The Cleveland Browns have reached an agreement with tight end David Njoku on a four-year contract extension.

Cleveland placed the franchise tag on Njoku in March and have now come to terms with a player they hope will be pivotal to their offensive success.

According to NFL Media's Ian Rapoport, the Browns and Njoku have agreed a deal in principle worth $56.75million.

He will receive $28million guaranteed, according to the report, with an average annual salary of $14.18million making him the fifth-highest paid tight end in the league.

The Browns are betting on Njoku's upside, with the 2017 first-round pick yet to live up to expectations since Cleveland took him with the 29th overall selection five years ago.

His best season in terms of receiving yards came back in 2018 when he finished with 56 catches for 639 yards, but Njoku has since struggled with injuries.

He played in only four games in 2019 and 13 in 2020 as the Browns reached the Divisional Round of the playoffs.

Njoku started 11 of his 16 games in 2021 and finished with 475 yards and four touchdowns in a campaign that saw a disappointing Browns team fail to qualify for the postseason, though his average of 13.2 yards per reception ranked fourth among all qualifying tight ends.

Lamar Jackson hit back at criticism of his absence from Baltimore Ravens' OTAs as he enters the final year of his rookie contract.

The 2019 NFL MVP has shown no willingness to engage in discussions with the Ravens over a contract extension.

He has insisted he has no desire to part company with Baltimore, but Jackson has not been present as the Ravens have started early on-field preparations for the 2022 campaign with the OTAs – organised team activities.

Jackson was criticised by former NFL quarterback Chris Simms, who referenced previous comments from the Ravens star, who previously said he wanted to be the Tom Brady of his era.

Simms said on PFT Live: "Brady wouldn't be missing OTAs in year four of his career. ... Brady didn't miss an OTA until he had played in four Super Bowls."

Responding to those comments quoting a tweet featuring a clip of Simms' remarks, Jackson wrote: "Lamar wants to be Lamar Chris.

"This part of OTAs is voluntary my guy I will be there, just not on your watch. It's probably other QBs not attending voluntary OTAs either but since it's Lamar it's a huge deal. Find something else to talk about."

Simms responded, saying: "That’s all good my man. You be you. I am rooting for you. Yes I would like to see you at OTAs. But you got to do what’s best for you. Not singling you out.

"We have discussed all QBs who have not attended OTAs. You are Lamar freaking Jackson!! Of course we r gonna talk bout you."

Jackson won the MVP award in his second season after throwing for 3,127 yards and 36 touchdowns with just six interceptions. He also ran for 1,206 yards and seven scores.

However, the Ravens suffered a shock Divisional Round loss to the Tennessee Titans to end that season, and were eliminated at the same stage of the 2020 campaign by the Buffalo Bills.

Jackson endured an injury-hindered 2021 season, throwing 16 touchdowns to 13 interceptions and adding a career-low two touchdowns on the ground as the Ravens missed the playoffs with an 8-9 record.

No player in the NFL has a higher yards-per-carry average over the course of the last three seasons than Jackson's 6.36.

Harry Kane has revealed he took much of his early inspiration and self-belief from watching NFL star Tom Brady, who hinted at his retirement U-turn to the Tottenham forward.

Kane came through Tottenham's youth academy and was promoted to the first team in 2009, before being sent out on various loans to Leyton Orient, Millwall, Leicester City and Norwich City.

The striker struggled throughout those loan spells, scoring just 11 goals across four seasons, but started to find his feet when Mauricio Pochettino took charge of Spurs in 2014.

Kane has since managed 183 goals in 279 appearances for Tottenham, winning the Premier League Golden Boot award three times, and acknowledged the role Brady played in helping him realise his ambitions.

The England international has also been celebrated in the Museum of London, with a free display aimed at inspiring the younger generations to pursue their dreams.

"I was good when I was younger, but I don't think I was the best player on the team. I really had to work hard to prove people wrong," Kane told Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show in the United States.

"I think that's what made me who I am today and got me to the level I got to. That kind of self-belief, that drive, that determination. 

"That's why the museum is there, so kids can go and look and see my journey and hopefully one day they will be inspired to be where I am.

"One thing that inspired me growing up was a Tom Brady documentary. I was away at another club on loan and I wasn't getting in the team and I was 18 years old and I was like: 'If I can't play here, how can I play for my team Tottenham?'

"Then I came across the documentary on YouTube called The Brady Six and it was about how he got picked in the sixth round and how he became one of the greatest sportsmen ever. It just gave me a real belief that it was possible for me to go on and have that career."

It appeared as though the 2021 season would be Brady's last when he announced his retirement after seven Super Bowl wins.

