The Biggest Question Facing Each New NFL Head Coach Heading into 2022 Draft

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistApril 7, 2022

The Biggest Question Facing Each New NFL Head Coach Heading into 2022 Draft

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    John Minchillo/Associated Press

    Nearly one-third of the NFL will have a new man in charge in 2022 as 10 people take over the title of head coach. 

    With a few of them starting their offseason training program already, the task of building a culture, philosophy and team in their image is already underway. 

    Not all jobs are created equal, though. Some new head coaches have significant challenges in building a winner. Lovie Smith is charged with doing so out of a team in the Texans that has gone 8-25 over the last two seasons. Meanwhile, Todd Bowles will get to take over a roster that is one year removed from winning a Super Bowl. 

    While these coaches will have to work with general managers and team executives, the April 28-30 draft looms large. Here's a look at the biggest question each new head coach must answer as we approach their first NFL draft with their team. 

Dennis Allen: Who Are the Saints Trading Up For?

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    Everything the New Orleans Saints have done this offseason points to a win-now mentality. With Sean Payton stepping down as head coach, they turned to longtime defensive coordinator Dennis Allen to take the reins and retained most of their talent despite starting the offseason well over the salary cap. 

    The Saints' trade with the Eagles was just the latest move to place heavy expectations on Allen. 

    General manager Mickey Loomis doubled down on the 2022 draft by shipping off pick Nos. 18, 101 and 237, along with a 2023 first-rounder and 2024 second-rounder for the 16th, 19th and 194th picks in this year's draft. 

    It's hard to believe the Saints don't have specific players in mind who would motivate such a trade, as they are paying a high price to acquire a second first-round selection. 

    With Jameis Winston as the assumed starter, this feels like a move to take a quarterback in the middle of the first round and maintain the ability to add an instant starter elsewhere in the first round. Daniel Jeremiah of NFL Network reported multiple GMs feel the Saints think they are two impact starters from being a playoff team. 

    The question facing Allen is whether he can keep up the streak of five straight winning seasons without Payton or retired superstar quarterback Drew Brees

Todd Bowles: What Will the Offense Look Like?

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    With Todd Bowles taking over for Bruce Arians, we know he's inheriting a Super Bowl contender. We know the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense will look the same. He's been the defensive coordinator for three years. 

    What we don't know is what kind of philosophical shift there could be on offense. 

    The early notion is Bowles will institute a more run-oriented approach, as Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times reported a "commitment to run the football more" is one of the changes he'll bring. 

    The front office's actions have backed that up. The Bucs traded for offensive lineman Shaq Mason to replace Alex Cappa after they lost him to the Bengals in free agency and re-signed running back Leonard Fournette to a three-year, $21 million contract. 

    The marriage between Arians' vertical passing game and Tom Brady produced a Super Bowl for Tampa. Now the question is what Brady will look like in the offense that offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich and the quarterback end up running.

Brian Daboll: Can He Save Daniel Jones' Career?

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    The greatest accomplishment on Brian Daboll's resume is Josh Allen's improvement in Buffalo.

    Bills head coach Sean McDermott's defensive background means Daboll, as Buffalo's former offensive coordinator, gets much of the credit for Allen's transformation. The quarterback went from completing just 52.8 percent of his passes and throwing more interceptions (12) than touchdowns (10) as a rookie to a legitimate MVP candidate in his third season. 

    That makes Daboll a prime candidate to find out if Daniel Jones can be a franchise quarterback. That should be the focus for the New York Giants as he enters the fourth year of his rookie contract with back-to-back years that were worse than his first season. 

    Giants co-owner John Mara has taken some responsibility for Jones' failures. He told reporters the franchise has "done everything possible to screw this kid up."

    The Giants have until May 2 to make a decision regarding his fifth-year option. If they don't exercise it, this will be a make-or-break season for Jones. 

    Daboll, new general manager Joe Schoen and Mara can help their quarterback by drafting a new right tackle. Nate Solder has long been a turnstile on the edge, and the offensive line finished 30th in Pro Football Focus' final rankings

Matt Eberflus: How Will the Bears Build Around Justin Fields?

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    There's no doubt that Matt Eberflus knows how to build a successful NFL defense. The Colts finished as a top-10 scoring D in three out of the four years he was the coordinator. 

    The biggest question Eberflus faces is what he'll do with potential franchise quarterback Justin Fields. Given his background, the coach will have to prove he has a plan to help Fields succeed. 

    Considering the situation, the hiring of Luke Getsy as the offensive coordinator gains extra importance, but surrounding the young passer with talent will be crucial. 

    The team lost wide receivers Allen Robinson II and Jakeem Grant in free agency and replaced them with Byron Pringle and Equanimeous St. Brown. The Bears won't get on the clock until the 39th selection, but they'll need to find a way to give Fields at least one more weapon. 

Nathaniel Hackett: Will the Offense Be Elite?

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    The Denver Broncos started the offseason as a speculative fit for Aaron Rodgers. The idea was they were a great quarterback away from being a contender. 

    They landed Russell Wilson instead, and new head coach Nathaniel Hackett will get to put that theory to the test. 

    On paper, it makes sense. They have a duo of young receivers in Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy who can become stars and a potential breakout candidate in Javonte Williams at running back. 

    Hackett's experience with Rodgers in Green Bay is expected to help him build an elite offense. There are still hurdles to clear to reach that expectation, though. The Broncos' offensive line finished 19th in PFF's final rankings, and Wilson is notorious for taking sacks

    On defense, the Broncos were 12th in efficiency, per ESPN, so there's work to do there. Fortunately for them, the Wilson trade hasn't completely wiped out their draft capital. They will have a second-round pick (64th) and two third-round selections (75 and 96) to possibly add three role players. 

