We’re six weeks into the 2022 NFL season, and things have gone exactly as we expected them to go: Geno Smith is outplaying Russell Wilson, the New York Jets are one of the better looking teams in a competitive AFC and the LA Rams are sputtering fresh off of a championship run.
Okay, maybe not exactly as we expected.
There can be a variety of reasons as to why someone’s season may not go quite how they (or fans, fantasy owners or likewise invested parties) expect. New coaching staffs, excess depth at a position or sideline arguments with your position coach - looking at you, Robbie Anderson - can result in players potentially benefiting from a fresh start somewhere else. Below are five players who I believe could use a change of scenery as well as a possible destination for each.
1. George Kittle (TE, San Francisco 49ers)
Kittle is a top tight end in the league as far as talent is concerned. 2022 has seen a lack of production for the 29-year-old Iowa product, however. While his usage rate is still high (routes-run percentage at 86.7% this season) his target rate is only at 15.4%. Playing in a run heavy scheme that also features Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk, Kittle hasn't been the focal point you'd expect from a player of his caliber. There are a number of tight ends that can fulfill the role Shanahan has Kittle in, yet there are a number of teams who could greatly benefit from a talent like Kittle. The 49ers might as well get a solid return for him if they don't plan on actually using him.
Ideal Trade Partner: Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers are a team with a commitment to the running game, which would make use of Kittle's excellent run blocking skill. Additionally, they like to push the vertical passing game and make use of quarterback Justin Herbert's big arm. Offseason addition Gerald Everett has played decently, earning a 64.0 grade from Pro Football Focus, which is good for 25th in the NFL, but he's nowhere near the talent of Kittle. Adding the three-time Pro Bowler could be just what the Chargers need to put their offense over the edge.
2. DJ Moore (WR, Carolina Panthers)
Many expected a big season from the fifth-year wide receiver, but Carolina's offense this season has been, in a rather generous word, lackluster. Pro Football Focus grades the Panthers offense at a 61.5, which is good for dead last in the league. Carolina has a few options at quarterback between Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold and PJ Walker, and frankly none of them are very promising. It's a shame, too, since their defense actually ranks just outside of the top ten. With a coaching overhaul on the horizon, a fire sale and full rebuild makes a lot of sense for the Panthers. It also makes sense for Moore, a talented wide receiver who, so far this season, is doing a lot of cardio and not much else. On pace for just 56 catches, 578 yards and 3 touchdowns, this is set to be Moore's worst season since his rookie year when he caught passes from a declined Cam Newton (poor QB play has been a constant theme through Moore's career, but that's a topic for a different post). The underused receiver is tied for 38th in the league in targets, and playing for a better offense with a quarterback who can actually, I don't know, throw a football could see Moore become a high level target like his talent level indicates.
Ideal Trade Partner: Green Bay Packers
Do you miss Davante yet, Aaron? Pro Football Focus still grades the Green Bay passing attack within the top 10, courtesy of Rodgers still being an elite passer. However, the receiving corps that consists of Allen Lazard, struggling rookie Romeo Doubs and the aging Randall Cobb has left #12 short on pass catchers he can rely on. Adding Moore would give Rodgers the top option he's lacking while relegating Lazard and Doubs to much more fitting roles as the #2 and slot receivers, respectively. With the Packers being an otherwise strong team once again, sending a package to Carolina to give Rodgers the receiver he needs is more than worth the capital sent out.
3. Cam Akers (RB, Los Angeles Rams)
This one isn't quite as bold of a prediction, as the Rams are already pursuing a trade partner at the time of writing and he very well may have been traded by the time you're reading this. Regardless, the former second rounder is in need of a fresh start. Despite bouncing back from a torn Achilles in 2021, Akers has struggled to find his footing with the Rams. Deficiencies in receiving and pass protection make for a poor fit with this Rams team that mostly looks to pass the ball. Finding a team that's able to make better use of him as a runner while expecting less out of him in the passing game could lead to more success for the young back while giving some team a runner who can grind out yards between the tackles.
