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By: Jake Rajala

The Minnesota Vikings will be fighting vigorously not to miss the playoffs for the third straight season. Kevin O’Connell will bring new energy and a unique offensive attack to the 2022 Vikings squad. It’s already been reported by NBC Sports that Dalvin Cook is lining up at WR in training camp for Captain Kirk. The Vikings Pro Bowl RB is known for being an electric ball-carrier, but he was potent quite potent as an all-purpose RB in 2019 (519 receiving yds with 1,135 rushing yds). Coincidentally, Cousins threw his least amount of interceptions in 2015 (6) since his rookie season (one game started as a rook).

The Vikings had the 10th best passing offense (passing YPG) and Cousins unleashed the ninth-most passing touchdowns last season. Cousins could be more efficient with Cook as a pass-catching threat and it would be hard for opponents to prepare for WR Justin Jefferson, WR Adam Thielen, and WR/RB Cook.

There were a couple of other training camp observations for the Vikings. According to The Athletic, the Vikings RG position witnessed a rotation between Jesse Davis and Chris Reed, so it will be fascinating to see which OL profile wins the open competition. The intriguing CB position is obviously highlighted by Patrick Peterson and Andrew Booth Jr. Unfortunately, the Vikings second-round pick is still rehabbing an injury on the sidelines.

The Vikings will strive to be well-rounded, but their biggest horse is still unequivocally Justin Jefferson. The third-year WR was named a darkhorse MVP candidate by NFL.com. It’s not a huge surprise that Jefferson is receiving a lot of hype, as he’s been a 1,400+ yard WR in each of the past two seasons. It’s also worth mentioning that WR Cooper Kupp won OPOY last season and was crowned Super Bowl LVI MVP. Jefferson might be the next WR to bring home gold hardware, while potentially really helping his team take positive steps forward.

49ers biggest obstacles in 2022

What is the 49ers biggest obstacle?

By: Jake Rajala

The Jimmy Garoppolo-led San Francisco 49ers clawed their way to a playoff berth last season. Kyle Shanahan will hand the keys to a different, younger QB in Trey Lance and aspire to return to the Super Bowl in Lance’s second NFL season. With that said, I’m going to simply outline the three biggest obstacles for the 49ers in 2022.

  • The growth of the “middle of the pack NFC teams”

The 49ers edged out the decimated New Orleans Saints for a playoff berth last season, but I really expect NO to be a wild-card team next season at least. Jameis Winston was 5-2 without his insane WR trio (Michael Thomas, Jarvis Landry, and Chris Olave) and the Saints also added the Honey Badger to their defense.

Outside of Who Dat Nation, the NFC East could have three potential playoff teams next season. The Washington Commanders will a QB upgrade in Carson Wentz from Taylor Heinicke, while the Philadelphia Eagles offense will aim to make a lot of noise with A.J. Brown. The 49ers battle the Saints and Commanders this season, so it will be vital that Shanny finds a way to squash the fellow NFC squads.

  • The health of star players

It will be a challenge for Lance to help the 49ers return to the playoffs in the gritty NFC in his first season. If the 49ers suffer from the injury bug, it will be a mountain for the complex 49ers team to earn a golden ticket to the NFC playoffs in 2022-2023.

George Kittle, Dee Ford, Deebo Samuel, and Nick Bosa have both missed a lot of games in their 49ers tenure. In particular, Kittle’s injury history is a noticeable concern (13 missed games over the past three seasons).

  • The production from young offensive players

The 49ers desperately need Brandon Aiyuk and Trey Sermon to be superb contributors in 2022. Aiyuk was a modest sophomore WR, but he wasn’t able to have a coming-out party last season. Although, he can be a star WR2 with 1,000+ receiving yds with his new big-arm QB moving forward. I’m sure that the 49ers faithful would love to see the 2021 third-round pick Sermon (167 rushing yds in 2021) ascend into a quality RB behind Elijah Mitchell, as well. The 49ers could win competitive match-ups off the backs of x-factor profiles like Aiyuk and Sermon.

