Highly touted quarterbacks? Check. Oversized stage? Check. Raucous Fans? Check.

A year after holding a virtual NFL Draft in Commissioner Roger Goodell’s basement due to concerns over the coronavirus, the 2021 draft descended on Cleveland, Ohio on Thursday, with Goodell once again sharing bro-hugs with the prospects on stage in front of thousands of vaccinated and mask-wearing fans.

Although the easy chair from Goodell’s basement did make the trip to the stage, this year’s edition of the draft felt much more normal than a year ago – and it began exactly as nearly everyone expected.

The Jacksonville Jaguars chose Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence first overall and the New York Jets went with BYU quarterback Zach Wilson at number two.

Considered to be the most polished QB prospect in years, Lawrence threw for 10,098 yards in his collegiate career, while going 34-2 as a starter with the Tigers and winning the 2018 National Championship.

Wilson had been linked to the Jets for months after throwing for 3,692 yards with 33 touchdown passes to only three interceptions last season, and New York hopes he can be the franchise’s answer at QB and lead the team to the playoffs for the first time since 2010 after the recently traded and 2018 No. 3 pick Sam Darnold never lived up to expectations.

A quarterback had also been projected to go third overall ever since the San Francisco 49ers traded up to that position weeks ago, the only question was who – Trey Lance out of FCS powerhouse North Dakota State, two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Justin Fields from Ohio State or Alabama national champion Mac Jones.

The tight-lipped 49ers ended weeks of suspense by drafting Lance, who has only played in one game since the 2019 season but led the Bison to the FCS title that year while accounting for 42 total touchdowns without an interception.

With the surprising Lance going to San Francisco, this became just the third time in the common draft era that started in 1967 – and first time since 1999 – quarterbacks went 1-2-3 in the NFL draft.

The consensus top five QBs - Lawrence, Wilson, Lance, Fields and Jones – had been slated to all get drafted in the top 10, but Fields and Jones were still on the board after 10 picks.

The Chicago Bears decided not to sit on their hands, trading up nine spots with the New York Giants to grab Fields, a dual-threat QB who finished his collegiate career with 5,701 passing yards and 67 TDs through the air.

The Patriots were more patient, selecting Jones with the 15th pick – a spot few believed he would still be available. Jones threw for 4,500 yards with 41 touchdowns to just four picks in leading Alabama last season, and became the first quarterback selected in the first round during Bill Belichick’s 21-year tenure in New England.

Jones also became the final QB selected in the first round, making this only the fourth time at least five QBs were drafted in round number one, along with 2018, 1999 and the famous 1983 draft, when six were selected.

Not only were QBs a hot commodity, so were their targets.

The Atlanta Falcons made Florida’s Kyle Pitts the highest drafted tight end in history when they picked him fourth overall after he had 43 catches for 770 yards and 12 TDs in 2020.

The Cincinnati Bengals and Miami Dolphins drafted who they hope will be their franchise quarterbacks in the 2020 first round, and this year they each focused on providing them with a playmaker they were familiar with.

Cincinnati selected LSU wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase with the fifth pick, teaming him 2020 No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow, the quarterback who led the Tigers to the 2019 FBS title. In 26 games played together in 2018 and 2019, Burrow targeted Chase 162 times, resulting in 107 receptions for 2,093 yards and 23 touchdowns.

One pick later, the Dolphins chose Alabama receiver Jaylen Waddle, reuniting him with college quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, last year’s fifth pick. Waddle only appeared in six games last season because of a broken left ankle, but he left Alabama with 106 receptions for 1,999 yards and 17 touchdowns over three years.

The reunions continued with the 10th pick, when the Philadelphia Eagles traded up to select 2020 Heisman Trophy-winning wide receiver DeVonta Smith to get him back with former Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts, the 53rd overall pick a year ago. Smith, who put up eye-popping numbers in 2020 with 117 receptions for 1,856 yards and 23 touchdowns, was a teammate of Hurts in 2017 and 2018.

