NFL trends that will continue into the 2023 season: Invest heavily in offensive line, be aggressive and more

Addiction to recent information is a hell of a drug. Both the conference title games and the Super Bowl always shape narratives about how to build a team, what style of offense and defense to incorporate, what the rest of the league should prioritize during the team-building process, etc. .n. This happens every year. After the Eagles’ first Super Bowl victory, the use of the “Run-Pass Option” made RPO popular overnight. Mahomes’ Super Bowl victory the following year pushed the new model for the prototypical franchise quarterback.

Last year I highlighted the league’s growing tendency to do it on fourth down, pass on first down and prioritize YAC. These trends aren’t going anywhere. To touch on them briefly here — teams are still noticeably more aggressive on fourth down than they were even five to 10 years ago. This is good.

The Bengals and Chiefs finished third and fourth, respectively, in leading tackles during the regular season. Eight of the 14 playoff teams were in the top 10 in first-down passing frequency and first-down passing percentage in one-score game scenarios. If the NFL is a copycat league, other teams need to imitate what the best teams do, and one of those things is to pass it more often than to run it on first down, even if the game is close.

And YAC is here to stay for a while. The Chiefs finished with the most YAC in the regular season. The 49ers had the best average YAC per reception. The Chiefs were second in that category, while the Eagles were fifth and the Bengals were 11th, despite Ja’Marr Chase missing four contests.

Sometimes these trends are drawn directly from the regular season. But they are mostly attracted to the playoffs.

Let’s identify these trends ahead of Super Bowl LVII.

Invest heavily in the offensive line

The 49ers made the Super Bowl after the 2019 season, eventually losing to Mahomes and the Chiefs. Less than two months later, they traded a fifth and future third baseman for future Hall of Fame first baseman Trent Williams. Big swing.

Despite allowing burgeoning guard Laken Tomlinson to hit in free agency after the 2021 season, they drafted Aaron Banks in the second round in 2021 and spent a fourth-round pick on guard Spencer Burford last April, two players who were the primary starters in guard in the 2022 season.

After Burrow led the NFL in sacks (51) in 2022,1 the Bengals spent a combined $22 million in collective average annual salary on three blockers in the 2022 offseason — La’el Collins, Ted Karras and Alex Capa. They did so despite drafting four offensive linemen since taking Burrow No. 1 overall in 2020 and drafting another blocker in fourth-round pick Cordell Volson last April.

Unsurprisingly, Burrow’s sacks (51 to 41) and sack rate (8.9% to 6.3%) both decreased from 2021 to 2022. His interception rate also decreased from 2.7% to 2.0%.

After an upheaval in their Super Bowl loss to the Buccaneers — in a game without several starting offensive linemen — Cincinnati already knows the pitfalls of this development: The Chiefs weren’t sitting idly by. GM Brett Veitch signed top free agent Joe Tunney to a five-year, $80 million contract with nearly $32 million in full guarantees and traded several picks to land Orlando Brown from the AFC rival Ravens, but the blocking rebuild wasn’t complete.

In the draft, Veach selected longtime Oklahoma center Creed Humphrey in the second round and took flyer guard Trey Smith in the sixth round, a big and talented SEC blocker who dealt with blood clots in college.

Now, Kansas City probably has the best blocking unit in the AFC.

The Eagles and GM Howie Roseman have long prioritized the trenches and have boasted one of the most devastating offensive lines in the league for some time. It’s a mostly veteran loaded group led by center Jason Kelce and right tackle Lane Johnson. But Roseman’s tenacity in building the blocking block paid big dividends again.

After Jordan Mailata was a seventh-round pick in the 2018 draft, Roseman drafted Andre Dillard in Round 1 in 2019. Dillard hasn’t turned into the woman many thought she would be in the NFL. Maila blossomed into a huge road grader. The bullpen up front didn’t stop Roseman from selecting do-it-all blocker Landon Dickerson in the 2nd round of the 2021 draft — who is now the starting left guard — and even grabbing extremely talented center Cam Juergens in the second round of the Draft. 2022 will be Kelce’s eventual replacement.

The Eagles have the best offensive line in football and mostly handled the top-ranked 49ers defense in the NFC title game.

During the regular season, only 12 qualified quarterbacks managed a passer rating above 75 while under pressure. When kept clean, a whopping 39 passers had a quarterback rating above 75.

When in doubt, take quarterback flyers

In the 2020 draft, at pick No. 53 after five quarterbacks were selected, the Eagles selected Jalen Hurts after a highly productive season at Oklahoma that followed a standout career at Alabama. That pick came less than four months after the Eagles won a division title and star quarterback Carson Wentz was knocked out after a playoff loss with a concussion. Prior to this season, Wentz received a substantial four-year, $128 million extension with the Eagles that included $100 million guaranteed.

Wentz threw for over 4,000 yards this season with 27 touchdowns to just seven interceptions.

The Eagles could have gone in many other directions with this pick. But they understood the potential value-add of picking a quarterback there and went for it. Wentz broke down in 2020 and was subsequently traded. Hurts then quarterbacked a seven-seeded Philadelphia team that lost in the first round of the 2021 playoffs and will now start in the Super Bowl.

The 49ers made it to the Super Bowl and NFC title game with Jimmy Garoppolo, then decided to trade a number of early picks to move up the draft board to select Trey Lance. Of course, last April they used the last pick in the draft on none other than Brock Purdy.

Be aggressive… be, be aggressive

From the most common sideline cheer at high school games in America to an application in the NFL. It’s somewhat a combination of the above two points, but … be aggressive. And I offer no more blitzes. I’m talking about roster building aggression. This could really be a continuation of what the Rams did prior to their Super Bowl winning season a year ago.

Consider the illustration of this idea that Roseman demonstrated last offseason. He traded a first-round pick for AJ Brown during Day 1 of the draft. If that wasn’t enough — and it would normally be considered enough — he picked up James Bradbury nine days after he was released by the Giants in May. Then, to really establish his aggressive style – Roseman traded the fifth and sixth picks in the 2024 draft for pesky safety/slot corner Chauncey Gardner-Johnson and the seventh pick in 2025 in August.

Let’s not forget — and you’ll hear plenty of reminders over the next two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl — Chiefs GM Brett Veitch TRAVELED TYREEK HILL in the offseason, a notion that previously seemed implausible, a complete non-starter.

This hated the bosses:

  • Part of the compensation package to be traded for selected CB Trent McDuffie
  • WR Skyy Moore
  • Avoiding a contract for Hill with $30 million average per year and $52.5 million in full guarantees
  • 2024 fourth-round pick
  • 2024 sixth-round pick

Kansas City then had the money to sign Justin Reid, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Marquez Valdez-Scantling and Carlos Dunlap in July. It would also give the Chiefs flexibility to sign their own this offseason.

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