Ranking of the NFL’s five most improved teams: Eagles, Chargers seek to capitalize on glittering offseasons


Ranking of the NFL's five most improved teams: Eagles, Chargers seek to capitalize on glittering offseasons

If there’s one constant in the NFL (besides Tom Brady, of course), it’s the endless roster rotation that undoubtedly leads to sleepless nights for each of the league’s 32 general managers. From the crowning of the Super Bowl champion to kickoff in Week 1, the NFL’s front offices are constantly on the lookout for a roster stronger than the one that preceded it.

The 2022 off-season featured a variety of large transactions, with every team seemingly involved in at least one splashy transaction. The Browns’ massive investment in Deshaun Watson has garnered most of the attention. Russell Wilson’s arrival in Denver was also notable, as was the Chiefs and Packers’ decision to part ways with All-Pro wide receivers Tyreek Hill and Davante Adams.

As big as those moves were, none of them impacted the five teams that improved their teams the most during the offseason. Three of those teams (including our top team) improved their already good odds of winning Super Bowl LVII. Another team made enough roster changes to remain competitive in a division that also includes the reigning AFC champion. And while one of our teams may still be a long way from contending for a championship, their roster might be good enough to join the list of unlikely playoff teams.

We start with a team hoping for a big leap in 2022 after a largely surprise 2021 season.

The Eagles, who were a wildcard team last season, appear to be flying significantly higher in 2022. During the draft, GM Howie Roseman made a trade that landed Brown, a former Pro Bowl wideout with the Titans. Brown joins an already talented offense led by quarterback Jalen Hurts, receiver DeVonta Smith, tight end Dallas Goedert and running backs Miles Sanders, Boston Scott and Kenneth Gainwell. The Eagles still possess one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, led by Jason Kelce, Lane Johnson and Jordan Mailata.

The Eagles significantly expanded a defense that was strong at the end of the ’21 season. They made a splash among the free agents with the signing of Reddick, who comes to Philadelphia after amassing 23.5 sacks over the past two seasons. They then threw salt on the Giants’ wounds by picking up Bradberry, who was waived as part of a payroll deduction by New York in May. The Eagles bolstered the center of their defense by signing former Charger Kyzir White, who filled last season’s stats list with 144 tackles, two interceptions and two forced fumbles.

Philadelphia turned its successful free agency into an equally successful draft, which included selections from former Georgia stars Davis and Nakobe Dean – the latter a third-round pick who – if healthy – could one day be remembered as adept at draft steal day 2.

Last season, Brandon Staley joined the long list of former coordinators whose specialty eventually became his team’s Achilles’ heel. While his offense finished fifth last season, the former Rams defensive coordinator watched as his team yielded the fourth-most points in the NFL.

Staley and the Chargers front office addressed the issue by trading for Mack, one of the NFL’s top inside linebackers, and giving up a hefty sum of money to acquire Jackson, who was arguably the best cornerback out there. Staley will also get a chance to reunite with DT Sebastian Joseph-Day, a former Ram who made a career-high sacks last year despite appearing in just seven games.

When you have a quarterback as good as Justin Herbert, you can never have enough good, young offensive linemen. The Chargers certainly agree, having picked Johnson, who was among the top-ranked guards in this year’s draft, in the first round. The additions of Mack, Jackson, Joseph-Day and Johnson will help the Chargers stay competitive in what is expected to be the toughest division in the NFL.

Jets fans view optimism the way golfers view sand traps. New York fans haven’t given their fans much reason to cheer since Rex Ryan roamed the sidelines, but that could change at some point in the near future after GM Joe Douglas added significant pieces to the New York roster.

Douglas has equipped sophomore QB Zach Wilson with a talented receiving corps that includes Wilson, Elijah Moore (a second-round pick in 2021), Corey Davis, Braxton Berrios and former Bengali CJ Uzomah. Plus, Wilson has an equally deep backfield at his disposal, led by Michael Carter, rookie Breece Hall and former 49er Tevin Coleman. Coleman will reunite in New York with Tomlinson, a 2021 Pro Bowler with the 49ers who signed a three-year deal with Gang Green while on free agency.

The Jets invested significant resources overhauling a defense that allowed more points than any other team in 2021. They used the #4 draft pick to win over Gardner, who never gave up a touchdown in over 1,000 snaps in Cincinnati. Flanking Gardner are veteran defensemen Whitehead and DJ Reed, who were acquired through free agency this offseason. Douglas gave head coach Robert Saleh a promising new pass rusher in Johnson, the reigning ACC Defensive Player of the Year.

Kevin Colbert has been masterful in his final months as the Steelers’ GM. He was able to lock up one of the top quarterback free agents (Trubisky) in the first moments of the legal manipulation period. The Steelers would continue to expand their QB space by calling up Pickett, who is expected to be the team’s long-term starter, while Trubisky is slated to be Ben Roethlisberger’s first successor. The Steelers also drafted Chris Oladokun, an interesting QB prospect (he played at three different colleges) who gives them flexibility regarding Mason Rudolph’s future at the club.

The offensive line has been a big concern for Pittsburgh in 2021. Colbert addressed that by signing two young, affordable centerbacks — Mason Cole and James Daniels — who combined have more than 110 regular-season games and nearly 90 starts under their belts. Cole and Daniels should help Najee Harris far surpass his 3.9 yards-per-carry average as a rookie.

The Steelers were ready to let JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington and returnee Ray-Ray McCloud run freely. They replaced them with rookies George Pickens and Calvin Austin III, former Raven Miles Boykin, and former Patriots All-Pro returnee Gunner Olszewski. Pittsburgh continued to bolster offense with the late-round draft pick of Connor Heyward, brother of Steelers All-Pro Cameron Heyward, and a hybrid player who adds another wrinkle to Matt Canada’s offense.

Pittsburgh’s rebuilding of the defensive line began with Colbert and continued with his successor, Omar Khan. One of Colbert’s final draft picks was all-round defenseman DeMarvin Leal in the third round. One of Khan’s first major signings as GM was Ogunjobi, who, if healthy, will be an absolute steal at a year and up to $8 million with incentives. Speaking of bargains, the Steelers were able to acquire two veteran defensive starters in Jack and Wallace for a total of $24 million over two years.

5. Cincinnati-Bengal

The reigning AFC champions aggressively addressed last season’s greatest weakness by signing veteran attacking players Ted Karras, Alex Cappa and La’el Collins. That trio should greatly improve the life of Joe Burrow, who led the Bengals to an AFC title last season despite being sacked a whopping 70 times (including the postseason). Despite last year’s underperforming protection, Burrow led the NFL in completion rate while taking advantage of a deep receiving corps that includes Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd. The Bengals gave Burrow a new weapon – tight end Hayden Hurst – to replace the late Uzomah.

Like the offensive line, the Bengals invested in their secondary team this offseason, using the draft to bring in defensemen Hill, Cam Taylor-Britt and Tycen Anderson. Hill should immediately compete for a starting job, while Taylor-Britt and Anderson could snap shots of Eli Apple and Vonn Bell. The young Bengals defenders get a chance to learn from seasoned veterans Mike Hilton and Jessie Bates III.

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