A wild offseason filled with surprising trades shook up rosters from coast to coast. The lineups of both Super Bowl participants lost some key elements; consequently neither the world champion Los Angeles Rams nor the AFC champion Cincinnati Bengals sit atop the annual Pro Football Focus roster rankings for 2022.
Where do the Rams and Bengals rank? Which team has ascended to No. 1? Which teams are ready to pounce, and which look like they’ll fall by the wayside?
With the 2022 draft and free agency behind us, we’re breaking down each team’s roster using the PFF database, with an eye toward the projected starters. We looked at both the PFF grades from the 2021 season — a number included for every projected starter — and a more comprehensive assessment of each player’s career using both PFF grades and statistics.
Pro Football Focus grades of 90-plus categorize as elite, 80-89.9 are good/high quality, 70-79.9 check in as average and 69.9 or lower are considered below average.
For rookies and players not active (or barely active) in 2021, we used college grades or NFL grades from earlier seasons. NFL grades from 2020 or earlier are marked with (*), college grades from 2021 are marked with (**), and college grades from 2020 or earlier are marked with (***).
Here’s how the 32 rosters stack up heading into this season, complete with each lineup’s biggest strengths, weaknesses and X factors.
Biggest strength: The only two quarterbacks with a higher PFF grade than Josh Allen over the past two seasons are Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady. The physical tools were always there, but Allen has managed to add the accuracy that was missing during his first few years in the league. Allen’s development is the primary reason the Bills enter the 2022 season as Super Bowl favorites, though general manager Brandon Beane and the rest of this front office deserve credit for building a complete roster.
Biggest weakness: The right side of Buffalo’s offensive line has some potential with Ryan Bates and Spencer Brown, but neither has much experience. Bates earned a 64.4 PFF grade in five starts at left guard in 2021 — his first season with over 100 offensive snaps — and Brown came away from his rookie season last year with a 59.3 PFF pass-blocking grade from 846 offensive snaps. The Bills are banking on those two growing together on the right side, but it could be a weak point.
X factor for 2022: The version of Von Miller that helped fuel a Super Bowl run for the Los Angeles Rams last season is still one of the best pass-rushers in the NFL. Across those four postseason games, Miller recorded 22 quarterback pressures (one shy of Aaron Donald‘s 23) to go along with a playoff-high 92.6 PFF pass-rushing grade. The Bills will be hoping that Miller can maintain that level of play and avoid injuries in his age-33 season because he can be a game-changer for their defense if he does.
Biggest strength: The Buccaneers lost a quality starter at right guard in Alex Cappa and still managed to improve at the position by trading for Shaq Mason. The right side of their offensive line has a strong case for best in the NFL. Tristan Wirfs and Mason are both top-three players at their position in PFF’s wins above replacement (WAR) metric over the past two seasons. Add in Ryan Jensen ‘s return at center and the strides made by Donovan Smith at left tackle, and Tom Brady once again will have one of the best offensive lines in the league entering 2022.
Biggest weakness: You have to poke around to find weaknesses on a roster as strong as Tampa Bay’s. The Bucs have lost some veteran depth at a couple of spots and will be relying on younger, more inexperienced players to step up. That’s the case on the defensive front, where recent draft picks such as Joe Tryon-Shoyinka and Logan Hall will be asked to fill roles held by Jason Pierre-Paul and Ndamukong Suh, though the recent addition of Akiem Hicks certainly helps. On offense, the same can be said for rookie tight end Cade Otton filling the void left by O.J. Howard and Rob Gronkowski.
X factor for 2022: Tryon-Shoyinka, Tampa Bay’s first-round selection in the 2021 NFL draft, played 608 defensive snaps while working behind Shaquil Barrett and Pierre-Paul in 2021. He wasn’t able to generate consistent pressure (9.8% pressure rate) in his time on the field, but he’ll be counted on to make an impact as a starter in 2022. The physical tools are there for him to make that second-year leap.
Biggest strength: Injuries have slowed Khalil Mack over the past few years, but a healthy Mack is still one of the best all-around edge defenders in the NFL. Despite missing more than half of the 2021 season, Mack still ranks third among edge defenders in PFF’s WAR metric since 2019. One of the two players ahead of him is Joey Bosa, whose 22% pass rush win rate since 2016 ranks first among qualifiers at the position. Assuming a 31-year-old Mack comes back somewhere close to full strength, he and Bosa represent the best edge tandem in the league.
Biggest weakness: The Chargers have done a very good job of rebuilding their offensive line over the past two offseasons. Rashawn Slater, Matt Feiler and Corey Linsley were all top-six graded players at their respective positions in 2021 — all in their first season with the team. The right tackle spot is where a lot of uncertainty still remains, though. Storm Norton manned that position last season with a 44.7 PFF pass-blocking grade, and he was targeted by Maxx Crosby and the Raiders in a pivotal Week 18 matchup. Trey Pipkins III (68.5 PFF grade in 173 snaps last year) will push him for that job this offseason.
X factor for 2022: Sebastian Joseph-Day was brought in for one reason — to improve a run defense that ranked 27th in the league in expected points allowed per run play last season. Joseph-Day was an unheralded part of the Rams’ top-three run defense in 2020, ranking second among all interior defensive linemen in run stops (30). He’ll be asked to play a similar role for the Chargers on a defense in need of a run-stuffing presence.
Biggest strength: Here’s a list of the five highest-graded defensive seasons in the NFL since Aaron Donald was drafted in 2014: Donald’s 2018 season, Donald’s 2017 season, Donald’s 2020 season, Donald’s 2019 season and Donald’s 2021 season. There’s no player in the league who has come close to his level of dominance. He and Jalen Ramsey are the best players in the league at their respective positions. The ability to move two players like that around and be confident that they’ll perform at a high level regardless of alignment is a luxury that few defensive coordinators have.
