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2022: The Year of the NFL Tank Job
Which teams are most likely to "tank" for a franchise quarterback in 2023?
Never before has a quarterback drafted first overall stood this tall within his first two seasons and if I’ve come to learn anything about the NFL offseason it’s that February through May is heavily influenced by what happens in the Super Bowl. Regardless of Sunday’s outcome between the Rams and Bengals, the two teams are being quarterbacked by phenoms drafted first overall.
One of them took two years to get his first playoff win, the other took 13 years, but in either case they’re playing in LVI. And that’s arguably doing more for having the number one pick than Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, or Troy Aikman ever did.
No offense to them. They are some of the few successes among the quarterbacks drafted first overall. Every single quarterback drafted first overall has combined for 10 first-team All-Pro nods—and seven of those belong to Peyton Manning.
Then one each for Roman Gabriel, Cam Newton, and Terry Bradshaw.
This isn’t a matter of there an improvement in scouting either. In this previous decade alone, we’ve seen Sam Bradford, Jameis Winston, Jared Goff, and Baker Mayfield go first overall, while Andrew Luck only stuck around for parts of seven seasons. The quarterbacks drafted second overall have done even worse: Robert Griffin III, Marcus Mariota, Carson Wentz, and Mitchell Trubisky.
But none of that will matter as much as Joe Burrow and Matthew Stafford facing off in Super Bowl LVI. No matter who the winner is, pouring a shitload of draft capital into a quarterback—whether it’s by using the first overall pick or trading two first round picks—will come out as the real victor. Owners and GMs will be salivating over the idea of finding the next Burrow, Stafford, or Luck, and it will likely dominate the headlines as the 2022 quarterback carousel begins to take off.
Unfortunately, no matter what some people will try to tell you about Malik Willis, Kenny Pickett, Matt Corral, or Sam Howell, there is no true “first overall” quarterback in this draft. If a quarterback does get selected with the first pick in 2022, it will be virtually the same situation as what played out in 2015 with Winston and 2016 with Goff and we know how those turned out.
I can’t rule out a quarterback getting selected first overall this year, but I’m confident that there are plenty of execs out there who agree with me that the real prize is clear as day: Drafting first overall in 2023.
Not just drafting first overall, also knowing that even if you end up drafting second or third overall, you could still land an exceptional quarterback prospect. Just think of it like the 2021 NFL Draft with Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, and Trey Lance, but it skips a generation.
The first pick in the 2023 NFL Draft will be Alabama quarterback Bryce Young. He could go first right now, outdated draft rules simply don’t allow it.
Of course, this is my belief, while others think that Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud will go first overall. Stroud would also be the number one pick in 2022 if he was eligible to participate.
What separates Stroud from the rest is his prototypical size mixed with his intangibles and ever-improving accuracy. Stroud stepped up his game in the 2022 Rose Bowl, setting bowl records for passing yards in a performance for the ages. That connection with his incredible cast of young wide receivers will be on full display in 2022.
After those two, there’s a mix of opinions that range from Florida’s Anthony Richardson to a transfer reclamation by Spencer Rattler and of course my favorite, Grayson McCall, as being the third quarterback selected. As we saw with Wilson a year ago, and Pickett to a degree in 2021, another name could emerge and make it an even “safer” bet to bad terrible next season. What’s comforting to the league’s “impossible” teams—the ones who will find it literally impossible to win a Super Bowl next season—is that Young and Stroud are as close to locks as we ever see from sophomores to become high draft picks. The only thing they can do to lower their stock next season is to play. (Trey Lance proved that. More play at North Dakota State might have only brought him down.)
That’s why I see 2022 as “The Year of the Tank”.
Last year, I said it was “The Year of the Weapons” as we saw how the Bucs overwhelmed defenses by bringing Tom Brady and a large cache of great players to throw the ball to. And what happened? The Rams became the next team to acquire a marquee quarterback (which Carson Wentz is not, the only fantastic QB to change teams last year was Stafford) and then they drafted a receiver with their first pick (plus two more) and later signed Odell Beckham, Jr.
The Bengals then drafted Ja’Marr Chase over Penei Sewell at a time when people were telling them, “Yeah, but you don’t need more weapons.”
But we’ve already seen how Brady sort of copied the way that Peyton Manning moved over to greener pastures late in his career and won a Super Bowl. We’ve already seen how teams have focused more attention on the acquisition of elite skill players, and hiring coaches from different branches of the same tree, and veteran quarterbacks starting to call their own shots.
