NFL Players Set Up to Fail in 2022
The NFL has plenty of game-changing stars, but it's ultimately still a team game.
Even the best players in the league need talent around them to make life easier.
A quarterback needs a functional offensive line and pass-catchers who can optimize the passing game. A running back needs to be in the right scheme with adequate blocking in front of him.
On defense, even the best pass-rushers can be neutralized if the offense only has to worry about them. A superstar can't make up for a bad secondary. The list goes on.
Looking across the league, there are some really talented players who are going to have a hard time living up to their potential this season. Each of these players are going to be called upon to make an impact, but they aren't exactly getting the help they need.
EDGE Brian Burns, Carolina Panthers
The Carolina Panthers are putting a lot of eggs in the Brian Burns basket defensively in 2022.
The 24-year-old is coming off his first Pro Bowl season and has proven to be a reliable pass-rusher. It's a good thing, too, because outside of Burns and Haason Reddick, the Panthers did not have much in the way of impact pass-rushers.
Burns is talented but he also benefitted from the presence of Reddick and defensive tackle Morgan Fox.
Fox may have only notched 1.5 sacks but, according to Next Gen Stats, he drew double teams at a similar rate as Chris Jones, Quinnen Williams and Ed Oliver. That allowed Burns and Reddick to rarely see extra attention.
Now, Burns is going to be the undisputed star of the defensive front. This offseason, Fox went to the Los Angeles Chargers while Reddick went to Philadelphia.
The Panthers are going to have to hope free agent Matt Ioannidis and Yetur Gross-Matos are able to blossom in 2022. Ioannidis, who played his first six seasons in Washington, is getting out of the shadow of Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen. Gross-Matos was a second-round pick by the Panthers in 2020 but has just six sacks in his first two seasons.
RB James Conner, Arizona Cardinals
Before the Arizona Cardinals handed out a five-year, $230.5 million contract to Kyler Murray, they inked James Conner to a three-year, $21 million deal.
It was a strong financial commitment to a running back who they paid just $1.3 million in 2021. He'll certainly earn it if he's able to put up good numbers within the Cardinals offense this year.
Conner's reputation last season was helped by his ability to find the endzone. The 6'1", 233-pound back scored 15 times on the ground and another three as a receiver.
But when you take away the scoring, he was one of the least efficient rushers in the league. That wasn't necessarily his fault, though, as he was stuck behind an offensive line that did him no favors.
Conner averaged just 1.6 yards before contact in 2021. Only Mark Ingram had a lower number. It was a major contributor to Conner averaging just 3.7 yards per carry.
The Cardinals haven't really done much to improve in that area. Their only free-agent acquisition on the offensive line was Will Hernandez, who posted a 55.9 grade from PFF with the Giants last season.
Not only that, but they watched Chase Edmonds walk in free agency, giving Conner even more carries behind a shoddy offensive line.
Conner will be earning his money the hard way in 2022.
QB Justin Fields, Chicago Bears
The good news for the Chicago Bears is that former head coach Matt Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace are no longer in charge.
The bad news is that new head coach Matt Eberflus and new general manager Ryan Poles' rebuilding project has Justin Fields working with a potentially worse supporting cast than last year.
Fields' rookie season had its share of ups and downs. The team went 2-8 in his 10 starts and he threw 10 interceptions to seven touchdowns while seeing pressure on 27.3 percent of his dropbacks.
Protection and weapons are key for any quarterback, but they are paramount for a young quarterback trying to prove himself.
It's tough to make the case the Bears' supporting cast got better. The offensive line was ranked 31st in PFF's preseason rankings. They'll be relying on Teven Jenkins and Larry Borom to make big improvements in their second seasons at right and left tackle, respectively.
Jenkins had a 5.2 blown-block percentage, which was 10th-worst among linemen with at least 100 snaps, per Sports Info Solutions. Borom wasn't much better at 4.0 percent.