Biggest weakness: The Von Miller loss on the edge isn’t an easy one to stomach for the Rams. The pass-rushing trio of Donald, Miller and Leonard Floyd played a massive role in their postseason run. Now, the Rams are one Floyd injury away from starting Justin Hollins and Terrell Lewis or Chris Garrett on the edge. Those three have combined for just 61 quarterback pressures in six NFL seasons. For reference, Miller recorded 54 quarterback pressures in his 12 games with the Rams.
X factor for 2022: As last season progressed, the Rams were starting to lean heavily on Odell Beckham Jr.‘s ability to win one-on-one matchups on the outside. That’s the role that Allen Robinson II steps into coming off a down 2021 campaign with the Bears. Robinson’s 38 receptions for 410 yards were the fewest in any season of his career, excluding the 2017 campaign that lasted only a few snaps for him. Prior to that, he profiled as one of the league’s top wide receivers, consistently producing despite bottom-tier quarterback play. With no Beckham or Robert Woods, the Rams need Robinson to get back to being that player in 2022.
Biggest strength: The Packers’ defense is loaded with talent at all three levels. Recent draft selections Devonte Wyatt and Quay Walker help solidify the middle, but the real star is the secondary. Two seasons ago, Adrian Amos ranked first in PFF’s wins above replacement metric at safety, while Jaire Alexander led the way at cornerback. A healthy Alexander will now return to a cornerback group that also has Eric Stokes and Rasul Douglas coming off promising 2021 seasons. There aren’t going to be many weak points for opposing offenses to attack.
Biggest weakness: The fact that Green Bay ranks this high despite having one of the worst receiving corps in the league speaks to the strength of this roster everywhere else. Allen Lazard, Randall Cobb and Sammy Watkins are the three established receivers on the roster, and none of them was among the 63 wide receivers who averaged more than 1.5 receiving yards per route run in 2021. That’s putting a lot of pressure on rookies Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs to provide some kind of spark on a team with Super Bowl aspirations.
X factor for 2022: Elgton Jenkins is still working his way back from a midseason ACL injury, and it remains to be seen where he slots into the starting offensive line when he does return. That uncertainty surrounding his availability and position qualifies him as an X factor, but it’s probably a safe bet that he’ll perform at a high level wherever he lines up, which includes right tackle — his likeliest landing spot — where Jenkins has played just 33 snaps in his NFL career.
Biggest strength: Few teams have invested more in their offensive line than the Browns, and few teams have a better running back room than Cleveland. The result is one of the more devastating rushing attacks in the NFL. The Browns have averaged 4.8 yards per designed rushing attempt over the past two seasons under coach Kevin Stefanski, which is tied for highest in the league with the Baltimore Ravens. The right side of Cleveland’s offensive line — Wyatt Teller and Jack Conklin — is an excellent run-blocking tandem.
Biggest weakness: Jadeveon Clowney‘s return on another one-year deal helped solidify the defensive end spot. Defensive tackle is a different story. Jordan Elliott, Taven Bryan, Perrion Winfrey, Sheldon Day and Tommy Togiai will be battling it out for snaps in 2022, but none of them profile as the run-stuffing defensive tackle that the Browns need to produce in the light boxes that defensive coordinator Joe Woods wants to operate out of. Cleveland’s defensive tackles cumulatively earned the fifth-lowest PFF grade of any interior defensive line group in the league last season.
X factor for 2022: A lot of the focus at wide receiver in Cleveland is going to be placed on the new faces: Amari Cooper and David Bell. Nonetheless, 2022 is also going to be a big season for third-year wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones. The former five-star recruit averaged nearly 19 yards per reception across his first two NFL seasons, with some impressive highlight-reel plays that showcase his explosiveness and body control. The Browns will be counting on another jump from Peoples-Jones this season after he saw his targets increase from 20 as a rookie to 58 in 2021.
Biggest strength: If they don’t have the best offensive line in the NFL entering the 2022 season, the Eagles are near the top of the list. Jordan Mailata emerged as one of the top young left tackles in the league last season, ranking second (behind only Trent Williams) in PFF grade (91.2) when lined up there. In addition to Mailata’s development, Lane Johnson remains one of the league’s top right tackles entering his 10th NFL season, and center Jason Kelce is coming off a first-team All-Pro appearance in 2021.
Biggest weakness: The James Bradberry addition alongside Darius Slay and Avonte Maddox eliminates a lot of the questions surrounding the cornerback position, but safety remains a potential weak point on defense. Anthony Harris has earned two consecutive sub-70 PFF grades after being one of the highest-graded safeties in the league across the 2018-19 seasons in Minnesota. The Eagles will be relying on Harris, K’Von Wallace, Marcus Epps and and recent addition Jaquiski Tartt to elevate their play in 2022.
X factor for 2022: While the Eagles have done a good job of bolstering this roster over the past year, they’ll go only as far as Jalen Hurts takes them. Hurts showed real signs of progress in his second season out of Oklahoma last year, as he finished the season ranked 14th out of 32 qualifying quarterbacks in overall grade — a performance that offered real value on a rookie deal. However, his 45.3 PFF grade in their postseason loss to the Buccaneers highlights the issues that the Eagles will run into late in the campaign against defenses that force Hurts to beat them if he doesn’t take another step forward in 2022.
