The New York Giants have picked up the fifth-year contract option on star running back Saquon Barkley.

NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2018, Barkley's rookie contract is extended by one year and guaranteed through to 2022 following Wednesday's announcement.

Barkley – the second pick in the 2018 Draft – is reportedly on track to be ready for the start of the season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his right knee.

The 24-year-old underwent surgery in October following the season-ending injury sustained against the Chicago Bears in September.

Barkley was limited to 13 games in 2019 because of an ankle issue but still topped 1,000 yards rushing.

His sensational rookie season saw him rack up 2,028 yards from scrimmage and 15 total touchdowns in 2018.

In 2020, the Giants (6-10) missed the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year in the NFC East.

Pete Carroll is looking forward to a "long future" together with Russell Wilson after Seattle Seahawks general manager John Schneider told reporters he "never actively negotiated with anybody" over a trade of their superstar quarterback.

Wilson's future has been a source of much debate this offseason.

He appeared to be in MVP contention as Seattle made a 6-1 start to the 2020 season, but a lack of effective pass protection meant the 32-year-old could not maintain that standard.

The 47 sacks he suffered in the regular season were the third-most among NFL QBs.

Wilson has been sacked on a league-high 394 occasions in his Seahawks career, well clear of Matt Ryan (325) in second on that list.

"I'm frustrated [about] getting hit too much," he said in February.

To this, Carroll said on Wednesday: "He wasn't any more frustrated than I was."

Reports emerged of Wilson naming four teams he would be interested in being dealt to, yet Schneider now says such a move was never an option.

"There were a number of teams that called after that media blitz that happened, but no, I never actively negotiated with anybody, with any team," he said.

"Did people call? Absolutely."

Carroll described Wilson's comments as "a pretty normal reaction" and said the pair had "talked extensively throughout the offseason", "as many conversations as we've ever had".

"Russ has been our quarterback for a good while," Carroll said. "We've got a long contract with him.

"And when all of the conversation went about trades and all that, I knew what the truth was: we weren't trading Russell.

"So, we plan on him being here for a good while. I don't know how many years it is now, but we're in great shape and a long future ahead of us is shared.

"Russ knows that. I know that. We're very clear about it.

"That's why it was really obvious that we just had to sit back and kind of let the media take its course with the topic. So we did.

"We're in good shape and both very clear about that."

Wilson's completion percentage of 72.3 fell to 61.6 under pressure in 2020, but this was good enough to rank third in the NFL in these situations – behind Teddy Bridgewater (65.9) and Kirk Cousins (62.2).

The Carolina Panthers traded quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to the Denver Broncos in return for a sixth-round draft pick on Wednesday.

Carolina allowed Bridgewater to depart after landing New York Jets signal-caller Sam Darnold earlier this month.

ESPN's Adam Schefter reported the Panthers will pay Bridgewater $7million, while he is said to be set to receive $3m from the Broncos.

Bridgewater spent just one season with the Panthers, completing 69.1 per cent of his passes for 3,733 yards, 15 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in 15 starts.

The 28-year-old rushed for 279 yards and five touchdowns in the 2020 campaign.

Denver could reportedly still be in the market for another QB in Thursday's NFL Draft, despite also having Drew Lock, Brett Rypien and Jeff Driskel on the roster.

Lock started 13 games for the Broncos last year, completing 57.3 per cent of his passes for 2,933 yards, 16 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.

Broncos general manager George Paton said: "Acquiring Teddy Bridgewater adds competition, experience and a strong veteran presence to our quarterback room.

"He's a talented player and leader who's had success in this league in a number of different situations. Being familiar with Teddy from Minnesota, he's going to compete and do everything he can to help us win."

 

The NFL is a league of giants, one dominated by towering physical specimens who can stretch the limits of athleticism and mental colossuses who fight through adversity to shine brightest in the biggest moments.

While far from a disappointing athlete, NFL teams that have done their homework on Clemson wide receiver Amari Rodgers ahead of this week's draft will likely have slotted him firmly in the latter category.

Rodgers is of the more diminutive build in terms of height when it comes to receivers, measuring at just over 5ft 9in at his pro day. However, though size is among the defining physical traits teams will always look for when building out their rosters, there are no shortage of examples of wideouts overcoming a lack of verticality to thrive at the highest level.