Mike McDaniel: Is He Ready to Make the Jump to Head Coach?

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    Sean McVay's impact on the head coaching market continues to be felt every year. Since his rapid ascent to the post of Los Angeles Rams head coach as a 30-year-old in 2017, it has become trendy to hire the young offensive mastermind as a head coach. 

    Mike McDaniel will put that method to the test for the Miami Dolphins.

    There's no doubt that the 39-year-old is a great offensive mind. 49ers fullback Kyle Juszczyk called McDaniel a wizard and is just one of several former players who have raved about his contributions to San Francisco's game-planning. 

    But the role of head coach involves more than just coming up with the offensive plan. McDaniel will need to work with general manager Chris Grier to bring in and utilize the right personnel. He'll also need to oversee the coaching staff and at least sign off on the defensive game plan. 

    Retaining defensive coordinator Josh Boyer should go a long way toward helping in that regard.

    However, it's unclear if McDaniel is ready for the managerial aspects of being a head coach. He had just one season as the Niners offensive coordinator before taking this job. After trading five picks for Tyreek Hill, the Dolphins will have no selection in the top 100.

Josh McDaniels: Can This Defense Compete in the AFC West?

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    The AFC West quickly became the most loaded division in the NFL this offseason. Just looking at the quarterbacks, it's the strongest group by a wide margin. 

    Derek Carr is a good signal-caller, but he's still probably the fourth-best in a division that features Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert and Russell Wilson. 

    The Las Vegas Raiders' moves this offseason have given them every chance to compete with their divisional opponents on offense, though. Carr might not be quite on their level, but he now has No. 1 wideout Davante Adams to throw to along with a good duo of running backs in Josh Jacobs and Kenyan Drake. They also put a good offensive mind at the head of the coaching staff in Josh McDaniels. 

    The real question is what the defense can do. McDaniels brought on Patrick Graham as the coordinator to fix a unit that finished 25th inefficiency last season, per ESPN. 

    Graham's defenses have finished in the top half of the league in scoring and yards allowed just once in his three years as a coordinator. 

    The Adams trade has left them without picks until the third round. New general manager Dave Ziegler will need to find contributors to give McDaniels the best chance to succeed early. Their draft capital could still give them the opportunity to add a defensive tackle and/or linebacker depth. 

Kevin O'Connell: Can He Get the Offense to the Next Level?

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    The latest of the McVay disciples to get a head coaching gig, Kevin O'Connell will be judged by the offense he puts on the field for the Minnesota Vikings. 

    Under former head coach Mike Zimmer, the Vikings attack simply wasn't as good as it should've been. The ingredients are there, but it's a question of finding the right chef.

    Dalvin Cook is an elite running back, Justin Jefferson is one of the best young receivers in the game and Adam Thielen is a consistent sidekick. Kirk Cousins may not be in the top tier of quarterbacks, but he has enough talent to operate an efficient attack. 

    That didn't happen last year. The Vikings finished 15th in offensive efficiency, per ESPN. Considering the talent at the skill positions, that's underwhelming. As Warren Sharp noted, the Bills, Packers and Vikings were the only teams to have 16 games that were either a win or one-score loss. 

    The Packers won 13. The Bills won 11. The Vikings won eight. 

    O'Connell's presence creates a better offense in theory. Their struggles at least netted them the 12th pick, which should allow them to add talent to the defense. 

Doug Pederson: Can He Get Trevor Lawrence on the Right Track?

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    A year ago, Trevor Lawrence was considered the top quarterback in a very talented crop of passers. After a stellar career at Clemson, he was projected as a top talent who could help raise the Jacksonville Jaguars out of the depths. 

    That may still happen, but his rookie season didn't go to plan. Lawrence had just 12 touchdowns and tossed 17 interceptions in 17 games. Fellow rookie Davis Mills had more touchdowns (16) and fewer interceptions (10) while starting 13 games for the Texans. 

    It's hard to separate what struggles were because of Lawrence and which came from his situation. Urban Meyer's short, disastrous reign as head coach has been well-documented, and the roster was not set up to contend in 2021 anyway. 

    In that regard, new head coach Doug Pederson is a good fit for the Jags. He has a proven track record and won a Super Bowl with a combination of Carson Wentz and Nick Foles at quarterback. 

    The team has already spent big on offense in free agency. Brandon Scherff will bolster the offensive line, while Christian Kirk and Zay Jones are upgrades at receiver. 

    They'll have the opportunity to continue building up the roster with the fourth-most draft capital, per Tankathon

Lovie Smith: What Is the Texans' Identity?

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    No one is taking over a more blank slate than Lovie Smith with the Houston Texans. 

    The Texans are 8-25 over the past two years. They finished 30th in scoring offense and 27th in scoring defense last season. The team appears to be content to see what Davis Mills can do at quarterback after he boasted the best passer rating on throws of 20 yards or more, per PFF

    Regardless, Smith and general manager Nick Caserio have a real opportunity to shape this team in their image in the 2022 draft. After making just five picks and none in the first two rounds in 2021, the team will have 11 picks and three in the top 50, including an extra first-rounder thanks to the Deshaun Watson trade.

    With the third and 13th picks at their disposal, the Texans have the opportunity to take two potential franchise cornerstones. It's a pivotal draft for a team that desperately needs to generate momentum.