San Francisco 49ers star defensive end Nick Bosa is expected to fully participate in practice next week, which could put him in line to start in Week 1. 

Bosa tore the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his left knee in Week 2 of the 2020 season and has been limited to individual work during training camp.

Head coach Kyle Shanahan told reporters on Monday he expects Bosa to join team drills for the first time next week. 

"That's what we're hoping for," Shanahan said. "If we stay on track, I think we'll see him next week."

Assuming there are no setbacks, that should be enough time for Bosa to be ready for the September 12 season opener at the Detroit Lions. 

The 23-year-old was named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2019 after making nine sacks in his debut NFL season, then added four more sacks in three playoff games. 

Bosa was the second overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft out of Ohio State University. 

Bill Belichick is keeping everyone in the dark about who will start under center for the New England Patriots this season – including the quarterbacks themselves.

Cam Newton revealed on Monday he does not know whether he will be preferred to Mac Jones for the Week 1 game against the Miami Dolphins on September 12.

"No, [Belichick] hasn't said that," he said on Monday. "It is what it is.

"Every single day, I'm coming out here with the anticipation to just get better, and that's the only thing that I can do, so I can control that."

Newton is returning in 2021 after a difficult first year with the Patriots following Tom Brady's departure for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The former Carolina Panthers QB, who was the MVP in 2015, threw for 2,657 yards and eight touchdowns – his lowest career marks across a full season – as well as 10 interceptions.

Starting 15 games after seeing his final campaign in Carolina disrupted by injury, Newton's arm appeared to be impacted as he threw for just 7.07 air yards on average.

His 103 carries excluding scrambles led the NFL at his position, but his 4.06 yards per carry were comfortably below average.

Newton now has competition from Jones, who was selected with the 15th overall pick after leading Alabama to the College Football Playoff National Championship title.

Jones put up 4,500 yards, 41 TDs and only four picks, ranking first among Power 5 QBs in completion percentage (79.1) and third in well-thrown percentage (83.2).

The 22-year-old was also below par in air yards (8.52) and yards per carry (2.09), however.

Newton is widely expected to start ahead of Jones for now, but the three-time Pro Bowler understands the reasons for such questions.

"I don't take it personal," Newton said. "I just want you guys to understand everything you know I know. There's no hidden motives or things like that.

"I do know those things like that I can't worry about, because each and every day I don't necessarily care about who's starting.

"I mostly care about making sure I put the best product out there for me. I know Mac is feeling the same, and I know Brian [Hoyer] is feeling the same way, and everyone else, going down each and every position.

"As far as Week 1, we have so much to worry about prior to Week 1; that's where my focus is right now."

It has arguably never been easier to be a pass-catcher in the NFL.

Living in a golden era of quarterback play with a host of phenomenal athletes entering the league and confounding defenses with what they can do with both their arms and legs, receivers and tight ends continually benefit from sharing the field with signal-callers who can extend the play and complete tight-window throws with outstanding ball placement almost at will.

But the best supporting casts can elevate those quarterbacks to even greater heights while those passers who lack elite talent around them at receiver and tight end can struggle to fulfil their potential as a result.

Which pass-catching groups should provide the most assistance to their quarterbacks in 2021? And which will leave the man under center poorly equipped to succeed?

Using Stats Perform's advanced data, every group of wideouts and tight ends in the NFL has been ranked by their collective open percentage from 2020, providing an insight into the best and worst pass-catching units in the league going into the new campaign.

The Elite

1. Green Bay Packers

Green Bay will have Aaron Rodgers under center at least for one more year, and the reigning MVP will have the benefit of the best supporting cast of pass-catchers in football, a group that combined to record an open percentage of 36 in 2020.

The player who did the most to inflate that number is undoubtedly Davante Adams. Arguably the best wide receiver in the NFL, Adams' adjusted open percentage – which looks at how often a player got open against a defender's coverage, adjusted for position – of 51.97 was second only to Julian Edelman (52.13 per cent).

Adams registered a burn, which is when a receiver wins his matchup on a play where he is targeted, regardless of whether the pass is catchable, on just over 70 per cent of his targets, and his burn yards per route average of 3.9 was the best among wideouts last season.

Though Adams did the heavy lifting, there were signs of improvement from the players behind him on the depth chart. Allen Lazard led all receivers with a burn percentage of 82.6 and was 10th in adjusted open percentage (46.55) in 2020.

Marquez Valdes-Scantling (23.32) was less impressive in the latter regard but was second in burn yards per target (18.96). Only one team, the Buffalo Bills, got a larger contribution to their collective open percentage from their wideouts, but the Packers were 12th in terms of tight end production, indicating room for improvement at that spot even after a year in which Robert Tonyan averaged 11.71 burn yards per target.

2. Buffalo Bills

The Bills finished below the Packers in the rankings with an open percentage of 34.54 because of the lack of the contribution from the tight end position, which was the eighth lowest in the league, with Dawson Knox still yet to truly harness the athletic upside that helped convince the Bills to draft him in 2019.

His adjusted open percentage of 27.86 was mediocre but there was encouragement in his burn yards per target average of 10.45 that was 11th among tight ends with at least 25 targets.

Though the Bills might not be convinced by what they have at tight end, few teams in the NFL can claim to have the same level of depth at wide receiver.

The Bills have three receivers on their depth chart who were in the top 25 in adjusted open percentage last year – Cole Beasley (48.30), Stefon Diggs (42.68) and Emmanuel Sanders (41.16) – while Gabriel Davis produced an extremely promising rookie year, finishing 17th in burn yards per target with 13.45, giving Josh Allen a plethora of options with which to try to sustain his year-three leap.