Perhaps the most prominent example of a supposedly small receiver excelling in the pros is the one who has inspired Rodgers since his formative years: Carolina Panthers great Steve Smith Sr.

"All the way through high school, all the way through college, I used to watch his highlights before every single game just to get my mindset going, get me riled up," Rodgers told Stats Perform News.

Getting himself and his opponents riled up was a key feature of Smith's career, as he used an aggressive mindset to help him outwill and outperform defenders over the course of 16 NFL seasons, five of which ended with Pro Bowl recognition.

A markedly similar approach was critical to Rodgers' success during his college career with Clemson, where he won a National Championship and emerged as a top target for presumptive number one overall pick Trevor Lawrence after Tee Higgins left for the pros last year and Justyn Ross was ruled out of the 2020 season with a spinal issue.

Rodgers racked up 77 catches for 1,020 yards and seven touchdowns in 2020, using his stocky 212-pound frame to run through defenders for extra yardage once he got the ball in his hands while also displaying a hugely impressive ability to elevate over cornerbacks at the catch point.

Of his 1,020 yards, 602 came after the catch, with that total second only to Alabama's DeVonta Smith (937) in the FBS, per Stats Perform data. His catch rating, which measures how well a receiver brings in catchable passes on a 0-1 scale, was 0.917, above the average of 0.901 for Power 5 wideouts with 20 or more targets.

"That's definitely a product of my mindset. I'm just trying to run through people," Rodgers added. "If I'm about to run out of bounds on the sideline and there's somebody there they're going to feel me.

"I'm not just going to run out of bounds, it's not flag football, it's not two-hand touch. I've got the pads on for a reason, I'm going to let them feel me and let them know that I'm there and I'm coming back.

"That's just my mindset, just to let everybody know that I'm not stopping the whole game, I'm putting my best foot forward, I'm playing with the best effort, I'm just bringing that dog mentality.

"Once Justyn got hurt, I knew I was going to have most of the load in the receiver room, me and Cornell Powell. In the offseason, after spring ball, I just took it upon me to just grind every single day.

"I didn't go a day without doing something to enhance my game. I was just preparing myself mentally and physically for that load that I knew that I was going to have this past season so that when the time came I could perform."

That same relentless preparation helped Rodgers get through the toughest part of his college career a year earlier.

His ability to have a significant influence on the Tigers' 2019 campaign appeared set to be restricted when he tore his ACL in spring practice. Yet he accelerated a recovery that for many takes six to nine months to just 166 days and, by his second game of the season in September, had a 100-yard performance to his name as he went off for 121 and two touchdowns against Syracuse.

"My mindset was everything with that. I hate sitting out, I hate not playing, I hate seeing my brothers out there practicing every day, doing hard stuff and I'm on the sideline watching them, so that tore me up," said Rodgers of his rapid rehabilitation. 

"I worked every single day, three times a day, in the morning before workouts and then after lunch I'd come back in and do some more, and then I paid out of pocket and went somewhere else at night.

"So three times a day except on the weekends I'm doing rehab and strengthening the muscles around my knee and stuff like that so I can get back out there, because I knew I needed to be out there and they needed me, so I just did everything I could to get back out there with my brothers."

Such ceaseless determination is difficult to maintain, but Rodgers had the benefit of an indelible source of motivation.

Rodgers ensured he caught the eye at his pro day, running his 40-yard dash shirtless and revealing an upper body adorned by scores of tattoos.

His evident passion for body art played a crucial role in that speedy return to the field.

Asked about his favourite tattoo, Rodgers replied: "This one on my forearm, it's a quote, it says 'the future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams'.

"I got that shortly after the day of my ACL injury because I did that as a daily reminder to keep shooting for my dreams and keep believing, because sometimes it may be tough going into rehab and doing the same thing over and over and over again. You want to transition to running; there's a transition to running routes, but it's a slow process, you've got to take your time and be patient. So, I just got this on my forearm just as a daily reminder.

"I look at it before I start working out every single day and I'll be dialled in, so that's definitely my most favourite tattoo."

