Zach Wilson says the New York Jets need a good quarterback and a good leader and he has the qualities to fulfil that.

Wilson was taken as the second overall pick in Thursday's NFL Draft by the Jets who finished with a 2-14 record in 2020.

The BYU talent becomes the Jets' highest-drafted quarterback since Joe Namath in 1965 and offered fresh hope for the franchise who have not made the playoffs since 2010.

"These guys need a good quarterback, a good leader," Wilson told ESPN after his selection.

"I think I've got those qualities and I can't wait to go in there. I love the coaching staff, I love everything they have to offer, and I can't wait to get to New York City."

Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence went first overall, selected by the Jacksonville Jaguars with the Jets' pick of Wilson expected to be a foregone conclusion.

"You know what, I wouldn't believe it until the day it happened but this is exactly what I was hoping for," Wilson said.

"[I'm] so excited for the opportunity and I know we are going to have something special. I can't wait to get to work."

Wilson threw for 3,692 yards, 33 touchdowns and just three interceptions in 12 games last season.

Bill Belichick has his next quarterback, as the New England Patriots selected Mac Jones with the 15th pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. 

The QB will seem like a natural fit for Belichick's system in New England after leading Alabama to a national championship in 2020. 

That should temper any disappointment Jones might feel in dropping to the 15th pick after some had speculated he might go as high as third overall. 

Jones excelled in his only year as a starter at Alabama, completing 77.4 per cent of his passes for 4,500 yards with 41 touchdowns and only four interceptions. 

He was one of three finalists for the 2020 Heisman Trophy, which ended up going to his teammate DeVonta Smith. 

Now the question is how quickly he will take over the starting job in New England, who went 7-9 last season with Cam Newton at the position after Tom Brady left to join the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. 

Newton re-signed with the Patriots for 2021, but Jones will be seen as the heir to Brady, who teamed with Belichick to win six Super Bowl titles in 20 seasons together. 

The selection would seem to eliminate the possibility of Jimmy Garoppolo returning to New England, which had been a popular subject of speculation in recent months. 

 

The Philadelphia Eagles saw a chance to grab a playmaker for Jalen Hurts and made their move, trading up to select DeVonta Smith with the 10th pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.

Philadelphia swapped with their division rivals the Dallas Cowboys to move up two slots in the draft order and take Smith, sending the 12th overall pick and a 2021 third-round selection to the Cowboys.

Smith won the Heisman Trophy as the best college player in the country in 2020, and the wide receiver will give the Eagles a significant weapon on offense. 

Last season, Smith caught 117 passes for 1,856 yards and 23 touchdowns as he helped Alabama win the national championship.

Smith and Hurts were teammates at Alabama in 2017 and 2018, just before the receiver blossomed into one of the best players in the country. 

His selection continued a draft-day trend of NFL teams reuniting quarterbacks with receivers they had played with in college. 

Previously the Cincinnati Bengals paired up Ja'Marr Chase with former LSU teammate Joe Burrow and the Miami Dolphins selected Alabama receiver Jaylen Waddle to play with QB Tua Tagovailoa once again. 

The Chicago Bears saw a chance to solve their long-running quarterback problem and pounced, trading up to select Justin Fields with the 11th pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. 

The Bears moved up from the 20th spot, trading with the New York Giants for the opportunity to take the former Ohio State QB. 

Last month, Chicago signed veteran  Andy Dalton to a one-year deal, and Nick Foles also is under contract for 2021, but now the Bears have their quarterback of the future. 

After failing to unseat Jake Fromm as the starter under center at the University of Georgia in his freshman year in 2018, Fields transferred to Ohio State.

An outstanding sophomore season saw Fields finish as a finalist for the Heisman Trophy having thrown for 3,273 yards, 41 touchdowns and just three interceptions.

He added 22 scores over eight games last year to finish his college career with 5,701 yards and 67 TDs through the air.

Fields, a dual-threat QB, also had 1,539 rushing yards and 19 further TDs on 260 carries, including 10 scores in 2019.

The 22-year-old was initially pegged as the second quarterback in this draft behind Trevor Lawrence, for whom the first pick had long been reserved.

