American footballOpinion

One position each NFL team must address early in the 2022 NFL Draft

For fans of some teams, the annual NFL Draft is the event that is the most eagerly anticipated in the football calendar. It is the ultimate harbinger of optimism for fans of every team that didn’t win the Super Bowl that year, as teams look to shape the future of their respective franchises by selecting from the pool of the finest young athletes that college football has to offer.

It is never too early to look ahead to an upcoming draft, and so in this article, I will cast my eye over every one of the 32 NFL teams in alphabetical order, and produce a recommendation of one position that each team should look to target as early as possible in the 2022 NFL Draft.

Arizona Cardinals – Cornerback

Robert Alford and Antonio Hamilton are both scheduled to hit free agency at the conclusion of the 2021 season, leaving just rookie fourth-round corner Marco Wilson and Byron Murphy under contract through 2022 at the position. Wilson has struggled to make an impact in his rookie season, whilst Murphy is playing well but he can’t cover everyone. With the 2022 class of cornerbacks looking like it will be one of the strongest in recent memory, targeting this position early could net the Cardinals a core piece in their secondary of the future.

Atlanta Falcons – EDGE

Grady Jarrett can’t do it all on his own for The Dirty Birds, Atlanta has to find a source of pressure from the edge. And in what appears to be a strong class for pass rushers, the Falcons have a prime opportunity to grab one of the premier talents at the position. I don’t expect Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux or Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson to be still on the board by the time Atlanta is on the clock, but no to worry, Purdue’s George Karlaftis and USC’s Drake Jackson make the most sense for me in round one.

Baltimore Ravens – Defensive Line

Whether it’s off the edge, or on the interior, the Baltimore Ravens have to address their fairly woeful defensive line. Through 13 weeks of the 2021 NFL regular season, starting edge rushers Justin Madubuike and six-time Pro Bowler and the now 35 year-old Calais Campbell have just 2.5 sacks between them so far. Whilst on the interior, both Brandon Williams (32) and Justin Ellis (30) have zero sacks so far this season (source: ESPN). So to say the defensive line needs significant investment in 2022 is somewhat of an understatement, and Baltimore should spend a significant portion of their draft capital on this area of their team if they want to remain a championship standard team in the coming years.

Buffalo Bills – Interior Offensive Line

The Bills headed into the 2021 NFL season with a largely new-look cast on the offensive line. Multiple 2020 starters left in free agency, and the Bills failed to sign any of the big name free agents such as Joe Thuney. They also waited until the third round of the 2021 draft to invest in the O-Line, and to make matters worse, the Chiefs took center Creed Humphrey – who is arguably playing like the best center in the NFL currently – just two picks after the Bills took pass rusher Carlos ‘Boogie’ Basham. Basham as of the time of writing only has 1.5 sacks and seven solo tackles, whilst only playing in five games (source: ESPN). So with a plethora of first-round caliber players likely available for Buffalo to take, this should be right at the top of their list.

Carolina Panthers – Offensive Tackle

There’s as much of an argument to go Quarterback with their first-round pick as there is for offensive line help. However, I believe the wiser choice would be to go and add a fundamental piece to a fairly dismal offensive line, because as the old cliché goes, it doesn’t matter who you have throwing the ball if you can’t protect him. Give Sam Darnold another year to get it right, and why not make that job easier for him whilst you’re at it. Alabama’s Evan Neal, Texas A&M’s Kenyon Green and NC State’s Ikem Ekwonu are all in play here if they invest in round one.

Chicago Bears – Wide Receiver

Bears star receiver Allen Robinson is set to hit free agency in 2022, that would leave Darnell Mooney as the teams only clear long-term option at the position beyond this season. The Bears invested in the offensive line in last years’ draft, and the jury is till out on those investments. So whilst you allow those players the time and opportunity to develop, you simply have to start surrounding your franchise quarterback with weapons. However, with the Bears only currently in possession of a second, third, two fifth-round and a sixth-round pick, the Bears need to make some smart decisions with their limited choices. A receiving weapon should be at the top of their list.

