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QB: Trevor Lawrence
Second-year quarterback Trevor Lawrence of the Jacksonville Jaguars will be one of the quarterbacks in the AFC to have a breakout season in 2022, showing fans and media around the league why he was the number one overall pick. Last season, Lawrence played all 17 games and posted a 59.6% completion percentage, 3,641 passing yards, along with 14 total touchdowns and 17 interceptions (tied for most in the league).
While these are not the most impressive of statistics, Lawrence had to deal with dysfunctional head coach, Urban Meyer, that not only resulted in a 3-14 record, but also destroyed the team’s chemistry due to Meyer’s inappropriate off the field actions. This posed a tough situation for any rookie quarterback to endure, but regardless Lawrence still managed to show flashes of why he was the draft’s consensus number one pick.
In 2022 however, Lawrence will be gaining former Super Bowl champion head coach, Doug Pederson, that will establish more balance and continuity within the locker room. Also, Lawrence will be gaining familiar college teammate Travis Etienne in the backfield who missed all of last year due to injury. While Lawrence’s weapons may not stand out as the most talented group of guys, wide receivers Marvin Jones Jr., Zay Jones, and new free agent signing Christian Kirk have about 20 seasons of playing experience between them to help Lawrence settle in. The Jaguars offensive line unit was also a bright spot last season only allowing 32 sacks, allowing only one more sack than the Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams. With a more experienced NFL head coach, another year under his belt, and an experienced group of pass catchers, I believe Lawrence will pop in his second year.
RB: James Cook
It must run in the family because I have James Cook, Dalvin Cook’s brother, as a top breakout candidate at the running back position in the AFC. The second round rookie is joining a Super Bowl contender squad in the Buffalo Bills with an opportunity to get a lot of touches in his rookie year. The Bills may have had a lot of success moving the ball through the air or with Josh Allen’s legs on offense, but an area of development for the Bills is to establish the run game with their running backs.
Cook will be joining a team with a running back committee of Devin Singletary and Zack Moss in the back field. Singletary was the main back last year with 870 rushing yards and Moss with 345 rushing yards. The thing that sets Cook aside from Singletary and Moss is that in Cook’s senior year at Georgia he became a dual threat back by racking up 728 rushing yards and also 284 receiving yards, giving him a total of 1,012 scrimmage yards. A back that can run and also do damage in the pass game is a player that the Bills have long needed coming out of the back field.
I believe with the Bills reworking their offensive line to be more athletic and quicker, it will in turn boost their run game and also set up more quick pass opportunities for Cook. If Bills head coach Sean McDermott can figure out a way to insert Cook into their already explosive offense, I believe the Bills offense will become much more well-rounded and less dependent on Josh Allen to make every big play.
WR: Treylon Burks
In this year’s NFL draft, there was a very talented wide receiver class resulting in six wide receivers being selected in the first round, one of them being Treylon Burks, who was picked by the Tennessee Titans. When selecting Burks, fans across the league expected Burks to be a part of a wide receiver room with both Robert Woods and A.J. Brown, leaving Burks with little responsibility as WR3 and time to adapt to NFL play. However, after draft day, expected WR1 for the 2022 Titans, Brown, was shipped to the Philadelphia Eagles, thrusting Burks into a bigger role in the Titans offense.
A major advantage for Burks to have a breakout year is that the focal point of the Titans offense creates a lot of space in the secondary, and that focal point’s name is Derrick Henry. Henry’s impact on the field goes way beyond running the ball, but his mere presence causes teams to be more focused on the run as opposed to the pass, thus leaving Burks with the opportunity to dominate the open space that Henry creates. Not many of the other 2022 first-round wide receivers have the same luxury as Burks.
Last season’s Coach of the Year, Mike Vrabel, will have a lot of options offensively between Henry’s dominance in the backfield, Woods and Burks as a dynamic one-two punch, and new tight end signing Austin Hooper. With Vrabel still able to win games last year, without Henry, Brown, and Julio Jones, having a big-bodied receiver like Burks will help the Titans immensely offensively.