Biggest strength: Cincinnati’s passing game blossomed after reuniting Joe Burrow with his former LSU teammate Ja’Marr Chase. Vertical plays were Burrow’s Achilles’ heel as a rookie, as he completed just nine of 48 attempts thrown 20-plus yards downfield for just one touchdown. Throwing to Chase alone in 2021, Burrow completed 15 of 34 attempts thrown 20-plus yards downfield with eight touchdown passes. That connection torched NFL defenses in the same way it did SEC defenses in 2019.
Biggest weakness: The Bengals’ primary focus this offseason was on improving the offensive line, bringing in Ted Karras, Alex Cappa and La’el Collins to start from center to right tackle. However, left guard remains a potential weak point. Jackson Carman is the favorite to step into that role after earning a 54.2 PFF grade in 501 offensive snaps as a rookie. The last time he saw the field, Carman allowed six quarterback pressures in 20 pass-blocking snaps against the Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game. Quality play at that position requires some projection entering 2022, whether it ends up being Carman or rookie Cordell Volson.
X factor for 2022: The Bengals made their way to the Super Bowl with Eli Apple as their No. 2 cornerback, but their investments in the secondary early in the 2022 NFL draft indicate that they’re not necessarily looking to run that back this season. Their second-round pick out of Nebraska, Cam Taylor-Britt, could push Apple for his starting spot. Taylor-Britt allowed a sub-80.0 passer rating on throws into his coverage in each of the past three seasons. He could make an impact for Cincinnati as a rookie.
Biggest strength: By his standards, Patrick Mahomes had a “down” season in 2021. But the Chiefs’ passing offense still ranked second in the NFL in expected points added (EPA) per play, behind only the Rams over the course of the regular season. Mahomes’ ability to pull off the unbelievable outside of structure while also limiting negative plays and excelling within structure will keep him at the top of the league’s quarterback hierarchy regardless of what is in place around him. The only QB to finish higher in PFF’s wins above replacement metric than Mahomes since 2018 is Tom Brady.
Biggest weakness: The Chiefs’ defensive front — outside of Chris Jones — struggled in 2021. It ended the regular season ranked 20th in team pressure rate (32%), with Jones and Frank Clark standing out as the only two players to clear 30 pressures on the year. Kansas City also ended the 2021 season ranked 28th in EPA allowed per run play. The Chiefs addressed their need for a starting-caliber edge defender opposite Clark by drafting Purdue’s George Karlaftis, but there’s no guarantee that he’s going to be able to make the same kind of impact as a rookie that Melvin Ingram III did after his midseason trade last year.
X factor for 2022: The biggest question surrounding the Chiefs this season will be how the Tyreek Hill loss impacts their offense. Marquez Valdes-Scantling and JuJu Smith-Schuster will be asked to replicate various elements of what Hill added, but the most intriguing offseason addition at wide receiver might be Skyy Moore. The second-round pick out of Western Michigan led the FBS in missed tackles forced after the catch (26) in 2021, and he could operate both in the slot and outside in Kansas City’s offense this season.
Biggest strength: The speed Miami can put on the field with Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle at wide receiver, Mike Gesicki at tight end and Raheem Mostert at running back should be a frightening proposition for opposing defenses. That speed obviously poses a downfield threat, but its biggest impact might come via Tua Tagovailoa operating as a point guard while Miami’s playmakers create explosive plays with the ball in their hands. Hill and Waddle were both top-12 wide receivers in the NFL last season in yards after the catch.
Biggest weakness: The right side of the Dolphins’ offensive line will have a lot of highly drafted talent available to fill two starting spots, but that talent has yet to establish itself in the form of quality NFL starters. Robert Hunt, Liam Eichenberg and Austin Jackson were all drafted with top-40 picks in the past three offseasons, but none has cracked a 70.0 PFF grade as of yet. Right tackle is the biggest concern, assuming Hunt remains at right guard. Eichenberg and Jackson have combined for a 46.3 pass-blocking grade when lined up at tackle in the NFL.
X factor for 2022: Few quarterbacks have been criticized as much as Tagovailoa, the No. 5 overall pick in the 2020 draft. Tagovailoa has been asked to operate behind one of the worst offensive lines in the league across his first two NFL seasons, but his lack of big-play ability is still concerning. His 2.3% big-time throw rate — defined as well-placed passes downfield or into tight windows — ranks 30th out of 32 qualifying quarterbacks since 2020. The Dolphins have done a good job of surrounding him with more talent this offseason. Now, it’s on him to produce in a make-or-break year.
Biggest strength: New Orleans’ defense ranked second in EPA per play during the 2021 regular season, behind only the Bills. The Saints are running largely the same group back in 2022 outside of safety, where Tyrann Mathieu and Marcus Maye are replacing Marcus Williams and Malcolm Jenkins. Impact players at all three levels should make it one of the stingier defenses in the league again this season, particularly against the run. The only team to allow fewer yards per run play than the Saints since 2019 is Tampa Bay.
Biggest weakness: The Saints locked in their left tackle of the future, Trevor Penning, in the 2022 NFL draft, but there could be some growing pains when it comes to replacing Terron Armstead. Penning was a dominant run blocker in his final season at Northern Iowa in 2021, earning a 99.9 run-blocking grade. However, he’ll be making the jump from FCS to NFL competition as a rookie and had trouble with penalties at the college level. Whether it’s Penning or James Hurst starting the season on the left side, New Orleans can expect a step back at the position.
X factor for 2022: Michael Thomas set the single-season receptions record with 149 catches in 2019. Since that point, he has played fewer than 500 offensive snaps and caught just 40 regular-season passes in two campaigns. The Saints did a good job of bolstering what profiled as one of the weaker receiving corps in the league entering this offseason with the Chris Olave and Jarvis Landry additions, but they need Thomas to get back to the level he was playing at prior to 2020 in order to really flourish as a unit.
