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.

The Green Bay Packers are "committed" to Aaron Rodgers, as rumours swirl about the quarterback's future.

Hours before the start of the NFL Draft, the league's biggest night of the off-season, reports emerged that the veteran might be on the way out after 16 seasons with the team. 

General manager Brian Gutekunst responded with a statement reiterating the Packers' expectation that Rodgers will remain at the helm. 

“As we’ve stated since the season ended, we are committed to Aaron in 2021 and beyond," the statement said. 

"Aaron has been a vital part of our success and we look forward to competing for another championship with him leading our team.”

Rodgers' future with Green Bay has been a source of speculation since last spring, when the team made a surprise move to draft quarterback Jordan Love in the first round.

Rodgers then said in May 2020 that while he had a "sincere desire" to play his entire career with one franchise, that scenario "may not be a reality at this point".

At age 37 and coming off his third NFL MVP award last season, Rodgers has said he wants to play into his forties but where that will occur has suddenly become a question. 

A report Thursday said the San Francisco 49ers had offered quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, the No. 3 overall pick in this year's NFL Draft, and other draft picks to the Packers in an attempt to acquire Rodgers. 

Multiple media outlets quickly cited sources refuting the report, with ESPN saying the 49ers asked about Rodgers but did not make an offer. NFL Network also reported no offer was made and added there is a "zero per cent chance" the Packers will trade Rodgers. 

Both outlets also reported that Rodgers and the Packers have been negotiating a contract extension and the quarterback is not happy with where things stand. ESPN said he has told the team he wants to depart. 

After seeing limited playing time behind Brett Favre his first three seasons, Rodgers has been the Packers' starter since 2008. 

In 197 appearances for Green Bay, Rodgers has thrown for 51,245 yards with 412 touchdowns and 89 interceptions, completing 65.1 per cent of his passes. His 103.9 passer rating is third all-time. 

A three-time All-Pro selection, he led the Packers to the Super Bowl title after the 2010 season. 

Rodgers set career highs last season with a 70.7 completion percentage and 48 touchdown passes. 

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.

After months and months of speculation and dissecting the tape of this year's crop of pro hopefuls, the 2021 NFL Draft is finally here.

There will be no surprises with how the draft gets off and running, the number one pick has seemingly been locked in since the end of the 2020 season, but there is no shortage of intrigue in this first round, which will start at the third overall pick when the San Francisco 49ers make their quarterback choice following a blockbuster trade with the Miami Dolphins.

From there it is set to be a fascinating opening night in Cleveland, where five quarterbacks are anticipated to come off the board in one of the best draft classes at the position in recent years.

How will the top 32 picks shake out? Using Stats Perform data, we have taken our best shot at answering that question.

1. Jacksonville Jaguars – Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson

The worst kept secret in the NFL Draft. Lawrence has effectively been a Jaguar for a few months now, but it will be made official on Thursday. Are the Jaguars getting a 'generational' quarterback as so many believe? Well, there are a plethora of numbers to support that claim. No quarterback in the Power 5 last season had a higher well-thrown percentage than Lawrence's 84.31 in 2020. His red-zone completion percentage since 2018 of 68.5 is second in the FBS.

2. New York Jets - Zach Wilson, QB, BYU 

It's no secret who the Jets are interested in at the second slot. After a mediocre first two seasons in Provo, Wilson burst onto the season last year with 3,692 yards and a 33/3 TD/INT ratio en route to an 11-1 season. He'll bring big-play potential to New York; among all FBS QBs, he was the fourth-most accurate on throws of 20 or more air yards with a 72.7 well-thrown percentage (min. 20 attempts). He made 55 of those throws last season, and didn't throw a single pickable pass, making him the only QB with more than 27 such attempts to keep the ball completely out of danger.

3. San Francisco 49ers – Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State

All the noise continues to surround Alabama's Mac Jones, though there is also increasing buzz around Trey Lance of North Dakota State. However, if the 49ers want a pro-ready quarterback who can take their offense to the next level, the answer should be Fields. His completion percentage on throws of 20-plus yards in the air of 47.9 was sixth among quarterbacks with at least 100 attempts since 2018. Of quarterbacks with at least 200 pass attempts who averaged 10 or more air yards per attempt last season, Fields' well-thrown percentage (80.18) was second only to North Carolina's Sam Howell (81.31).

4. Atlanta Falcons - Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida 

Pitts gives the Falcons a potential superstar playmaker at the tight end position. His versatility makes him a complete nightmare for defenses, with the ability to line up in-line, out wide as a receiver, or in the slot. He averaged 3.93 burn yards per route, third-best among tight ends, and he was one of three Power 5 receivers to not drop a single pass on 65 or more targets.

