Updated: May 7, 2022
Now that the 2022 NFL Draft is over and the majority of big time free agents have signed with their current or new teams, we can now begin to diagnose who were the biggest off-season winners on paper. Some moves look great and others don't but until they actually play ball we won't know the true answers to this question. But for now let's take a look at the teams who gave their fans the most to cheer about.
1. Denver Broncos: Denver didn't make a ton of moves, nor did they have an exceptional draft. But that's because they gave up those draft picks to acquire one of the best quarterbacks in the league. When the Broncos upgraded at the QB position by bringing in Russell Wilson from Seattle, the franchises stock had risen significantly. The Broncos were one of those teams that we said "only if they had a quarterback." Now they do and he's likely to make his wide receivers in Jerry Jeudy, Tim Patrick and Courtland Sutton even better players. Then you add in Wilson's leadership skills and ability to unify a locker room and the price Denver paid for his services should pay off.
Courtesy of The Denver Channel
The Broncos didn't just address the teams biggest offensive need but also paid close attention to upgrading an already stout defense by bringing in star defensive lineman like pass rushing specialist Randy Gregory formerly of the Dallas Cowboys and a very underrated D.J. Jones from the 49ers to clog up the middle on the interior line. They also wanted to get more protection for their new star quarterback by bringing Jones' teammate from San Francisco, OL Tom Compton. Denver also signed Ben Braden and re-signed Calvin Anderson on the O-Line. Apparently John Elway really likes former 49ers by grabbing cornerback K'Waun Williams on a 2 year deal. The AFC West may be the toughest division in football but once Russell Wilson starts clicking with his receivers and their young running back Javonte Williams whom the Broncos are very mile high on, I expect the Orange Crush to make a lot of noise in the AFC.
2. Miami Dolphins: Another team that loves former 49ers players and coaches are the Miami Dolphins. It actually starts with their new head coach who is the 49ers former offensive coordinator/run game coordinator and assistant to Kyle Shanahan. Mike McDaniel became the 13th head coach in Miami Dolphins history back on February 6th earler this year. Other former 49er coaches on this staff are Jon Embree as an assistant and tight end coach. Wes Welker spent the past three season as the Niners WR coach and now fills that role in Miami. Mike Person and Aldrick Robinson both played for San Francisco among other teams, come in as an offensive assistants. So McDaniel brought his guys with him from the Bay area.
Courtesy of Arrowhead Pride
Not just coaches but players too like running back Raheem Mostert and wide out Trent Sherfield who shows a lot of promise. They also signed WR River Cracraft who played for the Niners last season. Of course the big off-season splash was trading for Tyreek Hill. Hill fits what new HC Mike McDaniel wants and likes to do on offense. Between "The Cheetah" and "The Penguin" Jaylen Waddle, the Phins should have a great one-two punch and I'd bet my life savings that Miami will lead the league in wide receiver screen passes. But the Dolphins have a 3rd and 4th punch too that could cause some early T.K.O.'s against opposing defenses. Newly acquired WR from the Cowboys, Cedrick Wilson Jr. really began to make a name for himself down in Dallas and caught the eye of the Dolphins front office by signing Wilson to a 3 year $22.8 million contract. The 4th punch comes from a tight end who took a quantum leap last season in Miami and plays more like a bigger, stronger version of your average slot receiver. Mike Gesicki is no joke and is a big end zone threat with his size and athletic ability. This is truly a make or break year for Tua with the Dolphins. He has top notch players he'll need to get the football to without having a regression in his play.
In case Tua doesn't play well or gets injured, Miami made an under the radar solid move at quarterback by signing Teddy Bridgewater to back up the lefty. Miami also brought in Chase Edmonds at RB who is an explosive player and can do some real damage. Tua has the weapons to throw to and hand good backs the ball in the run game, but he also has an improving offensive line now anchored by former Saints OT Terron Armstead. The Dolphins are stacked with talent offensively and have shown they can play great on defense, especially in the secondary with guys like Xavien Howard and Byron Jones. We'll see if the defense takes a step back without former head coach Brian Flores.
3. Los Angeles Chargers: This team was already stacked with talent but the off-season additions they made put the Chargers in the upper tier. Unfortunately their head coach, Brandon Staley or as I like to call him Brandon Failey, is in the lower tier among his counterparts. Maybe Staley wouldn't be such a miserable head coach if he didn't take so many unnecessary risks. Had he not gone for it on 4th down in what seemed like every Chargers drive, they would have been a playoff team last year. I fully expect the Chargers to make a post season run in 2022 as long as Staley makes better decisions or someone else makes those critical decisions.
Courtesy of Twitter
The reason why the Los Angeles Chargers rank 3rd on my most improved team list are the free agents they signed and a couple of draft picks that could turn out to be long term starters in this league. The two big names the Chargers went after and got are one of the best young corners in the game, J.C. Jackson and veteran DE/OLB pass rushing extraorinaire Khalil Mack. People think of Mack as just a pass rusher but that's far from the truth. You will frequently find Mack in the opposing teams backfield tackling the runner before they reach the line of scrimmage. Mack and Joey Bosa should be one heck of a combination. If Jackson lives up to the hype then he can potentially be one of the most important players in the AFC West. He'll have to defend Raiders new star wide out DeVante Adams twice a year and have to deal with whatever Patrick Mahomes and Russell Wilson throw at him in those four match ups.
