NFL

Saints make Ryan Ramczyk NFL's highest-paid right tackle

By Sports Desk June 30, 2021

The New Orleans Saints have made Ryan Ramczyk the highest-paid right tackle in the NFL four seasons into a career in which he has established himself as arguably the premier player at his position.

According to multiple reports, Ramczyk has agreed to a five-year, $96million extension worth $19.2m a year with $60m guaranteed.

It follows a stellar start to life in the pros for the 2017 first-round pick, who has allowed only eight sacks since entering the league, with just two of those coming in the past two seasons.

Ramczyk did not give up a sack in 2019 but was credited with conceding two in 2020, as he experienced a slight drop-off from his high level of performance.

In 2019, he was second in pressure rate allowed (4.1 per cent) among right tackles, giving up 18 pressures on 436 pass protection snaps.

That number increased in 2020 to 28 on 422 pass protection snaps, a pressure rate of 6.6 per cent, though that was still sixth-best among right tackles to have played at least 200 pass protection snaps.

Ramczyk was named a first-team All-Pro in 2019 and was a second-team All-Pro in 2018 and 2020.

The Saints have made the playoffs in each of Ramczyk's four seasons. Yet they will have a challenge to continue that streak in 2021, with either Jameis Winston or Taysom Hill set to replace the retired Drew Brees at quarterback.

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    Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer joked he has written to the Premier League to ask them if his team can start matches 1-0 down.

    United have come from behind to claim points in top-flight matches against Southampton and West Ham this season and also made a habit of launching comebacks in the 2020-21 campaign.

    But they could not recover from a slow start on Wednesday as they suffered a 1-0 defeat to West Ham in the EFL Cup, with Solskjaer critical of how his team began the game.

    Ahead of Saturday's key home clash against Aston Villa, the United boss knows the trend has to change.

    "We need to start games better of course," he said.

    "I've sent a letter to the Premier League asking if we can start games 1-0 down, it'll make things so much easier for us!

    "Joking apart, it's a big, big part of the game and we need to start better, we can't expect to come back and win games as we have done fantastically in the last 12, 14, 15 months but it's going to catch up with us.

    "It's been looked at and talked about and hopefully we can see a response."

    Despite their cup disappointment, United are joint top of the Premier League with 13 points from five matches.

    United have won 18 of their last 21 home league games against Villa (D2 L1), failing to score on just one occasion in that run, with star forward Cristiano Ronaldo expected to return to the team after being rested against West Ham.

    Solskjaer said ahead of the match at Old Trafford that he believes the Portugal forward is capable of playing into his 40s due to his supreme physical conditioning.

    Villa have earned just one win in their last 45 Premier League games against the Red Devils, racking up an astonishing 33 defeats in that span.

    The visitors have also lost both of their Premier League away games this season, conceding three goals in each defeat, but did thump Everton 3-0 at home in their last top-flight outing.

  • Vini, vidi, vici? Vinicius Junior emerging at last as Real Madrid's next superstar Vini, vidi, vici? Vinicius Junior emerging at last as Real Madrid's next superstar

    "I am not a magician," said Carlo Ancelotti. "Just a coach who has to give players the confidence they need to express their qualities."

    The Real Madrid boss was talking about arguably the standout player from Los Blancos' strong start to the season – and, brilliant as he continues to be, it's not Karim Benzema.

    When Ancelotti spoke before Madrid's 2-1 win at Valencia, Vinicius Junior was on a run of four goals in as many games in LaLiga. That tally reached five in five after he fired in a late equaliser at Mestalla – as many goals as he had scored in 59 previous league matches.

    For attacking players, nothing builds belief like the support of a coach and regularly sticking the ball in the net. Vinicius has both of those things going for him right now, and it's yielding the best form of his Madrid career.

    NEW-MAR

    Signed amid much fanfare from Flamengo three years ago, it has taken Vinicius time to fully find his feet in the Spanish capital. Patience is notoriously thin on the ground where Madrid are concerned, but fans have been more willing than usual to play the long game with the Brazil international, who has already played 88 times in Spain's top flight, a tally bettered by just six compatriots in the club's history.

    Given Marca ran a headline this week asking whether Vinicius' form in 2021-22 meant Madrid had found "the new Neymar" – a player they once wanted to bring back to Spain, no less – it would appear the wait has been worth it.

    Along with five goals, Vinicius has provided two assists and created 10 chances this term, all of them from open play. Only Eden Hazard (12) and Karim Benzema (14) have created more among Madrid's squad. Indeed, among players aged 21 and under, only Erling Haaland (seven goals, three assists) has been directly involved in more goals in 2021-22 in Europe's top five leagues.

    After the first six matches of 2020-21, Vinicius had two goals and zero assists, with three chances created for team-mates. Granted, he had spent 52 fewer minutes on the pitch in those six games than he has this season, but he has undeniably made better use of the time given to him of late.

    In the first six games of 2021-22, Vinicius' 17 shots have come amid a 2.64 expected goals (xG) total, but they account for 4.36 expected goals on target (xGOT), giving some indication as to the high quality of his attempts. (The xG metric assesses the quality of chances, and xGOT looks at the player's actual effort at goal.)

