Ranking the NFL’s five most improved teams: Eagles, Chargers look to cash in on glittering offseasons

If there’s one constant in the NFL (besides Tom Brady, of course), it’s the never-ending roster turnover that undoubtedly leads to sleepless nights for each of the league’s 32 general managers. From the time the Super Bowl champion is crowned until the ball is kicked off in Week 1, NFL front offices are on a constant quest to create a roster that is stronger than the one that proceeded it.

The 2022 offseason included a bevy of big transactions, with seemingly every team being part of at least one splashy transaction. The Browns’ massive investment in Deshaun Watson has generated the most attention. Russell Wilson’s arrival in Denver was also notable, as well as the Chiefs and Packers electing to part with All-Pro 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 these teams (including our top team) improved their already decent odds at winning Super Bowl LVII. Another team made enough roster moves to remain competitive in a division that includes the reigning AFC champion. And while one of our teams may still be a ways away from competing for a championship, their roster could be good enough to join the list of unlikely playoff teams.

We kick things off with a team that is hoping to make a big jump in 2022 after a largely surprising 2021 campaign.

A wild card team last season, the Eagles seem primed to fly considerably higher in 2022. During the draft, GM Howie Roseman swung a trade that brought in 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 NFL’s best offensive lines, led by Jason Kelce, Lane Johnson and Jordan Mailata.

The Eagles made major additions to a defense that came on strong at the end of the ’21 season. They made a free agent splash with the signing of Reddick, who comes to Philadelphia after compiling 23.5 sacks over the past two seasons. They then threw salt on the Giants’ wounds by picking up Bradberry, who was waived by New York in May as part of a salary dump. The Eagles strengthened the middle of their defense by signing former Charger Kyzir White, who filled the stat sheet last season with 144 tackles, two interceptions and a pair of forced fumbles.

Philadelphia parlayed its successful free agency into an equally successful draft that included the selections of former Georgia standouts Davis and Nakobe Dean — the latter of whom was a third-round pick who — if healthy — may one day be remembered as a savvy Day 2 draft steal.

Last season, Brandon Staley joined the long list of former coordinators whose area of ​​expertise ended up being his team’s Achilles’ heel. While his offense ranked fifth in scoring last season, the Rams’ former defensive coordinator watched his team surrender 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 premier inside linebackers, and forked over a hefty amount of money to acquire Jackson, who was arguably the top cornerback on the market. Staley will also get a chance to reunite with DT Sebastian Joseph-Day, a former Ram who recorded a career-high in 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, as they spent a first-round pick on Johnson, who was among the highest-ranked guards in this year’s draft. The additions of Mack, Jackson, Joseph-Day and Johnson will help the Chargers stay competitive in what is expected to be the NFL’s toughest division.

Jets fans look at optimism the way golfers look at sand traps. New York fans haven’t given his fans much to cheer about since Rex Ryan roamed the sidelines, but that might change sometime in the near future after GM Joe Douglas added significant pieces to New York’s roster.

Douglas has equipped second-year 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 Bengal CJ ​​Uzomah. Also at Wilson’s disposal is an equally deep backfield, 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 during free agency.

The Jets put considerable resources into revamping a defense that allowed more points than any other team in 2021. They used the No. 4 overall pick in the draft to acquire Gardner, who did not give up a single touchdown in over 1,000 snaps at Cincinnati. Gardner will be flanked by veteran defensive backs Whitehead and DJ Reed, who were acquired this offseason via free agency. Douglas also gave head coach Robert Saleh a new, promising pass rusher in Johnson, the reigning ACC Defensive Player of the Year.

Kevin Colbert was masterful in his final months as the Steelers’ GM. He was able to lock up one of the top quarterback free agents (Trubisky) during the initial moments of the legal tampering period. The Steelers would further add to their QB room by drafting Pickett, who is projected to be the team’s longterm starter while Trubisky is slated to be Ben Roethlisberger’s initial successor. The Steelers also drafted Chris Oladokun, an interesting QB prospect (he played at three different colleges) who gives them flexibility as it relates to Mason Rudolph’s future with the club.

Offensive line was a major issue for Pittsburgh in 2021. Colbert addressed it by signing two young, affordable interior linemen — Mason Cole and James Daniels — who between them have more than 110 regular season games and nearly 90 starts under their belt. Cole and Daniels should help Najee Harris far exceed his 3.9 yards-per-carry average as a rookie.

The Steelers were willing to let JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington and return Ray-Ray McCloud walk in free agency. They replaced them with rookies George Pickens and Calvin Austin III, forming Raven Miles Boykin and forming Patriots All-Pro returner Gunner Olszewski. Pittsburgh further added to the offense with the late-round draft selection of Connor Heyward, the brother of Steelers All-Pro Cameron Heyward and a hybrid player who adds another wrinkle to Matt Canada’s offense.

Pittsburgh’s reconstruction of the defensive line started with Colbert and has continued with his replacement, Omar Khan. One of Colbert’s last draft selections was versatile defensive lineman DeMarvin Leal in the third round. One of Khan’s first big signings as GM was Ogunjobi, who if healthy will be an absolute bargain at one 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 Bengals

The defending AFC champions aggressively addressed last season’s biggest weakness by signing veteran offensive linemen Ted Karras, Alex Cappa and La’el Collins. This trio should make life significantly better for Joe Burrow, who led the Bengals to an AFC title last season despite getting sacked a whopping 70 times (including the postseason). Despite last year’s subpar protection, Burrow led the NFL in completion percentage while taking full 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 departed Uzomah.

Like the offensive line, the Bengals invested in their secondary this offseason, using the draft to acquire defensive backs Hill, Cam Taylor-Britt and Tycen Anderson. Hill should immediately compete for a starting job, while Taylor-Britt and Anderson could take snaps from Eli Apple and Vonn Bell. The Bengals’ young defensive backs will get a chance to learn from savvy veterans Mike Hilton and Jessie Bates III.

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