The NFL Draft looms large on the horizon as rosters continue to take shape ahead of the 2021 season.

Some big offseason moves have already threatened to alter the landscape of the league, even boosting the championship hopes of teams who missed out on the playoffs in 2020.

Most notably, the San Francisco 49ers and Miami Dolphins will each feel they won a trade that saw the number three overall pick sent to the NFC West team in exchange for assets including multiple future first-rounders.

The Niners will get a look at one of the top quarterbacks in an exciting class as they aim to challenge again following an injury ravaged campaign, while the Dolphins can now surround starter Tua Tagovailoa with talent in year two and beyond.

But what of the teams who were already Super Bowl contenders?

When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Green Bay Packers reached the NFC Championship Game and the Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills advanced in the AFC, pre-game predictions could scarcely separate the four.

It was the Bucs who ultimately prevailed, progressing past Green Bay before beating the Chiefs at Super Bowl LV, but their rivals will expect to be in the mix again.

Although chaos higher up in the draft could see plans quickly go out the window, we assess where the Bucs, Packers, Chiefs and Bills might be looking next week - with the help of Stats Perform data.
 

Green Bay Packers

All four of these teams will have interesting options in the first round as the early rush for quarterbacks leaves great depth at several other positions across the board. But the Packers, picking 29th, would be wise to think about how they might help Aaron Rodgers.

The veteran QB was understandably surprised last year when, rather than recruiting help, Green Bay drafted another passer in the first round. Jordan Love did not take a single snap all season long.

Packers wide receiver Davante Adams led the league in receiving touchdowns (18) and ranked fourth for targets (149), joint-second for catches (115) and joint-fifth for receiving yards (1,374), despite playing only 14 games. However, Rodgers clearly lacked a second WR option, with tight end Robert Tonyan's 11 TDs coming on just 59 targets.

There should be no shortage of prospects available to Green Bay, with Elijah Moore - ranked first in the FBS with 149.1 yards per game for Ole Miss - a good fit in the slot.

Yet the team have not selected a receiver in the first round since before Rodgers was drafted, while Adams, in 2014, was the last WR taken higher than the fourth round.

Defensive reinforcements may be more likely over the first two days of the draft. A linebacker like Zaven Collins - four interceptions last season for Tulsa - or a cornerback such as Caleb Farley - falling following back surgery - could be called in the first round, with a later punt on a potential WR project following.
 

Buffalo Bills

Buffalo's needs are two-fold as they aim to give QB Josh Allen the platform to contend with Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes and Tom Brady again.

The Bills ranked fourth in the NFL in 2020 for yards per attempt but 20th for rushing average (4.19). Allen contributed 421 of their 1,723 total rushing yards and half of their 16 rushing TDs.

Neither Devin Singletary (156 carries for 687 yards and two TDs) nor Zack Moss (112 carries for 481 yards and four TDs) look capable of being a game-changer on the ground, while the best running backs in the class may well still be on the board at number 30.

Alabama's Najee Harris, who led the FBS with 26 rushing scores, is an obvious standout.

Yet Buffalo's issues against the Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game came as they failed to disrupt Mahomes, who was sacked only once and threw three TDs and no interceptions.

The Bills were in the middle of the pack for sacks (38, tied 15th) and hurries (163, 17th) and could use someone on the edge, particularly with Jerry Hughes - the man who sacked Mahomes - turning 33 in August.
 

Kansas City Chiefs

If the playoffs made the shortcomings for Buffalo clear, Kansas City's flaws were even more blatant. The best QB in football was helpless in the Super Bowl.

Mitchell Schwartz and Eric Fisher, the Chiefs' starting tackles, missed the big game through injury and Mahomes was sacked three times, throwing two picks and no TDs. The pair have each since been released, too, increasing the team's need at the position.

Arrivals Joe Thuney, who allowed 0.5 sacks last season, and Kyle Long, back out of retirement, are not best suited to playing outside. Kansas City would ideally find both a right and left tackle in this draft.

They should have no shortage of options, with a number of prospects mooted as potential picks. Teven Jenkins, out of Oklahoma State, can play either side and would be a popular signing.
 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Bucs are in a truly unenviable position in that they have no positions of major need.

Some defensive end depth would be nice, but this unit pressured Mahomes into submission. The team ranked second for both hurries (182) and knockdowns (115). Linebacker Shaquil Barrett alone had 13 Super Bowl pressures.

Or how about a receiver to deliver the late-season impact provided by Antonio Brown? He had only four starts yet scored a touchdown in the Super Bowl triumph. Of course, he could also still return.

The rest of the title-winning roster from last year is back, meaning Tampa Bay remain in 'win now' mode and can simply look to pick up the best player left on the board at pick 32.

That might mean a RB like Harris, while the Bucs would have little to lose in taking a flier on Farley, despite his fitness concerns, if he falls to them.

The 2020 NFL Draft delivered one of the best wide receiver classes of the modern era, headlined by Justin Jefferson producing an historic rookie season for the Minnesota Vikings. Unfortunately for NFL defenders, the 2021 crop may well be even better.

Jefferson, having gone 22nd in the draft last year as the fifth receiver selected, set a league record for the most receiving yards by a rookie as he racked up an incredible 1,400 in 2020.

Six receivers went in the first 32 picks last year, with CeeDee Lamb, Brandon Aiyuk and Jerry Jeudy all impressing in their debut seasons in the league.

That number might not be matched this year, but it looks likely there will be at least four receivers taken on day one.

Ja'Marr Chase, DeVonta Smith, Jaylen Waddle and Rashod Bateman all possess skill sets that should mean they too can take the league by storm as Jefferson did so emphatically last season.

Beyond that quartet, there is a deep crop of likely day-two picks who can make an immediate impact for teams looking to bolster their pass-catching options.

Franchises eyeing an infusion of talent in the slot won't be short of options and, as the league tilts ever further towards pass-heavy offenses, it is an excellent year to be in need of a receiver regardless of where they line up.

Here we take an in-depth look at the consensus top four as well as some of the best of rest in another class of wideouts that has the potential to transform offenses across the league.

Ja'Marr Chase - LSU

Widely regarded as the top receiver in the class, Chase earned that moniker despite not displaying the ability to separate from coverage at an elite level.

In 2019, Chase was open on 61.8 per cent of his targets, well below the average of 69.7 per cent among Power 5 receivers with at least 20 targets.

Yet he put up 127.1 yards per game, second in the FBS behind Arkansas State's Omar Bayless (127.2), and was second in yards per reception among receivers with at least 40 catches with an average of 21.2 that trailed only Lamb (21.4).

His pass rating when targeted of 233.0 was second in the same group, with Smith (238.6) the sole man ahead of him.

Chase excelled in spite of a lack of separation because of two factors: his hand usage and his proficiency at the catch point.

To watch Chase is perhaps as close as you will come to watching a pass rusher play receiver, excelling at working off physical press coverage and showing the willingness to aggressively handfight with defenders throughout the route to gain an advantage.

At the catch point, the explosion in his lower body that helped him record a 41-inch vertical jump at his pro day comes to the fore, with Chase consistently succeeding in elevating over the heads of defenders to come down with the ball in contested-catch situations.

His success in those areas helped Chase finish sixth among Power 5 receivers with a minimum of 50 targets with a big-play percentage of 45.6, far outranking that of former Tigers team-mate Jefferson (38.8).

After a year away from the game following his 2020 opt-out, teams picking in the top 10 must decide if Chase's skill set can translate to the NFL as well as Jefferson's did. The majority of the numbers from his critical role in LSU's march to the National Championship present a compelling case.

DeVonta Smith - Alabama

Smith could have declared for the draft last year and been considered the top Alabama receiver in a draft that saw Crimson Tide stars Henry Ruggs III and Jeudy go in the first round after a stunning 2019 in which he outperformed both.

His decision to return for 2020 was emphatically vindicated, though, with Smith becoming the first receiver since Desmond Howard in 1991 to win the Heisman Trophy.

