New York Jets left tackle Mekhi Becton has endured a string of injuries over the past year and is sidelined once again after dislocating his right kneecap in Sunday's season-opening defeat. 

The man charged with protecting rookie quarterback Zach Wilson's blind side is expected to miss at least four to six weeks, forcing the Jets to shuffle their offensive line after their Week 1 loss at the Carolina Panthers. 

ESPN reported Becton will have arthroscopic surgery to repair cartilage damage, but Jets head coach Robert Saleh told reporters the tackle will seek another opinion before deciding on surgery. 

While the 6-foot-7, 363-pound Becton will be difficult to replace, the Jets' other tackles had plenty of reps during training camp when the second-year player missed two weeks with a concussion. 

George Fant will move from right tackle to start on the left side, while veteran Morgan Moses will start on the right. 

"We feel very fortunate, we feel we have three legitimate starting tackles," Saleh told reporters on Monday. "Getting George over there to the left and Morgan over there to the right.

"Obviously Mekhi is a heck of a player and a heck of a talent, but to have two veterans who know how to play this game, getting them in there so they can get into a groove is beneficial."

Becton was carted off the field during the third quarter of Sunday's game at Carolina after 305-pound Panthers defensive lineman fell on the back of the tackle's right leg. 

It was a cruel blow for a player who has had trouble staying on the field in just over a year in the league. 

Becton missed all of the Jets' off-season activities due to plantar fasciitis after battling a shoulder injury for several weeks during his rookie season last fall. 

Despite the latest setback, Becton sent out an optimistic tweet Monday: "Positive vibes only! I'll be good!" 

 

 

On Sunday, four of the five quarterbacks selected in the first round of this year's NFL Draft will take the field for their debuts.

A quintet of franchises capitalised on what many considered to be an historic class at the position to select the prospects they hope will prove to be the long-term future of their respective teams.

However, so much of a quarterback's success is dependent on situation and it is likely the quarterback from this crop of rookies that initially stands out will be the one with the best supporting cast around them.

The consensus is that Trey Lance, the third overall pick of the San Francisco 49ers, is in the best spot. For now, he will have to play second fiddle to Jimmy Garoppolo and settle for only sporadic action as the Niners look to make use of his running threat.

When Lance does take over full-time, he will be playing the most important position on a roster that was seven minutes from Super Bowl glory two seasons ago.

While he may have landed in the most favourable scenario, 11th overall pick Justin Fields appears to have been dealt the worst hand, with the Chicago Bears unwilling to risk putting him out there in Week 1 with a talent-poor offense against the Los Angeles Rams despite a strong preseason.

Do the numbers back up the statements that Lance is in the best situation with Fields in the worst? And where do Trevor Lawrence, first overall pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Jets rookie Zach Wilson and New England Patriots starter Mac Jones stack up in terms of supporting cast?

Stats Perform analysed its advanced metrics to find out.

RUNNING GAME

1. Patriots 2. 49ers 3. Jaguars 4. Jets 5. Bears

The running game can be an excellent safety net that takes the pressure off a quarterback's shoulders.

Rushing the ball effectively is contingent on an offensive line that can open the holes and a back that can not only take advantage of those lanes but also create for himself.

In terms of run blocking, the Patriots are the standouts among the teams to select a signal-caller. Second in Stats Perform's projected offensive line rankings, put together using combined run blocking and pass protection data over the past three seasons, only two offensive lines league begin the season better prepared to provide the foundation for a successful ground game than that of New England.

Led by center David Andrews - whose run disruption rate allowed of 5.3 per cent was the best in the NFL at his position - and right guard Shaq Mason (6.3%), the Patriots' O-Line is one that should continue to excel at creating running lanes.

Damien Harris showed his ability to take advantage of those lanes last season when he averaged 3.11 yards before contact from a defender, 10th in the NFL, while making things happen for himself with 3.15 yards per carry on attempts where there was a run disruption from a defender.

When Jones makes his first start against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, he should have full confidence in being able to lean on Harris and the line to make his life easier.

The 49ers, whose starting running back Raheem Mostert averaged 3.28 yards before contact last season, might have a strong case for having the top running game should Lance's dual-threat ability take their ground attack to the next level.

Third-round pick Trey Sermon (4.85 yards before contact, 2.77 yards after contact for Ohio State in 2020) could prove an astute selection, though an offensive line 18th in run blocking in Stats Perform's rankings will need to take a step forward.

Still, their position is significantly more favourable than that of the Bears, who rank last in run blocking, making David Montgomery's 1,000-yard 2020 season all the more surprising.

Yet Montgomery was below the league average in yards before contact (2.54 per attempt) and after contact (1.84), hardly inspiring confidence that he can lighten the load on Fields when the Bears finally commit to him as the starter.

PASS CATCHERS

1. 49ers 2. Patriots 3. Jets 4. Bears 5. Jaguars

There isn't much use investing in a potential franchise quarterback if you cannot put weapons around him upon whom he can rely.

In terms of players he can target and trust, Lance has the edge over his fellow rookies, though no team to take a quarterback in the first round landed in the top half of Stats Perform's rankings by collective open percentage.

