Anticipation for the 2022 season is building all around the NFL.
Teams are getting ready for the preseason and fans are looking at the additions made over the course of free agency and thinking about what the coming season might bring. New York Giants fans are more hopeful than they’ve been in a while after the team made a clean sweep of the coaching staff and front office. It also helps that (for once) the Giants are projected to have the easiest schedule in the NFL in the coming year.
Of course, nothing is given in the NFL and “easiest” shouldn’t be confused with “easy”. The Giants still face a number of tough matchups this year.
NFL.com’s Kevin Patra put together a list of the 10 best new pairings of veteran quarterbacks and wide receivers in the NFL. Three of those top combos — the Indianapolis Colts, Philadelphia Eagles, and Washington Commanders — are on the Giants’ schedule this year. Complicating matters is that they make up five of the Giants’ last six games.
There are concerns regarding the Giants’ secondary after the team released James Bradberry and Logan Ryan, and the Giants’ secondary could have its work cut out for it down the stretch. The good news is if the Giants pass the test, it bodes well for 2023 and beyond.
Let’s see what Patra has to say about those new quarterback - wide receiver pairings, and why they could be dangerous.
3. Indianapolis Colts - Matt Ryan and Michael Pittman Jr.
Now he pairs up with Michael Pittman Jr., one of the burgeoning young receivers in the NFL. In his breakout sophomore season, Pittman proved he could win one-on-one matchups and beat double teams. Despite the Colts’ pass-game struggles, Pittman generated 1,082 yards on 88 catches with six TDs. No other Colts pass catcher even hit the 400-yard mark. It was Pittman or bust.
While it was certainly time for Atlanta to move on from Matt Ryan and begin their rebuild in earnest, Ryan can still play. The 37-year old quarterback might not be the Franchise player he was even five years ago, but he’s certainly a quarterback you can win with. He’s quick through his progressions, still accurate, and has seen just about everything NFL defenses have to offer. It’s also worth noting that the Colts drafted Alec Pierce — a big, fast, and physical big-play threat — in the second round to play opposite of Pittman.
7. Philadelphia Eagles - Jalen Hurts and A.J. Brown
Brown has generated 1,000-plus receiving yards in two of his three NFL seasons. Only injuries slowed him from reaching that plateau last season. The Eagles have not had a WR with 1,000-plus receiving yards in a season since Jeremy Maclin in 2014 (1,318 yards). The big-bodied Brown, acquired via draft day trade with the Titans, brings needed playmaking ability to pair with DeVonta Smith. Since 2019, Brown has averaged 16.2 yards per catch (fifth in the NFL) and 24 TDs (tied for eighth among WRs).
Brown’s presence will make life easier for Hurts, who enters a pivotal season attempting to prove he’s the long-term solution under center. Hurts displayed a dual-threat ability in 2021, his first season as a full-time starter, but he missed too many throws, generating a passer rating of 87.2. Brown’s ability to win in tight spaces and generate yards after the catch adds a dimension to the offense that was missing last season. According to Pro Football Focus, Brown has averaged 6.0 yards after the catch since 2019 — second among WRs, behind only Deebo Samuel (minimum of 150 receptions). Getting those extra yards will make the entire operation run smoother and make Hurts more dangerous when he decides to use his legs.
As I said on draft night, I hate it when the Eagles do smart things, and bringing in A.J. Brown certainly seems like a smart move.
Giants fans are quick to dismiss Hurts as a quarterback, but he made some impressive strides over the course of his first full season as a starter. Reuniting Hurts with DeVonta Smith was another smart move, and their chemistry certainly seemed to help Hurts. Their decision to lean on their running game obviously helped as well. Their ability to effectively run a zone-read offense could make the addition of Brown even more dangerous. Do defenses play two-deep shells to stop Brown and Smith? Or do they play with heavy boxes to slow down the running game?
10. Washington Commanders - Carson Wentz and Terry McLaurin
This tandem makes the list on the strength of the hot start to Terry McLaurin’s career.
The 26-year-old has generated 3,090 yards on 222 catches — the most receptions through three seasons in Washington franchise history — with 16 TDs. Since 2019, McLaurin has registered nine games with at least 100 receiving yards and one receiving TD (fourth-most in the NFL), and he’s earned 1,000-plus yards in each of the past two years, including 1,053 yards on 77 catches with five TDs in 2021. McLaurin was the Washington passing offense last season, as no other player hit the 400-yard receiving mark.
Still, when protected, Wentz has enough talent to get the ball to a playmaker like McLaurin. If McLaurin can gobble up stats with a patchwork of quarterbacks including Taylor Heinicke, a diminished Alex Smith and Colt McCoy, he can undoubtedly pull Wentz along.
Even with rookie Jahan Dotson in line for a significant role, I still expect McLaurin to dominate the pigskin. But, first, the club needs to figure out his contract situation.
The strength of this connection could depend entirely on Wentz’s health. He has struggled with injuries throughout his career and wilted badly in the final third of 2021. But if he’s comfortable, confident, and healthy, he still has the ability to be dangerous. Giants fans are all-too aware of what McLaurin can do on the field, Washington will be getting Curtis Samuel back from injury, and Jahan Dotson is a very good receiving prospect.
This article only talked about wide receivers, but we can’t ignore the presence of RBs Antonio Gibson and J.D. McKissic, both of whom are dangerous pass catchers in their own right.
The Giants don’t play Washington until December, but if Wentz stays healthy there’s enough talent around him for their offense to be dangerous.
The Wild Card
Jacksonville Jaguars - Trevor Lawrence and Christian Kirk
Jacksonville isn’t on Patra’s list, but I wanted to call attention to them anyway.
The Jags might be flying below the radar, but they could surprise people this year. They certainly haven’t done anything recently to earn a spot on NFL.com’s list, and Trevor Lawrence still has to prove that he’s worth the first-overall pick. However, it’s tough to write him off after a bad rookie year. After all, he was just so good in college and was much more than just a One Year Wonder. Also, we know from 2017 what a bad head coaching situation can do to even a veteran locker room, let alone one lead by a rookie. The presence of Doug Pederson should be a moderating and stabilizing influence for Lawrence.
Lawrence is also getting an infusion of talent around him this year as well. Not only did Jacksonville go out and break the bank to add Christian Kirk, Zay Jones, and Marvin Jones Jr, but they’ll also be getting Travis Etienne back from injury. Like Hurts and DeVonta Smith, Lawrence and Etienne know each other very well from their time together at Clemson. While Etienne is a running back and not a receiver, he’s still a very good pass catcher and a consistent threat with the ball in his hands.
The Giants can’t afford to take them lightly.