But debate around Fields' ability – of perceived lack of – to process quickly, reading the field and moving on from his first progression, saw his reputation take a hit.

Fields actually had an average snap-to-release time of 2.81 seconds in 2020, though, marginally faster than second overall pick Zach Wilson (2.82), who was praised for being able to get the ball out quickly and accurately.

Indeed, Fields threw just 16 pickable passes in 556 attempts for a competitive percentage of 2.88 over the course of the past two seasons.

And the number 11 pick should give Chicago a new dimension with his outstanding downfield passing.

Of Power 5 passers with at least 200 throws who averaged 10 or more air yards per attempt last season, Fields' well-thrown percentage – which measures how often throws are an accurate, well-thrown ball – of 80.18 was second only to Sam Howell of North Carolina (81.31).

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

The Atlanta Falcons selected Kyle Pitts with the fourth overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, adding a tight end who has drawn universal acclaim in the pre-draft process. 

Amid a scramble for quarterbacks at the top of the draft order, Pitts was widely considered the best non-QB on the board.

Tight ends have not typically been rated highly in the NFL Draft; although two went in the top 20 in 2019, there were none taken in the first round last year.

But Pitts is a dominant athlete and had 43 catches for 770 yards and 12 touchdowns for Florida in 2020. He ran 216 routes and was targeted 67 times.

The 6ft 6in, 240-pound star led the Gators in receiving TDs, helping QB Kyle Trask top the FBS with 43 passing scores.

Pitts showed his physical prowess as he ranked third among Power 5 tight ends last year with 47 burns – matchups in which he beat his defender that are measured regardless of whether a pass was catchable.

None of his rivals had more burn-touchdowns (15) or burn-yards (849).

Record-breaking Alabama catcher DeVonta Smith was the only Power 5 wide receiver with more burn-touchdowns (26).

Trey Lance will take his enticing dual-threat skill set to the San Francisco 49ers after being selected with the third overall pick.

The selection is a gamble for head coach Kyle Shanahan, who will stake his team's future on a player from North Dakota State with limited college experience compared to the QBs taken before him, Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson.

Lance joins Jimmy Garoppolo in the 49ers' quarterback room for now, and his selection could mean San Francisco holds onto the veteran QB to help ease the rookie into the spotlight. 

Lance may have played only one game since the 2019 season, but his performances in his lone full campaign were enough to catapult him into the conversation as one of the classes top quarterbacks.

In leading the Bison to an FCS National Championship, Lance accounted for 42 total touchdowns and did not throw a single interception.

No other quarterback in the FBS and the FCS with a minimum of 200 pass attempts avoided throwing the ball to an opposition player in 2019.

Lance's tally of 14 rushing touchdowns was bettered by just four quarterbacks across the FBS and the FCS while his rushing average of 6.5 yards was fifth among signal-callers to have registered at least 100 rushing attempts.

In terms of throwing the ball, Lance averaged 9.71 yards per pass attempt in 2019, ranking eighth among all quarterbacks in the FBS and FCS, ahead of Justin Fields (9.25) in 13th and Trevor Lawrence (9.00), who was 18th.

Any quarterback with Lance's limited experience at FCS level poses a significant gamble but, in his brief time on the field, Lance demonstrated a versatile range of abilities that mesh perfectly with where the game is going at the quarterback position.

Widely praised for the intelligence he has displayed in pre-draft meetings, if he can use his smarts to quickly adapt to the pros and reproduce what he did in Fargo in the NFL, the pay-off will be huge for San Francisco.

Trevor Lawrence has been selected as the number one overall pick by the Jacksonville Jaguars to kick off the 2021 NFL Draft in Cleveland on Thursday.

The Clemson quarterback has been the presumptive top pick ever since he declared for the draft.

Much of the 2020 season saw fanbases of struggling sides closely monitoring who could 'Tank for Trevor' and end up with the opportunity to select Lawrence, who has been billed as a generational talent.

Lawrence has been labelled as the top QB prospect since Andrew Luck, with some going further back with comparisons to the draft stock of Peyton Manning and John Elway.

The 21-year-old joins a Jaguars franchise with just one winning season in the previous 13 years.

