There was a surprise guest at the wedding of Real Betis star Joaquin in July 2005 – surprise because this particular appearance hinged on the outcome of a football match five weeks earlier.

As Joaquin and his new wife stood at the front of the church in his hometown of Puerto de Santa Maria, Cadiz, something else couldn't help but hog attention.

The Copa del Rey trophy, draped in green and white ribbons stood tall – literally, because it's huge – and proud.

That's right, the Copa del Rey was an especially notable guest at Joaquin's wedding, as the winger – then 23 years old – had only recently helped Betis to just their second success in the competition and first since 1977.

Joaquin has always been regarded as something of a practical joker, with that not-so-subtle wedding decoration very much from his wheelhouse.

Fast-forward 17 years and Joaquin is readying himself for another tilt at the crown with his beloved Betis, who themselves haven't reached the final since that momentous 2-1 extra-time win over Osasuna at the Vicente Calderon.

 

Fittingly, Betis' opponents on Saturday will be the other club most people would associate with Joaquin: Valencia, with whom he won the only other trophy of his career in 2008 – also the Copa – during a five-year spell.

That triumph spawned another curious – but no less Joaquin – photo of the winger with the trophy, as he was snapped stark naked squatting next to the cup in Valencia's dressing room.

Hopefully social media won't see a repeat of that one on Saturday…

Joaquin didn't feature for Valencia in that final, however, and therefore his 2005 success will gratefully remain the focus for most.

While Joaquin is by no means the Betis regular he was 17 years ago when he was an exciting fleet-footed winger, this occasion will still be all about him in the build-up, with there also a degree of aptness around the fact Saturday's game is taking place in Seville, at La Cartuja.

This campaign is expected to be Joaquin's last as a player. Now 40, his contract expires at the end of the season and in November he hinted retirement was likely in 2022. Betis coach Manuel Pellegrini quickly looked to sweep that under the rug, adamant such decisions will wait until 2021-22 is finished, and there's been very little public discussion of the subject from he or Joaquin since.

It's easy to understand why many aren't predicting another year of Joaquin in LaLiga, though. Even if you ignore the fairly important point of his age, his time on the pitch has reduced significantly this term.

In LaLiga he has made only two starts this season and in total featured for just 395 minutes. Of course, he's been used across multiple competitions in 2021-22 and was named in the starting XI eight times in the Europa League.

But while his 31 appearances is actually one more than in 2020-21, his minutes-per-game average of 36 (1,117 total) is 12.4 minutes fewer than last term, highlighting how he's become even more of a peripheral figure.

But that's not to say his influence has waned. Pellegrini stood aside before the first leg of their Copa semi-final defeat of Rayo Vallecano to let Joaquin deliver a speech.

He said: "Look each other in the eyes. We are here because of ourselves. I don't know if I should talk to you as a team-mate, friend or captain, but I will do it as a Betico, because I know what many of them must be feeling here today.

"They are going to be there until the death. The Beticos, and this club, have suffered for a long time. Sacrifice and effort lead to glory. That's the reward.

"I had an uncle who used to say, and he taught me this, that there's nothing more beautiful than making other people happy – today we have that chance. We're going to go out there and show we want to be in that final."

Betis fell behind early on in that game in Vallecas but went on to win the game 2-1. They then looked to be heading for extra time when Bebe spectacularly put Rayo ahead with 80 minutes played of the second leg in Seville, but a moment of inspiration from Joaquin right at the end opened the Rayo defence up.

He brought down a cross-field pass, glided away from Bebe and slipped a perfectly weighted pass in behind the defence for Sergio Canales, whose prodded pass was deflected towards goal and tapped in by Borja Iglesias.

The entire Betis bench and staff mobbed Joaquin at full-time, fully aware of what their achievement meant to him – but it was also a show of appreciation, with the veteran's cameo showing he remains a very useful option.

On a per-90-minute basis across all competitions this season, Joaquin tops Betis' charts for assists (0.32), expected assists (0.29) and chances created (2.9), while his 4.3 dribbles attempted is bettered by only three players.

 

Of course, his sample size is much smaller than the likes of Nabil Fekir and Canales – the point isn't that he's better than them, simply that he's packing a lot of quality into his relatively brief appearances.

Don't expect to see his name in Betis' line-up on Saturday, but do not be surprised if he comes on and makes a telling impact – given the legendary status he holds not only at Betis but also in LaLiga, there'll be many willing him to enjoy a successful end to a fine career.

Let's not forget, his 595 LaLiga appearances is a record for an outfield player, while only one man in Spanish top-flight history has appeared in more seasons (Miguel Soler, 20) than his 19.

Assuming he does in fact play some part on Saturday, it will be his 106th Copa del Rey appearance, extending another record among non-goalkeepers.

A 17th wedding anniversary might not be a big milestone for most, but you can count on Joaquin bringing the Copa along for the celebrations if Betis succeed this weekend.

If the battle for supremacy in your fantasy leagues is anything like as tight as the Premier League title race, there is no room for error.

That might encourage some managers to play it safe and stick with what they know, but the very best know how rewarding a risk can be.

So, should you wish to gamble and shuffle the pack, why not be guided by Stats Perform's Opta-powered picks?

Four players for the coming matchweek are highlighted below for your consideration...

MARTIN DUBRAVKA (Norwich City v Newcastle United)

It is probably safe to assume that at least until the turn of the year, few fantasy managers were relying on a Newcastle goalkeeper. Not only did the Magpies give three different keepers a run between the posts, but they conceded a Premier League record 80 goals in the calendar year of 2021.

However, it is all change in 2022. In fact, only Alisson (nine) and Ederson (seven) have kept more clean sheets than Dubravka (five) this year, with the Newcastle man now on six for the season.

He has conceded 13 goals over this spell (12 excluding own goals), but five of those came in a single match at Tottenham – and it is tough to imagine struggling Norwich similarly picking apart a now resolute Newcastle defence.

ALEX TELLES (Arsenal v Manchester United)

There may be plenty of movement of United players out of XIs this week, with none of those involved in Tuesday's 4-0 defeat at Liverpool emerging with any credit. However, Telles played no part from the bench.

Given how hapless that new-look United back line looked, it is hard to see how Telles will not come into the side four days later – and he has earned his place both in Rangnick's team and your fantasy selections.

No United player can better the left-back's three assists in 2022, with only Bruno Fernandes (35) and Jadon Sancho (21) creating more than his 13 chances.

MASON MOUNT (Chelsea v West Ham)

Chelsea will also be looking to make amends in a big game after their own shocking midweek defeat, but Mount at least continued his fine form against Arsenal, adding an assist after scoring two and creating another in his previous league outing at Southampton.

The England midfielder now has 10 goals and nine assists in the top flight this term, meaning he could soon become the first Chelsea player to reach double-figures in both categories since Eden Hazard in 2018-19 (16 goals and 15 assists). He would also be the youngest Blues man to achieve the feat at 23, with Juan Mata 24 in 2012-13 (10 goals and 10 assists).

Whether Mount gets the assist to reach that mark this weekend or not, only Mohamed Salah (34), Son Heung-min (23) and Harry Kane (20) have more than his 19 goal involvements this season, so expect him to plunder fantasy points one way or another.

IVAN TONEY (Brentford v Tottenham)

Tottenham may head into the weekend in fourth, but few will confidently back against Brentford. Spurs have lost their past five away London derbies, while only Chelsea have won more points in clashes between capital clubs this season than the Bees (14).

And if Brentford are to add to landmark victories over Arsenal and Chelsea with another against Tottenham, Toney is highly likely to have a key role to play, having scored eight goals and created another two in 2022.

Only Son (nine) – an opponent on Saturday – has netted more in this calendar year, although Kane (15) beats both for goal involvements.

The overarching narrative surrounding the 2022 NFL Draft class is well established. It's not a star-studded class, but it's a deep class.

And nowhere is this draft deeper than at edge rusher.

NFL teams place a premium on players who can get after the quarterback, but this year they may not have to spend a premium pick to land such a prospect who can make an immediate difference at the highest level.

Like quarterbacks, top pass rushers get pushed up the board, but some teams may be content to wait until day two of this year's draft to boost their front seven, safe in the knowledge that there will still be a host of talented edge players available.

By its very nature, the draft is a subjective exercise, but a look at the pressure numbers for the top edge rushers in this class provides an idea of how they should be stacked as opening night in Las Vegas draws ever closer.

The sure thing

He may not end up as the first overall pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars, but Michigan's Aidan Hutchinson has the most compelling case as the most complete and the most 'pro-ready' edge rusher in the draft.