Biggest strength: The Ravens’ secondary was hit hard by injuries last season, but all signs point toward it entering the 2022 season with a deep and flexible group after adding Marcus Williams, Kyle Hamilton, Kyle Fuller, Jalyn Armour-Davis and Damarion Williams this offseason. A safety trio of Williams, Hamilton and Chuck Clark — assuming Clark remains on the team — should be utilized in a variety of unique ways by new defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald. Williams (91.7 PFF grade since 2017) has been one of the more underrated safeties in the NFL over the past five seasons.
Biggest weakness: The Marquise Brown trade thins what was already one of the league’s worst wide receiver groups. Baltimore is going to operate out of a lot of heavier personnel groupings to feature fullback Patrick Ricard and tight ends Mark Andrews, Nick Boyle, Isaiah Likely and Charlie Kolar. However, the Ravens could still use a proven veteran who can win one-on-ones on the outside. Rashod Bateman projects as the team’s top option after averaging 1.3 yards per route run (83rd among 128 qualifying wide receivers) as a rookie last season.
X factor for 2022: Patrick Queen hasn’t graded well in his first two seasons out of LSU, but he has shown the ability to change games with his range when things are clicking. Those moments came more consistently in 2021, as he earned an 80-plus PFF grade in four separate games. Queen taking another step forward and performing at a high level more consistently in 2022 would provide a real boost to Baltimore’s defense.
Biggest strength: The 49ers have one of the best defensive linemen (Nick Bosa) and one of the deepest defensive line rotations in the league. Bosa’s 90.6 PFF grade across his two healthy seasons in 2019 and 2021 ranks third among all qualifying edge rushers since 2019, behind only Myles Garrett and T.J. Watt. And San Francisco can turn to Arik Armstead, Javon Kinlaw, Samson Ebukam, Charles Omenihu, Kerry Hyder Jr., Kemoko Turay and second-round rookie Drake Jackson alongside Bosa. Defensive coordinator Demeco Ryans isn’t lacking options.
Biggest weakness: San Francisco’s interior offensive line will have to replace Laken Tomlinson at left guard after he followed Robert Saleh to the Jets in free agency. Alex Mack’s retirement after 13 NFL seasons opens up another hole at center. Given that right guard — manned by Daniel Brunskill and his 57.1 PFF grade in 2021 — was already the weak point of their offensive line last season, that’s three potential unknowns and question marks on the inside.
X factor for 2022: It’s difficult to go anywhere else here other than Trey Lance, who is expected to take the reins from Jimmy Garoppolo whether or not the 49ers are able to work out a Garoppolo trade prior to the season. Lance saw limited action with just two starts as a rookie last season, managing just a 59.9 PFF grade in 179 offensive snaps. The floor is lowered with Lance compared to a Garoppolo-led offense, but there’s also reason to be excited about what the offense could look like with Lance’s arm talent and rushing ability.
Biggest strength: It’s not quite the “No Fly Zone,” but Denver has put together a nice collection of talent in its secondary. Pat Surtain II looked like a veteran in his first season out of Alabama last year, as he gave up virtually nothing downfield in 2021 with just one reception allowed into his coverage on 14 targets of 20 or more yards. He and Justin Simmons head the unit entering 2022, but there aren’t many weak points to attack with veterans Ronald Darby, K’Waun Williams and Kareem Jackson rounding out the starting group.
Biggest weakness: Linebacker was one of the more common connections for the Broncos in the 2022 NFL draft, but they didn’t end up prioritizing the position. That leaves Josey Jewell and either Jonas Griffith or Alex Singleton as the projected starting tandem with little in the way of depth behind them, particularly with Baron Browning expecting to transition to an on-ball outside linebacker role. Teams could look to exploit Singleton in coverage over the middle of the field after he earned just a 39.3 coverage grade with the Eagles in 2021.
X factor for 2022: Through four NFL seasons, Bradley Chubb has had two fairly productive seasons with at least 50 quarterback pressures to go with two injury-shortened campaigns (2019 and 2021). He has yet to develop into the kind of player that Denver was looking for when it drafted him fifth overall in the 2018 draft. Offseason additions such as Randy Gregory and Nik Bonitto should provide a spark to the Broncos’ pass rush, but they would like to also see more out of a healthy Chubb this season.
Biggest strength: The Colts were one of two NFL teams that averaged a positive EPA per play in the running game during the 2021 regular season, joining the Eagles. That’s a combination of an impressive run-blocking unit and arguably the league’s top running back entering the 2022 season. Jonathan Taylor‘s 1,272 rushing yards after contact last season were more than any other running back in the league had before and after contact. That run game and Indianapolis’ offensive environment as a whole represents a big positive change for Matt Ryan after his past few years in Atlanta.
Biggest weakness: The Colts added a few pass-catching options in the draft in Alec Pierce and Jelani Woods, but there isn’t much proven depth in their receiving corps. They’ll be counting on rookies such as Pierce and the oft-injured Parris Campbell to deliver in starting roles. That could work out. Pierce is a big target who can stretch the field, as can Campbell with his speed. It’s just a bit of an unknown for a team that fancies itself as an AFC contender.
X factor for 2022: Kwity Paye missed some time early in his rookie season with a hamstring injury, but he bounced back to show some promise as a pass-rusher with a 71.3 PFF pass-rushing grade in 2021. Paye stands out as a potential breakout candidate entering his second season, particularly given the talent around him on that defensive line with DeForest Buckner, Grover Stewart and Yannick Ngakoue.