5. Cincinnati Bengals – Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon

Sewell will still only be 20 years old entering the league having been nothing short of a rock for the Ducks in his brief Pac-12 career. Before opting out of the 2020 season, Sewell produced a stellar 2019 campaign in which he allowed only 13 pressures on 285 pass protection snaps. With an adjusted sack percentage allowed of only 1.1 in 2019, Sewell should immediately step in and provide a massive upgrade in protection from what Joe Burrow had to endure last season as a rookie.

6. Miami Dolphins - Ja'Marr Chase WR, LSU 

Chase opted out of the 2020 season, but clearly it didn't hurt his draft stock. In a record-setting LSU offense loaded with weapons, Chase was arguably the most explosive of them all. He racked up 23 burn-adjusted TDs in 2019, the only player other than his team-mate Justin Jefferson to have more than 17 on the season. Chase gives the Dolphins another desperately needed weapon for their offense.

7. Detroit Lions – Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State

The Lions likely will not even try to pretend Jared Goff is a long-term answer under center and, should one of the top-five guys drop to this point, they must give serious consideration to drafting their quarterback of the future. Lance may only have one full year of college seasoning at the FCS level to his name, but an enticing dual-threat skill set that saw him account for 42 touchdowns and zero, yes zero, interceptions in 2019 should be enough to convince the Lions he is the man to whom they should eventually hand the keys to the offense.

8. Carolina Panthers - Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern 

Most of the talk on the offensive line is about Sewell, but Slater was incredible in 2019. The Northwestern junior gave up just six pressures in 220 pass protection opportunities, making him the single best Power 5 tackle in preventing pressures on a per-snap basis. He isn't quite the physical freak that Sewell is, but if the Panthers grab him here he should immediately fill a gaping hole on their offensive line.

9. Denver Broncos – Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State

Will the lure of Mac Jones be enough to swing Denver away from sticking with Drew Lock for the time being? Not in this instance. The Broncos have a very talented roster on both sides of the ball and add to their defense by giving Vic Fangio, who has worked with a plethora of great linebackers over the years, another one to develop. Parsons would bring athleticism and versatility, having frequently been used at both inside and outside linebacker as well as off the edge. Parsons was eighth in the Power 5 in run disruption percentage (14.2) among players with at least 200 linebacker snaps in his last college season in 2019.

10. Dallas Cowboys - Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama

The first of three cornerbacks with NFL fathers, Surtain II feels like a great fit for the Cowboys. You may be concerned by just one interception last year (and four total in his career), but he was targeted on just 12.2 per cent of his coverage snaps, sixth-lowest among all Power 5 cornerbacks. He has the skill set to adapt quickly to the Cowboys' new Dan Quinn-led defense, which plays a lot of Cover 3-mable, with a single corner in press coverage on an island.

11. New York Giants – Alijah Vera-Tucker, OL, USC

Regardless of whether Vera-Tucker is a tackle or a guard, the Giants could use what he brings to the offensive line. He allowed 16 pressures on 204 pass protection snaps playing at left tackle in 2020. However, playing as a guard in 2019, he gave up only five in 387 such snaps for a pressure rate of 1.3 per cent that was the best among Power 5 players with at least 200 guard snaps.

12. Philadelphia Eagles - DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama 

The 2020 Heisman Trophy winner had a season unlike any we've ever seen from a college wide receiver. He racked up 111 burns on the season, which was more than any other Power 5 receiver even had targets. He also had 12 more burn-adjusted TDs and 619 more burn yards than anyone else, while also being third in burn yards per route and ninth-best in burn percentage, while forcing seven defensive penalties as well. Last year the Eagles grabbed their speed guy in Jalen Reagor; Smith gives them an elite route runner from anywhere on the field to go with him.

13. Los Angeles Chargers – Greg Newsome II, CB, Northwestern

An ideal fit for the zone-heavy defense Brandon Staley will run with the Chargers, Newsome possesses an incredible blend of athleticism and instincts and should be an impact starter from day one. No cornerback in the Power 5 with at least 100 snaps and 25 targets had a better big plays allowed percentage than Newsome's 4.9 last season. His burns allowed percentage of 13.9 also put him top of the charts and he allowed the fewest burn yards per target (3.16). Receivers were open on 38.9 per cent of targets against Newsome, the third-lowest rate in the Power 5.

14. Minnesota Vikings - Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech 

A three-year starter for Virginia Tech, Darrisaw should be a plug-and-play option at left tackle. He was an elite blocker in both the pass game and run game, allowing just 5.2 per cent pressures and 5.4 per cent disruptions (first and third, respectively, in the ACC). The Vikings haven't had a tackle make the Pro Bowl since Bryant McKinnie in 2009, but Darrisaw would have the potential to change that in a couple years.

