Carolina Panthers head coach Matt Rhule is excited about the potential of Sam Darnold after the franchise picked up the quarterback's fifth-year option.

The Panthers completed a trade with the New York Jets to acquire Darnold at the start of April, giving up a sixth-round pick in this year's draft and a second and fourth-rounder in 2022.

Selected third overall by the Jets in 2018, Darnold has thrown for 8,097 yards with 45 touchdowns and 39 interceptions in his first three seasons in the NFL.

He has not played all 16 games in any campaign so far, but he is set to be the new starter for Carolina after Teddy Bridgewater was traded to the Denver Broncos.

The Panthers did not opt to take a quarterback with the 10th pick in the first round of the draft either, despite both Justin Fields and Mac Jones still being available.

"I'm not going to talk about other players; we brought Sam here for a reason," Rhule said. "We're excited to see what he can do. We're excited to give him an opportunity.

"We traded for him because we believe in his potential."

Darnold averaged just 6.07 yards per attempt in his 12 starts in 2020, with only three other quarterbacks posting a lower number in that category.

He had nine touchdown passes compared to 11 interceptions as the Jets went 2-14 to gain the second pick in the draft. They used that to take a new starting quarterback on Thursday, choosing BYU prospect Zach Wilson.

Meanwhile, the Panthers have also picked up the contract option on wide receiver DJ Moore, guaranteeing his deal through the 2022 season.

Mac Jones vowed to do things his way rather than by the Tom Brady playbook as he teamed up with Bill Belichick at the New England Patriots.

The 22-year-old Jones led Alabama to a national championship in the 2020 season and joins the Patriots after being taken with the 15th pick in the NFL Draft.

As a quarterback linking up with Belichick, who had Brady as his favoured signal caller for 19 years, Jones has a lot to live up to.

First, he has to dislodge Cam Newton though, so Jones is determined to play according to his own design and his personal strengths rather than look to copy anyone else.

Asked about Brady, Jones said: "I just love watching him, how he manoeuvres through the pocket and stuff. But for me it's just being myself and being my own player and obviously he did great things for New England and I'm just looking forward to going in there and working.

"I've watched all the Super Bowls, regardless of the team, so it was awesome. Obviously, Tom and the New England Patriots were in a lot of them growing up, so I got a chance to watch them and I just like good football in general."

Jones said he had watched previous Patriots games during the draft process, to get a firm grip of what makes the team tick.

Newton replaced Brady as Belichick's starting quarterback last season and has signed on for this year too, but his position looks set to come under threat in 2021 from Jones and Jarrett Stidham. The Patriots finished with a 7-9 record in 2020, while Brady led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to Super Bowl glory.

Veteran coach Belichick, who described Jones as "a smart kid", said the process of getting the new recruit ready for the rigours of the NFL would "take a lot of time".

"Cam's our quarterback," Belichick said. "Whatever position, whatever time Jarrett or Mac are ready to challenge and compete, then we'll see how that goes. But right now, Mac, he's just got a lot of learning in front of him."

Jones would not disagree with that perspective, wary of pushing himself to the front of the queue before time.

"Cam's awesome," Jones said, "and I've only heard great things when talking to people that I know from the Patriots about how great of a guy he is and how much everyone loves him.

"He just has fun with it, and I do too, so hopefully we can kind of have fun together and I'll help him out. It's his show and I'm just there to support him and then kind of just help out the team in whatever way I can."

Jones excelled in his only year as a starter at Alabama, completing 77.4 per cent of his passes for 4,500 yards with 41 touchdowns and only four interceptions.  He was one of three finalists for the 2020 Heisman Trophy, which went to his teammate DeVonta Smith.

Jones had been tipped in some quarters to join the San Francisco 49ers, but they plumped for Trey Lance instead with the third overall pick.

"I feel like, secretly, I really wanted to go to the Patriots all along, so I'm actually really happy that it happened," Jones said. "But it doesn't really matter.

