NFL

NFL 2021: 49ers battle, second chance for Jameis & keeping Russ happy – QB situations to watch

By Sports Desk September 06, 2021

Drama has not been in short supply among the NFL quarterbacks this offseason.

There have been new names, new deals, new feuds, old feuds...

Now the 2021 season is on the horizon, but not every situation at the sport's most important position has reached a satisfactory conclusion.

There are intriguing QB scenarios to keep an eye on for plenty of teams this season, as Stats Perform explores.

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

Let's start with a rookie. While fellow first-round picks Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson and Mac Jones are set for starting roles, Trey Lance has a fight on his hands with the 49ers.

Lance is raw, having played just 19 college games in the FCS, and is set to begin the season behind Jimmy Garoppolo – fit again after becoming one of a remarkable number San Francisco players to suffer with injuries last year, unable to follow up their Super Bowl run.

But Lance's dual-threat ability gives Kyle Shanahan a new dynamic, as evidenced by his 14 rushing touchdowns in 2019 with North Dakota State. Garoppolo has only two career rushing scores.

That is likely to initially put the ball in Lance's hands in the red zone, where his legs should help improve a red zone efficiency of 53.2 per cent from the 2019 season, when a fully fit Niners team ranked 21st in the NFL.

By the end of the year, though, the 21-year-old will undoubtedly be keen for a bigger role, increasing pressure on Garoppolo while the team try to maintain a title challenge.

CHICAGO BEARS

Justin Fields is the second first-round selection starting the year behind an established NFL QB in Andy Dalton.

"There's no need for us to rush Justin," said Bears general manager Ryan Pace last week, explaining they were "very confident" in Dalton. "I just think the more time [Fields] has to learn that and observe, the better off for him," Pace added.

But Fields, who threw for 63 TDs and rushed for a further 15 in two years at Ohio State, is undoubtedly a more realistic long-term solution than Dalton, on his third team in three years.

Fields, like Lance, can run, ranking fifth in the Power 5 among quarterbacks with 7.42 yards per carry last year, but the Bears also need improvement through the air, having ranked 22nd with 228.4 net passing yards per game in 2020.

While the departed Mitchell Trubisky neither threw nor ran the ball well – delivering an accurate, well-thrown ball on just 71.6 per cent of passes and averaging 1.81 yards per carry – Fields (80.18 well-thrown percentage) can do both if given the opportunity.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

It is not only the teams who have spent first-round picks on passers who have a battle under center, with the Saints able to consider two options to replace the great Drew Brees.

Jameis Winston threw only 11 passes in New Orleans last season after leaving the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, with the versatile Taysom Hill preferred when Brees was out injured, making four starts at QB.

But Winston has been confirmed as the starter for the new campaign – at least for now. Whether Sean Payton is willing to stick with an entertaining yet erratic QB for a full season remains to be seen.

The 27-year-old became the first player ever to throw 30 TD passes and 30 interceptions in the same NFL season as the Bucs went 7-9 in 2019.

Winston's 10.70 air yards ranked second, yet his pickable pass percentage of 7.69 was second-worst among those with 100 attempts or more.

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

While some teams have multiple reliable options at QB, the Eagles scarcely have one. Having moved on from Carson Wentz, Jalen Hurts is their starter.

Last time out, in his rookie year, Hurts completed just 52.0 per cent of his passes – the worst rate of any QB with 100 or more attempts – and still could not quite keep up with the league's elite running QBs, averaging 6.00 yards per carry.

Yet Philadelphia's response was to trade out of the number six pick in this year's draft and then opt against taking either Fields or Jones, who remained on the board after they moved back up to 10.

Joe Flacco, now 36, is in as the back-up, while a "fired up" Gardner Minshew has arrived from the Jacksonville Jaguars after 37 TDs in two years but is set for a role as a third-stringer.

Unless Hurts makes significant strides, it is difficult to see how the Eagles will not again be in position to take one of the top college QBs in 2022.

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

Reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers was at the centre of the most compelling offseason speculation surrounding a quarterback this offseason. However, the Green Bay Packers star was not the only former champion at the centre of offseason speculation this year, with Russell Wilson's agent informing ESPN of four trade destinations that would interest the Seahawks stalwart.

Seattle kept their man in the end, but Wilson will be looking for progress from last season, when he complained of "getting hit too much" – "a pretty normal reaction," according to coach Pete Carroll.

Wilson was in the MVP conversation for the first half of the year but was soon left exposed behind a poor offensive line, sacked 47 times to swell his career total to 394 – the most of any QB since he entered the league.

Although left tackle Duane Brown has missed practice as he waits on a contract extension – another development that has frustrated Wilson – the Seahawks have at least traded for guard Gabe Jackson. That move needs to work.

Wilson last year averaged 8.70 air yards while throwing a pickable pass at the sixth-lowest ratio in the NFL (2.64%), but he has to have help if Seattle are to succeed.

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    England white-ball captain Eoin Morgan is set to retire from international cricket.

    Morgan is expected to announce his retirement during a press conference at Lord's on Tuesday, with vice-captain Jos Buttler poised to replace him.

    The 35-year-old batter has transformed the white-ball fortunes of England since his appointment in 2014, leading his side to World Cup glory with a dramatic win over New Zealand at Lord's in 2019.

    Morgan also guided England to the T20 World Cup final in 2016, before reaching the semi-finals of the same competition five years later.

    While England have become a huge force in limited-overs cricket during Morgan's tenure, the left-hander has struggled with the bat in recent times.

    England completed an ODI series sweep over Netherlands last week – extending their winning run to eight matches in the 50-over format – but Morgan failed to score in two matches before missing the final clash due to injury.