Remaining free agent targets for the Bengals

Who is the top free agent target for the Bengals?

By: Jake Rajala

The Cincinnati Bengals are an AFC juggernaut with the fifth-most cap space in the NFL. Zac Taylor could utilize his creative juices in May by inking one of the shiny free agents available. The Bengals could still benefit from the arrival of a cornerback or even another underrated offensive weapon. With that said, I’m going to untwine a few FA profiles that would be superb fits for Cincy.

  • Joe Haden

The Bengals young head coach shouldn’t let the Dolphins HC Mike McDaniel sign every quality FA on the planet or allow Joe Haden to reunite with the Browns. The Bengals might have an overly impressive WR trio (Ja’Marr Chase, Tyler Boyd, and Tee Higgins), but they ought to boost their pass defense. I firmly believe that Eli Apple is underrated (to say the least), but Haden would be an upgrade over Apple and a fine partner to Chidobe Awuzie, who was named to PFF’s All-Pro team.

  • Akiem Hicks

The explosive big fella Akiem Hicks can terrorize opposing signal-callers next to Trey Hendrickson and B.J. Hill. Hicks is still a talented DL and he showed that in nine games last season (3.5 sacks and 9 QB hits). Hicks would really help the Bengals pass rush against Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes, and other top-notch AFC QBs.

  • Ndamukong Suh

I believe the Bengals would make a lot of sense for the fearless defender Ndamukong Suh. The Super Bowl-winning DE/DT can have a strong chance to win his second SB ring with the Bengals. The former Lions DL that has only missed two games in his career would be more affordable than a FA like Jadeveon Clowney for the Bengals, too.

  • Jimmy Graham

I will be honest – Jimmy Graham is a bit washed up. I still believe he can be a mismatch for opposing defenses and he could be a nice TE2 behind Hayden Hurst. The TE with 11 touchdowns in the past two seasons combined could be a sneaky weapon for Joe Burrow in big-time showdowns.

What is the ceiling of Justin Fields in 2022?

Does Justin Fields actually have a high ceiling?

By: Jake Rajala

The Chicago Bears second-year quarterback Justin Fields is one of the very most mysterious players in 2022. Fields is coming off a porous 2021 season, where he threw more interceptions (10 ints) than touchdowns (7). Most importantly, he had a miserable 2-8 record in his rookie campaign. He was still able to make splash plays and show glimpses of his magical dual-threat ability (as shown below).

It should be noted that Fields was located on Matt Snake Nagy Island last season. It’s also fair to say that many great signal-callers and talented young faces in the league have had rough rookie or sophomore seasons. Profiles such as Peyton Manning (3-13 record in 1998) and Drew Brees (2-9 record in 2003) were deemed busts early in their career. The dual-threat Philadelphia Eagles QB Jalen Hurts nicely progressed in his sophomore season. Hurts was 1-3 as a rookie starter with 6 passing touchdowns to 4 interceptions. In the Eagles QB1’s second NFL season, he led his team to the playoffs via his arm talent (3,144 passing yds) and rushing ability (784 rushing yds).

With that enunciated, Fields will be highly motivated and gifted with new weapons at his disposal. He may not have A-Rob (412 yards in 12 games last season), but he will grow with Byron Pringle and Velus Jones Jr (outside of the third-year WR Darnell Mooney). In particular, Jones Jr. should be a rockstar target for Fields. Per NBC Sports Chicago, Jones Jr. is “locked-in” with his beloved QB. His 4.31 speed should be a valuable asset from the WR3 or WR2 spot.

I expect Fields and his shiny head coach Matt Eberflus to be able to unveil modest success on offense next season. The Khalil-Mack-less bears may not have a sexy roster, but they will have a strong game plan for their talented QB. I really can see Fields being able to run for 700+ yards and throw around 25 passing touchdowns in 2022. I expect Fields to have growing pains in 2022, but they should lean on him through the ups and downs in the Nick Foles-less QB room. CHI may struggle to have a winning record in the NFC North, but I expect honest and legitimate growth from Fields in his pivotal second NFL season.