The Niners landed 18th on that list but conventional wisdom says they will be much higher should tight end George Kittle and top wide receivers Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk stay healthy.

All three endured injury-hindered 2020 seasons, though Kittle still led all tight ends in adjusted open percentage (45.03%). He was first among tight ends with 3.9 burn yards per route (a burn is a target where the receiver wins his matchup with a defender).

Samuel's burn yards per route rate of 3.0 was particularly eye-catching because his average depth of target of 2.3 was the lowest in the NFL, the former second-round pick showing his skills with ball in hand with 12.1 yards after the catch per reception, best in the NFL.

Aiyuk, meanwhile, produced a big play on 33.1 per cent of his targets, third among rookie receivers with at least 50 targets, a breakout year appears on the horizon for the second-year wideout.

With an elite tight end and two promising wideouts, the Niners' situation is substantially better than Jacksonville's. The Jaguars' pass-catchers ranked last by collective open percentage.

Late free-agent addition Tyron Johnson is the sole wide receiver on the Jaguars' roster to have posted a burn percentage above the average of 62.5 per cent last year.

Johnson did so on 69.2 per cent of his targets and was first in burn yards per target (19.89) and second in burn yards per route (3.6) with an average depth of target of 20 yards.

This evidently skilled deep separator will be tasked with stretching opposing defenses while D.J. Chark (30.33% adjusted open) and Laviska Shenault (27.44%) must do a better job of beating coverage and taking advantage of the stress Johnson can put on opponents to lift this group from the cellar and give Lawrence more to work with.

PASS BLOCKING

1. Patriots 2. Jets 3. Jaguars 4. 49ers 5. Bears

Though most accept Fields is the most exciting quarterback on the Bears' roster, Matt Nagy's decision to not start him and protect him from an offensive line that can hardly protect anyone may be an astute one with Chicago facing Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald and the Rams Week 1.

Eventually, Fields will have to take his lumps. There are good defensive players across the NFL by which he will one day be confronted, but a reticence to put him out there behind a line ranked 30th in pass protection by Stats Perform is understandable.

Starting left tackle Jason Peters is 39 and allowed a pressure rate of 12.4 per cent last term, the 10th-worst in the league. The interior of the line is also a substantial concern.

Right guard James Daniels is coming off a year where he gave up a pressure on 11.3 per cent of pass protection snaps. Cody Whitehair is at left guard having played center in 2020, when only three players at his former position allowed a higher adjusted sack rate than his 1.9 per cent. One of those players was this year's starting center Sam Mustipher (2.3%).

While Fields would have the NFL equivalent of a turnstile in front of him. Jones will head on the Gillette Stadium field with an O-Line that is the definition of solidity.

Though not quite the brick wall he had the benefit of at Alabama, the Patriots' line should provide Jones with excellent protection, ranking fifth in pass blocking.

Mike Onwenu ranked as the best pass-protecting left guard in the NFL and in Trent Brown, credited with one adjusted sack allowed on 162 pass-block snaps in his final season with the Las Vegas Raiders, and Isaiah Wynn, the Patriots have a solid pair of tackles to give Jones the time to prove his pre-draft doubters wrong.

The left side of the Jets' line could rival that of the Patriots. Mekhi Becton's pressure rate allowed of 5.5 per cent was ninth among left tackles in 2020. On his inside shoulder, rookie left guard Alijah Vera-Tucker conceded only five pressures on 387 pass protection snaps the last time he played that spot for USC in 2019. Wilson can afford to have great faith in that duo.

DEFENSE

1. 49ers 2. Bears 3. Patriots 4. Jets 5. Jaguars

Defense is often neglected when it comes to talking about a quarterback's supporting cast but, if a team has one that can stifle opposing attacks, it leaves more wiggle room for a young quarterback to endure the 'rookie mistakes' and not sink his team's chances of competing.

Lance's performances during the preseason, while exciting, indicated he is a quarterback who could be a little turnover-prone as he adapts to reading defenses at the NFL level.

San Francisco's is a defense that is strong up front and better than given credit for in the secondary. The 49ers ranked eighth in pass coverage grade, which was produced by multiplying each player's coverage baseline by a projected target share for 2021 with the results then aggregated at the team level.

On the front, Stats Perform projected the average Niners defender to produce a pressure on 11.5 per cent of pass rush attempts, putting them fourth in the NFL.

Though there is great depth on the defensive line, much of that projection is built on Nick Bosa, getting back to his Defensive Rookie of the Year levels of 2019, when he had a pressure rate of 28.3 per cent, after suffering a torn ACL in Week 2 last year. With Bosa healthy and Fred Warner the premier all-round linebacker in the NFL, the Niners have a defense that could help them contend amid bumps in the road for Lance.

The Bears don't have many areas where they can be considered to be the best in the NFL, yet their front seven has a strong claim. The average Chicago pass rusher is projected to produce a pressure on 11.4% of pass rush attempts and the average run defender is forecast to cause a run disruption 10.2% of the time.