A stellar 2017 season, lead by an elite defense, saw a Jags team with Blake Bortles under center make it to the AFC Championship Game.

But they have since reverted to type and three losing seasons have followed, with 2020's 1-15 record ending a four-year run for head coach Doug Marrone.

Famed college coach Urban Meyer is the man who will, with Lawrence, be trusted to revitalise the franchise.

The Jaguars have four picks in the top 45 this year, including another first-round selection at 25.

Lawrence threw for 10,098 yards in his Clemson career, which saw him win the National Championship in 2018.

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 college 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.

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.

The Jags are now tasked with building quickly around an elite prospect in the window while he is on a cheaper rookie contract.

Lawrence will hope to lead a team that can return to their 2017 level and hopefully be better placed to stay there.

In most years, in a draft where the top two picks are seen as virtual locks, those running the primetime broadcasts covering the NFL's rookie selection meeting would likely be left scrambling to create drama that does not exist.

But last month the San Francisco 49ers ensured television executives would face no such issues, trading up from pick number 12 to number three with clear intentions of selecting a franchise quarterback to succeed oft-injured starter Jimmy Garoppolo.

What makes the decision now facing San Francisco so fascinating is the makeup of the roster. The 49ers are an anomaly when it comes to a team picking in the top five; they are not a bottom-rung NFL franchise looking to rebuild a shattered roster, they are a team just under 15 months removed from a Super Bowl appearance that saw hopes of a return to the grandest stage devastated by injuries in 2020.

And, having kept around a talented and deep roster in free agency but with continued concerns over Garoppolo's ability to stay on the field, the 49ers can rightly be considered a quarterback away from a return to the season-ending showpiece.

Should they identify the right quarterback with the third pick, it will set the Niners up for short and long-term success. Make the wrong call and it could be curtains for head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch.

What the 49ers do will define the Shanahan-Lynch era and the 2021 NFL Draft.

Garoppolo's fall from grace

Way back in February of last year, the Niners and Garoppolo were fewer than seven minutes from lifting the Lombardi Trophy, holding a 10-point lead over the Kansas City Chiefs.

But a 21-point deluge from Patrick Mahomes and Co. and a now-infamous Garoppolo missed deep shot to an open Emmanuel Sanders that likely would have won the game set in motion doubts over his long-term viability as the starter under center, which were only furthered by a disastrous 2020.

Garoppolo was not alone in missing time last season – 40 members of the Niners' roster were placed on either the injured reserve, physically unable to perform or reserve/COVID-19 list over the course of the year.

However, the 10 games Garoppolo missed through a high ankle sprain suffered in Week 2, from which he unsuccessfully attempted to return, took his tally of injury-enforced absences since his trade from the New England Patriots in 2017 to 23.

That was simply too many for the Niners, who were left to battle to a 6-10 record with backups Nick Mullens and C.J. Beathard and a decimated roster, to countenance.

The torn ACL Garoppolo sustained in 2018 was key in them securing the second pick in 2019, with which they selected a pivotal piece of their Super Bowl team in star pass rusher Nick Bosa.

This time, his 2020 injury issues put them in a position to strike a franchise-changing deal and put another quarterback in place to reap the long-term benefits of playing with a stacked squad.

Running it back

The 49ers could hardly have enjoyed a better free agency period.

Facing a potential plethora of departures in a year where the salary cap decreased, San Francisco managed to keep most of its team together.

A secondary that faced being dismantled retained Emmanuel Moseley, Jason Verrett, K'Waun Williams and Jaquiski Tartt, while on offense the 49ers succeeded in bringing back Kyle Juszczyk, unquestionably the most versatile and dynamic fullback in the league.

The most important bit of business, however, concerned left tackle Trent Williams, the 49ers in this instance holding off the Chiefs – who had significant interest in the eight-time Pro Bowler – to keep him around on a six-year contract that made the former Washington star the highest-paid player at his position.

His return ensured the Niners had no glaring need to address at number 12, giving them the freedom to make such a dramatic move up the board.

Possessing arguably the best tight end in football in George Kittle and with Bosa set to return from his ACL tear, the Niners are a team seemingly primed for a bounce back after convincing the bulk of their core who were on expiring contracts to stay.