That last one may only further drive owners towards getting their hands on the next Joe Burrow, rather than the next Matthew Stafford or Tom Brady.
There is no great quarterback prospect in 2022. There are multiple in 2023. Which teams are going to be most obvious in their attempt to become great by way of being putrid?
The Houston Texans doing it again seems probable. No team was more obvious in tanking than the Texans last season but it didn’t even work to perfection, as David Culley ended up winning four more games than he was supposed to. Houston is absolutely no better off as a team today than they were a year ago and they will most likely get even worse in the immediate after making trades this offseason. The Texans seem to be on a four-year plan that would start with Lovie Smith coaching for two seasons and then depending on how he did in his second year, may or may not get the chance to continue to mentor the quarterback who they draft early in 2023.
The Carolina Panthers do not seem to have a lot going for them at the moment either and although both the Panthers and Texans play in weak divisions, they also inspire the least amount of confidence in the quarterback position. I’m not saying anything negative about Matt Rhule, I’m just saying that he’s probably got the highest odds of “first coach fired” this year. If their defense doesn’t will them to 6 wins, the Panthers stand a chance of picking a quarterback in the top-three.
I love what the Detroit Lions are doing and if there’s a team that could be compared to the Cincinnati Bengals, they might be it. The Bengals had two losing seasons under Zac Taylor, really bad seasons, before 2021 happened. Therefore, Dan Campbell may get some slack if the Lions go 3-14 next year and might get a third opportunity even if he only wins six games in two seasons.
I mean, six games in two seasons isn’t that far off from any average Lions year. Of course the missing piece in the puzzle is the quarterback. Detroit shouldn’t just want to pick early in 2023. They need it. I expect the Lions to draft the best available defensive player with their top pick this year and a quarterback in 2023. They could even try to trade the first round pick they received from the Rams for more 2023 draft capital as insurance in case they need to move up in a year.
The New York Giants hired Brian Daboll, who saw from Sean McDermott that rebuilding takes time and patience. The Bills went 15-17 in McDermott’s first two seasons. The Giants may need to hit rock bottom in Daboll’s first season. In the case of all these teams, who in the building is arguing for winning six games instead of three? It just wouldn’t make sense right now.
The Washington Commanders don’t have a quarterback so the only thing Ron Rivera could do to even maybe save his job past 2022 is to beg for the franchise to trade for one. If they don’t do that, or if they do and he’s the wrong guy, then Washington could be picking first overall in 2023. (I’ve been accidentally calling them the Commodores a lot and I imagine soon the day will come when I don’t catch myself.)
We know what rumors will surround the Broncos in the coming weeks, but what if the Packers don’t trade Aaron Rodgers? Denver still looks like a fourth place in the AFC West, what good would another 7-10 season do? If you were Nathaniel Hackett, wouldn’t you rather start your career with a young Aaron Rodgers instead of the old Aaron Rodgers? I’m not sure I buy that hype.
I think it’s going to be a bumpy year for the Chicago Bears. The Cleveland Browns, Miami Dolphins, Indianapolis Colts, New Orleans Saints, Atlanta Falcons, Minnesota Vikings, and Las Vegas Raiders may need to decide if it would be better to make a move on a quarterback change this year or to play the long game and see what happens down the road. Now we can add the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to that list. Who knows what’s happening with Kyler Murray. What are the Seahawks and Russell Wilson going to be on the same page about this year and where do they need mediation? The Pittsburgh Steelers have no quarterback.
How many teams have already started the fire sale and we just don’t know it yet?
Which teams will evaluate free agency and decide that they’re still over a year away?
Who will enter the first round of the draft with 2023 in mind more so than current “needs”? Which teams will be more than willing to acquire future draft capital over making picks that will start their rookie clocks too early?
Which franchises will get a look at themselves at the end of August or September and give in early? Saying “Not this year” and supplying the next “Von Miller” or the next “Odell Beckham Jr” to the next “Rams”? If not the actual Rams.
This is the year that teams will focus on finding the next Joe Burrow, but there is no “Joe Burrow” this year. That can only mean one thing. This is the year of the tank job.
Most likely to tank: Texans, Panthers, Lions, Giants, Commanders, Broncos, Bears