While Chicago's front may be well-rounded, their secondary looks extremely shaky, as illustrated by the Bears' ranking of 22nd in pass coverage grade. Jaylon Johnson enjoyed an encouraging rookie season at corner yet, with Kindle Vildor set to start across from him having only started one game in his brief career, there is clear a potential weakness for opponents to target.

The Patriots have no such problems on the back end, at least when the absent Stephon Gilmore is on the field. New England are seventh in coverage grade, and with linebacker D'Onta Hightower returning and the addition of edge rusher Matthew Judon, they will hope their front seven can dramatically outperform the projection of a pressure from a defender on just 9.51% of attempts.

New York's pass rush suffered a substantial blow when free agent signing Carl Lawson, who had a pressure rate of 22.3% that was seventh in the NFL last season, was lost for the year due to a ruptured Achilles. Without him, the average Jets defender is predicted to cause pressure 10.34% of the time, and there is an even greater onus on defensive tackle Quinnen Williams to carry his 2020 emergence into this year.

The Jets' hopes of the defense offering support to Wilson may be dashed should the front prove unable to lift a secondary bereft of talent beyond safety Marcus Maye, New York entering the season 23rd in pass coverage grade.

A lack of pass-rushing options beyond Josh Allen, who took a step back in an injury-affected 2020, contributed to the Jaguars' mediocre projected pressure rate of 10.18% and, with Jacksonville just above the Jets and Bears in 21st in coverage grade, they need cornerback Shaquill Griffin to live up to his lucrative free agency pricetag to elevate the play in the defensive backfield and ensure Lawrence is not tasked with coming through a shootout every week.

OVERALL

1. Patriots 2. 49ers 3. Jets 4. Bears 5. Jaguars

Aided by an offensive line that excels in both facets, a running back seemingly primed for a breakout year and a defense restocked with players returning from opt-outs and quality free agents, Jones will head into his NFL debut with the top supporting cast of any of the rookies.

The most important thing in Jones' favour, though, is his head coach, as he will benefit from playing for the greatest coach of all-time in Bill Belichick, whose incredible expertise on the defensive side of the ball should prove a significant help to the former Alabama star as he adapts to different looks from opponents.

Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan's play-calling acumen will give Lance an advantage most quarterbacks in the league do not enjoy when he hits the field, with the weapons they boast on both sides of the ball meaning he will likely take over a team headed for the playoffs when he eventually displaces Garoppolo.

Wilson has the luxury of playing for two Shanahan disciples in head coach Robert Saleh and offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur. The early signs have been promising in terms of him settling into LaFleur's offense but Saleh will need to do a particularly impressive coaching job on defense to turn them into a unit capable of making Wilson's life easier.

Fields may get help in that respect from the defensive front and will have one of the most underrated wide receivers in the NFL in Allen Robinson. He and Lawrence were deemed by many to be the best quarterbacks in the 2021 class, however, due to the holes on both sides of their respective rosters, it is they who have the most obstacles to immediate success in front of them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After missing the first two practices of camp, second overall draft pick Zach Wilson came to an agreement with the New York Jets on his rookie contract on Thursday.

Wilson, the last of the first rounders to sign, received a fully guaranteed contract that will pay him $35.15million over four years. The deal includes a fifth-year team option and a $22.9m signing bonus.

The sides had reportedly been hung up on the contract’s offset language, which protects the team financially if the player is cut before the end of the deal.

Wilson is assumed to be the Jets’ Week One starting quarterback after the club moved on from Sam Darnold during the offseason and invested the franchise’s highest draft pick since 1996 in the 21-year-old quarterback.

About 30 minutes before the deal was made public, new head coach Robert Saleh indicated he was not worried about Wilson missing the first two camp practices.

“You're not going to see me panic,” he said after practice on Thursday. “Like I've said, there are 89 guys that are counting on us to prepare them the best way we know how. And right now, they've got our full attention.

“Zach's going to sign. And when it happens is when it happens. I don't try to worry about things I have no control over. So when it gets done, it'll be awesome to get him back.”

Wilson participated in the team’s minicamp and offseason activities, making some impressive throws but also showing some expected signs of his inexperience.

While adjusting to the speed and complexity of the pro game, Wilson will also be forced to adapt to the bright lights of Broadway after growing up in Utah and playing his college football at Brigham Young University.

Wilson played 30 games in three seasons at BYU but made a leap in his junior season, completing 73.1 percent of his passes and piling up 32 touchdowns to just three interceptions while adding 10 scores on the ground.

Saleh said he last spoke to Wilson earlier this week and added that offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur has been texting the quarterback about the playbook to keep him from falling behind.

“We'll be excited when he gets here,” Saleh said with a smile. “And it'll be good to not have to answer questions about it.”

Trey Lance has signed his rookie contract with the San Francisco 49ers, leaving New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson as the last unsigned first-round pick.

The agency representing Lance, CAA, confirmed on Wednesday that Lance had signed his deal prior to the first training camp practice for the Niners.

His contract is a four-year, $34.1million deal with a fifth-year option that is included for all first-round picks.

San Francisco traded three first-round picks to move up to the third pick in the 2021 NFL Draft and select Lance as their quarterback of the future.