Biggest strength: Micah Parsons came into the league as a rookie last season and made a legitimate case for not just the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year but also Defensive Player of the Year. He was PFF’s highest-graded off-ball linebacker and one of the most effective pass-rushers in the NFL when defensive coordinator Dan Quinn opted to use him as an edge rusher. The Randy Gregory loss in free agency is going to hurt Dallas up front, but few teams can send two pass-rushers as talented as Parsons and DeMarcus Lawrence after opposing quarterbacks. Parsons’ ability to fill multiple roles at a high level depending on where he’s needed most in a given situation provides a lot of flexibility to the Cowboys on defense.
Biggest weakness: As good as Lawrence has been up front for the Cowboys over the past five years, the rest of the defensive line has some concerns. Dallas’ defensive tackles combined for a 33.1 PFF run-defense grade last season (30th in the NFL), and the only real addition to the group this offseason was fifth-round pick John Ridgeway. The Cowboys are relying on younger players such as Neville Gallimore and Osa Odighizuwa to take a step forward in 2022.
X factor for 2022: Cornerback Trevon Diggs became one of the most polarizing players in the NFL last season due to his boom-or-bust, risk-taking play style. Diggs’ 1,016 passing yards allowed into his coverage in 2021 led the NFL, but he was still a valuable component of the Cowboys’ better-than-expected defense because interceptions are such high-leverage plays, and Diggs came away with 11 of them. The question now becomes how replicable those results are this season.
Biggest strength: The four former first-round selections who make up Washington’s starting defensive line remain the strength of this roster entering this season. Jonathan Allen has the fourth-highest PFF pass-rushing grade among interior defensive linemen over the past two seasons, and the return of a healthy Chase Young and Montez Sweat is no small addition to the Commanders’ defense. The only concern is if injuries strike again, particularly on the interior after Tim Settle and Matt Ioannidis went elsewhere in free agency this offseason.
Biggest weakness: Washington’s linebacker corps is among the worst in the league on paper. Recent first-round selection Jamin Davis (46.8 PFF grade last season) underwhelmed in his rookie season. The Commanders need more out of him in Year 2 as well as the rest of this linebacker unit that ranked 30th out of 32 units across the league last season.
X factor for 2022: Curtis Samuel joined Washington last season off a career year with the Panthers in 2020, when he caught a career-high 77 passes for 851 yards while tacking on another 200 yards on the ground. Unfortunately, Samuel wasn’t able to carry over that momentum into last season with Washington, as injuries limited him to just five appearances on the year. The Commanders will be hoping that he and Jahan Dotson offer more support to Terry McLaurin than he has received across the first three years of his career.
Biggest strength: New England’s secondary has its concerns, but it also has one of the deeper safety groups in the NFL. Devin McCourty and Adrian Phillips both finished last season as top-12 safeties in PFF’s wins above replacement metric, and Kyle Dugger is essentially a third starter at the position. Dugger improved his PFF coverage grade by over 20 points in his second season out of Lenoir-Rhyne while playing nearly 750 defensive snaps. The Patriots quadrupled down on the position this offseason by adding Jabrill Peppers to the group, as well.
Biggest weakness: The Patriots’ starting outside cornerbacks are Jalen Mills and either Terrance Mitchell or the recently unretired Malcolm Butler, as things stand right now. That talent doesn’t line up with what New England has done on defense in recent years, including last season, when it ranked second in Cover 1 rate. It doesn’t require much imagination to see that cornerback group getting exposed in a man-heavy scheme. That could force the Patriots into more zone coverage in 2022.
X factor for 2022: Last offseason, the Patriots offered tight end Jonnu Smith a four-year, $50 million contract with over $30 million guaranteed. Smith proceeded to run just 158 routes (52nd most at the tight end position) and post fewer receiving yards than Albert Okwuegbunam, Durham Smythe and Dan Arnold despite appearing in 16 games. That’s not the kind of return on investment that the Patriots were looking for, and they’ll be looking for more from Smith this season.
Biggest strength: When both are healthy, Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen make up one of the better receiving tandems in the league. The only player with more red zone touchdown receptions than Thielen over the past five seasons (33) is Davante Adams, and Jefferson has quickly become one of the league’s top receiving threats in all situations. Jefferson’s ability to beat press is particularly impressive, as his 3.3 yards per route run against press coverage ranks second among all qualifying wide receivers since 2020.
Biggest weakness: As has been the case for several years now, it’s hard to feel all that confident about Minnesota’s offensive line heading into the 2022 season. It finished last season ranked 27th as a unit in PFF pass-blocking grade, and it is expected to return the majority of that group. Maybe Christian Darrisaw takes a step forward in his second season out of Virginia Tech, and perhaps players such as Ezra Cleveland and Garrett Bradbury do too. That’s a lot of “ifs” though.
X factor for 2022: A healthy Za’Darius Smith profiles as a very nice addition at the edge defender slot opposite Danielle Hunter. Across his first two seasons in Green Bay, Smith recorded 144 total pressures (fourth in the NFL) with PFF pass-rushing grades above 85.0 in both seasons. However, he played just 18 snaps in 2021 before his season was cut short by back surgery. It remains to be seen if the soon-to-be 30-year-old can get back to his pre-injury form in Minnesota.
Biggest strength: The Titans have some uncertainty at the cornerback position, but they have one of the best playmaking safeties in the league to help clean things up in the secondary. Since 2017, Kevin Byard ranks first among safeties in interceptions (23) and is tied for second in pass breakups (29), behind only Adrian Amos. He is joined by Amani Hooker, who had an extremely impressive 2021 season (85.9 PFF grade) in his own right.