While the Bengals, Dolphins and Eagles reunited former teammates, the Jaguars decided to go ahead and just bring aboard one of Lawrence’s teammates from this past season, selecting Clemson running back Travis Etienne with the 25th pick, making this the first time in the common draft era a quarterback and running back from the same school were drafted by the same team in the first round.

Etienne was a workhorse for the past four years with the Tigers, racking up 4,952 rushing yards and 70 touchdowns on the ground while averaging 7.2 yards per carry.

Etienne became the second running back selected in the first round after the Pittsburgh Steelers took Alabama’s Najee Harris one pick earlier.

With the Denver Broncos nabbing Alabama cornerback Patrick Surtain II ninth overall and the Las Vegas Raiders drafting Crimson Tide offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood at No. 17, Harris became the sixth player from Alabama drafted in the first round, matching the University of Miami from 2004 for the most players selected from one school in the first round.

While the draft started with offensive players being selected with the first seven picks for the first time ever, the final five picks of the opening round were all defensive players, concluding with the defending Super Bowl champions the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selecting linebacker Joe Tryon out of Washington with the 32nd pick.

The Cincinnati Bengals are reuniting quarterback Joe Burrow with one of his favorite targets from college, selecting wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase with the fifth pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. 

There had been speculation the Bengals would select an offensive tackle to help protect Burrow, who saw his rookie season end after 10 games following a serious knee injury.

Cincinnati opted instead to give him another weapon and the pair will not need to spend any time getting to know one another. 

Burrow and Chase starred together at Louisiana State, helping the quarterback build a resume that made him the top pick in the 2020 Draft. 

In the 26 games they played together at LSU in 2018 and 2019, Burrow targeted Chase 162 times, resulting in 107 receptions for 2,093 yards and 23 touchdowns.

Chase opted out of the 2020 college season so he could focus on preparing for the NFL Draft, so the first pass he catches in an NFL game presumably will be thrown by the man who delivered all of his college receptions. 

 

 

Joe Burrow showcased enough in his Ohio homecoming to suggest he has a chance to be the Cincinnati Bengals' saviour at quarterback.

But, after the first overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft saw a promising rookie season snuffed out by a serious knee injury, there is as much tension as there is excitement surrounding the Bengals.

Burrow tore his ACL and his MCL in a Week 11 meeting with the Washington Football Team, the Bengals losing four of their six games with him on the sideline to finish 4-11-1.

The relatively smooth transition Burrow made to the pros should raise hopes he can be the man to eventually bring success to a franchise that has not won a playoff game since the 1990 season.

Yet recoveries from injuries as severe as that of Burrow's are far from guaranteed and the holes on a roster that still looks some way from legitimate contention could mean another year of struggle for Cincinnati.

That may spell trouble for head coach Zac Taylor, who heads into year three as head coach with just six wins to his name.

What do the Bengals need to do to produce more tangible signs of progress in 2021? 

We used Stats Perform data to look back on their 2020 and their offseason moves so far to identify areas of focus for the coming year.

Offense

The set-up in Cincinnati was not conducive to success for a rookie quarterback, and the numbers bore that out in 2020.

Cincinnati ranked 30th in yards per play with an average of 4.92 while they were 28th in yards per pass play (5.48).

Yet Burrow's individual numbers from his 10 games suggest he was the right pick for a team that has been nothing short of moribund since their trip to the postseason in 2015.

Burrow ranked seventh in the NFL in yards per game (268.8) across his 10 appearances for Bengals from Week 1 to 11, with his average impacted by his injury against Washington.

He had five 300-yard passing games and averaged a poor throw every 13.1 attempts, a better rate than Josh Allen (11.4), Deshaun Watson (11.9) and Lamar Jackson (12.5).

However, Burrow's numbers as a deep-ball passer were very disappointing. His 23 pass completions of 20 yards or more were two fewer than Dak Prescott, who played only five games, and he completed just eight of his 42 attempts of at least 21 air yards.

Burrow's passer rating on those throws was 53.9, 26th of 28 quarterbacks with at least 25 such passes.

He likely would have fared better going downfield had he benefited from greater protection. Burrow was sacked on 7.34 per cent of his dropbacks, the 10th-highest rate among quarterbacks with at least 200 dropbacks.

