The 2022 NFL season is almost upon us, which means it’s time to make some bold predictions. While everybody is focusing on team win totals, I want to be a little more specific with some bold predictions and go out on a limb for each team, offering up some takes that will be specific to PFF grades and some that are more general.
Given the nature of bold predictions, the strike rate here is unlikely to be incredibly high, but these takes will be rooted in data and be things that I think have a realistic shot of happening, not just craziness plucked from the ether.
Previous articles in the series:
1. The Cardinals will exceed their projected win total comfortably
This offseason has been an unusually bad one from Arizona’s perspective in terms of PR. The mood surrounding the team is poor because of the way their seasons have ended, but zoom out and the team has taken big strides in the right direction every year under Kliff Kingsbury.
A year ago, the feeling was similarly low, but Arizona improved its win total by three, made the playoffs and saw Kyler Murray take another leap in his development. The late season collapses are a worrying trend, and something that definitely needs to be addressed. However, there’s every reason to think the team will be very good overall regardless, and their over/under win total, according to Vegas, is just 8.5 wins.
2. Zaven Collins finishes with a top-10 linebacker grade
For two straight seasons now, the Cardinals have spent a first-round pick on a freak athlete at off-ball linebacker and then had to ease them in slowly. Isaiah Simmons took some time to come along, and Zaven Collins ended up playing just 220 snaps on defense all season, with many of the snaps coming on special teams (155).
Collins wasn’t without fault when he was on the field, but overall he made an impact, particularly against the run. He read that part of the game quickly and decisively got into position. He flashed enough impact skills that he could easily end Year 2 with a top-10 grade at the position.
3. Rondale Moore gets 100 targets
With DeAndre Hopkins missing six games due to suspension, the Cardinals traded for Marquise Brown this offseason in part to offset the loss. But Rondale Moore is the player who should pick up the bulk of the lost production from Christian Kirk‘s departure. Moore is a dynamic playmaker that the team is still trying to understand how best to deploy. He is capable of being far more than a gimmick, and if the team embraces that this season, 100 targets is very achievable. In his rookie season, he saw 64 passes come his way, catching 54 of them.
1. The Rams are better this season than last year
Matthew Stafford‘s addition to the Rams changed the potential output of the entire team. His ceiling and capabilities are so much higher than Jared Goff‘s that it allowed head coach Sean McVay to unleash the full scope of the offense, and when that happened, huge numbers ensued.
Allen Robinson II joins the team to replace Robert Woods, pairing with a capable quarterback for the first time in his entire football career, including college. Robinson and Cooper Kupp have supreme potential, and the rest of the unit has had a year to get comfortable with what they can do. This Rams team may be better than the one that won the Super Bowl.
2. Bobby Wagner bounces back to an All-Pro level
The talent level around Bobby Wagner in Seattle had been deteriorating for years, leaving him as the last remnant of a formerly great defense. Wagner has been one of the best linebackers of his generation, possessing elite ability to read the game even if he might not be physically what he once was.
The Rams' defense coaches linebackers to be unusually passive in reacting to play action, and eliminating those missteps really helps them out in coverage. Wagner earned a 71.8 overall PFF grade last season but could easily bounce back to a level over 85.0 and push for an All-Pro spot in a better environment.
3. Aaron Donald doubles the pressure output of any other Rams defender
Aaron Donald is the best pass rusher in the NFL at any position. He routinely leads the league in total pressures as an interior lineman or comes very close to doing so. Last season, Donald tallied 86 total pressures, the second-best PFF pass-rushing grade in the league and a top five pass-rush win rate despite experiencing more double teams than most pass rushers. Leonard Floyd managed 58 pressures last season but just a 72.4 pass-rushing grade. An elite year from Donald could see him double his best teammate’s production.
1. Trey Lance finishes top-15 in PFF grade
The prospect of what head coach Kyle Shanahan can create on offense with a quarterback as gifted as Trey Lance is incredibly exciting. The last time we saw anything like it was the incredible rookie season from Robert Griffin III in Washington a decade ago. Lance should have a very high floor because of his rushing threat and the offensive scheme. If he can avoid being an absolute turnover machine, he could easily threaten finishing in the top half in PFF grade at the position.
2. 49ers lead the league in rushing
Making sense of the 49ers' stable of running backs is usually folly, but add the rushing threat of Trey Lance, Deebo Samuel and even Kyle Juszczyk to that and it's a downright scary strength. The 49ers weren’t tremendously efficient running the ball last season, ranking 17th in explosive run rate and yards per attempt, but they made up for it with volume. Only the Titans ran the ball more often, and they ended the season seventh overall in rushing yards. With the extra dimension that Lance brings over Garoppolo, the No. 1 spot is firmly within their sights.
3. Drake Jackson earns the second-best PFF pass-rushing grade on the team
Drake Jackson owned the most picture-perfect dip and bend speed rush of the entire draft class. That’s not all there is to pass-rushing, but it’s a very valuable skill to have, and the 49ers were able to grab a player with the best version of it with the 61st pick in the draft.
Jackson earned an 88.3 PFF pass-rushing grade last season, and with Nick Bosa on one side of the line, Jackson could become a very useful complementary piece on the other side, free from any prospect of double teams. Don’t be surprised to see him have a very productive rookie season and quickly become the team’s second-best pass rusher.
1. Bo Melton emerges as the clear No. 3 target in this offense
There’s not a whole lot to like about the Seahawks heading into their first season in a while without Russell Wilson at quarterback, but they have talent at the skill positions. Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf are both elite talents at receiver, and rookie Bo Melton could quickly become the No. 3 receiver.
A talented recruit held back to a degree by Rutgers' offense, Melton averaged over two yards per route run in each of his last two years in college, breaking double-digit tackles each season. He has a versatile skill set that can win inside and provide a lot of the missing pieces to the receiver room that this offense may need to lean on.
2. The defense ranks bottom five in the league
This is not your father’s Legion of Boom. The exceptional talent that spearheaded one of the best defenses the NFL has ever seen is now entirely gone, with Wagner the last remnant of that incredible unit departing this offseason.
The Seahawks have whiffed badly in every avenue of trying to re-stock the talent, and now they’re paying the price for those misses. Last season’s defense allowed a successful offensive play on 37.5% of their snaps, which ranked 27th in the league, and they lost quite a few important players from that group. This could be the worst Seahawks defense in a while, an overall underwhelming group.
3. The starting quarterback in the final weeks of the season is not currently on the roster
Geno Smith versus Drew Lock is not an inspiring quarterback battle. One of them is likely to win it by default, and there’s not a lot on the open market right now in terms of potential upgrades — but that could easily change.
In particular, Jimmy Garoppolo remains in limbo as the 49ers try to manufacture an interested team that isn’t Seattle. If they can’t, they may have to release him — and Seattle would be well served to add Garoppolo to the team if he becomes available. Even beyond Garoppolo, there’s a good chance the team's quarterback play is problematic enough that 17 games of it proves too much for the team to handle, causing them to cast around for some alternatives late in the season.
There’s a good chance that the final weeks of the season result in a quarterback starting for Seattle who is not in the picture as things currently stand.