Diggs, who expediently built a tremendous rapport with Allen following last year's trade from the Minnesota Vikings, is the cream of the crop. He trailed only Adams in burn yards per route in 2020 with an average of 3.6.

With the benefit of a full offseason to further their understanding, that Allen to Diggs connection could yet be more devastating in 2021. And, when teams do succeed in keeping Diggs under wraps, chances are another of this group of skilled separators will be able to create the space to keep a high-powered passing game operating at a level that was critical to the Bills joining the AFC's elite.

3. Dallas Cowboys

When Dak Prescott was healthy last season, the Cowboys offense performed at a record-setting pace, which is perhaps no surprise given the wealth of options they have among their pass-catchers.

Through the first four weeks of the 2020 campaign before Prescott suffered his season-ending ankle injury, the Cowboys led the league with 407.8 net passing yards per game. The closest team to them, the Bills, averaged 316.3 across the same period.

Whether that pace would have been sustainable even with Prescott under center is debatable, yet there is no doubt he has the weapons for this attack to be extremely potent again in 2021.

The Cowboys' pass-catchers had a collective open percentage of 31.69 to rank third overall, with Amari Cooper a significant factor in their success, Dallas' top receiver fourth in the NFL in adjusted open percentage (49.61).

Cooper recorded a second successive 1,000-yard season but tallied 12.1 yards per reception having racked up 15.1 per catch in 2019. His burn yards per route rate of 2.3 fell from 3.0 in 2019 and was the average for wideouts last year. Though that may be reflective of the drop-off from Prescott to Andy Dalton, Cooper will surely want to do more with the separation he can create in 2021.

Encouragingly, last year's first-round pick CeeDee Lamb (2.5) outperformed Cooper in the latter regard despite Prescott's absence and there is reason to believe Michael Gallup can bounce back from a down season where his adjusted open percentage was still a highly respectable 33.53.

Only 12 teams got less of a contribution to their overall open percentage from the tight end position than the Cowboys, an injury to Blake Jarwin curtailing his hopes of a breakout 2020. If Jarwin can stay healthy and boost the production from a spot where the Cowboys have long since struggled and Lamb makes the leap many expect, Dallas' pass-catching corps could lay the foundation for a postseason return.

The Bottom

30. Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins are hopeful Tua Tagovailoa can put an uneven rookie year behind him, but questions must be asked as to whether they have put enough around him at the pass-catching positions to allow him to make the necessary strides.

Indeed, Miami's group of pass-catchers goes into the 2021 ranked as the third worst in the NFL with a collective open percentage of 25.17.

Will Fuller leads the way with an adjusted open percentage of 38.29, yet he will miss the first game of the season through suspension and his injury track record makes the Dolphins' bet on him a very risky one.

Fuller was eighth among receivers with at least 25 targets with 14.08 burn yards per target, but the Dolphins will obviously need more than an oft-injured burner for their passing game to succeed.

The Dolphins recognised that fact and made a move to address the situation in the draft by adding another speedster who boasts a rapport with Tagovailoa from his Alabama days, using the sixth overall pick on Jaylen Waddle.

A broken ankle limited him to 32 targets in 2020, but Waddle led the Power 5 with an average of 19.96 burn yards per target and was third in burn yards per route (5.60) among receivers with at least 25 targets.

The 2019 season saw Waddle finish seventh in burn yards per target (16.64) on 40 targets for the Crimson Tide, yet his arrival does not lessen the pressure on DeVante Parker.

Parker finished 2020 with only 793 yards having topped 1,200 in 2019 and posted an adjusted open percentage of only 27.14, his burn yards per target rate of 9.45 well below the average of 10.98.

The Dolphins are relying on a bounce-back year from Parker, an instant impact from Waddle and consistency from a player in Fuller whose injury history has kept him from producing it to this point in his career.

Beyond that, Miami could use a significantly greater contribution from their tight ends, with Mike Gesicki's adjusted open percentage of 23.71 in 2020 a big reason why only 10 teams ranked lower than the Dolphins in terms of contribution from the position.

That is a lot to ask of one group of players and the reality is the Dolphins might have to look to another position group to help them take the next step towards playoff contention.

31. Chicago Bears

The Bears seemingly won't be throwing Justin Fields straight into the firing line as a rookie, and part of that decision may be influenced by the lack of receiving talent around him, which is reflected by an overall open percentage of 25.08

Regardless of whether it is Fields or fellow new face Dalton throwing the ball, they will likely be farming most of their passes in the direction of two receivers.

Allen Robinson (34.29) is the sole Bears pass-catcher who had an adjusted open percentage of over 30 last year, though Darnell Mooney (27.75) was not far off achieving that feat and is backed by many to make the leap in 2021.

Robinson's 2.5 burn yards per route put him slightly above average but the Bears did not add the support to suggest he could join the elite in that category this season.

Damiere Byrd averaged 11.76 burn yards per target in his sole season in New England before signing with the Bears but is unlikely to strike fear into defenses and it is tough to envision a substantial impact from rookie sixth-round pick Dazz Newsome despite his open percentage of 87.1 in his final college season at North Carolina.

With the Bears 15th in the league in contribution from tight ends, the onus will be on 2020 second-round pick Cole Kmet to take more of the burden from 34-year-old Jimmy Graham.

Kmet can look to build on a rookie season where he ranked 12th among tight ends with a minimum of 25 targets with a burn percentage of 68.2. His ability to repay the faith of Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy may go some way to potentially saving their jobs.

32. Jacksonville Jaguars

Only one rookie quarterback has a worse situation than Fields in terms of supporting pass-catchers, and it is the man who heard his named called first in April's draft.