Rodgers' dream is now about to become a reality as he will make the jump to the pros, and he sees no limit to what he can do when he gets on an NFL field.

He ran 291 routes from the slot in 2020, compared to 45 as an outside receiver.

However, his burn yards per route average – a burn being when a receiver wins his matchup with a defender on a play where he is targeted – only dropped from 3.65 when playing the slot to 3.53 when lined up outside. That latter number was comfortably above the average of 2.50 for wideouts with at least 10 targets as an outside receiver.

Rodgers' catch rating improved from 0.912 in the slot to 0.947 when he played outside. His average depth of target from the outside was 16.4 yards, with Rodgers recording an open percentage on his targets of 69.2 that put him 10th among outside receivers whose average depth was 16 yards or higher.

And Rodgers is convinced that, just like his idol Smith, he could excel on the outside at the next level.

"My first two years at Clemson I played outside receiver, I didn't move to the slot until my junior year, so I had that experience playing outside as well," he said. 

"I can play inside; special teams is going to help me as well. You can throw me in the backfield and create mismatches with me against linebackers on third downs, too. I can do it all. I'm a Swiss Army knife, that's really how I'm approaching this process, telling programs in the interview process, because a lot of people didn't see everything I can bring to the game at Clemson, so I'm just letting you know that I'm only getting better, they can use me in any way they want to."

Rodgers is a prospect who firmly believes he is yet to show everything he has to offer, so what can the team that calls his name expect when they add him to their ranks?

"They're going to get a dog, first and foremost, somebody that's the YAC king," Rodgers explained. "Sixty per cent of my yards was after the catch, so that just shows my ability to be dominant when I get the ball in my hands and make plays.

"So, they're going to get somebody that has strong hands, confident in their route-running, you can believe that he can get open every single play and a leader, somebody that's going to lead by example, not be one of those that's always in trouble, but go in, put the work in day in and day out, keep improving day in and day out, help the team winning that Super Bowl."

Rodgers heads to the league with lofty ambitions. Meeting them will be a tall order, but there is no doubt Rodgers will approach that challenge with the right mindset.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have agreed a deal to bring back wide receiver Antonio Brown on a one-year deal worth up to $6.25million.

Brown's agent confirmed to NFL Network that the deal is done, with the 32-year-old to be fully guaranteed $3.1m.

After winning the Super Bowl in their first season with Tom Brady as quarterback, the Bucs had already impressively found a way to bring back all 22 of their starters in the offseason.

That included free agents Shaquil Barrett, Rob Gronkowski and Ndamukong Suh, along with Chris Godwin, who was handed the franchise tag.

Brown – who had 45 catches for 483 yards and four touchdowns in eight regular season games last year – was the most significant remaining player yet to agree terms.

Both sides had indicated a willingness to prolong their partnership and financial negotiations have now been concluded one day before the NFL Draft, where the Bucs appear to have the luxury of going into the process without a major need on their roster. 

Mike Evans, Godwin and Brown make up three elite receiving options for Brady, with second-year pro Tyler Johnson a candidate to make a step forward in 2021 and Scotty Miller also in the rotation.

Gronkowski, O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate also make up a star-studded tight end room, as Brady – who will turn 44 before the new season begins – looks to win an eighth Super Bowl with a stellar supporting cast.

Brown spent the first nine years of his career with the Pittsburgh Steelers and was a five-time All-Pro selection – four of those in the first team – and a seven-time Pro Bowler.

As he battled legal problems, brief and turbulent spells with the New England Patriots and Las Vegas Raiders followed before reuniting with Brady in Tampa provided him with the chance to resurrect his NFL career, a process which began with a first Super Bowl crown in February.

Brown had five catches for 22 yards and a TD in the Bucs' surprisingly convincing 31-9 triumph over Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs.

