It’s officially roster-building season.
With Super Bowl 56 in the books, we are turning our eye toward the 2022 NFL Draft and identifying the players who could fill the biggest needs for each franchise.
The Cincinnati Bengals just showed us how much one offseason could impact a franchise. Let’s try to do the same for everyone else by identifying an early-round and late-round fit for their needs.
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ARIZONA CARDINALS: Defensive Tackle
Early Fit: TRAVIS JONES, CONNECTICUT
Late Fit: JAYDEN PEEVY, TEXAS A&M
The early fit here comes in the second round, as I’m a firm believer that the Cards should spend Pick 23 on a wide receiver in this deep class. Jones may not even last that far, though, as the 330-pounder left Senior Bowl practices with the fourth-highest pass-rushing grade of the week.
ATLANTA FALCONS: Defensive Line
Early Fit: GEORGE KARLAFTIS, PURDUE
Late Fit: TYREKE SMITH, OHIO STATE
With how often this Falcons defensive line got punched in the mouth last year, they could stand to add a player who can punch back. Both Karlaftis and Smith are physical edge rushers capable of setting the edge, as well. Pick 8 overall isn’t too high for an ascending player with positional versatility like Karlaftis.
BALTIMORE RAVENS: Defensive Line
Early Fit: TRAVON WALKER, GEORGIA
Late Fit: EYIOMA UWAZURIKE, IOWA STATE
Once one of the vaunted units around the league, the Ravens defensive line got old quickly. After losing Michael Pierce and Matthew Judon in free agency the past two years, Brandon Williams and Calais Campbell may be joining them here shortly, as both are well into their 30s.
With Pick 14, someone like Travon Walker would fit the projectable-traits mold the Ravens have gone for over the years. He has inside-outside versatility to handle multiple roles, as well.
Uwazurike doesn’t have that kind of versatility or pass-rushing potential, but he is a load of a nose tackle with ideal length for the position. He can be the middle-of-the-line stalwart somewhere on Day 3.
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BUFFALO BILLS: Defensive Tackle
Early Fit: JORDAN DAVIS, GEORGIA
Late Fit: PHIDARIAN MATHIS, ALABAMA
With Harrison Phillips hitting free agency and Star Lotulelei a possible cap casualty, the nose tackle position could be taking a hit in Buffalo. With all the light boxes they play, that’s not a good thing. Jordan Davis is obviously the safest thing in run defense in the draft, but franchises can often find nose tackles later on. Mathis has a similar skill set to a guy like Phillips coming out in that he can two-gap and hold the point with ease.
CAROLINA PANTHERS: Quarterback
Early Fit: None
Late Fit: BAILEY ZAPPE, WESTERN KENTUCKY
In my opinion, no quarterback in this class is worth a top-10 pick. So, unless they trade back, I’m not sure this draft is the right route to address quarterback. At that point, Zappe could be their best bet for a developmental guy. He hails from a high-volume passing offense and has adequate tools to work with to become a starter, but he will have to improve his pocket presence to do so.
CHICAGO BEARS: Offensive Line
Early Fit: ZION JOHNSON, BOSTON COLLEGE
Late Fit: TYLER SMITH, TULSA
Tackle, guard, center — the Bears could use them all. But, because they won’t be picking until early Day 2, that takes the hopes of getting an immediate starter at tackle off the table.
Johnson is the hope because of how NFL-ready he is at guard. He allowed only six pressures on 364 pass-blocking snaps for Boston College last season.
CINCINNATI BENGALS: Offensive Line
Early Fit: KENYON GREEN, TEXAS A&M
Late Fit: THAYER MUNFORD, OHIO STATE
The theme for the Bengals here is versatility. Green and Munford have both made starts at tackle and guard over their careers. Green played 80-plus snaps at every position except center in 2021, while Munford was the Buckeyes' starting left tackle from 2018-2020 and left guard in 2021.
