Kyler Murray believes he can reach the level of the last two NFL MVPs Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson after being named Offensive Rookie of the Year.

Quarterback Murray turned his back on an MLB career to declare for last year's NFL Draft and the Arizona Cardinals made him the first overall pick.

He had over 4,000 yards of total offense – 3,722 of those coming through the air – and on Saturday in Miami he was named Offensive Rookie of the Year ahead of Josh Jacobs, A.J. Brown and Miles Sanders.

Later that evening Baltimore Ravens quarterback Jackson was named MVP by unanimous vote, succeeding Kansas City Chiefs signal caller Mahomes, with both men winning the NFL's most prestigious individual prize in their second years in the league.

Asked about the possibility of elevating his game to those heights in his second year as a professional, Murray said: "Those two are obviously different for a reason, they've always been good players.

"Taking their games to the next level that next season, I think they probably went back at it and worked hard.

"They've got great team-mates around them, great coaches. It's a team game.

"Those two are obviously very different guys and for me personally I feel like I can be at that level.

"This being my first year, I think it's possible to make that step and that's what we're striving for. I think that's what everyone's striving for – to be the best."

Murray defied the doubters who thought that, at 5ft 10ins, he was too small to be a successful NFL quarterback.

"Everybody sets out individual goals," Murray said of his rookie season.

"I knew if I played well enough... that [award] is not obviously the [main] goal, but just doing my part on the field, leading my guys to wins and trying to play as best as I can that I would be in a good position to do so, with a lot of help around me, [from] God, my parents, team-mates and coaches.

"I'm standing here right now with it so, yeah, it was a goal of mine."

Lamar Jackson joined Tom Brady in becoming a unanimous NFL MVP on Saturday, but the Baltimore Ravens quarterback now wants to emulate his success in Super Bowls too.

Jackson was confirmed as the MVP of the 2019 NFL season in Miami having starred for the 14-2 Ravens in his first full year as the starter.

As well as breaking Michael Vick's single-season rushing record for a quarterback, Jackson also led the league in passing touchdowns with 36 scores and delivered a series of astounding plays with both his legs and arm.

That earned him all 50 first-place votes for the MVP award, making him only the second winner by unanimous vote after New England Patriots great Brady in 2010.

However, collectively Jackson's season ended in disappointment as the Ravens lost a Divisional Round clash to the Tennessee Titans, and it is Super Bowl rings – of which Brady has six – that the newly crowned MVP wants now.

Informed that he was only the second unanimous MVP winner, Jackson replied: "I'm trying to chase Brady.

"I'm not worried about any other quarterback because he's got six Super Bowls.

"I've got to get my first one and then it's on."

Reaching the pinnacle of a sport is usually a time for reflection, yet Jackson, who turned 23 last month, highlighted how he is still at the start of his NFL journey.

"I'm still young, I've got a lot of work to do," he added.

"I'm not really trying to dwell on what I just did. [If] I win a Super Bowl, you'll probably see a lot more emotion.

"I'm good with what I've got now. I'm satisfied."

The Ravens coaching staff reaped the rewards of altering their offense to suit Jackson's unique skillset.

Their 14-2 record also earned John Harbaugh the NFL Coach of the Year award, not that he wanted to take any credit for Jackson's MVP campaign.

Instead he lauded Felicia Jones, Jackson's mother, for fighting her son's corner when others said the athletically gifted player should switch position to running back or wide receiver.

"You know who deserves the credit for Lamar? Lamar. The good lord who gave him the talent and his mum," Harbaugh added.

"I think his mum is the hero in this whole thing. His mum had his back the whole way. We raise our kids, and you want to see them do well and fight for them a little bit.

"All the way, because of the circumstances and situations of football, he wasn't supposed to be a quarterback. And his mum made sure he was a quarterback and here he is, playing at the highest level, differently."

Lamar Jackson was drained.

On January, 6, 2019, in his first NFL playoff game, the Baltimore Ravens rookie quarterback had been restricted to under 200 yards passing by the Los Angeles Chargers, he was sacked seven times and the offense he led failed to score a touchdown until midway through the fourth quarter, at which point the game was gone.

Boos from his own fans ringing in his ears; critics questioning whether he could make it as an NFL quarterback.

He told his personal quarterback coach Josh Harris he needed some time off before they reconvened for their offseason work.

When they did, two weeks after the New England Patriots won Super Bowl LIII, the aim was to get back to basics.

"This is going to be a very slow offseason and it's going to be boring," Harris told Jackson.

Sometimes they would spend an hour mimicking the basic action of the throwing motion. Some days that was all they did.

Other days Harris would swing a broom at Jackson's legs, abdomen and head to replicate the pressure he feels in the pocket.

"He hates the broom drill," Harris told Omnisport.

"I always do this after he frustrates me to scare him. 'If you don't listen to me, I will hit you with this broom!'"

The mantra all offseason was "finding your rhythm" and Harris preached it for four days a week. It was supposed to be five but Jackson "always found a way to get out of Fridays".

On September 8, 2019, in his first NFL game of the season, Jackson got the chance to put the lessons he had learned with Harris just 26 miles away into practice.