    The Dublin-born Morgan has passed 50 just once in his past eight ODI innings since scoring 106 against Ireland in February 2020, and had vowed to step down when he felt he could no longer contribute.

    England face India in a three-match T20I series starting on July 7 and are set to do so without their all-time leading run scorer in T20I and ODI cricket.

    Morgan has scored 7,701 ODI runs and 2,458 runs in the shortest format at international level. His 248 ODIs and 115 T20s are also England records for appearances.

    A brilliant leader and destructive batter, Morgan made his international debut for Ireland back in 2006 before committing to play for England. He played 16 Tests between 2010 and 2012.

    Matthew Mott will expect England to continue playing the aggressive brand of cricket that Morgan instilled as his side go in search of T20 World Cup glory in Australia later this year.

    They will then head to India next year attempting to defend their world title in the 50-over format.

  • The three Man Utd youngsters who could be breakthrough stars for Erik ten Hag The three Man Utd youngsters who could be breakthrough stars for Erik ten Hag

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    Facundo Pellistri

    The highly rated winger has spent the past 18 months on loan in Spain with Deportivo Alaves, accumulating plenty of first-team opportunities with a total of 33 appearances across all competitions in that period, but just 11 have been as a starter.

    United may feel they can provide those limited opportunities off the bench themselves and, if utilised, can expect plenty of link-up play down the right side from Pellistri – with the majority of his final-third passes during his spell with Alaves coming in that area.

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    James Garner

    Garner has helped turn Nottingham Forest from second-tier middlemen to a Premier League outfit – with a play-off victory against Huddersfield Town bringing an end to a 23-year wait for top-flight football.

    In Forest's promotion-winning campaign, loanee Garner was a regular fixture in the side with 41 appearances, 36 of which were as a starter, resulting in four goals and eight assists – with only Brennan Johnson, Lewis Grabban and Philip Zinckernagel being involved in more direct goal contributions.

    Seven of Garner's assists came from set-pieces, with United's overall total in 2021-22 being 10 in that regard – so Garner could play an integral part in improving that return with his deliveries from corners and free-kicks, if Bruno Fernandes can occasionally be shuffled off such duties.

    Crucially for a club like United, Garner has shown he can perform under pressure given his display in the Championship play-off final against Huddersfield – where his accuracy of 88 per cent from 48 attempted passes included completions across the field.

    Forest, understandably, are reportedly interested in bringing Garner back to the City Ground again next season in their bid to remain in the Premier League, but United will assess the 21-year-old in pre-season before making a final decision.

    Alejandro Garnacho

    Earning his senior debut for United in the Premier League clash against Chelsea in April, Garnacho's introduction to the Premier League was merely a cameo at the end of that clash.

    On the final day of the season, in a 1-0 defeat to Crystal Palace, Garnacho again came off the bench for an 11-minute appearance and was once more limited with his opportunity to make an impression – though that has already been done in the youth ranks.

    He scored in UEFA Youth League matches against Atalanta and Young Boys. However, it was in the FA Youth Cup where Garnacho made perhaps his biggest impact, scoring in every round bar the fourth as United lifted the trophy – with a seven-goal haul in the competition including a double in the 3-1 victory against Nottingham Forest in the final.

    With Jadon Sancho struggling for consistency down the left for United since his arrival from Borussia Dortmund, Garnacho could return to the first-team fold during the 2022-23 season.

    Opportunities could well come in the cup competitions, including the Europa League, in what will be a frantic season due to the disruption caused by the World Cup in Qatar.

  • Stanley Cup: Avalanche star Cale Makar makes history with Conn Smythe Trophy win Stanley Cup: Avalanche star Cale Makar makes history with Conn Smythe Trophy win

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    "I just look at [my teammates], and all the work these guys have put in," he said. "They've been here so many years, the ups and downs.

    "It's just so awesome to be a part of them getting rewarded for all their hard work and success over the years. I'm just so proud of the boys.

    "You grow up, you see [the Stanley Cup trophy] as a kid, you have pictures of it on your wall.

    "All I think about is everyone that got me here – my family is in the stands, so it's amazing, wherever they are. It's just surreal, amazing."

    He added: "It's just been building over time. I've been here only three years, with a couple tough exits in playoffs.

    "It was just all leading up to this. Oh man, if you told me this was going to be three years in, I would've said I don't know… it's just amazing, I don't have any more words."

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    "I'm feeling every emotion you could possibly think of," he said. "I'm just so happy and so proud of these guys, and what they've put in.

    "To see them get rewarded for all their hard work is hard to describe. There's this sense of relief, a sense of satisfaction – it's still sinking in.

    "When the buzzer went there was almost disbelief that we got the job done. It's been an amazing ride, and I'm just grateful that I've been able to be a part of it with this team."

    He went on to touch on just how hard it is to actually make it all the way, and the evolution he has seen over the past couple of seasons.

    "It's so difficult to get here, and that's why I'm so impressed with the Tampa Bay Lightning to be able to do it three years in a row and win two Cups, it's incredible," he said.

    "We've gone from just being a skill team that was fun to watch, to digging in and getting more competitive in a lot of areas, and more determined in a lot of areas, but they're such a close-knit group and a resilient group.

    "Whether we've learned that with maturity, or the last couple seasons of heartbreak, this group has been so focused to accomplish their goals, that's why I'm so happy they got rewarded. It's been a long journey for a lot of these guys, and it's been an amazing ride."

    Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic – who spent 13 seasons as a player in Colorado, including both of the franchise's previous Stanley Cup seasons – said he is filled with joy for the older players in the team who may have thought they would never get one.

    "It feels great, it's amazing," he said. "This is something you dream of. I'm so proud of the players, particularly the older guys that have been around.

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