But their success in holding on to their own and their aggressiveness in surrendering three first-round picks to jump nine spots will be all for nought if they get the decision wrong.

The choice

Despite a plethora of initial reports claiming the Niners made this dramatic move for Alabama quarterback Mac Jones – buzz that has not died down – San Francisco's selection with the third pick remains shrouded in mystery.

All that is known is that either Jones, North Dakota State's Trey Lance or Ohio State's Justin Fields will be a 49er come Thursday.

It is very much a choice between the old school and the new norm at the quarterback position.

Jones was masterful in guiding Alabama to the National Championship in 2020 while leading the FBS with a remarkable completion percentage of 77.4.

Displaying consistent accuracy from the pocket, he also topped the FBS in completion percentage when blitzed (76.9) and red zone completion percentage (75.9). On third down, he ranked fourth, connecting on 71.6 per cent of his passes.

The problem with Jones is that his domain is almost exclusively the pocket. In the NFL in 2021, quarterbacks who can escape those confines in the face of pressure and make plays on the run with both their arm and their legs are fast becoming king.

That is not Jones' game. If the 49ers drafted either Lance or Fields, they would be acquiring a player who thrives in those situations and can add another dimension to one of the most creative offenses in the NFL.

Fields is seemingly the outsider in this race despite having the best resume.

He led Ohio State to the College Football Playoff in successive seasons, outplaying presumptive number one pick Trevor Lawrence en route to the final in the 2020 season. 

While his completion percentage (70.2) was behind that of Jones in 2020, Fields was the most accurate of the four presumed first-round FBS quarterbacks on downfield throws.

On throws of 15 or more air yards, Fields had a well-thrown percentage of 76.47 compared to 71.43 for Lawrence, 69.41 for assumed second pick Zach Wilson and 67.39 for Jones.

So, Fields would add a downfield element that has long since been absent with Garoppolo while also offering mobility that has allowed him to make outstanding throws on the run and rush for 1,539 yards and 19 touchdowns in college.

However, had Lance played more than one full season, he would have dwarfed that number.

The wild card of the quarterback crop, Lance is undoubtedly the most devastating runner, displaying speed in the open field and the power to inflict punishment on defenders who dare to try to tackle him.

He had 18 touchdowns in his Bison career, 14 of which came in a spectacular sole season as the starter under center in which he added a further 28 touchdowns through the air and did not throw a single interception.

Lance's limited experience at FCS level, the second tier of college football, means any team picking him would be taking a substantial risk.

But with a howitzer of an arm that opens all levels of the field to him and widespread praise of his intelligence that suggests the interception-less season was far from just luck, the potential pay-off is massive.

The choice for Shanahan and Lynch is between evolving with the times with a quarterback who can solve problems with their athletic gifts or picking one who can run their offense efficiently but whose physical limitations will likely cap the ceiling of that attack.

Those behind them in the order will be praying they take the latter route and allow a mad scramble to commence, with teams sure to try to get up the board for one of Fields or Lance if they are both on the board after pick three. The Niners have made their seismic move, now their selection process has to be right to ensure the coming years of a Super Bowl-ready roster do not go to waste.

The Indianapolis Colts picked up the fifth-year contract option on Quenton Nelson's rookie deal, the NFL franchise announced on Wednesday.

Three-time All-Pro Nelson – the sixth pick in the 2018 Draft – is now locked into Indianapolis for the 2022 season.

The 25-year-old guard has started all 48 games plus three playoff contests for the Colts since being drafted.

Nelson became the fifth player in the last 50 years to be named a first-team All-Pro in each of his first three seasons in the NFL, though he is the only offensive lineman to achieve the feat.

"Quenton, he is a generational player that – I'm sorry, I see [John] Hannah and I see him of the last hundred years. I mean that's how good Quenton is," Colts owner and chief executive Jim Irsay said earlier this year.

"As far as leadership and the type of team guy he is, it's off the charts. He is why the Colts are a physical team. When you're coming to play us, you are coming to play the Big-Q and he is the guy that represents us out there and everyone on this roster knows.