Trevor Lawrence will get to work with a group of pass-catchers with a combined open percentage of 24.65, with just two teams performing worse in terms of tight end contribution to that collective grade.

Collin Johnson (30.47) and D.J. Chark (30.33) are the only pass-catchers on the roster with adjusted open percentages of over 30 from last year, the former providing some reason for optimism courtesy of his above-average burn yards per target rate of 11.25.

Johnson built a decent argument for receiving more than the 31 targets thrown his way last season, yet he may still find himself near the bottom of the pecking order.

More will be expected from 2020 second-round pick Laviska Shenault after he produced a burn on only 53.2 percent of his targets despite an average of depth of target of 6.5 yards, but he and Johnson may be prevented from making strides if Marvin Jones earns an established role in the offense.

Though Jones fell 22 yards shy of a 1,000-yard season for the Lions last year, he posted an adjusted open percentage of 25.05 and averaged 2.2 burn yards per route. Is he a player who can help this group progress or, at this stage in his career, is the 31-year-old a progress stopper?

The hope will be that Jones' familiarity with offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell can help him provide a valuable veteran safety net for Lawrence, whose immediate success hinges on Urban Meyer's untested ability to develop a quarterback at the pro level and the rest of the Jags' pass-catchers making a jump that recent history indicates should not be expected.

On The Rise

Denver Broncos

So much in Denver hinges on who prevails in the quarterback competition between Drew Lock and Teddy Bridgewater. The early reports from training camp suggest the scales may be tipping in the latter's direction and Bridgewater will have one of the most exciting groups of pass-catchers in the league to work with should he indeed win the battle.

The Broncos' lowly position of 22nd in overall open percentage was likely in part a product of being robbed of Courtland Sutton for most of the 2020 campaign due to his torn ACL.

With Sutton on the sideline, Jerry Jeudy produced a rookie season to suggest he can be a star for the Broncos for years to come, leading the team with an adjusted open percentage of 38.21.

Renowned for his route-running ability, Jeudy averaged 2.6 burn yards per route and 11.44 burn yards per target with an average depth of target of 14.6, indicating he consistently won matchups on downfield routes, though he will hope to reduce the drops after letting eight passes slip through his fingers.

The return of Sutton should divert coverage away from Jeudy and the Broncos also have other options who can command the attention of defenses.

Tim Patrick (32.72) was second on the team behind Jeudy in adjusted open percentage but led Broncos receivers by producing a big play on 33.8 per cent of his targets. Noah Fant was ninth among tight ends with 50 or more targets in burn yards per target (9.92) and he and Albert Okwuegbunam have a convincing argument for being the league's most athletic duo at the position.

In a division containing Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert and Derek Carr, the Broncos look desperately short at quarterback. However, if Sutton is back to his best coming off the injury and the tight ends further capitalise on their physical gifts, the Broncos may end 2021 with the top pass-catching group in the AFC West.

Washington Football Team

Washington made the playoffs in 2020 despite a losing record, highlighting the lack of quality in the NFC East, and despite extremely pedestrian quarterback play throughout the season that limited the upside of a talented receiving corps.

Washington's pass-catchers go into the new season with only seven teams below them in collective open percentage (27.75) but there is reason to believe they should make significant progress this campaign.

In 2021, while Washington might get unpredictability at quarterback, there is likely to be little pedestrian about the passing game if free agent signing Ryan Fitzpatrick takes the reins under center. He produced a well-thrown ball on nearly 80 per cent of his passes in 2020 but his pickable pass percentage of 6.82 was the third highest in the NFL.

Steven Sims Jr. was Washington's best performer in terms of adjusted open percentage (41.4), though Terry McLaurin (37.20) is undoubtedly the premier receiving option. McLaurin's burn yards per route dropped from 3.4 in 2019 to 2.9 in 2020, but that still saw him outperform the likes of DK Metcalf (2.8) and Chris Godwin (2.7) in a year where he registered his first 1,000-yard campaign.

With improved if volatile quarterback play and more dynamic options around him, McLaurin will have expectations of performing at a more efficient level this season.

Curtis Samuel can stretch defenses horizontally with what he can do out of the backfield and in the motion game, while rookie Dyami Brown offers a substantial deep threat whose burn yards per target average of 17.30 was second behind Waddle among Power 5 receivers last season.

The presence of that duo will theoretically make life much easier for McLaurin and allow the pass-catchers to help this offense provide much better support to Washington's elite defense.

A greater impact from the tight end position would aid that cause. Logan Thomas, recently signed to an extension, finished 2020 with an adjusted open percentage of only 19.66, making Washington's presence in the bottom five in tight end contribution unsurprising.

San Francisco 49ers

As is the case for essentially the entirety of the Niners' roster, the performance of their pass-catchers in 2021 is a question of health. San Francisco may not have overly impressive depth at wideout or tight end but, when healthy, the 49ers arguably boast one of the most exciting receiving trios in the NFL.

The Niners' pass-catchers rank 16th in collective open percentage following their injury-derailed 6-10 campaign in 2020, yet the talent is there for them to experience a substantial step forward and move into the top 10.

Only one team got more from the tight end position in terms of influence on overall open percentage, with George Kittle still demonstrating his remarkable value to the 49ers last season despite missing half the season.

Kittle excels at using his athleticism and his route-running to separate from defenders, these qualities borne out by a 2020 adjusted open percentage of 45.09 that was first among tight ends and 12th overall. He also led all tight ends with 3.9 burn yards per route.

Deebo Samuel spent more than half the season playing the role of spectator, meaning he rarely had a chance to produce in the same manner as in 2019 – when he delivered a big play on 41.5 per cent of his targets – and recorded a disappointing adjusted open percentage of 23.85.