    By contrast, at the same stage of last season, he had xG of 2.58 but xGOT of just 1.49 from 13 shots.

    KYLIAN (IN THE NAME OF)

    A strong indicator of Vinicius' form, his willingness to stand up in matches and why those Neymar comparisons are a little closer to the mark than they once were, is the upturn in his impact when running with the ball.

    After six games in LaLiga last term, he had completed only five of 17 attempted take-ons. That success rate of 29.4 per cent was the lowest of any Madrid player to complete at least one dribble.

    This season, that success rate has jumped to 47.6 per cent, Vinicius having completed 20 of 42 attempted take-ons. These are identical figures to one Kylian Mbappe of Paris Saint-Germain – another Madrid transfer target.

    Not only that, but 42 attempted take-ons is the most by any player in LaLiga in 2021-22, while Vinicius also ranks highest for take-ons in the box (eight) and those ending with a shot (four), and joint-highest for drives into the penalty area (also four).

    HEARTBEAT

    Vinicius is also averaging 62 touches of the ball per 90 minutes, an increase from 57 at this stage of the season in 2020-21. It follows that he is more heavily involved in the action at the top end of the pitch: he has had 36 involvements in shot-ending sequences in LaLiga, a figure bettered only by Real Betis' Nabil Fekir (38) and Madrid's own Benzema (51). On average, his tally has jumped from just over three per game in 2020-21 to more than seven in 2021-22. And, of those sequences this season, 10 have ended in a goal – only Benzema (14) can do better.

    This is a player embracing responsibility, demanding the ball, and dazzling when he gets it: in short, he's showing all the best qualities of Neymar, Mbappe or anyone else Madrid may wish to buy, and offering fans everything they hoped for when he first arrived for €46million in 2018.

    Perhaps competition is bringing the best out of Vinicius: with Gareth Bale back at the Santiago Bernabeu (although presently injured), Eden Hazard showing more encouraging signs and Marco Asensio fully fit again, there is no shortage of options for the Benzema support act. Or maybe Ancelotti really does have the magic touch to keep Vinicius in vibrant form for a whole season, beyond the fleeting glimpses displayed under Zinedine Zidane.

    Whatever the reason, Vinicius has never looked so dangerous in a Madrid shirt. Worryingly for his opponents, there could be plenty more to come.

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    On Friday, the streaking Cardinals swept their doubleheader with the Chicago Cubs 8-5 and 14-2 to equal St Louis' record for most consecutive victories, set in 1935.

    St Louis reinforced their hold on the second National League (NL) Wild Card spot after improving to 85-69 this season.

    Tyler O'Neill homered twice in the day, including a three-run shot with the Cards leading 3-2 in the second inning of the later game.

    Lars Nootbaar hit two of the five homers in the evening game, helping the Cardinals complete the Cubs sweep.

    "I've said it since even the offseason, day one of Spring Training and at any point in time I get the opportunity to talk about this group," said Cardinals manager Mike Shildt. "It's a special group."

    Yankees move clear of Jays in Wild Card race, Franco extends streak

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    The Yankees – enjoying a four-game winning streak – enhanced their playoff hopes after the Toronto Blue Jays went down 3-1 to the Minnesota Twins. The Blue Jays are 85-69, level with the red-hot Seattle Mariners and two games adrift of the Yankees (86-67) in the race for the second AL Wild Card berth.

    Tampa Bay Rays rookie Wander Franco returned and continued his historic 40-game on-base streak as the AL East leaders blanked the Miami Marlins 8-0. Reinstated from the 10-day injured list, Franco's streak is the second longest in AL-NL history by a player aged 20 or younger, only three games short of the all-time record set by Frank Robinson in 1956. Franco also broke a tie with Johnny Damon (2011) for the second longest overall on-base streak in franchise history.

    A.J. Pollock took a super catch on the fence and hit a two-run home run as World Series champions the Los Angeles Dodgers won 4-2 over the Arizona Diamondbacks.

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    Friday's results

    St Louis Cardinals 8-5 Chicago Cubs
    Texas Rangers 8-5 Baltimore Orioles
    Philadelphia Phillies 8-6 Pittsburgh Pirates 
    Cincinnati Reds 8-7 Washington Nationals
    Tampa Bay Rays 8-0 Miami Marlins
    New York Yankees 8-3 Boston Red Sox
    San Diego Padres 6-5 Atlanta Braves 4-0
    Kansas City Royals 3-1 Detroit Tigers
    Chicago White Sox 1-0 Cleveland Indians
    St Louis Cardinals 12-4 Chicago Cubs
    Milwaukee Brewers 5-1 New York Mets
    San Francisco Giants 7-2 Colorado Rockies
    Minnesota Twins 3-1 Toronto Blue Jays
    Seattle Mariners 6-5 Los Angeles Angels
    Oakland Athletics 14-2 Houston Astros
    Los Angeles Dodgers 4-2 Arizona Diamondbacks
    Atlanta Braves 4-0 San Diego Padres

     

    Yankees at Red Sox

    On Saturday, the Red Sox and the Yankees will meet again in their crucial AL series which will go a long way towards determining Wild Card spots. Nick Pivetta is set to start for the Red Sox, while the Yankees will likely counter with Nestor Cortes.

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