However, head coach Kyle Shanahan said on Tuesday that Lance enters camp as the number two quarterback, declaring there is no competition, at present, between him and starter Jimmy Garoppolo.

"There's no open competition right now," Shanahan said. "Jimmy is coming in as the one and Trey is coming in as the two."

While the 49ers can focus on developing Lance, the Jets began camp without second overall pick Wilson, who arguably needs the practice time more as he approaches his rookie season as the unquestioned starter.

The sticking point between the two sides is offset language. A common stumbling block when signing high draft picks, the Jets and most of the NFL include offsets in their contracts, providing financial protection should a player be released before the end of the contract.

An offset effectively ensures a player cannot collect two salaries from his old team and his new team if released.

New Jets head coach Robert Saleh, who was hired following a successful spell as the 49ers' defensive coordinator, did not sound overly concerned when asked about the stand-off on Tuesday.

"This is business, [general manager] Joe's [Douglas] got a great handle on everything and when it gets done it gets done," said Saleh.

"From a rookie standpoint you need as many reps as you can, it's something he'll have to navigate through and I've got a lot of faith in Zach, too. He's incredibly intelligent, he's got tremendous drive, so when he does get here I know that somehow, some way he'll make up for it."

Longtime NFL assistant coach Greg Knapp died on Thursday from injuries suffered five days earlier, when he was struck by a car while riding his bicycle near his California home.

Knapp, 58, had joined the New York Jets as a passing game specialist in January after spending years as a quarterback guru and play-caller around the league. 

He previously was a quarterbacks coach or an offensive coordinator for an NFL team every year except one between 1998 and 2020, working for the 49ers, Falcons (twice), Raiders (twice), Seahawks, Texans and Broncos. 

Before joining the 49ers staff as an offensive quality control coach in 1997, Knapp spent nine years on the coaching staff at his alma mater, Sacramento State. 

"Greg had such an inner peace about him that people always seemed to gravitate towards," Jets head coach Robert Saleh told the team's website.

"He lived life in a loving way that helped him connect with people from all walks of life in a unique way. In his short time here, I believe the people in this organisation had a chance to experience that connection."

The Jets had entrusted Knapp with preparing the second overall pick in this spring's NFL Draft, Zach Wilson, for life in the NFL. 

Knapp previously had worked with numerous star quarterbacks including Steve Young, Peyton Manning, Michael Vick and Matt Ryan. 

During the Jets' minicamp last month, Knapp had told reporters he found it "invigorating" to work with a young talent like Wilson. 

"It is really cool," Knapp said then. "Both my parents are teachers. It's like, here's the canvas, start teaching them what you know without overteaching them too quickly. So that's the challenge, but it's really exciting."

Knapp is survived by his wife Charlotte and daughters Jordan, Natalie and Camille. 

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will kick off the new NFL season against the Dallas Cowboys on September 9, while Sam Darnold is to be quickly reunited with the New York Jets.

Ahead of the full schedule release later on Wednesday, the Week 1 slate was confirmed with Tom Brady's Bucs the highlight.

After winning the Super Bowl against the Kansas City Chiefs last season, seven-time champion Brady is in the Thursday night game against the Cowboys in Tampa.

The Bucs have brought back the entirety of their title-winning team and face a Dallas outfit aiming to improve on an awful 2020 after signing Dak Prescott to a long-term contract.

Elsewhere, quarterback Darnold will make his Carolina Panthers debut against the Jets team he left this offseason.

In three miserable years in New York, Darnold threw for 45 touchdowns and 39 interceptions across 38 games with a 59.8 completion percentage – the third-worst rate in the league over this period.

The former third overall pick was traded to the Panthers last month for a sixth-round pick this year and a second and fourth-rounders in 2022, with the Jets then using the second selection in 2021 to take Zach Wilson.

Among Wilson's fellow first-round QBs, Mac Jones could potentially make his bow against the man he succeeded at Alabama.

Jones, who is competing for the starting spot on the New England Patriots with Cam Newton, will hope to face Tua Tagovailoa and the Miami Dolphins in a big AFC East matchup.

Trevor Lawrence is likely to go straight into the Jacksonville Jaguars team against the Houston Texans, while Trey Lance will hope to get his chance under center for the San Francisco 49ers at the Detroit Lions and Justin Fields for the Chicago Bears at the Los Angeles Rams in the late Sunday game.

The NFL also confirmed Wilson and Lawrence would be in line for appearances in the London games in October, with the Jets facing the Atlanta Falcons and the Jaguars taking on the Dolphins on consecutive weekends.

Another of the more intriguing Week 1 games sees the Green Bay Packers travel to the New Orleans Saints.

As the Saints begin the post-Drew Brees era, the Packers will hope wantaway MVP Aaron Rodgers is still on the team and able to improve his 3-2 career record as a starter against New Orleans.

The Seattle Seahawks, who have kept hold of Russell Wilson, face the Indianapolis Colts, and Patrick Mahomes' latest title tilt sees the Kansas City Chiefs host the Cleveland Browns.

