We released NFL Rank on Monday, our annual prediction of the players we think will play the best this season, ranked from 1 to 100.
There was one team that dominated the list — the Los Angeles Chargers — with eight players. With Justin Herbert, Joey Bosa and J.C. Jackson leading the way, the Chargers have the talent to become a real force in the NFL in 2022.
Five teams, however, did not have a player in the top 100. The Jacksonville Jaguars aren’t on the list for the second year in the row, but things could be looking up for them in the future with Trevor Lawrence, Christian Kirk and Travis Etienne Jr. After down seasons in 2021, the New York Jets, New York Giants and Detroit Lions are also absent. Each of them drafted talented rookies in April who could develop into top-100 players in 2023.
The most surprising team absent from the list is the New England Patriots. While it’s no secret the Patriots place a different value system on players and focus less on stardom, they don’t have a bad team, so why don’t they have one player on this list?
How did the Chargers build their loaded roster? Were the other five teams snubbed? Which players from those teams could crack the list next year? We asked our NFL Nation reporters to weigh in:
How did eight Chargers dominate NFL Rank?
Lindsey Thiry, Chargers reporter: General manager Tom Telesco has hit on several picks as he enters his 10th season as Chargers general manager. Six of the Chargers’ eight players on the NFL rank are Telesco’s draft selections, with five — edge rusher Joey Bosa, wide receiver Mike Williams, safety Derwin James Jr., quarterback Justin Herbert and offensive tackle Rashawn Slater — being first-round picks and one, receiver Keenan Allen, being a third-round selection.
After evaluating with coach Brandon Staley the team’s shortcomings in 2021, the Chargers identified the defense as an area of weakness that would keep them from a playoff run. So, in a rather uncharacteristic move for a draft-and-develop GM, Telesco traded a second- and sixth-round pick for linebacker Khalil Mack — a former first-round pick — and then signed cornerback J.C. Jackson, a former undrafted free agent whose 25 interceptions since 2018 leads the NFL, to a whopping five-year, $82.5 million contract in free agency.
What are the expectations for the Chargers this season?
Thiry: To buck history. The Chargers have not earned a playoff berth the past three seasons, have appeared only twice in the postseason since 2013 and made their lone Super Bowl appearance almost three decades ago. But that doesn’t mean expectations should be tempered. Now in Staley’s second season and with a stacked roster, the Chargers must make a deep playoff, if not Super Bowl, run for this season to be considered a success. Last season, the Chargers’ offense ranked No. 4 in the NFL, scoring 27.9 points per game, but the defense couldn’t get a stop and allowed an average of 27 points per game, which ranked No. 29. Now, after investing in the defense by acquiring Mack and Jackson, the Bolts are positioned to go the distance.
Here’s what Mack said about the preseason expectations: “That’s the thing, everybody is going to tell you at this time of the year that, ‘The sky is the limit,’ and ‘championship,’ and all of that. I see it as one day at a time. Take it one day at a time and work together, being the best, getting better every day. I feel like that will take care of itself once we get to that point.”
Why didn’t the Patriots, Giants, Jets, Jaguars or Lions have a player in the top 100?
Mike Reiss, Patriots reporter: The current Patriots are built similarly to their early 2000s teams — not many frontline stars, but no shortage of quality players and depth. They didn’t have the most talent in the NFL in those years, but they proved to be the best team, with a young QB who was developing into a star. In addition, what Bill Belichick values in players isn’t always easily quantified — for example, he called defensive tackle Davon Godchaux one of the best defensive linemen in the NFL (in part because of his ability to stop the run and push the pocket), but those things generally don’t land players on top-100 lists.
Rich Cimini, Jets reporter: Let’s tell it like it is. The 2021 Jets were one of the worst teams in franchise history — and that’s saying something. Their point differential (minus-194) was the third worst, one spot behind the 2020 Jets (minus-214). Two bad years, two bad rosters. Under first-year coach Robert Saleh, they emphasized player development, which meant a lot of young players in key roles, including quarterback Zach Wilson, whose rookie growing pains were so acute that they affected the entire team. You know things are bad when your starting quarterback has only nine touchdown passes, when the leading rusher (Michael Carter) has only 639 yards and the leading receiver (Jamison Crowder) has only 51 catches. It was a rebuilding year, and it was painful. How good these players will be in 2022 is yet to be determined.
Jordan Raanan, Giants reporter: It should come as little surprise that the Giants didn’t have a player appear in the NFL Rank top 100 since they didn’t have a Pro Bowl selection last season. They haven’t had one in two of the past three years. It’s hard for players to receive serious consideration when the team struggles so badly. The Giants went 4-13 last season and are tied with the Jets for the worst record in the NFL over the past five years. They averaged a little more than 15 points per game last season, and the roster is undoubtedly a work in progress for new general manager Joe Schoen, who has to clean up the mess left behind by Dave Gettleman. Step 1: Improve the roster.
Michael DiRocco, Jaguars reporter: It’s pretty simple: The Jaguars have won four games over the past two seasons and have “earned” the No. 1 pick in back-to-back drafts. Coaching has been a problem, yes, but the roster has been one of the worst in the league, especially at the premium positions. Things might be starting to change there with the addition of quarterback Trevor Lawrence, running back Travis Etienne Jr., wide receiver Christian Kirk and edge rusher Travon Walker, among others, over the past year, but until the Jaguars start winning games they’re going to be missing from this list.