Biggest weakness: The Titans replaced A.J. Brown and Julio Jones at wide receiver with Robert Woods and Treylon Burks this offseason. There are certainly worse ways to go about replacing that talent at wide receiver, but Tennessee will now be heavily reliant on a 30-year-old coming off a midseason torn ACL and a rookie who spent most of his time in the slot against off coverage at the college level. Nick Westbrook-Ikhine (509 career receiving yards) is Tennessee’s top option behind those two.
X factor for 2022: Caleb Farley, Tennessee’s 2021 first-round pick, wasn’t able to escape an injury history that was his biggest concern coming out of Virginia Tech in his first season with the Titans. Farley appeared in just three games before a torn ACL cut his rookie season short. He has the size, speed and ball skills to develop into a true No. 1 cornerback, but he has to remain on the field to do so.
Biggest strength: The Davante Adams addition gives the Raiders’ passing attack the receiver that it was really missing. Derek Carr ranked first in PFF passing grade on throws between the numbers in 2021 as compared to 22nd on throws outside the numbers, but now he has one of the truly elite route runners in the league who can win consistently on the outside at his disposal. Add in Hunter Renfrow and Darren Waller, and Las Vegas’ passing game has the potential to be explosive in 2022.
Biggest weakness: The counterargument to the explosive passing game argument above is that the Raiders didn’t do much to improve Carr’s pass protection this offseason. The right side of Las Vegas’ offensive line allowed more pressures than any other right guard and tackle duo in the NFL in 2021 (124), and there’s a chance that the Raiders run things back with Alex Leatherwood and Brandon Parker in those spots this season.
X factor for 2022: The Raiders’ secondary stands out as one of the weaker positional groups of this roster, but there also are several younger players who could outperform expectations. Fourth-year cornerback Trayvon Mullen Jr. falls under that category. Mullen missed the majority of last season with a right foot injury, but he had a 73.9 PFF coverage grade in the first three games of the season after ranking seventh among cornerbacks with 11 pass breakups in 2020. There’s at least some reason for optimism heading into this season.
Biggest strength: It’s hard to find many better duos along the defensive front than T.J. Watt and Cam Heyward. Over the past three seasons, both Watt and Heyward rank among the top three players at their respective positions in both quarterback pressures and run stops. Their ability to make impact plays regardless of the situation is at the center of Pittsburgh’s defensive success over that three-year stretch.
Biggest weakness: The Steelers’ offensive line has deteriorated from a unit that five-plus years ago was one of the best in the league under offensive line coach Mike Munchak. Now it profiles closer to the bottom of the league. This group was aided in pass protection by Ben Roethlisberger‘s 2.2-second average time to throw over the past two seasons (fastest in the NFL), making how it fares in what should be a different-looking 2022 offense something worth monitoring.
X factor for 2022: The two-year, $8 million contract Ahkello Witherspoon signed to remain in Pittsburgh this offseason doesn’t scream No. 1 outside cornerback, but that’s what the Steelers are counting on him to be when looking at the rest of their roster. From Week 13 through the end of the season, Witherspoon allowed a passer rating of just 20.2 on throws into his coverage. His play has been hot and cold throughout his five-year career, but the Steelers will be hoping he carries over that momentum into 2022.
Biggest strength: Over the past two seasons, Kyler Murray has completed 75% of his passes when targeting DeAndre Hopkins for a 122.5 passer rating. It’s one of the best quarterback-wide receiver duos in the NFL when both players are healthy. However, both players being healthy hasn’t been a given, and Hopkins is scheduled to start the 2022 season on a six-game suspension because he violated the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs. If the Cardinals do end up making a run in the NFC, it will be, in part, because that combination is back at full strength down the stretch.
Biggest weakness: For a team that has had some success over the past two seasons, there are a lot of holes on this roster. Cornerback was a concern heading into last season, but the Cardinals managed to get by with a solid season from Robert Alford. He is no longer on the roster, and Arizona’s cornerback concerns remain entering 2022. Marco Wilson and Antonio Hamilton are the favorites to start alongside Byron Murphy Jr. Wilson allowed a 129.8 passer rating on throws into his coverage as a rookie last year, and Hamilton played a career-high 313 defensive snaps with Arizona in 2021.
X factor for 2022: Linebacker Isaiah Simmons hasn’t lived up to the expectations that come with being a top-10 overall pick across his first two NFL seasons. He showed some promise in coverage in a limited role as a rookie in 2020 but was ineffective against the run and saw his PFF coverage grade drop over 10 points in an every-down starting role last season. Arizona needs both Simmons and Zaven Collins to become the reliable players that they were drafted to be in Vance Joseph’s defense.
Biggest strength: Robert Saleh’s defenses in San Francisco were known for deep D-lines that could generate consistent pressure without the blitz. It’s clear that he is trying to accomplish something similar in New York. Carl Lawson is expected to return at full strength after tearing his Achilles tendon in his first offseason with the team. Lawson earned an 84.9 pass-rushing grade with 64 quarterback pressures (sixth in NFL) in his final season with the Bengals in 2020. He joins John Franklin-Myers, first-round pick Jermaine Johnson II and Jacob Martin in an edge rotation that has starting-quality depth.
Biggest weakness: New York has done a good job of plugging the glaring holes on its roster over the past few offseasons. Linebacker still stands out as a position where the team needs to be better in 2022, though. Returning starters C.J. Mosley and Quincy Williams both earned sub-45 PFF grades last season, stemming largely from how they performed against the run.
X factor for 2022: The Jets have set up quarterback Zach Wilson to have success in 2022. Whether he takes advantage of the talent that has been added around him this offseason will play a large role in determining if New York is able to improve on its four wins from a season ago. Wilson didn’t look comfortable inside the structure of the Jets’ offense as a rookie, holding onto the ball for 3.05 seconds on average (fourth highest in NFL) and recording a 54.8 PFF passing grade (third lowest).