Samuel still managed 3.0 burn yards per route in a year where the limitations of the backup quarterbacks pressed into service meant he received passes almost exclusively in the backfield – his average depth target of 2.3 yards was the lowest among wide receivers.

With either Jimmy Garoppolo or third overall pick Trey Lance set to be under center in 2021, Samuel can afford to be confident of receiving more downfield targets this season and will look to benefit from getting to play alongside Brandon Aiyuk more often.

Aiyuk was second for the Niners in adjusted open percentage (30.57) and 33.1 per cent of his targets went for big plays.

Beyond that triumvirate, Richie James, though he has not impressed so far in preseason, appears worthy of an expanded role having ended 2020 sixth in burn yards per target for wideouts with an average of 16.30. Yet, for all the deserved attention on San Francisco's quarterback position, the success of the Kyle Shanahan offense this season will hinge largely on the ability of Kittle, Samuel and Aiyuk to stay healthy and make the most of their combined talents.

Trevor Lawrence felt "comfortable and poised" in his NFL debut while Trey Lance enjoyed a dream moment on his San Francisco 49ers bow.

Lawrence, Lance and fellow first-round rookie quarterbacks Zach Wilson and Justin Fields all took the field for the first time on Saturday.

Long seen as a generational quarterback prospect, the pressure is on Lawrence to inspire a turnaround for a Jacksonville Jaguars team that went 1-15 in 2020.

The early signs were positive for Lawrence, who completed six of his nine passes for 71 yards in the Jaguars' preseason opener against the Cleveland Browns, the former Clemson star bouncing back after he fumbled after being sacked on his first play.

"I feel like the first time out there, I felt comfortable, felt poised," Lawrence said. "Obviously, the first play's not kind of what you want for the first play, but after that, I thought we did a good job.

"We communicated well up front. They did a really good job of protection. At least one of those sacks was on me, for sure, just holding the ball too long. That's something I'll work on.

"Just manoeuvring in the pocket is something I've always got to work on. Other than that, I missed an easy one to Marvin [Jones], a little quick out I wish I would have hit.

"But other than that, I felt good out there. I think we were seeing it, all on the same page. There's obviously things to clean up, but I thought it was a pretty good day."

Lance didn't complete as many passes, going five of 14, but he had the most spectacular play of the four rookie quarterbacks, hitting Niners wide receiver Trent Sherfield for an 80-yard touchdown throw in their meeting with the Kansas City Chiefs.

The third overall pick, whom San Francisco selected after trading three first-round picks to move up in the draft, said: "It was super exciting. Kind of the moment you dream of scoring your first touchdown.

"Even though it's preseason, it's pretty cool. With my team-mates, the guys in that locker room, that they were so excited for me and for Trent making that play. It was for sure a special moment and I wish I could've capitalised on the opportunities that came after that."

Former 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh is now head coach of the New York Jets and witnessed an encouraging performance from Wilson.

Wilson went six of nine for 63 yards as the Jets beat the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium.

"I thought it was good," said Wilson of his showing. "Of course, still things to clean up. It was a great experience. I really enjoyed having that game-like setting.

"The introduction to kind of like the NFL, the whole game, it's great for everybody, no matter how much football you've played, it was awesome to get out there."

Fields fell to the 11th pick in the draft, with the Chicago Bears trading up to select him, and they will be more confident in that decision after he threw for one touchdown and ran for another against the Miami Dolphins.

An uneven opening gave way to a performance that will increase calls for him to start over veteran Andy Dalton and afterwards Fields said of the speed of the game: "It was actually kind of slow to me, to be honest.

"I think I was expecting it to be a little bit faster but practicing game speed, going at it with my team-mates every day, of course, you know, we have a great defense so, me going against them every day, it definitely slowed the game up a little bit for me. So, I felt comfortable out there.

"Of course, I have room to grow, so I'm just gonna try to get better each and every day."

The San Francisco 49ers paid a heavy price to move up and select quarterback Trey Lance with the third overall pick in this year's NFL Draft, and he could end up winning the starting job sooner than expected. 

San Francisco general manager John Lynch said Friday that Lance is "pushing" incumbent Jimmy Garoppolo in training camp, but insisted head coach Kyle Shanahan will make the final call before the season opener. 

The 49ers will get a long look at Lance as they begin the preseason against the Kansas City Chiefs on Saturday.

While Garoppolo will start, Shanahan said Thursday he expects the veteran to play just one series before handing the reins over to Lance for the rest of the first half. 

It will be the 21-year-old's first game-speed look at an NFL defence, and everyone is curious to see how he will handle it after playing only 19 college games at North Dakota State. 

After trading their first-round picks in 2021, 2022 and 2023, plus a third-rounder in 2022, to move up and pick Lance, the 49ers have been impressed by what they have seen from him in camp.

“He’s been awesome. He’s been everything we thought he would be and more," Lynch told KNBR radio Friday. 

"He was good from day one when he walked in here in the offseason, and I think a testament to what we thought he was and his work ethic.”

Lynch said Lance and Garoppolo have developed a strong rapport and the rookie has earned his team-mates' respect. 

The newly minted Hall of Famer deumurred when asked about whether Lance might end up starting the September 12 opener at the Detroit Lions. 

"That's up to our head coach," Lynch said. "He makes the decisions on who's playing and whatnot. But I think it's Jimmy's right now and Trey's pushing. I think that's where it's at."

After a tumultuous offseason, the Green Bay Packers can afford to look towards the 2021 season with excitement as a clear frontrunner to lift the Lombardi Trophy.