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

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

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

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

1. Jacksonville Jaguars – Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson

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

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

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

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

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

4. Atlanta Falcons - Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida 

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

5. Cincinnati Bengals – Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon

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

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

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

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

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

8. Carolina Panthers - Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12. Philadelphia Eagles - DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

18. Miami Dolphins - Azeez Ojulari EDGE, Georgia

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

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

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

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

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

21. Indianapolis Colts – Kwity Paye, EDGE, Michigan

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

22. Tennessee Titans - Christian Barmore, IDL, Alabama

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

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

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

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

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

25. Jacksonville Jaguars – Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota

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

26. Cleveland Browns - Jamin Davis, LB, Kentucky

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

31. Baltimore Ravens – Samuel Cosmi, OT, Texas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His performance slipped a bit in 2020 but he remains the NFL's premier dual-threat quarterback, rushing for more than 1,000 yards and scoring seven touchdowns on the ground in each of the past two seasons in addition to his work in the passing game. 

Jackson has won more games (30) than any other quarterback since taking over as Baltimore's starter midway through the 2018 season and became the fastest QB in NFL history to reach 30 regular-season victories (37 games).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Justin Fields will have heard all the noise; it’s hard for a prospect in his position, as one of the top quarterbacks in the 2021 NFL Draft, to ignore the cacophony.

The chatter has been as bemusing as it has been loud, with wildly off-base critiques levelled at a quarterback who has delivered on college football's biggest stages in successive seasons.

Of those criticisms, the most prominent has surrounded Fields' ability to process quickly, with many viewing him as a quarterback who needs significant work reading the field and too often gets stuck on his first progression.

Yet, as those who espouse Fields' merits have been quick to point out, any unwillingness to come off his first read is likely the symptom of an Ohio State offense highly reliant on long-developing downfield routes.

It appears, though, that both the New York Jets and San Francisco 49ers are among his doubters. Picking second overall, the Jets are expected to take BYU's Zach Wilson, while the 49ers, following their massive trade up from 12 to three, are reportedly deciding between North Dakota State's Trey Lance and Mac Jones of Alabama.

Fields' apparent slide from the second-best quarterback in the draft to one that may not even go in the top five is a truly befuddling development in this year's edition of an event partially defined by head-scratching decisions.

The team who benefit from the questionable evaluations of Fields by those above them in the draft order will land a player ideally gifted to thrive in the NFL having outperformed his contemporaries in this draft class in several key areas.

Through the lens of Stats Perform data, we look at why perhaps the most underappreciated quarterback in the class is primed to silence his critics.

Busting the narratives

The narratives around Fields have always seemed flimsily constructed, and they are not reflected by the numbers.

Critiqued by some for holding on to the ball too long while waiting for his reads to come open, Fields had an average snap-to-release time of 2.81 seconds in 2020.

While that is considerably slower than Trevor Lawrence (2.36) and a fair way behind Jones (2.55), it is slightly faster than Wilson (2.82).

Why is that significant? Because Wilson is a prospect who has received regular praise for his ability to get the ball out quickly and accurately during his time at BYU.

The reality is that Fields was on par with Wilson in that regard.

Beyond the time it took to get rid of the ball, the biggest debate around Fields pertains to how he works through his progressions to find the open man.

Yet if Fields had just been staring down his first read, it stands to reason defenders would have had frequent success jumping routes and gaining opportunities for interceptions.

His interceptions did double from three in 2019 to six last year, but Fields only threw eight 'pickable passes' in 217 attempts, his pickable pass percentage of 3.69 was the worst of the first-round quarterbacks to have played in the Power 5 but was not miles behind Lawrence (3.38).

Over the course of the past two seasons, Fields threw 16 pickable passes in 556 attempts for a percentage of 2.88. In essence, he was not a quarterback who regularly provided defenders with opportunities for takeaways, and he only got more accurate and more careful with the ball on the more difficult throws.

Downfield success

In 2020, Fields recorded a well-thrown percentage – which measures how often throws are an accurate, well-thrown ball – of 80.18 per cent.

That number was inferior to Lawrence, who led the Power 5 with 84.31 per cent, and Jones (83.21). However, of quarterbacks with at least 200 pass attempts who averaged 10 or more air yards per attempt last season, it was second only to Sam Howell of North Carolina (81.31).

Only Wilson (10.29 air yards per attempt) was more aggressive in pushing the ball downfield than Fields (10.10), with Lawrence (8.67) and Jones (8.52) lagging behind.

And when it came to making those deep throws that can flip the script in an instant, it was Fields who stood out ahead of his contemporaries last year.