He threw for 324 yards, torched the Miami Dolphins in their own stadium with five touchdown passes and had a perfect passer rating. It was the start of a campaign that would end with the MVP award, given to him in the same city on Saturday night.

--

Harris has known Jackson since his college days at Louisville. Jackson's mother, Felicia Jones, and his youth football coach, Van Warren, believed Harris could take the quarterback's game on. They were right, he won the Heisman Trophy later that year.

"He never acted like a person that was this gifted at football," Harris said.

"He's very teachable. He's a perfectionist, he gets frustrated when things aren't going well."

And if Harris wants the perfect rep out of Jackson, he knows just which buttons to push.

On his iPhone Notes app are a series of criticisms pundits have levelled at Jackson. Comments from the people who didn't think he could throw. Those who, like former Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers and Indianapolis Colts general manager, Bill Polian, thought he should change position.

"You can see when you give him a criticism, it turns into fuel," Harris explained.

"I've had other players, they wither under it. It motivates him, he's seen that [criticism] every step of the way."

-- 

The critics did not think Jackson, unquestionably an elite talent with his legs, would ever be able to lead the NFL in touchdown passes - as he did in 2019 with 36 scores.

So when Harris was designing Jackson's unique pro day before the 2018 NFL Draft, the aim was to prove to those in attendance that he could win from the pocket. Jackson took every snap from under centre and threw to multiple receivers instead of just one.

Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin was there and so was Baltimore's quarterback coach James Urban, who impressed Harris by showing a keen interest in his drills.

When it came to draft night, Harris wore a purple tie, hoping it would prove a lucky omen and that his pupil would be selected by the Ravens.

One by one the players on the tables next to Jackson that night in Texas were drafted. Saquon Barkley to the New York Giants. Josh Rosen to the Arizona Cardinals. Jaire Alexander, Jackson's college team-mate, to the Green Bay Packers.

Soon only one pick remained in the first round. Amputee linebacker Shaquem Griffin was in the green room, though he was never going to be selected that high, as were running back Derrius Guice, and Jackson, whose entourage had flights booked back for the following morning thinking he would be chosen in the first round.

All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey had stuck around too, an interested observer in Jackson's fate.

When Guice's phone rang with the Philadelphia Eagles on the clock, Harris figured he knew what that meant. But there was another call coming into that room, to Jackson's phone.

"Everybody's in a daze," Harris said.

"He's just sitting there. I slapped him, 'Man, pick up the phone!'"

It was the Baltimore Ravens. They had traded up to select Jackson with the final pick of the first round, a move that would look incredibly shrewd less than two years later when he led them to an NFL-best 14-2 record.

-- 

Harris was a little worried as Jackson continued to compile an MVP-calibre campaign. The sensational 47-yard touchdown run against the Cincinnati Bengals. The ludicrous touchdown pass to Mark Andrews when off-balance in Cleveland. The accumulation of yards on the ground (1,206) that would see him break Michael Vick's single-season record for most among quarterbacks.

"He's the media darling now," Harris thought.

Where then was he going to find the criticism to fuel Jackson?

Then came the shock 28-12 Divisional Round playoff loss to the Tennessee Titans, which happened despite Jackson producing over 500 yards of total offense.

Not only did the Titans' defensive scheme give Harris and Jackson something to mull over this offseason, it also provided the coach with some new entries for his iPhone Notes.

"They're saying you're 0-2 in playoff games," Harris intends to tell Jackson when they next meet.

"They were even critiquing your precision passing in the Pro Bowl skills challenge. 

"I know it's silly but cool, I can use it."

Jackson will trot back out onto the practice field in Pompano Beach in two weeks' time as the freshly crowned MVP - the best player in the entire NFL.

But Harris will be ready, with his iPhone Notes, and his broom.

"I already know how to motivate him," Harris concludes.

"I've got a couple of bullets in the chamber for the MVP!"

Lamar Jackson has been named the NFL's MVP for the 2019 season.

In his first full season as the Baltimore Ravens' starting quarterback, second-year signal caller Jackson threw for 3,127 passing yards, a league-leading 36 touchdowns and tossed only six interceptions.

He also broke Michael Vick's single-season record for rushing yards for a quarterback, amassing 1,206 yards on the ground as the Ravens went 14-2 in the regular season.

They exited the playoffs at the first hurdle, falling 28-12 against the Tennessee Titans, though Jackson still had over 500 yards total offense during that Divisional Round clash.

Jackson started in sensational fashion, torching the Miami Dolphins for 324 passing yards and five touchdowns in a game where he had a perfect passer rating.

The 23-year-old had two other games with five touchdown passes and also had a perfect passer rating against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 10, when the Ravens were in the midst of a 12-game winning streak.

That victorious run also helped Jackson's coach John Harbaugh win the Coach of the Year award at the NFL Honours on Saturday night.

Elsewhere, New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas was voted Offensive Player of the Year, New England Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore claimed the Defensive Player of the Year award and Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill won Comeback Player of the Year.

San Francisco 49ers defensive lineman Nick Bosa was named the Defensive Rookie of the Year ahead of his appearance in Super Bowl LIV, with Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray the Offensive Rookie of the Year.

Lamar Jackson is the NFL's MVP - an honour that comes as no surprise.