Their stand-off with Aaron Rodgers ended with his place on the roster secured for 2021 at least, meaning the league MVP will have the chance to replicate his 2020 heroics and take one of the most talented rosters one step further after losing in the NFC Championship Game in each of the last two seasons. 

Pivotal to Green Bay's hopes of returning to the Super Bowl for the first time since they last won it in the 2010 season is Rodgers' rapport with his number one weapon, Davante Adams.

Their connection has been one of the most potent in recent NFL history yet, despite the resolution between Rodgers and the Packers, there is reason to fear it could be the final year in which the future Hall of Famer will be throwing in Adams' direction.

Prior to Rodgers finding middle ground with the Packers, he and Adams each posted a still from The Last Dance, which chronicled the final year of the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls NBA dynasty, on their respective Instagram stories.

That did little to calm the nerves of Packers fans and, with Adams an unrestricted free agent in 2022, it would be wise not to take the 17 regular-season games he and Rodgers are scheduled to play together in 2021 for granted.

Adams wants to be the highest-paid wide receiver in the NFL and said that Rodgers' return has no impact on that desire. In other words, Green Bay will not be getting a discount even if Rodgers is back for 2022, which is no guarantee.

Green Bay would be left with a dead cap charge of nearly $27million were they to trade Rodgers next offseason. Still, given the staring contest they engaged in this year, a 2022 divorce cannot be ruled out, especially if the Packers fall short again.

The Packers could, therefore, be facing up to the possibility of playing 2022 without one if not both of the duo, and simply cannot afford to waste a potential final year of one of the most dynamic partnerships in the NFL.

A prolific pairing

A second-round pick in the 2014 draft, Adams has built a compelling case for being considered the best receiver Rodgers has played with during his storied career.

They have hooked up for 498 receptions in that time, which is 17th among all quarterback and wide receiver duos since 1991.

Rodgers has thrown for 6,018 yards passing to Adams, 24th-most among QB and WR pairings since 1991, while the 57 touchdowns he has thrown to Adams is joint-ninth in the NFL (tied with Brett Favre to Antonio Freeman) in that same timeframe.

When throwing to Adams, Rodgers has a hugely impressive passer rating of 107.7, ranking 22nd on the list for QB-WR duos with a minimum of 250 targets since 1991, though it is some way adrift of the 124.2 rating he posted when throwing to Jordy Nelson between 2008 and 2017, which tops that same leaderboard.

The combination between Rodgers and Adams may not be as efficient as his partnership with Nelson, yet it seemingly has the chance to improve further in the coming season with arguably both players the best at their position in 2020.

2020's gold standards

Rodgers took Matt LaFleur's offense, with its roots in the schemes of Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay, to heights not scaled since Matt Ryan took the Atlanta Falcons to the Super Bowl in 2016 with Shanahan as his offensive coordinator.

Like Ryan five seasons earlier, Rodgers was named MVP after a year in which he led the league with a completion percentage of 70.7 and threw for 4,299 yards, 48 touchdowns and just five interceptions.

Remarkably consistent with his accuracy and his decision-making, Rodgers was third in the NFL with a well-thrown percentage of 82.4 while his pickable pass percentage of 2.23 was also bettered by only two quarterbacks – Alex Smith (2.12) and Tom Brady (2.20).

Adams was the main beneficiary of one of the finest seasons of Rodgers' career. Indeed, he led the league in receiving touchdowns with 18, his ability to adjust to the football in the air combined with Rodgers' consistently superb placement making them a near-unstoppable duo in the red zone.

He racked up 1,374 receiving yards and delivered that production at an extremely efficient rate through his proficiency for creating separation with route-running skills that are among the best in the league.

Adams registered a burn, which is when a receiver wins his matchup on plays where he is targeted regardless of whether the pass is catchable, on 70 per cent of his 147 targets.

And he led wide receivers in burn yards per route with an average of 3.9 yards, delivering a clear improvement having ranked tied-fourth in that same metric with 3.4 yards in 2019.

The 2020 season was the one where Adams made the leap from elite to the clear-cut top receiver in the league in the eyes of many.

While his position as the gold standard may be up for debate, what is not in question is that he and Rodgers are performing at the peak of their respective powers.

So what must the Packers do to ensure their final year together, if that is what 2021 proves to be, is a successful swansong?

How to get over the hump

The Packers' 2020 season came to an end amid a controversial decision by LaFleur in the NFC Championship Game. 

With the Packers trailing the Buccaneers 31-23 and faced with fourth and goal from inside the Tampa Bay 10-yard line, LaFleur opted to kick a field goal to trim the deficit rather than to give Rodgers a final shot at finding the endzone.

Green Bay never got the ball back after the field goal, leading to intense criticism of LaFleur.

That sequence was not reflective of the Packers' performance inside the 20 last season, when they led the league in red-zone touchdown efficiency.

Yet Green Bay could certainly benefit from LaFleur being more aggressive on fourth down.

The Packers were 10th in the NFL in fourth-down conversion percentage (61.9) but their 21 fourth-down attempts ranked tied-14th.

Therefore, there is room for the Packers to put more faith in their dynamic quarterback-receiver duo in those situations. To do so, however, La Fleur will need to have plenty of confidence in his defense.

Having parted company with much-maligned defensive coordinator Mike Pettine following their playoff exit, the Packers are hoping that his replacement Joe Barry can elevate that unit to the ranks of the elite.

Green Bay finished 14th in opponent yards per play (5.49), though the Packers were top 10 in that regard against the pass. They conceded 6.13 yards per pass play.

To further bolster their options defending the pass, the Packers drafted Georgia cornerback Eric Stokes, who ranked second among Power 5 corners by allowing an open percentage of 38.5, in the first round.

