The start of the 2022 NFL regular season is less than a month away.
When analyzing NFL rosters, it’s important to remember that it’s all relative. It’s easy to say a team is in “good shape” or “loaded” at a particular position, but the fact is, each unit is only as good as it is relative to the league’s other 31 teams.
That might seem like common sense, but you’d be surprised what you can learn and how your opinions are adjusted by actually sitting down and objectively grading and/or ranking each positional unit of all 32 teams. This is a project I’ve done (and kept updated) each of the past several offseasons, which has led to many interesting revelations, including the breakouts of championship teams such as the 2017 Eagles and 2020 Buccaneers and the big improvements for the 2016 Raiders, 2017 Chargers, 2017 Jaguars and 2018 Browns.
Here are position-by-position unit rankings for all 32 teams covering the 10 key offensive and defensive positions. At the end, an overall ranking is shown, which is a weighted consensus based on positional importance. For example, being elite at quarterback is obviously more important than being elite at running back. Also included for each position is a brief outlook on the best and shakiest units, as well as one intriguing unit worth keeping a close eye on. Note that these are 2022 rankings, not long-term outlooks.
Let’s start with the quarterbacks.
Aaron Rodgers, the NFL MVP for the past two seasons, paced all quarterbacks in QBR, EPA, ANY/A and QB rating in 2021 while also finishing top three in accuracy and completion rate over expected. Sure, he’ll be without Davante Adams moving forward, but Rodgers has helped Green Bay to 13 wins each of the past three regular seasons despite having underwhelming receiver depth. Rodgers, 38, remains at his peak and has the talent behind him on the depth chart in the form of 2020 first-round pick Jordan Love.
Russell Wilson is out and some combination of Geno Smith and Drew Lock is in at quarterback for the rebuilding Seahawks. Seattle is expressing confidence in Lock’s abilities, but it’s hard to expect much after the 2019 second-round pick lost the Denver starting job before struggling mightily in place of Teddy Bridgewater down the stretch last season. Smith, 31, was respectable in place of an injured Wilson in 2021, but he is best served being a backup — he has attempted 196 passes over the past seven seasons.
Patrick Mahomes (2018), Lamar Jackson (2019) and Joe Burrow (2021) are among the recent first-round QBs to make a big second-year leap, and it’s very possible that Trevor Lawrence joins that list in 2022. Production in his rookie season was poor (12 pass touchdowns, league-high 17 interceptions and a 33.5 QBR), but that’s common even for eventual stars at the position. Also, he gained substantial experience — seventh-most pass attempts and fifth-most rush attempts among quarterbacks. With competent coaching and an improved supporting cast, Lawrence is in a much better spot this season.
The Browns lead this category for the third year in a row, as they sport the league’s best tandem in Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Chubb ranks first in yards per carry (5.3) and third in average yards after contact (2.3) since he was drafted in 2018. Hunt ranks 12th in YPC (4.6) and leads the NFL in YAC (2.4) since he was drafted in 2017 (min. 400 carries).
Both missed action due to injury last season, and yet Cleveland’s running back room still paced the league in scrimmage yards. The Cleveland backfield has ranked top-five in rushing yards, yards per carry and yards after contact each of the past two seasons.
Cordarrelle Patterson enjoyed the best season of his career in Atlanta last season, but he struggled with durability and his workload was reduced down the stretch. He’s also now 31 years old and likely to split time between the backfield and wide receiver this season.
Behind Patterson, Atlanta has the likes of 30-year-old journeyman Damien Williams, who has cleared 75 touches once in his career, fifth-round rookie Tyler Allgeier and converted cornerback Avery Williams.
Baltimore’s RB room ranked no lower than fifth in rushing yards and 12th in scrimmage yards during Greg Roman’s first two seasons calling plays (2019-20), but production plummeted in 2021 with J.K. Dobbins (ACL), Gus Edwards (ACL) and Justice Hill (Achilles) all missing the entire season. Assuming they don’t suffer any setbacks, Dobbins — who averaged a ridiculous 6.0 yards per carry as a rookie in 2020 — and Edwards (career 5.2 YPC) have potential to return Roman’s unit to its past glory. Baltimore has Hill, veteran Mike Davis and rookie Tyler Badie as depth.