Biggest strength: You won’t often find a team this low on the list that has a top-five positional unit, but Detroit’s offensive line is in that conversation. It’s not difficult to see Taylor Decker and Penei Sewell both being top-10 players at their respective positions in 2022. From a PFF grading standpoint, Sewell was a top-10 graded right tackle as a rookie in 2021, and Decker finished 15th among qualifying left tackles. Throw in one of the NFL’s best centers (Frank Ragnow) and a promising young guard (Jonah Jackson), and the Lions have a nice core to build around up front.
Biggest weakness: There’s reason to be excited about the direction that this Detroit roster is trending, but the hole at quarterback makes it difficult to set expectations too high. Across his past two seasons with the Rams and Lions, Jared Goff‘s passes have traveled fewer than 7 yards downfield on average (6.8), and his 8.8 yards per attempt on throws 20 or more yards downfield is a bottom-five mark among 31 quarterbacks with at least 50 such attempts. There’s not going to be much of an explosive, downfield element to this passing attack with Goff at quarterback unless he gets back to 2018 form.
X factor for 2022: The Lions have a couple of interesting, young cornerbacks but few sure things. That’s true for Jeff Okudah more than anyone. The former No. 3 overall pick struggled in limited action as a rookie in 2020, battling injuries and difficult coverage responsibilities in Matt Patricia’s defense. Last season, Okudah played just 48 defensive snaps before a left Achilles tendon injury ended his season. Okudah looked like a can’t-miss prospect coming out of Ohio State given his size, skill set and production, but he hasn’t lived up to his reputation through two seasons. Detroit will be hoping that changes for a healthy Okudah this season.
Biggest strength: It’s not surprising to see the former Bills’ brain trust invest in the defensive line in its first draft with the Giants, given how the Bills have attacked the position over the past few years. The Kayvon Thibodeaux addition to a defensive front that already had Leonard Williams, Dexter Lawrence and 2021 draft pick Azeez Ojulari gives New York a nice collection of talent that can defend the run and get after opposing quarterbacks. Thibodeaux’s 23% pass rush win rate ranked ninth among FBS edge rushers with at least 250 pass-rushing snaps in 2021.
Biggest weakness: New York’s once-deep secondary has thinned considerably over the past year. Two important veteran starters from last year’s group are gone in James Bradberry and Logan Ryan. Safety Jabrill Peppers also is elsewhere. That probably will push second-year cornerback Aaron Robinson to the outside as the favorite to replace Bradberry. Robinson earned a 58.4 PFF coverage grade in 170 coverage snaps as a rookie while splitting time between the slot and outside. Rookie safety Dane Belton also will have an opportunity to earn a starting job in a thin group.
X factor for 2022: Wide receiver Kadarius Toney has had an eventful first year-plus in the NFL, including being at the center of trade rumors earlier this offseason that have since died down. When he was on the field as a rookie last season, Toney looked like the dynamic playmaker the Giants drafted him in the first round to be. He was one of just 15 wide receivers in the league to average over 2 receiving yards per route run on at least 100 routes. The issue seems to be him staying on the field. Toney sat out OTAs following a minor arthroscopic surgery that he had on a knee this offseason.
Biggest strength: The only real question about the Panthers’ supporting cast on offense was their offensive line, and the Ikem Ekwonu, Bradley Bozeman and Austin Corbett additions should go a long way toward putting that unit on the right track. A receiving corps consisting of DJ Moore, Robbie Anderson, Terrace Marshall Jr., Rashard Higgins and Christian McCaffrey has potential with better quarterback play. Moore ranks 17th among all wide receivers in PFF’s wins above replacement metric since 2019.
Biggest weakness: Carolina has, without a doubt, one of the worst quarterback situations in the NFL entering the 2022 season. The first few weeks of the 2021 season teased Sam Darnold potentially turning the corner, but that quickly came crashing down as the season progressed. No quarterback has earned a lower PFF grade since entering the league in 2018 than Darnold. There was no better landing spot than Carolina for a third-round rookie such as Matt Corral to potentially earn a starting job.
X factor for 2022: The Panthers lost Haason Reddick and his 44 quarterback pressures from 2021 in free agency without making a big splash on the edge to replace him. That puts more pressure on third-year edge rusher Yetur Gross-Matos to pick up some of the slack after playing fewer than 400 defensive snaps in each of his first two seasons. Gross-Matos looks the part of an impact player at the position, but the high-end production has never been there. He has just one season with a PFF pass-rushing grade above 70.0 at the NFL or college level (his final season at Penn State in 2019).
Biggest strength: Not many numbers will reflect it, but there were promising takeaways from Trevor Lawrence‘s rookie performance in about as bad a situation as he could have been thrown into. One such takeaway was the way that Lawrence avoided sacks when under pressure. He took a sack on just 14% of his pressured dropbacks last season, sixth among 32 qualifying quarterbacks. His supporting cast still leaves a lot to be desired, but the Urban Meyer subtraction and Doug Pederson addition as head coach should have a positive impact on Lawrence and this entire offense.
Biggest weakness: Left tackle Cam Robinson is coming off a career-best 67.4 PFF grade in 2021 (31st among 39 qualifying left tackles), and that was enough for Jacksonville to give him a three-year extension worth over $50 million. That speaks to where Jacksonville’s offensive line is as a unit. Brandon Scherff was a quality free-agent addition, but that is balanced by Brandon Linder‘s retirement at center. On paper, Jacksonville’s offensive line remains one of the weaker units in the league, unless Robinson, Jawaan Taylor and Ben Bartch take a step forward.