Cincinnati Bengals – Offensive Tackle

Right tackle Riley Reiff has played well for the Bengals since arriving as a free agent at the beginning of 2021. However, the 33 year-old is set to hit free agency again in 2022, and even if he does return for 2022, the Bengals should still be looking to secure the future at the position. They had an opportunity to do just that in last year’s draft, but opted to take outstanding rookie receiver Ja’Marr Chase over Penei Sewell. But they should have some seriously talented tackles to choose from again in the 2022 draft. Ohio State’s five-star right tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere could be just the prospect they’re looking for, and what a fantastic name to go with his undeniable talent.

Cleveland Browns – Interior Defensive Line

2021 free agent signing Malik McDowell has been a solid addition so far, but like his team-mate and other starting defensive tackle Malik Jackson, their contracts expire at the end of the 2021 season. And if they want to invest and upgrade in that department via the draft, they should do so as early as possible, as outside of Texas A&M’s DeMarvin Leal and Gerogia’s Jordan Davis, this interior defensive line class does not appear to be particularly deep in talent. That’s why it’s vital that Cleveland addresses this need early and snags a premier player at the position, in what is arguably the weakest position class in the 2022 NFL Draft.

Dallas Cowboys – Safety

Finding some more help off the edge should absolutley be a priority for the Cowboys in 2022, however, they are still finding ways to get to opposing quarterbacks in 2021. What could really transcend this Cowboys defense is a top safety prospect. Cornerbacks Anthony Brown and especially emerging star Trevon Diggs have secured that aspect of the secondary, however in safeties Jayron Kearse and Damontae Kazee, they have two players who don’t appear to be long-term options. So why not go and make your secondary a legitimate no fly zone by taking a top safety prospect such as Penn States’ Jaquan Brisker or Michigan’s Daxton Hill.

Denver Broncos – Quarterback

Drew Lock isn’t the franchise quarterback that the Broncos hoped he would be, and Teddy Bridgewater is a solid and safe stopgap, but no more than that. Denver passed on both Justin Fields and perhaps more regrettably Mac Jones in the 2021 draft, taking stud corner Patrick Surtain II instead, but they can’t keep putting it off any longer. If one of the top QB prospects is still on the board in the mid-first round region in which Denver is expected to be selecting, then surely they won’t pass on a signal caller again… could they?

Detroit Lions – Cornerback

If by draft night the Lions are still in possession of the number one overall pick, I would fully expect them to take either one of the two best pass rushers in the draft in Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux or Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson. However, that’s purely best player available, not necessarily their biggest need. 2020 first-round pick Jeff Okudah was supposed to fill this hole, but dissapointing play and injuries have meant that the deficiency of talent at the position is still lingering in the Motor City. Luckily for Detroit, they possess an extra first-rounder as a result of the blockbuster Matthew Stafford trade, and if Clemson’s Andrew Booth Jr, Florida’s Kaiir Elam, or Cincinnati’s Ahmad Gardner are still on the board when the time comes to use that bonus pick – likely in the 20-26 range -, one of those names should become a Detroit Lion.

Green Bay Packers – Wide Receiver

This could have been any of a handful of positions, with pass rush, offensive line help and potentially even quarterback -depending on whether Aaron Rodgers either leaves or retires – could all be argued as Green Bay’s biggest need going into 2022. However, as of the time of writing, receiver looks to be the most likely to undergo big changes, with Marques Valdes-Scantling, Allen Lazard, Equanimeous St. Brown, Malik Taylor and of course, Davante Adams. If Adams stays in Wisconsin, then one of the aforementioned positions will take priority, but there’s been enough noise already to suggest that’s far from a certainty. Whatever happens, Green Bay could still use an injection of young talent at the position, and with a host of exciting receiving options available in the early rounds of the 2022 draft, the Packers would be wise to give it some serious consideration.