Hutchinson has the flexibility to bend around the edge but can also win with his bull rush and has the quickness to successfully attack the inside shoulder of opposing offensive tackles.

Boasting a well-refined repertoire off pass rush moves, including the cross-chop, two-hand swipe, rip, club and swim, Hutchinson's pressure rate of 30.8 per cent in 2021 was topped only by UAB sleeper Alex Wright (31.3 per cent). Similarly, Wright (18.7 per cent) was the sole player to top Hutchinson's run disruption rate of 17.9 per cent.

Yet while Wright recorded 11.5 sacks in three seasons at a Group of Five school, Hutchinson had 14 in the 2021 campaign alone as he helped Michigan come within touching distance of the mountaintop – the Wolverines losing in the College Football Playoff semi-finals.

He also demonstrated considerable prowess against the run, registering double-digit tackles for loss in 2019 (10) and 2021 (16.5).

Beating a man on 72 of his 85 pressures in 2021, Hutchinson has an array of tools by which to defeat pass protection and will enter the league as a high-floor, day-one contributor.

Should the Jags choose to go in a different direction, the team that land him may be sending thank you cards to Jacksonville for years to come.

Debate club

At the start of last season, it would have been tough to find much debate around Oregon star Kayvon Thibodeaux, a prospect almost universally seen as a future top-five pick.

Now there are questions over whether he will even go in the top 10.

Any potential fall down the board will not be down to his ability to generate pressure, which he did on 24.5 per cent of his pass-rush snaps in 2021, beating a pass protector on 44 of his 49 pressures.

Instead, doubts around Thibodeaux seem to be tied to a perceived lack of effort and concerns over his love of the game, a reflection of the archaic way in which the league often views prospects who have the temerity to have outside interests away from the field.

Any such worries over his other interests should certainly not overshadow Thibodeaux's consistently outstanding performances, which have seen him create pressure through his excellent first step and ability to translate speed to power.

Indeed, Thibodeaux can generate an exceptional bull rush but can also bend around the edge and has the quickness to win to create disruption up the middle, his tremendous physical traits supplemented by a well-stocked repertoire of pass-rush moves.

With 35.5 tackles for loss and 19 sacks in three seasons, Thibodeaux has the production, the athleticism and the tape of a sure-fire top-five prospect. More bemusing than talk of him falling down the draft is the hype around the player who could well go number one overall.

Georgia's Travon Walker has the God-given athletic gifts over which teams salivate, running the 40 at the Combine in 4.51 seconds at 272 pounds, yet he does not have the production to back it up, with his tape from an extremely successful collegiate career with the Bulldogs leaving more questions than answers.

Deployed primarily as a run defender and often asked on passing downs to either drop into coverage or open up rushing lanes for blitzing linebackers, Walker had only 9.5 sacks in college. 

That six of those came in 2021 could be seen as a sign of progress. However, with Walker posting a pressure rate of just 12 per cent and beating his man on only 16 of his 31 pressures, he clearly still has a long way to go as a pass rusher.

Between his obvious explosiveness and the power he has in his hands, Walker is, in essence, an exciting project for the right defensive line coach to mould. However, the presence of more proven higher-floor pass rushers at the top of the draft makes the prospect of the Jaguars putting the burden of rapidly developing him on their staff a needless risk for Jacksonville.

Destined for day one

If the Jags are determined to hitch their wagon to a former Georgia star with only one season of college production, they would be better served by choosing Jermaine Johnson II to be that player.

Johnson transferred from Georgia to Florida State and thrived on a poor Seminoles team in 2021, racking up 11.5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss. 

A force against the run in his lone season in Tallahassee, Johnson's pressure rate of 16.8 does not paint the picture of an elite edge prospect.

However, only Hutchinson had more adjusted sacks (18) than Johnson's 17, a two-hand swipe move and a spin move helping him beat a pass protector on 40 of his 50 pressures. If he can become more consistent in pairing his explosiveness with leverage and use his flexibility to turn the corner more regularly, Johnson has a chance to emerge as the cream of this year's edge rush crop.

Penn State's Arnold Ebiketie is another transfer who made the most of his change of scenery, excelling in his single year with the Nittany Lions after switching from Temple, using his long arms to superb effect as he posted a pressure rate of 21.1 per cent, his success in getting into the pads of opposing pass protectors allowing him to record 9.5 sacks and 18 tackles for loss.

Ebiketie is still building his pass rush weaponry but blends leverage, speed and power to win with his bull rush. Able to win to the inside and around the edge, the arrow is pointing up for Ebiketie and there will be no shortage of teams ready to try to keep him on that trajectory in the pros.

Explosiveness and power are the calling cards of Purdue's George Karlaftis, who, after playing only two games in 2020, had a pressure rate of 21.9 per cent last season.

Only Hutchinson and Wright beat a pass protector more often than Karlaftis (47), and the former Boilermaker figures to soon be testing the anchor of tackles around the league after consistently putting Big Ten competition on skates.

Each of that trio are likely to come off the board on night one. That same honour probably won't be afforded to South Carolina's Kingsley Enagbare or Drake Jackson of USC, though both had top-five pressure rates in 2021.

Enagbare (24.6) has an array of moves to rival Hutchinson and a bull rush akin to that of Karlaftis when he puts it all together, but a lack of speed and flexibility to turn the corner may force him to wait until day two. Jackson (24.2) was third in adjusted sack rate (6.7 per cent) and flashed dominance with his first step and dip to get around the edge, but a failure to truly take over games at the Pac-12 level will likely mean his celebrations will have to wait until the Friday of draft week.

The injury gamble

Hutchinson's former Michigan team-mate David Ojabo would almost certainly be in the first-round mix had he not suffered an Achilles injury during his pro day.

Due to that piece of misfortune, teams must now decide whether they are willing to take a risk on a player who may not be healthy enough to contribute significantly as a rookie.

Agreeing to that gamble will mean putting faith in Ojabo's long-term potential, which is undoubted.

Nigerian-born Ojabo moved to the United States from Scotland in 2017 and originally played basketball before turning his attention to American football.

Still relatively inexperienced, Ojabo has enticing room to grow but at the same time demonstrated impressive polish as he broke out in 2021 with 11 sacks and 12 tackles for loss.

With a pressure rate of 21.3 per cent and the highest adjusted sack rate in the class at 7.6 per cent, Ojabo can get the better of pass blockers through a number of avenues.

He has the speed to get around the edge, has developed an excellent spin move and possesses a rip move with which he has also found success.

For a player who came to the sport late, Ojabo has also demonstrated impressive awareness of the importance of playing half a man when rushing the passer.

Encouragingly refined but still boasting untapped potential, there is obvious risk in taking Ojabo, but depending on the progress of his recovery, he could quickly make an impact as a designated pass rusher on third down.

After months of speculation, Manchester United have confirmed Erik ten Hag will take over as the club's new manager at the end of another frustrating season at Old Trafford.

The 52-year-old will have a huge job on his hands when he arrives this summer, with the Red Devils looking unlikely to qualify for the Champions League after struggling under both Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Ralf Rangnick this term.

High up on Ten Hag's to-do list will be deciding who amongst the current squad will be suited to playing his high-pressing, possession-based style of football.

Here, Stats Perform uses Opta-powered data to give an insight into three players who could impress under the Dutchman, and three who may find their days numbered after his arrival…

Who might star under Ten Hag?

Donny Van de Beek

An easy choice. Van de Beek emerged as a star under Ten Hag's tutelage at Ajax, and was a driving force being the Amsterdam giants' terrific run to the Champions League semi-finals in 2018-19. Installed as a creative midfielder alongside Frenkie de Jong, Van de Beek scored three goals and provided two assists during that famous run, with only Dusan Tadic (six) outscoring him for Ajax in the competition.

Having played a paltry 381 minutes for United across 14 appearances this season before being sent on loan to Everton in January, the 25-year-old looks the most obvious player to benefit from the arrival of his former coach

Jadon Sancho

Another player likely to thrive under Ten Hag is England winger Jadon Sancho, who has registered five goals and three assists in 37 appearances in all competitions for the Red Devils since moving from Borussia Dortmund last summer.

Only Bruno Fernandes (98) has created more open-play chances for United this term than Sancho (47), and he definitely stands to benefit from the arrival of a coach whose teams play with genuine width.

Each of Tadic (15), Antony (12), and Steven Berghuis (11) have reached double figures for Eredivisie goals for Ajax this term, so their former coach could be the man to get the best of the England man.