Doubts over Smith's 166-pound frame will persist, yet there was nothing during his career with Alabama to suggest his lack of bulk will be something that prevents him from succeeding at the next level.

Adept at creating separation with his route-running, Smith was open on 85.8 per cent of his targets - seventh among all Power 5 receivers with at least 50 targets - while his burn percentage of 76.4 trailed only Ohio State duo Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave.

His talents in getting free from coverage allowed Smith to rack up 142.8 receiving yards per game, that average second in the FBS, while his passer rating when targeted improved to 283.9.

And rather than allowing himself to be hindered by his slender frame at the catch point, Smith relied on his leaping ability and body control to haul in one spectacular grab after another, his catch percentage of 79.6 eighth on the FBS list for receivers with a minimum of 50 targets.

Deceptively quick and elusive with the ball in his hands, Smith's yards after catch per reception average of 8.33 saw him rank sixth among wideouts with 40 or more receptions.

In short, there is not a facet of the game in which Smith did not excel at Alabama. Perhaps his lean frame, and the doubts over whether he can succeed against press that come with it, will put off some top-10 teams, but there is scarce little evidence Smith cannot live up to the weight of expectations that come with being drafted in the first round.

Jaylen Waddle - Alabama

The same durability concerns surrounding Smith could be applied to Waddle after his final season with Alabama was curtailed by an ankle injury, though he made an ill-advised return for their National Championship game win over Ohio State.

However, any lingering doubts over his health will likely be put to one side, with Waddle firmly established as the premier deep threat in the draft.

Blessed with game-changing speed and a remarkable talent for elevating at the catch point for a receiver of his 5ft 10in and 182-pound frame, Waddle was sensational over six games in 2020 for the Crimson Tide.

He averaged 21.1 yards per reception, a number only bettered by Western Michigan's D'Wayne Eskridge (23.3) among those with 25 catches in the FBS, frequently gaining substantial separation from defenders to make huge plays downfield.

Waddle was open on an astonishing 90.6 per cent of his targets in 2020; the average was 72.8 among receivers with a minimum of 20 targets.

That number can partially be attributed to the success of Steve Sarkisian's scheme last season. However, a burn yards per target average of 19.96 - bettered by just two receivers who met that 20-target threshold - speaks to his ability to defeat coverage with a frightening combination of agility and acceleration that helped him produce 10.3 YAC per reception (13th in the FBS for wideouts with a minimum of 25 catches).

In addition to his explosiveness, Waddle brings reliability that is not always a fixture of deep threats in the NFL. He dropped only one pass on 32 targets last year, catching 87.5 per cent of balls thrown his way (third in the FBS among receivers with at least 30 targets).

Waddle finished his final season in Tuscaloosa with a catch rating of 0.966, further illustrating his status as a receiver who excelled at hauling in catchable passes and consistently ensured those receptions ended in big plays. Nothing scares NFL defenses more than speed and, regardless of where Waddle lands, corners across the league can consider themselves on notice.

Rashod Bateman - Minnesota

While Chase, Smith and Waddle have garnered the vast majority of the attention, Bateman has an extremely credible claim for being the most well-rounded receiver in the entire class.

His case was not helped by a 2020 season in which he only played five games following a battle with coronavirus, but his 2019 campaign was one illustrative of a prospect with all the tools to blossom into a number one wideout at the highest level.

A talented downfield weapon who was open on 70.8 per cent of his targets in 2019 with an average depth of target of 16.2 yards, Bateman does an excellent job of engineering separation with his route-running.

His burn yards per target average of 16.15 was sixth among all Power 5 receivers with at least 50 targets two seasons ago and only Ruggs and Olave in the same group had a higher big-play percentage than Bateman's 50.4.

Bateman can use his 6ft 190-pound frame to dominate at the catch point, while his abilities after the catch have been severely underrated. Indeed, his missed/broken tackle per touch rate of 0.300 was superior to that of Smith (0.299) in the same year, though Chase (0.353) and Waddle (0.441) each outperformed him in that regard.

He could go well outside the top 10 but, should Bateman put everything together in pros with the same consistency as he did in college in 2019, he could prove the best of an ultra-talented bunch.

Best of the rest

For as exciting of a prospect as Bateman is, many believe Terrace Marshall Jr. is even better.

He was the forgotten man in that juggernaut LSU offense of 2019 and impressed last year when thrust into the lead receiver role following the exits of Joe Burrow, Chase, Justin Jefferson and play-caller Joe Brady.

Boasting an intriguing blend of size and speed, Marshall ranked 14th in the FBS in 2020 with 104.4 receiving yards per game. Only two receivers - Smith and Jaelon Darden - caught more than Marshall's 23 touchdowns over the last two seasons.

North Carolina's Dyami Brown is of a similar physical profile to Marshall but used it in a very different way, developing into one of college football's premier deep threats.

With an air yards per target average of 17.6 last season, Brown led FBS receivers with a minimum of 40 catches as he averaged 20.0 yards per reception.

He was open on 75.6 per cent of his targets despite having the fourth-highest average depth of target (18.0 yards) among Power 5 receivers with at least 20 targets. His burn yards per target average of 17.30 was seventh.

While Brown does the bulk of his damage getting downfield before making the catch, teams eyeing receivers who can pick up significant yardage after the reception will have taken a strong look at Florida star Kadarius Toney.

Toney enjoyed a breakout year in 2020, using the elasticity in his legs to rack up 6.93 yards after catch per reception, that average 20th among receivers with a minimum of 40 receptions.

He had a missed/broken tackle per touch rate of 0.360 that was bettered by just four wideouts among Power 5 receivers with a minimum of 50 targets.

And though there is concern about Toney's status as a one-year wonder who often ran undisciplined routes, his hands have proven extremely reliable, his catch percentage of 83.3 fourth among FBS receivers targeted at least 50 times.

Elijah Moore can't quite match Toney for YAC (6.02 per reception in 2020) but he was the picture of reliability for Ole Miss last season as he led the FBS in receiving yards per game with 149.1 while catching 84.3 per cent of his targets (third in FBS among those with 50 targets).

Ultra-dependable at the catch point, Moore demonstrates extremely strong hands, excellent ball-tracking ability and the body control to adjust to inaccurate passes. His catch rating, which measures how well a receiver successfully brings in throws that are considered catchable, of 0.989 was bettered by just one receiver in the Power 5 with at least 50 targets in 2020.

Beating defenders consistently with his lower-body agility and stop-start quickness that makes him a significant threat on double moves, just five Power 5 receivers with a minimum of 50 targets did a better job of getting open than Moore.

He was open on 86.3 per cent of his targets. Expecting Moore to immediately have the same success in the pros is unrealistic, but he has all the makings of a second-round steal.

The New York Jets didn't get the chance to draft Baker Mayfield. Three years later, they may not be passing up on taking a reasonable facsimile.

There's seemingly little drama at the very summit of this year's NFL Draft, where Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence has been seen as a foregone conclusion to land in Jacksonville from the day the Jaguars clinched the No. 1 overall pick in December. And if a growing amount of media speculation can be taken as fact, the Jets appear locked in to making BYU's Zach Wilson their latest attempt at finding a franchise signal-caller when they pick at No. 2.

So, why has Wilson, a fringe prospect leading into his stellar junior season with the Cougars, presumably vaulted to near the top of a quarterback-heavy class that also features three other likely first-round choices in Ohio State's Justin Fields, North Dakota State's Trey Lance and Alabama's Mac Jones?

Joe Burrow had a similar rise just a year ago, going from a projected late-round prospect to the top overall pick on the strength of a record-setting final season at LSU. And when using Stats Perform's advanced metric data, Wilson's 2020 campaign compares quite favourably with the final collegiate seasons of the last three No. 1 overall selections – Mayfield, Kyler Murray and Burrow.

Wilson v former No. 1 overall picks

Wilson's final year with the Cougars has the edge over the farewell college seasons of that trio in two key areas, completion percentage on third down and on throws of at least 20 air yards. He completed 79.7 per cent of his third-down throws (first in the FBS among QBs with a minimum of 40 attempts) and connected on 63.3 per cent of throws of 20 air yards or more, which also led FBS quarterbacks with at least 30 attempts.

