JUMP TO A TEAM:
J.J. Watt had a fantastic final season of his career, but Allen was the Cardinals' most productive interior defensive lineman. Allen recorded a career-high 35 pressures to go along with 15 QB hits and six sacks. He also was a good run defender (67.4 grade) as his game took off in Year 4. As a result, Allen should get a significant pay raise in free agency in March.
The Falcons had one of the league’s best offensive lines in 2022 and a big reason why was due to McGary's emergence. He allowed just three QB hits all season and graded out as one of the league’s best run blockers (91.6). With McGary and Chris Lindstrom on the right side of the offensive line, it’s no wonder why the Falcons had so much success running the ball this season.
The Ravens love to use three or more safeties on the field simultaneously. That's why they drafted Kyle Hamilton in the first round and signed Marcus Williams to a big contract last offseason. Nevertheless, Clark was the most consistent player in their secondary this season. No one played more snaps on defense than Clark in 2022 (1,149) as he was one of the real leaders of the defense. Clark allowed just 256 yards in coverage despite being targeted 43 times.
The Bills needed more from their defensive line this season, but Jones was one of the few who did impress. Jones finished with the fourth-most pressures on the team (33) and racked up 19 hurries to go along with his five QB sacks. Despite being a part of a heavy rotation on the interior defensive line, Jones was a difference maker for the Bills, as he appeared in all 17 regular season games.
I don't know if you can call a former top-10 pick a secret superstar, but we are doing it anyway. Brown was fantastic in 2022, as he had the team's second-most pressures (40). He registered the fourth-most run stops (31) and racked up the second-most hurries for Carolina. Brown was a borderline dominant player this year and a big reason why the Panthers were significantly better on defense.
Despite being a fifth-round pick from Southern Utah, Jones was one of the year's biggest surprises. He started every game at left tackle and led the Bears in snaps played (1,033). He also performed exceptionally well, finishing the season with a 75.4 overall grade. Jones allowed just four QB hits all year and received high marks as a run blocker (79.4). The Bears must be thrilled with the play they got from their rookie left tackle in 2022.
Cincinnati Bengals – EDGE Sam Hubbard
Hubbard made the big play in the wild-card round, returning a fumble for 98 yards for a TD. Nonetheless, Hubbard was making a bunch of important plays for the Bengals before that game. He finished second on the team in pressures (59) and tied Trey Hendrickson with the most sacks (nine). He’s also a plus-run defender (74.5), as Hubbard has developed into one of the league’s most complete defensive ends.
When the Browns signed Brissett, the hope was that he would be serviceable in the 11 games that Deshaun Watson would miss. Nonetheless, Brissett far exceeded those expectations, as he played like a borderline top-10 passer. In fact, he significantly outplayed Watson this season and the offense played at a better rate when Brissett was on the field. After a really strong 2022 season, Brissett should get a nice pay raise this offseason.
One of the biggest reasons why the Cowboys were so good on defense this season was due to their depth in the secondary. Wilson became an impact player for the Cowboys this season, racking up five sacks, 14 pressures and 40 run stops. He’s one of the most physical safeties in the league and has improved in coverage every season.
The Broncos got really good play from their linebackers this season, as Josey Jewell was able to stay healthy and on the field. However, their best linebacker was none other than Singleton, who was a monster in the run game. Not only did he lead the team in tackles (118), but he also led them in stops (62). He posted 22 more run stops than the next-highest player on the team.
Detroit Lions – EDGE John Cominsky
Aidan Hutchinson received all the attention on the defensive line for the Lions and deservedly so. Nonetheless, Cominsky needs to get some more love for his season. Cominsky finished second on the team in pressures (44), just nine fewer than Hutchinson. But more impressively, Cominsky racked up those 44 pressures on just 554 snaps. He projects as a high-end rotational player moving forward, but he had a strong season in 2022 with the Lions.