Luke Shaw

Ten Hag's Ajax team deployed their full-backs as a key attacking threat, with Argentine left-back Nicolas Tagliafico netting three goals during 2018-19's Champions League run.

Amongst Premier League defenders, only Trent Alexander-Arnold created more than the 72 chances crafted by Red Devils left-back Shaw during the 2020-21 season, and the England man could rediscover that form if unleashed by United's new boss.

Who might see their position threatened?

Harry Maguire 

The United skipper has faced much criticism for his role in another poor campaign for the Red Devils, and could be the first big-name casualty of Ten Hag's attempts to install a more progressive style of play.

No United defender has made as many errors leading to shots as Maguire in the Premier League this term (three), while his passing accuracy of 86.37 per cent is marginally lower than those of fellow defenders Raphael Varane (87.47) and Victor Lindelof (86.63), potentially marking out the England man as ripe for a replacement.

David De Gea

When another possession-hungry coach arrived in Manchester back in 2016, one of his first moves involved finding a goalkeeper he could trust to participate as his team tried to build from the back.

That man, of course, was Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola, and Ten Hag could look to replicate his acquisition of Ederson by replacing De Gea. The Spaniard has recorded a pass accuracy of just 68.81 per cent in the Premier League this season, way short of elite rivals Ederson (88.35) and Allison (85.22).

Cristiano Ronaldo

Hear us out on this one. The legendary striker's goalscoring prowess remains unrivalled, and his 21 goals in all competitions since returning to Old Trafford last summer put him a long way clear of his nearest team-mate (Bruno Fernandes with nine).

However, the height of Ten Hag's success at Ajax came with Tadic used as a false nine in 2018-19, recording 10 goal involvements (six goals, four assists) during their thrilling European run. 

Besides, with Ronaldo's 140 strikes placing him at the top of the Champions League's all-time top goalscoring charts, can the 37-year-old really be expected to forgo playing in European football's premier competition if United fail to qualify? If not, a potentially tough decision regarding his future could be taken out of Ten Hag's hands.

After months of speculation, Manchester United have confirmed Erik ten Hag will take over as the club's new manager at the end of another frustrating season at Old Trafford.

The 52-year-old will have a huge job on his hands when he arrives this summer, with the Red Devils looking unlikely to qualify for the Champions League after struggling under both Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Ralf Rangnick this term.

High up on Ten Hag's to-do list will be deciding who amongst the current squad will be suited to playing his high-pressing, possession-based style of football.

Here, Stats Perform uses Opta-powered data to give an insight into three players who could impress under the Dutchman, and three who may find their days numbered after his arrival…

Who might star under Ten Hag?

Donny Van de Beek

An easy choice. Van de Beek emerged as a star under Ten Hag's tutelage at Ajax, and was a driving force being the Amsterdam giants' terrific run to the Champions League semi-finals in 2018-19. Installed as a creative midfielder alongside Frenkie de Jong, Van de Beek scored three goals and provided two assists during that famous run, with only Dusan Tadic (six) outscoring him for Ajax in the competition.

Having played a paltry 381 minutes for United across 14 appearances this season before being sent on loan to Everton in January, the 25-year-old looks the most obvious player to benefit from the arrival of his former coach

Jadon Sancho

Another player likely to thrive under Ten Hag is England winger Jadon Sancho, who has registered five goals and three assists in 37 appearances in all competitions for the Red Devils since moving from Borussia Dortmund last summer.

Only Bruno Fernandes (98) has created more open-play chances for United this term than Sancho (47), and he definitely stands to benefit from the arrival of a coach whose teams play with genuine width.

Each of Tadic (15), Antony (12), and Steven Berghuis (11) have reached double figures for Eredivisie goals for Ajax this term, so their former coach could be the man to get the best of the England man.

Luke Shaw

Ten Hag's Ajax team deployed their full-backs as a key attacking threat, with Argentine left-back Nicolas Tagliafico netting three goals during 2018-19's Champions League run.

Amongst Premier League defenders, only Trent Alexander-Arnold created more than the 72 chances crafted by Red Devils left-back Shaw during the 2020-21 season, and the England man could rediscover that form if unleashed by United's new boss.

Who might see their position threatened?

Harry Maguire 

The United skipper has faced much criticism for his role in another poor campaign for the Red Devils, and could be the first big-name casualty of Ten Hag's attempts to install a more progressive style of play.

No United defender has made as many errors leading to shots as Maguire in the Premier League this term (three), while his passing accuracy of 86.37 per cent is marginally lower than those of fellow defenders Raphael Varane (87.47) and Victor Lindelof (86.63), potentially marking out the England man as ripe for a replacement.

David De Gea

When another possession-hungry coach arrived in Manchester back in 2016, one of his first moves involved finding a goalkeeper he could trust to participate as his team tried to build from the back.

That man, of course, was Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola, and Ten Hag could look to replicate his acquisition of Ederson by replacing De Gea. The Spaniard has recorded a pass accuracy of just 68.81 per cent in the Premier League this season, way short of elite rivals Ederson (88.35) and Allison (85.22).

Cristiano Ronaldo

Hear us out on this one. The legendary striker's goalscoring prowess remains unrivalled, and his 21 goals in all competitions since returning to Old Trafford last summer put him a long way clear of his nearest team-mate (Bruno Fernandes with nine).

However, the height of Ten Hag's success at Ajax came with Tadic used as a false nine in 2018-19, recording 10 goal involvements (six goals, four assists) during their thrilling European run. 

Besides, with Ronaldo's 140 strikes placing him at the top of the Champions League's all-time top goalscoring charts, can the 37-year-old really be expected to forgo playing in European football's premier competition if United fail to qualify? If not, a potentially tough decision regarding his future could be taken out of Ten Hag's hands.

Plenty of bad teams have needs at wide receiver, but that is hardly unique to this 2022 NFL Draft.

The Houston Texans and the Atlanta Falcons, for instance, just need good players at any position.

Elsewhere, the Jacksonville Jaguars, the New York Jets and the Chicago Bears are attempting to build around young quarterbacks, perhaps optimistically hoping to follow the example of the Cincinnati Bengals – who took Joe Burrow and the 2021 WR1 Ja'Marr Chase all the way to the Super Bowl.

The upcoming draft is a little different, though, in that at least two teams with far more realistic title ambitions will be targeting the brightest and best receivers another deep class has to offer.

Both the Green Bay Packers and the Kansas City Chiefs have two first-round picks; particularly in the case of the Packers, they badly need them.

Aaron Rodgers is back for another year, but Davante Adams is not. Adams – who was stunningly traded to the Las Vegas Raiders, where he was given a lucrative contract – accounted for 30.6 per cent of the Packers' catches and 34.3 per cent of their receiving yards last season. He leaves a huge hole.

Allen Lazard and Randall Cobb are returning and will have big roles to play, but Marquez Valdes-Scantling – the Packers' deep-ball option, with the greatest average depth of target in the NFL in consecutive seasons – is also gone.

The Packers are only too aware of what can happen when quarterback Rodgers is not backed in the first round of the draft, so it would be no great surprise to see two leading wideouts head to Green Bay.

The Chiefs are in a similar position, having also traded their dominant receiver and allowed another team – the Miami Dolphins – to pay Tyreek Hill. Only Adams (47) has caught more touchdown passes than Hill (43) since Patrick Mahomes' debut on New Year's Eve 2017.

Although Mahomes does have a leading tight end to fall back on in Travis Kelce, the Chiefs' work so far in this offseason – including bringing in Valdes-Scantling – does not quite look to have restored their offense to its former glories. Especially in the highly competitive AFC West that Adams now occupies.

Finding a player of the ilk of Adams or Hill is a tall order, but the Chiefs, like the Packers, have to try. So, who are the pass catchers under consideration in the first round?

Jameson Williams

On pure talent, Williams – who had 79 catches for 1,572 yards and 15 TDs in 2021 – should be gone long before the Packers or the Chiefs are on the clock. But an ACL tear in January might see him fall just a little further.

There is not a statistic that reflects poorly on Williams, although he is of interest primarily due to the remarkable speed that makes him an elite separator, much like Hill. At Alabama, the transfer from Ohio State had a burn rate of 74.6 per cent, winning his matchup with a defender on almost three-quarters of his targets and recording 19.3 burn yards per target – both well clear of his fellow first-round candidates, as he was in getting open on 86.0 per cent of targets.

Hill (70.8 per cent) ranked fourth in the NFL last year for burn rate and was open on 82.7 per cent of targets.