But the quarterback backtracked on that decision, returning to Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where he has one year remaining on his contract.

Kane suggested he already knew the 44-year-old was going to change his mind when the pair met after a clash between Spurs and Manchester United in March.

"He came to one of our games in the UK about two months ago, it was actually the day before he announced he was coming back to play," Kane said.

"And I asked him: 'How you getting on? How's retirement treating you?' And his face was just like: 'Mmmmm, I'm not sure if I'm ready yet.' The next day he announced it."

Josh McDaniels attempted to duck questions about Colin Kaepernick following reports the exiled quarterback's workout with the Las Vegas Raiders went well.

Kaepernick has been working out with the Raiders this week with a view to coming in as Derek Carr's understudy.

The former San Francisco 49ers QB has not played in the NFL since the 2016 season, having knelt during the national anthem throughout that campaign in a protest against police brutality and racial injustice.

Since leaving the 49ers, Kaepernick had not had a single workout with an NFL team – until now.

ESPN's Jeremy Fowler reported Kaepernick's workout was "largely considered a positive", having impressed the Raiders with his arm strength and conditioning, while NFL Network's Ian Rapoport said it "went well and he impressed".

The possibility of the Raiders signing Kaepernick was unsurprisingly the subject of much discussion with head coach McDaniels then, but the former New England Patriots offensive coordinator sought not to give a great deal away.

"We will only talk about the people that are on our team," he said on Thursday.

"Dave [Ziegler, general manager] and his staff have worked out tons of guys this spring. We really don't make comments about the evaluations that we made or what they looked like, what they didn't look like, strengths and weaknesses, those kinds of thing.

"They are obviously kind of private for us as we look at things to try to make decisions to make the team better. If players are added to the team, then obviously we'll talk about them at that point.

"I respect the question 100 per cent; I understand, but that's kind of what we'll stick to."

However, McDaniels did concede the team were "encouraging the competition" at QB, and he explained they were open to any avenue that could improve the roster.

"If there's an opportunity to improve the team, we said it from day one that we would look at every opportunity," the coach added.

"[Kaepernick] is not the first player that we've looked at and not the last one. There are going to be a lot of people who are going to come in and out of this building and have an opportunity to make an impression."

The Pittsburgh Steelers have hired Omar Khan as their new general manager.

Khan, who was most recently Pittsburgh's vice president of football and business administration, has worked for the Steelers for 21 years.

He replaces long-time GM Kevin Colbert, who in January announced his decision to step down after the 2022 NFL Draft.

"I am extremely excited for this opportunity to be the general manager of the Pittsburgh Steelers," said Khan.

"I would like to thank Art Rooney II, Mike Tomlin, and Kevin Colbert for their support throughout this process.

"I am ready for this challenge and grateful to continue the success we have had on the field during my first 21 years.

"I look forward to completing our football operations staff and working tirelessly to build another championship football team for Steelers Nation and our community."

 

Colin Kaepernick will work out for the Las Vegas Raiders this week.

According to multiple reports, the Raiders will cast their eye over Kaepernick, who has not played in the NFL since the 2016 season.

Kaepernick knelt during the national anthem throughout that campaign with the San Francisco 49ers in a protest against police brutality and racial injustice.

Since the end of his time with the 49ers, Kaepernick has not had a single workout with an NFL team.

That will now change, with Kaepernick getting the chance to impress the Raiders, who have Jarrett Stidham and Nick Mullens on their roster as backup quarterbacks to Derek Carr.

Kaepernick was drafted in the second round of the 2011 draft by the 49ers. He took them to Super Bowl XLVII after taking over the starting job during the 2012 season, the 49ers losing 34-31 to the Baltimore Ravens, and the NFC Championship Game in the 2013 campaign.

The 2016 campaign saw a poor Niners team go 2-14 with Kaepernick at quarterback, however, with 16 touchdowns to just four interceptions in 12 games, he was tied for the sixth-best TD-INT ratio in the NFL.

Speaking on the 'I Am Athlete' podcast recently, Kaepernick rejected concerns a general manager may have over him being a locker room distraction and having a negative impact on the business side.

"That 2016 season, my last year, my team-mates voted me most courageous and inspirational player," Kaepernick said.

"So, when you're talking about the people that are in the building, that has never come out that I've been a distraction. That's never come out that I've been an issue for the people I've played with.

"You have 'End Racism' in the back of your end zone. You have 'Black Lives Matter' on your helmet. Everything I've said should be in alignment with what you're [the NFL] saying publicly.

"It's a $16billion business. When I first took a knee, my jersey went to No. 1. When I did the deal with Nike, their value increased by six billion dollars. Six billion. With a B.