Neither Mayfield (62.0), Murray (65.0) or Burrow (65.6) come close to Wilson in third-down percentage. It is the same story when pushing the ball over 20 yards through the air. Mayfield's completion percentage on such pass attempts (53.3) ranked first in the FBS in 2017 while Burrow (58) was second in 2019 but they and Murray (10th in 2018 with 49.3) were again well adrift of Wilson.

When blitzed, Wilson's completion percentage of 67.9 trailed only Burrow in 2019 (69.6), though on play-action throws (73.4 per cent) he was inferior to both Mayfield (73.6) and Burrow (75.2). That duo also had the edge in the red zone. Mayfield led FBS quarterbacks with at least 25 attempts in 2017 with a 70.7 completion percentage, with Wilson's mark of 66.7 below that and Burrow's effort in 2019 (72.2).

Yet in essence, Wilson's performance on deep throws, in play-action situations and within the red zone was a near carbon-copy to those of Mayfield and Burrow. Mayfield has been a popular comp to the Utah native, and for good reason as they're similarly sized and play with an evident abundance of bravado and swagger. That gunslinger mentality often worked against Mayfield in his second NFL season, when his 21 interceptions were the second highest in the league in 2019, but a more judicious approach in 2020 led to a much higher rate of efficiency and more importantly, greater team success as the Cleveland Browns nearly doubled their win total from six to 11.

Wilson's numbers, in fact, trump those of Lawrence, who finished no higher than 19th among qualified FBS quarterbacks in those categories.

Now, that still doesn't necessarily mean that Wilson should be viewed as the superior prospect. Lawrence, much like the three quarterbacks mentioned above, faced an overall higher level of competition than his draft counterpart, who did not go up against a single Power 5 team during BYU's breakout 2020 season.

Wilson did face four major conference teams as a sophomore in 2019, and while his overall stats in those games (997 passing yards, 62.8 completion percentage, three touchdowns, three interceptions) were not overwhelming, he did lead the Cougars to wins at Tennessee and against Southern California with turnover-free efforts in each. While the sample size is still small, it's enough to suggest he can succeed against quality opponents at the next level if he plays within himself.

Why Wilson fits the Jets like a glove

Perhaps Wilson's most endearing trait to quarterback-needy teams, and arguably the main reason why he seems destined to be off the board within the top three picks, is his prowess on play-action passes. That is a staple of the Kyle Shanahan offense run by the San Francisco 49ers, who own the No. 3 pick and have gone on record stating they intend to take a quarterback.

The Jets, meanwhile, have spent the offseason attempting to morph into 49ers East by hiring San Francisco defensive coordinator Robert Salah as their new head coach and tabbing Shanahan disciple Mike LaFleur as offensive coordinator. And with Sam Darnold having been shown the door following three seasons of largely unmet expectations, it's clear the next order of business is finding a young field general well-suited to run LaFleur's scheme.

It's also clear that this is a decision the Jets can't get wrong this time around. Wilson may not have the highest ceiling of the group behind Lawrence – that belongs to the uber-athletic but somewhat unpolished Lance – but he'd be the safest bet. He's the best play-action quarterback in this class and probably the most seamless fit for either the Jets or 49ers, having operated in an offense at BYU that utilised a heavy dose of outside-zone running that's common to the Shanahan system. Wilson can also reasonably be viewed as a better prospect than Burrow, as his arm strength is superior to last year's top choice.

Detractors can fairly point out, however, that Burrow may not have been the best quarterback of the 2020 class – Justin Herbert certainly had the best rookie season. The same can be said for Mayfield, who was drafted No. 1 in the same year as an eventual NFL MVP (Lamar Jackson) and a runner-up for last season's award (Josh Allen).

Still, Mayfield has a playoff win on his resume and an above .500 record as a starter for a franchise that went 0-16 before his arrival. If the Jets can get the same from Wilson through his first three years, it will be a worthwhile decision.

The NFL Draft offers a stage for sporting drama, yet there is seemingly no suspense surrounding the identity of the player whose name will be announced first by commissioner Roger Goodell.

Trevor Lawrence was the presumptive number one pick long before he wrapped up his college career after a third and final season with Clemson. There was no need to return for a senior year – the time has come to head to the next level.

The Jacksonville Jaguars are waiting to select what they hope will be their long-term answer at quarterback, someone who can help turn around the fortunes of a team who finished the 2020 campaign with a dismal 1-15 record.

Whether they were 'Tanking for Trevor' or not, their reward for consistently losing is a shot at one of the most talked-about prospects at the position in the past decade. For a franchise with just one winning season in the previous 13 years, the presence of Lawrence offers a fresh start and immediately changes expectation levels.

New head coach Urban Meyer has not even bothered to try to hide the fact either: Lawrence will become a Jaguar on April 29.

This will be a new situation for him, though, having lost just twice with the Tigers. Those defeats came in the 2020 National Championship against an LSU offense led by Joe Burrow, last year's first overall selection by the Cincinnati Bengals, and the Sugar Bowl in January, when Justin Fields – another signal-caller expected to be selected early – led scoring drive after scoring drive for Ohio State.

So, can a serial winner live up to the hype and help the Jags move forward? Stats Perform data helps provide a picture of what Jacksonville - and indeed the league as a whole - can expect.

Law in order with Tigers

Lawrence threw for 10,098 yards in his Clemson career. There were 90 touchdown passes and just 17 interceptions in an impressive three-year run, while the average yards per attempt improved - 8.26 to 9.00, then 9.44 – in each of his seasons in South Carolina.

His completion rate also continued to rise the longer he played at the college level. After hovering just above 65 per cent during years one and two, he was successful on 69.2 per cent of his attempts in 2020.

That number barely dropped when it came to throwing in the red zone (68.5 per cent), ranking him second for quarterbacks in the FBS across the period of 2018-2020, though he completed on 56.8 per cent of his attempts in third-down situations during that span - only good enough to sit 78th out of those to have at least 100 attempts.

Still, on third downs with eight or more yards to go in 2020, Lawrence was on target with 27 of his 43 passes. Taking into consideration just third-and-long circumstances when needing 11 yards or more, he was good with 12 out of 19 throws.

There will undoubtedly be a need to learn quickly on the job, but wide receiver Amari Rodgers - one of Lawrence's main targets when lining up together for the Tigers - has no doubts about his former team-mate delivering on his promise once in the NFL.

"I think he knows what he's walking into," Rodgers, who had 77 catches for 1,020 yards and seven scores in 2020, told Stats Perform News ahead of the draft.

"He knows that it might take a little time to change the program around, but just because he came from that winning culture at Clemson and even in high school, he barely lost any games in high school, he just has that winning mindset.

"He's going to do whatever it takes to change that program around and make them a winning team. I have no doubt he's going to do that."

The key, though, will be getting enough opportunities to make plays.

Coping with the heat

Pressure is coming in many different forms for Lawrence, who prepared for his impending football marriage with the Jaguars by tying the knot with his long-time girlfriend.

The 21-year-old will have to cope with not just the expectations of a new team's fanbase but also the national spotlight. Going first overall comes with added pressure in itself, but with an opening round set to see a bevy of young quarterbacks selected in the early stages, there will inevitably be comparisons to his fellow rookies.

Then there is also the added focus awaiting him from NFL defenses. Jacksonville gave up 44 sacks in the 2020 season, one more than Lawrence endured in his entire career at Clemson.

However, teams will be aware of the risks that come with sending extra rushers at Lawrence, who completed 63.8 per cent of his pass attempts when blitzed. That number ranked him eighth in the FBS across his three-year stint, making the message clear to opponents: get home or be prepared to pay the consequences.

While not widely regarded as a running quarterback, Lawrence is also mobile enough to make plays with his legs; he rushed for 18 touchdowns in 40 games for Clemson, including eight in his final campaign.

If not able to make use of his arm to counter a blitz, the QB's footwork and speed off the mark is capable of seeing him sneak out of trouble and exploit the sudden spaces available.

