As anyone who follows this league knows, the term "NFL offseason" is an oxymoron. The action never really stops! That said ...
With the coaching carousel, free agency frenzy and draft all in the rearview -- and with the 2022 schedule set -- we've entered the closest thing to an NFL offseason. It's the (relative) calm before the storm of training camp and another NFL season, a time for deep contemplation and bold projection. Who do you believe in for the coming campaign? 'Tis the season to fall in love with players, coaches and teams.
With that in mind, here are the bandwagons to hop on in 2022, Schein Nine style. Get in before all seats are taken!
I dig this group. I love the roster general manager Mickey Loomis has assembled and refuse to sell New Orleans short. This is a playoff team. In fact, these Saints can beat out the Buccaneers for the division title. They can win a playoff game or two. I'm ready to drive this bandwagon!
Despite losing the greatest player in Saints history (Drew Brees) last offseason and the greatest coach in Saints history (Sean Payton) this offseason, New Orleans remains right in the thick of things in the NFC. This is what happens when you brilliantly bring in key veterans like Tyrann Mathieu and Jarvis Landry. This is what happens when you deftly draft two instant starters in the first round: WR Chris Olave and OT Trevor Penning. This is how you bounce back from an injury-riddled, playoff-free -- albeit still winning -- season.
The Taysom Hill experiment is mercifully over. Jameis Winston is fully acclimated -- and returning to full health. He will have Olave and Michael Thomas, neither of whom played a single down with Winston last season. With Landry also joining the party, New Orleans' receiving corps is suddenly scary to the opposition, as opposed to the Saints themselves. Marquez Callaway, Deonte Harty and Tre'Quan Smith -- New Orleans' top three leading receivers in 2021 -- are now depth pieces. Defensively, the Saints should be quite stout once again. Dennis Allen, who was the no-brainer choice to replace Payton at head coach, will guide another unit with talent from front to back.
Payton will be missed, no doubt about it. The guy is a future Hall of Famer, after all. But at least the Saints have valuable coaching continuity on offense, with longtime coordinator Pete Carmichael still in place. Carmichael, Allen and a whole host of veteran stalwarts know the Saints way. They'll all be able to carry this forward, keeping New Orleans highly relevant in the post-Payton era.
At this time last year, Lawrence was thought to be The Next Big Thing. Then Urban Meyer suffocated the entire Jacksonville organization, simultaneously ruining the ultra-talented quarterback's rookie campaign.
Well ... Ding-dong, the witch is dead! In the wake of Meyer's 13-game debacle, enter Doug Pederson. The former Eagles head man brings positivity, a proven track record of quarterback development and savvy play-calling chops. Oh, and a Super Bowl ring.
Lawrence was billed as the next coming of John Elway and Andrew Luck -- a dreamy, can't-miss prospect at the game's most important position. And I still believe it. Throw Year 1 out the window. Heading into Year 2, the Jags built up the offense around Lawrence in free agency. Not to mention, Lawrence actually gets to take the field once again with Travis Etienne, Jacksonville's other Clemson first-rounder who missed the entire 2021 season with a Lisfranc injury.
Lawrence is special, and he'll remind everyone of this in 2022.
The ambiguity and confusion on who is calling the plays in New England underscores what a blow McDaniels' exit was to the Patriots. And I strongly believe that the offensive guru is going to thrive in his second stint in the big chair. He learned from his mistakes in Denver, where he was in above his head as a wunderkind coach more than a decade ago. He's bright and has said all the right things. He's grown. And McDaniels' football savvy has never been in question. I really like the fit for him in Las Vegas, too.
McDaniels is going to take my guy Derek Carr to new heights -- especially now that Carr is reunited with his old college teammate, Davante Adams. And with McDaniels' offense routinely putting points on the board, Maxx Crosby and free-agent acquisition Chandler Jones are going to EAT as one of the league's premier pass-rushing duos.
The AFC West looks like the toughest division in football, but I still envision McDaniels guiding Vegas to the playoffs in Year 1.
Somehow, some way, Akers incredibly returned to action for the regular-season finale and the playoffs, helping the Rams win the Super Bowl. But, as the running back himself recently admitted, he clearly wasn't himself, averaging just 2.6 yards per carry in the postseason.
