• Click here for the rest of Sam Monson's “Bold Prediction” series.
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, giving 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 — things that I think have a realistic shot of happening, not just craziness plucked from the ether.
1. Skyy Moore leads the Chiefs wide receivers in production
With no Tyreek Hill, the Chiefs offense is going to have to play a different way in 2022, which will likely consist of spreading the ball around more and continuing last season’s trend of dialing back the big-play aggressiveness.
Travis Kelce will be their leading receiver, but Moore has the best composite skill set to be the leading wideout. Moore has an exceptional package of releases off the line of scrimmage, good hands and toughness to win in all areas. He averaged 3.46 yards per route run last season in college, racking up over 1,200 yards and 10 touchdowns.
2. George Karlaftas will outperform any season Frank Clark has had in Kansas City as a rookie
Clark has been a major disappointment for the Chiefs since they traded for him. With a big veteran contract, Clark was supposed to bring a guaranteed source of pressure and production from the edge, but he just hasn't produced at the level the Chiefs need. With that in mind, don't be surprised if rookie George Karlaftis exceeds Clark’s average in Year 1. Karlaftis was the overlooked edge rusher in this draft, but he was exceptionally productive in college, notching over 50 pressures twice and ending his final season with a 90.6 PFF pass-rushing grade. Karlaftis is technically advanced, and while he may have a ceiling to his play, he should make an immediate impact.
3. Patrick Mahomes finishes outside of the top-10 in PFF grade
Mahomes struggled last season because of the two-high safety looks the league was showing Kansas City all season. “Struggled” is a relative term, as a down year for Mahomes is a career year for most other quarterbacks. He still passed for over 4,800 yards and had 37 touchdowns to 13 interceptions, but it posted the lowest PFF grade of his career (77.1) and, by far, the lowest big-time throw rate (3.3%). Teams took away the deep bombs and forced Mahomes to be more patient. The Chiefs were still able to find success, but they weren’t as devastating that way. With no Hill in the lineup, Mahomes may not immediately jump back into the top ten in terms of grades.
1. It wasn’t all Pete Carroll in Seattle
The “let Russ cook” movement rested on the presupposition that Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll was responsible for holding Russell Wilson back and placing a cap on how effective he was as a quarterback. For the first time, we will get to see how true that is as Wilson takes control of the Broncos offense. We may discover that much of the way Wilson plays the game is inherent and not a feature of shackles thrown on him by Carroll and the Seahawks. Denver may dial up some more early-down passing, but Wilson doesn’t always stick to the quick-game passing plan, and much of what makes him special is his ability to manufacture high-value but low-efficiency big plays downfield. Wilson can play outstanding football, but stylistically, he may never be able to play the kind of offense that some other quarterbacks thrive in.
2. K.J. HAMLER becomes an elite deep threat
We saw little of Hamler last season — just 88 snaps across three games — and he is an unusual receiver. At just 5-foot-9 and 173 pounds with blazing speed, Hamler could be a perfect designated deep threat for, arguably, the best deep passer in the league. Hamler has generated just 1.18 yards per route run in the NFL but has been dealing with conservative or inept quarterback play thus far. In college, Hamler was a dynamic big-play threat at all times, and Wilson is well used to taking advantage of those kinds of players, even if they don't have complete skill sets.
3. NIK BONITTO finishes with the best PFF pass-rushing grade on the team
Denver’s pass-rushing hopes rest on Bradley Chubb and Randy Gregory‘s shoulders, but while Chubb was a top-five draft pick and Gregory had some high-level pass-rushing grades a season ago, each player is low on sample size when it comes to elite play. Bonitto may have a limited role as a designated pass-rusher, but he was lethal as a pass-rushing force in college. Bonitto posted the best two-year PFF pass-rushing productivity in the draft class, ahead of Aidan Hutchinson. He recorded 91 total pressures from 406 pass-rushing snaps over his final two seasons, earning a PFF pass-rushing grade above 92.0 each time.
1. Derek Carr has the best PFF grade of his career
Carr has shown the difference that having a No. 1 receiver, or even an accomplished deep threat, has on his performances. His best season in the NFL is still 2016 — at least in terms of PFF grades — but he came close to toppling it in 2020 and now has Davante Adams added to his receivers. Adams has been the NFL's best receiver for a couple of years, leading the league PFF grade (93.1) and third in yards per route run (2.82) over the last two seasons. Adams was also Carr’s favorite target in college, so the two already have chemistry.
2. The Raiders finish with a bottom-five offensive line
If there’s one thing that can sink the Raiders this season, it’s the offensive line, a group that ranks 29th heading into the season on paper. The offensive line provides the foundation for everything else on offense. As good as the Raiders are in terms of quarterback and skill position players, it could all be undermined if the offensive line is prohibitively bad. No lineman in the league allowed more pressures than Alex Leatherwood last season (67), and the Raiders ranked 24th in pass-blocking efficiency. This group needs multiple pleasant surprises to avoid being a problem.
3. CB Nate Hobbs makes the Pro Bowl
A real bright spot on the Raiders last season was rookie cornerback Nate Hobbs' play, as he trailed only Maxx Crosby in terms of PFF grade on defense. Hobbs primarily lined up in the slot and allowed just 8.5 yards per catch on the season. The Raiders ran a very predictable defense last season, but with a new coaching staff, Hobbs could see a benefit from a little more variety in terms of coverages. Hobbs has the talent to be one of the best slot corners in the league, and that could see him find a spot in the Pro Bowl.
1. The defense ranks inside the top 10
Brandon Staley was hired as Chargers head coach fresh off the back of orchestrating the No. 1 defense in the NFL with the Los Angeles Rams. The Chargers already had talent on defense, and Staley’s scheme was at the cutting edge of defensive strategy in the NFL. Expectations were that he would have an immediate impact on the unit, but it didn’t really happen, as it finished 24th in EPA per play last year on defense. Nonetheless, the Chargers added major reinforcements in the offseason — Khalil Mack, Sebastian Joseph-Day and Austin Johnson should all make a major difference to their ability to stop the run while Mack adds real pressure as well.
2. The defense will rank top-five in turnovers
Much of the turnaround in the defense will be down to the collection of ballhawks the Chargers seem to be prioritizing for their secondary. Turnovers are some of the most valuable plays in football, and creating them can offset a lot of yardage given up. J.C. Jackson has 25 interceptions and 28 additional pas breakups across his four seasons in the league. Asante Samuel Jr.’s rookie year was underwhelming, but he still had a pair of interceptions and seven pass breakups. He has impressive ball skills and a knack for breaking on the football. Derwin James is one of the best playmakers in the NFL, and Nasir Adderley has elite range at free safety. The Chargers weren’t bad in turnovers last year, but this season they vault amongst the league’s elite.
3. RASHAWN SLATER will be the best-graded tackle in the NFL
Few tackles have entered the NFL looking as composed and assured as Slater. He was one of only four tackles who earned 80.0-plus PFF grades as both a run blocker and pass protector, and he did it in his rookie season. His biggest challenge came against Myles Garrett, and the biggest problems he had with him were more to do with the chip blocks he was receiving than anything else. It would take a decline in play from the absurd level Trent Williams set in 2021 for any other tackle to sit atop the rankings, but if that happens, Slater has as good a chance as any to jump into that role with a Year 2 jump.