But Burrow can have confidence in his receivers. Tee Higgins' 908 receiving yards were the third-most among rookies in 2020 and both he and Tyler Boyd, who had 841 yards, proved dependable options on third down.

Twelve of Higgins' 14 third-down receptions went for a first down, while Boyd moved the chains on 15 of his 19 third-down catches.

Cincinnati's rushing attack was just as inefficient as the passing game, the Bengals ranking 27th with 4.06 yards per attempt.

Only four teams had fewer runs of 10 yards or more than the Bengals' 37, with Joe Mixon averaging only 3.6 yards per rush across his six games after signing a contract extension, his year prematurely ended by a foot injury.

Burrow and Mixon having their seasons curtailed cut short any intrigue surrounding the Bengals in 2020, and they won't be interesting in 2021 unless their signal-caller receives better assistance from the offensive line and a defense that ranked among the league's most porous last season.

Defense

The most complimentary thing you could say about the Bengals' defense last year was that it showed some signs of developing into a 'bend but don't break' unit.

Cincinnati allowed 6.10 yards per play in 2020, ranking 28th, yet they were closer to the middle of the pack in terms of points conceded.

The Bengals were 22nd in offensive points allowed (410), and 21st in opponent scoring efficiency, allowing a touchdown or field on 78 of 180 opponent drives.

While those numbers were far from the worst in the NFL, the Bengals defense still bent and broke far too often for Cincinnati to compete on a week-to-week basis.

Simply put, the Bengals did not do enough to put opposing offenses in difficult situations.

Cincinnati's tally of 67 negative plays forced was 30th in the NFL, with the negative play yardage of minus 208 yards the lowest in the league.

Only four teams produced fewer takeaways than their 17 turnovers, which produced a total of 47 points that ranked tied for 25th.

An anaemic pass rush was a critical reason for their inability to take the ball away. Cincinnati had the fewest sacks in the NFL (17) and the fourth-fewest quarterback knockdowns (66).

As was the case on offense, the running game provided little relief for Cincinnati, the Bengals continually gashed by opposing ground games.

Only the Houston Texans (5.20), allowed a higher yards per carry average than the 5.11 yards per attempt the Bengals gave up.

Additionally, opponents racked up 73 runs of 10 yards or more against the Bengals defense, 22 more than the league average of 51.

Despite a busy free agency, there isn't much to suggest Cincinnati will be drastically improved on that side of the ball in 2021.

Offseason

The Bengals lost their most disruptive pass rusher from last season as edge rusher Carl Lawson departed for the New York Jets in free agency.

Lawson had only 5.5 sacks but racked up 32 quarterback hits, with his combined hurries and knockdowns tally of 65.5 tied for ninth in the NFL.

Cincinnati immediately replaced Lawson by signing Trey Hendrickson to a four-year, $60million deal after his breakout season with the New Orleans Saints.

The Bengals are banking on Hendrickson being able to consistently replicate a 2020 season that saw him record 13.5 sacks, though that may be a more difficult task playing in front of a secondary that lost arguably its best player with William Jackson III leaving for Washington.

Jackson had double-digit pass deflections in three of his four seasons with Cincinnati and is coming off a year in which he had a burn percentage in coverage of 46.5, his lowest since his rookie campaign (34.7).

They filled the void he left by gambling on the athleticism of former Dallas Cowboy cornerback Chidobe Awuzie, whose burn percentage of 59.5 for his career is significantly worse than Jackson's 48.2.

Cincinnati can afford to have more confidence in Mike Hilton's reliability as a nickel cornerback. Hilton comes across from the Pittsburgh Steelers having posted a career-high three interceptions in just six starts last season.

The Bengals demonstrated their understanding of the need to better protect Burrow by signing left tackle Riley Reiff to a one-year deal after he allowed only two sacks and was penalised just once in 15 games for the Minnesota Vikings in 2020.

But Reiff is entering the latter half of his career at 32, meaning his arrival certainly should not prohibit the Bengals from targeting a top-tier offensive line prospect like Penei Sewell or Rashawn Slater with the fifth overall pick in the first round.