Remaining free agent targets for the Falcons

Who is the top free agent target for the Falcons?

By: Jake Rajala

The Atlanta Falcons are one of the biggest sleepers in the NFC. The Falcons play in a division with Tom Brady and the LSU Saints, while they also abide in an NFC conference featuring countless young, dual-threat quarterbacks.

If Marcus Mariota or Desmond Riddler can be a modest dual-threat QB like the 2021 version of Jalen Hurts, the Falcons could win several plus games and keep Arthur Smith from meeting the chopping block. With that said, the NFC South team that isn’t completely rebuilding should still help their new QB and add more ammunition. Here are a few remaining free agent targets for the Falcons.

  • Cole Beasley

I’d love to see the Falcons target a shifty WR to play across from the explosive Cordarralle Patterson and the rook Drake London. Cole Beasley is unequivocally one of the best diamonds in the rough among all available free agents. He has 82 receptions in each of the past two seasons and he could be a fine security blanket for Riddler or Mariota. The former Bill would also be very helpful when Patterson is lined up at RB. The Falcons could feel happy with Kyle Pitts, Drake London, Beasley, and Patterson in their offensive unit.

  • Sheldon Richardson

The former Jets first-round pick Sheldon Richardson is a versatile maniac and he would be a superb fit for the Falcons defensive front. Richardson has seven sacks and 11 QB hits over the past two seasons combined. Richardson and Grady Jarrett would be an amazing tandem in the NFC South.

  • Nick Foles

I believe the Falcons QB room is exciting, unique, and Riddler could truly have a high ceiling. Nonetheless, it may be wise to bring in another veteran QB. Nick Foles was recently released and he could be a nice, value signing. Mariota and Riddler aren’t a sure-fire quality starting QB and Mariota has had many injuries in the past. It may be wise for ATL to sign the Super Bowl LII champion before another team signs the Philly hero.

Why the Dolphins should really target Drew Brees

Mike McDaniel should target Brees in 2022

By: Jake Rajala

The mythical quarterback Drew Brees retired in the 2021 off-season, but the former Saints legend recently stated that he may play football in 2022. There are undoubtedly lots of NFL folks that believe Brees’s thought of throwing the pigskin next season is a pipe dream. Nonetheless, Brees may be able to override his 43-year-old weaknesses with his on-field awareness and unmatchable amount of passion.

I believe that Brees could un-retire and chase a Super Bowl ring if he can join an elite roster with talented offensive pieces. I honestly believe that the loaded Saints team would rather ride with the big-arm, wise Jameis Winston than the Big Easy hero in Brees. Winston was 5-2 without his current WR trio (Michael Thomas, Jarvis Landry, and Chris Olave) last season and Winston can really utilize the ability of Chris Olave (and Deonte Harris) deep down the field.

If the Saints don’t bite on the HOF-caliber QB, I would love the shiny and utterly talented Dolphins roster to acquire Brees for his last ride in 2022. The Phins have been rumored to be interested in Tom Brady and It would make sense for Mike McDaniel to be interested in a different greek god QB in Brees. The Dolphins have Brees’s former LT Terron Armstead and new weaponry: Tyreek Hill, Chase Edmonds, and Sony Michel.

It may seem obvious that Brees doesn’t have the sexiest arm strength, but he could still be the better version of Tua Tagovailoa. Tua is well-known for not possessing mean arm strength and he hasn’t been an impressive game manager (10 interceptions last season).

The Saints Super Bowl XLIV champion could unveil a training camp performance that’s similar to his 2020 season (excluding his playoff fiasco), or he could prove to be a washed-up QB in September. If Brees’s fountain of youth is completely missing, he could still be an excellent mentor for Tagovailoa. The former Alabama QB was often compared to Brees in the draft process and he could really sharpen his physical and mental abilities by being in the same QB room as Brees. Sean McVay pulled a few tricks out of his sleeve in 2021 and it may be time for the young, Dolphins HC to keep his foot on the pedal and ink Brees in the near future.

