The biggest positional downgrades across the NFL

Several teams sustained some losses this offseason — some at high-profile positions — and will be attempting to replace some standout performers with lesser-known talents. Here are the biggest positional downgrades from the 2022 offseason.

 

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20. Indianapolis Colts, offensive line

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The Colts should still feature an upper-crust blocking quintet. Quenton Nelson, Ryan Kelly, and Braden Smith will see to that. But the team lost four-year right guard starter Mark Glowinski in free agency and did not re-sign Eric Fisher. Two untested blockers — Matt Pryor and Danny Pinter — are in line to take over at left tackle and right guard, respectively, though third-round pick Bernhard Raimann could usurp Pryor at some point. This is not to say you should draft someone other than Jonathan Taylor if you happen to obtain the No. 1 overall fantasy choice, but the 2022 Colts have more questions up front than usual. 

 

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19. Dallas Cowboys, defensive end

Dallas Cowboys, defensive end

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Randy Gregory’s career became a long-running tease in Dallas. The former second-round pick encountered four substance-abuse suspensions, putting his NFL future in jeopardy. But after the Cowboys stuck with him, the veteran edge rusher showed value over the past two seasons. Gregory flashed Pro Bowl-caliber stuff when on the field last season and has forced six fumbles since 2020. The Cowboys used a second-round pick on Ole Miss’ Sam Williams and re-signed intriguing backup Dorance Armstrong, who will play a bigger role. But the team wanted Gregory back; his 11th-hour decommitment and Denver defection hurt. 

 

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18. Tennessee Titans, offensive line

Tennessee Titans, offensive line

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Before deciding A.J. Brown priced himself out of their range, the Titans created cap space by cutting Pro Bowl left guard Rodger Saffold. The 12-year veteran turned 34 this offseason, yes, but the Titans are deciding between a former UDFA (Aaron Brewer) and an ex-Seahawks backup (Jamarco Jones) in replacing him. This comes as the team will break in a new right tackle yet again. At least former Day 2 draftees — 2021 second-rounder Dillon Radunz and rookie third-rounder Nicholas Petit-Frere — are vying for that gig. It is paramount that Taylor Lewan (19 absences since 2019) stays healthy for what could be Derrick Henry’s final prime year. 

 

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17. Seattle Seahawks, cornerback

Seattle Seahawks, cornerback

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After bailing on Richard Sherman’s big contract in 2018, the Seahawks have refused to invest in cornerback. This has included not re-signing Shaquill Griffin in 2021 and D.J. Reed this year. The Seahawks brought back slot corner Justin Coleman, who has bounced around since his first Seattle stint but continued to invest minimally at the position. Former Steelers first-round pick Artie Burns, who has not been a primary starter since 2018, is battling recent fourth-rounders Tre Brown and Coby Bryant to play opposite Sidney Jones. This will be another go-round for Pete Carroll’s DB developmental program. 

 

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16. Tennessee Titans, wide receiver

Tennessee Titans, wide receiver

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At a key point on this franchise’s timeline, its offense appears worse compared to last year’s version — one that helped Tennessee obtain the AFC bye. The Davante Adams effect led the Titans to pass on a monster A.J. Brown deal, which the talented wideout received from the Eagles, and start over. Treylon Burks showed impressive RAC skills at Arkansas, but reports of a struggle to stay under 240 pounds as a Razorback concern. It is unlikely he will be a Brown-level helper for Ryan Tannehill in 2022. A sixth-round pick for Robert Woods is a steal, on paper, but a lot will be on the shoulders of a 30-year-old wideout changing teams post-ACL surgery.

 

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15. Arizona Cardinals, outside linebacker

Arizona Cardinals, outside linebacker

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Chandler Jones posted a reasonable bounce-back season in 2021, recovering from his near-season-long 2020 absence. While he did record five of his 10.5 sacks in one game, the two-time All-Pro’s Arizona exit strips the Cardinals of an impact pass rusher. That will affect Markus Golden, who benefited from Jones’ presence en route to an 11-sack season. The Cards did address the spot, with two third-round picks (Cam Thomas, and Myjai Sanders). But the San Diego State and Cincinnati edge rushers, respectively, should not be expected to replicate Jones’ work this season. As such, the Cards could really use a year of relative J.J. Watt health.

 

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14. Los Angeles Rams, outside linebacker

Los Angeles Rams, outside linebacker

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Von Miller is one of the best edge rushers in NFL history, and the future Hall of Famer displayed during his Rams rental stretch prime years remain. The Rams showed rare restraint in letting a star talent walk in free agency, and while that might be the right move, there is nothing close to a Miller-level talent on the defending champions’ roster. The Rams did not sign anyone and did not draft an edge until Round 7. Justin Hollins and ex-third-rounder Terrell Lewis are the next men up. Miller’s absence stands to also affect Leonard Floyd, as it certainly did not hurt rushing alongside two Canton-bound icons. At least the other one (Aaron Donald) did not retire.

