Analysis

AFC Roster Reset: Biggest signings/losses, burning question for each team ahead of the 2022 NFL Draft

Our Roster Reset series takes a look at where things stand across the league heading into the 2022 NFL Draft. Nick Shook examines the current makeup of the AFC below, addressing each team's biggest additions, losses and one burning question.

Want to know more about the Roster Reset series? You're in luck! NFL Media talent are discussing the series in depth -- along with other notable league stories -- on the NFL Inside Report Podcast, which has new episodes multiple times per week. Click here to listen.

AFC EAST


BURNING QUESTION: Can the Bills maintain control of a stronger AFC East?


Buffalo ran out of gas in a thrilling Divisional Round game that ultimately dealt the 2021 Bills the same final result as the 2020 Bills: a season-ending loss at the hands of the Chiefs. Buffalo kept much of what worked intact while backing up the Brinks truck into Von Miller's driveway and making a few savvy additions elsewhere to strengthen the roster. The AFC East has responded accordingly, meaning the Bills will have some legitimate competition to battle in order to maintain supremacy in the division. From there, they'll have to prove they can get over the hump, a task that's never easy -- but especially in this loaded AFC.


BURNING QUESTION: Will Mike McDaniel and a revamped roster push the Dolphins into the postseason?


The Dolphins spent the last two seasons flirting with the playoffs while also navigating consistently choppy waters under center. The seas seem to have calmed for now, and Miami is hoping Tua Tagovailoa can team with Tyreek Hill to create a storm they control. They'll have a novice captain in McDaniel, whose good vibes are fine and dandy in the offseason, but will be tested once the season arrives. Apparently, it wasn't a hire made with an idea of patience, either -- both Tagovailoa and McDaniel will be expected to prove their worth quicker than usual. The AFC East won't make it any easier, but GM Chris Grier has certainly attacked the offseason with a focus on contending immediately and made a few savvy under-the-radar signings (retaining Emmanuel Ogbah, for example) that solidify the roster. Will these Fins be able to take the next step into the January tournament?


BURNING QUESTION: Will the Patriots improve on last year's bounce-back season?


New England's turnaround with Mac Jones was certainly impressive, but it won't matter much if the Patriots don't build upon it in his second season. New England has largely slow-played this offseason, avoiding the massive splash it made last year in favor of adding supplemental pieces before finally making some noise with the trade to bring in DeVante Parker. He's a new No. 1 receiver for Jones in an offense that will be expected to be more productive than it was in 2021. Defensively, the Patriots let J.C. Jackson walk, then replaced him with a familiar face in Malcolm Butler. Getting some of the band back together might help the Pats stay on their current path toward success, but a playoff appearance and first-round exit will no longer be enough to be considered successful. The main question, then, is easy to see: Is New England prepared to be better than just playoff cannon fodder for the new kings of the AFC East?


BURNING QUESTION: Will Year 2 of Robert Saleh and Zach Wilson prove the Jets are making strides?


The Jets are still in the midst of a rebuild, but that didn't keep them from being mentioned in the pursuit of notable free agents. And rumblings of a D.K. Metcalf trade have included New York as a potential partner, but as of now, the Jets' most notable additions came at key spots that won't cause tidal waves in the NFL ocean but could help them take the next few steps forward. Most important is the development of Wilson, which took a wrong turn due to injury and on-field struggles in the quarterback's first season. Saleh seems to be leading the charge toward a culture change, but that doesn't happen without wins. Perhaps new arrivals like C.J. Uzomah will prove to be productive with Wilson. At the very least, New York needs to make his situation more conducive to progress.

AFC NORTH


BURNING QUESTION: Will the Ravens replenish their defense well enough to avoid the pitfalls of 2021?


Baltimore was absolutely eviscerated by injuries in 2021, starting with the loss of its entire backfield before the season even began. That was only the beginning, of course, as the injury bug turned its sights on the defense and eventually, star quarterback Lamar Jackson. General manager Eric DeCosta spoke at length about how the Ravens can't afford to have the same bad luck happen to them in 2022. But the question remains: How is DeCosta going to work toward preventing another nightmare? The GM told reporters the Ravens aren't not done making moves -- they re-signed Calais Campbell over the weekend -- and it's easy to expect Baltimore to add to the defense through the draft. But will that be enough?