What is the ceiling for the Panthers in 2022?

Can the Panthers have a winning record in 2022?

By: Jake Rajala

The Carolina Panthers might have failed in the bachelor QB room this off-season, but they will still anticipate modest talent from Sam Darnold or their rookie QB Matt Corral. The 2022 QB1 will witness a resurrection from Christian McCaffrey, a superb WR (D.J. Moore, Robby Anderson) duo at his disposal, and an OL unit that should improve after the arrival of Austin Corbett and Bradley Bozeman.

I expect the Panthers young, hungry defense to continue to be another dangerous defense in the NFC South. The CAR defense lost Haason Reddick (11 sacks in 2021), but they will expect Yetur Gross-Matos to ascend opposite Brian Burns (Pro Bowler last season).

With that enunciated, the ultimate question is: what is the ceiling of the 2022 Panthers team? The Panthers won 5 games last season and it’s clear that it won’t be easy for the Panthers to be a playoff squad in a division with the loaded Tampa Bay Buccaneers and shiny New Orleans Saints.

Outside of the NFC South, the Panthers will face more brutal opponents. In fact, the Panthers will have the 12th most difficult schedule in 2022. The Panthers will face the following fierce opponents (excluding TB and NO): Los Angeles, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Arizona, Baltimore, and Denver. The Panthers will also face scrappy teams like Pittsburgh and San Francisco.

It will definitely be a challenge for the CMAC-featured Panthers to be a surprise NFC team with their upcoming schedule. I believe the Panthers will have a hard time going blow for blow with the Saints and Buccaneers in those four show-downs. With McCaffrey, the Panthers could hope to play spoilers against talented teams with less well-rounded defenses, such as Arizona, Baltimore, and even the Steelers. I feel that the Panthers ceiling is an 8-9 record, which is the same record as the 2021 Browns and 2021 Ravens. It won’t be easy for the Panthers to be a wild-card team next season, but they could be “competitive and see exciting growth from their rook QB or the highly motivated Darnold”.

Charles Woodson: tribute and reflection

Charles Woodson was a mythical safety

By: Jake Rajala

Charles Woodson is still the only primary defensive football player to win the Heisman trophy after he won the prestigious award in 1997. The former Michigan Wolverine and Peyton Manning’s archnemesis had 16 interceptions in three seasons as a Wolverine. He even dabbled at the WR and KR/PR position, as he notched 1 PR touchdown and 1 receiving touchdown in his senior season.

Woodson was drafted by the Oakland Raiders fourth overall in the 1997 NFL Draft and he didn’t dissapoint in his rookie season. He ousted five interceptions (including a pick-six) and two forced fumbles, which led him to win Defensive Rookie of The Year and crack a Pro Bowl spot. The Ball-Hawk would elevate his ability in his sophmore season, as he made the All-Pro team in 1999.

Woodson left the Black Hole and joined the mighty Green Bay Packers in the 2006 off-season. Woodson enjoyed more success in his Packers journey than his time in the west coast. He made two All-Pro teams (2009, 2011) and helped the Packers win the Super Bowl in the 2010-2011 season. Woodson really had a magical 2009 season, as he hauled in a career-high 9 interceptions (a career-high three pick-sixes), four forced fumbles, and a personal best 9 tackles for loss. His uncomparable efforts in his 2009 outing resulted in his winning Defensive Player of The Year.

Woodson reunited with his beloved Raiders squad in the 2013 off-season and he aspired to finish his career on a high note. His team wasn’t potent in 2015 (7-9 record), but the ageless warrior was still playing on a high level (5 interceptions/Pro Bowl honors). The defensive version of Tom Brady retired in 2015 as a Raider.

The former Wolverine, Raider, and Packer was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2021. Woodson finished his football story as the second player ever to win a Heisman trophy, AP Rookie of The Year, AP Player of The Year, and a Super Bowl. Currently, he’s an NFL Fox analyst and he’s going to cotinue to make bold takes.