A fourth-round pick from Wake Forest, Tom played three different positions for the Packers this season (LG, LT, RT). His best play came at left tackle, but he handled himself well whenever he was on the field. Tom played 489 snaps as a rookie, allowing just one sack and four QB hits. We will see where he starts in 2023, but the Packers have found another quality offensive lineman who has position versatility.
Houston Texans – EDGE Ogbonnia Okoronkwo
The Texans got another strong season out of Jerry Hughes, but he wasn't even their best pass-rusher. That honor belongs to Okoronkwo, who has finally found a home with the Texans. Okoronkwo was the team’s highest-graded defender this season (75.1), leading them in QB hits (six). He needs to improve as a run defender (61.5 grade) before becoming a complete edge defender, but this is easily the best he's played since his time at Oklahoma.
There is no doubt that Raimann struggled early in the season. In his first game as a starter at left tackle, he allowed four hurries and was called for four penalties. However, he improved down the stretch, allowing just two QB hits in the season's final six games. Raimann was the team's second-best offensive lineman this season, (73.3) as he held down the fort at left tackle. The Colts have to feel optimistic about Raimann and the left tackle spot going into the 2023 offseason.
Jacksonville Jaguars – EDGE Arden Key
The Jaguars have spent a lot of draft capital on their edge rushers, including three first-round picks (Josh Allen, K’Lavon Chaisson and Travon Walker). Allen was really good again in 2022, but Key proved to be the most reliable other edge defender. He finished the season with the second-most pressures on the team (51) and QB hits (13). He was even a net positive as a run defender (75.1), which hasn't really been his strength in the NFL. Key has really turned his career around over the last two seasons after three disappointing years with the Raiders.
Kansas City Chiefs – EDGE Michael Danna
The Chiefs have a lot of big-name players on their defensive line, including Chris Jones, Frank Clark and Carlos Dunlap. Nonetheless, one player that needs to get more attention is Danna, who finished fourth on the team in pressures (37) while recording 26 hurries this season. That's impressive considering he played 501 total snaps this season. Danna isn't a great run defender, but he has shown the ability to make an impact as a pass-rusher for this Kansas City defense.
The right tackle position was a huge problem for the Raiders going into the season, as the team was hoping that either Brandon Parker or Alex Leatherwood would lock down that spot. However, neither player ended up playing a single snap for the team, as they opted for the veteran Eluemunor instead. He allowed just three sacks and three QB hits all season, as he really became a solid starter on the right side. Eluemunor played 940 snaps for the Raiders and was the team's fourth-highest-graded player on the offense.
When the Chargers lost Rashawn Slater in Week 3 to a pectoral injury, it felt like the season was already over for Los Angeles. Luckily, they got quality play from Salyer on the left side, which helped stabilize the offensive line. The rookie tackle played over 1,000 snaps for the Chargers this season, allowing just five sacks and 10 QB hits. While the Chargers would love to see those numbers go down in 2023, you can't ask for much more from a Day 3 rookie. Salyer will likely be the team's swing tackle next year, but it's hard not to be impressed with his level of play this season.
The Rams couldn't have asked for more from Bobby Wagner in 2022, as he played at an All-Pro level, but he wasn't the only Rams linebacker who had a good season. Jones was fantastic against the run, finishing with the second-most stops on the team (39). While he and Wagner both allowed over 400 yards in coverage, both players only allowed one receiving touchdown on the year. Jones is a fantastic complement to Wagner, as the Rams have to feel great about the linebacker corps going into the 2023 season.
The Dolphins have a ton of talent on their defensive line, including four former first-round picks. Nonetheless, Sieler slid under the radar this season, as he played 944 snaps on the interior defensive line. He finished the season third in pressures (36) and run stops (44) for the Dolphins. While he's not known for being a pass-rusher, he did record a career-high seven sacks and nine QB hits. Sieler is a really underrated player on one of the deepest defensive lines in the NFL.
Shelly started his first game for the Vikings in Week 12, but he improved every week. In the season's final six games (including the postseason), Shelly allowed just 153 receiving yards on 29 targets. He did not allow a single touchdown and recorded an interception in Week 18.