Mahomes went down with a toe injury and then a concussion in an epic Chiefs win over the Browns in the 2020 postseason, with 35-year-old backup Chad Henne making his playoff debut and having a pick and a sack but completing six of eight passes to complete the job.

In the first Monday Night Football of the season, Lamar Jackson's Baltimore Ravens will go to the Las Vegas Raiders.


Week 1 schedule in full:

Dallas Cowboys at Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Sep 9, 8:20pm ET
Pittsburgh Steelers at Buffalo Bills – Sep 12, 1:00pm ET
New York Jets at Carolina Panthers – Sep 12, 1:00pm ET
Seattle Seahawks at Indianapolis Colts – Sep 12, 1:00pm ET
Los Angeles Chargers at Washington Football Team – Sep 12, 1:00pm ET
San Francisco 49ers at Detroit Lions – Sep 12, 1:00pm ET
Arizona Cardinals at Tennessee Titans – Sep 12, 1:00pm ET
Philadelphia Eagles at Atlanta Falcons – Sep 12, 1:00pm ET
Minnesota Vikings at Cincinnati Bengals – Sep 12, 1:00pm ET
Jacksonville Jaguars at Houston Texans – Sep 12, 1:00pm ET
Cleveland Browns at Kansas City Chiefs – Sep 12, 4:25pm ET
Green Bay Packers at New Orleans Saints – Sep 12, 4:25pm ET
Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots – Sep 12, 4:25pm ET
Denver Broncos at New York Giants – Sep 12, 4:25pm ET
Chicago Bears at Los Angeles Rams – Sep 12, 8:20pm ET
Baltimore Ravens at Las Vegas Raiders – Sep 13, 8:15pm ET

Judging draft picks in the immediate aftermath of their selection can be a foolhardy endeavour, as the success of rookies that enter the league depends on several factors including situation, opportunity and luck.

While it is tough to dole out grades for players who have not even hit the practice field for their new teams, it is possible to assess the totality of a franchise's moves in a draft and determine who has been impacted, positively and negatively, by those player selections.

In a draft dominated by a historic level of talent at the position, it is the classes of teams that made changes at quarterback that will likely have the most significant influence on the league.

After five quarterbacks went in the first round, we use Stats Perform data to determine the winners and losers from a draft that should go on to be remembered as one of the most important in NFL history.


Winners

Chicago Bears fans

Who knows whether the Justin Fields-era in Chicago will be a success? The weight of history surrounding Bears quarterbacks suggests it has a very good chance of being a failure.

But by trading up to land the Ohio State quarterback instead of committing to a year of purgatory with Andy Dalton, the Bears ensured they should be significantly more watchable in 2021, assuming post-draft talk about wanting to sit Fields behind Dalton proves false.

Fields is an exciting downfield thrower who averaged 10.10 air yards per attempt in the 2020 college season. It is an imperfect comparison given the difference in the level of competition but the two Bears starters in 2019, Mitchell Trubisky (7.94) and Nick Foles (7.92), each averaged under eight air yards per attempt.

And Fields was accurate when he pushed the ball downfield. On throws of 15 air yards or more, 76.47 per cent were well thrown, compared to 71.43 for Lawrence, 69.41 for Wilson and 67.39 for 15th overall pick Mac Jones.

His aggressive style should mesh well with number one receiver Allen Robinson, who was fifth in the NFL with 908 of his receiving yards coming at the point of reception.

Fields will also have the benefit of improved protection from a nasty offensive tackle in the form of second-round pick Teven Jenkins.

Jenkins allowed a pressure rate of 2.9 per cent in 2020, third among tackles with at least 100 pass protection snaps. The top tackle in that regard was Larry Borom of Missouri (1.8%), whom Chicago drafted in the fifth round.

Chicago also further helped Fields' cause by drafting Virginia Tech running back Khalil Herbert, who was second in the Power 5 in yards per carry (7.63) among running backs with at least 100 carries and Dazz Newsome, the North Carolina wideout who was 11th in burn percentage (71) among receivers with at least 25 slot targets. 

The Bears have been a chore to watch in recent years. It isn't clear whether the move up for Fields will work and it is debatable whether general manager Ryan Pace should have been allowed to make it given his track record, but there is finally reason for a passionate fanbase to be genuinely excited about their team.

Zach Wilson

Wilson going second overall to the Jets was no secret, but New York did an excellent job of taking steps to ensure concerns over his one season of elite production against non-Power 5 opposition do not prove prescient by surrounding him with talent.

A trade up for guard Alijah Vera-Tucker raised eyebrows but his pressure rate allowed of 1.3 per cent when playing left guard for USC in 2019 was the best in the Power 5 and suggests he can lock down that spot for the next decade for the Jets.

Wide receiver Elijah Moore brings inside-out versatility and should have gone in the first round. Instead, the Ole Miss star went 34th overall to the Jets, adding a wideout who led the FBS in receiving yards per game (149.1) last season to an intriguing group that includes Denzel Mims, Corey Davis and Jamison Crowder.

Third-round running back Michael Carter will give offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur a versatile skill set to utilise.