Ideal Trade Partner: Miami Dolphins
"Wait, didn't you JUST say Akers is a bad fit for the Rams because they pass too much? And don't the Dolphins have the fourth highest pass-to-run ratio in the entire NFL?" Yes, dear reader, the Dolphins may seem more like a lateral move than an improvement for Akers as far as scheme is concerned. However, I'd argue Miami passes the ball as much as they do BECAUSE they don't have a better running back. Chase Edmonds has been a big disappointment (Pro Football Focus grades him as the 61st running back) and Raheem Mostert fits more as a change of pace back. We know from his time in San Francisco that head coach Mike McDaniel likes to run the ball, and adding Akers gives the Dolphins a guy who much more closely fits the bill of a lead back who can handle the bulk of the between-the-tackles carries while also preserving Mostert, who has a bit of an injury history. An improved run game will also open up the passing game even more for an improving Tua Tagovailoa and a dangerously speedy receiving group which includes Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle.
4. Elijah Moore (WR, New York Jets)
Coming off of a strong 2021, Moore has been surprisingly uninvolved thus far in 2022. The Jets selected Garrett Wilson in the first round, which indicated a reduction in targets for the 2021 second rounder. However, I doubt anyone expected the potential breakout receiver to see just 4.5 targets per game through the first six weeks of the season. With Wilson and Corey Davis playing well, Tyler Conklin emerging as a receiver and the young dynamic duo of Breece Hall and Michael Carter demanding touches on the ground, the Jets - and I never thought I'd say this - simply have too many mouths to feed on offense. A recent tweet from Moore indicated he's unhappy with his current role, and it's hard to blame him. Moving the receiver would be advantageous for both parties.
Ideal Trade Partner: New York Giants
An ideal fit for Moore could be just a short drive away. The Giants are incredibly thin at receiver, and even in a run first scheme there are plenty of targets to give to the talented receiver. The Giants also utilize a lot of medium-to-short routes where RAC is important, and that's where Moore really shines. He may not be the most polished boundary receiver in the league, but he's skilled at getting open and making plays once the ball is in his hand, and that kind of player is exactly what the Giants need to help boost their passing game. Instead of trying to get Daniel Jones to push the ball downfield, they could use Moore and rookie Wan'Dale Robinson in conjunction with a strong running game to create an offense that's hard to stop. After opening up to a somewhat surprising 5-1 start, an investment for a player like Moore could be well worth it.
5. Bailey Zappe (QB, New England)
When Mac Jones went down with what appeared to be a brutal ankle injury that turned out to be a routine sprain, the fourth rounder out of Western Kentucky stepped in and has played impressively. Posting 596 yards and four touchdowns to one interception while completing 72% of passes over the course of two and a half games and earning a 72.7 grade from Pro Football Focus (which is good for 13th in the NFL if you were curious), Zappe has played clean and quality football. His only real mistake on the field thus far was trying to hit a wide open Nelson Agholor in the hands. Rookie mistake, I know. Now am I saying New England should stick with Mac Jones over Bailey Zappe? No. Do I think they will? Yes. Jones was the 15th overall pick just one season ago, and it's hard to imagine the Patriots are willing to move on from someone who they've invested so much into for a fourth round pick. Instead of dealing with a brewing quarterback controversy as your backup outplays your starter while he rests a fairly minor injury he had to be carried off the field for, just trade away the rookie and be done with it.
Ideal Trade Partner: Indianapolis Colts
The Colts are in a bad way when it comes to the quarterback position. With Matt Ryan playing occasionally good but mostly bad football, the Colts aren't the contenders many expected them to be coming into this season. What's worse is that they have virtually no plan for the future at the position (no, Texas fans, Sam Ehlinger does not count as a plan for the future). Indianapolis is set to masterfully play themselves out of position to draft a high tier quarterback in 2023, yet also will be up a creek without a paddle in sight when it comes to signal callers. This makes throwing some minimal compensation New England's way well worth it to secure the young and thus-far-impressive quarterback who would otherwise rot on New England's bench. It's within the realm of possibility that Zappe has only managed to look good because of the totally conventional and super genius "I'm not the offensive coordinator, I thought YOU were the offensive coordinator!" situation New England has going on, but I think it's still worth taking a chance. We may be looking at the next Tom Brady here, folks.