Houston Texans – Quarterback

Deshaun Watson’s legal case remains – as of the time of writing – unresolved. What has been established however is that if and when the former Clemson signal caller does return to the field, he does not want to be suiting up for the Texans. It is also evident that Tyrod Taylor, Davis Mills and Jeff Driskel are not going to provide a long-term solution in Houston, therefore, you should expect the Texans to look for their franchise QB with their first pick. Ole Miss’ Matt Corral seems the obvious choice here.

Indianapolis Colts – Offensive Tackle

The Indianapolis Colts hoped that they had answered their left-tackle predicament with the free agent acquisition of Eric Fisher on a one-year deal at the start of this season. However, Fisher simply hasn’t played well, and heading into 2022, the need to find a long-term fix at one of the games most crucial positions has reared it’s head again. However, the 2022 NFL Draft may provide the answer that the Colts are searching for, with what appears to be a strong offensive tackle class. However, it looks like they will be made to wait until the second round to get their man, as Carson Wentz looks certain to play more than 75% of the Colts’ 2021 offensive snaps, meaning their would-be first-round selection will head to Philadelphia. But fear not Colts fans, an early second round pick should still contain enough quality options to pick from.

Jacksonville Jaguars – Offensive Tackle

I know DUUUVAL nation, it’s never easy to get excited about spending an early first-round pick on an offensive lineman, but you can’t just draft your franchise QB in 2021 and then not protect him! You can load up on weapons later in the draft, but with what appears to be a top five pick, why not go and grab yourselves, and indeed Trevor Lawrence, a cornerstone piece on the O-Line for the next decade. NC State’s Ikem Ekwonu or Alabama’s Evan Neal can be exactly that.

Kansas City Chiefs – Wide Receiver

Tyreek Hill is as electric and dangerous as they come at the receiver position, but the issue that Kansas City is facing is simple, he’s all they have. When Patrick Mahomes throws the ball down-field, Hill and star tight end Travis Kelce are the only consistent and reliable targets. So if Kansas City wants to open up the playbook more, then they have to give Mahomes and offensive co-ordinator Eric Bieniemy more weapons to work with. Thankfully, the receiving class of 2022 looks to be rich in talent, and they should be all-in on finding the missing piece that can take make their offense one of the most potent in the league.

Las Vegas Raiders – Interior Defensive Line

Offensive line and wide receiver are both big needs for the Raiders, which will be addressed in 2022. But when it comes to the interior of the defensive line, in particular the run defense, the standard of play in 2021 has been poor. And as aforementioned, outside of Texas A&M’s DeMarvin Leal and Gerogia’s Jordan Davis, there appears to be a shortage of options via the draft, and if you are like the Raiders and looking for a day-one starter at the position, missing out on Leal or Davis would put significantly more pressure on finding a free-agent/trade acquisition.

Los Angeles Chargers – EDGE

Joey Bosa is one of the games best pass rushers, but so far through 2021, teams have seemingly found a way to limit his effectiveness somewhat, and that is by double-teaming him at the line of scrimmage. So how do you stop this and allow Bosa to feast with one-on-one match-ups once again? Simple, you put another dangerous pass rusher on the opposing edge. And in what appears to be a stacked edge rushing class, there should be some high-quality options prospects sitting in the Chargers’ laps when they are put on the clock.

Los Angeles Rams – Offensive Tackle

As a result of a flurry of blockbuster trades including Matthew Stafford and Von Miller, the Rams only hold three originally owned picks in the 2022 NFL Draft. However, as a result of some compensatory picks awaiting to be awarded to them for the departures of some starters in 2021’s free agency period, as well as the loss of Director of College Scouting Brad Holmes to become the GM of the Lions, they will regain some draft capital. The earliest they currently appear to be selecting is in the third-round, which means netting a draft class of starting caliber players may prove difficult, but with left tackle Andrew Whitworth now 40, finding the future at this position should be a top priority.

