NFL

2022 NFL season: Who’ll get the most touches from crowded position groups?

This offseason has been all about teams bolstering their offensive skill position groups. And while some teams traded for and/or signed big-name players who are locked in as starters, others made less heralded moves to add depth.

Just like last year, I’m looking at 11 of the most crowded position groups across the league, listing each group’s players based on projected touches (from most to fewest). (I’ll admit I wasn’t incredibly accurate in my 2021 predictions, but I’m feeling much better about this exercise this time around.)

Darnold would be the starter if the 2022 NFL season began today, according to coach Matt Rhule. The coaching staff likes what it’s seen from the former first-round pick under new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo. That said, we know who Darnold has been throughout his career — a streaky and turnover-prone quarterback. If this is the QB room Carolina is going into the season with, I’d like to think rookie Matt Corral, who’s impressed Rhule during offseason workouts, would get a real look at the starting position. Let’s find out what he brings to the offense. And, of course, all of this goes out the window if the Panthers end up acquiring Baker Mayfield or Jimmy Garoppolo.

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Trubisky seems to be in the driver’s seat to start in Week 1, taking first-team reps throughout the spring. I think the Steelers have set themselves up for a competitive preseason at the position, though. Trubisky might be the favorite to enter the season as the QB1, but it will be tough to keep Pickett, the 20th overall pick of this year’s draft, on the sideline for 18 weeks. The Steelers know there will be a learning curve for a rookie QB, but head coach Mike Tomlin has said from the jump that Pickett has a chance to be the team’s starter right out of the gate. Should Trubisky stumble early or not meet the organization’s expectations, the carousel could spin.

Singletary was the RB1 last season, racking up a career-high 870 rushing yards and seven rushing TDs, while Moss, a 2020 third-round pick, took a backseat and helped in goal-line situations. Singletary should again be the starter come Week 1, but I believe rookie James Cook will get more burn as the season progresses. The second-round draft pick has the ability to be a game-changer in both the run and pass games with his speed and pass-catching ability. Cook should carve out a nice role within the Bills’ explosive offense.

I love what the Dolphins did this offseason after finishing 30th in the league in rush yards per game (92.2). First-year head coach Mike McDaniel plans to take full advantage of the overhaul at the position, saying at the NFL Scouting Combine in March that “You have about 300 to 400-some touches by that position.” Expect all four of these backs to get opportunities in McDaniel’s zone-blocking scheme. That said, Mostert should be the favorite to lead the group in touches in 2022. He’s the most explosive running back in this system that I’ve seen, as evidenced by his career average of 5.7 yards per carry. However, he hasn’t been healthy for a full season since 2019, missing half of 2020 with ankle and knee issues and all but two carries in 2021 with another knee injury. If Mostert, who’s aiming to be ready to go by training camp, is banged up, I like Michel to take the bell-cow role. He’s less explosive but has good speed and brings consistency and a championship pedigree to the group. Edmonds should be a great pass-catching and third-down option for Tua Tagovailoa, while Gaskin should compete for third-down opportunities with Edmonds.

Carter had a solid rookie campaign with 639 yards on 147 carries for 4.3 yards per tote. He’ll be a big part of the Jets’ system, but Breece Hall should see a majority of the carries. The second-round draft pick has the size (6-foot-1, 220 pounds), patience and footwork to break tackles in the run game, and he has the hands and elusiveness to be an asset out of the backfield for Zach Wilson in the pass game. 

Russell Wilson loved his deep-threat receivers, DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett, in Seattle. A great route runner and 2020 first-round pick, Jeudy should be Wilson’s first read on many concepts. Sutton is a great asset for Wilson opposite Jeudy. The big-bodied wideout is a mismatch over the middle and still has the speed to get downfield and pick up yards after contact. Look for Hamler to occupy a big role in the slot once he’s recovered from a dislocated hip and torn ACL he suffered last season, while Patrick, who signed a three-year extension in November, will be a valuable WR3. All of these players will undoubtedly benefit from having Wilson under center.

The Packers’ pass game is going to look significantly different without all-world wide receiver Davante Adams, who had more receptions (123) and receiving yards (1,553) than all other Green Bay receivers had combined (117 catches, 1,533 receiving yards) in 2021. In fact, Adams accounted for 34.3 percent of Green Bay’s receiving yards last season, the third-highest percentage of a team’s receiving yards by any player league-wide. So who pick up Adams’ production in 2022?