 

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13. New England Patriots, cornerback

New England Patriots, cornerback

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J.C. Jackson joins Darrelle Revis, Logan Ryan, and Malcolm Butler as veteran cornerbacks Bill Belichick opted against paying to stay. This might not matter, with Belichick continually finding answers after No. 1 corners move on. But the two top Pats cover men of the past four years — Jackson and Stephon Gilmore — being gone leaves a big hole in a critical area. Butler has migrated back, as various Patriots have done in recent years, at a reduced rate. Ex-Eagle Jalen Mills allowed seven touchdowns last season. Stripping Jackson’s turnover prowess from this defense will test it — at a time of significant transition on offense.

 

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12. Baltimore Ravens, wide receiver

Baltimore Ravens, wide receiver

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Baltimore’s passing attack will run through Mark Andrews, and the chicken-egg situation with this Lamar Jackson-centered offense’s ability to make receivers valuable persists. Regardless of Raven receivers’ importance, the group endured a big blow with the Marquise Brown trade. Thrusting Rashod Bateman into the WR1 spot and moving low-production youngster Devin Duvernay to the top sidekick role represents a risk for the Ravens, who look to be the Bengals’ top AFC North challenger. A Julio Jones- or T.Y. Hilton-type vet could help, but June is not the best time to be addressing needs. 

 

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11. Cleveland Browns, center

Cleveland Browns, center

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J.C. Tretter made just about every snap for the Browns over the past five seasons, excepting his one missed start (a COVID-19-related absence) in 2021. After designating Tretter a cap casualty, the Browns are banking on a seldom-used backup. They are planning to go with former fifth-rounder Nick Harris at center. Harris played just 68 offensive snaps last season, though Cleveland is hoping the first-string practice reps he made amid Tretter conservation help ease the transition. For a Browns team that has fielded an elite offensive line for a bit now, ditching their 31-year-old center stalwart does bring some risk amid a turbulent offseason.

 

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10. New York Giants, tight end

New York Giants, tight end

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For all the heat Evan Engram took during his five-year Giants career, his exit could be noticeable. While Engram struggled with consistency, the Giants have not exactly seen other weapons ooze reliability in recent years. The Jaguars now employ the former first-round tight end, and the Giants lacked the resources to replace him. Ex-Texan Jordan Akins, journeyman Ricky Seals-Jones and fourth-round rookie Daniel Bellinger comprise the primary post-Engram mix. This position, fairly key in Brian Daboll’s Buffalo offense, will be an issue in a pivotal year for Daniel Jones’ career.

 

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9. Kansas City Chiefs, wide receiver

Kansas City Chiefs, wide receiver

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A mystifying highlight reel of 2021 Tyreek Hill drops-turned-INTs exists, but the perennial Pro Bowler gave the Chiefs an unparalleled speed threat — one that significantly altered defensive game plans. Teams adjusted last season and limited the deep strikes, but this year could bring a striking difference in how teams defend the Chiefs. Marquez Valdes-Scantling is not on Hill’s tier, and while he and fellow hyphenated hired gun JuJu Smith-Schuster are interesting weaponry, this will be a test for Reid and Patrick Mahomes. It is unwise to bet against them, but Hill’s Miami move is the biggest Chiefs change since Mahomes took over.

 

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8. Dallas Cowboys, wide receiver

Dallas Cowboys, wide receiver

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Trading Amari Cooper’s nonguaranteed $20 million-per-year deal just before the Davante Adams news blew up the receiver market, the Cowboys only fetched fifth- and sixth-round picks. That set a bad tone for Dallas’ receiving corps, which will miss Cooper’s route-running skill. CeeDee Lamb benefited from defenses’ Cooper attention, and while the 2020 first-rounder should continue his ascent, this is a thinner setup compared to the Cowboys’ Cooper-Lamb-Michael Gallup (feat. Cedrick Wilson) crew. Gallup will not be ready for the season on time, due to his December ACL tear, forcing mid-major rookie Jalen Tolbert and discarded ex-Steeler James Washington to step up early.