He is also married to April Woodson and he has two sons: Charles Jr. and Chase.

What does Jarvis Landry bring to the Saints?

Jarvis Landry returns to NOLA

By: Jake Rajala

The New Orleans royalty Jarvis Landry agrees to a one-year contract with the New Orleans Saints today. The 29-year-old wide receiver will join fellow Saints weapons Michael Thomas, Chris Olave, and Alvin Kamara. It’s clear that Jameis Winston is licking his chops with the new firepower in his offense.

Deshaun Watson might have picked the Cleveland Browns over the Saints, but Landry’s heart clearly chose to make magic happen in the Caesars Superdome next season. The former Brown made each Pro Bowl from 2015 to 2019. The former LSU WR ran a slow 4.77 40-yard dash at his NFL combine, but he didn’t fail to become a star WR in the NFL.

Landry has been a pillar of consistency in his career, but he did his worst season of productivity in 2021. He missed a career-high five games last season, while his QB Baker Mayfield fell off a cliff. So, it’s reasonable that Landry wasn’t a stud in a Browns offense that also witnessed OBJ perform at a mediocre level.

Landry is still a very good football player and I expect him to be in a superb situation with the Saints long-time OC Pete Carmichael and big-arm QB in Winston. Landry has often been the NFL’s top slot WR and he can shine in the slot for NO, while Thomas and Olave can be stars from out-wide. It will be quite difficult for opponents to prepare for the speed of Olave while giving Thomas and Landry tough matchup-ups.

The Saints ranked 32nd in passing last season and I would be shocked if they weren’t a Top 10 passing offense next season. They will likely sling the rock without Alvin Kamara in his six-game absence and they are really able to throw the ball in the short game and deep down the field. I believe the 2021 Bengals passing offense is a potential realistic comparison for the 2022 Saints passing offense. The Bengals had three WRs with 800+ receiving yards, while Joe Burrow was fifth in passing yards and eighth in passing touchdowns. It can be hard to believe mystic growth, but Winston’s 2021 production combined with his new weapons could lead him to become a stat (hopefully, not a turnover) machine in 2022.

3 pass rusher free agent targets for the Seattle Seahawks

Who is the best pass rusher target for the Seahawks?

By: Jake Rajala

The Seattle Seahawks cut ties with the pass rusher, Carlos Dunlap, this off-season and it’s clear they could benefit from the arrival of a QB hunter. I wouldn’t be shocked if John Schneider used his remaining resources (the 14th most cap space in NFL) to ink a pass rusher in this second week of May. With that said, I’m going to untwine five pass rushers that would be a great fit for the DE-needy SEA squad.

  • Carlos Dunlap

Carlos Dunlap is still a phenomenal football player and he proved that last season with 8.5 sacks and 14 QB hits. Furthermore, Dunlap has familiarity with the Seahawks defense and that is important. I believe that many Seattle fans would rather witness Dunlap return than Jadeveon Clowney.

The idea of Dunlap returning to the Seahawks is a real possibility. According to Sports Illustrated, Dunlap was stated to potentially return to the Seahawks in late March. If he doesn’t get an overly attractive deal soon, it would make sense for him to reunite with the Seahawks in 2022.

  • Ryan Kerrigan

I would rather see the Seahawks give Ryan Kerrigan an opportunity than pay a plethora of money to bring in Melvin Ingram. Kerrigan has 95.5 career sacks and he’s been a pillar of consistency in every season except 2021. In 2021, he failed to record 5.5+ sacks for the first time in his career. He could really be an affordable diamond in the rough for the Seahawks defense right now.

  • Everson Griffen

The Vikings legend Everson Griffen might be the poor man’s version of Dunlap. Griffen (34) is nearly the same age as Dunlap (33) and a bit less productive over the past few seasons than Dunlap. Griffen may want to play with a Super Bowl contender, but the Seahawks could be aggressive for his services. The four-time Pro Bowl DE could be a wrecking ball for the Seahawks if they can’t strike a deal with their beloved Dunlap.

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