The Ravens quarterback delivered a sensational season in his first full year as Baltimore's starter, guiding them to an AFC-best 14-2 record.

Jackson, 23, not only proved how potent he is with his legs but showed he could win with his arm too, leading the league with 36 touchdown passes.

We look at five defining moments in Jackson's MVP campaign.

 

NOT BAD FOR A RUNNING BACK!

A Week 1 matchup against a Miami Dolphins roster that had been gutted of most of its star power allowed Jackson to feast. However, it was through the air, rather than on the ground, where he did his damage.

Jackson completed 17-of-20 passes for 324 yards and five touchdowns - including two bombs to rookie receiver Marquise Brown - while rushing for just six yards on three attempts.

It was a defiant response to those who thought Jackson could not win with his arm. After posting a perfect 158.3 passer rating, he took aim at his critics by saying: "Not bad for a running back!"

BOUNCING BACK AGAINST THE BENGALS

Five of Jackson's six interceptions in 2019 came in Weeks 4 and 5, so he needed a response in Week 6 and, boy, did he deliver one.

He became the first quarterback in the Super Bowl era to pass for at least 200 yards (236) and rush for at least 150 (152), burrowing in for a 21-yard score on the ground too.

Jackson fell 21 yards shy of Michael Vick's single-game rushing record for a QB in the regular season, though another of his marks would soon be surpassed...

YOU MADDEN, BRO?

Four weeks later and the Bengals once again had no answer to the man quickly establishing himself as the best dual-threat QB in the NFL.

In going 15-of-17 for 223 yards and throwing three touchdowns, Jackson posted his second perfect passer rating of the season.

Yet it was his jaw-dropping 47-yard TD run that justified the MVP chants as Jackson spun away from three defenders as if he was being controlled by a Madden video game player.

LIKE MIKE... ONLY BETTER

Another primetime outing, another primetime performance; this time on Thursday Night Football against the New York Jets in Week 15.

The Ravens clinched the AFC North title, and Jackson possibly the MVP award, with a 42-21 demolition of the Jets in which the quarterback once again threw five touchdowns.

He also broke Vick's single-season rushing record (1,039 yards) for a QB on the opening drive, finishing with another 86 yards on the ground on just eight carries.

DEFYING LOGIC AGAINST CLEVELAND

If the spinning TD against the Bengals showcased Jackson's running ability, his connection with Mark Andrews in Week 16 highlighted his pocket presence, touch and poise as a passer.

With 15 seconds left before the half and no timeouts left, blitzing Cleveland Browns cornerback T.J. Carrie looked to take Jackson down.

Yet the former Louisville quarterback juked past the onrushing Carrie, kept his eyes downfield and, from an unbalanced platform, dropped a dime over Damarious Randall to Andrews in the endzone.

Lamar Jackson led the AFC to a 38-33 win over the NFC in the NFL Pro Bowl amid in-game tributes to Kobe Bryant in Orlando.

NBA great Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna were among the people killed in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California on Sunday and the news cast a shadow over the NFL's annual all-star clash taking place on the other side of the United States.

Camping World Stadium observed a moment of silence, fans chanted Bryant's name and the NFC defence mimicked the Los Angeles Lakers legend's signature fadeaway jump shot after completing a sack.

Making his first Pro Bowl appearance, star Baltimore Ravens quarterback Jackson threw 185 yards for two touchdowns and one interception to help the AFC to a 10-point half-time lead.

Drew Brees, rumoured to be considering retirement, started at QB for the NFC, who mounted a third-quarter comeback after defensive tackle Fletcher Cox sauntered untroubled into the end zone for a 61-yard touchdown following Harrison Smith's lateral pass.

Davante Adams caught Kirk Cousins' pass to reduce the margin back to three points, before Ryan Tannehill connected with D.J. Chark Jr. on a 60-yard throw to restore the AFC's buffer.

T.J. Watt and Green Bay Packers wide receiver Adams traded scores in the fourth quarter as MVP candidate Jackson paid tribute to Bryant, telling ESPN: "That's a legend. He did so much for the game of basketball. A lot of people looked up to Kobe Bryant, including myself."

The NFL's attention now turns to Miami, where the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers will contest the Super Bowl on Sunday.

John Harbaugh has no doubt Lamar Jackson will rebound from a difficult evening after the Baltimore Ravens were shocked by the Tennessee Titans in Saturday's Divisional Round game.

The Titans earned an upset 28-12 victory on the road to earn a spot in the Conference Championships, with the top-seeded Ravens unable to cope with Tennessee's physicality.

Jackson has racked up sensational numbers in his first full season as a starter, becoming the first player to throw for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards, while breaking Michael Vick's single-season rushing record for a quarterback.

But it just did not happen against the Ravens for Jackson, who ended with 21-of-59 passing for 365 yards and was intercepted twice.

Ravens coach Harbaugh has no concerns over 23-year-old Jackson in the long term, though.

"I won't have to say much to him. We will talk for sure and we will see where that conversation goes, just from a standpoint of two people talking," he told reporters.

"But I know how he's going to respond. He is going to respond by being extremely motivated and determined to improve as a football player.

"I think the strategy made between last year and this year are pretty indicative of that, and we expect him to get better. That's what he should do.