"So if you're talking about the business side, it shows [it's] beneficial. If you're talking about the playing side, come in, let me compete. You can evaluate me from there.

"The NFL's supposed to be a meritocracy. Come in, let me compete. If I'm not good enough, get rid of me. But let me come in and show you."

The start of the 2022 NFL season is still over three months away.

However, rarely is it considered too early to make predictions about what is to come in the upcoming campaign.

And, with the draft in the books, teams having made the vast majority of their offseason moves and the scheduled, we now have all the information we need to make such prognostications.

So after an extremely dramatic offseason defined by blockbuster trades, which teams are in the mix to excel in 2022 and which should already have half an eye on the 2023 draft?

To answer those questions, Stats Perform has produced projected totals for every team for the forthcoming season.

The projection projects every future game to give a predicted win percentage for each team across their games.

Rather than being a simulator of future games, the projections are calculated by looking at each team’s quarterback and QB Efficiency versus Expected – performance in terms of yards added in expected passing situations – as well as team values for pass protection/pass rush, skill position players/coverage defenders and run blocking/run defense.

There are several standout takeaways from this season's projection, with a new power potentially emerging in the NFC and one of last year's Super Bowl teams seemingly set for regression.

Eagles to join NFC elite?

The Eagles suffered a meek exit to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the wild-card round of last season’s playoffs.

Their win projection following an impressive 2022 offseason suggests replicating that this year would mark a gross underperformance. Indeed, Philadelphia's projected total of 12.0 is the second best in the NFC, trailing only defending champion Los Angeles Rams (12.2).

The Eagles' position is built on their strength in the trenches. Philadelphia finished the 2021 season ranked fifth in pass-block win rate and second in run-block win rate.

On the defensive side, the Eagles were eighth in pass-rush win rate and 11th in run disruption rate and made moves to boost both areas, signing Haason Reddick to a one-year deal after a second successive double-digit sack season in 2021 and drafting defensive tackle Jordan Davis – the star of the NFL Combine renowned for his ability to soak up double teams and excel against the run – in the first round.

Philadelphia also improved the back seven through both the draft and free agency, taking advantage of the slide of Davis' former Georgia teammate Nakobe Dean to boost a linebacker group seen as a weakness. Dean had six sacks, six pass breakups, two interceptions and two forced fumbles in 2021.

And last week, the Eagles signed cornerback James Bradberry to a one-year deal. With Bradberry and Darius Slay, the Eagles now have the only two players to register at least 15 interceptions and 80 or more pass breakups since 2016 in a secondary that finished 11th in open-allowed percentage last season.

Quarterback Jalen Hurts' 10 rushing touchdowns were tied for the sixth most in the NFL last season. However, the pressure on him to improve as a passer will be immense following the Eagles' acquisition of A.J. Brown in a trade with the Tennessee Titans. Brown (32.8%) and the Eagles' 2021 first-round pick DeVonta Smith (35.0%) were both in the top 12 in big-play rate last year.

Brown registered a burn (when the receiver wins his matchup with a defender when targeted by his quarterback) 64.0 per cent of the time (league average was 59.5%) and he tied for the league lead with 4.0 burn yards per route.

Hurts had a 77.1 well-thrown percentage in 2021, which was below the NFL average of 77.9. An improvement will be needed for the Eagles to realise their potential. If that does not happen given the wealth of talent around him, then they may use their extra first-round pick in 2023 to help them find a quarterback better equipped to help them do so.

Can the Vikes Challenge the Pack?

The Vikings have not come close to challenging the Packers in the NFC North in recent times, missing the playoffs in each of the last two seasons.

But the projection indicates that could change.

Bidding to stay competitive while undergoing a sea change in the front office and at head coach with Kwesi Adofo-Mensah taking over as general manager and Kevin O’Connell replacing Mike Zimmer on the sideline, the Vikings have a win projection within striking distance of the Pack.

There are several reasons for the gap between the two being so marginal. Aaron Rodgers was second in QB EVE last season, but Kirk Cousins was not too far behind in seventh for the Vikings.

Cousins also has the advantage of throwing to a receiving group that won a collective 35.3 per cent of its coverage matchups in 2021. The Vikings were fourth in the NFL in that regard. The Packers were third but have since traded Davante Adams, whose combined open percentage against man and zone coverage of 46.6 per cent was fifth among receivers with at least 100 matchups.

Thanks in part to an impressive 2021 season from Rashan Gary, the Packers were fourth in pass-rush win rate, but the Vikings were 10th and will hope to get Danielle Hunter healthy this year to aid their cause. And while Minnesota struggled on the offensive side of the trenches last season, their pass-block win rate standing of 26th was still only three spots below that of a Packers line that still has issues on the right side.