'The ultimate competitor'

Lawrence's athleticism allows him to rush for yards when the situation requires, but it is undoubtedly his capabilities as a passer that makes him so appealing to the Jaguars.

In a campaign where little went right after a Week 1 win over the Indianapolis Colts, James Robinson's emergence as a dual-threat running back provides Lawrence - who completed 64.6 per cent of passes in play-action situations – a potential safety blanket to hit when coming out of the backfield.

Accuracy is a key trait, too, and the signal-caller has demonstrated how he can go deep when the option is open. On throws of 20 or more air yards, he completed 42.1 per cent. 

"He's the ultimate competitor, every time he steps on the field he's trying to be the best out there," Rodgers said of his former QB.

"He's trying to win every single day. Every single rep, he's trying to be perfect, and if it's not, if you miss a ball in practice, we're doing it like three or five times afterwards just so we can have it on mind, that muscle memory that it actually works.

"He's one of those that prepares like a pro. Ever since he got on campus his freshman year, he prepared outstanding and it showed on the field. I have no doubts he's going to succeed at the next level."

Lawrence has the talent, temperament and tenacity required to prosper. Now he just has to wait for the formalities of getting picked before joining a franchise desperately in need of a superstar.

Trey Lance took to the field at the Fargodome for the final time on Monday with an opportunity to state one last case to be the third overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. In these unusual times, it is perhaps fitting that a quarterback with his irregular resume had such a chance.

Behind closed doors at the home of the North Dakota State Bison, Lance threw in front of several teams in his 'second pro day', having shown off his remarkable arm at his first.

The sequel showcase was undoubtedly primarily aimed at impressing Kyle Shanahan, head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, whose trade up to the third overall pick for a successor to much-maligned and oft-injured quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has given them control of a draft in which the Jacksonville Jaguars and New York Jets are widely expected to select Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson one and two.

Whether Lance did enough to convince the Niners he should be the third player off the board remains to be seen. However, if he did, then San Francisco would be taking one of the most significant risks in the history of the NFL Draft.

Lawrence, Wilson, Justin Fields and Mac Jones all have varying strengths and weaknesses, but it is Lance who stands as the draft's ultimate wild card.

Limited second-tier seasoning

He will enter the league with just one full season of college experience - and an uneven 'showcase game' against Central Arkansas last year - after the coronavirus pandemic pushed the Bison's 2020 season into the spring of 2021. And Lance only averaged around 18 pass attempts in a run-heavy offense in his sole campaign.

In addition to inexperience, the level of competition is also a question-mark against Lance's name, his 16 games in 2019 coming in the FCS, college football's second tier. Bison alumnus Carson Wentz made the grade in the NFL, at least initially, playing at the same level, but the pithy cliche about college prospects often playing against 'future insurance salesmen' is one all too easily applied to Lance.

Yet so impressive were his performances in 2019 that Lance represents an enticing potential project for coaches like Shanahan, and there is significant visual and statistical evidence to suggest he can silence doubts about his inexperience and lack of elite opposition to develop into one of the NFL's most exciting young quarterbacks.

Boundless throwing upside

The raw yardage numbers do not make for spectacular reading for Lance, who finished 2019 with 2,786 passing yards.

However, that is more down to the philosophy of the NDSU offense rather than any limitations he has as a thrower.

Lance averaged 9.71 yards per pass attempt in 2019, ranking eighth among all quarterbacks in the FBS and FCS, with Fields (9.25) 13th and Lawrence (9.00) 18th.

His completion percentage of 66.9 was 17th across the FBS and FCS, below Fields (67.2) but above Lawrence (65.8) and it could have been markedly higher had Lance been more consistent with his downfield accuracy.

Blessed with arm strength that makes throws to all levels of the field available to him, Lance can hit on the deep ball with unerring placement but, unsurprisingly for a player of his limited experience, underthrows and overthrows were also a regular feature of his time with the Bison.

While that may be a concern in terms of his immediate impact at the next level, the fact he still connected on passes at that rate while often missing downfield is illustrative of the room to grow that has many believing he could end up being the best pro of this crop of quarterbacks.

A calm head on young shoulders

Lance's composure and his discipline in taking care of the football should make his transition to the pros smoother and potentially more expedient.

The standout number from his 2019 campaign was his interception tally. Zero. No other quarterback in the FBS and the FCS with a minimum of 200 pass attempts avoided throwing the ball to an opposition player.

That is not to say there weren't instances where Lance was fortunate not to be picked off, and he was finally intercepted in his sole 2020 appearance, but the consistency of his decision-making combined with the fact his blemish-free season came in a year where he also accounted for 42 touchdowns played a significant role in his rapid rise up draft boards.

Fourteen of those scores came in an area of the game where his case for having the edge over the rest of the first-round quarterbacks is most impressive.

Dual-threat dominance

A devastatingly effectively runner in the open field, Lance is a frightening dual-threat who builds speed with long strides and uses every inch of an imposing 6ft 4in and 226-pound frame to inflict punishment on opposing defenders and barrel them over for extra yardage.

Only four quarterbacks across the FBS and FCS had more rushing touchdowns than Lance's 14, while his rushing average of 6.5 was fifth among signal-callers to have registered at least 100 rushing attempts.

Lawrence's 2019 rushing average was only a yard shy of Lance's as the Clemson phenom added nine scores on the ground.

Fields had 10 rushing touchdowns in his sophomore campaign, with that duo each continuing to excel as runners in 2020 as Wilson also produced a demonstration of his athletic upside last season with 10 scores (Lawrence had eight and Fields five).

But none of that trio have proven as physically dominant as Lance when he gets into space and it is the blend of his upside as a rusher and the variety of high-difficulty throws at his dispsoal that makes the prospect of putting him at the helm of a pro offense such an enticing one.

The determination the 49ers and other teams eyeing a quarterback in the draft must make is whether his astronomical ceiling is worth the risk of investing in a player whose bridge from high school to the pros was essentially one season of bullyball against second-rate opponents.

Regardless of how his career ultimately turns out, Lance's diverse and dynamic skill set ensures the team that decides to take that gamble is in for a thrilling ride.

Athletes expressed relief and vowed to continue the fight for reforms after a jury in Minnesota found a former police officer guilty in the May 2020 death of George Floyd. 

Derek Chauvin was convicted of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter on Tuesday, nearly 11 months after he knelt on Floyd's neck and back for more than nine minutes during an arrest. 

Floyd's death aged 46 sparked outrage across the United States, with athletes across multiple sports among those who called for justice. 

Tuesday's verdict in Minneapolis provided a measure of progress and sports figures, teams and leagues spoke out after the ruling. 

Basketball star LeBron James' reaction was among the most succinct as he tweeted simply: "ACCOUNTABILITY".

Boxing legend Mike Tyson tweeted: "Guilty. Justice served."

While similiar expressions of relief were common, most continued to lament the crime that sparked the case. 

"George Floyd lost his life, as many others have, unjustly. We can't forget that - that people are losing their lives," Brooklyn Nets head coach Steve Nash told reporters.

"On the other hand, it is a small gesture of justice and possibly hope for the future in that perhaps all the social justice movements - the NBA, the WNBA, the community at large - are really making an impact.

"I just hope that this is the type of statement by our justice system that gives hope and precedence for these type of verdicts to be the norm."

Head coach Mike Tomlin has signed a three-year contract extension with the Steelers, keeping him in Pittsburgh through the 2024 season.

Tomlin has been in charge of the Steelers since 2007 and won Super Bowl XLIII in February 2009.

The youngest coach to win the Super Bowl, Tomlin and Pittsburgh lost the big game on their next trip two years later and have not returned since.

But the Steelers have repeatedly challenged, reaching the playoffs in nine of his 14 seasons.

In 2020, the Steelers made an 11-0 start before an underwhelming end to the season. Four defeats in five and a 12-4 record was still enough to win the AFC North, but Pittsburgh then suffered a humiliating postseason defeat to division rival the Cleveland Browns.

