NFL fans have questions about Trey Lance’s future, the NFL’s best running back room, the fantasy outlook for two second-round rookie receivers, and more. We have answers in this week’s mailbag.
That’s what the San Francisco 49ers are hoping for, but even they don’t know at this point.
I’ve heard the phrase “top-eight quarterback” thrown around by teams pretty frequently over the last year or so. Organizations are looking for a quarterback who can get them into the divisional round of the playoffs and give them a chance to win a Super Bowl. It’s a tough list to crack right now with Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers, Justin Herbert, Josh Allen, Joe Burrow, Lamar Jackson, Dak Prescott, Matthew Stafford, Russell Wilson, Kyler Murray and Deshaun Watson taking up spots while players such as Trevor Lawrence, Mac Jones, Justin Fields, Zach Wilson and the aforementioned Trey Lance are on the rise.
Lance has the tools, both physically and mentally. That’s why the 49ers took him where they did third overall in the 2021 NFL Draft. They believe he can be a “top-eight quarterback,” and they’re willing to let him prove it by trading Jimmy Garoppolo before the season. He just needs more reps and some fine-tuning on his mechanics, but he’s not a complete project. He still comes with a relatively high floor, and playing under head coach Kyle Shanahan will certainly help him reach his potential.
Lance has impressed people within the organization so far this spring, and the team feels he’s already shown progress early in organized team activities. Thursday was believed to be his best practice of the offseason.
I’m not trying to dodge the question, but I just don’t know if he’ll be a top-10 quarterback within the next two years, and neither does the 49ers organization at this point. But there’s certainly optimism about what they have in the 22-year-old quarterback. He earned a 90.7 overall grade (88.7 as a passer and 76.6 as a runner) in his last full season — 2019 at North Dakota State. He earned a 56.7 overall grade on 98 total snaps in the 2021 preseason and a 59.9 overall grade on 179 total snaps during the 2021 regular season.
Among six rookie quarterbacks with at least 50 dropbacks last season, Lance ranked third in overall grade, second in passing grade, fifth in rushing grade, third in big-time throw percentage, last in turnover-worthy play percentage, first in average depth of target and fourth in adjusted completion percentage.
He also played significantly fewer snaps than fellow rookies Lawrence, Jones, Fields, Wilson and Davis Mills.
I think I have to go with the Cleveland Browns. Nick Chubb earned the No. 2 ranking in Ben Linsey’s 2022 NFL Running Back Rankings and Tiers piece, while Kareem Hunt was one of three non-starter honorable mentions. The Dallas Cowboys (Ezekiel Elliott, No. 15, and Tony Pollard, honorable mention) and the Green Bay Packers (Aaron Jones, No. 7, and A.J. Dillon, honorable mention) were the only other teams with two players mentioned.
The Browns set themselves apart, however, since they also have D’Ernest Johnson in their running back room. Among running backs with over 200 snaps over the last two seasons, Johnson ranks 15th with an 80.4 overall PFF grade.
A few other teams of note are the Indianapolis Colts (Jonathan Taylor, Nyheim Hines and Phillip Lindsay), New England Patriots (Damien Harris, Rhamondre Stevenson, James White and Pierre Strong), Las Vegas Raiders (Josh Jacobs, Kenyan Drake and Zamir White), Chicago Bears (David Montgomery and Khalil Herbert), Denver Broncos (Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon), Seattle Seahawks (Kenneth Walker, Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny) and perhaps the deepest room in the NFL, the Miami Dolphins (Chase Edmonds, Myles Gaskin, Raheem Mostert, Sony Michel and Salvon Ahmed).
The Browns just have one of the very best running backs in the NFL in Chubb and two highly-graded and quality backups in Hunt and Johnson.
If you look at Yonko’s avatar, yes, he is a Cincinnati Bengals fan.
I find it a little bit interesting that the Bengals and Baltimore Ravens both have 2022 NFL win total over/under of 9.5 wins. It appears that Vegas expects some regression from the Bengals, who won 10 games and made the Super Bowl last season, and improvement from the Ravens, who won eight games in 2021. It makes sense from the Ravens' perspective. They should stay healthier this season, and they improved their roster by adding Marcus Williams, Morgan Moses, Michael Pierce, Brent Urban, Kyle Fuller, Kyle Hamilton, Tyler Linderbaum, David Ojabo and Travis Jones, among others.
It is worth noting that Baltimore does still have a sizable hole at wide receiver beyond Rashod Bateman after trading Marquise Brown and losing Sammy Watkins. Will Fuller, Julio Jones and Odell Beckham Jr. are the top available veteran free agents at the position.
I think the Bengals are a little bit underrated heading into the 2022 season with some expected improvement out of Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins. Maybe they won’t win the AFC again since the conference improved by leaps and bounds, but they’re in the mix. The Browns also should be competitive, dependent upon any potential discipline handed down by the NFL for Deshaun Watson.
For 2022? I’m taking Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Skyy Moore. For a dynasty league, however, I’m picking Green Bay Packers wide receiver Christian Watson, and PFF's fantasy analysts agree with that assessment based on their rankings.
Both 2022 second-round picks are entering wide-open receiver rooms with elite quarterbacks and should see early playing time. Moore is competing with Mecole Hardman, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling for snaps and very well could sneak into that top three rotation. Watson was taken 20 picks earlier and walks into a wide receiver room with Randall Cobb, Amari Rodgers, Allen Lazard and Sammy Watkins.
I’d take Moore in 2022 just because I view him as being more pro-ready. He earned a 91.8 overall PFF grade in 2021 while playing at Western Michigan, which might not be a Power-5 school, but it is in the FBS. Watson has better size and more intriguing tools, but he earned an 87.9 PFF grade at FCS North Dakota State in 2021 and only received 180 total targets in four years with the Bison. Moore was targeted 247 times in just three college seasons.
I’d still bank on Josh Jacobs, even though the Raiders didn’t pick up his fifth-year option, making him an unrestricted free agent after the season. Jacobs is still only 24 years old, and he’s one of the better running backs in the NFL. Kenyan Drake can continue to be a change-of-pace option, Las Vegas can take 2022 to see what Zamir White can offer for the future, and Brandon Bolden is more of a special-teamer/emergency back.
Keep in mind with White that Josh McDaniels is his head coach, and the New England Patriots sometimes liked to redshirt running backs in their rookie seasons. White was selected in the fourth round and might not have a heavy role in 2022 based on precedent that was set by McDaniels when he was offensive coordinator in New England.