Rebuilding Plans For NFL's 5 Worst Teams Entering 2022 Season
In the parity-driven NFL, many teams have successfully rebounded from a down year. These downtrodden clubs executed rebuilds flawlessly, bouncing back to have winning seasons, make playoff appearances and even go on deep postseason runs.
The Cincinnati Bengals recently became the latest team to pull itself out of the league’s basement, going from a 4-11-1 finish in 2020 to 10-7 in 2021, a record that was good for the AFC North title and served as a springboard for a Super Bowl berth.
Some of last season’s worst teams could follow in Cincinnati’s footsteps with a turnaround of their own in 2022.
All five of the league’s worst franchises (based on the final 2021 standings) are in various stages of rebuilds in wake of some tough seasons. Each still has a realistic chance to contend again as early as this coming campaign.
It won’t be easy, but these teams are all capable of taking a leap if they can show improvement and growth. With that in mind, here’s a look at the three main goals each of these organizations should be trying to accomplish in 2022.
New York Giants
2021 Record: 4-13
No. 1 Goal: Fix the Offensive Line
The New York Giants had one of the most roughshod offensive lines in football last year. Only two teams earned a collectively lower grade from PFF in 2021, with every starter outside of left tackle Andrew Thomas earning a backup- or replaceable-level score.
Fortunately for the G-Men help is on the way. New general manager Joe Schoen placed a priority on reinforcing this unit during his first offseason.
The team pulled off one of the biggest steals of the 2022 draft by selecting Evan Neal at No. 7 overall. The Alabama product was a top tackle prospect in the class—and a candidate to go as high as No. 1 overall—who makes an ideal bookend starter across from Thomas in the offensive trenches.
Veteran Mark Glowsinki earned a sizable contract to shore up the interior after another strong season with the Indianapolis Colts. Guard Jon Feliciano could be a value signing for New York if he can stay on the field after missing 15 games over the last two seasons.
Shane Lemieux might be the only starter returning this year aside from Thomas. The left guard only logged 17 snaps last year before going down with a knee injury that cut his sophomore campaign short.
Lemieux has to battle Ben Bredeson, Joshua Ezeudu and Max Garcia in training camp for the role, a competition that will likely result in a quality interior lineman earning a starting LG job with this much-improved unit.
No. 2 Goal: Give Daniel Jones One More Chance
The Giants envisioned Daniel Jones taking over the reins from Eli Manning when they took the QB at No. 6 overall in 2019. The Duke product has shown some flashes of the skill and mettle it takes to be this organization’s long-term starter, but the last three years have been largely disappointing.
After declining Jones' fifth-year option and setting his rookie deal to expire following the upcoming campaign, the Giants have one final opportunity to determine if the 25-year-old is worth keeping around.
Jones has statistically regressed each year he’s been the starter. After amassing 3,027 passing yards and 24 touchdowns in 2019, the QB only threw for 2,428 yards and 10 scores last year.
Injuries have taken their toll on Jones. He missed a decent amount of time in each of the last two seasons, including six games last year when he landed on IR with a neck injury.
Jones’ 12-25 lifetime record doesn’t inspire much confidence, but the team has made improvements that include drafting Wan’Dale Robinson and Daniel Bellinger to catch passes.
If the receiving corps and offensive line can stay healthy after suffering a string of injuries last year, Jones will have his best chance to show he can be a bona fide franchise QB.
The team does have a contingency plan in place after signing Tyrod Taylor to a two-year deal earlier in the offseason. Taylor gives Big Blue a competent backup who could take over if the coaching staff determines Jones is holding the squad back in 2022.
No. 3 Goal: Get Better At Pressuring The Quarterback
Big Blue was one of the least efficient pass-rushing teams last season, an area it must show growth in if the team wishes to end a half-decade playoff drought.
The Giants struggled across the board at getting after opposing quarterbacks. They brought pressure on 20.1 percent of dropbacks, the third-worst rate in the league. The team’s meager 34 sack total was a regression from the 40 it recorded in 2020.
Six players notched at least 2.5 sacks last year, with only Lorenzo Carter—who left for the Atlanta Falcons this offseason—Leonard Williams and Azeez Ojulari breeching the 3.5-sack mark.
New York made a few offseason moves to bolster these limited pass-rushing capabilities. The most impactful being the selection of Kayvon Thibodeaux at No. 5 overall. The rookie is coming off a three-year run at Oregon during which he racked up 19 sacks and 35 tackles for a loss in 30 games.
