As we head into the summer, we’re also entering an unofficial staple of the NFL calendar:
With rosters largely formed and the schedule released, this is the period when football fans really start shifting attention to the coming campaign. Inherently, this is the time when bandwagons form — and quickly fill up!
With that in mind, Adam Schein spotlights emerging bandwagons — of the player, coach and team variety — that you should hop on in 2023. It’s a public service, Schein Nine style!
- NFC South projected starters for 2023 NFL season: Falcons go old-school; Bryce Young in a good spot
- AFC East projected starters for 2023 NFL season: Bills, Dolphins, Jets all contenders in loaded division
- NFC North projected starters for 2023 NFL season: Lions look like division's best; Packers a wild team
- NFL's most underappreciated players: Tee Higgins, D.J. Reed among AFC picks
- NFL's most underappreciated players: Kirk Cousins, Osa Odighizuwa among NFC picks
- NFL's top 10 most complete teams for 2023 season
I think this is the NFL’s sleeper squad in 2023. While I named the rival Saints as my Cinderella team after the signing of Derek Carr in March, I believe both NFC South teams can win 10-plus games this year.
First of all, I’m a big fan of Arthur Smith. Despite going 7-10 in each of his first two seasons in the big chair, Smith is a fabulous coach. The third year will indeed be the charm, given the growth and upgrading of the roster. Second-year quarterback Desmond Ridder has a true chance to be solid under Smith’s watchful eye — especially with the NFL experience gained since his third-round selection in the 2022 draft.
“This time last year, my head was spinning,” Ridder said on Wednesday. “Obviously having a year under my belt and a whole offseason, it’s become a lot more comfortable. Now we’re just trying to work the intricate details of it, just working the ins and outs, and knowing the exact whys of why everything is going on.”
One thing that certainly helps: The addition of No. 8 overall pick Bijan Robinson. That’s a monster all-purpose weapon joining Ridder in the backfield — and joining a playmaking group that already features Drake London, Cordarrelle Patterson and Kyle Pitts. With a stout group on the offensive line, Smith’s Falcons should create some fireworks in 2023. Meanwhile, the defense — Atlanta’s bugaboo for years — got a boost on every level in free agency. Calais Campbell, David Onyemata and Bud Dupree significantly upgrade the front, and the Falcons also added an emerging linebacker (Kaden Elliss) and one of the game’s best safeties (Jessie Bates).
In an NFC South that’s in flux, the Falcons are poised to rise up.
Last year, Pickett looked like a rookie, mixing moments of brilliance with stretches where the game looked too fast. Normal Year 1 stuff. But Year 2 is going to be the start of something big.
Entrenched as the starter and comfortable in Matt Canada’s offense, Pickett is going to show off his smarts, athleticism, accuracy and ability to make plays when it matters most. He already showed special chemistry with fellow 2022 draftee George Pickens last season; in 2023, the Pickett-Pickens connection goes next level. And it definitely doesn’t hurt that Pittsburgh remade Pickett’s entire blind side up front, snagging LG Isaac Seumalo with a lucrative deal in free agency and LT Broderick Jones with the No. 14 overall pick in the draft.
Maybe it’s time for Ben Roethlisberger to start worrying about his legacy getting lost again … Kidding, obviously. The Hall of Fame awaits Ben — but I can’t wait to see what’s in store for Ken.
In 2022, he was the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year. In 2023, I won’t be surprised if he enters the All-Pro conversation.
Yep, I’m that bullish. Why? Well, the guy just racked up 83 grabs for 1,103 yards and four touchdowns with a rotating cast of underwhelming quarterbacks. Now he’s catching passes from a four-time MVP.
Talking to Aaron Rodgers in a wide-ranging interview on my SiriusXM Radio show, “Schein on Sports,” the new Jets quarterback raved about Wilson’s ability. But he also lauded the second-year pro’s character and football IQ. Rodgers compared those latter elements of Wilson’s game to those of four of his favorite receivers: Davante Adams, Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Randall Cobb.
Take note, fantasy fiends: Wilson’s gonna put up numbers.
At the beginning of this year, Johnson looked like a hot commodity as a head-coaching candidate. But then the brilliant young mind delighted the entire city of Detroit by pulling his name from consideration.
“It’s really simple for me,” Johnson told Lions beat writer Tim Twentyman in February. “It starts with this place and these people. Been here four years now, and I believe in (principal owner) Sheila (Ford Hamp) and what she’s doing. (Team president) Rod Wood. Dan (Campbell), Brad (Holmes). It starts at the top and trickles down.