I think we see the real Cam Akers again in 2022. The guy is a stud. Sean McVay loves him. He's going to own the backfield for the defending champion Rams. I promise this time.
Howie Roseman, take a bow. The Eagles GM just put on a clinic in offseason team-building. The most notable move, of course, was the draft-day trade for A.J. Brown. Absolutely fantastic. Philadelphia needed a star receiver, and they got a beastly playmaker who's only ascending at age 24. Don't get me wrong: I'm a big DeVonta Smith fan. After a strong rookie campaign, I think he's going to blow past the 1,000-yard mark this fall, benefiting from Brown being the alpha dog. Defensively, Roseman filled two serious needs in free agency, getting a proven edge rusher (Haason Reddick) and a rock-solid CB2 (James Bradberry). And I love what Philly did in the draft, particularly plucking a pair of stars off that absurd Georgia defense in DT Jordan Davis and LB Nakobe Dean.
All of this, of course, helps quarterback Jalen Hurts, who's heading into a make-or-break season. I think he'll make it. I believe in Hurts. He was a great player at Alabama and Oklahoma. He's smart, athletic and can make every throw. I have no doubt he can improve his accuracy. And he's a stellar leader.
Philadelphia has more talent than Dallas after the Cowboys' relatively pedestrian offseason. So, yes, the Eagles should win the NFC East.
Please don't talk to me about Williams splitting carries with Melvin Gordon. Williams is the guy. He's a second-year stud with star potential. And I think he truly takes the reins in 2022.
All eyes are on Russell Wilson, and rightfully so -- he changes everything for Denver. Now, for the first time since Peyton Manning's retirement, you have to respect the Broncos' quarterback. But if defenders solely focus on Wilson, it will be to their detriment. According to Pro Football Focus, Williams forced 63 missed tackles as a rookie. That ranked second only to Jonathan Taylor's 66 -- and Taylor had 129 more carries! I believe Williams becomes a legit top-10 running back in Year 2.
The Panthers' top pick was rocking as a rookie until he broke his foot in Week 3, allowing just a 39.6 passer rating against (per PFF) and notching a pick against the division rival Saints. There's a reason Carolina drafted him eighth overall, ahead of Patrick Surtain II, Micah Parsons, Justin Fields and Mac Jones. This cat is special.
While the Panthers' season came apart after a 3-0 start, the defense did show substantial improvement, finishing second in yards allowed. And Horn is the type of talent who will lift Phil Snow's unit to even greater heights.
Hamilton has a strong reputation -- in both college football and the NFL -- as a bright offensive mind and quarterback guru. Last year only furthered that trend. While it was a tough season for the 4-13 Texans on the whole, one of Houston's bright spots was rookie quarterback Davis Mills. Who was his position coach? Who was the Texans' passing game coordinator? That's right, Pep Hamilton, who has assumed offensive coordinator duties under new coach Lovie Smith. Hamilton will continue to develop Mills in 2022, especially with the eternally underrated Brandin Cooks as his WR1.
Houston is going to bite some teams this year. I predict Hamilton will maximize what he has on offense and then get head-coaching looks in 2023.
I love everything I'm hearing from the Ravens' second-year receiver these days. In the wake of Baltimore trading Marquise Brown to Arizona, Bateman is suddenly the Ravens' de facto WR1. And he's champing at the bit to play the role.
"I feel like Baltimore drafted me for a reason. They drafted me to be in this position," Bateman said on teammate Marlon Humphrey's podcast. "For me, all I've been waiting on is the opportunity. I know what I'm capable of, I feel like the Ravens organization knows what I'm capable of. I'm just excited to go out and finally show it to the fans and especially to my teammates, for sure."
It's easy to forget that Bateman was hurt early in his rookie year, especially given the crazy rash of injuries that rocked Baltimore's season. This stunted the first-round pick's early growth, and while he still logged three games with 80-plus receiving yards, Bateman didn't come close to fulfilling his potential. I think we get that in 2022. Bateman has the size, speed, hands and attitude you want from someone to be the go-to guy for Lamar Jackson.