The Packers remain the better football team in most areas, but the loss of Adams has levelled the playing field somewhat for Cousins, whose efficiency numbers reflect his ability to produce on a similar level to Rodgers in the passing game.

Further narrowing the gap is the difference in schedules. The Packers face the 15th-toughest slate, but only eight teams have it easier than Minnesota on paper. The game is not played on paper, yet the numbers and the apparent quality of respective opponents point to the Packers looking over their shoulder in the division with more concern in 2022.

The Trey Lance question

It's difficult to make a judgment on how Trey Lance will perform as the San Francisco 49ers' starting quarterback after just two starts as a rookie last year.

Lance produced some encouraging flashes when he did play, blending aggressiveness with accuracy. But the volatility in range of outcomes for a player of his inexperience is higher than that of the man he will likely replace as the starter – Jimmy Garoppolo.

With the projection assuming Lance plays 75 per cent of the snaps and Garoppolo 25, the Niners – who went 10-7 last year before surging to the NFC championship game – are projected to win 8.4 games. That puts them second in the NFC West behind the Rams, with the Cardinals in third with 8.1 in part due to DeAndre Hopkins' six-game suspension.

The takeaway from this is clear. The Niners, who were first in pass-rush win rate, eighth in run disruption rate, 10th in pass-block win rate, sixth in run-block win rate and 10th in collective open percentage among their pass catchers last season, have the support system to elevate Lance and ensure he keeps them in the mix.

But playing the eighth-toughest schedule in the NFL, it's impossible to predict how a move from a player in Garoppolo, who was 10th in QB EVE in 2021, to a high-upside relative unknown will go.

That's why one of the better rosters in the NFL finds itself closer to the middle of the pack. If Lance is who the Niners hope he is, they will quickly be back among the league's upper echelon. 

The Deshaun Watson question

While the Browns' trade for Deshaun Watson was the most controversial move of the offseason, there is no doubt his arrival in Cleveland has the potential to catapult them to the top of the AFC.

The projection certainly expects his acquisition to have that impact, with the Browns predicted to win 10.8 games. That’s behind only the Kansas City Chiefs (11.2) and Buffalo Bills (10.9) in the AFC.

Cleveland's schedule, which is the second-easiest in the NFL, plays a substantial role in the projection, which accounts for potential league discipline against Watson.

The Browns' predicted win total is also illustrative of the gap between Watson and the man he will displace as the starting quarterback – Baker Mayfield. Watson was seventh in QB EVE in 2020, whereas only eight quarterbacks with at least 100 pass plays in expected passing situations had a worse EVE than Mayfield last year.

Possessing a defensive line that was ranked in the top five in pass-rush win rate last year and an offensive line that was in the top 10 in run-block win rate along with two premier backs in Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, the Browns have the personnel in place to dictate games in the trenches. After landing Watson, they now boast a quarterback who can help them properly capitalise on their advantage in those areas.

A Browns ascension could come at the expense of the AFC's representative in the Super Bowl last season – the Cincinnati Bengals. With a prediction of 8.1 wins, the projection does not anticipate the Bengals competing for the Lombardi Trophy in 2022. Instead, it expects a drastic bump back down to earth.

So, with the Bengals playing the 21st-toughest schedule in the NFL, why is their projection so low? Though the Bengals have made moves to improve an offensive line that was 25th in pass-block win rate last year (acquiring Alex Cappa and La'El Collins), their roster is not in a position to survive a Joe Burrow injury.

And with the Bengals' pass catchers 23rd in open percentage in 2021 and their defensive front 29th in pass-rush win rate, Cincinnati's projection serves as a clear indicator that the magic of last year’s playoff run may be very difficult to replicate.

While the Bengals' win total is closely tied to an over-reliance on Burrow, the Miami Dolphins' projected number is a product of a lack of faith in the man he beat to the honour of the number one pick in 2020.

Betting on Tua

The Dolphins had a busy offseason making aggressive moves to help set Tua Tagovailoa up for success under first-year head coach Mike McDaniel. However, those big swings will not be enough for Miami to make the leap, at least according to the projection.

A prediction of 7.8 wins and a third-place finish in the AFC East would represent a huge disappointment and likely push a franchise that has two first-round picks in 2023 to move on from Tagovailoa. Tua was 24th in QB EVE last season and, among quarterbacks with at least 100 pass attempts, he averaged the seventh-fewest air yards in the NFL (7.35).

While the Dolphins may look to use Tyreek Hill to stretch the field horizontally following his arrival in a blockbuster trade with the Chiefs, at this point it's tough to envision Tagovailoa making the most of having one of the best downfield weapons in the league at his disposal.