"You get picked. You've got to take the opportunity and take advantage of it and learn the new system, learn the new coaches, learn the new culture, and coach Belichick's done a great job establishing that throughout his time in New England and I've just got to learn how to be a great teammate and do my job and stick to what they're telling me to do."

Trey Lance admitted it felt "surreal" to be confirmed as a San Francisco 49ers player after he was selected with the third overall pick in the NFL Draft.

The 20-year-old took a call from 49ers general manager John Lynch to welcome him into the fold, with head coach Kyle Shanahan and team CEO Jed York also taking the time to speak to Lance.

Now he will step up from North Dakota State to the big time, and Lance said: "I'm obviously just excited now for this opportunity."

He said of the scrutiny leading up to the draft: "I understand it's a critiquing process because that's what it is. It's probably the longest job interview that I ever thought I'd have, but I don't think I could have been in a better situation.

"I'm super excited to get there and learn, and at this point the biggest thing for me is getting there, getting to know the coaching staff and my teammates and the guys in the quarterback room."

Lance will be expected to swiftly provide competition for San Francisco quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who looks set to ease the newcomer into the NFL spotlight.

"I'm just focused on getting there learning as much as I possibly can and getting to know Jimmy and the guys in the room," Lance said.

As for the big telephone call, Lance said: "It was pretty emotional for me right away, kind of a surreal feeling. You never really knew unless you knew.

"I feel super thankful for everyone that's helped me get to this point.

"I know the coaching staff and the guys in the quarterback room are going to push me and help me compete and help me learn, so that's the biggest thing. I'm just looking forward to it."

In leading the Bison to an FCS National Championship in the 2019 season, Lance accounted for 42 total touchdowns and did not throw a single interception.

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

He carries a dual threat too, with Lance's 14 rushing touchdowns bettered by just four quarterbacks across the FBS and the FCS, and his rushing average of 6.5 yards was fifth among signal-callers to have registered at least 100 rushing attempts.

Shanahan was delighted to tie up the deal, saying: "I'm glad that it's over. I'm glad that we got our guy. I'm glad that we feel so good about it and I'm just pumped to get him here."

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.

The Jacksonville Jaguars drafted Trevor Lawrence to be their quarterback for years to come, but he says he will work to win the position. 

The number one overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, Lawrence had long been the clear choice for new coach Urban Meyer.

After months of waiting to make it official, Lawrence said he was ready to get to work with Jacksonville. 

"My mind-set going in is always that I'm going to earn everything that I get," Lawrence told reporters. 

"So, coming in I don't have any expectations from anyone else other than myself. I expect to perform well and adjust quickly and to be ready to go. 

"I expect a lot out of myself. So that's where I'm at mentally and from there it's just about earning ... the respect and trust of your teammates.

"Without that it doesn't really matter what you expect going in. You've got to earn that first."

The 21-year-old joins a Jaguars franchise with just one winning season in the previous 13 years, but he already has won the hearts of the long-suffering fan base. 

"We’re not even there yet and we definitely feel the love and support," Lawrence said.

"Just know that once I get there all my focus and all my attention is to make us the best we can be."

His college coach at Clemson, Dabo Swinney, said he expects Lawrence will have a "very easy transition" to the NFL.

"He’s well prepared," he said. "What he’s stepping into, the expectations, all those things, that’s his normal and it has been for a long time... He is the epitome of consistency."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There were 90 touchdown passes and just 17 interceptions in an impressive three-year run, while the average yards per attempt improved - 8.26 to 9.00, then 9.44 – in each of his college seasons in South Carolina.

His completion rate also continued to rise the longer he played at the college level. After hovering just above 65 per cent during years one and two, he was successful on 69.2 per cent of his attempts in 2020.

While not widely regarded as a running quarterback, Lawrence is also mobile enough to make plays with his legs; he rushed for 18 touchdowns in 40 games for Clemson, including eight in his final campaign.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Garoppolo's fall from grace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Running it back

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The choice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.