Eric Woodyard, Lions reporter: Let’s keep it real, the Lions won only three games last season. Although the team has developed a reputation for playing hard under head coach Dan Campbell, it doesn’t have that game-changer who moves the needle. Detroit does have quality players on offense and defense with unlimited potential, but this roster isn’t one that’s loaded with star power. Detroit also isn’t one of the most marketable cities, nor does the franchise boast a rich tradition of winning games. There’s no denying the notable names of the past such as Matthew Stafford, Barry Sanders and Calvin Johnson, but the Lions just don’t have that right now.
Which players should have been in — or strongly considered for — NFL Rank?
Reiss: The three players who could make a strong case are outside linebacker Matthew Judon, quarterback Mac Jones and kicker Nick Folk. Judon’s 12.5 sacks tie for the most of any player in Belichick’s tenure. Jones won the starting job and helped the team to 10 wins as a rookie in a demanding offense. And Folk has a streak of 55 straight field goals from 50 yards and in (needing one more to tie the NFL record set by Ryan Succop from 2014 to 2017).
Cimini: No one on the team has played well enough to scream, “I wuz robbed!” A few players, though, had solid years in 2021 — defensive tackle Quinnen Williams, linebacker C.J. Mosley and left tackle George Fant. Braxton Berrios was the only player to receive a postseason honor, making first-team All-Pro as a kick returner. Rookie wide receiver Elijah Moore had a five-game stretch at midseason during which he was one of the most productive pass-catchers in the league, but he missed the last five games due to a leg injury. It was that kind of year for the Jets.
Raanan: Defensive lineman Leonard Williams and safety Xavier McKinney are the two who should at least have received some consideration, but Williams is coming off a pedestrian season and McKinney needs to do it again (five interceptions in 2021) to attract eyeballs. They are at least solid players. Running back Saquon Barkley, meanwhile, just hasn’t been healthy enough the past three seasons to get in the mix.
DiRocco: Hard to argue that anyone deserved to have made the list, but Kirk and tight end Evan Engram at least deserved serious consideration. Kirk, whom the Jaguars signed in free agency to a four-year, $72 million contract, is coming off career highs in catches (77) and receiving yards (982), but his biggest problem is he plays at a stacked position. Engram, who signed a one-year, $9 million deal in March, has 153 catches the past three seasons — which ranks 13th among tight ends — in 39 games. Every tight end above him on the list has played in more games except George Kittle (36 games).
Woodyard: That’s a tough one, but if I were to pick a guy — or two — I would likely go with tight end T.J. Hockenson and/or running back D’Andre Swift. Both possess dynamic playmaking ability, but injuries haven’t allowed them to reach their full potential yet. So, it makes sense that they weren’t added to the list. Hockenson was named to the 2020 Pro Bowl, and Swift is a dual-threat running back who can make a highlight play at the drop of a dime. With a year under their belt with Campbell and quarterback Jared Goff, we could see more production out of these two. Watch out.
Which players are most likely to crack the list in 2023?
Reiss: Among the Patriots’ top candidates for the 2023 list are Jones, Judon and running back Rhamondre Stevenson. One factor worth monitoring is how changes to the team’s offense (and coaching staff) could accelerate — or stunt — the growth of young players such as Jones and Stevenson. The 6-foot, 225-pound Stevenson has elite physical traits of size, speed, balance and power, but he’s also projected to open the year as part of a committee with Damien Harris.
Cimini: This is where it gets interesting. The Jets have a handful of players, mostly young, who could jump into the top-100 mix with a breakout year. The most likely candidates are Moore, second-year guard Alijah Vera-Tucker and Williams, who seems more comfortable in his second year in the 4-3 scheme. Three rookies from their ballyhooed draft class — cornerback Sauce Gardner, wide receiver Garrett Wilson and running back Breece Hall — are poised to play key roles and could be candidates. Hall, in particular, is a player to watch. The Jets want to run the ball and be a balanced offense, and Hall’s explosiveness really excites the coaches.
The veteran most likely to make it is guard Laken Tomlinson, who made the Pro Bowl last season with the 49ers. A sleeper? Keep an eye on defensive end Carl Lawson, who missed last season due to an Achilles injury. If healthy, he could be a double-digit sacker in the aggressive, four-man front.
Jets running back Breece Hall is being selected as if he is a sure thing in fantasy and perhaps he is, but he and Michael Carter appear to be in a timeshare, which is rarely good for anyone. Video by Eric Karabell
Raanan: McKinney seems primed to enter the conversation this season. He is perhaps the Giants’ best defensive player, and, at 23 years old, is an ascending player. He has great range and playmaking ability at what will be a vital position in coordinator Wink Martindale’s defensive scheme.
DiRocco: Kirk is the Jaguars’ No. 1 receiver, so his production should increase and give him a much better chance next year. Linebacker Josh Allen was a Pro Bowler as a rookie in 2019 but has had just 10 sacks in the 24 games in which he has played since. The Jaguars believe the addition of No. 1 overall pick Walker on the other side should make things easier for Allen now that teams can’t just focus on stopping him. If Lawrence makes the second-year jump that we’ve seen other young QBs make then he’ll warrant consideration, too. A potential sleeper is Etienne. The Jaguars are going to feature him in the run game and pass game, and he’s one of the only guys on the roster with big-play ability.
Woodyard: Second-year receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown has limitless potential, a strong work ethic and will have more experience. His rookie season saw him break numerous franchise records. He is entering Year 2 with a bigger chip on his shoulder and has proved to be a reliable target for Goff. Look for him to be more involved in the offense from the beginning of the season, unlike last year, when he came on in the latter half, so his production could likely increase. He’s a safe bet for the Lions as he continues to win over the coaching staff, including offensive coordinator Ben Johnson.