They are keeping faith with Tomlin, however.

"Mike is one of the most successful head coaches in the National Football League," president Art Rooney II said.

"And we are confident in his leadership to continue to lead our team as we work to win another championship."

The Steelers have favoured continuity, with Tomlin just their third coach since 1969 – the others Hall of Famers Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher.

Tomlin, whose contract had been set to expire at the end of the coming season, said: "I am extremely grateful for this contract extension and want to thank Art Rooney II and everyone in the organisation for the support in my first 14 seasons.

"We have a goal of winning the organisation's seventh Super Bowl championship, and I couldn't be more enthusiastic about this upcoming season."

The Steelers have restructured veteran quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's contract, so it voids after 2021.

But the 39-year-old is set to start under center for one more season after finishing the previous campaign with an eventful display against the Browns.

Roethlisberger threw for more than 500 yards (501) for the fourth time in his career and set new highs for attempts (68) and completions (47). He finished with four touchdowns and four interceptions.

Mac Jones was not universally pegged as a first-round pick. Not until the San Francisco 49ers moved up to three, at least.

Then Kyle Shanahan's reported interest in the Alabama quarterback prompted a reappraisal of his talents.

If the Niners were willing to make a blockbuster trade, parting with two future first-round picks, just to move into position to take Jones, how good must he be?

Plenty around the NFL still are not convinced, while the smoke and mirrors surrounding the draft means there remains no guarantee Jones goes at number three or even in the top 10.

But what would the 49ers or any other suitors be getting if they selected the Heisman Trophy finalist? And how does he compare to his rivals in a potential five-QB first round?

With the aid of Stats Perform data, we take a look at one of the most polarising prospects in the 2021 NFL Draft.

The raw numbers

Jones played in all 13 games for Alabama in 2020 as they went 13-0, succeeding Miami Dolphins first-rounder Tua Tagovailoa at the QB position.

En route to the National Championship, Alabama boasted the outstanding offense in college football.

Jones threw for 4,500 yards, the most in the FBS, and trailed only Florida's Kyle Trask (43) with his 41 passing touchdowns.

He also led the FBS in completion percentage. Of his 402 throws, 311 were caught - another high - for an exceptional 77.4 per cent.

These figures could have been even more impressive, too, with 323 of his balls considered 'catchable'.

Jones did benefit from playing with the best receiving corps in the game, however.

DeVonta Smith caught 23 TD passes from 117 receptions for 1,856 yards, yet just 919 yards came through the air, with Smith adding 937 after the catch.

Jones ranked 44th in the FBS for air yards per attempt at 8.43. Indeed, Jaylen Waddle - who played just six games - averaged 21.1 yards per catch but only 11.0 at the point of reception, his dynamic ability with the ball in his hands significantly boosting Jones' output.

Trust the system

At the helm of an excellently designed offense and on a team with elite receiving talent like that possessed by the Crimson Tide, Jones' merits are obvious. That is why he is said to suit the 49ers.

Jones completed 77.6 per cent of his play-action passes - a staple of the Shanahan scheme - last year, and Shanahan is widely regarded as having an affinity for quarterbacks who can digest his offense and deliver accurately from the pocket.

Kirk Cousins, drafted during Shanahan's time in Washington, ranks third all-time in the NFL for completion percentage (67.0).

Atlanta Falcons starter Matt Ryan completed 69.9 per cent of his passes working with Shanahan in the 2016 season en route to an MVP award and a Super Bowl appearance, while the Niners' Jimmy Garoppolo threw at 69.1 per cent in 2019 as they came within minutes of lifting the Lombardi Trophy.

Fellow draft prospects Zach Wilson (73.5 per cent, third), Justin Fields (70.2, seventh) and Trevor Lawrence (69.2, 10th) joined Jones in the top 10 in the FBS in completion percentage, though.

Meanwhile, Trey Lance - restricted to a single game last season - ranked fourth in the FCS in 2019 with a mark of 66.9 per cent.

But where Jones particularly stood out was with his throws in pressure situations.

The Crimson Tide star led the FBS in completion percentage when blitzed (76.9) and also in red zone completion percentage (75.9). On third down, he ranked fourth, connecting on 71.6 per cent of his passes.

Mac lacks mobility

Despite his consistency as a thrower, there is a reason Jones was not previously considered a challenger to Wilson, Fields, Lawrence and Lance.

If the 49ers look elsewhere, Jones could yet fall a long way to find another team confident they have the system and surrounding personnel to make the move worthwhile.

And even then, few NFL coaches in 2021 are likely to be willing to overlook his shortcomings as an athlete.

Whereas Wilson, Fields, Lawrence and Lance are set to join the burgeoning ranks of dual-threat quarterbacks in the NFL, Jones' playing style is one borne of the soon to be bygone era of the pocket passer.

At Alabama, where he could palm the ball off to FBS-leading running back Najee Harris, Jones had just 35 carries last year and scored a single rushing touchdown.

The majority of these runs were short bursts to steal first downs, averaging 0.4 yards per attempt, with a longest carry of 14 yards.

It is in this area that Jones lags a long way behind the rest.

Wilson averaged 3.6 yards and scored 10 TDs. Fields played just eight games but had 81 carries, averaging 4.7 yards. Lawrence averaged 3.0 yards and scored eight times.

In the inferior FCS in 2019, Lance blew each of those performances away. He had 169 carries for 14 TDs at an average of 6.5 yards per carry.

Without the same ability to open up the game with his legs, Jones would need to be a truly generational talent with his arm.

Only three NFL signal-callers averaged under 0.4 yards per carry over 10 games last season: Tom Brady (0.2), Drew Brees (-0.1) and Philip Rivers (-0.4).

Brady and Brees are each in their forties and among the greatest of all time. Brees and Rivers have also both since retired.

The NFL is eschewing the traditional quarterback in favour of the athletically gifted dual-threats whose skill sets are more conducive to elite production in the modern game. Regardless of where he is selected, Jones is going to have buck that trend to succeed at the highest level.

Kansas City Chiefs star Patrick Mahomes said he is "ahead of schedule" in his recovery from toe surgery.

Mahomes underwent surgery following Kansas City's Super LV loss to Tom Brady's Tampa Bay Buccaneers in February.

The NFL's MVP in 2018 before earning Most Valuable Player honours in Super Bowl LIV, Mahomes provided an update on his rehabilitation.

"I think I'm progressing well,'' said the 25-year-old quarterback.

"I think I'm ahead of schedule myself. Obviously, we're trying to be cautious. We're not pushing me out there too soon. But I'm doing what I can. I've gotten out of the boot finally.

"It took forever. Now I'm trying to get back on the field and get that stuff working.

"I'm sure they'll keep me on that same pathway and that hopefully I can do some stuff by the end of the offseason.''

Chiefs head coach Andy Reid added: "He's got great flexibility in that toe. He worked his tail off, not a real fun thing for him to do with that.

"It seems like a small thing, but that toe is rather large and stiff before the surgery and after the surgery, so he's really worked hard to get that right.''

Mahomes led the NFL in passing yards per game with 316.0 in 2020, well clear of Deshaun Watson (301.4) in second.

Watson's Houston Texans were the only team in the league to produce more passing plays of 20 yards or more (70 to 69) and more touchdown throws of at least 20 yards (16 to 15).

The Chiefs ranked 12th in rushing yards per attempt (4.46), but were in the top 10 for rushes of 10 yards or more with 57.

Alex Smith has announced his retirement from the NFL, despite the quarterback admitting he still feels to have "plenty of snaps" left in him.

The first overall pick in the 2005 draft, Smith started out with the San Francisco 49ers before going on to play for the Kansas City Chiefs and the Washington Football Team.

The 36-year-old's career was in jeopardy when he suffered a gruesome leg injury in November 2018, leading to 17 operations and - having avoided the need for his leg to be amputated - a lengthy rehabilitation regime.

However, he made his return to action for Washington in a 2020 season that saw the franchise win the NFC East to make the playoffs and Smith named Comeback Player of the Year by the Associated Press.