It’s a tough assessment when looking at this group, but I believe Watson will emerge as Aaron Rodgers’ go-to target. The Packers traded up to select him 34th overall, and he’s the highest-drafted wideout by the Packers since Rodgers became the starting QB in 2008. The 6-5, 208-pound rookie will be tough to defend, with quickness in and out of his breaks and downfield speed. Watkins, entering his ninth season, has a real opportunity to have a career season catching passes from the back-to-back MVP, but he MUST stay healthy. 

Cobb has great chemistry with Rodgers, so expect the vet to get his share of targets. Lazard, who signed his restricted free agent tender last week but still desires a long-term deal, has a chance to be a playmaker in 2022, but to me, the fact that the Packers drafted two players at his position is telling. That brings me to Doubs, who I’ve heard nothing but good things about since he arrived in Green Bay. He has strong hands and can take the top off the defense. I wouldn’t be surprised if the fourth-rounder ends up as the team’s WR2 at some point during the season. 

The Jags handed Kirk a four-year contract worth up to $84 million, so the expectation is he’ll be Trevor Lawrence’s new favorite target. The former Cardinal brings an explosive element to the offense as a guy who can win outside or in the slot. Marvin Jones, who led the team in receptions, receiving yards and receiving TDs last season, is projected to be the team’s WR2 opposite Kirk. Like he’s done so many times in his career, the veteran will often serve as a reliable target anywhere on the field and should build on his 2021 production (73/832/4). Shenault should benefit from playing in Doug Pederson’s offense. He can contribute in a number of ways, including on screens, bootlegs and even on carries out of the backfield due to his knack for breaking tackles in open space. Zay Jones, who signed a three-year deal this offseason, will help stretch the field, much like he did with the Raiders last season. Agnew should continue to help on special teams and provide depth at receiver.

Make no mistake, tight end Travis Kelce is the Chiefs’ top receiver. But who’ll make up the production lost from Tyreek Hill’s departure? Hardman can certainly be a field-stretcher and has familiarity with the Chiefs’ offense, elite speed and home-run ability. He has yet to surpass 700 receiving yards in a season, though. Valdes-Scantling, who averaged a league-leading 17.1 air yards per target in 2021 (per Next Gen Stats), is a bigger downfield target for Patrick Mahomes. Hardman and MVS will have to find consistency to help the Chiefs avoid a drop-off in the deep passing game. JuJu and Moore will thrive in Andy Reid’s system as slot receivers with big play ability. That said, JuJu has the potential to emerge as the No. 1 receiver behind Kelce because we’ve seen his track record when playing second fiddle to one of the league’s best. With plenty of talent around Mahomes, the Chiefs’ pass-happy attack should find a way to get it done. It just might not look like the unit we witnessed during their sensational stretch of success over the past four seasons.

The Saints really need Thomas back. No Saints receiver has had more than 750 receiving yards in either of the last two seasons, a span in which Thomas missed 24 of 33 games, including the entire 2021 campaign. He is a special player when healthy, evidenced by his record-setting 149-catch performance in 2019. Olave will likely play opposite Thomas as the team’s WR2. The rookie is extremely athletic with great speed and will be a huge asset in the downfield passing game for Jameis Winston. That leaves Landry, who recently signed a one-year deal with the team to man the slot. Expect Landry to get a ton of targets from Winston, who could be looking to get rid of the ball quickly as he gets comfortable in the pocket coming off the knee injury that prematurely ended his 2021 season. Callaway and Smith were thrust into bigger roles in 2021 but will be better-suited to compete for WR4 snaps and take advantage of favorable matchups.

The Eagles became Super Bowl contenders as soon as they traded for A.J. Brown. Personally, I haven’t seen a wide receiver with his size and build since David Boston. Brown is more talented, and his physical, big-play game elevates the offense immediately. Smith posted an Eagles rookie record 916 receiving yards last season, and his Year 2 production should be even better, with Brown demanding attention on the opposite side of the field. Watkins will be a playmaker in the slot on short passes and screens, while Pascal, a free-agent signee, and Ward will be part of the rotation. 

The big wild card is Reagor, the Eagles’ 2020 first-round draft pick. He’s registered just 64 catches for 695 yards over his first two seasons and has had some big drops. Can he perform now that he’ll be playing behind a pair of WR1s? Or has he run out of opportunities? Time will tell.

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