The North Carolina back led Power 5 runners with 100 carries or more in yards per carry (7.98) and yards before contact per rush (5.36) in 2020.

As a receiver, Carter was eighth among those Power 5 backs, who also had a minimum of 10 targets, in burn yards per target (10.86).

Carter should, therefore, be able to have a substantial impact in the zone-running scheme the Jets will employ in 2021 and influence the passing game significantly.

Growing pains are to be expected in Wilson's rookie season in New York but this was a draft in which the Jets went to great lengths to make his adaptation to the pros as smooth as possible.

Lamar Jackson

Every year, the Baltimore Ravens do an excellent job of letting the draft board come to them and reaping the rewards.

In 2020, they stole linebacker Patrick Queen in the back end of the first round. This year they grabbed arguably the most well-refined receiver in the draft, Minnesota's Rashod Bateman, with the 27th overall pick.

A truncated 2020 season in which he played just five games following a bout of coronavirus may not have helped Bateman's stock, but his 2019 tape showed a receiver who can develop into a number one target for Lamar Jackson.

Bateman can excel at all levels of the field and his downfield upside shone through in 2019, when he was open on 70.8 per cent of his targets in 2019 with an average depth of target of 16.2 yards.

His burn yards per target average of 16.15 was sixth among all Power 5 receivers with at least 50 targets two seasons ago, with Henry Ruggs III and Chris Olave the only players in the same group to produce a superior big-play percentage to Bateman's 50.4.

Big plays in the passing game have not been consistent for the Ravens. Jackson (25) had fewer passing plays of 25 yards or more than Teddy Bridgewater (27) and Drew Lock (28) in 2020.

Bateman has the talent to greatly increase that tally of explosive plays while the addition of Tylan Wallace, who was eighth among Power 5 receivers with a minimum of 50 targets last season with a burn yards per route average of 4.33, should further boost Jackson's hopes of bouncing back as a passer in 2021.

Having also addressed the interior of the offensive line by drafting Ben Cleveland, whose pressure rate allowed of 2.7 per cent was seventh among Power 5 guards last season, in the third round, Jackson goes into 2021 in an excellent position to take the passing game to levels that escaped the 2019 MVP in 2020.

In the coming season, Jackson will have much better weapons and should have improved protection. If the Ravens' offense falls short again in the playoffs in 2021, he won't have much room for excuses.

Losers

Ben Roethlisberger

Pittsburgh lost left tackle Alejandro Villanueva and the versatile Matt Feiler in free agency but did nothing to fill either of the voids left by that duo until the third round when they picked up athletic Illinois guard Kendrick Green. Tackle Dan Moore was picked in the fourth round.

Instead, they spent their first two picks on a running back and a tight end in Alabama's Najee Harris and Pat Freiermuth of Penn State, stacking the offense with further weapons for Ben Roethlisberger in what will likely be his last season in the NFL.

But, beyond running back, weapons were not the need for the Steelers. Harris is an upgrade in the backfield but he averaged only 2.14 yards after contact per rush last season, below the Power 5 average of 2.21, and typically the offensive line has just as much of an impact on running game production as the back.

A failure to prioritise the trenches could result in Harris struggling to evade defenders that the O-Line has allowed into the backfield. More worryingly for Roethlisberger, the lack of a dependable replacement at left tackle could leave a quarterback who missed 14 games as recently as 2019 open to punishment from opposing pass rushers.

Roethlisberger completed 50.7 per cent of his passes when under pressure in 2020, the fifth-worst number of all quarterbacks with at least 100 attempts. If this is to be his swansong, the Steelers are not setting him up for a successful one.

Trevor Lawrence

Ok, so Trevor Lawrence is a winner. He's the number one overall pick and is set to be paid millions to take his talents to the highest level.

But, in terms of the situation he is going into in Jacksonville, the Jaguars did little to help him.

With the 25th pick, they passed up the chance to boost their pass-catching options in favour of drafting his Clemson team-mate, running back Travis Etienne, following a 2020 season in which undrafted rookie James Robinson finished the year sixth in yards after contact per attempt (2.34). 

Simply put, Etienne was the definition of an unnecessary luxury pick.

Tyson Campbell was a decent value pick at 33rd overall in the second round but Jaguars general manager Trent Baalke, who developed a reputation during his time running the San Francisco 49ers for taking ill-advised risks on players with bad injury histories, picked a safety in Andre Cisco who tore his ACL in September and offensive tackle Walker Little, who has not played a game since 2019, when he featured in just one before suffering a knee injury.

The only pass-catching additions came in the form of a 29-year-old tight end, Luke Farrell, in the fifth round and wide receiver Jalen Camp in the sixth. 

Between D.J. Chark, Marvin Jones and Laviska Shenault, Lawrence does have reasonable weapons, but the Jags did not do much to add to his arsenal.

NFC West run defenses

Teams trying to stop the 49ers' ground game have had a hard time since Kyle Shanahan became head coach in 2017.

Their 224 rushes of 10 yards or more are tied sixth in the NFL in that time, and that tally looks set to increase after San Francisco drafted a franchise quarterback in Trey Lance who boasts a devastating mix of speed and power in the open field.