Yet if the Packers are to reach the upper echelon in pass defense, the onus is more likely to be on their front seven.

They ended 2020 tied-26th in opponent negative plays (72) and would benefit hugely from a bounce-back year from Preston Smith.

His pressure rate of 10 per cent was the eighth-worst among edge rushers with a minimum of 100 plays and came a year after he registered 12 sacks. Za'Darius Smith had double-digit sacks for the second successive year but his pressure rate of 16.5 was only marginally above the average of 15.9 for edge players.

The progress of Rashan Gary, who had a pressure rate of 19.1 per cent last season, has been encouraging but, as much as a better pass rush would aid Green Bay's cause, run defense is the most pressing issue on that side of the ball.

Twenty-first in opponent rushing average (4.55 yards) in 2020, the Packers appear just as vulnerable to the ground game as they were when their 2019 season was ended in an NFC title game that saw the San Francisco 49ers rack up 285 net rushing yards.

Green Bay's deficiency at linebacker was laid bare in that rout and the Packers have done little to address it. Their likely starters at inside linebacker are Krys Barnes and Kamal Martin. Barnes' 2020 run-disruption rate of 2.1 was the ninth-lowest in the NFL among linebackers while Martin made just six starts in 10 games.

Jordan's successful last dance could not have been possible without a stellar core around him. Rodgers and Adams performed at a level worthy of a Lombardi Trophy in 2020 but they will need their head coach and their defense to rise to the expectations for their potential goodbye to be one that comes on the podium in Los Angeles.

The Dallas Cowboys have activated wide receiver Amari Cooper off the physically unable to perform list as they continue preparing for the new NFL season.

Cooper had surgery on his right ankle during the offseason, undergoing a procedure to remove bone spurs after being bothered by the issue in the 2020 campaign.

His recovery had been continuing under the guidance of the Cowboys' medical staff, but now the 27-year-old – a four-time Pro Bowler - is clear to return to practice with his team.

The fourth overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft by the then-Oakland Raiders, Cooper was traded to Dallas in October 2018.

He has 449 receptions for 6,211 yards in his career during the regular season, plus 38 receiving touchdowns. His three playoff appearances have seen him record 15 catches for 181 yards and a score.

Cooper led the way for the Cowboys in terms of receptions (92) and receiving yards (1,114) in 2020, while rookie CeeDee Lamb matched him with five touchdown catches. Dallas' offense was hampered badly when starting quarterback Dak Prescott suffered a season-ending injury in Week 5.

They finished with a 6-10 record at the end of head coach Mike McCarthy's first year in charge, having used four different quarterbacks.

The Cowboys start the new season against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who are the reigning Super Bowl champions, on September 9.

The Baltimore Ravens will not rush into an extension on quarterback Lamar Jackson's contract says coach John Harbaugh, in light of Josh Allen's bumper Buffalo Bills deal.

The Ravens already exercised their fifth-year option on Jackson's contract, which will see the 24-year-old paid just over $23 million in 2022, and have since been in talks about an extension.

Jackson had indicated he wants to remain with the Ravens long-term, saying in May he "would love to be here forever".

The situation has now been complicated after the Buffalo Bills handed quarterback Josh Allen one of the richest deals in NFL history, with a six-year extension worth $258m.

"There’s really not a hurry for us," Harbaugh said about how Allen's deal may impact talks with Jackson on an extension.

"He’s going to be our quarterback for years to come."

Jackson, who was a unanimous choice as the NFL's Most Valuable Player two years ago, has won more games (30) than any other quarterback since taking over as Baltimore's starter midway through the 2018 season and became the fastest QB in NFL history to reach 30 regular-season victories (37 games).

The Ravens have reached the NFL postseason for the past three seasons with Jackson, although they have only won one playoff during that span, failing to progress to any Championship games.

Jackson's output slipped in 2020 but he remains the NFL's premier dual-threat quarterback, rushing for more than 1,000 yards and scoring seven touchdowns on the ground in each of the past two seasons in addition to his work in the passing game.

The 24-year-old is also the first in league history to produce 5,000 passing yard and 2,500 rushing yards in his first three NFL seasons. He had 242 completions for 2,757 yards – at 64.4 per cent – 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions in 15 appearances for Baltimore in 2020.

In total, Jackson has tallied 606 completions, 7,085 yards, 68 touchdowns and 18 interceptions since entering the league.

Kyle Shanahan believes it will be difficult for rookie quarterback Trey Lance to win the San Francisco 49ers' starting quarterback job from Jimmy Garoppolo.

The 49ers traded three first-round picks to the Miami Dolphins to move up to the third overall selection in the 2021 NFL Draft, which they subsequently used on Lance.

Lance's performances in training camp have only served to increase the hype around the dual-threat signal-caller who has continually impressed in practice.

Yet Shanahan has been similarly pleased by what he has seen from Garoppolo, who helped guide the Niners to Super Bowl LIV, where he was criticised for his part in a fourth-quarter collapse before enduring an injury-plagued 2020.

And the head coach appears to be confident it is the former New England Patriot who will be under center against the Detroit Lions in Week 1.

"I think it's gonna be tough for [Lance] to win the job, just in terms of it being two different styles of quarterbacks and maybe a little different style of offense for both of them,” Shanahan told The MMQB's Albert Breer.

"I'd be very surprised if he did with the way Jimmy's playing. It'd put a lot on a kid to do that.

"He's doing everything he can. I'm very impressed with him so far, but I'd be very surprised if that happened."

However, Shanahan had previously said Lance, whose ability with his legs adds another dimension to the San Francisco offense, would see playing time as a rookie and indicated he could rotate Garoppolo and Lance based on in-game matchups.

