In this week-long series, NFL Network analysts examine the notable Year 2 players at different position groups who are poised for a breakout campaign in 2022. Today, Brian Baldinger spotlights eight players in the trenches.
One of two players on my list who became staples in the Chiefs' new-look offensive line last season, Humphrey was a pleasant surprise out of Oklahoma. The 2022 second-round pick helped turn the O-line from a unit that was a liability in the Chiefs' Super Bowl LV loss into one of the league's best groups. A left-handed snapper, Humphrey meshed instantly with Patrick Mahomes and helped make communication seamless up front. He looked like a seasoned vet right out of the gate. Pro Football Focus gave Humphrey grade of 91.4 in 2021, leading all centers and tying for fourth among O-linemen. I'm looking for him to continue to excel as a player and leader in Year 2 to hit Pro Bowl and All-Pro status for the first time.
Dickerson might have gone earlier than 37th overall in the 2021 NFL Draft if not for his injury history, as he was fully healthy for only one of his five college seasons at Florida State and Alabama. As a rookie, he started 13 games for the birds after recovering from a knee injury suffered late in his final collegiate season. After playing in 57 percent of the offensive snaps in his first NFL appearance (Week 2 vs. San Francisco), he played at least 99 percent of the offensive snaps in 11 of his 13 starts and seemed to get stronger in each game. His raw power appeared to catch many veteran defensive linemen off guard, and he was a run-blocking terror for the Eagles' top-ranked rushing offense. Sandwiched between Jason Kelce and Jordan Mailata, the Eagles had one of the best left sides in the league for most of last season and should again in 2022. I'm looking for better pass protection from Dickerson in his second year to go with his powerful run blocking.
Slater was sensational in 2021, making the Pro Bowl after earning an 83.6 grade by PFF (eighth among all offensive tackles) in 16 starts. The No. 13 overall pick took on every challenge while helping create one of the best left sides in the NFL with guard Matt Feiler and center Corey Linsley. Slater played a big role in helping Austin Ekeler account for 20 touchdowns last season, and I won't be surprised if Slater becomes a perennial Pro Bowler.
After reading this, you might say, "But Baldy, hasn't Slater already broken out if he made the Pro Bowl?" I understand the sentiment, but I'm saying he'll take it to the next level and cement himself among the elites at the position this fall.
The Chiefs' 2021 sixth-round pick was an anchor of toughness and physicality as a rookie. Part of the team's O-line overhaul last offseason, the 6-foot-6, 321-pound guard started every game and excelled as a run blocker. He struggled at times in pass protection, giving up 49 total pressures, including four sacks, per PFF. The Chiefs have a history of great guard play dating back to seven-time Pro Bowler Ed Budde (1963-1976) and Hall of Famer Will Shields (1993-2006), and Smith has everything it takes to one day be mentioned in that company. He has a howitzer of a right-handed punch and a finish reminiscent to Indy's Quenton Nelson's. His career is off to a fantastic start and I expect him to take another step in 2022, when he could receive his first Pro Bowl nod.
Year 1: 17 games | 1.5 sacks | 9 QB hits | 46 tackles | 3 TFL
Barmore played nearly 50 percent of the Patriots' defensive snaps across 17 games in 2021. He showed the ability to anchor against the run to help Bill Belichick's unit rank second in the league in scoring defense. He registered 52 total pressures (second-most on the team) but posted just 1.5 sacks. He has to be more productive as a pass rusher if he wants more opportunities to get after the quarterback. I expect Barmore will make the most improvement in that area in Year 2.
Year 1: 15 games | 5.0 sacks | 15 QB hits | 33 tackles | 5 TFL
Oweh's five sacks, 15 QB hits and five turnovers caused by pressure (tied for most in the NFL, per Next Gen Stats) were a great start to his NFL career -- especially after he failed to post a sack in his final year at Penn State. As a rookie, Oweh showed great athletic ability, effort and talent, playing in 66 percent of the Ravens' defensive snaps. Baltimore defeated the Chiefs in Week 2 after Oweh forced a fumble and recovered it in the final minute to ice the game. With more playing time in Year 2, I expect improved production and more big plays.
Year 1: 15 games | 4.0 sacks | 10 QB hits | 32 tackles | 3 TFL
Paye, a first-round pick, helped the Colts finish ninth in scoring defense and second in the all-important takeaways department in 2021. Starting in 15 games at left end as a rookie, he showed great tenacity when getting after the ball-carrier or the quarterback. He should make a big leap in his second season with DeForest Buckner providing great push inside and trade acquisition Yannick Ngakoue creating pressure opposite Paye on the outside. His effort alone should earn him a handful of sacks early in the season. The Colts' defense prides itself on getting all 11 players to the ball on each play and limiting explosive plays from the offense. I expect Paye to play an even bigger role in Indy's attacking defense this season.
Year 1: 17 games | 4.0 sacks | 10 QB hits | 50 tackles | 8 TFL
Rousseau started every game for Sean McDermott and Leslie Frazier's defense, posting 10 QB hits, eight tackles for loss and four sacks. His lone interception of the year came in Week 5, when he picked off Patrick Mahomes in the red zone. It's impossible to calculate the influence offseason addition Von Miller will have on the Bills' defense, but the two-time Super Bowl champion will serve as an extra coach and mentor for Rousseau, which should aid his development. In my opinion, the second-year pro should more than double his pass-rush production in 2022. Double-digit sacks should be the bare-minimum expectation.
NFL+ gives you the freedom to watch LIVE out-of-market preseason games, LIVE local and prime-time regular-season and postseason games on your phone or tablet, the best NFL programming on-demand and more! Wherever you are, this is how you football! Learn more about NFL+.