Lance's 14 touchdowns in 2019 were bettered by just four quarterbacks across the FBS and FCS, his rushing average of 6.5 yards fifth among signal-callers with at least 100 rushes.

San Francisco then added further to their ground game by picking Trey Sermon in the third round and Elijah Mitchell in the sixth.

In the Power 5 and Group of Five, just four running backs with a minimum of 100 attempts had a better yards per carry average than Sermon's 7.50 last season.

Burst to the second level is a key trait for Sermon, who was fourth in average yards before contact per attempt with 4.85.

The electric Mitchell, meanwhile, averaged the third-most yards after contact per attempt, putting up 3.23 per rush, a rate beaten by Javonte Williams (4.59) and Jaret Patterson (3.25).

Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr. are each free agents in 2022 but, by drafting Lance, Sermon and Mitchell, the Niners ensured their run game is about to get more diverse and potentially more destructive.

For the three NFC West teams that face them twice a year, that is simply terrible news.

Highly touted quarterbacks? Check. Oversized stage? Check. Raucous Fans? Check.

A year after holding a virtual NFL Draft in Commissioner Roger Goodell’s basement due to concerns over the coronavirus, the 2021 draft descended on Cleveland, Ohio on Thursday, with Goodell once again sharing bro-hugs with the prospects on stage in front of thousands of vaccinated and mask-wearing fans.

Although the easy chair from Goodell’s basement did make the trip to the stage, this year’s edition of the draft felt much more normal than a year ago – and it began exactly as nearly everyone expected.

The Jacksonville Jaguars chose Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence first overall and the New York Jets went with BYU quarterback Zach Wilson at number two.

Considered to be the most polished QB prospect in years, Lawrence threw for 10,098 yards in his collegiate career, while going 34-2 as a starter with the Tigers and winning the 2018 National Championship.

Wilson had been linked to the Jets for months after throwing for 3,692 yards with 33 touchdown passes to only three interceptions last season, and New York hopes he can be the franchise’s answer at QB and lead the team to the playoffs for the first time since 2010 after the recently traded and 2018 No. 3 pick Sam Darnold never lived up to expectations.

A quarterback had also been projected to go third overall ever since the San Francisco 49ers traded up to that position weeks ago, the only question was who – Trey Lance out of FCS powerhouse North Dakota State, two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Justin Fields from Ohio State or Alabama national champion Mac Jones.

The tight-lipped 49ers ended weeks of suspense by drafting Lance, who has only played in one game since the 2019 season but led the Bison to the FCS title that year while accounting for 42 total touchdowns without an interception.

With the surprising Lance going to San Francisco, this became just the third time in the common draft era that started in 1967 – and first time since 1999 – quarterbacks went 1-2-3 in the NFL draft.

The consensus top five QBs - Lawrence, Wilson, Lance, Fields and Jones – had been slated to all get drafted in the top 10, but Fields and Jones were still on the board after 10 picks.

The Chicago Bears decided not to sit on their hands, trading up nine spots with the New York Giants to grab Fields, a dual-threat QB who finished his collegiate career with 5,701 passing yards and 67 TDs through the air.

The Patriots were more patient, selecting Jones with the 15th pick – a spot few believed he would still be available. Jones threw for 4,500 yards with 41 touchdowns to just four picks in leading Alabama last season, and became the first quarterback selected in the first round during Bill Belichick’s 21-year tenure in New England.

Jones also became the final QB selected in the first round, making this only the fourth time at least five QBs were drafted in round number one, along with 2018, 1999 and the famous 1983 draft, when six were selected.

Not only were QBs a hot commodity, so were their targets.

The Atlanta Falcons made Florida’s Kyle Pitts the highest drafted tight end in history when they picked him fourth overall after he had 43 catches for 770 yards and 12 TDs in 2020.

The Cincinnati Bengals and Miami Dolphins drafted who they hope will be their franchise quarterbacks in the 2020 first round, and this year they each focused on providing them with a playmaker they were familiar with.

Cincinnati selected LSU wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase with the fifth pick, teaming him 2020 No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow, the quarterback who led the Tigers to the 2019 FBS title. In 26 games played together in 2018 and 2019, Burrow targeted Chase 162 times, resulting in 107 receptions for 2,093 yards and 23 touchdowns.

One pick later, the Dolphins chose Alabama receiver Jaylen Waddle, reuniting him with college quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, last year’s fifth pick. Waddle only appeared in six games last season because of a broken left ankle, but he left Alabama with 106 receptions for 1,999 yards and 17 touchdowns over three years.

The reunions continued with the 10th pick, when the Philadelphia Eagles traded up to select 2020 Heisman Trophy-winning wide receiver DeVonta Smith to get him back with former Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts, the 53rd overall pick a year ago. Smith, who put up eye-popping numbers in 2020 with 117 receptions for 1,856 yards and 23 touchdowns, was a teammate of Hurts in 2017 and 2018.

While the Bengals, Dolphins and Eagles reunited former teammates, the Jaguars decided to go ahead and just bring aboard one of Lawrence’s teammates from this past season, selecting Clemson running back Travis Etienne with the 25th pick, making this the first time in the common draft era a quarterback and running back from the same school were drafted by the same team in the first round.