At 6’5”, 250-pounds and possessing elite athleticism, the rangy Thibodeaux has real potential to become an elite NFL pass-rusher. He’ll join offseason free-agent pickup Jihad Ward and the returning Ojulari and Williams to form the nucleus of Big Blue’s edge-rushing unit.
If Thibodeaux is as good as advertised, the Giants should be able to bring some heat in new defensive coordinator Wink Martindale's system.
New York Jets
2021 Record: 4-13
No. 1 Goal: Successfully Integrate All The New Pieces
After adding up to eight potential starters during the offseason, there’s a different feel around these New York Jets. This incoming crop of talent is poised to make the franchise much more competitive than it has been in previous years.
ESPN’s Rich Cimini relayed Jets GM Joe Douglas' frustrations after Gang Green suffered through its sixth consecutive losing season, three of which Douglas personally oversaw after getting hired in 2019.
The GM said that the disappointing 4-13 campaign prompted his staff to evaluate the entire roster, noting every single player’s strengths, weaknesses and upside. They then identified free-agent targets who could best fill the holes revealed in the assessment. .
Weak points like cornerback and edge defense were shored up with first-round selections of Ahmad Gardner and Jermaine Johnson, respectively. Veterans such as C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Conklin were added to overhaul an abysmal tight end room.
The Jets appear to have executed their personnel plan to perfection, ending up with a roster that looks highly competitive on paper.
The challenge now will be to find a way to get the most out of all these new pieces, integrating them into schemes that maximize their strengths before the 2022 season kicks off.
No. 2 Goal: Help Zach Wilson Succeed
After taking him at No. 2 overall last year, the Jets wasted little time throwing quarterback Zach Wilson to the wolves.
The BYU product was tasked with opening his career as a starting quarterback on a bad team and unsurprisingly got off to a slow start. Missing four games between Weeks 8 and 11 because of injury set the young signal-caller back even further.
Wilson ultimately finished his rookie year having started 13 games, going 3-10 while completing just 55.6 percent of his passes for 2,334 yards and nine touchdowns against 11 interceptions and a concerning 44 sacks.
If the Jets want Wilson to avoid being added to the draft bust pile, they need to make sure he's more comfortable in their system this season.
The front office has done well providing the 22-year-old with better weapons. Gang Green drafted skill position prospects like WR Garrett Wilson and RB Breece Hall to complement veteran tight end signings C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Conklin.
With plenty of talent now surrounding their quarterback, Wilson needs to deliver on the promise that made him such a lofty draft selection. His play at the end of 2021 was trending towards promising and that should only improve with this loaded supporting cast.
No. 3 Goal: Figure Out Mekhi Becton’s Future
The Jets seemed to have found their left tackle of the future when Mekhi Becton displayed immense promise as a rookie in 2020. Unfortunately, that position appears to be a question mark again because of Becton’s injury woes.
The Louisville product suffered a knee injury in the 2021 opener that was only expected to keep him sidelined for a maximum of eight weeks. Becton ultimately never saw the field again during his sophomore season.
Becton had durability issues as a rookie too. He missed a pair of games due to injury and had to sit out for stretches in six other contests, logging 100 percent of the offensive snaps in just eight games that season. He's participated in 15 of a possible 33 games for his career.
Conditioning may be an issue for the tackle listed at 6'7", 365 pounds. WFAN’s Boomer Esiason bashed Becton for showing up to minicamp after a lengthy absence weighing nearly 400 pounds and questioned his ability to block elite athletes like Myles Garrett due to this lack of fitness.
Esiason went as far as to say the Jets could cut Becton, but it’s more likely the team would try to find a trade partner before releasing him. If Becton is no longer a part of Gang Green’s future, the organization needs to expedite the acquisition of stalwart left tackle to replace him before training camp begins.
ESPN insider Rich Cimini appeared on the Flight Deck Podcast and reported that the Jets are considering signing a veteran tackle right now, noting five-time Pro Bowler Duane Brown may be on the club’s radar.
While Brown would be a valuable addition to the locker room, he’s never played a game at right tackle. The signing would be a tad superfluous if he’s not acquired to start on the left side as a potential replacement for Becton.