Indeed, on throws well past the sticks of 15 or more air yards, Fields led the way in well-thrown percentage by a wide margin.

Of Fields' throws of that distance, 76.47 per cent were accurate, well-thrown balls, compared to 71.43 for Lawrence, 69.41 for Wilson and 67.39 for Jones.

Wilson (3.53) was the sole quarterback of the other three to post a better pickable pass percentage on those attempts than Fields' 7.84.

When he attacked downfield, Fields was superior to the man who is a lock to be the first overall pick to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Fields beat Lawrence in the College Football Playoff semi-final last season and outplayed him in the eyes of many in their meeting at the same stage a year earlier.

Looking at their respective career numbers, there is plenty to suggest they enter the NFL on equal footing.

On a par with Lawrence

Further illustrating the gap between the two when it comes to deep passing, Fields had an air yards per attempt average of 11.0 during his college career, putting him fifth among quarterbacks with at least 500 attempts since 2018, 42 spots ahead of Lawrence (8.87).

Fields' completion percentage on balls thrown 20 or more air yards in that same span of 47.9 was good enough for sixth on the list of quarterbacks with a minimum of 100 attempts, with Lawrence (42.1) coming in seven spots lower.

The former Buckeye had a clear edge on play-action throws, which are a staple of most NFL offenses, especially those that utilise the scheme run by Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan, as the Jets will do in 2021.

Fields completed 67.2 per cent of his play-action throws compared to 64.6 for Lawrence and was similarly superior in a situation where games are often won and lost – on third down.

While Lawrence could only connect on 56.8 per cent of his third-down attempts, Fields completed 65.5, though the script was flipped when it came to making the most of red-zone opportunities.

At Clemson, Lawrence was at his best inside the 20, hitting on 68.5 per cent of his throws, second among quarterbacks with at least 100 attempts and comfortably ahead of Fields (sixth with 63.7).

But Fields and Lawrence performed almost identically when pressure was sent, the latter having a negligible edge facing the blitz, completing 63.8 per cent of passes to Fields' 63.6.

In looking solely at the numbers, they are difficult to separate and, when he and Lawrence squared off, Fields had the upper hand in at least one matchup.

And yet he is seemingly set to slide from being a quarterback some touted as having the potential to displace Lawrence as number one to not hearing his name called until well after the top overall pick is done with his initial plethora of media commitments.

It is a baffling state of affairs that neither the tape nor the stats can explain.

Blessed with the elusiveness to evade free rushers in the pocket, the ability to escape and make sensational off-platform throws on the move and speed in the open field that saw him rush for 1,539 yards and 19 touchdowns in college, Fields has the ideal athletic profile for the modern NFL.

Jones and Wilson outperformed him in some areas in their breakout 2020 campaigns but no quarterback in the class other than Lawrence can claim to have enjoyed Fields' level of success over the course of more than one season among college football's elite.

More consistent than Lawrence when going deep and with the same release time as Wilson, the data should be enough to dispel the lazy narratives around Fields.

Instead, Fields will need to do so in the NFL and it is unclear with whom he will get the chance. Regardless of where he lands, Fields' skill set and track record point to the doubters being drowned out by the jubilation he has the talent to inspire at the highest level.

Kansas City Chiefs hopeful Sean Culkin will become the first NFL player to convert his entire salary to cryptocurrency, Bitcoin.

Culkin is vying to make the Chiefs' active roster after signing a reserve/future contract in Kansas City, where the tight end would be paid a base salary of $920,000, which would then be converted to Bitcoin.

Veteran offensive linesman Russell Okung previously announced in December that half of his 2020 Carolina Panthers salary would be converted to Bitcoin.

The 27-year-old Culkin has played 19 career games for the Los Angeles Chargers and Baltimore Ravens.

"I've always had a lot of interest in and a passion for finance and economics from my days at Mizzou," Culkin said. "Even before that, my dad was big, really bullish on gold. Early on, I was always exposed to his philosophies on what made gold an intractable investment looking at it from a macro perspective.

"There's a lot of overlap between gold and Bitcoin. I really spent all of my time in the offseason the past year just hearing about this growing space in crypto. It just seemed like it was getting bigger and bigger.