Cincinnati heard plenty of criticism for choosing Ja’Marr Chase over Penei Sewell with the No. 5 overall pick of the 2021 draft. The selection has already been certified as a home run — Chase posted an 81-1,455-13 receiving line as a 21-year-old rookie. As impressive as Chase was, he was nearly matched in targets and production by 2020 second-round pick Tee Higgins when the two were healthy together. Add in super-reliable slot man Tyler Boyd and the Bengals have locked down the league’s best wide receiver trio.
The shocking draft night trade of Marquise Brown to Arizona has left an otherwise very good Ravens roster with a serious void at wide receiver. Last year’s first-round pick, Rashod Bateman, is a potential breakout player (as he’ll certainly be heavily targeted), but he’s a bit of an unknown after appearing in 12 games as a rookie — six with a healthy Lamar Jackson. Behind Bateman is Devin Duvernay (473 yards in 32 career games), James Proche II (22 targets in two pro seasons), 2021 fourth-round pick Tylan Wallace and a group of UDFA rookies led by Devon Williams. Baltimore is a strong bet to add a veteran receiver.
Denver lost Tim Patrick to a torn ACL in his right knee, but it still has a relatively deep and talented wide receiver room that very well could emerge as one of the league’s best. Led by Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton and KJ Hamler, the unit has thus far been limited by injuries and/or woeful QB play, but the latter was solved during the offseason after the trade for Russell Wilson.
Jeudy, the 15th overall pick in 2020, didn’t even find the end zone last season. But at age 23, he’s younger than some incoming rookies. Sutton already has a strong season under his belt (72-1,112-6 receiving line in 2019) and remains in his prime at age 26. Hamler (a 2020 second-round pick) is back after missing all but three games with a torn ACL last season.
This was a tough call between the Chiefs (aka Travis Kelce) and Ravens, but Mark Andrews‘ continued ascension into an elite player, coupled with Baltimore’s improved depth (fourth-round draft selections Charlie Kolar and Isaiah Likely) was enough to give them the edge over soon-to-be 33-year-old Kelce & Co. Of course, even if we ignore the depth players, Andrews is a strong blocker and paced all tight ends in targets, receptions, yards, touchdowns and end zone targets while catching a career-high 70% of his targets last season.
The Giants let 2017 first-round pick Evan Engram walk during the offseason, and will turn to a camp battle between the likes of fourth-round rookie Daniel Bellinger and journeymen Jordan Akins and Ricky Seals-Jones. Bellinger is obviously a long shot as a Day 3 pick and doesn’t figure to be a major factor as a receiver (he blocked on 61% of his collegiate snaps). Akins and Seals-Jones have failed to lock down a starting gig thus far in their four-plus-year careers and neither can be considered a roster lock at this point. Same as when he called plays in Buffalo, new Giants coach Brian Daboll doesn’t figure to rely much on this position in 2022.
Cleveland coach Kevin Stefanski makes heavy use of multiple TE sets (45% of plays in 2021), so the team’s offseason decision to extend David Njoku and release veteran starter Austin Hooper was certainly interesting.
Njoku — a 2017 first-round pick — appeared headed to stardom after a breakout 2019 season (56-639-4 receiving line), but injuries (16 games missed since 2019) and Hooper’s presence severely limited his output in recent seasons. Cleveland clearly believes in Njoku, and it’s possible the 26-year-old is only now entering his prime (not super uncommon for tight ends). Third-year Harrison Bryant is also positioned for a bigger role with Hooper out of the mix.
Standout guard Brandon Brooks retired during the offseason, but that didn’t stop GM Howie Roseman from sustaining an elite offensive line. Last year’s second round pick, Landon Dickerson, played well as a rookie and replaces Brooks in the starting lineup (at left guard), with Isaac Seumalo returning from injury to handle right guard. Philadelphia is elite at the other three positions, with left tackle Jordan Mailata, right tackle Lane Johnson and center Jason Kelce. Mailata finished 2021 fifth among all qualified linemen in run block win rate, whereas Johnson and Kelce were both top 20 in pass block win rate.
