The 2022 NFL preseason is finally here, giving each fanbase their first chance to witness their new-look roster. Maybe it’s a new coach or a new quarterback; the point is everyone enters the season with the same level of excitement because it’s a fresh start for all.
There are no losers, there are no winners. It’s the preseason. But for thousands of football players across the league, it means everything. The difference between having a job in the NFL and not having one. It all comes down to these three weeks of action.
Here are the top 10 NFL preseason storylines to watch out for over the next few weeks.
Tracking the growth of QBs this NFL preseason
Everyone hopes to see young players take the next step in their development. We all like to envision situations where every athlete manages to improve over the offseason, delivering more consistent performances throughout the season.
Unfortunately, we all know that isn’t always the case.
Players turn out to be busts all the time. It may not be 100% their fault. Sometimes they got stuck in a bad scheme, with bad coaches, and it just ruins their confidence, leading to poor performance.
Other times, they simply don’t have what it takes.
While all 32 NFL fanbases want to believe their team already has their franchise quarterback on the roster, that’s just not possible.
In this case, some of the players with the most questions to answer are heading into what could be their last chance to enter a season as the presumed starter. Who might they be?
The player with perhaps the highest expectations — that being a playoff appearance, may be Tua Tagovailoa of the Miami Dolphins. He’s been provided with a better offensive line, a top pass-catching target in Tyreek Hill, and a new head coach. We’ll see how it all translates to the field.
It’s a similar story with Daniel Jones and the New York Giants. Can he stay healthy? Most importantly, will the fourth-year pro find more consistency under new head coach Brian Daboll? He, too has a stronger offensive line, a healthy Saquon Barkley, and a revamped pass-catching corps.
But he also has a lot of skeptics. It’s time to put up or shut up. A strong preseason should get the Giants’ faithful to stop calling for his head, but it’s up to Danny Dimes to deliver.
We can’t forget the second-year QBs, such as Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Mac Jones, Trey Lance, and Justin Fields. Aside from Jones, none of them had a positive rookie year. Can the 2021 rookies take a second-year leap?
First look at the 2022 rookie class
If there’s one thing every fanbase has in common, it’s that they have a rookie they’re excited to see for the first time in an NFL game. Whether you’re a Jaguars backer, getting to see first overall pick Travon Walker or the Cleveland Browns who waited until pick 68 to add a player, each team has a group of unproven players who will surely make an impact this season.
It may not be a player you currently expect to see the field as a rookie. Sometimes it’s a fifth-round or even undrafted gem that becomes the hero in a Week 14 win.
Remember Victor Cruz breaking out for 145 yards and three touchdowns as an undrafted rookie in 2010? Unfortunately he suffered a hamstring injury to knock him out for the season, but the next year he burst out with 1,536 yards for the G-Men. Nobody saw that coming before seeing him in the preseason the year prior.
This is where it all begins. We’re no longer talking about pre-draft measurables or their college film. Now they’re on an NFL field, in pads, against other football hopefuls on the biggest stage. This is where the magic happens.
Same faces but in new places
Every offseason brings massive change to rosters around the NFL. Sure, incoming draftees are one thing, but they’re all unproven. Trades and free agency signings are the bigger focal points that tend to make a difference in the postseason.
We have Russell Wilson taking over the Denver Broncos, hoping to compete in the best division in football. Will we see Russ cook it up already in the preseason, or are they saving their best ingredients for when the games matter? They’ll probably want to give their fans at least a taste of what they’ve been experimenting with in the kitchen.
Then there are the high-profile wide receiver acquisitions (not you Jacksonville), such as Tyreek Hill landing in South Beach on a suddenly stacked roster. Ditto with Davante Adams joining his college QB, only now in Vegas with the Raiders. Will we see early fireworks between the two who have previous playing experience? And will Hill’s chemistry with Tua, the most accurate QB, shine or sputter?
New coaches strut their stuff
Of the 32 NFL franchises, 10 have new head coaches in 2022.
- Matt Eberflus, Chicago Bears
- Nathaniel Hackett, Denver Broncos
- Lovie Smith, Houston Texans
- Doug Pederson, Jacksonville Jaguars
- Josh McDaniels, Las Vegas Raiders
- Mike McDaniel, Miami Dolphins
- Kevin O’Connell, Minnesota Vikings
- Dennis Allen, New Orleans Saints
- Brian Daboll, New York Giants
- Todd Bowles, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Five of the ten head coaches have never led a team at the NFL level. But that doesn’t mean some diamonds won’t be formed once they’re under pressure. The only way to find out who can coach and who can’t is to start playing the games. Even if the end result–wins and losses may not matter in preseason, seeing how coaches adapt to the football situations that arise can be telling.
No, we don’t expect to see the best schemes and most creative play designs emerge in exhibition action. Everything’s fairly vanilla, but it’s still football.
Players poised to take a leap
The Jacksonville Jaguars didn’t even get to see Travis Etienne, the 25th pick in 2021, after he suffered a Lisfranc injury in preseason action. Several reports suggest the former Clemson back is making plays in training camp and could be poised to make a name for himself in the NFL in short order.
Elijah Moore, the second-year receiver for the New York Jets, also could quickly become Zach Wilson‘s top target in 2022. He’s got the speed to burn and had 538 receiving yards in six starts as a rook. He could benefit from the Jets having other playmakers on the field, leaving him more space to work with.