15. New England Patriots – Mac Jones, QB, Alabama

The man many expect to head to the Bay Area actually ends up in New England, where he can learn at the feet of one of Nick Saban's great friends in Bill Belichick. After Cam Newton's struggles throwing the ball last season, Jones may be a welcome tonic whose numbers suggest he could quickly challenge for the starting role. Jones' completion percentage of 79.1 was the best in the Power 5 last season as he led the Crimson Tide to the National Championship while his well-thrown percentage (83.21) was third.

16. Arizona Cardinals - Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina

Son of former New Orleans Saint and cell phone enthusiast Joe Horn, Jaycee was an elite cover corner this past year at South Carolina. No cornerback in the Power 5 had a lower open-against percentage than Horn at 36 per cent, and his burns-against rate of 40 per cent puts him seventh-best among this year's cornerback draft class.

17. Las Vegas Raiders – Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama

Would Jon Gruden take another deep threat from Alabama in the first round after admitting disappointment with how Henry Ruggs III performed in his rookie season? Of course he would. His frightening combination of speed and agility would be near-impossible for Gruden to pass up, with Waddle third in the Power 5 in burn yards per target (19.96) and fifth in open percentage (90.6) while having an average depth of target of 11.5 yards.

18. Miami Dolphins - Azeez Ojulari EDGE, Georgia

With their first pick giving them a new offensive weapon, the Dolphins can turn to the defensive side of the ball at 18. Ojulari can be an immediate impact pass rusher for Miami; his 28.8 pressure percentage was tops in the SEC and fourth-best among Power 5 edge rushers.

19. Washington Football Team – Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB, Notre Dame

It may not be clear where Owusu-Koramoah's best position is, but he is a versatile chess piece who could thrive behind Washington's beastly front four. Owusu-Koramoah can play as a linebacker, on the edge and in the slot, and in a league where linebackers are asked to frequently coved athletic tight ends from the latter position, he can provide excellent value. His big plays allowed percentage of 11 was 12th among all Power 5 defenders with at least 50 snaps and 10 targets in the slot.

20. Chicago Bears - Teven Jenkins, OT, Oklahoma State 

With their quarterback woes being solved (?) by the Andy Dalton acquisition, the Bears can go get some help to shore up their offensive line. Enter Teven Jenkins, the top offensive tackle in the Big 12 over the past two seasons. He was elite both as a pass and run blocker at right tackle and has experience at left tackle as well, making him an ideal fit in Chicago.

21. Indianapolis Colts – Kwity Paye, EDGE, Michigan

Paye's production – he only had two sacks in 2020 – is a cause for concern but his tremendous athleticism and his ability to create disruption should be of significant appeal to a Colts team that has struggled for success drafting edge rushers in recent times. Paye's pressure rate of 33.3 per cent was second among Power 5 players with a minimum of 100 edge snaps last year. Playing on the same defensive front as DeForest Buckner, he should produce early in the pros.

22. Tennessee Titans - Christian Barmore, IDL, Alabama

Barmore is pretty clearly the best option in a down year for interior defensive linemen. He is a three-down defender with success both rushing the passer (18.2 PR%) and defending the run (16.5 RD%).

23. New York Jets – Landon Dickerson, IOL, Alabama

Mekhi Becton is a foundational piece at left tackle and, while there are rightfully some doubts about his torn ACL, Dickerson can fill the same role for the Jets at center, one of the most important positions in the Kyle Shanahan offense Mike LaFleur will run under Robert Saleh in New York. Last season, Dickerson gave up seven pressures on 252 pass-blocking snaps and did not concede a single adjusted sack.

24. Pittsburgh Steelers - Jaelan Phillips, EDGE, Miami (FL) 

If not for a shaky concussion history that saw him retire from football for a short period, Phillips could easily be a top-10 pick. He is an extremely well-rounded talent on the edge that can impact the game in a wide variety of ways with his pass rush and run defending abilities. The Steelers love hard-nosed players like Phillips and he could be a great option to replace the departed Bud Dupree.

25. Jacksonville Jaguars – Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota

It's time to get Lawrence a potentially elite weapon at the receiver position. A criminally underrated wideout, Bateman is a steal at this point in the draft. He can create separation with his route-running, is an excellent downfield threat and has the speed and elusiveness to make things happen after the catch. In 2019, Bateman was sixth in burn yards per target (16.15) in the Power 5 while Chris Olave (84) was the only receiver with a higher open percentage among receivers with an average depth of target of 15 yards or more than Bateman (70.2 per cent on an average depth of 16.2 yards).