With wide receiver A.J. Green ending his long association with Cincinnati by signing with the Arizona Cardinals, there may be a temptation to give Burrow, who has already endorsed the potential selection of former LSU team-mate Ja'Marr Chase, a dynamic third option to go with Higgins and Boyd.

However, after their failure to protect Burrow left him facing a lengthy recovery process to get back to the field, the Bengals must prioritise players who can give him a clean pocket from which he can put the franchise back on the road to prominence.

The Green Bay Packers secured the NFC's top seed on Sunday, while Derrick Henry led the Tennessee Titans to the AFC South title.

Aaron Rodgers again powered the Packers, throwing four touchdown passes in a win over the Chicago Bears.

Despite their loss, the Bears clinched a playoff spot, as did the Indianapolis Colts and Los Angeles Rams.

Meanwhile, Henry made history as the Titans won the AFC South, while the Washington Football Team claimed the NFC East.

 

RODGERS DOMINATES AGAIN AS PACKERS CLINCH TOP SEED

Rodgers completed 19 of 24 passes for 240 yards and four TDs in the Packers' 35-16 victory over the Bears.

The Packers quarterback connected for TDs with Robert Tonyan, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Dominique Dafney and Davante Adams.

Rodgers finished the regular season with 48 TD passes. Alongside Peyton Manning, they are the only players in NFL history with 45-plus TD passes in multiple seasons, according to NFL Research. They won the NFL MVP in each of the previous three instances.

While Green Bay finished with a 13-3 record, the 8-8 Bears also reached the playoffs.

 

HISTORY FOR HENRY AS TITANS WIN AFC SOUTH

The Titans claimed the AFC South for the first time since 2008 after a thrilling 41-38 win over the Houston Texans.

Henry became the eighth player in history to rush for at least 2,000 yards in a single season.

He had 250 rushing yards and two TDs against the Texans. Of the eight players to achieve the feat, Henry was the only one who needed 200-plus yards in his last game to get there, according to Stats Perform.

A.J. Brown had 151 receiving yards, but the Titans needed Sam Sloman's 37-yard field goal as time expired to edge the Texans.

The Titans became the first team in NFL history to have a 250-yard rusher and 150-yard receiver in the same game.

 

WASHINGTON WIN NFC EAST AS COLTS, RAMS REACH PLAYOFFS

The Washington Football Team claimed the NFC East thanks to a 20-14 win over the Philadelphia Eagles.

Alex Smith threw two touchdown passes and two interceptions as Washington (7-9) claimed the division.

The Colts (11-5) reached the playoffs thanks to a 28-14 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, while the Los Angeles Rams (10-6) are also into the postseason after beating the Arizona Cardinals 18-7.

 

Week 17 scores:

Minnesota Vikings 37-35 Detroit Lions
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 44-27 Atlanta Falcons
New England Patriots 28-14 New York Jets
Buffalo Bills 56-26 Miami Dolphins
Cleveland Browns 24-22 Pittsburgh Steelers
New York Giants 23-19 Dallas Cowboys
Baltimore Ravens 38-3 Cincinnati Bengals
Indianapolis Colts 28-14 Jacksonville Jaguars
Tennessee Titans 41-38 Houston Texans
Los Angeles Rams 18-7 Arizona Cardinals
New Orleans Saints 33-7 Carolina Panthers
Green Bay Packers 35-16 Chicago Bears
Los Angeles Chargers 38-21 Kansas City Chiefs
Seattle Seahawks 26-23 San Francisco 49ers
Las Vegas Raiders 32-31 Denver Broncos
Washington Football Team 20-14 Philadelphia Eagles

The Cleveland Browns ended the NFL's longest playoff drought as they held off the Pittsburgh Steelers in dramatic fashion to secure postseason football.

Needing a win to book their first playoff appearance since 2002, the Browns triumphed 24-22 in the final game of their regular season.

Joining the Browns in the playoffs are the Baltimore Ravens, who thrashed the Cincinnati Bengals 38-3 to take another of the seven available postseason spots on Sunday.

