NFL offenses just keep getting better ... making this annual undertaking increasingly harder.
For the fifth straight year, I'm ranking the NFL's top offenses before the season kicks off. And honestly, I've never felt so much stress whittling down -- and then ordering -- the list.
The Packers just missed the cut. Yes, they have the back-to-back NFL MVP at quarterback, and yes, he's flanked by one of the league's best backfield duos. But the receiving corps' prowess and the offensive line's health remain major question marks.
Another difficult omission: San Francisco. Like everyone else, I love Kyle Shanahan's beautiful offensive mind and Deebo Samuel's "wide back" skill set. Also, it sounds like Brandon Aiyuk is poised for a post-hype breakout. All that said, Trey Lance is a huge unknown. I won't be the least bit surprised if he balls out in Shanahan's scheme, but that's still a leap of faith I just can't take -- not with the well-oiled machines battling for slots in this ranking.
You won't find Lamar Jackson's Ravens, Dak Prescott's Cowboys or the Tyreek Hill-infused Dolphins. But you will find every single team from one particularly loaded division.
It's wild out there. And it's awesome.
Without further ado, here is my prediction for the NFL's best offenses in 2022, Schein Nine style.
Josh Allen is the best quarterback in the game today. He's a majestic dual-threat with a rocket arm and a swift, powerful pair of legs. Having thrown himself into the thick of the MVP race over the past two seasons, Allen's about to enjoy the best campaign of his young career in Year 5. In fact, he's the odds-on favorite for MVP, according to Caesars Sportsbook. Losing Brian Daboll as Allen's play-caller hurts, no doubt, but the promotion of Ken Dorsey from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator provides continuity. I anticipate a relatively seamless transition, with Allen's rare physical tools continuing to win the day.
Allen's connection with Stefon Diggs is special. In their third season together, these two elite talents will make their sweetest music yet. Gabriel Davis showed the world what he could do in the outrageously entertaining Divisional Round loss at Kansas City, catching eight balls for 201 yards and a playoff-record four touchdowns. Now he's poised to establish himself among the league's better WR2s. Meanwhile, I applauded the Jamison Crowder signing as a savvy Cole Beasley replacement, but Isaiah McKenzie's been the talk of Bills camp and could end up as the team's starting slot. Both should contribute plenty in 2022. At tight end, Dawson Knox has really come into his own, fresh off a nine-touchdown season. And the free-agent addition of O.J. Howard was a sharp, under-the-radar move. Devin Singletary started to emerge as a steady running back down the stretch last season, but I really liked the third-round selection of James Cook, who provides explosive playmaking ability as a runner and receiver.
The offensive line certainly lacks the star power of the skill positions. And the unit has struggled with health issues during training camp. But I expect Buffalo will field an effective -- if unspectacular -- unit up front. And hey, Mr. Allen does a pretty nice job covering up any protection issues. When I bring it back to the quarterback, yeah, I feel pretty damn confident in this attack.
Justin Herbert is dreamy, having thrown 69 touchdown passes in his first two seasons -- that's the most ever, one more than the legendary Dan Marino. And forget all the sparkling statistics for a second: Herbert quite simply makes throws most other quarterbacks can't make. His highlight reel's football porn. Herbert's one of the most valuable stocks in the entire NFL. GM Tom Telesco knows this, having appropriately overhauled the Chargers offensive line over the last two offseasons. Last year, free-agent signees Corey Linsley and Matt Feiler significantly upgraded the interior, while first-round pick Rashawn Slater earned Pro Bowl honors protecting Herbert's blind side. Telesco nabbed another offensive lineman in Round 1 this April, and Zion Johnson has been earning rave reviews in camp at right guard. This is how you protect your top investment!