Released in the offseason, he initially indicated a desire to carry on playing but released an Instagram video on Monday confirming the end of his 16-year career in the league.

"Two years ago, I was stuck in a wheelchair staring down at my mangled leg and wondering if I would ever be able to go on a walk with my wife again or play games with my kids in the yard," Smith said.

"Putting my helmet back on was the furthest thing from my mind. I just kept asking myself: 'All this for a stupid game?'.

"Then someone did something that changed my recovery completely – he put a football back in my hands. I don't know what it was, but all of a sudden, I felt stronger, more driven. What once seemed impossible began to come into focus."

Smith was a Heisman Trophy finalist in 2004, his final year of college football with the University of Utah before entering the draft.

The signal-caller threw for 35,650 yards with 199 touchdowns and 109 interceptions in the NFL. He completed 62.6 per cent of his pass attempts and ends with an overall QB rating of 86.9.

There were also 15 rushing touchdowns, five of which came in the 2016 campaign when he helped the Chiefs to the first of five successive divisional titles in the AFC West.

"Even though I've got plenty of snaps left in me, after 16 years of giving this game everything I've got, I can't wait to see what else is possible," Smith said towards the end of a montage that included clips of his arduous recovery process.

"But first, I'm going to take a little time to enjoy some of those walks with my wife, and my kids have no idea what is coming for them in the back yard."

The 2020 NFL Draft was unlike any other as the impact of the coronavirus pandemic forced the league to make necessary changes.

With all public events cancelled due to COVID-19, the 85th edition of the annual meeting went remote. Commissioner Roger Goodell announced picks from his own home and, with facilities closed, online communication became the only way to do business for all 32 teams.

With the 2021 event fast approaching, it seems an appropriate time to assess the first round from a year ago with the help of Stats Perform data.

While still early in their NFL careers, it is already clear some made franchise-chasing picks. Others, however, will hope there is still much more to come from their opening-day selections.

TOP OF THE CLASS...

Chase Young

Nick Bosa was right: Young is the "real deal", for sure.

San Francisco 49ers defensive end Bosa predicted big things for his former Ohio State teammate prior to the draft having seen up close his capabilities, and NFL offensive linemen quickly grew to realise the problems the second overall pick will cause them for years to come.

With Joe Burrow going to the Cincinnati Bengals, Washington had the chance to take the top defensive prospect. Young delivered on his potential, with his total of 7.5 sacks ranked first among all rookies. He also led the way for quarterback hurries (37), knockdowns (12.5) and hits (12), as well as total pressures (55).

Unsurprisingly, Young – who forced four fumbles, recovering three of them himself - was named Defensive Rookie of the Year (as Bosa had predicted, by the way) after helping Washington win the NFC East.

Justin Herbert

Herbert was selected at number six by the Los Angeles Chargers, who had a plan to let their new quarterback initially sit behind Tyrod Taylor. The development curve suddenly changed trajectory when the starter suffered an injury just before facing the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 2, meaning the rookie got an unexpected first opportunity to play.

The Oregon product quickly made clear there was no need to keep him waiting in the wings any longer, with Herbert going on to become just the second quarterback in NFL history to threw for over 4,000 yards in a season having not started in the opening game.

He set records for completions (396), passing yards per game (289.1) and passing touchdowns (31) for a first-year quarterback, unsurprisingly resulting in him being named Offensive Rookie of the Year. Herbert's outstanding numbers were not enough for the Chargers to make the playoffs - or keep head coach Anthony Lynn in his job - but have given the franchise a key building block at a discount price.

Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa – taken by the Miami Dolphins at five – had testing times in year one, but Herbert's debut season has raised the bar considerably high for his quarterback contemporaries.

Tristan Wirfs

Wirfs was the fourth offensive lineman to come off the board when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were lucky enough to get him at 13, having traded up one spot to do so.

Andrew Thomas (New York Giants), Jedrick Wills (Cleveland Browns) and Mekhi Becton (New York Jets) went ahead of the former Iowa Hawkeye, who would end up being an ever present for the Bucs on their journey to Super Bowl glory.

The 22-year-old provided excellent protection for Tom Brady at right tackle. In 476 pass protection snaps, he allowed just 25 quarterback pressures. That pressure rate of 5.3 per cent sits third across the league among right tackles, behind only Lane Johnson and Mike Onwenu, while 10th overall among all tackles.

Tampa Bay certainly did not whiff when taking Wirfs, who established himself as a foundational piece on a title-winning roster.

Justin Jefferson

Minnesota should be thankful to those teams who opted to take alternative receivers prior to them grabbing Jefferson at 22. The Vikings had secured the pick as part of the trade that sent Stefon Diggs to Buffalo – then used it to take the departed wideout's replacement.

Diggs did lead the league with 1,535 receiving yards, yet Jefferson was not too far behind, ranking fourth in the category with 1,400. That total set a new record for a rookie in the Super Bowl era, aided by seven 100-yard games.

No receiver had more catches of 25 yards or more than the former LSU star's total of 16, while he averaged 15.9 yards per reception. A year on, that trade with the Bills was a rare occasion when both teams benefited.

What makes Jefferson's output even more impressive is he had just five receptions for 70 yards through his first two NFL games. The breakout game came in Week 3 against the Tennessee Titans, as a seven-catch, 175-yard outing ignited what would become a phenomenal first year.

MUST DO BETTER...

Jeff Okudah

Okudah became the first cornerback to go inside the first three picks since the Seattle Seahawks selected Shawn Springs in 1997.

Ohio State has a strong recent tradition of providing opening-round selections at the position, including Marshon Lattimore and Denzel Ward in 2017 and 2018 respectively.

Injuries, however, hampered Okudah in year one. A hamstring issue in training camp delayed his debut until Week 2, while surgery on a core muscle in mid-December saw him placed on injured reserve, ending his involvement for a Lions team who ended up with a 5-11 record.

When on the field, Okudah allowed receivers to get open on 88.6 per cent of his targets when having an expected open percentage of 63.7. He allowed a 'big play' on 43.9 per cent of his coverage snaps, ranking him third on an unwanted list for defensive backs. The Lions will hope he can not only stay healthy in 2021 but also play a greater role in shoring up their secondary.

Jalen Reagor

The transition to pass-heavy offensive schemes has placed a greater premium on receivers in the draft. In 2020, six were taken in the opening 32 picks, while a draft record 13 went across the first two rounds.

Henry Ruggs was the first off the board, taken by the Las Vegas Raiders at 12. Jerry Jeudy followed three picks later to the Denver Broncos, then CeeDee Lamb at 17 by the Dallas Cowboys.

There was much talk that the Philadelphia Eagles had Lamb in their sights. Instead, Jalen Reagor was their choice at 21 - one slot ahead of Jefferson. The former missed time due to a torn ligament in his thumb, while the team transitioning from Carson Wentz to Jalen Hurts at quarterback hardly aided his development.

Reagor finished with 31 catches for 396 yards and a solitary touchdown (there was also a score on a punt return, too) for an anaemic passing attack. Philadelphia averaged just 207.9 yards per game through the air, finishing with 22 touchdowns to 20 interceptions. All still involved will hope for an improvement under a new regime this year.

Isaiah Wilson

Wilson's rookie season included two stints on the reserve/COVID-19 list, a suspension due to a violation of team rules and just the one game. It remains to be seen how many more appearances he makes in the NFL, considering he is currently a free agent.

In taking the offensive tackle at 29, the Tennessee Titans hoped they had a player able to compete for a starting spot after impressing for Georgia, including being named second-team All-SEC following his final season with the Bulldogs.

His solitary outing came in Week 11 against the Indianapolis Colts, during which he was on the field for 4.2 per cent of the team's offensive snaps (plus one on special teams, too).

Traded to the Miami Dolphins in March, Wilson was waived three days after the deal having turned up late for his physical and then skipped multiple optional workouts he had originally agreed to attend.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire

The rich had seemingly got even richer when the Kansas City Chiefs rounded out the opening round in 2020 by taking a tailback, one who had demonstrated his abilities as both a runner and a pass-catcher while helping LSU win the 2020 National Championship Game.