26. Cleveland Browns - Jamin Davis, LB, Kentucky

Davis was an elite tackler this past year at Kentucky, recording 102 tackles (fifth-most in the FBS) while missing on just six attempts the whole year. The Browns don't have many holes on the field to fill, but Davis can quickly join their linebacker rotation.

27. Baltimore Ravens – Jayson Oweh, EDGE, Penn State

The wild card of an uninspiring edge class, Oweh did not have a sack in 2020 but a team is sure to fall in love with the untapped potential offered by his monstrous athletic traits. His pressure rate of 25 per cent was 11th in the Power 5 among players with 100 edge snaps and 75 pass-rush snaps. Baltimore is the ideal team to develop his skill set and, even if he takes time to blossom as a pass rusher, he could still find early work on run downs, having logged a run disruption rate of 20.6 per cent.

28. New Orleans Saints - Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech

But for multiple back surgeries, Farley would probably be our first cornerback off the board. The medicals are obviously very concerning, but if he's right in saying this latest procedure won't affect his ability to get on the field this fall, the Saints could be getting a steal here. Farley was arguably the top cover corner in college football in 2019, holding opposing receivers to absurdly low burn (26.7 per cent) and open (28.9 per cent).

29. Green Bay Packers – Elijah Moore, WR, Ole Miss

The Packers cannot ignore the wide receiver position as they so infamously did a year ago. Moore would be a gift to Aaron Rodgers as a receiver who can start day one in the NFL from the slot and has the versatility to potentially take snaps as an outside receiver. A superb ball tracker who is extremely dependable at the catch point, Moore's catch rating of 0.985 was second on the list for Power 5 receivers with at least 50 targets from the slot. His open percentage of 83.5 was sixth among the 22 receivers in that group.

30. Buffalo Bills - Gregory Rousseau, EDGE, Miami (FL) 

Rousseau comes with his fair share of concerns, which include his pass-rushing success coming disproportionately from the interior despite being an edge player by trade. That said, his upside is obvious (his 19 pressures that resulted in sacks in 2019 were second to last year's number two pick Chase Young), and with their depth up front, the Bills could be a perfect landing spot for him.

31. Baltimore Ravens – Samuel Cosmi, OT, Texas

A replacement for Orlando Brown Jr. became a clear need for the Ravens following last week's blockbuster trade with the Kansas City Chiefs. In a talented tackle class, his successor should not be difficult to identify. Credited with just two adjusted sacks allowed in 251 pass protection snaps playing at left tackle for the Longhorns last year, Jones may take time to adapt to playing on the opposite side at a higher level but his talent, physical gifts and numbers indicate he has what it takes to make the transition.

32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Zaven Collins, LB, Tulsa

Collins is an incredibly intriguing linebacker prospect that could do well to learn from the elite Devin White-Lavonte David tandem in Tampa. Collins is a versatile defender that had 18 run stuffs, seven pressures (on 35 pass rush attempts) and four interceptions (three of which came on plays where he wasn't even the defensive target). Collins wouldn't play right away in this scenario, but he could come along slowly watching White and David while being a sub-package player for the Bucs.

Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh has no doubt about his team's quarterback plans for the future, guaranteeing they will pick up Lamar Jackson's contract option.

There has been speculation over Jackson's future in Baltimore, where he was named the NFL's MVP in 2019 – the year after Baltimore selected him with the final pick in the first round of the draft.

Baltimore's delay in making a move on Jackson's contract led to reports claiming the Ravens might draft a quarterback and allow the star QB to depart following this season, rather than pay the $23million option for 22.

But on Tuesday, Harbaugh ensured the Ravens will pick up Jackson's fifth-year option by the May 3 deadline. 

"His fifth-year option will be picked up. Guarantee it," Harbaugh said on The Rich Eisen Show. 

"He's definitely going to be our quarterback. That's the plan, absolutely."

Jackson, who will make $1.8m this season – the final year of his rookie contract – was a unanimous choice as the NFL's Most Valuable Player two years ago.

His performance slipped a bit 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. 

Jackson 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).

He is also the first in league history to produce 5,000 passing yard and 2,500 rushing yards in his first three NFL seasons.

Jackson had 242 completions for 2,757 yards – at 64.4 per cent – 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions in 15 appearances for the Ravens last season.

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

That all-around excellence has Harbaugh excited to continue building around the 24-year-old. 