New England Patriots – EDGE Josh Uche
It’s hard to call Uche a “secret” after recording 12 sacks, but we are doing it anyways. He finished the year as the team’s highest-graded defender and racked up 56 pressures on just 373 total snaps. He was one of the league's most efficient pass-rushers, but now, he needs to show that he can play in the run game in order to earn more snaps on defense.
Elliss was one of the most surprising players of the 2022 season. While he played in all 17 games, he only became a full-time player in Week 10. Playing off-ball linebacker, Elliss became one of the team’s most impactful defenders. He racked up seven sacks in the season's final nine games and had the team's second-most run stops (36). With Demario Davis and Pete Werner, the Saints are loaded with linebacker talent after Elliss' emergence.
The Giants struggled to find competent wide receiver play for most of the year, but it appears they have found a diamond in the rough. Hodgins finished the season as the team's third-highest-graded offensive player (76.1), behind only Andrew Thomas and Saquon Barkley. In the final five games of the regular season, Hodgins totaled 250 yards and four touchdowns. He also had a monster game against the Vikings in the wild-card round, catching eight passes for 105 yards and a touchdown. Hodgins doesn’t completely solve their WR need, but he is a nice piece to have moving forward.
New York Jets – EDGE John Franklin-Myers
The Jets have two superstars on their defense — Quinnen Williams and Sauce Gardner — but don’t forget about Franklin-Myers, who finished the year with the most hurries (33) on the team. He ended the year with 51 pressures and seven sacks as he continues to be one of the league's most underrated edge defenders.
The Eagles are loaded on defense, but one of the reasons they were able to be so good all year long is due to the play of linebacker T.J. Edwards. He played nearly every snap this season and led the team in stops with 51. What’s even more surprising is that he was targeted 71 times in coverage this season, allowing only 249 yards and zero touchdowns. Edwards is a complete linebacker who needs more credit for everything he does for the Eagles.
Pittsburgh's offense wasn't dynamic this season, but Warren brought some juice to the unit. He saw just 77 carries in the run game but averaged 4.9 yards per rush and 7.6 yards per reception on 28 catches. The most impressive stat about Warren is that 24.5% of his runs went for 15 or more yards. He's an incredibly dynamic running back who should see a lot more work in 2023.
Fred Warner might be the best linebacker in the league, but don’t forget about Greenlaw when mentioning the top linebackers. Greenlaw and Warner tied for the team lead in stops (67), but Greenlaw allowed just two touchdowns on 109 coverage targets this season. He’s developed into one of the league’s best coverage linebackers and is a big reason the defense was historically dominant this season.
When the Seahawks lost Jamal Adams in Week 1, that seemed like a devastating injury for the defense moving forward. However, that ended up not being the case as Neal graded out as one of the league's best safeties. He was fantastic in coverage this season, allowing just 276 yards in coverage. He was also a good run defender as the Seahawks moved him all over the field.
When Ryan Jensen went down with a knee injury in training camp, Hainsey stepped up for the Buccaneers. The former third-round pick started all 17 games at center for the Buccaneers and did an admirable job. He did not allow a single sack all season and surrendered just seven QB hits. While he certainly isn’t as good as Jensen, you couldn’t ask for much from the second-year player from Notre Dame.
The Titans have an emerging star in their offense and his name is Chigoziem Okonkwo. As a rookie tight end, he led all tight ends in yards per route run (2.61) and yards after the catch per reception (7.8). He’s one of the league’s most dynamic players in space and can beat defenses vertically. If the Titans can solve their quarterback problem, he could quickly become one of the most dangerous offensive weapons in the league.
One of the league’s best safeties in 2022 was none other than Kamren Curl. While he missed five games due to injuries, he was fantastic for the Commanders when he was on the field. Curl racked up 29 run stops in 12 games while missing only four tackles. He also finished the season with a coverage grade of 80.8, allowing only two touchdowns all season long.