"Through education and learning and having a level of conviction over the course of time, I just felt like I wanted to be compensated from my services in football in Bitcoin."

Culkin added: "I want to do this with the thought it would continue to rise over the long term. This for me is a long-term play, a generational play. The more research I did and the more I zoomed out, I didn't necessarily link volatility to risk. I saw Bitcoin was growing at such an exponential rate.

"It's going to have some large pullbacks and dips and people are probably going to say I'm crazy, but I'm focusing on the long term. Long term, it's a stored value. What makes Bitcoin so intractable is its scarcity. Over time, it's deflationary by nature. If you look at history, it appreciates over time."

 

Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst said Aaron Rodgers is the team's quarterback for the "foreseeable future" as they work through the reigning NFL MVP's contract situation.

Rodgers claimed his third MVP award last season after leading the Packers to the NFC Championship Game, but his future has been up in the air after describing it as "uncertain" and a "beautiful mystery".

The 37-year-old star and Super Bowl champion is contracted through the 2023 season after signing a $134million extension in 2018.

While the Packers are yet to restructure or extend Rodgers' contract as they look to create cap space, Gutekunst insisted Green Bay remain committed to the nine-time Pro Bowler.

"That's kind of something we're working through," Gutekunst told reporters on Monday ahead of the NFL Draft, which starts Thursday.

"You know, it's something that we've talked about quite a bit as we've worked through this salary-cap situation, which is really kind of a two-year situation. We've looked at a lot of different things and that's one of them."

Rodgers amassed 48 touchdowns, five interceptions and a completion rate of 70.7 per cent for the Packers last season.

His quarterback rating of 121.5 puts him second on the all-time list among qualifiers, behind only his 2011 campaign (122.5).

In total, Rodgers completed 372 of 526 attempts for 4,299 yards as the Packers topped the NFC North with a 13-3 record to clinch home-field advantage and the top seed in the NFC playoffs for the first time since 2011.

Rodgers is now level with Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady, Packers great Brett Favre, Johnny Unitas and Jim Brown with three MVP honours – only Peyton Manning (five) has more in NFL history.

Gutekunst added: "Aaron's our guy; he's going to be our quarterback for the foreseeable future. We're excited about kind of the things we're going to try to accomplish here over the next couple years.

"So we certainly think with the contract that you're kind of talking about is something we'll work through. We're going to have to do probably a few things with different contracts as we head toward the season and then through the season to make sure that our salary cap situation, not only this year, but in 2022 is square.

"We're not done yet. We've done a lot to get here. We've kind of been doing things as we go and we will continue to do that as we go."

The NFL Draft begins Thursday and the San Francisco 49ers are primed to select a quarterback after trading up for the third pick.

Of course, that draft pick would become completely inconsequential if for some reason a catastrophic disaster were to wipe out the human race, which is what 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan alluded to during a press conference on Monday.

When asked if quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo will be on the roster by the end of the weekend after the draft concludes, Shanahan avoided the usual coach speak and took a bleaker approach in his response.

"I can't guarantee that anybody in the world will be alive Sunday, so I can't guarantee who will be on our roster on Sunday,” he said. "So that goes for all of us."

Garoppolo's days as the starting quarterback for the 49ers appear to be numbered after the team traded two first-round picks to move up from 12 to 3, but hopefully for his sake he still has plenty of days left on Earth.

As far as who the Niners plan to grab with their pick is still a mystery. And Shanahan was not about to tip his hand.

"So, do we know exactly who we want?" he asked rhetorically. "Maybe. Probably. But maybe not."

Garoppolo led San Francisco to the Super Bowl following the 2019 season but injuries limited him to just six games in 2020 as the Niners stumbled to a 6-10 record.

Though he dodged every question about who the 49ers might draft, Shanahan has been up front about injuries being a major factor in the team ready to move on from Garoppolo.

"The biggest thing with Jimmy is his injuries," Shanahan said. "It's been very tough for us when he's been hurt and that's happened two of these three years. That's where it starts and Jimmy knows that."

Shanahan did admit that having a rookie quarterback as well as a proven winner like Garoppolo together would be advantageous.