Crucially, heading into the NFL, Williams showed himself to be capable of operating either out wide or in the slot. The 21-year-old's burn rate playing inside was 77.5 per cent, actually up on his 73.0 per cent playing as an outside receiver.

Garrett Wilson

Williams left Ohio State having found himself behind two receivers who may go in the first round this year – including Wilson, who is rivalling Williams for WR1 in a number of mock drafts.

Wilson had 70 catches for 1,058 yards and 12 TDs last year and also does not lack for speed, running a 4.38 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine. His calling cards, however, are the lower-body flexibility, foot quickness, and route-running savvy that propelled him to 15.1 yards per reception and allowed him to register a burn on 71.6 per cent of his targets.

Of the two Ohio State receivers on this list – we'll come on to the other – Wilson was less of a deep-ball threat, with his average depth of target 11.3 yards.

That is far from an issue for a team looking for a primary option, however, instead showing the variety that was asked of Adams (9.4 yards) and Hill (10.3 yards) in 2021.

Chris Olave

Completing the trio who were Buckeye team-mates for two seasons is Olave, who also shared touches with Wilson last year, even if they were tasked with different roles.

Olave was targeted on just 26.9 per cent of his routes, compared to 30.6 per cent for Wilson, but that was because he often provided the deep threat.

His average depth of target was 14.3 yards in 2021 and had been a huge 18.9 yards in his previous full season in 2019, third-most among Power 5 receivers. Perhaps he makes more sense for the Packers, who have just lost Valdes-Scantling, than for the Chiefs, who have just signed him.

Either way, this is a role Olave relishes, catching 13 TD passes last season to boost him to 35 across a four-year college career, the most in Ohio State history. A smooth and, like Wilson, detailed route-runner who tracks the ball extremely well, Wilson would surely thrive immediately if paired with Rodgers. 

Treylon Burks

If Olave does not fit the bill for either the Packers or the Chiefs, Burks might, for his game is completely different to the man from Ohio State.

Burks' average depth of target last year was just 9.4 yards as he was regularly deployed out of the backfield by Arkansas, who consistently got the ball in his hands through screen passes and designed hand-offs. 

Part of their reason for doing so was the threat Burks poses in the open field. He averaged 9.27 yards after the catch in 2021 – more than Williams' 9.16.

Burks far outperformed his 7.96 expected yards per target and recorded 14.08 burn yards per target, making excellent use of his combination of physicality and play speed that was not reflected by his 4.55 40-yard dash. 

Able to win downfield by relying on his frame and his route-running ability, Burks may possess the most varied skill set of any receiver in the draft, having registered 38 carries across three seasons with the Razorbacks and drawing comparisons to San Francisco 49ers 'wide back' Deebo Samuel.

If he can be that sort of player in the NFL, Burks works for the Packers, the Chiefs or just about anybody.

Jahan Dotson

While some on this list are worth considering for their physical attributes alone, it is Dotson's ball skills that make him stand out.

His catch rating – measured between 0 and 1 based on how well a receiver successfully catches throws that are considered catchable – was an outstanding 0.978 in 2021. He dropped only a single pass.

Reflecting on an incredible one-handed catch against Ohio State in 2020, the Penn State star said: "I approach that [ball] as a million dollars. It's a million dollars in the air. If you want it, you go get it." Dotson will make plenty of money in the NFL if he continues to rein in similar passes.

Dotson was not outstanding at beating defenders (63.8 per cent) or getting open (76.6 per cent) last season but still caught 12 TD passes on a Penn State team that struggled amid sub-par quarterback play in 2021.

Drake London

Now, the Packers and the Chiefs will not be looking at London as a like-for-like replacement for Adams or Hill.

Finding a comparison for London is not an easy task, as few players are blessed with his blend of size and fluidity as a route-runner. 

London is 6ft 4in but just 213lbs and initially played basketball as well as football at USC.

A broken ankle meant he did not run a 40-yard dash at either the NFL Combine or his pro day, but his speed is not considered to be anything special – not that it matters.

Despite getting open on just 67.2 per cent of his targets in 2021, he beat his defender in 71.3 per cent of matchups, speaking to the ease with which he can change direction. 

"I really don't have to blow by guys to catch the ball," he said. "I can, but I don't have to."

There were five drops, but London faced a huge number of contested catches and usually came out on top thanks to long arms and considerable wingspan.

He will need a quarterback who will trust him to come away with the ball even if he is not open, as was the case last season when he was targeted on a mammoth 42.4 per cent of his routes.

Good luck Erik ten Hag.

When Manchester United announce – as expected – the Ajax boss as their next permanent manager, social media will be flooded with suggestions of what he needs to do or fix to get the club challenging for titles again, and it's going to be a long list.

On the evidence of United's performances against Liverpool – who will surely be one of the two teams to beat again in 2022-23 – this term, the chasm between the Old Trafford club and the best is at its widest in a generation.

Liverpool crushed them 5-0 at Old Trafford in November, though Tuesday's 4-0 loss at Anfield was arguably worse and probably even had interim manager Ralf Rangnick considering his own future.

The most ardent of Man Utd fans would've been feeling glum pre-match about their chances here, though there would always be a hint of 'what if'.

It's football. There could always be a freak goal, a comical own goal, one moment of individual brilliance. Throughout the history of the sport there have been countless examples of teams absorbing pressure for 90 minutes and stealing a winner.

As bad as United have been at times this season, and as good as Liverpool are in general, fixtures like this bring a sense of unpredictability – or at least they're supposed to.

As arguably the most recognised and historic rivalry in English football, the minimum one would've expected from United was a bit of desire to get one over the Reds, maybe dent their quadruple hopes. But there was no sign of such spirit until it was already too late.

Frankly, United's first-half performance was a joke. Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville, a former Red Devils captain, said before the game that this was their worst team in "30-40 years", and it was difficult to disagree with him come half-time.

Of course, it should be said that this wasn't just about United being poor: Liverpool were excellent for much of the game. Thiago Alcantara was a joy to watch in midfield as he almost single-handedly pulled Rangnick's defence and midfield this way and that. Even the Spain international's inaccurate passes were satisfying to see because you saw the invention and vision behind them.

But it was the speed, directness and ruthlessness that typifies this Liverpool team that brought the fifth-minute opener, as they cleverly worked space on the right in their own half before Sadio Mane released Trent Alexander-Arnold, who subsequently picked out Luis Diaz for a tap-in.

Their second goal was even better as they retained possession and sliced through United with a one-touch passing move that culminated in an outrageous Mane reverse pass over the defence for Mohamed Salah to collect before slotting home.

But the lack of character their visitors showed was astonishing. Liverpool seemed to have the freedom of the pitch, they passed through midfield as if Nemanja Matic, Jesse Lingard and Bruno Fernandes weren't there. Players were walking.

United reached half-time without a single shot, a first in the league since April 2018. Granted, they went on to beat Manchester City 3-2 on that occasion... But even the suggestion that something similar might've been on the cards here would've drawn laughter.

Similarly galling was the fact United only committed two fouls in the first 45. Without wanting to sound like Roy Keane ("you know what I might do, I might smash into somebody, just to make me feel better!"), when being played off the park a degree of petulance is almost to be expected, but they couldn't even muster that level of frustration.

Things did change briefly after the interval. Rangnick ditched his back three and introduced Jadon Sancho, and suddenly United looked... functional. Players were running, they were hounding their counterparts. They had a shot, then a second. A whole two shots!

Jurgen Klopp stood aghast on the touchline in the 65th minute, his mouth gaping for a full 10 seconds after Alisson had to make two saves in quick succession – they didn't count technically in the stats because an offside was erroneously given, but the Brazilian undoubtedly denied a goal that would have been given by VAR had they scored.

But United's brief improvement said more about Liverpool's post-break drop-off, and they soon snapped out of it – three minutes later it was game over, if it wasn't already. Andrew Robertson made an interception ahead of Anthony Elanga, then Diaz's pinpoint cross was expertly turned in by Mane.

Salah completed the scoring late on with a deft finish that was helped by a slight deflection. While there was a hint of fortune, it ensured the scoreline greater reflected the Reds' dominance.

The nine goals United have conceded to Liverpool this season is the most they've ever shipped against one team in a single campaign. Their 9-0 aggregate loss to the Reds over 2021-22 is their worst to one opponent in the league since 1892-93. Yes, that's 1892, not a typo of 1992.

Much of the build-up to this was dominated by talk of club structures, recruitment and 'synergy', but honestly, fans will just hope Ten Hag can instil a bit of fight, assuming he's not run for the hills already.