Herbert also has a bevy of weapons at his disposal, starting with one of the best receiver duos in football. Keenan Allen and Mike Williams each eclipsed 1,100 yards receiving last season, and their games complement each other so well: Allen's the elite route runner with at least 97 catches in each of the past five seasons, while Williams is the dynamic downfield threat with rare jump-ball skills. I haven't even mentioned Austin Ekeler, which is fitting. Is there a more underrated playmaker in the NFL today? The guy just led the league (alongside Jonathan Taylor) with 20 total touchdowns last season. He's a weapon in the ground game and a matchup nightmare in the aerial attack.
I'm not going to overreact to Matthew Stafford's elbow issue. Or Van Jefferson's knee setback. I love this offense, coached up brilliantly by the great Sean McVay.
Stafford is a stud coming off a majestic postseason showing. The Rams acquired him to win a Super Bowl, and he immediately provided the Lombardi Trophy. Now he's finally getting the respect he long deserved -- haters, be gone! Consequently, the pressure is off, and No. 9's primed for his best regular season yet. Now in Year 2 together, Stafford and McVay will be completely simpatico. That's a scary thought for the rest of the league, especially given the quarterback's supporting cast.
Cooper Kupp just authored one of the greatest receiving systems in NFL history -- if not the greatest. The man won the receiving triple crown during the regular season, racked up 478 yards and six touchdowns in four postseason games and earned Super Bowl MVP honors. Can't get more dominant than that! And now he has a running mate in Allen Robinson who seems like an absolutely perfect fit in McVay's offense. Has anyone received more glowing press in the past few weeks than A-Rob? Furthermore, I'm very excited to see what RB Cam Akers can provide in Year 3, now more than a year removed from his Achilles tear.
Now, the retirement of Andrew Whitworth is a hit. He was such a rock on the McVay Rams. But Los Angeles has groomed former third-round pick Joe Noteboom for a full-time starting role, and judging by the three-year, $40 million contract they handed him in March, the Rams are confident he's ready to man the blind side.
My only fear is that I put the Raiders too low. Color me obsessed.
Davante Adams is the best receiver in the league. His relocation to Vegas changes everything. And there's no projection necessary in terms of Adams' chemistry with Derek Carr -- they're best friends who starred together at Fresno State. Adams wanted to be with Carr. With Adams and new head coach/offensive guru Josh McDaniels joining the Raiders, Carr is about to enjoy the finest year of a vastly underrated career. Shoot, I think he eclipses 5,000 yards passing. Not only does he have the league's best wideout, but also a slot receiver (Hunter Renfrow) and tight end (Darren Waller) who are among the elites at their respective positions. Running back Josh Jacobs is in a prove-it year, with free agency right around the corner, while rookie Zamir White and veteran Kenyan Drake provide quality backfield depth.
The big question with this offense: Will the O-line hold up its end of the bargain? Beyond left tackle Kolton Miller, the unit leaves much to be desired. But this is where my immense confidence in McDaniels comes into play. I trust that he'll make it work. Greatness and domination are in store for this Raiders attack.
No, it's not ideal that Joe Burrow is missing ramp-up time after last month's appendectomy. But I won't go crazy. Burrow is fresh off a transcendent sophomore campaign, one in which he finished as Pro Football Focus' highest-graded quarterback and -- more importantly -- nearly brought Cincinnati its first Lombardi Trophy. This cat just has it. He's one of the game's brightest young stars. And like the Chargers have done with Justin Herbert, the Bengals are working to provide Burrow with the protection he needs. After the quarterback was sacked a staggering 70 times last season (playoffs included), Cincinnati signed three starters in free agency: center Ted Karras, right guard Alex Cappa and right tackle La'el Collins. If you give Burrow time, his processing ability will tear defenses apart -- especially with Cincinnati's weapons out wide.
In a league that's increasingly defined by wide receivers, Cincy boasts the best trio: Ja'Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd. They are so great individually -- and collectively, with Burrow distributing the rock. Oh, and Joe Mixon is also potent in the passing game. To be honest, he's a top-tier running back in any capacity.