"But I feel very fortunate, taking a rookie quarterback, that we do have a guy like Jimmy," he said. "We have a guy that every time he's been a starter he's played at a high level.

"So to have that with Jimmy while adding a rookie quarterback gives us a lot of leeway. We're not going to set anything in stone, but I know that’s a situation that would be hard to get rid of."

The decision on who the 49ers draft will ultimately fall on Shanahan, according to general manager John Lynch.

"We have a head coach who's also our offensive play caller. I will always defer to him," Lynch said. "You know, what's cool about that is that Kyle I think respects my opinion enough.

"He always wants it. Ultimately, we arrive at decisions. We will and come Thursday we'll have a pick that hopefully makes everyone proud, but that will judged in years to come. We've done our best to make sure it's a great decision for this franchise."

The NFL Draft is an event that is both defined by and consistently challenges conventional wisdom.

Offensive tackles with short arms - though they would be considered long for must people - are widely regarded as a risky proposition, yet versatile brick wall Rashawn Slater will go in the first round despite barely meeting the 33-inch threshold.

Running backs are not supposed to be selected in the first round anymore, but Travis Etienne, Najee Harris and Javonte Williams could all hear their name called on day one.

Then there is the notion that you should not draft a tight end in the top five, one that is about to be shattered by Florida phenom Kyle Pitts.

Over 6ft and 5in tall, weighing 245 pounds, Pitts ran the 40-yard dash at his pro day in a scorching 4.44 seconds.

That is the kind of physical profile that has linebackers and safeties waking up in cold sweats.

Not that there haven't been monstrous athletes at the tight end position before. The nature of the position - blocking defensive ends one play, going one on one with a defensive back the next - demands remarkable athletic gifts.

Vernon Davis, drafted sixth overall by the San Francisco 49ers in 2006, was 6ft 3in and 254 pounds and he ran the 40 in 4.38 seconds.

But Pitts is of a different ilk. Whereas Davis needed fine-tuning and took some time to reach his potential with San Francisco, Pitts heads to the league with a skill set that could hardly look more pro-ready.

Versatile, agile, Pitts is a big-play behemoth in the receiving game who has showcased an encouraging appetite for the dirty work on the line of scrimmage. As his Stats Perform data illustrates, Pitts is the tight end for whom a team should depart from the traditional groupthink.

A torrent of tight end production

Pitts was the best tight end in college football last season and, in terms of the raw statistics, it was not at all close.

Despite playing only eight games, Pitts led the FBS in receiving yards (770), with Hunter Long of Boston College his nearest challenger (685).

Pitts racked up 96.3 yards per game, nearly 14 more than Trey McBride (82.5), who played in half the number of games. The next player on the list to have featured in a comparable number of games, Ole Miss' Kenny Yeboah (7 games) averaged 74.9.

Beyond simply looking at his impact at his own position, Pitts made a compelling argument for being considered the top pass-catcher in the sport at any spot in 2020.

His yards per reception average of 17.9 was third in the FBS among all receivers with at least 40 catches last year, trailing Dyami Brown (20) and Dez Fitzpatrick (19.4).

Only two players to meet the same catches threshold last year had more touchdown catches than Pitts' 12 -- Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith (23) and Jaelon Darden (19).

And a deeper examination of the advanced metrics further illustrates Pitts' potential as a dynamic, multi-faceted weapon at the next level.

Pitts' position-less upside

Utterly dominant at the catch point, Pitts uses his size superbly well to bully defenders in contested-catch situations, making him a nightmare to defend on jump-balls in the red zone.

Blessed with incredible body control and a wingspan of over 83 inches that means few balls are beyond his radius regardless of how accurately they are thrown, Pitts' ability to adjust to the flight of the pass ensured he did not drop a single one in 2020.

His catch rating, which indicates how well a receiver successfully catches throws that are considered catchable, of 0.945 was 13th among Power 5 tight ends with at least 25 targets last year, but that number was still comfortably above the average of 0.919.

While there were a group of his college contemporaries who did a better job of reeling in catchable throws -- though none had as many targets as Pitts' 67 -- finding a player who could match his upside as a downfield weapon was a near-impossible task.