The Miami Dolphins' hopes took a blow as they succumbed to a heavy defeat to AFC East winners Buffalo Bills, while the Dallas Cowboys fell short at the final hurdle with a loss at the New York Giants, who need a favour from the Philadelphia Eagles.

 

BROWNS END 18-YEAR WAIT

After 17 seasons of being on the outside looking in, the Browns are into the playoffs thanks to a nerve-wracking victory over the Steelers enough to end a dismal run.

Cleveland had to shut down its practice facility four times over the course of the last eight days due to COVID-19 concerns but, inspired by Baker Mayfield, the Browns made it through.

Mayfield threw for 196 yards and one touchdown but led some decisive drives and sealed the victory with a first-down run at the death after Mason Rudolph had missed a two-point attempt that would have tied the game.

The Browns finish the regular season 11-5 – it is their best record since 1994, when Bill Belichick led them to their last win in a playoff game. 

Pittsburgh ultimately ended Cleveland's hopes that season, and the Steelers will be the Browns' first opponents in the playoffs next week. 

In another twist of fate, the Browns' only playoff appearance this century also came in Pittsburgh, where they lost 36-33.

JACKSON-INSPIRED RAVENS SOAR AND GIANTS ON THE BRINK

Lamar Jackson became the first quarterback in NFL history to top 1,000 rushing yards in successive seasons as he helped the Ravens to a massive, playoff-clinching win over the Bengals.

More records tumbled for the 2019 MVP, as the 23-year-old became the first QB to throw 46 red-zone touchdowns without an interception and takes the crown for the fastest QB to amass 30 wins.

Jackson, a former first-round pick, rushed for 97 yards on Week 17, as Baltimore won a fifth straight game with ease.

The Raves will now face the winner of the AFC South – either the Tennessee Titans or the Indianapolis Colts.

Meanwhile, the Giants will be rooting for the Eagles to overcome the Washington Football Team later on Sunday after their win over the Cowboys put them on the brink of the postseason.

Should Philly win, the Giants will clinch the NFC East title, though a Washington win would send Ron Rivera's team through.

DOLPHINS SINK, BRADY'S BUCS CAP OFF REGULAR SEASON IN STYLE

The Dolphins' playoff chances are slim after a 56-26 defeat to the Bills, as Josh Allen and Isaiah McKenzie – who ran in three touchdowns – blew them away in Buffalo.

Allen, who is in a race for the league's MVP award, threw 224 passing yards for three touchdowns on Sunday.

The third-year QB holds single-season franchise records for passing yards (4,544), touchdowns (37) and completions (396).

Miami must now rely on the Jacksonville Jaguars to pull off an unlikely win over the Indianapolis Colts to claim a playoff berth.

Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished a brilliant regular season with a 44-27 win over the Atlanta Falcons.

On his record-setting 299th start in the NFL, Tom Brady threw touchdown passes to Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown, as the six-time Super Bowl champion finished with a Tampa Bay single-season record 40.

Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning and Dan Marino are the only players other than Brady with multiple seasons of at least 40 touchdown passes.

Brady also picked out three-time Pro Bowler Mike Evans with a pass, who once again reached 1,000 receiving yards in a season for Tampa, though he then suffered a game-ending knee injury.

JEFFERSON INTO THE RECORD BOOKS

Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson set a new Super Bowl-era record as he surpassed Anquan Boldin for the rookie with the most receiving yards in a season.

He is now second all-time behind Bill Groman, who holds a rookie record of 1,473 receiving yards, which he set in 1960.

Jefferson also set a Vikings franchise rookie record when he caught a 15-yard pass in the third quarter of a 37-35 win over the Detroit Lions, who will finish no lower than seventh in the current draft order.

 

Week 17 results (part one)

Baltimore Ravens 38-3 Cincinnati Bengals
Buffalo Bills 56-26 Miami Dolphins
Cleveland Browns 24-22 Pittsburgh Steelers
Minnesota Vikings 37-35 Detroit Lions
New England Patriots 28-14 New York Jets
New York Giants 23-19 Dallas Cowboys
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 44-27 Atlanta Falcons

 

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.