CLEVELAND BROWNS: Wide Receiver
Early Fit: JAMESON WILLIAMS, ALABAMA
Late Fit: ALEC PIERCE, CINCINNATI
The emphasis here is on guys with some juice. Both Williams and Pierce combine legit size for the position with the ability to take the top off the defense. Williams averaged 19.6 yards per catch for his career, while Pierce averaged 17.4.
DALLAS COWBOYS: Defensive Line
Early Fit: DEVONTE WYATT, GEORGIA
Late Fit: PERRION WINFREY, OKLAHOMA
The Cowboys defense could go to another level if they added an interior penetrator alongside all the weapons they have to rush the passer on the edge. There’s no better prospect in that regard than Wyatt — the man won almost every rep at the Senior Bowl and firmly put himself in the first-round conversation.
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DENVER BRONCOS: Quarterback
Early Fit: None
Late Fit: SAM HOWELL, NORTH CAROLINA
The Broncos' roster is just too good to try and develop one of the quarterbacks in this class. The learning curve for these guys is simply too steep. However, the level of commitment and investment changes once you hit the second round if one of the top guys is still on the board. Howell has the best deep ball in the class and has the kind of accuracy on go-balls to pair nicely with the likes of Courtland Sutton and K.J. Hamler.
DETROIT LIONS: Wide Receiver
Early Fit: GEORGE PICKENS, GEORGIA
Late Fit: DAVID BELL, PURDUE
The Lions are not going wide receiver at No. 2 overall. That being said, the top of the second round has been a hotbed for receiver talent in recent years, with the likes of Deebo Samuel, Tee Higgins and Michael Pittman Jr. being found there in recent years.
George Pickens could very well be that guy in 2022. If he was fully healthy with a better quarterback situation, Pickens could very well have been in the WR1 conversation for this class. He has the kind of high-end ability you rarely see outside the first round.
GREEN BAY PACKERS: Wide Receiver
Early Fit: TREYLON BURKS, ARKANSAS
Late Fit: ROMEO DOUBS, NEVADA
This need will only be exacerbated if Davante Adams and Marquez Valdes-Scantling walk in free agency. Even if both come back, they could still stand to upgrade to keep up with the arms races across the league.
The two guys listed here are bigger-bodied vertical threats, which the Packers have been missing in their offense since Jordy Nelson hit his decline.
HOUSTON TEXANS: Cornerback
Early Fit: TRENT MCDUFFIE, WASHINGTON
Late Fit: AKAYLEB EVANS, MISSOURI
As the PFF draft board stands, Derek Stingley Jr. is the only cornerback we’d advocate taking with the No. 3 overall pick. That being said, he’s not an ideal fit for a Lovie Smith Tampa 2-heavy defense. The best corner in that mold would be Trent McDuffie, a physical, all-around player and an exceptional tackler.
It will be interesting to see if the Texans front office drafts to Smith’s scheme, considering he wasn’t given a long-term deal.
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS: Left Tackle
Early Fit: NICHOLAS PETIT-FRERE, OHIO STATE
Late Fit: RASHEED WALKER, PENN STATE
Finding an immediate starter at left tackle outside the top 10 picks is a rarity. Finding one outside the first round altogether is near impossible. Petit-Frere and Walker are two prospects who tick all the boxes of starting NFL tackles physically, but we saw too much shoddy tape from each in 2021 to feel confident about either putting it together soon. Petit-Frere earned a 60.0 pass-blocking grade last season, while Walker earned a 62.8.
JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS: Linebacker
Early Fit: BRIAN ASAMOAH, OKLAHOMA
Late Fit: CHANNING TINDALL, GEORGIA
I understand that the team with the No. 1 overall pick has more than one glaring need. I also understand they won’t be addressing linebacker No. 1 overall.
