In the craziest offseason in memory (ever?), most of the NFL's roster reconstruction is now behind us. The schedule is out. Yes, kickoff's still four months away, but it's high time for 2022 season forecasting. With that in mind, I wanted to explore the league's top offenses through the prism of projected win share.
Remember, win share measures each player, position group and side of the ball's ability to earn/prevent first downs, points and touchdowns. All rosters used to simulate the season in this exercise are the forecasted 53 through May 17.
Another important preamble note: The rankings below are compiled via average results. Some offenses have great upside, but their projections are extremely volatile due to outsized personnel questions (SEE: the receiving corps in Baltimore; the quarterback situations in Cleveland and San Francisco).
Lastly, don't forget that football is complementary. Thus, a few playoff-caliber offenses could miss out on a spot here because their defenses are so strong that they change game scripts to more conservative outcomes. The opposite is also true: Some teams with poor defenses could field a top-10 offense because the unit has to work so hard -- for all four quarters -- to overcome a leaky D.
Alright, enough dilly-dally -- let's get to it! Here is the rundown of my top 11 offenses, based on updated win-share projections. And yes, I went with 11 offenses this year -- as opposed to 10 -- because we had so many high-production players change teams that I had to sneak in one more.
The Bills earned my highest forecasted win total in the AFC at 11.6. After adding depth to the receiving corps and the backfield via free agency and the draft, Buffalo ranks No. 1 on this list. And that's despite the fact that the Bills will have a new play-caller in 2022, with Ken Dorsey promoted to offensive coordinator in the wake of Brian Daboll's departure to the Giants.
The foundational piece, of course, is elite QB Josh Allen, whose pressure-evasion rate in 2021 ranked second-best in the NFL (24.3%, per Next Gen Stats). He also threw the second-most touchdown passes on tight-widow throws (eight, per NGS). The free agency addition of Jamison Crowder and draft selection of Khalil Shakir help Buffalo's slot-production potential, giving defenders more players to account for and inherently opening up throwing lanes for Allen. The Bills quarterback piled up the most touchdowns on intermediate passes (19) and tied for the most deep completions (28 of 20-plus air yards). OK, a couple more Allen tidbits courtesy of NGS: He also earned +17 first downs over expected on rushes and +310 rushing yards over expected total, which was the second-most (only rushing champ Jonathan Taylor had more). Bottom line: This guy's good. Maybe that's why he's currently the odds-on MVP favorite over at Caesars Sportsbook at 7-1.
By selecting James Cook in the second round, Buffalo increased its overall rushing potential and gave Allen the opportunity for more designed runs, as opposed to scrambles. Adding depth to the skill positions also gives Stefon Diggs, Gabriel Davis and Dawson Knox even better opportunities in the pass-catching game. Diggs ranked in the top five in receptions (86), receiving yards (998) and TDs (eight) when aligned out wide last season, while Davis set a single-season NGS record with a 90 percent catch rate on passes of 10-plus air yards.
The Chargers narrowly edge out the Bengals here, based on their offensive line and the fact that their demanding division will require prolific production. Last season, Justin Herbert racked up the third-most yards under pressure (1,043, by Next Gen Stats' count). Herbert's legs helped produce the fourth-lowest sack rate in the league (4.4%), but the Bolts' scheme helped him, too. With a time to throw of at least 2.5 seconds, Herbert topped the NGS charts in attempts (423), completions (262) and yards (3,544), while finishing second in touchdowns (24).
Two more fun figures: Austin Ekeler had six rushing TDs against stacked boxes (tied for second-most, via NGS), while Mike Williams topped the league with 18 receptions and 320 yards on tight-window targets.
In the draft, Los Angeles immediately boosted the offensive line in Round 1 with plug-and-play starter Zion Johnson before nabbing another versatile piece in sixth-rounder Jamaree Salyer, who could see some early action. The Bolts also nabbed RB Isaiah Spiller in the fourth round. With increased O-line potential and added RB depth, Keenan Allen, Williams and Ekeler forecast to be in more favorable situations -- a scary thought for opponents, given how productive each already was.
In this file one year ago, the Bengals just missed the cut, as my No. 11 offense with top-seven upside. My models were quite bearish on their O-line, especially with Joe Burrow coming off the kind of major knee surgery that typically causes quarterbacks to play more conservatively, at least in the early goings. Well, Burrow crushed my model last season, and the Bengals addressed the O-line this offseason.