"He is the alpha male holding it down now. That is a tough guy. His talents are just remarkable. If he stays healthy, he may be 14 All-Pro years in a row."

The Colts finished with an 11-5 record in the AFC South last season before falling to the Buffalo Bills in the Wild Card Round.

The New York Giants have picked up the fifth-year contract option on star running back Saquon Barkley.

NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2018, Barkley's rookie contract is extended by one year and guaranteed through to 2022 following Wednesday's announcement.

Barkley – the second pick in the 2018 Draft – is reportedly on track to be ready for the start of the season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his right knee.

The 24-year-old underwent surgery in October following the season-ending injury sustained against the Chicago Bears in September.

Barkley was limited to 13 games in 2019 because of an ankle issue but still topped 1,000 yards rushing.

His sensational rookie season saw him rack up 2,028 yards from scrimmage and 15 total touchdowns in 2018.

In 2020, the Giants (6-10) missed the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year in the NFC East.

Pete Carroll is looking forward to a "long future" together with Russell Wilson after Seattle Seahawks general manager John Schneider told reporters he "never actively negotiated with anybody" over a trade of their superstar quarterback.

Wilson's future has been a source of much debate this offseason.

He appeared to be in MVP contention as Seattle made a 6-1 start to the 2020 season, but a lack of effective pass protection meant the 32-year-old could not maintain that standard.

The 47 sacks he suffered in the regular season were the third-most among NFL QBs.

Wilson has been sacked on a league-high 394 occasions in his Seahawks career, well clear of Matt Ryan (325) in second on that list.

"I'm frustrated [about] getting hit too much," he said in February.

To this, Carroll said on Wednesday: "He wasn't any more frustrated than I was."

Reports emerged of Wilson naming four teams he would be interested in being dealt to, yet Schneider now says such a move was never an option.

"There were a number of teams that called after that media blitz that happened, but no, I never actively negotiated with anybody, with any team," he said.

"Did people call? Absolutely."

Carroll described Wilson's comments as "a pretty normal reaction" and said the pair had "talked extensively throughout the offseason", "as many conversations as we've ever had".

"Russ has been our quarterback for a good while," Carroll said. "We've got a long contract with him.

"And when all of the conversation went about trades and all that, I knew what the truth was: we weren't trading Russell.

"So, we plan on him being here for a good while. I don't know how many years it is now, but we're in great shape and a long future ahead of us is shared.

"Russ knows that. I know that. We're very clear about it.

"That's why it was really obvious that we just had to sit back and kind of let the media take its course with the topic. So we did.

"We're in good shape and both very clear about that."

Wilson's completion percentage of 72.3 fell to 61.6 under pressure in 2020, but this was good enough to rank third in the NFL in these situations – behind Teddy Bridgewater (65.9) and Kirk Cousins (62.2).

The Carolina Panthers traded quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to the Denver Broncos in return for a sixth-round draft pick on Wednesday.

Carolina allowed Bridgewater to depart after landing New York Jets signal-caller Sam Darnold earlier this month.

ESPN's Adam Schefter reported the Panthers will pay Bridgewater $7million, while he is said to be set to receive $3m from the Broncos.

Bridgewater spent just one season with the Panthers, completing 69.1 per cent of his passes for 3,733 yards, 15 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in 15 starts.

The 28-year-old rushed for 279 yards and five touchdowns in the 2020 campaign.

Denver could reportedly still be in the market for another QB in Thursday's NFL Draft, despite also having Drew Lock, Brett Rypien and Jeff Driskel on the roster.

Lock started 13 games for the Broncos last year, completing 57.3 per cent of his passes for 2,933 yards, 16 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.

Broncos general manager George Paton said: "Acquiring Teddy Bridgewater adds competition, experience and a strong veteran presence to our quarterback room.

"He's a talented player and leader who's had success in this league in a number of different situations. Being familiar with Teddy from Minnesota, he's going to compete and do everything he can to help us win."

 

The NFL is a league of giants, one dominated by towering physical specimens who can stretch the limits of athleticism and mental colossuses who fight through adversity to shine brightest in the biggest moments.