Once you get to the top of the second round, though, adding some more speed to Mike Caldwell’s defense would go a long way. Caldwell himself is a former linebacker and had a ton of speed to work with last season with the Bucs. Asamoah and Tindall possess some of the best range in the draft class.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: Edge
Early Fit: JERMAINE JOHNSON, FLORIDA STATE
Late Fit: MICHAEL CLEMONS, TEXAS A&M
Jermaine Johnson would be a pipe dream for the Chiefs. He’s about as NFL-ready as it gets after the guys who’ll likely go top-five in the class. He can immediately be an upgrade in run defense with some pocket-collapsing potential.
LAS VEGAS RAIDERS: Wide Receiver
Early Fit: CHRIS OLAVE, OHIO STATE
Late Fit: JOHN METCHIE III, ALABAMA
The Raiders' offensive splits with and without Henry Ruggs III in 2021 were staggering. They averaged 0.099 expected points added (EPA) per play with him on the field compared to -0.081 EPA per play without him. Replacing that vertical threat is a must. Olave is one of the best downfield separators in the class and can immediately make an impact in that regard if he’s the pick at No. 22.
LOS ANGELES CHARGERS: Defensive Tackle
Early Fit: JORDAN DAVIS, GEORGIA
Late Fit: NEIL FARRELL JR., LSU
I’m of the opinion that this is a need they should address in free agency, given the number of quality run defenders coming available. If not, obviously Davis is the one who can make the biggest immediate impact.
That being said, nose tackles can be found later on, and Farrell actually had a higher run-defense grade than the Georgia behemoth last season (89.9).
2022 NFL Draft position rankings:
Top 10 players at every position
QB | RB | WR | TE | iOL | OT | DI | EDGE | LB | CB | S
LOS ANGELES RAMS: Offensive Line
Early Fit: DYLAN PARHAM, MEMPHIS
Late Fit: DOHNOVAN WEST, ARIZONA STATE
With Andrew Whitworth riding off into the sunset and Joseph Noteboom, Austin Corbett and Brian Allen all hitting free agency, the Rams offensive line has some serious question marks going forward. Unfortunately, they won’t be picking until their compensatory selection for losing Lions GM Brad Holmes at the end of the third round. That means you’re praying for a quality interior lineman like Parham to fall that far, as the chances of getting a tackle are a pipe dream.
MIAMI DOLPHINS: Offensive Line
Early Fit: BERNHARD RAIMANN, CENTRAL MICHIGAN
Late Fit: MATT WALETZKO, NORTH DAKOTA
With how drastic a need this is, I expect it to be filled in free agency to a degree. While I like Matt Waletzko, the Dolphins can’t take on too many more projects to try and fix this line. Raimann offers NFL readiness as a pass-protector despite playing lesser competition. He allowed only 10 pressures all last season — only his second ever playing offensive tackle.
MINNESOTA VIKINGS: Cornerback
Early Fit: TRENT MCDUFFIE, WASHINGTON
Late Fit: COBY BRYANT, CINCINNATI
The good news is that Ed Donatell’s defense shouldn’t be too dissimilar to Mike Zimmer’s in terms of the types of athletes who fill coverage positions on the back end. The bad news is that they didn’t have many good ones to begin with. McDuffie is the one to look out for here at Pick 12. He’s tailor-made to play in an off-zone team with his instincts and tackling ability.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: Cornerback
Early Fit: ANDREW BOOTH JR., CLEMSON
Late Fit: JOSH JOBE, ALABAMA
The Patriots' cornerback group went from strength to possible liability quickly. Next year, the only corners under contract are Jalen Mills, Myles Bryant, Joejuan Williams, and Shaun Wade. The Pats obviously covet man-cover corners, and Booth has easily the best man skill set outside the top corners in the class.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: Quarterback
Early Fit: MATT CORRAL, OLE MISS
Late Fit: BAILEY ZAPPE, WESTERN KENTUCKY
It’s still unclear exactly how the Saints offense will look after a transition from Sean Payton to Dennis Allen, but it is clear they have to stay cheap at the quarterback position, whichever route they go.
If the offense stays the same, Corral is the most intriguing option. He’s excellent with his ball-handling and timing in the quick passing game. He can also add on as a runner, allowing them to do some things they did with Taysom Hill.