"It's simple – [for] him and everybody else. That's what we all should strive to do and I just know his character and who he is as a person. That's what he will be thinking about."

Jackson was pretty forthright with his own assessment, saying: "We just beat ourselves. I had a lot of mistakes on my behalf. Three turnovers, that shouldn't happen. But they came out to play."

When it was pointed out he is winless in the postseason, Jackson replied: "I don't really care about what they say.

"This is my second year in the league. Most people [aren't] able to bring it to the playoffs. I don't really worry about [what] people say. We're going to keep going [and] get ready for next year."

The giant-slaying Tennessee Titans produced a stunning performance to eliminate Super Bowl favourites the Baltimore Ravens from the NFL playoffs.

Tennessee caused an upset when they shocked reigning champions the New England Patriots in the wild-card clash last week to earn a trip to the divisional round.

And the Titans – 9-7 in the regular season – defied the odds again with a sensational 28-12 victory away to Lamar Jackson's Ravens in Baltimore, where Derrick Henry starred on Saturday.

Through to their first AFC championship game since 2002, the Titans will next face either the Kansas City Chiefs or Houston Texans.

Coming off the bye week and a franchise-record 14-2 season, confidence was high within the Ravens camp, but the top seeds found themselves trailing from the outset.

Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who finished seven of 14 for 88 yards and a pair of touchdowns to go with a rushing TD, and his 12-yard throw to Jonnu Smith with less than four minutes remaining in the opening quarter gave Tennessee a 7-0 lead.

Another Tannehill pass, this time a 45-yard throw to Kalif Raymond early in the second quarter, extended the Titans' lead amid silence in front of Ravens fans in Baltimore.

A pair of Justin Tucker field goals gave the Ravens their first points as they went into the half-time break trailing 14-6.

The Titans oozed confidence in the second half and a sequence of brilliance from running back Henry stretched Tennessee's advantage against Baltimore.

After his breathtaking 66-yard run, Henry put the Titans in the red zone and he capped the drive with a jump-pass touchdown throw to Corey Davis as back-up quarterback Marcus Mariota motioned out of the backfield.

Tannehill returned to the field moments later and rushed for a one-yard touchdown – the Titans ending the third period with a commanding 28-6 lead.

Frustrated, Ravens star Jackson – 31 of 59 for 365 yards, a touchdown, two interceptions and four sacks – gave Baltimore some hope with a TD pass to Hayden Hurst with just over 11 minutes remaining in the contest but the Titans were too good.

Sam Darnold was selected third overall by the New York Jets in the 2018 NFL Draft, 29 spots ahead of Lamar Jackson, but it is the Baltimore Ravens star who is on course to win the MVP award.

The Jets are on the long list of teams who look foolish for passing on Jackson, and one celebrity Gang Green fan tried to convince the franchise hierarchy the former Louisville quarterback was a better option than Darnold back in 2018.

Speaking on the Michael Kay Show on WEPN-FM 98.7 ESPN New York, Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm creator Larry David revealed he told then Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan to draft Jackson.

Maccagnan's response was not a positive one.

"I did call Mike Maccagnan before the 2018 draft and I recommended that he draft Lamar Jackson. I have a witness," David said.

"He kinda gave me the most condescending ... he laughed at me. But, who can blame him?"

Darnold has a career record of 11-15 in his 26 games for the Jets. He has completed 59.9 per cent of his passes for 5,889 yards, 36 touchdowns and 28 interceptions, having missed much of the 2019 campaign due to a bout of mononucleosis.

Jackson, meanwhile, is 19-3 as a starter with the Ravens, who face the Tennessee Titans in the Divisional Round of the playoffs on Saturday. 

He threw for 3,127 yards, 36 touchdowns and just six interceptions in the regular season, while also breaking Michael Vick's single-season quarterback rushing record by running for 1,206 yards and seven touchdowns.

The Ravens are two wins away from the Super Bowl while the Jets are once again watching from home. David may be known for his comic genius, but perhaps Maccagnan should have taken him seriously.

Lamar Jackson says the Cleveland Browns need to "chill out" after interviewing Greg Roman, with the Baltimore Ravens needing him to focus on their pursuit of a third Super Bowl win.

Baltimore offensive coordinator Roman spoke with the Browns, who are looking for a new head coach after firing Freddie Kitchens last week, on Thursday.

However, quarterback Jackson, named on the first-team All-Pro squad by the Associated Press on Friday, says Roman has enough on his plate as the Ravens - top seeds in the AFC - gear up for the NFL playoffs.

"They need to chill out," Jackson said when asked about the Browns' interest in Roman. "We got something to do right now.

"We need him to focus because we need to focus. We're trying to get somewhere. You guys are going to have your own turn when the season is over with."

Quizzed if he had told Roman what he thinks about the issue, he replied: "Nah, he should know that."

Jackson says a playoff defeat to the Los Angeles Chargers last year in his rookie season has given him extra motivation to avoid more postseason heartbreak.

He said after the Ravens' last practice session of their bye week: "That game still motivates me. I still haven't played my second playoff game yet.

"That game is over with. We've been having a great year this year. We just got to keep it going. I want a Super Bowl. I'm not worried about that. That was my rookie season."