While far from a disappointing athlete, NFL teams that have done their homework on Clemson wide receiver Amari Rodgers ahead of this week's draft will likely have slotted him firmly in the latter category.

Rodgers is of the more diminutive build in terms of height when it comes to receivers, measuring at just over 5ft 9in at his pro day. However, though size is among the defining physical traits teams will always look for when building out their rosters, there are no shortage of examples of wideouts overcoming a lack of verticality to thrive at the highest level.

Perhaps the most prominent example of a supposedly small receiver excelling in the pros is the one who has inspired Rodgers since his formative years: Carolina Panthers great Steve Smith Sr.

"All the way through high school, all the way through college, I used to watch his highlights before every single game just to get my mindset going, get me riled up," Rodgers told Stats Perform News.

Getting himself and his opponents riled up was a key feature of Smith's career, as he used an aggressive mindset to help him outwill and outperform defenders over the course of 16 NFL seasons, five of which ended with Pro Bowl recognition.

A markedly similar approach was critical to Rodgers' success during his college career with Clemson, where he won a National Championship and emerged as a top target for presumptive number one overall pick Trevor Lawrence after Tee Higgins left for the pros last year and Justyn Ross was ruled out of the 2020 season with a spinal issue.

Rodgers racked up 77 catches for 1,020 yards and seven touchdowns in 2020, using his stocky 212-pound frame to run through defenders for extra yardage once he got the ball in his hands while also displaying a hugely impressive ability to elevate over cornerbacks at the catch point.

Of his 1,020 yards, 602 came after the catch, with that total second only to Alabama's DeVonta Smith (937) in the FBS, per Stats Perform data. His catch rating, which measures how well a receiver brings in catchable passes on a 0-1 scale, was 0.917, above the average of 0.901 for Power 5 wideouts with 20 or more targets.

"That's definitely a product of my mindset. I'm just trying to run through people," Rodgers added. "If I'm about to run out of bounds on the sideline and there's somebody there they're going to feel me.

"I'm not just going to run out of bounds, it's not flag football, it's not two-hand touch. I've got the pads on for a reason, I'm going to let them feel me and let them know that I'm there and I'm coming back.

"That's just my mindset, just to let everybody know that I'm not stopping the whole game, I'm putting my best foot forward, I'm playing with the best effort, I'm just bringing that dog mentality.

"Once Justyn got hurt, I knew I was going to have most of the load in the receiver room, me and Cornell Powell. In the offseason, after spring ball, I just took it upon me to just grind every single day.

"I didn't go a day without doing something to enhance my game. I was just preparing myself mentally and physically for that load that I knew that I was going to have this past season so that when the time came I could perform."

That same relentless preparation helped Rodgers get through the toughest part of his college career a year earlier.

His ability to have a significant influence on the Tigers' 2019 campaign appeared set to be restricted when he tore his ACL in spring practice. Yet he accelerated a recovery that for many takes six to nine months to just 166 days and, by his second game of the season in September, had a 100-yard performance to his name as he went off for 121 and two touchdowns against Syracuse.

"My mindset was everything with that. I hate sitting out, I hate not playing, I hate seeing my brothers out there practicing every day, doing hard stuff and I'm on the sideline watching them, so that tore me up," said Rodgers of his rapid rehabilitation. 

"I worked every single day, three times a day, in the morning before workouts and then after lunch I'd come back in and do some more, and then I paid out of pocket and went somewhere else at night.

"So three times a day except on the weekends I'm doing rehab and strengthening the muscles around my knee and stuff like that so I can get back out there, because I knew I needed to be out there and they needed me, so I just did everything I could to get back out there with my brothers."

Such ceaseless determination is difficult to maintain, but Rodgers had the benefit of an indelible source of motivation.

Rodgers ensured he caught the eye at his pro day, running his 40-yard dash shirtless and revealing an upper body adorned by scores of tattoos.

His evident passion for body art played a crucial role in that speedy return to the field.

Asked about his favourite tattoo, Rodgers replied: "This one on my forearm, it's a quote, it says 'the future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams'.

