games, and starting receiver DeVante Parker for seven games. Outside of that, the Dolphins did not deal with devastating injuries. The main factor that primes the Dolphins for a leap forward this year is their acquisitions.

The Dolphins nabbed Tyreek Hill in a blockbuster trade. They also signed left tackle Terron Armstead, running backs Chase Edmonds, Raheem Mostert, Sony Michel, wide receiver Cedrick Wilson Jr., and center Connor Williams. That translates to five new starters on offense. On the defensive side of the ball, the Dolphins added cornerback Keion Crossen from the Giants and edge-rusher Melvin Ingram III from the Kansas City Chiefs.

The Dolphins were largely inactive during the draft because they sent many picks to the Chiefs in the Hill trade. Still, the Dolphins added Georgia linebacker Channing Tindall in the third round, wide receiver Erik Ezukanma in the fourth round, and two more players in the seventh. All the while, the Dolphins barely lost players to the market.

The Dolphins dealt with relatively minor injuries to their roster in 2021 and finished with a winning record. They have added plenty of star power on offense and retained all of their defensive starters on a unit that finished top ten in turnovers forced. With Brian Flores’s controversial exit and Mike McDaniel’s hopeful beginning, the Dolphins are primed for a playoff berth next year: a goal they narrowly missed a year ago.

Minnesota Vikings

Last season, the Vikings dealt with blows to their lineup, such as starting nose tackle Michael Pierce (nine games), tight end Irv Smith Jr. (season), and defensive end Danielle Hunter (10 games). After finishing 8-9, the Vikings fired head coach Mike Zimmer and brought former Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell to replace him. The Vikings finished second in the NFC North but still missed the playoffs.

The Vikings lost three starters coming off rookie deals in tight end Tyler Conklin, center Mason Cole, and safety Xavier Woods in addition to veteran Michael Pierce. Yet, the Vikings brought in edge-rusher Za’Darius Smith, defensive tackle Harrison Phillips, and linebacker Jordan Hicks. In the draft, the Vikings added Georgia safety Lewis Cine, Clemson cornerback Andrew Booth Jr., LSU guard Ed Ingram, Oklahoma linebacker Brian Asamoah, and more. Safe to say that between free agency and the draft, it is likely that the Vikings gained more than they lost. Danielle Hunter and Za’Darius Smith may make up one of the NFL’s most potent pass-rush attacks, and Lewis Cine plus Andrew Booth Jr. might be the best rookie tandem in the defensive backfield.

The Vikings have experienced mostly positive change, and that is why they are primed for a leap in 2022. The Vikings have two of the league’s best options at offensive skill positions (Dalvin Cook and Justin Jefferson). In Kevin O’Connell’s first year as head coach, he will have plenty to work with on both sides of the ball.

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