We know L.A. has no problem scoring touchdowns. Justin Herbert is one of the leagues best young quarterbacks who is lucky enough to pass the ball to guys like Keenan Allen, Mike Williams and their new tight end Gerald Everett. Not to mention the multi-dimensional running back in Austin Ekeler. Maybe we should call him "Dr. Strange" because he has become a master of the running back multi-verse. Just like Denver, the Chargers are in a tough division but they can play ball with any team in the league. And those couple of draft picks I mentioned are first round offensive lineman Zion Johnson to play alongside L.A.'s first pick last year Rashawn Slater. Gotta protect your quarterback! In the 3rd round the Chargers selected Baylor safety JT Woods who is a very versatile player like his new mentor Derwin James who when healthy is one of the best players on the field. The one worry with this team other than their head coaches maturity, is the fact they couldn't stop the run game at all. I think the Chargers should have gone after a defensive run stuffer but they're hoping Khalil Mack will lower opposing teams rushing output. In the words of Arnold Schwarzenegger "Go Chargers Go!"
4. New York Jets: For the first time in a decade, Jets fans have something to cheer about and a potential very bright future for the next ten plus years. The NY Jets made a ton of moves in free agency and had perhaps the best draft of any team in the league. Before we look at what they've done to improve, it must be said that none of it matters unless their sophomore quarterback Zach Wilson takes a big step forward this upcoming season. Or as my 3rd & 3 Podcast brother Damian Adams likes to say take a "quantum leap."
Courtesy of Jets Wire - USA Today
One of Wilson's favorite targets, Braxton Berrios re-signed with the team on a two year deal. They like WR Elijah Moore and drafted Ohio State star receiver Garrett Wilson in the draft with the 10th overall pick. The Jets were active before the draft but the activity Gang Green pulled off in the first round and then some was spectacular. With their first pick of the draft, 4th overall, the Jets took perhaps the top cornerback in the draft Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner out of Cincinnati. This was the right pick for the Jets as they'll be seeing receivers like Stephon Diggs, Tyrek Hill and Jaylen Waddle a couple times a year. Can Gardner be that shut down corner like the Jets used to have on Revis Island?
The NYJ then traded back into the first round and grabbed a falling yet talented DE Jermain Johnson from USC. Some argue they got 3 of the top 10 players in this years draft. But they weren't done there! New York also took the best running back in the draft as Breece Hall went 36th overall. The Jets also selected hometown tight end Jeremy Ruckert who grew up a Jets fan and will share time with Jets new TE from the Vikings Tyler Conklin and C.J. Uzomah from the AFC champion Bengals. The Jets improved in the draft alone but then consider some of the veterans they brought in. One of those vets was one of the 49ers unsung heroes on the offensive line, Laken Tomlinson. Bringing in this OG to go along with young skilled lineman Mekhi Becton and Alijah Vera-Tucker will really fill out the wall that will try to protect their hopeful future quarterback for the next decade.
The Jets re-signed safety Lamarcus Joyner to ride the secondary with free agent safety Jordan Whitehead, formerly of the Tampa Bay Bucs and also added cornerback D.J. Reed from Seattle. I guess they were worried about their secondary! Hence the Sauce Gardner pick at #4 overall. It's a passing league so getting as many skilled players in the secondary is vital for success.
5. Cleveland Browns: I was thinking of putting Cleveland a little higher on this list but I do question one of their new acquisitions they received via trade. I use the word received because I'm talking about wide receiver Amari Cooper who the Browns got for barely anything. Cooper only cost Cleveland a 5th round pick. That says a lot right there! Yes, Dallas wanted to dump Cooper's salary but they gave the Raiders a first round pick for Cooper back in 2018. Now it is four years later but still....come on! From that I gather Amari Cooper is not the guy we saw in 2016 - 2017. He's not even the guy he was in Dallas in 2019! So how much will Coop help out the Browns splash trade with the Houston Texans to get the extremely talented QB DeSahun Watson?
Courtesy of Dawg Pound Daily
Aside from all the allegations and civil lawsuits Watson is going through, on the field you can argue that DeShaun Watson is a top 3 quarterback in the NFL. He's that dynamic of a player. He's got a tremedous arm that's accurate along with the ability to make plays on his own and not turn over the football. The improvement from Baker Mayfield to DeShaun Watson is astronomical. Watson has the ability to help make Cleveland one of the best teams in the AFC. We already know head coach Kevin Stefanski is going to use the running game with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt behind that tough offensive line to make the offense go. Just imagine what Watson can and will do in the play action pass game and through designed RPO's. I mean wow!
Cleveland has players at every position and recently made Denzel Ward the highest paid cornerback in the league. Myles Garrett is one of the top defensive players in all of football and the defense is designed around his skill set. They have a top QB, a top run game, a top O-Line, a top pass rusher, a top cornerback, a top play caller and could be atop the AFC North if Watson doesn't miss significant time.