As we head toward the month of June, that means all clubs will be wrapping up OTAs in the next few weeks, signaling the last major phase of the off-season prior to training camps kicking off in July. With NFL football truly right around the corner, that means it’s time to dissect which coaches and teams are best positioned to make noise during the 2022 season. Today, we’re going to be breaking down three head coaches with especially strong chances to win coach of the year in 2022, which may come down to three newcomers in their first season with each team.
Nathaniel Hackett, Broncos
It’s hard to envision a better situation for a rookie head coach to step into. Hackett, who comes over from the Packers, inherits a vaunted defense and some guy named Russell Wilson as his quarterback. General Manager George Paton certainly deserves his fair share of credit for continuing to bolster the talent on this roster, but the truth is, the Broncos defense has been championship-caliber for the better part of a decade now. They’ve just lacked a top tier quarterback and a head coach that was able to get the most out of the offense. Enter Hackett, who is lauded as a talented offensive mind and a smart football man that is believed to have the temperament to be a successful head coach in the league.
There is one major obstacle Hackett will face in his first campaign as a head man – a brutally difficult division. Even if the Broncos are as advertised in 2022, it’s very realistic that this team could finish 3rd or 4th in the AFC West – simply due to the quality of the other three teams. Given that the Broncos now have Wilson at quarterback, this figures to be a complete team, with an offense full of dynamic skill players and an elite signal-caller to pair with the influx of productive football players on defense.
So, what’s Hackett’s road map to taking home COY honors in 2022? Well, if the Broncos win, say, 12 or more games and capture an AFC West crown, Hackett would be a very strong candidate given how impressive it would be for a first-year head coach to win a division this loaded. The reality is whichever team wins this division will likely have a COY frontrunner. Given Denver’s complete roster from top to bottom, there’s good reason to believe the Broncos have as good of a chance as anybody, thus paving the way for Hackett to take home the prestigious honor.
Doug Pederson, Jaguars
Pederson, a Super Bowl winning head coach, is an intriguing COY candidate for 2022. Per BetFastAction, Pederson is tied for the 2nd-best odds to take home the award at +1400. What makes him such a trendy name? First of all, the idea of him pairing with a dynamic young quarterback such as Trevor Lawrence is exciting. Under Pederson’s watchful eye, Carson Wentz played MVP-caliber football, before suffering a season-ending injury and ultimately paving the way for Nick Foles to lead the Eagles to a Super Bowl.
Jacksonville isn’t exactly bare on skill players either. The Jags will welcome back 2021 first round pick Travis Etienne (who suffered a season-ending injury of his own early on in his rookie year), as well as free agency signings Christian Kirk and Zay Jones. Say what you will about the contracts of Kirk and Jones, but they will provide Lawrence more weapons to continue developing along with the skill players that remain from 2021.
After the mess that was Urban Meyer’s tenure as Jacksonville’s head coach, the Jags needed someone like Pederson, who will bring great stability and credibility to the franchise’s most important chair. Pederson was loved by his players in Philadelphia and will bring a swagger and winning expectation to that locker room.
Really, the Jaguars don’t have to go scorched earth on the rest of the NFL for Pederson to win COY. For a team that’s held the number one pick in back-to-back seasons, a 10- or 11-win season could very well do it. Given the state of the AFC South, it’s not inconceivable to map out a scenario where Jacksonville reaches that win total. Likely? No. Possible? Absolutely. The Jaguars finally got the right guy steering the ship, and greener pastures lie ahead in Jacksonville.
Mike McDaniel, Dolphins
After ex-Dolphins coach Brian Flores led the Fins to 8 of 9 wins to close the year (and a 9-8 record overall), it was a shock to see Owner Stephen Ross show Flores the door. However, given Flores’ reported lack of belief in now 3rd-year QB Tua Tagovailoa in relation to that of Ross and General Manager Chris Grier, the firing makes a little more sense.
Miami set out to find a coach who believes in, and can maximize Tagovailoa, and they certainly believe they’ve found the answer in wunderkind Mike McDaniel. McDaniel has grown up as a coach and learned under Kyle Shanahan, whose innovative and effective run schemes constantly keep opposing defenses on their toes. Shanahan, however, has publicly praised McDaniel as the brain behind a lot of concepts that the 49ers have deployed, and now we get the chance to see what McDaniel can do when he’s calling all the shots.
Like Hackett, McDaniel is a rookie head coach who’s also inheriting a defense that was amongst the top units in football last year, especially down the stretch. McDaniel retained Defensive Coordinator Josh Boyer, who was originally brought on staff by Flores in 2019. That was a sound decision, as Boyer has clearly shown he can lead a unit capable of playing winning football.
For McDaniel to truly have a good chance at COY honors, Miami would likely need to win the AFC East, or at least come close and win 11+ games. The way the Dolphins could do that in 2022 is if Tagovailoa can take a big step forward and lead an offense that consistently puts them in positions to win games. Tagovailoa and McDaniel’s efforts will be aided by All-Pro receiver Tyreek Hill, who was acquired by trade from Kansas City. No matter the results, McDaniel and the Dolphins figure to be an intriguing team entering 2022, given their defense, explosive offensive playmakers, and a first-year head coach who will certainly deploy schemes that have proven to be successful across the league.