At receiver, the Bears traded out Allen Robinson II and Damiere Byrd for Byron Pringle, N'Keal Harry, Tajae Sharpe and third-round draft pick Velus Jones. Robinson struggled to fit into Nagy's plans last season, but he's averaged 79 catches for 935 yards and five touchdowns over the last three seasons.
That would be a career high in each category for any of their new pass-catchers.
The Bears are asking Fields to make vast improvements, but it's a big ask with the supporting cast he's been given.
DT Grady Jarrett, Atlanta Falcons
Grady Jarrett is coming off his most statistically disappointing season since his rookie year. Given his situation in Atlanta, it shouldn't be surprising if he struggles to make a box-score impact once again in 2022.
After back-to-back Pro Bowl seasons as one of the most disruptive interior defenders in the league, he had just one sack and three tackles for a loss in 2021.
It's no coincidence the Falcons had the worst pressure percentage in the league at just 16.7 percent. The entire defense managed just 18 sacks and 58 tackles for loss.
Without much threat on the outside, Jarrett saw double teams on more than 60 percent of his snaps, per Next Gen Stats.
The Falcons made some moves on defense, but it's shaping up to be another season of offenses scheming Jarrett out of the game.
The Falcons did add a pair of edge-rushers this offseason by signing Lorenzo Carter and drafting Arnold Ebiketie in the second round.
Both have long-term potential, but they still have a lot to prove. Carter never had more than five sacks in a campaign during his four seasons with the New York Giants. Ebiketie will have the usual struggles of a rookie learning to play in the league.
Translation: It's going to be another long year for Jarrett.
WR DK Metcalf, Seattle Seahawks
The summer blockbuster trade that sent Russell Wilson to the Denver Broncos was a win-win for just about everyone involved.
The Broncos got a quarterback who can actually elevate their young and talented offense. The Seahawks got a good crop of picks as well as a few players to kickstart a rebuild.
There were definitely some losers, though, and DK Metcalf was the biggest among them.
Metcalf, one of the most physically imposing receivers in the game, is going from Wilson throwing him passes to watching Drew Lock and Geno Smith compete for the starting quarterback position. No matter who wins the job, Metcalf's going to miss having a quarterback of Wilson's caliber.
He got a small taste of what life without Wilson will be like last season. With Wilson out of the lineup for three games, he had Smith throwing him the ball. According to NumberFire, he averaged six targets, 4.7 catches and 65.7 yards per game in those contests.
Extrapolating that rate for 17 games, Metcalf would have 80 catches for 1,117 yards. It would be one of his best statistical seasons to date. But that kind of efficiency is unsustainable. His career catch rate is 60.3 percent.
The quantity and quality of Metcalf's targets are both about to go down, which is going to make it difficult for him to take his next step as a receiver.
QB Davis Mills, Houston Texans
The Houston Texans appear to be committed to giving Davis Mills a shot at proving he's the quarterback of the future.
They just aren't giving him a great chance to succeed.
Mills certainly earned his opportunity. He was third in yards (2,664), second in touchdowns (16) and third in passer rating (88.8) among rookie quarterbacks without much of a supporting cast last season.
He'll be expected to carry an even more unproven group around him this season. Brandin Cooks is a proven deep threat, but Mills' reliable options are slim outside of the 28-year-old.
Nico Collins is a breakout candidate, but he only caught 55 percent of his targets last season for 446 yards and one touchdown. Second-round draft pick John Metchie III is coming off a torn ACL he suffered in the SEC Championship Game.
Mills' lack of receiving options is compounded by a running game that looks like the league's worst.
Rex Burkhead led all Houston rushers with 427 yards last season. Now he's joined by Marlon Mack, Dameon Pearce and Royce Freeman.
Mack only played in six games last season after returning from an Achilles tear he suffered in 2020. Pearce is a rookie with potential as a tough between-the-tackles runner, and Freeman averaged 2.6 yards per carry for the Texans last year.
It's yet another position that looks to be in bad shape unless the Texans get a surprise season from a young player.