There was a promising start in Week 1 as he had 138 yards on 25 carries, but that was one of just two games where he made it to three figures in terms of rushing. Edwards-Helaire saw his involvement in the regular season cut short by injury, finishing with 803 yards at an average of 4.4 per carry.

That average rose to 4.7 yards during a postseason that included 11 touches in a Super Bowl defeat for the Chiefs. Edwards-Helaire was steady, but the pre-draft hype suggested a more spectacular impact on an offensive juggernaut.

Then there is also the question over whether the franchise needed to take a running back at 32. There were five more taken in the second round, so Kansas City perhaps realised Edwards-Helaire was unlikely to still be available by the time they picked again.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady said he is feeling "pretty good" following offseason knee surgery.

After leading the Buccaneers to NFL glory in February, Super Bowl LV MVP Brady underwent an operation on his knee.

Brady provided an update on his recovery, with the 43-year-old superstar hopeful of being able to resume training in June.

"Yeah, I hope so. I hope so. I feel pretty good and I push myself pretty hard," Brady said at head coach Bruce Arians' Family Foundation gala on Sunday, having signed a contract extension following the 2020 campaign.

"I feel pretty good. I don't know if I could go this week, but, we'll see how things play out. It's a long time between now and the beginning of the season, and just be smart about all these different things that we have to do and fulfill, but we all take a lot of pride in being ready to go and I'm sure we will be."

Brady – in his first season with the Buccaneers after 20 successful years with the New England Patriots – won his seventh Lombardi Trophy as Tampa Bay became the first team in NFL history to win the Super Bowl at their home stadium, ending the Kansas City Chiefs' hopes of retaining the title in a 31-9 rout.

After initially struggling to hit the ground running, Brady enjoyed a stellar maiden season with the Bucs.

He threw for 4,633 yards and 40 touchdowns with 12 interceptions, his passer rating of 102.2 his highest since his MVP season of 2017 (102.8).

Only Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes had more completions of 20 yards or more than Brady's 63 as he experienced a revival as a downfield passer in Tampa.

In the playoffs, he helped the Bucs come through a gauntlet, winning three games on the road to get to the Super Bowl.

By defeating Mahomes and the Chiefs, the Bucs became the first team to win three games against former Super Bowl MVPs in the same postseason having also seen off Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints and Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers.

"It's good, it's good. It's good progress," Brady added. "It's rehab. None of that is fun, but looking forward to getting back to real training and stuff, which is hopefully here pretty soon.

"I'm cool with it. It's just part of what you deal with. Things come up. You deal with them the best way you can, with the best opportunity to improve. I'm definitely feeling a lot better than I did six or seven weeks ago."

Brady said: "We'll just take it and see how we go and see how things play out over the course of the offseason. A lot of things come up and change over the course of the offseason and we've got a lot of hardworking guys so guys will be anxious to get together and get to work.

"As soon as I'm ready to throw, that will be really important for me. That's always a big part of my preparation -- actually doing what my job is."

The New York Jets are once again starting over following a 2020 season that provided no end of reasons for GM Joe Douglas to break things off with both head coach and quarterback.

Their marriage with Adam Gase was one that always appeared doomed from the start, and the overdue end came after a 2-14 campaign.

A more difficult split for Jets fans might have been the end of Sam Darnold's time as starting quarterback, which came with his trade to the Carolina Panthers ahead of the NFL Draft.

Yet last year provided plenty of evidence as to why it was past time for the Jets to accept it was never going to work with the 2018 third overall pick.

The Jets, who own the second overall pick, can look forward to a potentially brighter future with a rookie quarterback – widely expected to be Zach Wilson – and an exciting new head coach in former San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh.

Saleh and former Niners passing game coordinator Mike LaFleur will hope to inspire significant improvement on both sides of the ball in 2021.

Using Stats Perform data, we reflect on the final year of an era Jets fans will want to quickly forget, as well as look ahead to the start of Saleh's tenure in New York.

Offense

No offense was less efficient than the one belonging to the Jets in 2020.

They finished last in yards per play with an average of 4.72, ranking 31st in yards per pass play (5.16) and 24th in rush average (4.15).

New York was 28th in pass plays that went for 20 yards or more with 39, their struggles in moving the ball owing to a lack of consistently competent play at quarterback.

Darnold again did not play the full season, featuring in 12 games, and posted the third-lowest completion percentage in the league (59.6).

He threw nine touchdowns to 11 interceptions, the fourth-worst TD-INT ratio in the NFL and completed only eight of his 33 pass attempts of 21 air yards or more.

A bright spot in the passing game came from Jamison Crowder, the slot receiver who led the team with 699 receiving yards in 12 games.

Crowder caught 59 of his 89 targets, committing only two drops, with 14 of the incompletions aimed in his direction coming as a result of poor throws.

The running game provided little in the way of dynamism; future Hall of Fame running back Frank Gore had the most rushing yards on the team (653) but did so at a rate of only 3.49 yards per carry.

Excluding kneeldowns, the Jets had 26 rushes for negative yardage, plus only four teams had fewer than their 37 runs of 10 yards or more.

By nearly every measure, New York's offense was one of the worst in football. With LaFleur calling the plays in 2021, the only way should be up, and the influence of Saleh on a defense with some foundational pieces in place should see them receive decent support from their team-mates on the other side of the ball.

Defense

Though the season endured by the Jets' defense was defined by a bizarre blitz call by former coordinator Gregg Williams that cost them a win against the Las Vegas Raiders, they were far from the worst in the league on that side of the ball.

New York finished the season 21st in yards per play allowed, giving up an average of 5.74 in 2020. The Jets were especially strong against the run, ranking seventh in the NFL as they conceded just 4.03 yards per rush.

It was the pass defense that let the Jets down. Only six teams gave up more yards per pass play than New York's 6.93, with the Jets ranking 28th in the NFL in passing first downs allowed with 235.

Yet they can afford to have hope of an upturn in fortunes on defense with Saleh calling the shots, having overseen an elite defense during his time with the Niners.

San Francisco finished the season fifth in yards per play allowed despite a plethora of injuries, including losing pass rusher Nick Bosa to a torn ACL against the Jets.

Their performance was illustrative of the influence of Saleh's coaching, and he will hope to have the same impact on a Jets roster not lacking for talent.

New York placed the franchise tag on Marcus Maye, who led the way in the secondary following Jamal Adams' trade to the Seattle Seahawks.

Maye's 11 pass deflections were tied for the fourth-most among safeties. Up front, Quinnen Williams blossomed following an underwhelming rookie year in 2019.

Williams' seven sacks were the fifth-most among defensive tackles in 2020, while he stuffed 6.0 runs for negative yardage, a tally bettered by only two players (Ed Oliver and Zach Sieler, both 6.5).

The Jets brought in edge rusher Carl Lawson, whose 65.5 combined knockdowns and hurries were tied for the ninth-most in the NFL, in free agency.

Between Williams and Lawson, the Jets could have a duo to turn their pass rush, which ranked sixth in hurries (177) but tied 20th in sacks (31) into a potent force that may elevate their defense into the upper echelon that Saleh is used to occupying.

Offseason

The Jets were in the advantageous position of having a plethora of salary cap space to use in a year when many teams had to make savings, rather than go out and spend.

However, they did not simply go for the splash signing - as previous regimes in New York have done – but instead made astute additions to raise the talent level of the roster.

Lawson was the headliner, arriving on a three-year, $45million deal, after recording a pressure rate of 22.3 per cent (seventh among all edge rushers) last season.

Saleh will also attempt to get the best out of a former first-rounder in defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins, whose career has been hindered by injuries since an excellent 2018.

Linebacker Jarrad Davis and safety Lamarcus Joyner represent low-risk deals after signing on one-year contracts to bolster the defensive depth.

On offense, LaFleur will hope to maximise the upside of wide receiver Corey Davis after he inked a three-year deal worth $37.5m following a career year with the Tennessee Titans.