"I got that shortly after the day of my ACL injury because I did that as a daily reminder to keep shooting for my dreams and keep believing, because sometimes it may be tough going into rehab and doing the same thing over and over and over again. You want to transition to running; there's a transition to running routes, but it's a slow process, you've got to take your time and be patient. So, I just got this on my forearm just as a daily reminder.

"I look at it before I start working out every single day and I'll be dialled in, so that's definitely my most favourite tattoo."

Rodgers' dream is now about to become a reality as he will make the jump to the pros, and he sees no limit to what he can do when he gets on an NFL field.

He ran 291 routes from the slot in 2020, compared to 45 as an outside receiver.

However, his burn yards per route average – a burn being when a receiver wins his matchup with a defender on a play where he is targeted – only dropped from 3.65 when playing the slot to 3.53 when lined up outside. That latter number was comfortably above the average of 2.50 for wideouts with at least 10 targets as an outside receiver.

Rodgers' catch rating improved from 0.912 in the slot to 0.947 when he played outside. His average depth of target from the outside was 16.4 yards, with Rodgers recording an open percentage on his targets of 69.2 that put him 10th among outside receivers whose average depth was 16 yards or higher.

And Rodgers is convinced that, just like his idol Smith, he could excel on the outside at the next level.

"My first two years at Clemson I played outside receiver, I didn't move to the slot until my junior year, so I had that experience playing outside as well," he said. 

"I can play inside; special teams is going to help me as well. You can throw me in the backfield and create mismatches with me against linebackers on third downs, too. I can do it all. I'm a Swiss Army knife, that's really how I'm approaching this process, telling programs in the interview process, because a lot of people didn't see everything I can bring to the game at Clemson, so I'm just letting you know that I'm only getting better, they can use me in any way they want to."

Rodgers is a prospect who firmly believes he is yet to show everything he has to offer, so what can the team that calls his name expect when they add him to their ranks?

"They're going to get a dog, first and foremost, somebody that's the YAC king," Rodgers explained. "Sixty per cent of my yards was after the catch, so that just shows my ability to be dominant when I get the ball in my hands and make plays.

"So, they're going to get somebody that has strong hands, confident in their route-running, you can believe that he can get open every single play and a leader, somebody that's going to lead by example, not be one of those that's always in trouble, but go in, put the work in day in and day out, keep improving day in and day out, help the team winning that Super Bowl."

Rodgers heads to the league with lofty ambitions. Meeting them will be a tall order, but there is no doubt Rodgers will approach that challenge with the right mindset.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have agreed a deal to bring back wide receiver Antonio Brown on a one-year deal worth up to $6.25million.

Brown's agent confirmed to NFL Network that the deal is done, with the 32-year-old to be fully guaranteed $3.1m.

After winning the Super Bowl in their first season with Tom Brady as quarterback, the Bucs had already impressively found a way to bring back all 22 of their starters in the offseason.

That included free agents Shaquil Barrett, Rob Gronkowski and Ndamukong Suh, along with Chris Godwin, who was handed the franchise tag.

Brown – who had 45 catches for 483 yards and four touchdowns in eight regular season games last year – was the most significant remaining player yet to agree terms.

Both sides had indicated a willingness to prolong their partnership and financial negotiations have now been concluded one day before the NFL Draft, where the Bucs appear to have the luxury of going into the process without a major need on their roster. 

Mike Evans, Godwin and Brown make up three elite receiving options for Brady, with second-year pro Tyler Johnson a candidate to make a step forward in 2021 and Scotty Miller also in the rotation.

Gronkowski, O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate also make up a star-studded tight end room, as Brady – who will turn 44 before the new season begins – looks to win an eighth Super Bowl with a stellar supporting cast.

Brown spent the first nine years of his career with the Pittsburgh Steelers and was a five-time All-Pro selection – four of those in the first team – and a seven-time Pro Bowler.

As he battled legal problems, brief and turbulent spells with the New England Patriots and Las Vegas Raiders followed before reuniting with Brady in Tampa provided him with the chance to resurrect his NFL career, a process which began with a first Super Bowl crown in February.

Brown had five catches for 22 yards and a TD in the Bucs' surprisingly convincing 31-9 triumph over Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs.

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