 

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7. Seattle Seahawks, linebacker

Seattle Seahawks, linebacker

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One of this era’s safest Hall of Fame bets, Bobby Wagner is part of the Rams’ legion of stars. The Seahawks cut Wagner the same day they traded Russell Wilson, closing the book (player-wise, at least) on the best period in franchise history. Wagner’s six first-team All-Pros trail only new Rams teammate Aaron Donald among active players. The relentlessly consistent middle linebacker’s exit will apply pressure on Jordyn Brooks’ development. Brooks, at least, has full-season starter experience. He is set to work alongside the largely untested Cody Barton. The former third-rounder is only replacing the most decorated Seahawk defender ever.

 

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6. New York Giants, secondary

New York Giants, secondary

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Watching Don Martindale’s blitz packages should be fun for Giants fans, but the ex-Ravens defensive coordinator’s aggression presents frightening boom-or-bust ingredients. The Giants’ secondary is down veterans Logan Ryan and James Bradberry, each a part of the necessary Joe Schoen-directed salary purge, and notable replacements are scarce. A pair of recent third-rounders — Aaron Robinson and rookie Cor’Dale Flott — are aiming to join Adoree’ Jackson at cornerback. Jackson is a year removed from his near-full-season absence in 2020. A Giants team that began last year with Ryan, Jabrill Peppers, and Xavier McKinney at safety lost two of those cogs. 

 

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5. Chicago Bears, defensive line

Chicago Bears, defensive line

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Neil Flynn’s “Who are these #$@&%*! guys?” “Major League” line is applicable to the 2022 Bears defensive line, especially if the team finishes off the parts-stripping project by trading Robert Quinn. The new Chicago single-season sack leader looks out of place on this D-line, one that has moved on from Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks, and Eddie Goldman. The muscle that drove the Bears to two playoff berths under Matt Nagy is largely gone. A combination of ex-Matt Eberflus Colts (Al-Quadin Muhammad), journeymen (Mario Edwards, Jerry Attaochu), and late-round rookies comprise the new Bears front. 

 

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4. San Francisco 49ers, center

San Francisco 49ers, center

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Only four centers received more Pro Bowl invites than Alex Mack’s seven. Yes, the Pro Bowl alternate era affected that count, but Mack was an All-Decade performer and one of this century’s top snappers. The 49ers are, before padded practices at least, planning to give snapping reins to seventh-year UDFA Jake Brendel, who was on the field for six offensive plays from 2019-21. It will be one of the more interesting offensive line success stories if the soon-to-be 30-year-old Brendel keeps the gig. The 49ers refusing to add a veteran — like Tretter or Matt Paradis or Trey Hopkins — to prop up an O-line also featuring a green left guard (Aaron Banks) is a gamble.

 

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3. Green Bay Packers, wide receiver

Green Bay Packers, wide receiver

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The Bucs paid $10 million per year to ensure Tom Brady’s No. 3 receiver spot was covered. Showing a stark contrast re: equipping their aging QB with weaponry, the Packers bolted from their top two wideouts — including the premier playmaker of the Aaron Rodgers era. The Packers not addressing Davante Adams’ contract earlier may not have mattered, if the California native was hellbent on a Derek Carr reunion all along. But his and Marquez Valdes-Scantling’s exits come at a terrible time. Allen Lazard could rocket from WR3 to WR1 in Green Bay, which houses a cast of pre- and post-prime wideouts. This unusual plan is not ideal for a soon-to-be 39-year-old QB constantly talking about retirement.

 

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2. Atlanta Falcons, quarterback

Atlanta Falcons, quarterback

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Mid-30s Matt Ryan became a middle-class quarterback, one that looked increasingly out of place in Atlanta. But the Ryan-to-Marcus Mariota drop could be steeper than many realize. Mariota threw 11 TD passes in 14 games in his previous full year as a starter (2018), was benched during Arthur Smith’s first year as Titans OC, and never threatened Carr’s job in Las Vegas. Mariota’s broken leg on Christmas Eve 2016 blunted his early-career momentum, and he has never truly regained it. Third-round pick Desmond Ridder figures to see extensive time for a team that will be a strong bet to obtain 2023’s No. 1 draft pick.

 

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1. Seattle Seahawks, quarterback

Seattle Seahawks, quarterback

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The Seahawks appeared content fielding good, not great, teams for the past several years, rarely spending much capital on O-line or cornerback help to close out Russell Wilson’s tenure. Wilson deserves much of the credit for keeping Seattle on that “good” tier, guiding the Seahawks to five playoff berths since the Malcolm Butler sequence knocked them off the league’s top level. Going from a future Hall of Famer to a Geno Smith-Drew Lock competition is eerily Broncos-esque. Just as Seattle invests highly in an O-line cornerstone (Charles Cross), Wilson is in Denver. And the QB(s) Cross will aim to protect are set to keep Wilson’s old team irrelevant.