Sunday, May 22, 2022

2022 NFL Draft: Lamar Jackson leads veterans who benefitted; Ryan Tannehill now looking over his shoulder

The 2022 NFL season is just four months away as teams begin to ramp up their offseason training in a quest for a Super Bowl championship. With the draft complete, some players know their competition for roster spots, while others are aware of the teammates they will be working with for the upcoming season.

Some picks were immensely beneficial to franchise players, while other picks will have veterans looking over their shoulder at every turn. Front offices view high draft picks as roster assets and eventual long-term replacements for key players, part of the ever-changing roster construction in the league. 

There were a few veteran players who immensely benefited from their team’s draft, while others will be watching their back based on the draft picks — and the round — those picks were selected in.

Which players are worth buying stock in with the draft completed? How about the players to stay away from? 

Five veterans the draft helped

Forget the lack of proven wide receivers in Baltimore. The Ravens did an excellent job this draft of landing Jackson offensive skill players who fit the type of offense that won Jackson the league MVP award in 2019. In addition to All-Pro tight end Mark Andrews, the Ravens selected tight ends Charlie Kolar and Isaiah Likely in the fourth round — giving Jackson three pass-catching options at a position he likes to throw to in the middle of the field. 

In Jackson’s MVP season he had three tight ends who each finished with over 300 yards receiving and combined for 14 touchdowns. This with having no receivers amassing over 600 yards. The Ravens also had a strong offensive line, which Baltimore addressed with the first-round selection of center Tyler Linderbaum and the fourth-round pick of tackle Daniel Faalele. Ronnie Stanley will also be back healthy in 2022. 

The Ravens will also be getting J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards back at running back, giving Baltimore one of the best one-two combinations in the league (not forgetting Jackson has two 1,000-yard seasons himself). Jackson has the offense tailor-made for another monster season collecting pass touchdowns and rushing yards on the ground. 

He should regain his MVP form in 2022, even without a capable wide receiver outside of Rashod Bateman

Murray did lose DeAndre Hopkins for six games due to a PED suspension, but the addition of Marquise Brown to a talented wide receiver unit is going to immensely benefit. The Cardinals needed a receiver who can stretch the field, which is what Brown will provide as the team’s No. 1 option on the outside until Hopkins returns. 

When Hopkins does come back, the Cardinals will have a wide receiver trio of him, Brown, and A.J. Green. Zach Ertz and second-round pick Trey McBride will also line up at tight end, giving Murray plenty of pass-catching options to succeed down the stretch.

The Cardinals should have an offense primed to make a run in the loaded NFC West, and build off their year-by-year improvement by winning a playoff game this season. This is Murray’s best supporting cast to date (when Hopkins comes back).

The Ravens already had one of the biggest signings in free agency by landing Williams to a five-year deal. Baltimore decided to double down at the safety position by selecting Kyle Hamilton at No 14 overall — who fell to the franchise at that spot in the draft. 

Hamilton was one of the best players in the draft, allowing just a 17.5 passer rating when targeted in his career at Notre Dame. Williams will get an excellent coverage safety to team with, while he can thrive in the box in defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald’s scheme. He also will be in the same secondary with cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey, Marcus Peters, and safety Chuck Clark

Baltimore is loaded in the secondary — and Williams should be primed for a huge year. 

Brown was one of the biggest winners of the draft, quietly getting out of Tennessee after he and the Titans couldn’t agree to terms on a contract extension. The Titans shipped Brown to Philadelphia and he got the best of both worlds: Catching passes from a close friend in Jalen Hurts and receiving a four-year, $100 million extension from the Eagles ($57 million guaranteed). 

Brown is the No. 1 receiver the Eagles needed to pair with DeVonta Smith. He’s a big-play threat who has already put up massive numbers in his first three seasons in the league. Turning 25 later this year, the best is yet to come for Brown and the revitalized Eagles offense. The young receiver should thrive in Nick Sirianni’s system (Sirianni was a wide receivers coach for a number of years in the league), as he helped Smith set the Eagles’ rookie record for receiving yards in a season last year.

Imagine what Sirianni can scheme up for a player of Brown’s caliber. 

There are no more excuses for Wentz in terms of pass-catchers he’s throwing to. Washington took care of its investment at quarterback by selecting Jahan Dotson in the first round of the draft, pairing the wide receiver with Terry McLaurin and Curtis Samuel. That’s the best trio of wide receivers Wentz has had in the NFL, and he was the MVP front-runner with Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, and Torrey Smith in 2017 with the Eagles. 

The Commanders also selected Brian Robinson Jr. at running back, pairing him with 1,000-yard back Antonio Gibson and pass-catching specialist J.D. McKissic. Wentz also has Logan Thomas at tight end, a position he frequently throws to. 