"I think I can ride it out week in and week out, personally," Shanahan added. "I think our guys trust us to make the right decision. It's cool being in a building where no one has an agenda, whether it's me, the GM, the owner.

"Everyone's on the same page, there's no pressure – 'Hey, you have to do this or you have to do that'. And our players know that too, that's what's great about our place here.

"When players know you're on the same page with the personnel department, with the owner, then they don't really care. They just want to win.

"And I think when this is all said and done, there's gonna be two guys they believe will help us win and I think they'll trust us to make that decision, whether it's permanently, for one game, for a series or just a situation. We gotta balance that out right, though. It's tough to do, but it is as easy as 'How do you win the game?'

"I really try to keep as simple as what gives us the best chance right now to win. And I think our players trust that I'm like that. I think our quarterbacks trust that I'm like that.

"You can disagree, but it's hard to take it personally when it's like that. I hope we've got the right guys, the right team, and if they both keep getting better, it should be a good problem for me."

Saquon Barkley has returned to practice for the first time since his anterior cruciate ligament tear but still does not know if he will make the New York Giants' 2021 opener.

Barkley has been out of action since sustaining the knee injury in the Week 2 defeat to the Chicago Bears last year.

The second overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft had established himself as one of the league's elite dual-threat running backs prior to that setback.

In his rookie season, Barkley ranked second for carries (261) and rushing yards (1,307) and was also second for catches among players at his position (91).

That amounted to 15 total touchdowns, trailing only Todd Gurley and Alvin Kamara for running backs.

Year two was slightly slower but Barkley still became the first Giant to pass 1,000 rushing yards in each of his first two seasons and was looking forward to a big 2020 when he went down against the Bears.

It has been a long road back for the Bronx-born star, but he was finally fit to come off the physically unable to perform list and take part in practice on Monday before fielding questions.

"I don't know," Barkley said with a smile when asked if he could face the Denver Broncos in Week 1.

"I'm not even thinking about that. I just wanted to be able to get out there and practice and just play football with my team-mates again and I was fortunate enough for that day to be today.

"My mindset is definitely hopeful. It's definitely better being able to practice now than later on in camp."

Head coach Joe Judge said of his returning star: "We're going to be patient with him.

"We're going to watch how he responds to each situation. When the doctor says he's green-lighted to go out there and do something, he will."

Russell Wilson wants the Seattle Seahawks to quickly work out a solution to get left tackle Duane Brown back on the field.

Brown has only a single year remaining on his existing contract, which will count for $13.35million against the cap in 2021.

The veteran lineman is keen for an extension, though, and he has the backing of superstar quarterback Wilson.

"Not having Duane Brown out there is a pretty significant deal because I think he's one of the best left tackles in the game, there's no arguing it," Wilson said.

"I think he's as good as it gets. There's nobody more athletic, more talented than he is."

Brown turns 36 this month, but the QB added: "Age is just a number. He looks like he's 28, 30 out there. He's really exceptional.

"He's so smart and physical, understands the game, and I think people fear him, to be honest with you, when they're rushing him and playing against him.

"So we definitely want to be able to get him back out there. We've got to figure that out because we need Duane Brown."

The issue and Wilson's comments should be of particular concern to the Seahawks, who for a time looked as though they might enter this year without the eight-time Pro Bowl quarterback.

Wilson this offseason bemoaned "getting hit too much", prompting speculation after an impressive 2020 went off the rails fast.

The 32-year-old, who had appeared on course for an MVP year, suffered as he was sacked 47 times for 301 yards, ranking third and second in the league respectively.

It is a common issue for Wilson, who has lost more sack yards (975) over the past three seasons than any other QB.

However, of those 146 sacks, Brown has allowed just six, showing why Wilson is desperate not to disrupt the one position that is performing in front of him.

Wilson believes Brown can continue to perform well into his thirties, too.

"I think he's got several more years to play," Wilson said. "I think he can definitely do it. I don't think there's anybody more athletic than him. You see what he can do.

"And he's also our leader. He's a guy who really leads the offensive line and, really, he commands the offensive line and really can set the tone."

Any regression in 2020 was minimal, as Brown allowed only a single sack for a second successive year and had just one penalty.

The former Houston Texans tackle allowed four adjusted sacks – up from one – but that still accounted for a mere 0.9 per cent of his 444 pass protection snaps, ranking 12th in the league among left tackles. His 0.4 per cent of 250 snaps had ranked fourth a year earlier.

There was no change, meanwhile, in the pressures Brown allowed, staying at 5.2 per cent – sixth in the NFL in 2020 (23 pressures allowed) and tied-second in 2021 (13).

Football has been a part of Peyton Manning's life since the day he was born, and his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction speech Sunday amounted to a love letter to the sport. 

The former Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos quarterback was the headliner at the ceremony in Canton, Ohio, that honoured the 2020 and 2021 inductees. 

Famously personable, Manning took amiable shots at former rivals like Tom Brady and thanked those who helped him reach the game's pinnacle – starting with his father, Archie – but spent a significant portion of his speech looking ahead. 

"We have inherited the history of this sport, even helped create it, but our responsibility cannot stop there," Manning said. "If we simply relive history and don't ignite the future of the sport, then we're not doing football justice."

Manning acknowledged threats to his sport's hegemony in the United States and its worldwide appeal, from an increasingly fractured entertainment market to concussion concerns and polarising social-justice issues, before vowing to do what he could to maintain the sport's prominence and encouraging others to do the same. 

"I don't know about you but I'm not done with this game. I never will be," he said. "I'm committed to ensuring its future, and I hope you will join me in that commitment.