Tuesday marked the end of an incredible decade for the NFL, which will crown the champion of its 100th season in February at the end of a campaign that has seen the man who dominated the past 10 years show signs of fallibility.

The 2010s largely belonged to a sixth-round pick from the University of Michigan who turned the New England Patriots into the greatest NFL dynasty.

However, there were plenty of others who helped define a fascinating period and a plethora of exciting talents queueing up to try to ensure it is they who stand out when the world looks back on the 2020s.

Here we reflect on 10 players who made the most lasting impact on the 2010s, and assess the players most likely to have the same influence on the 2020s.


2010s

Tom Brady

Five seasons into his NFL career, Brady had already secured a remarkable legacy, as a sixth-rounder who rose from Drew Bledsoe's injury replacement to a quarterback who guided the Patriots to their first three Super Bowl titles.

He led what many consider to be best offense ever in 2007 when the Patriots went 16-0, however, when the story of the greatest quarterback in NFL history is told, his and New England's second act will be the most compelling chapter.

The 2010s proved a decade in which Brady consistently and spectacularly defied Father Time. After a heart-breaking Super Bowl XLVI defeat to the New York Giants at the end of the 2011 season, a 37-year-old Brady authored a Super Bowl MVP performance three seasons later as the Patriots won their fourth title by defeating the Seattle Seahawks. 

His stunning response to a four-game 2016 suspension for his role in the Deflategate saga was a dominant 15-game stretch in which the Patriots lost only once and completed the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history in a 34-28 defeat of the Atlanta Falcons.

Brady followed that with an MVP campaign in 2017 that may unfairly be forgotten by many due to New England's 41-33 defeat to the Philadelphia Eagles in which he threw for 505 passing yards, breaking his record from the previous year.

Super Bowl LIII was won largely on the back of the Patriots defense and the 2019 season has provided further evidence the 42-year-old is finally declining. No player can outrun Father Time, but Brady has redefined what is possible for ageing quarterbacks.
 

Peyton Manning

Manning's career appeared to be nearing its end at the start of the decade. A playoff defeat to the New York Jets marked his final appearance for the Indianapolis Colts as neck surgery ruled him out of the 2011 season and he was released in March 2012.

However, Manning landed in the perfect environment to prove he was still among the elite. His Denver Broncos spell was historic as he helmed an explosive offense that reached its apex in 2013, Manning delivering arguably the greatest season ever for a quarterback.

He set single-season records for passing yardage (5,477) and touchdowns (55) that have yet to be broken. However, after a 43-8 Super Bowl thrashing at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks, Manning would have to wait until the 2015 campaign – during which he suffered the ignominy of being benched for Brock Osweiler – to win his second ring.

Manning regained the starting job and, despite his clearly declining abilities, won Super Bowl 50 with significant help from the Denver defense. It may not have been in the fashion many expected but, four years after his career was threatened by injury, Manning was able to go out on his own terms.

Rob Gronkowski

The Patriots' second spell of superiority owed much to their decision to draft a tight end out of Arizona with durability concerns in the second round of the 2010 draft.

New England's addition of Gronkowski paid instant dividends. He caught 10 touchdowns in his rookie season and developed into the league's ultimate red-zone weapon.

With four 1,000-yard seasons and five years with double-digit touchdowns – including a 17-score campaign in 2011 – Gronk's blend of athleticism, brute force and blocking ability saw him become the best tight end of his generation and the focal point of the New England offense.

Colin Kaepernick

Even with the dominance enjoyed by the likes of Brady, Manning and Gronkowski, no player from the past decade has transcended the sport more than Kaepernick.

A supremely athletic, gangly, long-striding dual-threat dynamo, Kaepernick exploded onto the scene in 2012, setting the record for rushing yards by a quarterback in a playoff game with 181 against the Green Bay Packers as he led the San Francisco 49ers to Super Bowl XLVII, coming within a few yards of victory in an agonising 34-31 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

But, for all he did on the big stage, it was his actions during a preseason game that had the greatest impact on the sport, Kaepernick's life, and wider society.

His decision first to sit and then to kneel during the national anthem in 2016 to protest police brutality and racial injustice sparked both admiration and condemnation and led to a plethora of players replicating him. Though he gained plenty of supporters and attention for his cause, the movement he started cost Kaepernick his NFL career.

He has not been signed since parting with the Niners in 2017 and filed a since-settled grievance against the league, accusing the 32 franchises of colluding to keep him out of a job.

An NFL-organised workout last month fell apart at the last minute but the large crowd that attended a hastily arranged session on a high-school field the same day was indicative of his massive societal influence. That he is still unemployed remains the greatest stain on the reputation of a league obsessed with image.

Aaron Donald

In years gone by, a dominant edge rusher was often seen as the final piece of the puzzle. Now, teams are just as committed to unearthing the next Donald as they are to finding difference-making outside pass rushers.

Donald has transformed the value of interior defensive lineman by rapidly blossoming into arguably the NFL's best player. His quickness, power, intelligent hand usage and versatility have made him near-impossible to block. He can play every position on the defensive line and is devastatingly effective from each spot.