With Manchester City and Liverpool facing off in the FA Cup on Saturday, the Premier League's attention turned to the race for a top-four spot.

Cristiano Ronaldo scored a hat-trick as Manchester United beat Norwich City 3-2, with the Red Devils taking full advantage of 1-0 defeats for Tottenham and Arsenal against Brighton and Hove Albion and Southampton respectively.

Elsewhere, Watford's slim survival hopes were dealt a blow as they suffered a 2-1 defeat to Brentford.  

Stats Perform takes a look at some key Opta facts from the day's games.

Manchester United 3-2 Norwich City: Ronaldo racks up yet another treble

Ralf Rangnick's side delivered another disjointed performance at Old Trafford, yet they did enough to secure a 13th win in their past 16 Premier League games against the Canaries.

Ronaldo was the star of the show, the Portuguese superstar plundering the 60th hat-trick of his professional career for club and country.

The 37-year-old has now scored 20 or more goals across all competitions in each of his past 16 seasons at club level – a run that started in the 2006-07 campaign during his first spell at United.

His first goal was teed up by Anthony Elanga, who is 17 years and 81 days younger than Ronaldo. It is the greatest age gap between a United goalscorer and the player who assisted him in Premier League history.

Teemu Pukki had given Norwich hope of a memorable result when he pulled the visitors level at 2-2 from 2-0 down, the Finland international becoming the first Canaries player to score 10 or more goals in two different Premier League campaigns (11 in 2019-20 and 10 in 2021-22).

As is so often the way, though, Ronaldo had the last word.

Tottenham 0-1 Brighton and Hove Albion: Seagulls leave it late to edge out blunt hosts

Spurs missed the chance to strengthen their grip on fourth position as they suffered a third home defeat in their past six home Premier League games – as many as in their previous 14 on home soil.

Despite starting with the in-from trio of Harry Kane, Son Heung-min and Dejan Kulusevski in attack, Spurs did not manage a single shot on target. It was the first time they had failed to do so in 21 Premier League games, since November last year against Everton.

Brighton's winner came in the 90th minute through Leandro Trossard, who has now scored six goals in the top flight this season – his best-ever season return in the competition.

Graham Potter's side have now won consecutive away league games for the first time since September 2021 and are unbeaten in three Premier League games, winning the last two, after losing each of the six before that.

Southampton 1-0 Arsenal: Wasteful Gunners punished by Saints

Arsenal missed the chance to pull level on points with Tottenham after a third consecutive Premier League defeat, having lost just two of their previous 13.

The Gunners dominated at St Mary's, taking 23 shots and enjoying 76 per cent possession. There have been 11 instances of a team failing to score having taken 20 or more shots in a Premier League match this season, with Arsenal responsible for three of those.

They were undone by Jan Bednarek's goal on the stroke of half-time, the first they have conceded from a corner situation in the top flight this season.

Bednarek has now scored four goals in 27 Premier League games this season, which is one more than he scored in his previous four campaigns combined (three in 100 appearances).

Watford 1-2 Brentford: Hornets' miserable home run continues

Pontus Jansson's 95th-minute winner for Brentford meant Watford became only the third team to lose 10 consecutive top-flight home games in a row, after Birmingham City in February 1986 and Sunderland in August 2005.

Alongside Birmingham, they are only the second to do so within a single season.

That run means Hornets boss Roy Hodgson is the first manager to lose his first five home Premier League games in charge of a club since Chris Ramsey with QPR in 2015.

Brentford, meanwhile, have won five of their last six Premier League games (L1) and have won three top-flight games in a row for the first time since September 1946.

An unlikely quadruple remains very much on for Liverpool after a 3-2 victory against Manchester City in the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley.

The national stadium was bathed in sunshine, resplendent, eagerly anticipating round two of arguably the biggest heavyweight clash in world football right now.

Fair enough, technically round three if you include the Anfield game earlier this season, but it felt like a second leg after last week's exhilarating 2-2 draw at the Etihad Stadium that left City one point ahead of the Reds in the race for the Premier League title.

A relatively innocent declaration from former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher recently that this is now the biggest rivalry in English football caused uproar from those who remember the days of Manchester United and Arsenal going at it, publicly hating one another, fiery encounters, pizza lobbing. That rivalry admittedly had it all.

This is a rivalry of quality, though. It would be a stretch to say City and Liverpool like each other, but there is a clear mutual respect, which some claim stops it being a proper rivalry.

It is an odd thing to point to when the same people were seemingly disgusted by the scenes at the Wanda Metropolitano on Wednesday as City and Atletico Madrid players did not exactly shake hands after the final whistle.

There was some ill-feeling in Wembley ahead of kick-off, with a section of City fans choosing to make noise during a moment of silence to mark the anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster, which the Manchester club later condemned in a statement.

Purely from a football perspective, this is as good as it gets, possibly in the world. It is the new Real Madrid v Barcelona, and this was the latest chapter, their first meeting at Wembley since the 2019 Community Shield, which City won on penalties.

 

Of course, no-one particularly wanted to be at Wembley, as nice as it looked. With travel from the north west of England heavily affected by a lack of train services over the Easter weekend, questions were raised as to why both sets of fans were forced to travel to London to play a game that was not even a final, but that is a conversation for another day.

On this day, it was the red of Liverpool that reigned supreme.

A strong start for Klopp's men saw Ibrahima Konate continue his recent goalscoring form, nodding in his third goal for Liverpool in the space of four games from Andy Robertson's outswinging corner.

The freshness of the Reds told in the early stages, with Klopp having rested a number of key players in the week, while City had experienced a tough away trip to Madrid, and Guardiola was forced to make several changes to his usual line-up.

His decision to swap goalkeepers soon came back to bite him as Sadio Mane closed down Zack Steffen. While Ederson had teased Diogo Jota at the Etihad in a similar way, Steffen could not match the Brazilian's calmness and saw himself tackled by Mane to concede a farcical second.

Liverpool's midfield was masterful at Wembley. Fabinho managed to keep City's band of attacking midfielders relatively quiet, even after picking up a first-half yellow card. Thiago was just as mesmeric as he had been at the Etihad, finding or creating space, making full use of the vast pitch, and it was his sumptuous dinked ball out to Mane that led to the third, with the Senegalese smashing home inside Steffen's near post.

 

Of all three Liverpool midfielders, though, you could argue it was Naby Keita who stood out most.

The Guinea international has struggled for fitness and consistency pretty much ever since he arrived in a big-money move from RB Leipzig in 2018, but picked ahead of captain Jordan Henderson for this huge game, he did not let his manager down.

Keita won possession seven times, more than any other player on the pitch in the 73 minutes he featured, and with the ball during that time, nearly matched Thiago (26) for passes in the opposition half (24).

Last week's league encounter had seen City dominate the first half before Liverpool came back in the second, and it seemed the reverse was happening here, except the Merseysiders made more of their dominance with a three-goal lead at the break.

Guardiola's men started the second half much quicker, and had pulled it back to 3-1 within minutes, with a nice Gabriel Jesus run ending with Jack Grealish firing home, just days after admitting he wanted to score more goals after his £100million move from Aston Villa last year.

This was not the same City as last week though, quite literally given the number of changes, and they rarely looked like troubling their title rivals after that, with Jesus hitting an effort when through on goal straight at fellow countryman Alisson.

The Premier League leaders struggled, with just one shot in the first half and Grealish's goal their first effort on target. Their passing accuracy was also way down from its usual high standards at just 80.5 per cent, playing more long balls and failing to deal with Liverpool's famous press.

Though he did not find the net himself, the impact of Luis Diaz was clear for all to see again. The Colombian seems to be improving alongside Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah game on game.

He won four fouls as he was a constant thorn in the side of Joao Cancelo, while Mane also carried on the fine form he showed at the Etihad.

The former Southampton man became the first Liverpool player to score twice in an FA Cup semi-final since Robbie Fowler against Aston Villa in 1996, and the first to score a brace for the Reds at Wembley since Steve McManaman in the League Cup final against Bolton Wanderers in 1995.

In typical City fashion, they refused to give up until the end, making things interesting with a second goal back in stoppage time courtesy of Bernardo Silva after fine work from substitute Riyad Mahrez.

This was Liverpool's day, though, and if City struck a blow by staying ahead of the Reds in the league last week, Klopp's men responded with one of their own here as we head towards what promises to be an increasingly fascinating rivalry.

Liverpool fans sang Dua Lipa's 'One Kiss' as they got ready for a long journey back up the motorway, safe in the knowledge that history still beckons this season.