Davis produced a 'big play' - defined as a burn for a catch of 20 yards or more, or a burn for a touchdown - on 38.3 per cent of his targets in 2020. That ratio was 12th among receivers with at least 50 targets.

New York also took a one-year flier on wideout Keelan Cole, who was open on 81.3 percent of his targets in 2020, but the quarterback selection with the second overall pick must be right for those pass-catching talents to fully blossom after Darnold was dealt to the Panthers.

All the signs point to Wilson being his successor.

He would represent a significant gamble having had just one season of elite production at BYU, where he faced a schedule lacking top-tier opposition in 2020, and endured shoulder issues. Wilson had shoulder surgery in 2019.

However, Wilson's numbers from 2020 point to a quarterback who should excel running LaFleur's offense. Wilson completed 73.4 per cent of his play-action attempts, tied-fifth among FBS quarterbacks with at least 50 such passes.

Play-action is a staple of the Kyle Shanahan scheme LaFleur will run in New York, while the Jets can also be encouraged by his completion percentage on third down (79.7 - first among FBS quarterbacks with a minimum of 40 throws) and on throws travelling 20 yards or more in the air (63.6 - first among FBS quarterbacks with at least 30 such passes).

The challenge will be that kind of production translating to the NFL. There are no guarantees in that regard but, with a new head coach, an incoming new quarterback and a crop of free-agent signings with the ability to have an instant impact, this latest reboot brings reason for optimism among Gang Green fans.

Despite playing in a disappointingly empty new SoFi Stadium, few teams managed to electrify more than the Los Angeles Chargers last season.

Even the most ardent Chargers fan would admit that, prior to 2020, there hadn't been much appetite for the franchise in Los Angeles.

It will be interesting to see to what extent that has changed if fans are allowed in stadiums in 2021, following a record-setting rookie season from Justin Herbert.

Herbert silenced all the doubters who questioned the Chargers for taking him with the sixth overall pick, delivering a remarkable campaign that earned him the Offensive Rookie of the Year award.

It still was not enough to stop the Chargers from enduring a season defined by gaffes and late-game heartbreak, head coach Anthony Lynn paying with his job despite a four-game winning streak to end the year 7-9.

Fuelling further optimism is the appointment of Brandon Staley as Lynn's replacement.

Staley earned widespread plaudits for what he did as the defensive coordinator of the Los Angeles Rams in 2020, building a reputation as one of the most innovative defensive minds in the game.

He will hope to get the most of a defense stacked with blue-chip talent while offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi is tasked with helping Herbert to the next step in his development.

What can that duo learn from the Chargers' performances of last season? Using Stats Perform data we look back on a 2020 campaign that left Chargers fans excited about what this team could become.

Offense

Herbert went into his rookie season being seen as an inferior quarterback to Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa. As a rookie, he outperformed both, becoming the only quarterback in NFL history to throw for 4,000 yards in a season having not played the opener.

He came in for Tyrod Taylor after the Week 1 starter had his lung punctured by a team doctor who was administering a painkilling injection.

That error proved serendipitous for everyone but Taylor, who had to play the role of the onlooker as Herbert racked up the second-most passing yards by a rookie quarterback in NFL history. Herbert's 4,336 trailed only Andrew Luck, who racked up 4,374 with the Indianapolis Colts in 2012.

Herbert was also second all-time among rookies with his completion percentage of 66.6, falling shy of Dak Prescott who connected on 67.8 in 2016. Where Herbert did set rookie records was in completions (396), passing yards per game (289.1), passing touchdowns (31) and 300-yard games, of which he recorded eight.

Yet for all the remarkable exploits of the sixth overall pick, finishing drives and scoring points remained an issue for the Chargers.

They ranked 21st in red zone touchdown efficiency and in average red zone points, putting up 4.79 per trip inside the 20-yard line of their opponents.

Many will see the departure of Lynn, heavily criticised for his play-calling and game management in key situations, as a significant step towards the Chargers improving in that regard.

But Los Angeles will also look for more from the running game. An injury-affected season for Austin Ekeler hindered the ground attack, which was 30th in yards per rush (3.83) and tied 27th in touchdowns (12).

Too often Herbert led the Chargers into the red zone only to see the drive end in a field goal or a stop for the defense. While Ekeler being at full health would help, the onus will be on Lombardi to ensure their issues inside the 20 are less frequent in 2021.

Defense

As is so often the case with the Chargers, misfortune was a critical factor in their defense not realising its potential.

They lost Derwin James for the season before a ball had even been snapped, the All-Pro safety sidelined following torn meniscus surgery.

It was also another year in which edge rusher Joey Bosa did not play a full season. Had both of those stars been available for the entire year, the Chargers might not have ranked so poorly in opponent scoring efficiency.

The Chargers ranked 23rd in that respect and 21st in opponent touchdown efficiency, with an inability to create turnovers playing a role in their issues.

They generated 19 takeaways in 2020, putting the Chargers tied for 22nd in the NFL, though that number was only three fewer than Staley's Rams defense registered last season.

However, the Rams scored 15 more points off takeaways than the Chargers and were significantly better at creating negative plays for opposing offenses overall.

The Rams forced 88 negative plays for minus 441 yards, ranking seventh in the league, while the Chargers were 30th with 72 negative plays for minus 222 yards.

Yet Staley should be confident he can create a similar formula to what he had with the Rams, with Aaron Donald wreaking havoc up front and Jalen Ramsey an eraser in the secondary. Bosa and James are excellent candidates to fill those roles for the Chargers.

Los Angeles will need to add talent around that duo for this defense to realise its potential, but the Chargers do possess the resources with which to do that.

Offseason

The Chargers used what financial resources they had, in a year where the salary cap was reduced, to beef up the offensive line and ensure Herbert will have the benefit of better protection.

Corey Linsley was signed to a five-year, $62million deal that was more than justified after a 2020 season in which he was named first-team All-Pro, having allowed a pressure rate of 2.8 per cent last season (NFL average: 4.9).

The versatile and underrated right tackle Matt Feiler arrived on a three-year deal from the Pittsburgh Steelers while another tackle, Oday Aboushi, was brought in on a one-year contract.

Los Angeles will hope Jared Cook can help fill the void left by tight end Hunter Henry’s departure to New England. Cook produced a big play on 31.6 per cent of his targets in 2020. The league average for tight ends is 26.1 per cent.

Further help for Herbert, who suffered the ninth-most sacks in the NFL (32) last season, may come with pick 13 in the draft if the Chargers choose to spend it on a long-term solution at left tackle.

However, with Casey Hayward and Melvin Ingram still on the open market and Rayshawn Jenkins having left for Jacksonville, cornerback, edge rusher and safety are all areas Los Angeles could target.

After hiring a defensive mastermind at head coach, better support from that unit and cleaner pockets for their franchise quarterback will be the keys to the Chargers going from upstart to playoff team in Staley's first season.

Jadeveon Clowney is looking forward to teaming up with fellow pass rusher Myles Garrett after signing for the Cleveland Browns.

The Browns confirmed the arrival of free agent Clowney on Wednesday, reportedly on a one-year, $10million contract.

Clowney, the first overall pick in 2014, was a three-time Pro Bowler with the Houston Texans before spending the 2019 season with the Seattle Seahawks and joining the Tennessee Titans for 2020.

Cleveland has become the 28-year-old's latest stop and he is revelling the opportunity to play opposite Garrett.

Clowney has 32.0 career sacks, a tally bettered by Garrett, who has quickly racked up 42.5 along with 83 quarterback hits in four seasons.

"I've been getting double-teamed an awful lot in this league, in my career," the new signing said.

"I'm looking forward to playing with somebody dominant on the other side in Myles Garrett who can draw a double-team. Maybe I can go one-on-one more."

Clowney will be hoping to rediscover the form of his final two seasons in Houston, which saw 18.5 sacks and 42 QB hits across 31 games.

He has had just 19 starts since leaving the Texans and missed the second half of last season in Tennessee with a knee injury.

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