BURNING QUESTION: The Bengals addressed their biggest need (offensive line), but can they prove 2021 wasn't a fluke?


Detractors of Cincinnati will race to the pulpit to deliver their message with conviction: The 2021 Bengals were a flash in the pan. But Cincy has certainly spent the offseason attempting to prove these individuals wrong. Personnel man Duke Tobin wisely went out and immediately reinforced the team's greatest weakness, its offensive line, adding an excellent right tackle in La'el Collins and picking up a solid guard in Alex Cappa. The rest of the pieces seem to be there, so the Bengals should again be a contender in 2022. A lot still has to go right, of course, including staying relatively healthy in order to repeat as AFC champions. Tobin has certainly done enough to position Cincinnati for another run -- now it's up to putting the plan into action.


BURNING QUESTION: Will the Browns' risk of taking on Deshaun Watson pay off immediately?


The Browns caused a football earthquake by landing Watson via trade and fully guaranteeing his new five-year, $230 million deal. The quarterback still faces 22 civil suits regarding alleged sexual misconduct, and the situation is far from resolved from an NFL perspective, leading most everyone to expect some sort of suspension for the quarterback. The length of that suspension will play a role in determining if the risk taken on Watson was worth it, but strictly in football terms, the Browns have massively upgraded at the game's most important position. They still have questions to answer elsewhere (receiver, edge rusher, defensive tackle), which will likely see resolutions in the next month or so. Adding a wideout will be important to Cleveland's offensive potential in 2022, while replacing (or re-signing) Jadeveon Clowney will be essential to the Browns' chances of replicating a defense that played well down the stretch of last season. Above all, the Browns can't pass off another disappointing finish -- especially after planting themselves in the center of the NFL spotlight in this wild offseason. That will largely rely on Watson's availability in 2022.


BURNING QUESTION: What's next under center for the Steelers?


Ben Roethlisberger is off to retirement, and Mitch Trubisky is in to replace him. Or is he? Pittsburgh signed the former No. 2 overall pick early in free agency, giving the Steelers options under center. Might outgoing GM Kevin Colbert also select a quarterback later this month? Beyond quarterback -- the most important question remaining for the Steelers -- Pittsburgh must continue seeing development from its revamped, younger offensive line. It will also need to find a quality replacement for JuJu Smith-Schuster. Defensively, the Steelers are watching Joe Haden leave, and although Levi Wallace will be a decent replacement, it feels like Colbert might not be done adding to the secondary. The remaining months will play an important role in Pittsburgh's ability to remain competitive, but none of that matters, of course, if the Steelers don't have a solid option at quarterback.

AFC SOUTH


BURNING QUESTION: Can Lovie Smith get the most out of a team still in need of more talent? 


Houston continues to remake itself in the vision of general manager Nick Caserio, who is on his second head coach in as many years. Lovie returns to an NFL head-coaching role for a third time with what is likely his most talent-bare roster in his career. Can he get the most out of the unit? And perhaps most importantly, can second-year QB Davis Mills prove his late-season success wasn't an anomaly? The Texans have capital to continue their rebuild, owning five of the top 80 picks, and they'll need to spend them wisely to address a number of existing holes. Edge rusher seems like a logical spot to target, and the same can be said about right tackle, receiver (even after retaining Cooks), right end, linebacker, cornerback, defensive tackle ... you get the drift. The Texans still have a lot of work ahead of them.


BURNING QUESTION: Were the Colts' biggest problems shipped out with Carson Wentz?


Jim Irsay's passionate speech to Colts fans from a tarmac still resonates. Indianapolis has no excuse for how it ended 2021 -- unless that excuse wore No. 2 and now plays in Washington. Was Wentz really the biggest issue for the Colts last season? Will Matt Ryan be the veteran cure-all Indy has been seeking? For this piece's purpose, let's say that answer is yes. Will GM Chris Ballard find another quality option at receiver for the Colts now that Ryan is in town? And what about the current situation at cornerback? It feels like Ballard -- who has assembled a roster Frank Reich has largely maximized in recent years -- isn't done resupplying the team with talent. Trading for Ryan sent a clear signal to the NFL: The Colts are all in. Now it's up to Ballard to act accordingly before training camp begins.


BURNING QUESTION: Will Doug Pederson get Trevor Lawrence and the Jaguars back on track with their new pieces?