Etienne was a workhorse for the past four years with the Tigers, racking up 4,952 rushing yards and 70 touchdowns on the ground while averaging 7.2 yards per carry.

Etienne became the second running back selected in the first round after the Pittsburgh Steelers took Alabama’s Najee Harris one pick earlier.

With the Denver Broncos nabbing Alabama cornerback Patrick Surtain II ninth overall and the Las Vegas Raiders drafting Crimson Tide offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood at No. 17, Harris became the sixth player from Alabama drafted in the first round, matching the University of Miami from 2004 for the most players selected from one school in the first round.

While the draft started with offensive players being selected with the first seven picks for the first time ever, the final five picks of the opening round were all defensive players, concluding with the defending Super Bowl champions the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selecting linebacker Joe Tryon out of Washington with the 32nd pick.

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.

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

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

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

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

Wilson v former No. 1 overall picks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Wilson fits the Jets like a glove

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Offense

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Defense

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Offseason

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All the signs point to Wilson being his successor.

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

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

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

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

The New York Jets are officially moving on from Sam Darnold, trading the 23-year-old quarterback to the Carolina Panthers on Monday. 

The Panthers are sending the Jets three draft picks – a sixth-rounder this year, plus second and fourth round selections in 2022. 

New York has the second overall pick in the April 29 draft, and will almost certainly nab a quarterback with hopes he can be the franchise’s answer at QB and lead the team to the playoffs for the first time since 2010 after Darnold never lived up to expectations. 

The Jets moved up three spots to select Darnold with the third pick of the 2018 draft, but the former USC star struggled with consistency at the pro level. 

In 38 career starts for the Jets, he went 13-25 while throwing for 45 touchdown passes and 39 interceptions with a 59.8 completion percentage and a 78.6 quarterback rating. 

He had some encouraging performances – but not nearly enough, with only four 300-yard passing games. He threw for fewer than 200 yards in exactly half of his 38 starts, and only had 13 games with multiple TD passes. 

This past season was especially disappointing, with more interceptions (11) than touchdowns (nine) while averaging 184.0 passing yards per game with a 72.7 passer rating – the worst among the 36 QBs with a minimum of 200 pass attempts. 

While Darnold can be blamed for some of New York’s offensive struggles, he wasn’t surrounded by many star players. The Jets, who have had two head coaches and two different offensive systems in Darnold’s three years with the team, haven’t had a 1,000-yard rusher since 2015 (Chris Ivory) – the same season the franchise last had a 1,000-yard receiver (Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker). 

The offensive line has also been shaky, as Darnold was sacked on 8.8 per cent of passing plays last season, the third-worst mark in the league among QBs with at least 200 attempts. 

Darnold now joins a Panthers team that has Teddy Bridgewater, who has two years remaining on a three-year, $63 million contract he signed in 2020. 

Bridgewater had 15 TD passes and 11 interceptions in going 4-11 as a starter last season for Carolina.

Zach Wilson reflected on a "crazy" draft process after the San Francisco 49ers traded up to number three overall during his pro day.

The BYU quarterback was being put through his paces in front of representatives from NFL teams as news filtered through of the Niners' move.

Originally in possession of the number three pick were the Miami Dolphins, who sent it to San Francisco in exchange for number 12, a third-rounder and first-round picks in 2022 and 2023.

Shortly after, the Dolphins struck a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles to go back up to number six. 

To do so, Miami parted with the number 12 pick they received from the Niners, a fourth-round pick and a 2022 first-rounder, while also receiving a fifth-round selection in return from the Eagles.

Wilson has been heavily connected to the New York Jets, who are scheduled to pick at number two.

That is a prospect he revealed would be a dream, with general manager Joe Douglas and head coach Robert Saleh among those watching him.

He also said he had been in discussions with the 49ers, whose GM John Lynch was in attendance at the pro day.

"It would obviously be a dream come true," Wilson said to ESPN when asked about the prospect of New York picking him at two.

"It was great to see those guys out here. Great staff. Love those guys. Joe Douglas is a great guy. It was good to see him out here. They've got a good thing going.

"I have spent some time with them on Zoom meetings, talking back and forth a little bit, but nothing more than any other team. 

"Coming up to the draft there are so many what ifs going in.

"But really I'm just so grateful to be here, grateful for the opportunity and humbled that I am even in this situation

"I'll be happy with whoever gives me the chance in the draft."

Asked about the 49ers' move, Wilson added: "I found out right after the throwing session, you know it is crazy. 

"That's what I was talking about, there are so many what ifs about what is going on, so we will see coming up in April. 

"I've had a couple of conversations with them as well, but we will see what happens coming up to April."

The 2021 NFL Draft will take place on April 29 in Cleveland.

Clemson Tigers QB Trevor Lawrence is expected to be picked at number one overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars.

As well as Lawrence and Wilson, there are likely to be three other QBs picked in a dramatic first round: Justin Fields, Trey Lance and Mac Jones.

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