Whether Wentz is good anymore or not isn’t relevant. The Commanders have set him up to succeed in the pass-catching department. If Wentz can’t get the job done with this group, the Commanders will turn to rookie Sam Howell and Wentz days as a starting quarterback could be over. 

Five veterans the draft hurt 

Penny was the best running back in football at the end of the 2021 season, finally showcasing what he can do when healthy. Penny finished his 2021 season with 119 carries for 749 yards and six touchdowns — leading the NFL with 6.3 yards per carry. In the final five games, Penny had 92 carries for 671 yards and six touchdowns — an incredible 7.3 yards per carry.

The Seahawks signed Penny to a one-year deal, but also took Kenneth Walker in the second round of the draft. Seattle clearly has plans for Walker in the backfield, which will take away carries from Penny. Chris Carson is still on the roster and should factor into the mix, even with his injury history. 

If Penny is healthy, he should be the featured back in Seattle’s offense — but Walker is primed to play a vital role in the running back rotation. Seattle has the looks of utilizing a running back-by-committee approach, which impacts Penny’s pursuit of tearing up the NFL like he did last December and January. 

Tannehill lost his best wide receiver in A.J. Brown after the Titans couldn’t strike a long-term deal with him, sending Brown to Philadelphia and drafting Treylon Burks in the first round with one of the draft picks they got in return. Burks will have high expectations, which will put more pressure on him to perform immediately. 

Robert Woods is a good pass-catching option, but he was set to thrive with Brown lining up with him. The Titans are trusting Tannehill to thrive with Woods, a rookie in Burks, and tight end Austin Hooper. No Brown in the mix allows teams to line up in the box and shut down Derrick Henry, who missed nine games with a foot injury last year. 

Henry should still be really good, taking some heat off Tannehill. However, Tannehill will be looking over his shoulder as the Titans drafted Malik Willis in the third round of the draft. Tannehill also said it’s not his job to mentor Willis, as he looks to be the eventual long-term replacement for Tannehill down the road. 

If Tannehill gets off to a slow start with an offense that isn’t as good on paper as in years past, his days in Tennessee may be over sooner than expected. 

Singletary never had the No. 1 running back job locked down in Buffalo, even if he led the team with 188 carries to Zack Moss‘ 96. The Bills never appeared set on making Singletary the No. 1 back long term, which makes the selection of James Cook even less surprising. 

Buffalo sought to improve at running back this offseason, and the third-round selection of Cook should provide that in the passing game. Cook only had one drop on 74 career targets and averaged 6.5 yards per carry with 10.9 yards per catch at Georgia. He’ll be the underneath option for Josh Allen in the passing game, taking away targets from Singletary.

Singletary will likely split the snaps with Cook, ending his days as the primary back in Buffalo. His game may improve as a result of playing in a reduced role, but the carries are expected to decrease in 2022. 

Trubisky signed a two-year contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers hoping for another opportunity as a starting quarterback. He shouldn’t be surprised the Steelers drafted a quarterback, but Pittsburgh took the first one off the board with Kenny Pickett at No. 20 overall. 

Pickett is a legitimate threat to win the starting quarterback job and be the Week 1 starter for the Steelers. Pickett completed 66.9% of his passes in 2021 for 4,308 yards with 42 touchdowns to seven interceptions for a 116.0 passer rating. His adjusted completion rate of 78.8% was fourth in the nation while his average time to throw was 3.2 seconds — second in the nation. 

Pickett already has experience playing at Heinz Field, and appears to be the ideal fit to lead the Steelers in the post-Ben Roethlisberger era. The Steelers didn’t take Pickett to hold the clipboard and learn from Trubisky. 

Even if Trubisky beats out Pickett in camp, how long can he hold on to the starting quarterback job? Being the next franchise quarterback for the Steelers seems to be a long shot. 

Darnold’s future in Carolina was already murky, and he appeared to have survived the Panthers‘ pursuit of Baker Mayfield. The slide of quarterbacks in the draft led to Carolina taking one of the top prospects in Matt Corral, who will certainly compete with Darnold for the starting job. 

Darnold wasn’t good in his first year with the Panthers. He completed 59.9% of his passes for 2,527 yards with nine touchdowns to 13 interceptions for a 71.9 passer rating, as Carolina went 4-7 in his starts. Darnold finished 31st among quarterbacks in touchdown passes, 30th in completion percentage, 30th in yards per attempt (6.2), and 31st in passer rating. 

The Panthers needed to bring in competition for Darnold, and Corral should give him that throughout training camp. A healthy Christian McCaffrey and an improved offensive line should help Darnold, but the Panthers will give the reins to Corral if Darnold struggles to start the year. 

Darnold’s future as a starting quarterback in the NFL is at stake. 

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