The Jaguars were a dumpster fire under Urban Meyer. Jacksonville has since acknowledged this mistake and proceeded forward intent on not repeating the same error with Pederson. It will be up to the Super Bowl-winning coach to get Lawrence back on the path to fulfilling his immense potential. GM Trent Baalke has already done his fair share of work, spending lavishly to bring in a handful of notable names believed to be difference-makers. Many signs point toward Jacksonville spending the No. 1 overall pick on Michigan edge rusher Aidan Hutchinson, filling a significant void and pairing him with Josh Allen to create a formidable duo. The work only begins there, though, and Baalke needs to hit on more of his picks than he did a year ago. Jacksonville should be better than it was in 2021. A lot depends on Lawrence, of course, and Baalke, who might not be done surrounding his young QB with quality talent on the offensive line.


BURNING QUESTION: How do the Titans avoid repeating their disappointing one-and-done performance from 2021?


In case you forgot, the Titans secured the top seed in the AFC last year, then promptly lost at home to the eventual conference champion Bengals. That cannot happen again. Mike Vrabel and his staff did a commendable job of navigating Derrick Henry's injury to remain competitive, and an offseason of recuperation should position the beastly back for a thunderous return. But GM Jon Robinson still has voids to fill -- especially along the offensive line. Tennessee's defense also saw some attrition in recent weeks and will need to round out the offseason by making some additions to the defensive front. It seems the Titans will go as far as their trench play allows; the rest of their playmakers on both sides of the ball appear largely set.

AFC WEST


BURNING QUESTION: With no more room for excuses, will the Broncos light it up behind Russell Wilson?


The Broncos finally found an answer at quarterback. Now they must turn potential into production. Everything seems to be in place for Denver, which didn't shy away from adding more talent after trading for Wilson. The biggest question might be centered on what level of production the Broncos get from tight end Albert Okwuegbunam, who takes over for the departed Noah Fant. Denver could also use some additional depth at running back. But overall, on paper, the Broncos appear set to make a legitimate push toward a title. The time is now to shift from talking to doing.


BURNING QUESTION: How will the Chiefs replace Tyreek Hill's production and maintain their hold on the beefed-up AFC West?


The Chiefs stunned the football world by trading Hill. Can they be the same explosive, headache-causing offense without the electric wideout's unique ability? Replacing Hill with JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling is a downgrade on paper, but Kansas City has two late first-round picks that could be used on a deep receiver class, possibly in a move up the board. Still, it's hard to imagine that producing a true "Cheetah" replacement. The rest of the offense remains largely intact, and getting younger at safety with Justin Reid is a long-term positive, too. The biggest hurdle for the Chiefs will be finding a way to maintain their offensive identity without one of the NFL's preeminent playmakers. Oh, and the AFC West got a lot better, too.


BURNING QUESTION: How quickly does Josh McDaniels get his offense off the ground with Derek Carr and Davante Adams at his disposal?


Adams is back with his old college pal in Carr, and the Raiders' offense is suddenly loaded -- as are Adams' and Carr's bank accounts. Las Vegas' offensive potential will ultimately come down to the play of its offensive line, though, and it's not a group that's rock solid. Defensively, new GM Dave Ziegler has attempted to right the mistakes made by the previous regime, adding Chandler Jones and Jayon Brown to the front seven. The back end of the defense remains intact and promising, provided Nate Hobbs can keep his nose clean in 2022. Vegas also added another cover man, Rock Ya-Sin, in the Yannick Ngakoue trade. The Raiders are one of four reinforced AFC West teams all gunning for the same result: a division crown. We'll see if another playoff appearance is in the cards.


BURNING QUESTION: Can the Chargers avoid the pitfalls of 2021 and survive the AFC West?


The Chargers looked like a legitimate Super Bowl contender for much of 2021, but their inexperience showed in crucial failures late in the season. Los Angeles is likely still feeling the residual effects of the thrilling -- but heartbreaking -- end to 2021. The Bolts have approached the offseason in kind, keeping Mike Williams and adding two major names -- Khalil Mack and J.C. Jackson -- to their leaky defense. They could still use some reinforcement up front on the offensive line and potentially at linebacker, but much like the rest of their division foes, they're set to contend in 2022. We'll leave it to the season to determine who makes it out of the incredibly rugged AFC West.

Follow Nick Shook on Twitter.

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