“This is as encouraged [as I’ve been] in my four years with the direction of the Lions and where we’re headed.”
There’s something special going on in Detroit, for sure, and Johnson is a huge part of it. In his very first year as offensive coordinator, Johnson had the Lions ranked in the top five in both scoring offense and total offense — something they’ve only accomplished one other time since Barry Sanders retired last millennium. What kind of magic can Johnson cook up in Year 2? I can’t wait to see, especially after the draft additions of two exciting playmakers: RB Jahmyr Gibbs and TE Sam LaPorta.
The only concern: If Detroit’s offense produces like I think it can in 2023, Johnson will be the head coach somewhere else in 2024. A good problem to have, I suppose.
I really think the world of Ryans. That’s well-documented. From his playing days as a Pro Bowl linebacker to his coaching days as defensive coordinator of San Francisco’s top-ranked unit, Ryans is impressive at every turn. Thus, I have no worries about him adjusting to life as a head man. He’s brilliant. He’s a great leader of men. His team will be buttoned up and fundamentally sound.
All that said, this is far from a complete roster. Houston is absolutely going to suffer some growing pains with rookie C.J. Stroud under center. But I also think these Titans are going to catch some opponents by surprise, winning games they aren’t supposed to. In DeMeco I trust.
Ridley is back in the NFL after a yearlong suspension for violating the league’s gambling policy. And with a new team in Jacksonville and new lease on his football life, Ridley has to be quite motivated to get back to where he left off in his last full season of action.
You have to jog the mental rolodex, but Ridley earned second-team All-Pro honors in 2020, catching 90 balls for 1,374 yards and nine touchdowns. He totaled 26 touchdowns in his first three NFL seasons. But then he suffered mental health issues in 2021 and was banned in ’22. I’m here for a 2023 revival.
Trevor Lawrence is going to love this precise route runner. And with Ridley filling the WR1 spot alongside receivers Christian Kirk and Zay Jones, tight end Evan Engram and running back Travis Etienne, the Jaguars have explosive potential in 2023.
I think this is going to be another great “change of scenery” story. Waller fits perfectly into Brian Daboll’s offense. It’s a godsend for Daniel Jones, who’ll have heightened expectations as a freshly minted $40 million quarterback. This is exactly what Mr. Dimes needed: a true pass-catching weapon at tight end.
Now, Waller needs to avoid injury in New York, as health issues cost him 14 games over the past two seasons in Las Vegas. But Daboll and the Giants are cognizant of this, of course, and I trust them to come up with a good plan of attack to keep their new weapon in tip-top shape. I believe Waller, who turns 31 in September, still has a ton of gas left in the tank.
Why do I feel like Akers makes this list every offseason? Oh, because he does.
Last season was a wild ride. After missing most of the 2021 campaign with an Achilles injury, Akers got off to a slow start in 2022. Then he was inactive for Week 6 due to what the Rams described as a personal issue. Shortly thereafter, Los Angeles coach Sean McVay openly admitted the running back was on the trade block: “There’s probably a move that will be made in regards to him being with another team.” The writing was on the wall, seemingly in permanent ink: Akers had taken his last snap with the Rams.
But then the trade deadline came and went, with Akers remaining in L.A. NFL Network Insider Tom Pelissero reported at the time that the Rams had turned down multiple offers. Akers returned to practice, McVay started giving him the ball again on game day, and the running back was dynamic down the stretch. He racked up 611 total yards and six touchdowns in the final six weeks, eclipsing the 100-yard rushing mark in three straight outings to close the season.
Akers has been through it all in his first three NFL seasons, but now he’s healthy and only turning 24 years old this summer. The talent is there. I still believe in this cat.
What a savvy move by GM Andrew Berry, swapping some late-round picks with the Vikings in order to acquire a truly accomplished edge rusher. I’m so excited to see Smith lining up on the opposite side of game-wrecker extraordinaire Myles Garrett. Smith, who turns 31 in September, has reached double-digit sacks — and the Pro Bowl — in each of his last three healthy seasons. And he’s fired up to be in Cleveland, particularly when it comes to putting his hand in the dirt in the Browns’ defensive scheme.
“When I first started playing football, I was in a 4-3 system and I was always taught to just go — go get the quarterback, affect them,” Smith said following practice Wednesday, per the Associated Press. “In this situation, being here now, I get the opportunity to do that, so I just can’t wait.”
Neither can I. Here come another 10-plus sacks.
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