Kwity Paye, the 21st pick for the Indianapolis Colts in 2021, fought through ankle and hamstring injuries to begin his career, but he still ended up with four sacks last season. Now the Colts have added Yannick Ngakoue to play on the opposite side of Paye, creating what could be one of the better defensive lines in football. With teams likely more worried about DeForest Buckner, Paye could break out in a big way in Year 2.
Carolina Panthers cornerback Jaycee Horn, son of Joe, was poised to have a strong rookie season before a fractured foot cost the eighth overall pick 15 games as a rookie. Just 22, Horn could become the next cornerback who leaves receivers stranded alone on an island on gameday.
Position battles highlight the preseason competition
The Pittsburgh Steelers continue to say Mitch Trubisky is the starting quarterback, but there’s likely still a competition brewing in Pennsylvania. After drafting Kenny Pickett 20th overall, it’s unlikely Mike Tomlin just stuffs the rookie in a closet right away. He wants to see what he can do. Same with the rest of Pittsburgh, who witnessed Pickett slice his way through defenses at the college level for the Pitt Panthers. But is there a competition? Maybe the preseason will change Tomlin’s mind.
Speaking of the Panthers, the ones in Carolina have their own QB competition and this one’s real. Yeah, they recently traded for Baker Mayfield, which may mean he’s more likely to win, but the locker room has previous ties to Sam Darnold. Will rookie Matt Corral have some say in the matter? Probably not, but it would be quite the underdog story, beating out two former top-10 picks as a rook. I’m rooting for chaos here.
In Seattle, they say Geno Smith is their guy, and he certainly has the experience and the confidence, but Pete Carroll also was quick to praise Drew Lock after the Russell Wilson trade came to fruition. If Smith has a stranglehold on the QB1 job, the preseason will give us our first glimpse. Yet there’s always the possibility of Lock winning over the locker room too.
Reigning NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers won’t have Davante Adams in 2022. The Packers have Sammy Watkins and Randall Cobb, who do have 1,000-yard years under their belt, but exactly how the target share load is distributed is anyone’s guess. Instead, Rodgers will create new 1,000-yard receivers, with Allen Lazard poised to breakout, and several other youthful pass-catchers hungry to become the top weapon in the Packers’ offense. We’ll see who emerges in exhibition action.
First look at new jersey designs for Commanders
We won’t get a chance to see the awesome new alternate designs such as the white Bengal helmets this preseason, but one team is debuting a new uniform in 2022. The Washington Commanders made the biggest change after officially settling on a new team name, which brought new designs, logos, and jerseys.
We’ll finally see them on the field this preseason on Saturday, August 13, when the Commanders take on the Carolina Panthers in Week 1 at 1 PM.
Super Bowl hangover for Bengals, Rams?
Last season was the longest football season in the history of the NFL. When the league decided to add another week of regular season action, it meant more snaps, more hits, and more work. The Los Angeles Rams and Cincinnati Bengals played longer than anyone else. Of course, the Rams got the mental boost of actually winning the Super Bowl, while the Bengals had to go home and eat ice cream, only not with joy. It’s much different.
So how did each team respond to their intense battle? Are the Bengals hungrier than ever, looking sharp as a tack? Or will Joe Burrow‘s recent appendectomy, along with the absence of Jessie Bates III play a big role early on?
Are the Rams even ready to play football again? Let’s be honest, they’ve been celebrating. Matthew Stafford‘s on a pitch count that becomes more alarming by the day, but they still boast one of the best rosters in football. We probably won’t be able to take much from the preseason, but both fanbases are hoping to see a team prepared to begin the year.
New-look Lamar Jackson, ongoing contract talks
Lamar Jackson has been working with a QB specialist this offseason to refine some of his mechanics. He’s also reportedly put on roughly 15 pounds of muscle. Overall it’s led to what reports suggest are a strong training camp. This sounds like a man on a mission.
Whether that’s for another MVP or to take his Baltimore Ravens deep into the postseason remains to be seen. Another major storyline is whether or not the Ravens can get their franchise QB signed long-term before the year begins. Maybe Jackson wants to bet on himself, hoping he can drive up his price tag even further?
Either way, Jackson will be taking the field in the preseason, and if the 25-year-old looks like he’s taken yet another step in his development, the Ravens may want to just pay the man whatever he’s demanding before the breakout season can happen.
The inevitable injuries and their impact
Obviously, no one wants injuries to happen, but they’re unpreventable. There will be a team(s) who suffers several serious injuries that will impact the start of their year, at the very least. There’s no way to predict who, why, or when, but they could have a major impact around the league.
In fact, a player like Jimmy Garoppolo could suddenly become a wanted man in a few NFL cities should a serious injury occur to a team’s current projected starting quarterback. As awkward as it’s been for the San Francisco 49ers, having two capable NFL QBs on the roster, this is the moment they’ve been waiting for. Chances are, Jimmy G will find a new home in the next few weeks, and unfortunately, it may be due to injury.
That’s just one example on a larger scale. There will be several other injuries that could force a team’s hand, trading for depth at a position they’re currently stacked at. This is why building a roster is a year-round exercise for NFL general managers.
While everyone wants to see heated competition, the most important factor is for teams to exit the preseason as healthy as can be. Maybe, in the end, preseason injuries will be the difference between reaching the postseason and watching the playoffs from the couch.
This article was originally published on Sportsnaut.com and is republished here with permission.