In 2021, Burrow's completion percentage over expected was +6.0 -- the highest in the NFL, per NGS. He also led the league in completion percentage (64.3) and yards per attempt (9.7) when under pressure. Clearly, he wasn't playing skittish. When he had a time to throw of 2.5-plus seconds, Burrow posted an NFL-best 111.6 passer rating. Computer Vision shows Burrow was the most efficient on off-platform throws (when his legs weren't set before releasing the ball) with a 100.1 passer rating.
Meanwhile, Joe Mixon piled up the second-most yards after contact (1,054, per NGS). Offensive Rookie of the Year Ja'Marr Chase led the league in deep touchdown receptions (seven of 20-plus air yards), and second-year stud Tee Higgins boasted an NFL-best +9.8 catch rate over expected. While losing tight end C.J. Uzomah in free agency hurts, the increased O-line potential (SEE: free-agent additions La'el Collins, Alex Cappa and Ted Karras) will create more opportunities for Mixon to reach full speed before being contacted and should allow the deep passing game to be even more potent in 2022.
The Bucs had two key free-agent snags that created a ton of value relative to how much we talked about them. Russell Gage is perfect for a team that led the NFL with an average of 6.7 yards per play in 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WRs). And in the wake of Ali Marpet's abrupt retirement, getting Shaq Mason from the Patriots in exchange for a late-round pick was huge. Those two moves help give Tom Brady the weaponry and protection he needs for his Age 45 season.
Speaking of Brady, no QB fared better in NGS' "accurate plus" metric. The ageless wonder also led the league with 27 touchdowns on short passes (0-9 air yards, per NGS) and logged an NFL-best 42 big-time throws (Pro Football Focus). Brady was well-protected, facing a pressure rate of just 16.2 percent, the lowest by any qualified QB in the past five seasons. Drafting Rachaad White added depth the RB room. At receiver, Mike Evans and Chris Godwin both have high odds of eclipsing 1,100 receiving yards each this season (with good health, though it's notable that Godwin will be coming back from a torn ACL suffered in December).
The Bucs received my highest win-total projection at 11.7. At this moment, they're my odds-on favorites to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.
Remember how I said in the intro that some offensive ratings get dinged a bit because the team's defense is so good? This team is a great example of that complementary aspect. The retirement of stalwart left tackle Andrew Whitworth -- a first-ballot Hall of Famer in my book -- is another limiting factor, but Sean McVay still has some stellar talent to work with.
Matthew Stafford just set a Next Gen Stats single-season record against the blitz with a 139.6 passer rating. He also led the league with a 131.4 passer rating against man coverage. Downfield acrobatics were a huge source of success, as Stafford posted an NFL-best 1,175 passing yards on deep passes (20-plus air yards). Offensive Player of the Year Cooper Kupp has a laundry list of accolades from last season, but two that portend continued success in 2022: his 0.59 expected points added per target and 141.9 passer rating when targeted in the slot -- both were tops in the NFL, with the latter being an NGS record.
The Chiefs' receiving corps looks a lot different, and their schedule starts off with a punishing set of opponents. Last season, Kansas City used motion on an NFL-high 808 snaps, which indicates that they have lots of wrinkles in their playbook, so it could take some time for the overhauled WR group to get up to speed.
On the plus side, K.C. still has the same superstar at quarterback. Patrick Mahomes had the second-best passer rating on quick passes (115.8 on throws made in under 2.5 seconds) and led the league with a 73.8 completion percentage against the blitz. Computer Vision shows that of Mahomes' nine interceptions on short passes (0-9 air yards), five were unlucky. (He only had four such picks in his career prior to 2021.)
While the new pass catchers -- namely Marquez Valdes-Scantling, JuJu Smith-Schuster and second-round pick Skyy Moore -- will have a learning curve in this system, one huge connection remains constant: Mahomes to Travis Kelce. On short passes, the tight end racked up 634 yards (most among NFL pass catchers) with eight touchdowns (second-most). His 693 yards and five TDs from the slot both ranked in the top five.
When you have the back-to-back reigning MVP, it's hard not to end up on this list. Yes, even when you just lost one of the league's best receivers.
The Packers' offensive line helped Aaron Rodgers last year -- and projects to do the same in 2022. Rodgers was pressured on just 20.1 percent of dropbacks (third-fewest), and when he wasn't under pressure, the Green Bay QB led the league with a 122.6 passer rating. Rodgers' 117.7 passer rating on quick passes in 2021 also paced the NFL. Going forward, that kind of instant offense will help keep the Packers ahead of the sticks as second-round pick Christian Watson, Randall Cobb, Sammy Watkins and Allen Lazard (who did post the fourth-best passer rating when targeted on deep passes at 135.4) all look to fill the massive void created by Davante Adams' departure.