The Dolphins do not look likely to challenge Buffalo in the AFC East, but it may be a familiar tale for the Bills in which they play second fiddle to the Chiefs. Though Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes went blow for blow in one of the finest playoff games in NFL history last season, there was a decent gap between the two in 2021 EVE with Mahomes third and Allen 11th.

The Chiefs may have lost Hill this offseason, but – to make an obvious statement – as long as they have Mahomes under center, they will remain near the top of the conference.

Playing behind an offensive line that was masterfully reconstructed in 2021 and ended the year third in pass-block win rate and first in run-block win rate, Mahomes still has the ecosystem around him to make the most of his remarkable gifts.

The one thing that could hold him back is the strength of the division in which he plays.

A tale of two divisions

The Chiefs have seen the rest of the AFC West load up in an effort to end their reign in the division.

Yet none of the high-profile moves made this offseason – Russell Wilson's switch from the Seattle Seahawks to the Denver Broncos, the Las Vegas Raiders trading for Davante Adams and the Los Angeles Chargers acquiring Khalil Mack and J.C. Jackson – will tilt the balance of power away from Kansas City, according to our model.

But the AFC West looks set to take the title of the best division in football with all four teams projected to win over nine games.

That is in marked contrast to the AFC South, where the Indianapolis Colts (8.6) have the highest total in the division.

The Titans, meanwhile, are predicted to slump out of contention after earning the number one seed in the conference last season. The Titans have the seventh-toughest schedule in the NFL and are projected to win only 7.5 games after winning at least nine in each of their four seasons under Mike Vrabel.

Despite traditionally remaining competitive under Vrabel, there are several red flags for Tennessee. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill was 17th in EVE last year playing behind an offensive line that was 28th in pass-block win rate. 

Tennessee's pass catchers ranked 18th in collective open percentage and on draft day traded Brown, who was third in combined open percentage (48.96) against man and zone coverage among receivers with at least 100 matchups in 2021. In other words, the deck is stacked against Tannehill preventing a poor division from being handed to the Colts.

If their season goes as the projection expects, the Titans may start focusing on 2023 and building a contender around Malik Willis.

And in the NFC South, it's probably not surprising that our model expects the Buccaneers to stay on top with Tom Brady back for another season.

New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson says he hopes having more weight will improve his performances after piling on the pounds following a disappointing rookie season in the NFL.

The 22-year-old was selected second overall in the 2021 NFL Draft but did not have the desired impact during his first season out of college.

Wilson threw for 2,334 yards, just nine touchdowns and 11 interceptions, with a dismal pass completion rate of 55.6 per cent.

He also struggled physically over a punishing first year, sacked 44 times in 13 games as no QB in the NFL lost more sack yards (370, tied with Joe Burrow).

But the ex-BYU man has added 13 pounds over the offseason, returning to the Jets as "a better athlete", he says.

"I feel better for sure," Wilson added. "The energy, the ability to have that stamina throughout the whole practice is better.

"In the long run, once we get into a game when we actually get hit and tackled, having more size on me will help."

Having gone 3-10 as a starter last year, Wilson hopes for a stronger second season.

The Jets have bolstered their offensive ranks, adding tight ends C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Conklin and drafting wide receiver Garrett Wilson and running back Breece Hall.

"I feel like the entire staff, from the GM to ownership on down, those guys have done a great done of getting the pieces we need," Wilson said.

"I think it comes back to my job. Now I have to do my job of getting these playmakers the ball.

"How can I get these big tight ends, these really good receivers and these running backs the ball in space and do what we brought them here to do?

"We're definitely going to be better. I don't think we'll be able to tell until the first game, but the improvement is there.

"We have the talent, we have the guys. Now can we tie it all together and put something together?"

Kyle Shanahan still expects the San Francisco 49ers to be able to trade Jimmy Garoppolo but acknowledges "that's not a guarantee".

Garoppolo's departure from the Bay Area was widely expected following the 2021 season, creating space for last year's third overall pick Trey Lance to flourish.

Lance was restricted to only two starts in his rookie season as Garoppolo remained the 49ers' first-choice quarterback.

But having given up three first-round picks to move up and take Lance, the 49ers are ready to make him their main man.

That would mean moving on Garoppolo, yet shoulder surgery in March halted any trade discussions – and Shanahan says talks have not since advanced.

There remains hope the 49ers can do a deal that satisfies all parties, but they are having to bide their time.

"Nothing's changed since that surgery," coach Shanahan said. "Where we were at before that, and then he got the surgery, so everything went on hold.

"I expect him at some time, most likely, to be traded, but who knows? That's not a guarantee.