2021 Record: 4-13
No. 1 Goal: Decide If Davis Mills is a Franchise Quarterback
The Houston Texans will soon have to make tough decision regarding the most important position on the field. The team saw flashes of potential from Davis Mills during his rookie year in 2021 but now have to decide if he's a QB they can build around.
Mills completed a respectable 66.4 percent of his passes for 2,664 yards and 16 touchdowns last year, but did throw 10 interceptions and took 31 sacks. His record was also a concern, as the Texans went just 2-9 in his 11 starts.
One issue with Mills is his ability to get rattled by the rush. According to PFF, the Stanford product had a commendable 75.1 passing grade with a clean pocket but saw his score drop all the way down to a 29.3 in a pressured pocket. Only two QBs saw a bigger fall-off between clean- and pressured-pocket situations.
Achieving the next goal on this list will help Houston better figure out if Mills is cut out to be a franchise quarterback.
No. 2 Goal: Improve the Offensive Line Play
The Texans had one of the worst offensive lines in 2021.
PFF rated the unit No. 29 in the league, citing inconsistency as a significant cause for this poor grade. The site noted that 11 different offensive linemen played 58 or more snaps for Houston last season.
No team performed worse in PFF’s run-blocking metrics. The Texans' 44.7 grade in that category was over eight points lower than the No. 31 team’s performance.
Getting to a league-average level would be a huge step forward for Houston in 2022. The club took some steps to accomplish this during the offseason, drafting guard Kenyon Green at No. 15 overall and signing guard A.J. Cann in free agency.
Those moves will allow Tytus Howard to kick back outside after lining up at guard for much of the 2021 campaign. Laremy Tunsil will also slot back in as the starting left tackle after missing 11 games last year with injury.
If Houston’s offensive linemen can stay healthy, this goal should be rather achievable.
No. 3 Goal: Unearth Some Defensive Line Gems
Houston had a dearth of talent in the defensive trenches last year. While Jonathan Greenard looks like a star in the making, the team still needs help here.
The Texans only recorded a meager 32 sacks and allowed 142.2 yards per game to opposing rushers last year, ranking No. 31 in that category.
The franchise made a series of moves to overhaul its defensive line in wake of this performance. Although it didn’t draft much help—fifth-round defensive end Thomas Booker was the team’s only d-line selection— a slew of new faces will be fighting for jobs in training camp.
Mario Addison was one of the more notable veteran pickups by the club. The 34-year-old proved he still has something left in the tank after recording seven sacks with the Buffalo Bills last year. His Bills teammate, Jerry Hughes, also figures to be a part of Houston’s plans after signing here last month.
Rasheem Green is another a solid pickup who made noise in 2021 by notching 6.5 sacks for the Seattle Seahawks. These vets will help raise the ceiling on Houston’s defensive line play, but the unit could see it's floor lifted by some unexpected production from less-heralded players.
Kurt Hinish and Damion Daniels have a chance to make the roster as undrafted free agent rookies, while veteran Ogba Okoronkwo—who played 13 games for the Rams last year and recorded a pair of sacks—could also play a big role the rotation.
If a few of these lesser-known talents step up, they will bring up the bottom of Houston’s d-line rotation, one that should make noticeable strides in comparison to last year's paltry performance.
2021 Record: 3-13-1
No. 1 Goal: Turn Narrow Losses Into Wins
The Detroit Lions were far more competitive last year than their record indicates. Although they finished with just three wins in 2021, the team hung tight in a good number of its losses.
Six of their 13 defeats came by one score or less and seven were by 10 or fewer points. Detroit eventually turned a corner after an 0-8 start, winning three of their final six matchups, with two of those victories coming against playoff-bound opponents.
While the Lions won’t be able to come out ahead in every close game during the 2022 campaign, they will have a better chance of avoiding heartbreaking losses and securing exhilarating wins thanks to a deeper roster that was reinforced through the draft and free agency.
No. 2 Goal: Find a Franchise Quarterback
It may be a bit optimistic at this point in the offseason, but the Lions need to remain vigilant in their quest to land a franchise quarterback. It’s far and away the most concerning roster flaw and a hole that must be patched for Detroit to evolve into a true contender.
In the unlikely scenario that an established signal-caller like Lamar Jackson or Kyler Murray becomes available due to hiccups in their respective contract negotiations, Detroit’s brass should be willing to do whatever it takes to acquire them.