A two-time Defensive Player of the Year, Donald had 20.5 sacks in 2018 and still managed 12.5 sacks in 2019, a season viewed as a disappointment. Donald is already close to a certainty for the Hall of Fame and may well go down as the finest defensive player of his generation.

J.J. Watt

Five first-team All-Pro selections, five double-digit sack seasons and three Defensive Player of the Year awards, the most incredible aspect of Watt's career is that injuries may have prevented the NFL from witnessing his true ceiling.

Watt has been robbed of much of his prime years, only completing a full regular season once since 2015, yet his CV, which includes two 20.5-sack campaigns, is likely already good enough for the Hall of Fame. 

Firmly in the MVP discussion in 2014, Watt was the face of defensive football for much of the decade but, as the 2010s end, there is danger he will come to be partly defined by an inability to stay on the field at a time when the Texans have been most competitive. Thankfully, at 30, he still has the time and the talent to make sure that is not the case.

Adrian Peterson

Only one non-quarterback won the MVP award in the decade, and that came in 2012 when Peterson produced one of the best running back seasons in history.

Peterson rushed for 2,097 yards and 12 touchdowns, averaging an astonishing 131.1 yards per game on the ground. Off-field controversy interrupted his career and, though he enjoyed a renaissance in 2015 with a 1,485-yard campaign, he has never recaptured his unbelievable best. 

He has, however, succeeded in remaining effective enough to stretch his career well into this thirties and achieved his long-held ambition of passing Walter Payton on the all-time touchdowns list with his 111th score.

Drew Brees

While Manning and Brady took the majority of the acclaim and, in the latter's case, the titles in the 2010s, Brees has enjoyed consistency unmatched by most quarterbacks and racked up a plethora of records.

Brees led the league in passing yards five times in the decade and broke Brett Favre's all-time pass completions and passing yardage records in a 2018 season where his New Orleans Saints were a controversial non-called pass interference penalty away from the Super Bowl.

Week 15 of the 2019 season saw him break Manning's record for career passing touchdowns with his 540th. His arm strength may have declined but, Brees is still poised to enter his third decade in the league upholding the remarkable standard he has met since arriving in New Orleans.

Odell Beckham Jr.

The man who produced perhaps the defining play of the decade, Beckham has not quite hit the heights he once promised.

However, his scarcely believable one-handed catch against the Dallas Cowboys on November 23, 2014, is one of the NFL's indelible images. Falling backwards as Brandon Carr attempted to drag him down, Beckham arched his back and plucked the ball out of the air with his fingertips before tumbling into the endzone.

Whether through remarkable catches, arguments with coaches or an on-off relationship with a kicking net, Beckham has made the headlines throughout the decade and will surely continue to do so in the 2020s.

Antonio Brown

Brown's status as one of the players of the decade was already secured prior to his tumultuous 2019.

He made the unlikely journey from Pittsburgh Steelers sixth-round pick to a premier NFL receiver. Boasting incredible speed, agility and ability to make spectacular contested catches in spite of his smaller stature, Brown racked up four seasons of at least 1,400 receiving yards, including a 1,698-yard year in 2014. 

Yet for all his on-field exploits, Brown may well end up being most remembered for a 2019 offseason in which he forced an exit from the Steelers, left the Oakland Raiders without playing a snap after a series of controversies and was then cut by the New England Patriots after allegations of sexual assault. Despite an outstanding on-field career, Brown ends the 2010s with an asterisk against his name. 

2020s

Patrick Mahomes

No quarterback has taken the league by storm in their first season as a starter in the manner that Mahomes did in 2018.

Mahomes threw for over 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns as the Kansas City Chiefs just missed out on the Super Bowl, defying belief with his ability to make plays on the move from a variety of arm angles.

After returning from a knee injury, Mahomes looks back to his best in 2019 and, with one of the best offensive minds in the league as his head coach in Andy Reid, he is primed to secure his place as the NFL's pre-eminent gunslinger in the 2020s.

Lamar Jackson

While Mahomes may be the most spectacular thrower to grace the NFL, Jackson is well on his way to cementing a reputation as the best running quarterback of all time.

Jackson and the Ravens have dominated the NFL in 2019 with a near-unstoppable offense. Defenses have found it almost impossible to decipher whether he is going to throw or run, with defenders frequently embarrassed by his elusiveness when he does the latter.

The only quarterback to throw for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 in a season, Jackson has already surpassed the achievements of Atlanta Falcons legend Michael Vick. He broke Vick's single-season quarterback rushing record by racking up 1,206 yards in 2019.

The final campaign of the 2010s could end with Jackson lifting the Lombardi Trophy. If he continues on this trajectory, the 2020s will see him become the greatest dual-threat quarterback of all time.

Trevor Lawrence

A pre-ordained NFL superstar since his high school days, the Clemson phenom has lived up to the massive hype in college and is effectively a lock to be the first overall pick in the 2021 draft.

Composed, mobile and possessing a cannon for an arm, several NFL teams in need of a quarterback will likely already be considering tanking 2020 to have a shot at landing Lawrence.

Regardless of whether he joins the league's elite or spectacularly fails, how Lawrence performs at the highest level is certain to be one of the most compelling storylines of the 2020s.