"It's been exactly on hold when that happened. When he's healthy, we'll see what happens."

Russell Wilson is determined not to be caught up in the emotion of his Week 1 return to Seattle after leaving the Seahawks for the Denver Broncos.

Wilson's 10-season career on the Seahawks, which included their Super Bowl XLVIII success, ended this offseason with his trade to the Broncos.

The 2022 NFL schedule release then threw up an early treat, with the Broncos visiting Lumen Field on September 12, in Wilson's first regular season game for the team.

But for all the fond memories the nine-time Pro Bowler has of his team as a Seahawk, his focus will be on a first win in Broncos colours.

"I think it's going to be an exciting time," Wilson told reporters. "Obviously, Seattle's meant the world to me over the past 10 years.

"It's a special place, special place to play, Lumen Field. I have a high regard for all those guys over there and what they do.

"I think, for me, it's non-emotional, though – it has got to be non-emotional.

"You've got to be able to go into it with an understanding that it's just ball – and also understand that there's been amazing times. There's been a lot of touchdowns there, won a lot of games there, so I had a great experience.

"It'll always be a special place in my heart forever. So, for me, it's about going up there and trying to play the best football for our football team here and try to go win."

Crucially, Wilson is set to get in Denver what he was denied in Seattle, an offense shaped entirely around his ability at QB.

New Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett said: "We want to build this thing completely around him and make sure that he's comfortable and watch him come alive."

The New England Patriots are expecting a big second season from quarterback Mac Jones after he returned to the team "in the best shape of his life".

In his rookie 2021 season, former Alabama QB Jones led the Patriots back to the playoffs with a 10-7 record.

Starting all 17 regular season games, he threw for 3,801 yards, 22 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.

Selected 15th overall in the 2021 NFL Draft, Jones was the standout performer among the rookie QBs, although his season ended in a blowout 47-17 defeat to NFC East rivals the Buffalo Bills in the postseason.

The Patriots head into 2022 without long-time offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who has been named head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders, but Jones appears set for another big year.

"He's in the best shape of his life," receiver Kendrick Bourne said of Jones. "He looks really good. His stomach is gone.

"When you're a rookie, you just don't know it until you go through it for a year. So, he's definitely a lot more in shape than he ever was, just dominating in conditioning. It's dope to see."

Jones explained: "I just cleaned up my diet. I've learned more this offseason than I probably ever have about nutrition, sleep, wellness, all that stuff.

"At the same time, I need to be able to maintain my weight and be able to take hits. There's a fine balance for every player.

"I've definitely trimmed down on the body fat, and I'll get a chance to bulk up before the season starts and be able to absorb hits."

Jadeveon Clowney is heading back to the Cleveland Browns after being rewarded for a healthy 2021 season.

A three-time Pro Bowl defensive end, Clowney's ability has rarely been in question, but he had been limited to just eight games for the Tennessee Titans ahead of joining the Browns last year.

The Browns gave their new signing a one-year year last April worth up to $10million and were duly rewarded with one of the best seasons of his career.

Playing opposite Myles Garrett, Clowney finished with nine sacks and two forced fumbles in 14 starts – each the second-best returns of his career.

Only Garrett (16) had more sacks for the Browns, and Clowney has done enough to convince the team to invest again for 2022.

According to ESPN, the player is returning on another 12-month deal, this time with a value up to $11m.

The Browns finished a disappointing third in the AFC North at 8-9 in 2021 but will hope to be contenders after trading for quarterback Deshaun Watson.

Watson played on the same Houston Texans team as Clowney between 2017 and 2018.

The Philadelphia Eagles have boosted their defense with the signing of cornerback James Bradberry on a one-year deal.

Bradberry arrives on a deal reportedly worth $10million following his release by the New York Giants, who let him go for salary cap relief.

A Pro Bowler in 2020, Bradberry has delivered consistent production across his NFL career.

His 2020 season with the Giants saw him record 18 pass breakups and three interceptions, and he followed that up with 17 breakups and four picks in 2021, despite the Giants finishing bottom of the NFC East with a 4-13 record.

Only J.C. Jackson (37) and Xavien Howard (36) have registered more breakups than Bradberry's tally of 35 over the past two seasons.

He will now form what looks an imposing starting cornerback partnership with Darius Slay.

Since 2016, Slay and Bradberry are the only two players in the NFL to register at least 15 interceptions and 80 or more pass breakups.

Having excelled on a struggling Giants team, the Eagles will hope Bradberry can continue to thrive on a defense that was the eighth-best in opponent yards per play allowed in 2021 as they look to take the next step following last season's Wild Card round exit.