The Steelers top this list for the second year in a row after failing to make enough impact additions during the offseason. Dan Moore Jr. is back at the all-important left tackle position after posting an ugly 77% pass block win rate in 2021. Right tackle Chukwuma Okorafor has ranked poorly in PFF grade, pass block win rate and run block win rate each of the past two seasons. Left guard Kevin Dotson also checked in below average in each category last season.
On the plus side, Mason Cole is a potential upgrade from Kendrick Green at center and new right guard James Daniels is immediately the team’s best lineman. No help seems to be on the way, as Pittsburgh spent none of its seven picks in the draft on the offensive line.
After watching franchise quarterback Joe Burrow take 70 sacks in 20 games last season, Cincinnati was aggressive in upgrading its Achilles’ heel during the offseason. The Bengals signed a pair of solid interior players in center Ted Karras and right guard Alex Cappa, and the biggest upgrade came via new right tackle La’el Collins. Add 24-year-old left tackle Jonah Williams and 2021 second-rounder Jackson Carman at left guard, and the Bengals’ line suddenly has a chance to be an asset rather than a major liability.
Interior defensive lines
Has Aaron Donald retired? No. Is Donald still on the Rams’ roster? Yes. OK, then the Rams have an elite defensive line. Arguably the league’s best player since he was drafted in 2014, Donald signed a pricey offseason extension after helping Los Angeles to a Lombardi Trophy. The 31-year-old played 90% of the defensive snaps last season. Sebastian Joseph-Day is a notable offseason loss, though he missed most of last season due to injury and Greg Gaines and A’Shawn Robinson return after solid 2021 campaigns.
Cleveland has done an excellent job improving its roster in recent seasons, but the interior defensive line remains a major exception. As the roster stands, recent Round 3 and 4 draft picks Jordan Elliott, Tommy Togiai and Perrion Winfrey will compete with veteran Sheldon Day and newcomer Taven Bryan, who didn’t work out in Jacksonville, for the two tackle jobs. Only Elliott played more than 300 snaps in 2021 and it didn’t go particularly well, as PFF graded him 102nd out of 109 qualified interior defenders.
Brandon Staley’s first season as head coach was lowlighted by major struggles against the run. Los Angeles allowed 4.60 yards per carry (fifth worst), including 2.12 after contact (third worst) to opposing backs. The front office addressed the issue admirably during the offseason, adding aforementioned Joseph-Day, Austin Johnson, versatile Morgan Fox and fifth-round rookie Otito Ogbonnia to a rotation that includes incumbent Jerry Tillery and Christian Covington. The new-look unit has plenty to prove, but it’s a major upgrade on the 2021 personnel and helps fill out the league’s most improved defense.
Speaking of the most improved defense, the Chargers traded for Khalil Mack during the offseason, and he joins Joey Bosa to form the league’s best edge-rushing duo. Mack’s 80.5 sacks since he was drafted in 2014 ranks fourth in the NFL, whereas Bosa sits sixth with 58.0 sacks since he was drafted in 2016. Both are coming off a strong 2021 season, each having ranked top 25 in pass rush win rate and top 20 in sacks. The unit’s depth doesn’t look great on paper, though versatile Kyle Van Noy (categorized as an off-ball linebacker for this exercise) will certainly get some work as a pass-rusher.
The Falcons lead this category for the second consecutive year. With the likes of Dante Fowler Jr. and Steven Means moving on during the offseason, Adetokunbo Ogundeji is the only edge rusher who will return from last season. Ogundeji, who played 45% of the snaps and had one sack as a fifth-round rookie, will look to lock down a starting gig opposite journeyman Lorenzo Carter. The team is banking heavily on at least one of its Day 2 rookies (Arnold Ebiketie and DeAngelo Malone) making an immediate impact.
Defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon’s second offseason with the team saw the Eagles make the personnel changes required for more 3-4 fronts. The main addition was Haason Reddick, who was slow out of the gate as an off-ball linebacker when selected in the first round back in 2017 but has flourished since working primarily at edge rusher in recent seasons with Arizona and Carolina. Reddick, who sits fifth in the league with 23.5 sacks over the last two seasons, joins a deep group that also includes Derek Barnett, Josh Sweat and Brandon Graham.
A home run find in the third round of the 2018 draft, Fred Warner has played 95% of San Francisco’s defensive snaps and ranks fourth in the league with 503 tackles since his arrival. The 25-year-old is joined by Dre Greenlaw, who registered 80-plus tackles in his first two NFL seasons before missing a majority of the 2021 regular season due to injury (he returned to a near-every-down role during the team’s playoff run). Azeez Al-Shaair returns and provides quality depth after filling in admirably for Greenlaw last season.
The Lions are headed in the right direction (especially on offense), but there remains plenty of work to do on the defensive side of the ball. That includes a shaky off-ball linebacker room that is headlined by the likes of Alex Anzalone, Derrick Barnes and old friend Jarrad Davis. Among 87 qualified at the position, Anzalone graded out 79th and Barnes 85th over at PFF last season. Barnes had an even lower grade on 198 snaps. Detroit did not address the position during the draft prior to the sixth round (Malcolm Rodriguez), so this could be a trouble spot for a while.
Arizona selected an off-ball linebacker in the first round of both the 2020 (Isaiah Simmons at eighth overall) and 2021 (Zaven Collins at 16th overall) drafts. Neither has lived up to lofty pedigree just yet, but 2022 is a potential breakout campaign for the duo. Collins was solid as a rookie, but he was limited to 211 snaps in a situational role behind Simmons and Jordan Hicks.
With Hicks gone, the 23-year-old is positioned for a larger role opposite Simmons, who played 89% of the snaps last season. If Collins makes a big leap, this could quickly emerge as one of the league’s best units.
This was a close call, but Miami’s elite perimeter duo of Xavien Howard and Byron Jones was enough to land it the top spot. Howard leads the NFL with 27 interceptions since he was drafted back in 2016, despite missing 24 games during the span. Jones isn’t coming off his best season, but he’s settled in as a quality corner after his early-career transition from safety. Both corners are 29 years old, so 2022 could be the final push for this standout duo. Nik Needham was a strong UDFA find by Miami in 2019 and continues to fend off 2020 first-round pick Noah Igbinoghene for slot duties.
The Cardinals are a team looking to make a Super Bowl run, so it was surprising to watch them all but ignore the cornerback position again this past offseason. Byron Murphy Jr. is a serviceable and versatile stater, but he doesn’t have much help. Marco Wilson struggled as an every-down player as a fourth-round rookie last season and remains positioned to start opposite Murphy in 2020. Journeyman Antonio Hamilton is the best option as the nickel corner as the roster stands, with Breon Borders, Jace Whittaker, Josh Jackson and seventh-round rookie Christian Matthew competing for snaps. Borders, Whittaker and Jackson combined to play 99 snaps in 2021.
The Panthers have an unproven cornerback room, but it’s one with plenty of upside. Jaycee Horn is the biggest wild card, as the 2021 eighth overall pick looked good prior to suffering a season-ending broken foot in Week 3. He should emerge as the team’s No. 1 corner with Donte Jackson, who has settled in as a solid starter since he was selected in the second round in 2018, joining him.
Another wild card is 2020 first-round pick CJ Henderson, who was acquired from Jacksonville last season and will be competing for a top-three role. Myles Hartsfield, Keith Taylor Jr. and rookie Kalon Barnes are among the other competing for work.
Sean McDermott has accomplished a ton during his time in the NFL, but perhaps his most impressive feat has been turning Jordan Poyer (previously a rotational/depth player) and Micah Hyde (previously a nickel/slot corner) into an elite safety duo. Both players are entering their age-31 campaigns, so a drop-off is certainly possible, but it’s hard to rank them anywhere but first after both played outstanding football while handling over 90% of the snaps last season.