News broke Thursday morning that Tom Brady will be away from the team for personal reasons until after the Buccaneers' second preseason game. I hope all is well. From a pure football perspective, though, if there's one player who should be just fine missing a few weeks of training camp, it's the G.O.A.T. I'm pretty damn confident the 45-year-old will be ready to rock come Week 1. That said, Tampa's defections and injuries on the offensive line have me a bit worried. And Brady's Linus blanket, Rob Gronkowski, remains retired. (At least for now.) However, I believe this is Brady's final year and he's going to make the most of it.
Brady's receiving corps is loaded. Mike Evans, who's hit the 1,000-yard mark in each of his eight NFL seasons, leads the way. In two years with TB12 as his quarterback, Evans has logged a whopping 27 touchdown grabs. I still don't understand how Chris Godwin, who tore his ACL in Week 15 of last season, was ready to roll right when training camp opened, but modern medicine is a beautiful thing. Despite missing the final three games of the regular season, Godwin still led the Bucs in receiving with 1,103 yards. Don't sleep on the genius of the Russell Gage signing. He suffered a leg injury in practice this week, but NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reported that it is considered a minor ailment. And then there's Julio Jones. Who knows what he has left in the tank, but what a cherry on top of this WR group!
I'd like to touch on two overlooked factors, as well. Leonard Fournette appears to have shed the excess offseason weight and is poised to pound the rock. Don't forget that he averaged a career-high 4.5 yards per carry last season. Lastly, Byron Leftwich is fantastic as a play caller. He's the guy who deftly manages all these pieces.
Mike Zimmer eventually zapped the life out of the Vikings, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. His thinly veiled disdain for Kirk Cousins was a problem. New head coach Kevin O'Connell, plucked from the Sean McVay tree, is going to relax Cousins and help him produce the best season of his career. This is just like Josh McDaniels joining Derek Carr in Vegas.
Minnesota has two bona fide stars for Cousins to lean on. Over his first two pro seasons, Justin Jefferson has averaged 1,500 yards and nine touchdowns. No one should be the least bit surprised if he leads the league in receiving in Year 3. RB Dalvin Cook just made his third straight Pro Bowl. He's one of the most dynamic all-around weapons in the league -- all he needs to do is stay healthy.
The offensive line remains the soft spot of this unit. Left tackle Christian Darrisaw flashed excellence as a rookie. Here's hoping he puts it all together in Year 2.
Too low? Too high? I had to include the Chiefs on the list because, well, Patrick Mahomes is Patrick Mahomes. It'd be insane to not expect a potent offense with No. 15 at the helm. Not to mention, the offensive brain trust of Andy Reid and Eric Bieniemy is second to none.
Now, Tyreek Hill isn't walking through that door. "Cheetah" has a profound effect on opposing defenses, and he's irreplaceable as a home run hitter. Kansas City's run game is suspect, at best. Those are the concerns.
However, K.C. still has Travis Kelce; you know, the best tight end in football? And the receiving corps overall is solid, with Marquez Valdes-Scantling, JuJu Smith-Schuster and rookie Skyy Moore coming aboard. Definitely a group the generationally talented quarterback can score points with.
Just last week in this space, I called Russell Wilson a Hall of Fame lock. He provides Denver with the elite quarterback this franchise has been lacking since Peyton Manning's arm completely gave out. The Tim Patrick injury hurts -- by all accounts, Wilson was really vibing with Patrick in Denver -- but the Broncos still have enticing youngsters in Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler. If Courtland Sutton can return to pre-injury form in 2022, he has true WR1 upside. Long story short: Russ has people to throw to.
On the ground, Javonte Williams is a special, beastly back. As a rookie last season, per PFF, he finished second in the NFL with 63 rushing broken tackles -- just two fewer than Jonathan Taylor, who had 129 more carries than Williams. Melvin Gordon's still around, but I want Williams as the every-down ball carrier. I trust that new head coach Nathaniel Hackett, a stellar offensive mind, will eventually see the light and fully unleash the second-year stud.
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