While quarterback-needy teams grappled with the decision over whether to bet on a member of an underwhelming 2022 draft class at the position, those teams who were astute enough to select a signal-caller from the loaded 2021 class spent their offseasons attempting to stack the deck around the player they handpicked as the future of the franchise.

The 2022 season will be a significant one for Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Trey Lance, Justin Fields and Mac Jones, with questions sure to be asked of the five first-round picks if they do not show signs of vindicating their respective franchises for selecting them last year.

Jones arguably already proved himself as the most pro-ready QB of the quintet in an impressive rookie campaign, but 2022 may well reveal how high the ceiling is for the least physically gifted of the bunch. The rest are all aiming to prove they have the skill sets to join the league's expanding and increasingly youthful elite at the NFL's most important position. 

Indeed, the first four quarterbacks off the board in 2021 were all regarded as players with the potential to elevate those around them and take their offenses to new heights. But a quarterback, regardless of his athletic and mental gifts, cannot do it all himself. So who among the 2021 first-rounders has the best supporting cast to help them excel?

To help us answer that question, we at Stats Perform have gone back to look at our post-free agency positional unit baselines that inform our team rankings.

The baselines were produced for seven different units: quarterback, pass blocking, run blocking, route runners/pass catchers, pass rush, run defense and pass defense. The units are comprised of projected playing time for players on the roster combined with the player baselines linked to each of those units.

An individual player has a year-over-year baseline for a unit input (i.e. pass blocking for a team's projected left tackle). His baseline is combined with those of his team-mates and then adjusted for the importance of the position to that unit to produce an overall unit baseline.

The six non-quarterback baselines, plus a look at some of the moves made in the draft by each quarterback's respective team, provide a picture that reveals which of the second-year signal-callers have the talent around them to thrive.

5. Justin Fields, Chicago Bears

Even though the numbers are not impressive, there were clear flashes of promise in Fields' rookie season with the Bears.

While he only finished with a 70.9 well-thrown percentage – seven percentage points below the average for quarterbacks with at least 50 throws – and had a pickable pass rate of 5.36 per cent that was the eighth-worst among that group, Fields did display the upside that led the Bears to trade up for him.

Only two quarterbacks averaged more air yards per attempt than Fields' 10.02 and his three passing plays of 50 yards or more were the most of all rookie quarterbacks and as many as Josh Allen and Justin Herbert managed all season.

You would think, therefore, that the Bears' focus this offseason would be on giving Fields the weapons to produce further explosive plays in 2022. Not so, the Bears waited until the third round to add a wide receiver in the draft – 25-year-old return specialist Velus Jones Jr.

The Bears' reluctance to add to a group of pass-catchers that prior to the draft had the sixth-lowest unit baseline in the NFL hardly suggests at a sophomore surge for Fields in 2022.

And with Chicago's offensive line among the worst in the league for pass protection and run-blocking baseline and its defense in the bottom six for pass defense and bottom three for pass rush, it appears likely to be another year when Fields is swimming against a tide engineered by his own franchise.

4. Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville Jaguars

Simply having an adult in the room with experience of winning at the NFL level should help Lawrence's cause, with Doug Pederson a substantial improvement on Urban Meyer as head coach.

As is the case with Fields in Chicago, Pederson will hope Lwrence can build on last season's flashes of the talent that led some to label him as the best quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck in 2012. Lawrence's well-thrown percentage of 76.3 was significantly better than that of Fields, but his 26 pickable passes were the fourth-most in the league.

Unlike the Bears, the Jags invested heavily in getting Lawrence receiving help, doing so in a bemusing manner as they threw eye-watering amounts of money at players who fit best as secondary targets rather than as the leading receiver for a player dubbed a 'generational' quarterback prospect.

Indeed, the lucrative deals handed out to the likes of Christian Kirk and Zay Jones only put them 20th in pass-catching unit baseline prior to the draft. The hope will be that Kirk, who was seventh among receivers with at least 100 targets with a big-play rate of 35.6 per cent last year, can help Lawrence generate more explosives in year two.

And while much of the Jags' roster still reeks of mediocrity, an offensive line that ranked fourth in pass-block win rate in 2021 may give him the time to help justify the Jags' belief in Kirk and Lawrence's other new weapons.

3. Zach Wilson, New York Jets

The Jets received almost universal praise for their draft, acquiring cornerback Sauce Gardner, wide receiver Garrett Wilson and edge rusher Jermaine Johnson II in the first round before then adding the consensus top running back in the class – Iowa State's Breece Hall – in the second.

Their roster looks in significantly better shape than it did at the end of the 2021 campaign, but the Jets were working from a pretty low starting point.