"As members of this honoured class, we have a responsibility to make our game stronger, from the corner playground to the most-celebrated stadiums. ...

"When we leave this stage tonight, it is no longer about us. It is about cultivating the game that has given so much to us. It's about nurturing football to live and thrive another day, another year, decade and another generation."

Joining Manning in the Class of 2021 were receivers Calvin Johnson and Drew Pearson, defensive back Charles Woodson, safety John Lynch, guard Alan Faneca, pioneering coach Tom Flores and legendary scout Bill Nunn.

The Class of 2020, whose induction was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, included receivers Isaac Bruce and Harold Carmichael, safeties Steve Atwater and Troy Polamalu, defensive backs Bobby Dillon and Donnie Shell, tackles Jim Covert and Winston Hill, defensive tackles Alex Karras and Duke Slater, ends Mac Speedie and Ed Sprinkle, running back Edgerrin James, guard Steve Hutchinson, coaches Bill Cowher and Jimmy Johnson, general manager George Young, NFL Films co-founder Steve Sabol, and former commissioner Paul Tagliabue. 

Xavien Howard will be staying with the Miami Dolphins after the two parties agreed to a restructure of his contract.

The All-Pro cornerback last month requested a trade, saying he did not feel "valued or respected" by the team.

The 28-year-old signed a five-year, $76.5million extension in 2019, which at the time made him the highest-paid corner in the NFL.

However, Howard was seemingly irritated by not even being the highest-paid corner on his team, with Byron Jones signed to a five-year $82.5m deal to lure him from the Dallas Cowboys last year.

Jones' contract carries an average annual value of $16.5m compared to $15.05m for Howard.

Howard's 2021 base salary of $12m sees him paid over $2m less than Jones.

But the Dolphins have satiated the 2020 first-team All-Pro, who led the league in interceptions (10) last year, increasing his fully guaranteed money for this year to $12.78m and his maximum with added incentives to $16.28m.

Howard has also seen his 2022 base salary of $12.97m guaranteed against injury. It will become fully guaranteed on the first day of the 2022 league year. Additionally, it has been reported Howard has received assurances the Dolphins will revisit his deal next year should he stay healthy and perform at a productive level again in 2021.

On top of his league-leading interceptions tally, Howard recorded a career-high of 20 passes defended in 2020.

Per Stats Perform advanced data, Howard's adjusted open percentage – which measures how frequently an opponent got open against a defender's coverage, adjusted for position – was 25.19, almost a full percentage point better than that of Jones (26.16) in 2020.

His efforts last season helped the Dolphins lead the NFL in takeaways (29), though that did not translate to a playoff berth as Brian Flores' team finished 10-6.

The Dolphins have not reached the postseason since the 2016 campaign and have not won a playoff game since their Wild Card victory over the Indianapolis Colts in the 2000 season.

They begin their quest to end those droughts at the New England Patriots on September 12.

The Indianapolis Colts have made Darius Leonard the highest-paid inside linebacker in the NFL after signing him to a five-year contract extension worth $99.25million.

Leonard's deal includes $52.5m in guaranteed money, and he will receive an annual salary of $20m over the first three years, according to a report by NFL Media's Ian Rapoport.

It means he overtakes San Francisco 49ers star Fred Warner as the highest-paid player at the position.

Warner signed a five-year, $95m extension with the Niners last month, with his deal paying him $19m annually.

Leonard is one of the key players on a stout Colts defense that ranked 10th in yards per play allowed in 2020.

A second-round pick out of FCS program South Carolina State in 2018, Leonard was named Defensive Rookie of the Year after a stellar first season.

His 416 total tackles are the fourth-most among linebackers since 2018, while he ranks tied fifth for his position group with 22 pass breakups in that time.

Adept at stopping both the passing game and opposing rushing attacks, Leonard registered a run disruption rate of 9.1 per cent in 2020, putting him sixth among all linebackers, according to Stats Perform data.

The signing of Leonard to a long-term deal is some much-needed good news for the Colts, who have lost both quarterback Carson Wentz and All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson to foot injuries during training camp.

As a result, the pressure may be on Leonard and the defense to do the heavy lifting when the Colts start their 2021 campaign against the Seattle Seahawks on September 12.

Josh Allen has agreed a six-year contract extension with the Buffalo Bills reportedly worth $258million with $150m guaranteed.

The deal will keep Allen tied to the Bills through the 2028 season and will see him average an annual salary of $43m.

Buffalo traded up to select Allen with the seventh overall pick in the 2018 draft, making the bet that his outstanding athletic gifts would translate to NFL success despite concerns over his accuracy.

That looked a questionable move over the first two years of his career, despite a playoff appearance in the 2019 season.

However, Allen took a spectacular leap forward in 2020, leading the Bills on a run to the AFC Championship Game, where they lost to the Kansas City Chiefs.

Having failed to complete 60 per cent of his passes in 2018 or 2019, Allen posted a completion percentage of 69.2 in 2020, throwing for 4,544 yards, 37 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

Allen's completion percentage, passing yardage and passing touchdowns all marked single-season records for the Bills. He also set franchise records for 300-yard games (8) and total touchdowns (46).

Per Stats Perform data, Allen was the seventh-best quarterback in the NFL when it came to delivering an accurate, well-thrown ball. He recorded a well-thrown percentage of 80.5 and was ninth in air yards per attempt among quarterbacks with at least 200 passes, averaging 8.92.

Yet the Bills were ultimately second-best to the Chiefs by a wide margin, losing 38-24 in the AFC title game. Buffalo start their campaign to go one better in 2021 with a Week 1 encounter against the Pittsburgh Steelers on September 12.

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