Kyler Murray 

The Arizona Cardinals took a significant risk in giving up on Josh Rosen to select a quarterback for the second successive year and pick Murray first overall.

Despite another losing season for Arizona in 2019, Murray's development as a rookie should provide great encouragement for the Cardinals, whose fans were treated to a series of dazzling displays from the former two-sport star, who was drafted ninth overall by MLB's Oakland Athletics in 2018.

Murray's decision to eschew baseball for the NFL was the most intensely debated issue of last year's draft. However, a year into his career, the dual-threat star has gone a long way to silencing the doubters and more two-sport athletes will follow his lead if he continues to excel.

Saquon Barkley

The second overall pick of the New York Giants in the 2018 draft, Barkley's career will, for many, settle the argument over the value of selecting a running back that high.

With a remarkable 2018 followed by an injury-affected 2019, it is the 2020s that will see Barkley provide the answer to whether it is worth using premier draft capital on a tailback in a league dominated by the passing game.

Those with a passion for analytics have largely already decided it is not. However, Barkley – regarded as the best running back prospect since Barry Sanders – has the talent to make a spectacular impact on the ground and in the passing game and prove them wrong.

George Kittle

Already cemented as the successor to Gronkowski as the NFL's premier tight end, Kittle is a bona-fide superstar with everything in his armoury to compile a Hall of Fame CV in the 2020s.

Kittle broke the record for single-season receiving yardage by a tight end in 2018 and in 2019 has proven himself the most valuable player for a San Francisco 49ers team two wins from Super Bowl LIV.

A freakish athlete and monstrous blocker whose sheer refusal to be tackled has seen him become the top yards-after-catch threat, Kittle produced one of the defining NFL images of the 2019 season as he carried three New Orleans Saints defenders with him on the game-clinching play of a Superdome shootout. Defenders across the league can expect to regularly receive the same treatment in the new decade.

Michael Thomas

The most astonishing aspect of Thomas breaking Marvin Harrison's record for receptions in a single-season is that the Saints star did so while still only 26.

As the focal point of arguably the NFL's most consistently potent offense, the sky is truly the limit for Thomas, who finished his record-breaking 2019 with 149 catches for 1,725 yards. 

He did so despite being subject to extremely tight coverage on seemingly every snap. Thomas rarely has the benefit of separation, but the 2020s could be the decade in which he separates himself from his contemporaries and becomes an all-time great receiver.

The Bosa brothers

There is a history of success between siblings in the NFL, and Joey and Nick Bosa are well on their way in joining Peyton and Eli Manning and J.J. Watt and T.J. Watt as two of the best brothers to play in the league.

Joey, selected third overall in 2016, has 40 sacks through four seasons for the Los Angeles Chargers, establishing himself as a dominant pass rusher, and Nick needed only one year to join him.

In his maiden season with the 49ers after being picked second overall, the younger Bosa racked up 80 quarterback pressures, the most ever by a rookie, according to analytics website Pro Football Focus.

He is among the favourites to win Defensive Player of the Year and, providing they avoid injury, the two best edge rushers in the 2020s may well be from the same family.

Jamal Adams

Though much of the focus for those of a Jets persuasion is on the growth of Sam Darnold, Adams is just as crucial to their hopes of crawling out of the doldrums.

The heart and soul of New York's defense, Adams is a ferocious, hard-hitting safety who could quickly vault to superstar status should the Jets become one of the AFC's best.

Reportedly close to being traded to the Dallas Cowboys during the 2019 season, Adams is in the perfect market to become one of the faces of the league if Gang Green can wrest AFC East superiority from Brady's Patriots.

The Jets are a franchise starved of success since the days of 'Broadway Joe' Namath. 'Broadway Jamal' may not have the same ring, but he can expect similar levels of hero-worship if the Jets return to postseason relevance.

If the 2010s were the decade of the veteran quarterbacks, the 2020s promise to be the next generation's era.

Ten years ago Peyton Manning met Drew Brees in the Super Bowl, Matt Schaub led the league in passing yards and Brees, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers and Eli Manning were all in the top 10.

Seven of that top 10 remain on teams in 2019 but only two - Rivers and Brady - featured among the leaders in that category this season.

Brees, Brady et al are used to completing passes, only this time it's the baton that is changing hands.

We take a look at why the future is now when it comes to the NFL's most important position.

 

Quarterbacks aged 27 or younger combined for a record 288 starts in 2019

Forty-somethings Brady and Brees may remain somewhere near the peak of their powers, but behind them there is a youth movement taking over.

The 2019 season saw QBs aged 27 or younger combine for 288 starts - by far the most since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970. Those young slingers combined for 145 wins too - again, another record broken by a large margin.

In Week 3, a record 20 of the 32 starting quarterbacks were 27 or younger. Draft classes after Brady, Brees and Rivers may not have produced players able to emulate their peers' achievements but playoff-bound QBs Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson and Deshaun Watson have provided plenty of early encouragement.

 

Nine rookie QBs started a game in 2019, four did so in 2009

Remember the days when coaches wanted rookies to sit, learn the system and be thrown in when they were ready? 

Whether it was injuries (Gardner Minshew, Devlin Hodges, David Blough) or just pure curiosity (Will Grier, Ryan Finley) - teams turned to first-year players in 2019 in a way they never did a decade ago.