Miami Dolphins – Wide Receiver

Offensive line play hasn’t been great through 2021 so far, but have used a first and two second round picks over the course of the previous two drafts on offensive lineman. So their O-Line is predominantly made up of young players that could still come good for the Phins. Outside of rookie Jaylen Waddle, the rest of the receiving core is simply not good enough, and DeVante Parker just can’t stay healthy. So go and help Tua out and help take the pressure of Waddle by snagging one of the classes premier wide-outs. Arkansas’ Treylon Burks is a big bodied 6’3” receiver that could add a new dynamism to Miami’s offense.

Minnesota Vikings – EDGE

2x Pro Bowl edge rusher Danielle Hunter has suffered season-ending injuries in back-to-back seasons now, and there are no guarantees that he remains in Minnesota beyond this season. The drop-off in talent between Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton and the rest of the safety class appears significant, so you can address that later and avoid reaching for a prospect in round one. Instead, why not attempt to find your next franchise pass rusher early? Purdue’s George Karlaftis, Michigan’s David Ojabo, Cincinnati’s Myjai Sanders and USC’s Drake Jackson are all in play for the Vikings if this is the route they choose to take.

New England Patriots – Cornerback

Wide receiver is also an area of the field that needs addressing for New England in 2022, but with the embarrassment of riches that will be potentially available in free agency, maybe investing in one of those could be the wiser option. Star cornerback J.C. Jackson is going to demand a monster contract extension at the end of the season, and it looks increasingly likely that the Patriots won’t want/be able to offer the sum of money that extending Jackson would require. Thankfully, the 2022 cornerback class looks to be a group that is deep in talent, so the chances of New England being able to select any one of a handful of premier prospects at the position when their time comes to choose looks highly likely. It just makes sense, avoid splashing a large portion of your salary cap on one player and invest in a top prospect that may well be just as good but on a far cheaper rookie contract.

New Orleans Saints – Wide Receiver

Quarterback is a need, of that there is no doubt. And who knows if the Saints go and make a trade for a certain quarterback in Seattle during the 2022 off-season. That’s all hypothetical at this point, but what is certain is that whoever may be under center next year in the Big Easy, they are going to need more ammunition to throw to. Michael Thomas may well be saying his goodbye’s in 2022, so let’s not take any chances and go and get his potential replacement early. Ohio State might just have the two best receivers in the class in Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson respectively, either one of those two would seriously soften the blow from a Michael Thomas departure.  

New York Giants – Interior Offensive Line

In what looks to be a weak class for quarterback’s, why not give Daniel Jones something that he has never really had since he arrived in New York three years ago, protection. Big Blue’s offensive line is consistently one of the lowest graded units year in, year out between league-wide analysts, so let’s put that right. Texas A&M’s five-star guard Kenyon Green has played practically every position on the O-Line during his college career, all to a very high standard. Why not invest early on a player to build a unit around?

New York Jets – Cornerback

Ok, Zach Wilson hasn’t put it in the rookie season that the Gang Green nation were expecting. But you’re not throwing the towel in on him yet, and you’ve invested heavily into the offensive line, but one area of the team that is currently preventing the Jets from taking flight is the secondary. The Jets have lost a lot of talent there in recent years, none more-so than All-Pro and do it all safety Jamal Adams. But why not avenge Adams with the ammunition that the very team you traded him too (Seattle Seahawks) have provided you with? And with the possibility of having both the number four and five selections, you can even double down and grab a cornerback too. LSU cornerback Derek Stingley Jr, and Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton could and should transform that Jets secondary.

Philadelphia Eagles – Cornerback

Finding a long-term edge rusher is largely considered to be Philadelphia’s most obvious need heading into 2022. After all, long-time star Brandon Graham will be 34 by the time next season kicks-off, whilst 2017 first-round pick Derek Barnett is out of contract at the end of the season, and it’s no guarantee he stays in ‘Philly. However, a position of need that isn’t perhaps getting as much attention as it should is cornerback, as it’s only once you realise that Darius Slay is now 30, Avonte Maddox has had his fair share of injuries, and with Steven Nelson out of contract in 2022, that this position is a major need that should be addressed early in the draft. With the Eagle’s currently holding three first-round selections, they have plenty of chances to do just that, and when they do, Florida’s Kaiir Elam, Cincinnati’s Ahmad Gardner and Clemson’s Andrew Booth Jr. would all provide excellent value.