Poyer, a first team All-Pro in 2021, has played at least 900 snaps and has 90-plus tackles and two-plus interceptions in five consecutive seasons since joining the team in 2017. Acquired the same year, Hyde — second team All-Pro in 2021 — has played 800-plus snaps in all five seasons and is averaging 71.0 tackles and 2.8 interceptions per season.
Houston’s front office seems to have an affection for hybrid defensive backs (Desmond King II, Eric Murray, M.J. Stewart, Terrence Brooks), and several of those journeymen will be asked to play substantial snaps at safety in 2022. Murray was a full-timer for Houston most of last season but struggled, grading out 86th among 91 qualified safeties by PFF. He is currently atop the 2022 depth chart, with second-round rookie Jalen Pitre positioned for every-down duties right out of the gate. Veterans Stewart, Brooks and Jonathan Owens don’t offer much upside off the bench.
There’s a decent chance that Baltimore will lead the NFL in three-safety sets this season after the team spent the 14th overall pick of April’s draft on Notre Dame standout Kyle Hamilton. The 6-foot-4, 219-pound box safety is expected to step right into a major offensive role alongside one of the league’s best veteran safeties, prize offseason signing Marcus Williams.
Chuck Clark, who played 94% of the defensive snaps last season, is a solid starter who is now essentially the team’s No. 3 option at the position. Add in 2019 third-round pick Brandon Stephens, who played 705 snaps last season, and Baltimore is loaded with talent and solid depth. This will be a fun group to watch.
The overall unit grades show what is essentially a five-way tie at the top, but the Buccaneers ended up just a few tenths of a point over the Chargers, Bills, Bengals and Packers. Unlike this time last year, Tampa Bay isn’t returning all 22 offensive and defensive starters, but on paper, the team remains loaded.
Tom Brady leads an offense that added Shaq Mason and Russell Gage as de facto replacements for Ali Marpet and Antonio Brown. Lavonte David, Shaquil Barrett, Vita Vea, Antoine Winfield Jr. and Carlton Davis III are among the standouts on a defense that added Akiem Hicks and Logan Ryan. The Buccaneers have won 23 regular-season games and a Super Bowl during Brady’s two seasons and are well positioned for one more run in 2022.
Houston was in this same position last season and proceeded to post a 4-13 season — its second straight four-win campaign. Unfortunately, the roster isn’t looking much better for 2022, with all 10 units ranking below league average. Perhaps second-year QB Davis Mills will make a big leap, but it’s hard to expect much with no standout, proven targets behind Brandin Cooks and a very shaky offensive line led by Laremy Tunsil, who is coming off an injury-plagued 2021.
The defense is in a similar spot, with Day 1-2 rookies Derek Stingley Jr., Jalen Pitre and Christian Harris positioned to play substantial (if not every-down) roles immediately. Jonathan Greenard, Christian Kirksey, Maliek Collins and 34-year-old Jerry Hughes are the team’s top veteran defenders. The rebuild continues …
If we exclude quarterback from the conversation, the Eagles have one of the league’s best rosters top to bottom. The offensive line is elite, the offensive skill positions are terrific after the A.J. Brown addition, and the defense looks very good with offseason additions Haason Reddick, Kyzir White, James Bradberry and Jaquiski Tartt in the fold.
The big question? Jalen Hurts. It’s a make-or-break season for a quarterback who dominated with his legs in 2021 (QB-high 784 yards and 10 touchdowns), but who needs to get to the next level as a passer (16 touchdowns, 61% completion percentage). If Hurts makes another leap in 2022, the Eagles will be contenders in the NFC.
The Chargers were highlighted through this piece. At this point, it should be clear that they’re finally ready to compete in a very tough AFC. Offensively, they have the quarterback (Justin Herbert), elite skill players (Austin Ekeler, Keenan Allen, Mike Williams) and finally a good line — led by Corey Linsley and Rashawn Slater).
A defense that was problematic last season made massive additions, including elite playmakers Mack and cornerback J.C. Jackson, as well as Joseph-Day, Van Noy and cornerback Bryce Callahan. We watched Staley (then a defensive coordinator) lead the Rams to an elite defensive season in 2020, and he’s now perfectly positioned to lead the Chargers to a Super Bowl run in 2022.