Considering it took the Denver Broncos a pair of first- and second-rounders to pry Russell Wilson away from the Seattle Seahawks a few months ago, the Lions should be prepared to cough up at least a trio of Day 1 picks to land a young superstar.
Failing that, Detroit should be scouting the 2023 class intently, looking over prospects like Bryce Young and C.J. Stroud as potential franchise QBs to target in next year's draft.
No. 3 Goal: Keep Dan Campbell
The Lions seem to have struck gold with the hiring of former tight end Dan Campbell as their head coach. The team now needs to keep him happy, ensuring he sticks around to see the rebuilding process through into a contending era.
While his first-year record may not jump off the page as a top coach in the making, Campbell maximized the limited talents of the roster he inherited last year. More importantly, he’s created a culture of hard work that players are buying into, a refreshing change after the Matt Patricia era came to a merciful end following two-and-a-half trying seasons.
According to Vito Chirco of SI.com, edge-rusher Charles Harris praised the positivity Campbell and general manager Brad Holmes have brought to the club:
“We want to see this thing come to light, and see Coach Dan and his envisioning, and Brad and his envisioning, see all that come to light. I think that’s what’s creating that loyalty. We know the history of this team, we know the history of this city and we’re tired of it. We’re tired of the negative part of it. We’re trying to bring the positive.”
With more homegrown talents like Aidan Hutchinson and Jameson Williams on the way in to complement an impressive 2021 rookie class headlined by Penei Sewell and Amon-Ra St. Brown, the Lions have the makings of a strong foundation in place and the perfect coach to develop these young talents.
2021 Record: 3-14
No. 1 Goal: Balance Out the Offense
The Jaguars need to strike a balance in their offensive attack in 2022 after relying far too heavily on rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence's arm last year.
The team passed on 61.87 percent of its offensive snaps in 2021, the seventh-highest percentage in the league, while finishing a lowly No. 25 in passing offense.
The decision to hire Pederson, a former NFL quarterback, as head coach will likely pay dividends. Pederson is keenly aware how difficult it can be for a young signal-caller to win games while getting little support from the ground game.
Lawrence even took a small swipe at Urban Meyer's questionable offensive scheming when his former head coach was heading out the door.
According to Garry Smits of the Florida Times-Union, the quarterback said it was “great to see James [Robinson], obviously, very involved” when the back went off for 75 yards and a score on 18 carries in Week 15—the team’s first after Meyer’s firing last year—after he earned just 14 combined rushes in Weeks 13 and 14.
Robinson should be a much larger part of Jacksonville's plans in 2022 as part of this second rebuilding goal.
No. 2 Goal: Maximize the Rushing Attack
The ground game could be a major strength for Jacksonville this year. The team has one of the more talented sets of running backs in the league and should showcase them as often as possible.
Urban Meyer’s tenure with the organization was far-and-away a disaster, with one of his more glaring mistakes being the limited usage of an up-and-coming James Robinson.
The running back appeared to be a star in the making after he breeched 1,000 yards as a rookie. Despite this, he saw his totes drop from 264 in 2020 to a mere 164 in 2021 despite playing 14 games in both seasons.
Travis Etienne, a first-round back who missed his entire rookie campaign due to injury, is returning to the fold as well. The Clemson product should provide a great change-of-pace option to complement the incumbent starter.
While Robinson is nursing an Achilles tear he suffered in late-December, he began running again last month and appears to be making solid progress for a return in time for the 2022 campaign.
Getting both of these backs healthy and involved will be a key to success in Jacksonville this season.
No. 3 Goal: Keep Things Professional
The Jaguars were one of the league’s laughingstocks last year for more than just their NFL-worst record.
The team lacked a sense of decorum during Meyer’s short reign, including in training camp when the team had staff members imploring players to hydrate over the P.A. system and every aspect of practice was micromanaged.
Meyer’s college-style management clearly rubbed players the wrong way. Things hit a low when the Tampa Bay Times reported that he kicked and insulted placekicker Josh Lambo during warmups, an incident that ultimately led to the coach’s dismissal.
Fortunately, Pederson seems to have brought a different culture with him to Jacksonville. Smits said he saw a level of "professionalism" at the practices that was missing last year and that the new head coach trusted his veterans to get their jobs done.
With players clearly buying in to Pederson and his methods, the future finally looks bright in Jacksonville after one of the most tumultuous periods in franchise history.