Responsible for 15 plays of 20 yards or more last year, Pitts used his terrifying to speed to get open up the seam at will, logging a big-play percentage of 48.8 per cent that just three players, none of whom had more than 40 targets, could top.

It is typically more difficult to get open the further you go downfield, however, Pitts, relying on his frightening agility as well as his elite speed to create separation defied that accepted school of thought.

Pitts' average depth of target was 13.3 yards, second only to Greg Dulcich of UCLA (15.0), yet he was among the elite when it came to recording burns. 

A burn is when a receiver wins his matchup against his defender regardless of whether the throw was catchable or not. Pitts averaged 3.93 burn yards per route, third behind Brevin Jordan of Miami (4.57) and James Mitchell of Virginia Tech (4.50).

Perhaps the predominant reason for the intrigue with Pitts is that his success in getting free from defenders was only marginally impacted by where he lined up.

Of Pitts' 216 routes, he ran 103 as a tight end, 52 as an outside receiver and 60 from the slot. His big-play percentage was 53.9 as a tight end, but it only dipped to 46.5 when he lined up outside and further to 41.9 from the slot.

His burn yards per route was also best from the tight end spot (4.62), with outside receiver next (3.40) ahead of the slot (3.27). However, his burn percentage increased from 67.7 when he played at tight end to 81.3 at the slot position.

While it is generally easier to get open from the slot, with quicker receivers running shorter routes in the underneath areas of the field, Pitts' burn percentage put him fourth among all pass-catchers with at least 15 slot targets.

That is what makes Pitts so appealing. He is clearly an elite tight end but also stands as a top-tier option from the slot who can win his matchups when playing as an outside receiver.

And he has another string to his bow.

Doing the dirty work

A significant question that is always asked of tight prospects surrounds whether they can survive, if not thrive, blocking on the end of the offensive line.

Though it is not Pitts' forte, it is far from a weakness.

In 20 pass protection snaps, Pitts allowed only one pressure, indicating that, while he is best off running routes on passing downs, he can stay in and provide protection for his quarterback when required.

He was more porous when asked to run block, allowing 10 run disruptions on 95 snaps, but his 85 wins in that regard show Pitts to be a player with the ability to move defenders off the ball and create lanes for the backs to hit.

It is rare to find tight end prospects who check every box. Pitts does all that and more.

The offensive coach lucky enough to have him added to their depth chart will know they have a player whom they can immediately rely on in every facet of the game.

More than that, though, they will have the football equivalent of the queen on the chessboard, with Pitts able to wield the power of his devastating skill set from anywhere on the field, allowing his coordinator to present a variety of different looks and create mismatches against linebackers, safeties and cornerbacks alike.

Pitts provides options scarcely offered by most tight ends. He is a true unicorn with a case for being the most complete player in the draft. Tight ends don't go in the top five, but position-less prospects who offer Pitts' level of firepower are more than worthy of that status.

The Cleveland Browns have locked in Baker Mayfield for 2022 after exercising their fifth-year option on the quarterback's contract.

Cleveland announced their move on Friday after Mayfield led the Browns to their first playoff victory in 26 years last season – a shock win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Mayfield – the number one pick in the 2018 NFL Draft – had a breakout 2020 campaign in which he threw for 3,563 yards, 26 touchdowns and just eight interceptions, while his passer rating of 95.9 was the third-best mark in franchise history.

Having thrown 21 interceptions in 2019, Mayfield was picked off only eight times in 2020, his touchdown to interception ratio of 3.25 good enough for ninth in the NFL, per Stats Perform.

Yet the upside of Cleveland's passing game still appeared limited. Mayfield was a disappointing tied for 17th with 43 completions of 20 yards or more.

Mayfield ranked sixth in the NFL in passer rating (118.4) on throws of 21 air yards or more among quarterbacks with at least 25 such attempts.

Since taking over as the full-time starter in Week 4 of the 2018 season, Mayfield has started 45 consecutive regular-season games and made both starts in the team's 2020 playoff games.

In his career so far, Mayfield has thrown for 11,115 yards, 75 touchdowns and 43 interceptions.

The Browns, meanwhile, also exercised their fifth-year option on 2018 number four pick Denzel Ward.

 

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