Pittsburgh Steelers – Quarterback

Regardless of whether the 2022 quarterback class looks weaker than the one’s seen in recent years, Steel City has to look to the future at the position with Big Ben reportedly telling team-mates that 2021 will be his last season in the NFL. And if Ole Miss’ Matt Corral is still on the board, you would expect some serious consideration at the very least from the Steelers. Or if they wanted an in-state product, Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett could be an intriguing option.

San Francisco 49ers – Cornerback

Jason Verrett has unfortunatley spent more time on the injury table than on the field in his career, which is a huge shame because he is undoubtedly one of the best corners in the league when healthy. However, a torn ACL means another year spent on the sideline for Verrett – a scheduled free agent in 2022 -, and 2021 rookie corners Ambry Thomas and Deommodore Lenoir have not hit the ground running in San Fran. So that means that the cornerback position is the glaring weak spot for a 49ers team that could be a corner or two away from Super Bowl contention. And with the draft capital they surrendered to move up and take Trey Lance in last years draft, the Niners will currently be making their first selection in the second round. But even so, with the depth of talent available at the corner position in the 2022 class, they should still land a top prospect if they choose to invest early.

Seattle Seahawks – Center

The Seahawks have failed to their Justin Britt – 2016 Pro Bowl alternative center with the Seahawks – since his departure in 2019. Since then, converted guard Ethan Pocic has tried his hand, as well as Kyle Fuller, both with frustratingly little success. The Seahawks passed on some top center prospects in the second round of last years draft, none more-so than Creed Humphrey, who is now playing like a top center for the Chiefs. If they want to keep Wilson upright – something they’ve never been able to do – they simply have to invest significant draft capital into this position. The Seahawks’ first pick in the 2022 draft will not currently be until the second round, as a result of the 2020 Jamal Adams trade. And with a center class that doesn’t appear to be deep in talent, they will have to invest early if they are serious about upgrading at the position.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Interior Defensive Line

Ndamukong Suh, WillIam Gholston and Steve McLendon are all scheduled to hit free agency in 2022, whilst star defensive tackle Vita Vea’s rookie contract expires in 2023. So the cast of players that make up the Buccaneers’ defensive line over the next couple of years is expected to undergo some changes, with an injection of young talent appearing a necessity for Tampa Bay. If the Bucs don’t address this position early in the 2022 draft, any free agent or trade acquisitions they make will be under increased pressure to perform at a high level, otherwise, Tampa Bay’s defense may only step further away from the brilliant defense that helped bring another ring to the Sunshine State.

Tennessee Titans – Linebacker

The Titans handed a five-year, $82.5M contract to free agent linebacker Bud Dupree, who is undoubtedly a very good player, but unfortunately he appears to be injury prone, and has again spent time on injured reserve in 2021. Rashaan Evans, Harold Landry, Jayon Brown, Nick Dzubnar – and others further down the depth chart – are all out of contract at the end of the season, and all have not secured their futures in Tennessee with their performances when on the field. So it goes without saying that this position should be a priority for investment in 2022, and with some intriguing prospects at the position available in the 2022 draft, Tennessee should seriously consider investing premium draft capital at linebacker.

Washington Football Team – Quarterback

Is Taylor Heinicke the worst starting quarterback in the NFL? No, but if the Washington Football Team want to keep trending upwards, they should be looking for an upgrade at the position. Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder is a 6’4” dual-threat QB and could transform the way Washington run their offense for the better, whilst potentially suiting star receiver Terry McLaurin’s skill set significantly better.