X factor for 2022: Safety Andre Cisco‘s first start last season didn’t come until Week 16, but he had several strong showings in those final three games of the 2021 season. Cisco’s range and playmaking ability were his biggest strengths coming out of Syracuse, though his aggressiveness puts him in bad positions at times. The Jaguars’ defense could make use of his tools in a starting role next to Rayshawn Jenkins this season.
Biggest strength: Life isn’t going to be as good for DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett in 2022 without Russell Wilson. No quarterback has graded higher on throws 20-plus yards downfield than Wilson over the past five seasons, which has played to Metcalf and Lockett’s strengths. However, that wide receiver duo still looks to be the strongest point on Seattle’s roster entering this season. Both are top-20 receivers in PFF’s wins above replacement since 2019.
Biggest weakness: A quarterback competition between Drew Lock and Geno Smith isn’t where any team wants to be entering a season. Smith didn’t look completely out of place when he had to fill in for Wilson last season; he was PFF’s 12th-highest-graded quarterback from Weeks 6 to 8 and averaged 7.3 yards per attempt across those three weeks (12th out of 32 qualifiers). His familiarity with the offense could give him a leg up on Lock, even though it seems as if Lock wasn’t merely a throw-in in the Wilson trade. There’s a very small chance that either is Seattle’s starting quarterback at this time next season.
X factor for 2022: The Seahawks are going to need one of their young edge rushers to take a leap this season because their most experienced player at the position — free-agent acquisition Uchenna Nwosu — has a career PFF pass-rushing grade of just 67.3. Darrell Taylor is one of the more likely players to step up to that challenge. The former Tennessee Volunteer missed his rookie season in 2020 with injury, but he recorded 36 quarterback pressures in a rotational role last year.
Biggest strength: It shouldn’t be surprising for a team coming in at 30th overall on this list, but there isn’t a whole lot to choose from here. Chicago’s secondary has an opportunity to be much improved following the additions of Jaquan Brisker and Kyler Gordon in the draft and slot cornerback Tavon Young in free agency. But even that requires a fair bit of projection. Jaylon Johnson improved his PFF grade by nearly 10 points to 64.3 in his second season out of Utah, and the Bears will be looking for another jump this season.
Biggest weakness: Describing the supporting cast around Justin Fields entering this season as ugly might be putting it kindly. The Bears lost their two highest-graded offensive linemen (Jason Peters and James Daniels) from a unit that finished the 2021 season ranked 21st in overall PFF grade. And Chicago’s top three wide receivers on the depth chart are Darnell Mooney, Velus Jones Jr. and Byron Pringle. That’s putting a lot of pressure on Fields’ shoulders to carry the offense to success in 2022.
X factor for 2022: The 2022 campaign for the Bears will be about finding positives to take away from their young core of players, including Teven Jenkins at tackle. Jenkins played meaningful snaps in only three games as a rookie last year after missing the beginning of the season with a back injury. His first taste of action in Week 14 came with seven pressures allowed in a matchup against the Packers, but he settled in a bit in two matchups against the Vikings. A strong season from Jenkins in 2022 would go a long way toward raising the confidence level in this offensive line moving forward.
Biggest strength: The cornerback duo of A.J. Terrell and Casey Hayward Jr. could be one saving grace on a roster with a whole lot of question marks. Sixty-five cornerbacks played at least 400 coverage snaps during the 2021 regular season, and no two players in that group allowed fewer receiving yards per game than Terrell (12.5) and Hayward (22.8). Another season like that from Terrell would further cement his status as one of the league’s top corners at just 24 years old.
Biggest weakness: The Falcons’ defensive line is in a better spot than it was a season ago. However, it still has the potential to be Grady Jarrett and a bunch of other guys if second-round pick Arnold Ebiketie doesn’t hit the ground running. Even Jarrett wasn’t quite as effective last season as he has been throughout much of his career. Jarrett’s 67.6 PFF grade in 2021 was his first sub-80 grade since the 2016 season (62.7).
X factor for 2022: There’s a reason that the Falcons were repeatedly linked to wide receivers leading up to the 2022 draft. They were in desperate need of playmakers to complement Kyle Pitts after losing Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage over the past few seasons. Drake London was billed as a contested-catch receiver, but that’s not all he can do. He was the only wide receiver in the 2022 draft class with top-five marks in contested catches (19) and missed tackles forced after the catch (22) last season — and he did it in just eight games.
Biggest strength: The Texans have a few viable starting options to turn to at slot cornerback. Desmond King II graded as one of the best players at the position early in his career with the Chargers, but he hasn’t quite been able to get back to that level of play in recent years. Tavierre Thomas was the team’s primary slot defender in 2021, finishing the year with an impressive 77.6 PFF grade and just 188 passing yards allowed into his coverage all season. And Jalen Pitre, the rookie safety out of Baylor, also could see time in the slot, where he lined up the majority of the time in Dave Aranda’s defense.
Biggest weakness: During the 2021 season, the Texans’ interior offensive line graded lower than any other interior offensive line in the NFL. Their interior defensive line didn’t fare much better, ranking 25th out of 32 positional groups. The Texans made a few additions this offseason, including guards Kenyon Green and A.J. Cann, to help matters, but they could be headed for problems on the interior again this season.
X factor for 2022: Derek Stingley Jr. was the top cornerback in college football as a true freshman in 2019, earning a 91.7 PFF grade and shutting down a talented collection of SEC wide receivers on a weekly basis. Though his play has been inconsistent the past two seasons at LSU, that talent didn’t just disappear. Stingley stepping in as a true No. 1 cornerback early in his career would give a massive lift to Houston’s secondary.