Sevilla and Real Madrid were title rivals when they last met in LaLiga back in November.

Then, as is the case now, Madrid led the table, but Sevilla were just two points back in third having played the same number of games. Optimism was growing for a genuine title fight.

But the team the capital from behind to win 2-1 through a late Vinicius Junior goal and have since opened a significant gap to Sevilla.

Including the three earned at the Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid have collected 10 more points than Sevilla in the intervening period.

Now, as the sides prepare to face off again at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, Carlo Ancelotti's men – fresh from reaching the Champions League semi-finals – look to be coasting towards a 35th championship.

Even victory for Sevilla would only close the deficit to nine points with six games to play – and such a result feels highly unlikely based on recent history.

One-sided recent rivalry

Perhaps discussion of a tussle at the top earlier in the season was premature given Madrid's dominance of this fixture in the past few seasons.

Defeat at the Bernabeu was Sevilla's fifth in six league matches against Madrid, with their other encounter in that run a draw.

Indeed, this is their worst winless run against Madrid since a sequence of 15 games between May 1993 and April 2003 – 13 of which were losses. That was Sevilla's longest such streak against Madrid in LaLiga history.

 

Away day success in Andalusia 

This miserable stretch for Sevilla has included consecutive home defeats to Madrid, who are now bidding to win three in a row away from home in this fixture for the first time since a run of four ended in November 1996.

Those past two Madrid victories have been by 1-0 scorelines, meaning they could become only the third team in LaLiga history to win three in a row at Sevilla without conceding after Barcelona in March 1961 (three matches) and Celta Vigo in November 2003 (four).

Madrid have enjoyed recent trips to Andalusia as a whole, winning on their past seven visits. This is their best ever such run in LaLiga.

Los Blancos have scored in 31 of their past 32 league matches in the region (W24 D2 L6) for 78 goals in total at a rate of 2.44 goals per game.

Can ex-flop Lop stop the rot?

The match in November was Sevilla coach Julen Lopetegui's 100th in LaLiga, but it should have come as no surprise that it did not come to plan. His career rarely has when Lopetegui has become entwined with Madrid.

His Spain tenure was ended prematurely when he agreed to join Madrid as coach on the eve of the 2018 World Cup – a decision that panned out for nobody.

Lopetegui oversaw just six wins in 14 matches in all competitions before he was sacked after a 5-1 defeat to rivals Barcelona. His win rate of 42.9 per cent was the second-lowest among all Madrid coaches to oversee multiple games.

As evidenced by the result in November, things have scarcely improved for Lopetegui where Madrid are concerned since his dismissal.

He has overseen five of the six matches in Sevilla's winless run in this fixture, with the four defeats tied for his most against any team in LaLiga – along with Barca, of course.

On the other hand, opposite number Ancelotti has won six of his seven games against Sevilla as a coach, including two victories in finals, winning the UEFA Super Cup with Milan in 2007 and Madrid in 2014.

Benz at his best while Martial flounders

It was hoped the January signing of Anthony Martial would boost Sevilla's title hopes, yet his only goal in their colours so far came in the Europa League against Dinamo Zagreb.

There has been just a single assist in LaLiga, too, meaning Martial is still waiting for his 100th goal involvement in Europe's top five leagues two months on from his 99th – that tee-up for Rafa Mir against Elche.

 

This underwhelming form stands in stark contrast to that of compatriot Karim Benzema, who has 38 goals in 38 games in all competitions this season, with only Robert Lewandowski matching his 51 goal involvements among players in Europe's top five leagues.

Benzema has eight goals in 21 LaLiga games against Sevilla, although he has scored just once in 10 visits to the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan. Only at Camp Nou (one goal in 13 games) has he played as many games while scoring so few goals.

Of all the seasons to improve that return, though, this is surely the one.

Thanks to the FA Cup semi-finals, matchday 33 in the Premier League is a bit more spread out, with just six games taking place at the weekend.

A further six games are scheduled for midweek, so there is a chance to get some of those pulling double duty in your fantasy team.

Whether your interests lie in the title race, the top-four scuffle or the relegation battle, there promises to be entertainment for everyone.

Therefore, it is time for Stats Perform to give you some suggested picks for your team using stats from the wonderful people at Opta.

HUGO LLORIS (Tottenham v Brighton and Hove Albion)

As odd as it sounds after a 4-0 win, had it not been for Lloris' heroics between the sticks last time out, Spurs could very well have lost against Aston Villa.

The Spurs captain made seven saves in the first half at Villa Park to keep Steven Gerrard's team out, with the visitors scoring four from their five on target in an afternoon of ruthless efficiency that had Antonio Conte smiling.

Only Alisson and Ederson (both 17) have kept more clean sheets in the Premier League this season than Lloris (12), while the Frenchman last recorded more shutouts in a single campaign in 2017-18 (15).

JOAO CANCELO (Manchester City v Brighton and Hove Albion)

This feels like we're picking on Brighton, but the fixture computer has not been kind to them, pitting them against two of the league's most in-form teams this week.

Only Gabriel Jesus (seven) has more assists for City in the Premier League this season than Joao Cancelo (six), as many as in his previous three league seasons combined.

As well as that, Cancelo is part of a staunch City defence that has conceded the fewest goals in the league this season (20), and against a Brighton side that has scored fewer goals (28) than all except Burnley (25) and Norwich (20), will be confident of a clean sheet on Wednesday.

JAMES MADDISON (Newcastle United v Leicester City, Everton v Leicester City)

Maddison is somewhat of an enigmatic player and, not that long ago, was struggling to start in Brendan Rodgers' strongest line-up.

However, he has already equalled his goal involvements tally for the entirety of last season in the Premier League (13), with the former Norwich man only bettering that in 2018-19 (14).

Indeed, he has either scored or assisted in each of his last three league appearances (one goal, two assists), last doing so in four such games in January 2021 (three goals, one assist).

CHRIS WOOD (Newcastle United v Leicester City, Newcastle United v Crystal Palace)

It has hardly been an electric start for life on Tyneside for Wood since his January move, though goals drying up for his former club and relegation rivals Burnley has been a positive added factor for the Magpies.

The New Zealander scored a crucial penalty in the 1-0 win against Wolves last time out, though, and he is looking to bag in consecutive league games for the first time since May 2021 (run of three).

Also, only against West Ham (seven) and Wolves (six) does Wood have more Premier League goals than he has previously managed against Leicester (four).

The NFL Draft is rarely dominated by teams in contention to lift the Lombardi Trophy at the end of the upcoming season.

Though trades regularly shuffle the pack, more often than not the draft headlines are made by teams who finished at the wrong end of the regular-season standings in the previous campaign, such is the nature of league's annual selection meeting.

While those franchises with rosters capable of contending to go all the way to the Super Bowl may not be as reliant on the draft as those rebuilding their teams, the selections they make can be critical in providing the potential final piece of what they hope will be a championship-winning puzzle.

Inevitably, not every team expected to contend in April will do so once the season gets under way in September.

Yet we can make educated guesses as to which teams will be in the mix to go deep into the postseason in each conference.

Here Stats Perform has identified four such teams from each conference, with the Cleveland Browns omitted from the list due to the threat of a possible suspension for new starting quarterback Deshaun Watson.

With help from some advanced metrics, we look at what each of these eight teams need to add in the draft to maximise their hopes of standing underneath the confetti in Arizona next February.

NFC

Los Angeles Rams

Identifying draft needs for the Rams is a difficult task not because they don't have any, but because they so often fill their holes by trading away their picks to land superstars.

This year, the Rams don't pick until 104 overall in the third round, not that the Super Bowl champions will mind skipping the first two rounds.

When it finally comes to their turn, the interior of the offensive line stands out as an area of weakness, while the Rams might also be eyeing an edge rusher to help fill the void left by Von Miller, whose stunt-adjusted pass rush win percentage of 43.4 was fifth among edge rushers with at least 100 one-on-one matchups last year.

San Francisco 49ers

The Niners are in a similar position to the Rams in that they don't have a lot of needs, though the urgency is greater for a team that let a fourth-quarter lead slip against Los Angeles in the NFC Championship Game.

Right guard has been a long-standing issue for San Francisco, and the Niners will also need to find a developmental center to replace Alex Mack when he eventually retires. Nebraska's Cam Jurgens is a name to watch there.

San Francisco do not pick until 61st overall in the second round, having traded this year's first-rounder in the package that landed Trey Lance. A defense that ranked first in pass rush win rate could be stacked further by another edge rusher to pair with Nick Bosa, and there is a clear need next to Jimmie Ward at safety.