"The thing he talks about all the time is, he wants to win a Super Bowl, then go from there. That's the kind of mindset you want to have," Harbaugh added. "I think he's a very unique guy. He's a guy that's different in a lot of ways than any quarterback, probably, that's ever played. 

"No two players are exactly the same, but Lamar is somebody that breaks the mould a little bit, and he does it in a way a lot of people didn't anticipate.

"They didn't see this coming. They didn't think a quarterback would play in this style. They talked about him playing other positions and all that. 

"He's very determined, and we're very determined, to prove those people wrong, and also to kind of pave a new path here and show what's possible with a different type of a skill set." 

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott might be ahead of schedule in his return from the ankle injury that ended his 2020 season prematurely, according to Mike McCarthy.

Cowboys head coach McCarthy watched Prescott go through rehabilitation work on Saturday and was pleased with the progress the two-time NFL Pro Bowler has made.

Prescott suffered a compound fracture and dislocation of his right ankle in an October 11 game against the New York Giants but has had no apparent setbacks in his rehab. 

"He's throwing now, doing footwork drills. He's made a lot of progress," McCarthy told reporters on Tuesday.

"Very disciplined in his regimen. He's here almost every day. I'd say he's right on track or maybe a little ahead of schedule.

"I was very impressed with his progress. Just coming off the type of injury and his footwork, and he's doing all of the normal movements that you look to do in a quarterback-school format this time of year."

Prescott had surgery in October to fix the injury, then another procedure in December to address a prior issue with ligaments in the ankle. 

He signed a four-year contract extension in March that guarantees him $126million and could be worth $160m. 

At the news conference announcing that deal, Prescott pronounced himself "healthy" and said he was "getting close" to a return to the practice field. 

The 27-year-old had never missed a start in his NFL career before the ankle injury.

In those 69 regular-season games, he has thrown for 17,634 yards with 106 touchdowns and 40 interceptions.

Prescott has also rushed for 1,314 yards and 24 more touchdowns.

Trey Lance insists he has the potential and ability to become the best quarterback to emerge from the 2021 NFL Draft, despite a star-studded class.

Trevor Lawrence, the presumptive number one overall pick for the Jacksonville Jaguars, is billed as a generational talent at QB, while Zach Wilson appears to be locked in for the New York Jets at two.

There is huge debate and uncertainty over who the San Francisco 49ers will select when they are on the clock on Thursday, having traded up to number three overall.

Lance is in the mix for the Niners, as are Justin Fields and Mac Jones, with all five of the highest-rated QBs tipped to go in the first round and possibly the top 10.

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

The 20-year-old is seen as the QB with the widest range of outcomes of the first-round quintet, but has the belief to state he can outshine his rivals, even though he wants them all to succeed.

"I'm confident in myself, and I believe in myself," Lance said to NFL Network.

"I think I have the potential to be the best quarterback in this class. 

"I don't know where I'm gonna be at. Obviously, I've watched a ton of tape, 49ers, Falcons, whatever it is, football, in general. But I'm super excited to find out where I'm going to be. 

"I think I'm going to be able to learn any offense that I'm put into, any system I'm put into, and find a way to be successful.

"I understand obviously there's gonna be a lot of learning to do.

"Just as far as this quarterback class, I want them all to do well. I'm excited to see what they do and rooting for them all the same."

While Lance has faced scrutiny as a passer, he is a dual-threat and perceived as the strongest rusher of the leading options at the QB position.

Only four QBs across the FBS and FCS had more rushing touchdowns than Lance's 14 in 2019, while his rushing average of 6.5 was fifth among signal-callers to have registered at least 100 rushing attempts.

But he will enter the league with just one full season of college experience - and an uneven 'showcase game' against Central Arkansas - after the coronavirus pandemic pushed the Bison's 2020 season into the spring of 2021. 

Lance only averaged around 18 pass attempts in a run-heavy offense in his sole campaign.

In addition to inexperience, the level of competition is also a question-mark against Lance's name, his 16 games in 2019 coming in the FCS, college football's second tier. 

Bison alumnus Carson Wentz made the grade in the NFL, at least initially, playing at the same level, and for Lance any doubts about his game and background simply serve as additional motivation.

He added: "Hearing those [questions] for me is honestly exciting.

"I get to prove people wrong again. So that is what I'll continue to do and I want to continue to do. 

"So definitely excited to be able to prove people wrong and come in and be ready to go whenever the situation is, whenever the coach best sees fit. 

"The 'project' TV label is definitely a thing. Whether it's playing FCS football or whatever, I think Carson is a great example of someone who came in from FCS football, level of competition and all those things that people talked about with him.

"He came in and played really, really well as a rookie. So I think that's a huge thing for me and my process."

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