NEW YORK GIANTS: Offensive Line
Early Fit: CHARLES CROSS, MISSISSIPPI STATE
Late Fit: BRAXTON JONES, SOUTHERN UTAH
After a strong tackle class netted them Andrew Thomas two years ago, another top-heavy class looks destined to gift them their starting right tackle. Cross makes the most sense from a pass-protection standpoint, as he allowed only 16 pressures on 719 pass-blocking snaps last year.
NEW YORK JETS: Cornerback
Early Fit: AHMAD GARDNER, CINCINNATI
Late Fit: MARTIN EMERSON, MISSISSIPPI STATE
The Jets aren’t going to covet the same corners everyone else will, which can play in their favor. Length and physicality are the calling cards of Robert Saleh’s defense, and no corner has more of both than Sauce Gardner. At 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, Gardner allowed only 14 catches on 30 targets for 83 yards on his 378 press coverage snaps last season.
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: Linebacker
Early Fit: DEVIN LLOYD, UTAH
Late Fit: TROY ANDERSEN, MONTANA STATE
I know the Eagles aren’t fond of taking linebackers early, but with three swings of the bat in Round 1 — and with how glaring the need is — they might change their tune. Lloyd is an all-around middle linebacker who can step in and make an impact from Day 1. He earned run-defense, pass-rushing and coverage grades above 80.0 last season.
PITTSBURGH STEELERS: Quarterback
Early Fit: KENNY PICKETT, PITTSBURGH
Late Fit: CARSON STRONG, NEVADA
While sometimes a quarterback's ability to handle the elements gets overemphasized come draft time, both Pickett and Strong have the kind of frames and arms you’d expect to hold up in Pittsburgh. That said, projecting which quarterbacks will be available by the time the Steelers are on the clock is a crapshoot with this mixed-bag quarterback class.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS: Cornerback
Early Fit: KYLER GORDON, WASHINGTON
Late Fit: CAM TAYLOR-BRITT, NEBRASKA
Gordon is an ascending prospect who could sneak his way into the back end of round one after a strong finish to his first full year as a starter. He’s also proven versatile in Washington’s defense, with 144 snaps in the slot and 527 outside in 2021.
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: Cornerback
Early Fit: KAIIR ELAM, FLORIDA
Late Fit: TARIQ WOOLEN, UTSA
While the Seahawks have ventured off their obsession with long corners in recent years, it’s still their bread and butter. Elam is one of the best fits for a Cover 3-heavy defense in the class and could fall to the top of the second round after an injury-plagued 2021 season saw him earn the lowest grade in his three years at Florida (61.8)
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS: Wide Receiver
Early Fit: JAHAN DOTSON, PENN STATE
Late Fit: SKYY MOORE, WESTERN MICHIGAN
With Chris Godwin’s future uncertain, the Bucs could really use a reliable slot receiver. Both the guys above fit that to a T. Dotson is a little undersized to stay on the outside as he did in college, but he’s a far, far more reliable option than Tyler Johnson. Dotson dropped only five of 148 catchable passes in the last two years.
TENNESSEE TITANS: Tight End
Early Fit: TREY MCBRIDE, COLORADO STATE
Late Fit: ISAIAH LIKELY, COASTAL CAROLINA
Even though Jonnu Smith was never a high-volume receiver for the Titans, Tennessee sorely missed his versatility last year. Both McBride and Likely can fill that same niche in that they are undersized athletes who can make plays with the ball in their hands and block in space. McBride will probably come off the board somewhere in the second round while Likely could be had early Day 3.
WASHINGTON COMMANDERS: Quarterback
Early Fit: MALIK WILLIS, LIBERTY
Late Fit: CARSON STRONG, NEVADA
If there is one team that absolutely should take a swing at a quarterback in Round 1, it's the Commanders. And if you’re going to swing in this class, you might as well swing for the fences with a guy like Malik Willis. His 11.0% big-time throw rate in 2021 was the second-highest we’ve charted in a single season since we started in 2014.