Only four rookies started games in the 2009 season - and three of those were first-rounders (Matt Stafford, Mark Sanchez and Josh Freeman). 

 

The QB with the most rushing yards in 2009 had... 323

A decade ago CJ2K became a thing as Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson went over 2,000 yards on the ground.

The leading QB in that category also came from the AFC South, Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback David Garrard amassing 323 rushing yards.

He was one of only four QBs - along with Rodgers, Vince Young and Jason Campbell - to pile up more than 200 on the season. Two hundred rushing yards? That's practically an eight-day span for current Baltimore QB Jackson, who broke an NFL record with a whopping 1,206 on the ground.

MVP-in-waiting Jackson was one of 13 quarterbacks to rush for over 200 yards in 2019. Six of those beat Garrard's 2009 total and all bar Russell Wilson are 24 or younger.

For years dual-threat quarterbacks were seen as a quick fad that would burn out as you had to win from the pocket. Yet mobility at the QB position has proven to be a vital weapon in today's NFL.

 

This season, 75 per cent of head coaching hires came from offensive backgrounds

Eleven new head coach vacancies were filled prior to the 2009 season. Seven of those came from defensive backgrounds.

Eight new head coach vacancies were filled prior to the 2019 season. Six of those came from offensive backgrounds.

Call it the Sean McVay effect: NFL franchises want bright young minds to teach their promising-but-green QBs how to thrive at the next level. 

 

Goodbye, golden generation?

In the list for most touchdown passes of all time - a category Brees recently put himself at the top of - six of the leading 10 players are still active.

Aside from Rodgers, who should have a few years left in Green Bay, it is conceivable that the rest of that group - Brees, Brady, Rivers, Eli Manning and Roethlisberger - may head off into the sunset over the next couple of seasons.

Throw in Peyton Manning, who retired in 2016, and it is obvious we are seeing the last days of the golden generation that spearheaded the pass-happy revolution.

Luckily, there's a host of players ready to take over and take on the mantle in the 2020s.

The high-flying Baltimore Ravens will rest star quarterback Lamar Jackson for their regular-season NFL finale against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

MVP frontrunner Jackson and fellow starters Marshal Yanda, Earl Thomas III, Mark Ingram II and Brandon Williams will not face the Steelers on Sunday.

The Ravens (13-2) clinched the AFC top seed and homefield advantage after breezing past the Cleveland Browns 31-15 last week, and Baltimore will now rest some of their key players ahead of the playoffs.

"It will be an opportunity for some guys to play who have been inactive," Ravens head coach John Harbaugh told reporters on Monday.

"It's a rivalry game. It's the Steelers. They have everything to play for. We recognise that and we'll be looking to put our absolute best foot forward."

"I think it's a solid decision," Harbaugh said. "I don't know if it's easy. It's a strong case to be made either way. I recognise the other side of it. It's two good choices. We're going to have to practice really well.

"The guys who aren't playing are going to have to practice. We want to win this game. After that, we want to be the very best team we can be coming into the divisional game."

Jackson made clear his intention to play Week 17 following Baltimore's victory over Cleveland on Sunday.

"Yeah, he wants to play, I saw the news conference," Harbaugh added. "I appreciate it. But one thing about Lamar, and all of our guys, they'll be 100 percent behind the guys who are playing. And they'll be doing everything they can do to get those guys prepared to play in this game and win the football game."

Harbaugh also confirmed star running back Ingram suffered a "mild to moderate" calf strain in the victory against the Browns.

"He won't play this week. He probably wouldn't play this week no matter what the circumstance was with that calf strain," Harbaugh said. "We'd be looking for him to be ready in two weeks. So we'll just see how that goes going forward."

Baltimore Ravens star Lamar Jackson insisted his team are solely focused on winning the Super Bowl, dismissing any suggestion that the high-flying NFL franchise will not hoist the Lombardi Trophy aloft.

Led by quarterback and MVP candidate Jackson, the Ravens boast a 12-2 record and are poised to clinch the AFC's top seed ahead of reigning Super Bowl champions the New England Patriots.

As the Ravens prepare for Sunday's game against the Cleveland Browns, Jackson was asked whether Baltimore's season would be considered a disappointment if they did not win the Super Bowl.

"I'm not even going to put that in my head, what you just said," Jackson told reporters on Wednesday.

"That's the biggest goal. That's what everyone is playing the game for. Everyone wants to get to the big dance. We're having such a great year.

"That's what we got to get to. No ifs, ands or buts about it. I'm not going to put anything else in my mind about not going."

Jackson was named to his first Pro Bowl on Tuesday, headlining a group of 12 Ravens on the list.

The 22-year-old continues to take the NFL by storm and he is the favourite to dethrone Kansas City Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes as the league's MVP.

In his second season, Jackson has completed 245 yards at 66.2 per cent for 2,889 yards and 33 touchdowns, while he has rushed 1,103 yards for seven TDs.

"I try to block out all the noise, whether it's positive or negative," Jackson said. "I don't try to get caught up into it, just like I did at the beginning of the season.

"People hopping on my bandwagon now, but we all knew what we had with ourselves in the building."

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