The running backs should keep Green Bay efficient, with AJ Dillon showing proficiency against stacked boxes (5 yards per rush, third-best in the NFL last year) and Aaron Jones at +436 rushing yards over expected over the past three seasons (fifth among running backs).
My models are bearish on Dallas' offensive line. Last season, the Cowboys used six or more offensive linemen at the fourth-highest rate (8.7 percent of snaps, per NGS), yet Dak Prescott averaged a career-low 2.75 seconds to throw and tossed quick passes at his highest rate in the past three seasons (42.1%). The quick throws (under 2.5 seconds) did work to help him escape pressure -- as evidenced by his career-low 28.9 pressure rate -- and drove a career-high 107.7 passer rating on short passes (fourth in the NFL). He also ran away from would-be pressure and earned a 116.8 passer rating when on the move (best in NFL among qualified QBs). However, this shows how Dak overcame adversity, which will likely be what's required again this season. When Dak does have time, great things happen (SEE: his career-high 110.0 passer rating throwing outside the numbers in 2021, the fourth-best mark in the NFL).
For your fantasy prep: Schultz had seven receiving TDs when aligned tight over the past two seasons, tied for most in that time. Oh, and Lamb? He had +156 yards after the catch over expected in 2021, which was tied for fourth in the NFL.
No. 19 overall pick Trevor Penning is certainly not a 100 percent replacement for Terron Armstead, but the rookie at least gives New Orleans a viable option on the blind side. If the Saints can keep Jameis Winston upright, the former No. 1 overall pick can put up points with a collection of playmakers that includes running back Alvin Kamara and wide receivers Michael Thomas, Chris Olave and Jarvis Landry.
Last season, New Orleans receivers earned just 1,320 yards when aligned wide (the fourth-lowest total in the NFL, according to Next Gen Stats) and only caught 52.3 percent of those passes (second-lowest). That projects to dramatically increase this year. In 2021, Kamara netted -133 rushing yards over expected (the lowest figure in the NFL) and also logged a career-low 73.3 percent catch rate when aligned in the backfield. Both should rise substantially in 2022, as the threat of the pass will keep defenses honest. In fact, as of now, Kamara is my RB4 in fantasy.
Here's a refresher on how good Thomas is: On passes outside the numbers, he boasts a +12.9 percent career catch rate over expected, which is the best mark in the NFL since 2016. He also owns a career catch rate of 84.1 percent on in-breaking routes, another league-leading stat.
One of my favorite prognostications right now is that the Vikings are going to the playoffs. I think the last NFC wild-card slot could come down to the Vikes and Saints, who play in London on Oct. 2. The fit of Kevin O'Connell's style with Minnesota's personnel will help mask an offensive line that allowed the second-highest pressure rate last season (33.6%, per Next Gen Stats). O'Connell will also make good use of Kirk Cousins' best traits, starting with downfield passing. The Vikings QB had a 133.8 passer rating on throws of 10-plus air yards in 2021, the best by any qualified QB since 2016. His 138.6 passer rating on passes of 10-19 air yards was the best since 2019, and he even had the most passing TDs without an interception against the blitz in the NGS era with 16. None of this is all that surprising, given the weapons at Cousins' disposal.
Star wideout Justin Jefferson earned 1,255 receiving yards on targets of 10-plus air yards and 823 yards on targets of 10-19 air yards -- both were, you guessed it, NGS single-season records. Adam Thielen owns a +25.7 catch rate over expected in the red area since 2018, which tops the NFL. Dalvin Cook averaged a robust 5.0 yards per rush on inside-the-tackles attempts last season.
This unit has SO much upside. Every offense comes down to the performance of the QB, of course, but that feels especially true for this Dolphins attack. Mike McDaniel's résumé and Miami's personnel additions (numerous RBs, OT Terron Armstead and WR Tyreek Hill) suggest a style of play that marries strong rushing principles with exceptional speed and space from the pass catchers, giving the QB more time to make decisions in higher-probability passing situations. Tua Tagovailoa passed into the highest rate of tight windows last season at 19.3 percent, a figure that should significantly decrease in 2022, inherently generating more favorable stats across the board. Play-action was a strength for Tua, despite defenses being ready for it: His 39.5 percent rate led the NFL, per Next Gen Stats, and his 113 completions and 71.5 completion percentage were both top-five figures.
Here's my NGS primer on three of the Dolphins' most dangerous weapons ... Use Hill on hitches. The blazing-fast wideout led the NFL with 322 yards on such routes last season. Look out for Jaylen Waddle on out routes, as he caught 27 of 36 targets for 268 yards -- all top-three figures on the pattern. Chase Edmonds averaged a whopping 5.6 yards per rush inside the tackles last season.