Coming out of free agency, only six teams had a lower unit baseline among their pass-catchers than the Jets, whose offensive line was in the bottom half of the league in pass protection baseline and in the run-blocking baseline.

Johnson's arrival and the return of fellow edge rusher Carl Lawson from injury should provide a clear boost to a pass rush that was fourth in unit baseline last year while a secondary that exited free agency just outside the top 10 in pass defense baseline appears much better equipped to provide support to Wilson and the offense.

However, Wilson had the worst well-thrown percentage (66.6) of any rookie quarterback last season, with Fields (5.36) and fellow rookie Davis Mills (5.56) the only two quarterbacks with at least 200 attempts to have a higher pickable pass rate than Wilson's 5.21 per cent.

The Jets are relying on Mekhi Becton to get healthy and play a full season at left tackle and, though they have some more established options at tight end and receiver, are also putting a lot on a rookie receiver in likely leaning heavily on Garrett Wilson to elevate his second-year quarterback.

It has been a successful offseason for the Jets, but a lot needs to happen for their hopes of a second-year leap for team and quarterback to come to fruition.

2. Mac Jones, New England Patriots

Were it not for the outstanding season enjoyed by Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase, Jones may well have won NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.

The outstanding accuracy Jones demonstrated at Alabama translated to the pros, Jones producing a well-thrown ball on 80.1 per cent of attempts. He achieved that feat while averaging more air yards per attempt (8.11) than both Lawrence and Wilson, yet there is reason for trepidation around thoughts of him progressing significantly in his second year.

Jones' passer rating on throws of 21 or more air yards was 65.4 – 31st among the 41 quarterbacks to attempt at least 10, illustrating the limited ceiling of a quarterback whose arm is not on the level of his fellow 2021 first-rounders.

Yet Jones does have the benefit of one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. After free agency, the Patriots' O-Line was tied for sixth in pass protection unit baseline and fifth in run blocking baseline.

They replaced guard Shaq Mason, who was surprisingly traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, by making the similarly eyebrow-raising move of selecting Chattanooga guard Cole Strange in the first round of the draft. Strange's arrival should solidify the interior of the line and allow the Patriots to stick to a formula of leaning on the run game to take the pressure off Jones.

New England's receiving corps is at best uninspiring and the Patriots' failure to address a depleted secondary may prohibit playoff aspirations, but the strength in the trenches means Jones is in a better position to achieve short-term success than most of his second-year contemporaries.

1. Trey Lance, San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers are set to step into the unknown in 2021, with all signs pointing to Lance playing his first full season since his lone campaign as the starting quarterback at North Dakota State in 2019 despite Jimmy Garoppolo's continued presence on the roster.

Handing the keys to an offense that was in the NFC championship Game over to a quarterback with only two career starts to his name represents a substantial risk, but it is a risk the Niners are in an excellent position to take.

While there remains no sign of the impasse between San Francisco and All-Pro wide receiver Deebo Samuel coming to an end, the Niners left free agency with a group of pass-catchers ranked sixth in the league in unit baseline. They added to that group in the draft by selecting SMU speedster Danny Gray in the third round.

San Francisco's pass defense was also in the top half of the league in that regard going into the draft, while its pass rush was third in unit baseline and could have an even higher ceiling in 2022 if Drake Jackson adapts quickly to the pros. The Niners' second-round pick registered a pressure rate of 24.2 that was the fifth-best among edge rushers in this draft class in 2021.

The Niners ranked in the top 10 in pass block win rate and seventh in run block win rate last season, yet their biggest issue may be maintaining that standard after losing left guard Laken Tomlinson to the Jets amid doubts over whether center Alex Mack would retire.

Lance could, therefore, be playing behind a largely inexperienced O-Line this coming season. However, the data from his small sample size last year hinted at him having what it takes to elevate those around him. He averaged 10.10 air yards per attempt – the second-most in the NFL – and no player to average at least 9.0 air yards had a better well-thrown percentage than Lance's 77.1.

His challenge will be to maintain that combination of aggression and accuracy over the course of a full season.

If the Niners can come to an understanding with Samuel, Lance will have one of the most versatile weapons in the NFL to help him build on those encouraging flashes. He'll also benefit from the support of a stout defense built on the strength of its front and a diverse running game that will likely grow even more varied with him under center.

The trump card for Lance is head coach Kyle Shanahan, who is arguably the pre-eminent offensive mind of the modern NFL. Between the talent on both sides of the ball and Shanahan's ability to draw up a running game and put receivers in space, the Niners are a high-floor, high ceiling team.

There may be doubts about Lance, but there should be no doubt he is the quarterback in the best situation to silence those concerns.

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