Of course, what would really make it a successful draft for the Niners would be finally trading Jimmy Garoppolo to secure more picks.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

There's a theme here, and the theme is that trying to find needs for NFC contenders is tough, especially in the case of the Bucs, who brought back Tom Brady after he quickly got bored with retirement and re-signed a host of free agents many expected to depart.

With Todd Bowles assuming the head coaching reins from Bruce Arians, it's fair to anticipate a focus on the defense from the Bucs, who own the 27th pick in the first round as well as two other top-100 selections.

More beef on the interior of the defensive line is required with Ndamukong Suh as yet not re-signed and, though Logan Ryan and Keanu Neal have signed as safety help to atone for Jordan Whitehead's departure, a rookie who can make a difference down in the box and in coverage would be a welcome addition to the defense.

Green Bay Packers

Now this is more like it. The Packers have one glaring, obvious need and there's no way they can fail to address it, right?

Brian Gutekunst may have a history of eschewing first-round wide receivers but, after trading Davante Adams to the Las Vegas Raiders, it would be an extremely bemusing move to risk Aaron Rodgers' wrath and do so again.

Chris Olave, Jameson Williams, Treylon Burks, Jahan Dotson... they all must be in the mix here and, with two selections in the first round, the Packers could even double up at the position.

There are other holes. The secondary could use some more quality depth, and an offensive line that ranked 28th in run-block win rate could also be improved, but the Packers' hopes of getting over the hump in 2022 likely rest on their ability to give Rodgers weapons that mitigate the impact of Adams' stunning departure.

AFC

Kansas City Chiefs

After Patrick Mahomes faced the most pressures in a Super Bowl since 2006 in consecutive years (28 in SB LIV, 34 in SB LV), the Chiefs overhauled their offensive line heading into 2021 and were confident they were on course for the title game once again – only for Mahomes' own stunning playoff collapse to end both the team's season and the career of Tyreek Hill in Kansas City.

Hill's departure in a trade to the Miami Dolphins leaves a gaping hole.

New signing Marquez Valdes-Scantling at least offers a downfield option, but that was his sole responsibility with the Packers in 2021, recording a league-high average depth of target of 17.6 yards but making just 26 catches. Valdes-Scantling and fellow recruit JuJu Smith-Schuster, who's coming off shoulder surgery, have just one 1,000-yard season between them; Hill has four.

Thankfully, the Hill deal means the Chiefs have plenty of draft picks – two in each of the first three rounds – and plenty of options at wide receiver, but safety Tyrann Mathieu and cornerback Charvarius Ward must also be replaced just to get Kansas City back to where they started.

Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals are a year behind the Chiefs, beaten in the Super Bowl after leaving their quarterback horribly exposed. Joe Burrow faced 23 pressures against the Rams, tied for third-most since 2006.

Like the Chiefs, they quickly set about bolstering their O line in free agency, though there remains a pressing need at left guard. Ted Karras played there for the New England Patriots last year, but is set to move back into center after Trey Hopkins was cut.

That versatility at least gives the Bengals options at either position depending on how the draft plays out, with their first pick not until the end of the first round (31). In fact, given competition at cornerback, edge and/or tight end could also be sought, the Bengals may be flexible throughout.

Buffalo Bills

The Bills are the Super Bowl favourites, and with good reason. They were a coin flip away from beating the Chiefs and would have backed themselves against the Bengals, which might have quelled some of the optimism in Cincinnati channelled above. Buffalo have also added Super Bowl champion Miller to a defense that gave up a league-low 4.57 yards per play.

That's not to say there don't remain areas for improvement, with cornerback an obvious place to start. Tre'Davious White is returning from an ACL tear, and the Bills need a new man opposite him, given the loss of Levi Wallace.

The Bills might also be advised to ease the burden on all-action quarterback Josh Allen with the addition of a reliable running back. Allen ranked third among QBs for rushing yards in 2021 (763) but accounted for 34.5 per cent of his team's total – far and away the greatest share at his position.

Second on the list was former MVP Lamar Jackson (767 yards, 30.9 per cent), who's already showing signs of wear and tear having been tasked with running the Baltimore Ravens' offense.

Los Angeles Chargers

Outside the Packers, the Chargers perhaps have the most obvious positional need of any contender at right tackle – despite their own strong signings so far.

Left tackle Rashawn Slater was their first-round pick in 2021 and earned Pro Bowl recognition in his rookie season. Among offensive tackles with 200 or more pass protection snaps, Slater's stunt-adjusted win percentage of 90.5 ranked third. However, that stood in complete contrast to right tackle Storm Norton, whose 63.0 per cent ranked third-last.

Norton was brought in to play 15 games after a back injury put Bryan Bulaga on injured reserve. Bulaga has now been cut, and the Chargers surely cannot run it back with Norton.

The very best OTs in the draft are unlikely to still be available when the Chargers get to work in the middle of the first round, but it's no surprise to see them widely linked with Northern Iowa's Trevor Penning.

So here it is. That time of year again where we separate the wheat from the chaff, the men from the boys, the champions from the... rest.

The NBA playoffs get underway on Saturday with plenty of stories to be written and legacies to be cemented.

Can the Phoenix Suns turn their dominance in the regular season into a championship? Will the Milwaukee Bucks be able to retain their crown? Could someone from the play-in tournament sneak in the back door and go all the way?

These questions and plenty more will keep us glued to our screens as we watch the action unfold over the next two months.

But what of the individual stories? There are plenty of players who have made names for themselves in the business end of the season down the years, with lots of big names who will particularly want to make an impression this time around as well.

Stats Perform has selected five such players to focus on, explaining why they may just have a bit more to prove over the next few weeks than others.

James Harden – Philadelphia 76ers

It may feel slightly like shooting fish in a barrel to start with a player who is known for not being able to get over the line in the postseason, but we are not above easy wins here.

Harden has been to the NBA Finals just once in 12 postseason appearances, and that came 10 years ago with Oklahoma City Thunder.

Strictly speaking, his playoff averages have been impressive. While with the Houston Rockets, he averaged at least 26.3 points per game (PPG) in the playoffs, including an impressive 31.6 in the 2018-19 season.

However, it has more been one-off performances, invariably at crucial moments, that have let him down. This was summarised perfectly last year in Game 7 for the Brooklyn Nets against the Bucks, when he sank only five of 17 field goal attempts.

Now at the Sixers after a huge trade earlier in the season, and with the league's top scorer Joel Embiid on his side, Harden will surely be determined to silence his doubters and reach the second NBA Finals of his career. 

Chris Paul – Phoenix Suns

This is likely the best chance the Suns will ever have to win an NBA championship, and ditto Paul.

An incredible regular season record of 64-18 saw them finish atop the Western Conference with a win percentage of 78.0, almost 10 per cent more than the second-place Memphis Grizzlies (68.3 per cent).

For Paul, this, therefore, is almost certainly his strongest chance to finally win a championship ring, especially having come so close last year.

The 12-time All-Star has the most assists per game in the league this season (10.8), and only Trae Young (737) has more overall assists than his 702, though the Atlanta Hawks star has played 11 more games.

At 36 years of age, Paul will not have many more opportunities, and will want to make this one count.

 

Luka Doncic – Dallas Mavericks

It has been another memorable season for the young Slovenian, averaging 28.4 PPG as well as 8.7 assists and 9.1 rebounds.

In his two previous playoff campaigns, Doncic has stepped his game up even more, averaging 31.0 PPG in 2019-20 and a remarkable 35.7 PPG last year. However, on both occasions, the Mavericks still could not make it past the first round.

Dallas ended the regular season with a record of 52-30, winning seven of their last eight games, and will go up against the Utah Jazz in the first round, a team they have beaten twice in the last six weeks.

It is not so much that Doncic himself has a point to prove, but he will be looking for more help from his team-mates as he looks to get to the latter stages, where a player of his talent surely belongs.

Tyler Herro – Miami Heat

Another young player who has already put in some strong postseason showings in his short career so far.

Herro impressed in the 2020 playoffs, but last year the Heat were whitewashed by the Bucks in the first round. As the number one seeds in the East this year, all eyes will be on them to do much better.

While Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo will of course be important, Herro could well be the difference-maker.

The 22-year-old point guard has comfortably produced his best regular season so far, averaging 20.7 PPG, as well as 4.0 assists and 5.0 rebounds.

Many expect it to be Miami v Phoenix in a battle of two number one seeds in the Finals this year, in which case Herro will be looking to repeat his second-best scoring performance of the season when he came away with 33 points in the Footprint Center in January's 123-100 win against the Suns.

Ben Simmons – Brooklyn Nets

It has been a nervous wait for Simmons, not just to return to fitness, but to see if he would even have the chance to turn out for the Nets this season.

While it has not been suggested the 25-year-old will return from back problems imminently, it has been reported the Nets are looking to use the player they traded Harden for in February sparingly towards the end of the first round.

Thankfully for him, his team-mates made it through their play-in game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday and so take their place in the playoffs, where they will start off in a fascinating encounter against the Boston Celtics.

Simmons has not played a single minute of basketball this season, not since his notorious performances in last year's postseason with the Sixers that saw him draw the ire of Joel Embiid and coach Doc Rivers.

Although Embiid accused Simmons of wanting to be a star more than wanting to win, that he won't necessarily need to fire from the off could help him, with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in excellent form for Brooklyn.

Simmons will want to discover the sort of form he showed in the 2018-19 campaign, when he averaged 16.9 PPG, as well as 7.7 assists and 8.8 rebounds.

Joao Felix was one of the brightest prospects in world football when he burst onto the scene with Benfica.

Atletico Madrid had to shell out of one the biggest ever transfer fees to land such a big up-and-coming talent.

Atleti paid Benfica a club-record fee of €126million to bring Joao Felix, then 19, to the Wanda Metropolitano, making the forward the fourth-most expensive footballer of all time.

Antonie Griezmann's move to Barcelona provided Atleti with the funds for such a transfer, though it would be safe to say neither of those players hit the heights that might have been expected.

Indeed, Griezmann is now back at Atleti and playing alongside the man who was brought in to replace him. For Joao Felix it has been a slow burn, but he now appears to be playing at the highest level he has achieved since his move to the Spanish capital.

Manchester City visit the Wanda Metropolitano on Wednesday with a place in the Champions League semi-finals up for grabs and, though the Premier League leaders hold a 1-0 advantage, it is all to play for.

Joao Felix may just prove to be the decisive figure.

Lofty expectations

Diego Simeone is an incredible coach whose achievements in Madrid cannot be understated. Two LaLiga titles, two Europa League crowns, a Copa del Rey triumph and two Champions League runners-up medals.

Yet, Simeone is hardly renowned for nurturing flair players who thrive at being able to roam the final third; scoring, creating and producing those moments that live long in the memory.

Joao Felix certainly falls into that category of player and it is hard not to imagine just how exciting the Portugal forward – who also plays for a more conservative coach at international level in Fernando Santos – might have been under, for example, Pep Guardiola.

Having scored 20 goals for Benfica across all competitions in the 2018-19 season, he managed just nine from 36 appearances in his first campaign at Atleti, averaging one every 276 minutes.

It was by no means bad for a young player finding his feet for one of Europe's top teams, and one of the most defensive of the elite sides, but living up to such a price tag was always going to be difficult. Until now, perhaps.

Adapting

Simeone will not adapt to his players, they must adapt to his system and slowly, but surely, Joao Felix has got there.

Joao Felix has scored 10 goals and assisted a further five this season in all competitions, already matching the tallies from last season. Ten of those 15 goal involvements have come in his past 12 appearances (seven goals, three assists), as many as in his previous 47 games for the club.

Yet despite being in such a rich vein of form, having scored a double against Deportivo Alaves ahead of Atleti's trip to Manchester last week, his first job at the Etihad Stadium was to defend.

Atleti failed to register a shot in the first leg, making them the first side since APOEL Nicosia (versus Real Madrid in March 2012) to fail to record a single shot in a Champions League match. It was very nearly the perfect defensive showing; only Phil Foden's sublime pass and Kevin De Bruyne's neat finish punctured Atleti's resolve.

Key to Simeone's plan was the work of Joao Felix and Griezmann, who has been directly involved in 67 per cent of Atleti's Champions League goals this season (6/9 – the highest ratio of any player for his team among the eight quarter-finalists).

Given Atleti only had 29.5 per cent possession, Joao Felix spent much of his time on the ball in what would normally be the space filled by the left-back, and only one of his 34 touches came inside City's area.

He did his defensive work diligently, making a team-high five interceptions, going in for nine duels (slightly above his per-game average of 8.1 this season), and was able to at least get City working back the other way with some impressive, surging runs before he was replaced by Thomas Lemar.

Time to shine

Simeone's tactics must change in the second leg, though, if Atleti are to progress, and a more open game could provide Joao Felix with the opportunity to shine.

Only Luis Suarez (13) and Angel Correa (12) have scored more goals for Atleti this season than the 22-year-old, whose 15 goal involvements ranks joint-second in the squad behind Correa.

Joao Felix has netted seven times in 21 Champions League appearances for Atleti, making him the club's top scorer in the competition since the start of the 2019-20 campaign, and Simeone has to find a way to get him into more adventurous positions this time around.

Not that Joao Felix needs to be provided with gilt-edged opportunities. His expected goals (xG) of 6.9 this season in all competitions means he has a +3.1 differential between his xG and his actual tally. In fact, this differential is larger than Kylian Mbappe's (3), Erling Haaland's (2.5) and Paulo Dybala (2.15), and second only to Correa (4.6) in Atleti's team.

Essentially, he is scoring more goals than predicted given the quality of opportunities coming his way, although an expected goals on target (xGOT) of 7.9 suggests he may have benefitted from some goalkeepers not keeping out shots they should have done better with.

Atleti have a supreme talent on their hands who finally seems to be living up to his enormous potential. Lighting up a Champions League quarter-final and sending Simeone's men into the last four just might be the seminal display that Joao Felix needs to prove he can be considered among the very best.

Chelsea clawed their way back into an exhilarating Champions League quarter-final tie with Real Madrid through some unlikely sources, but there was nothing surprising about the identity of the players that eventually booked Los Blancos' place in the last four.

Backed up against the wall after a meek 3-1 defeat to a Karim Benzema-inspired Madrid in the first leg at Stamford Bridge, the defending champions were brilliant for much of a captivating return fixture, quieting the Santiago Bernabeu by showing control and composure that belied their plight.

Unlike in west London, where Madrid were afforded far too much possession and space, Chelsea commanded the midfield for long periods, the metronomic Mateo Kovacic - who completed 96 per cent of his passes and 98.5 per cent in the opposition half - playing a key role in what for a while appeared to be the undoing of his former club.

It was a midfielder who put Chelsea ahead on the night in the 15th minute, Mason Mount producing an unerring finish to beat the outstretched arm of former Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois after neat build-up play that saw him eventually teed up by Timo Werner - more on him shortly.

Madrid kept hold of the aggregate lead until the 51st minute when, after Luka Modric was incorrectly adjudged to have deflected a Reece James shot behind, Antonio Rudiger rose to steer a superb header from Mount's set-piece delivery into the bottom-right corner.

The hosts were then the beneficiaries of controversy when Marcos Alonso had a goal ruled out for a seemingly unintentional handball, an incident that will surely have set in motion further heated debate about the current interpretation of that rule across living rooms and bars in both the English and Spanish capitals.

Carlo Ancelotti's men never learned their lesson and were the antithesis of defensive solidity throughout a breathless contest, and they were punished by Werner 15 minutes from the end of normal time.

Madrid lost possession inside their own half, Kovacic played Werner down the left side of the box and the often-derided former RB Leipzig star jinked his way past three challenges before sending a calm, albeit deflected, close-range finish beyond Courtois.

It took Werner's tally to just 17 goals in 70 games in all competitions since his big-money move from the Bundesliga and looked as if it would be the defining moment - at least in goalscoring terms - of his Chelsea career so far.

Yet Werner's hopes of being Chelsea's saviour were thwarted by three men who have so often played that role for Madrid.

Five minutes after Werner silenced the home fans, Modric had them roaring in adulation, his sublime cross-field pass with the outside of his boot finding Rodrygo, who provided the finish the delivery deserved as his first-time volley left Edouard Mendy with no chance and forced extra time.

That was Modric's 17th Champions League assist and his fourth this season, a tally only one of his team-mates, Vinicius Junior, has bettered. 

It was Vinicius' creativity that ultimately ensured Madrid had the final say.

Chelsea surrendered possession all too easily in midfield and Eduardo Camavinga sent Vinicius tearing down the same flank that brought Werner's goal.

Vinicius' delicate right-footed cross was greeted gratefully and emphatically by first-leg hat-trick hero Benzema, who once again added the final gloss to a Champions League masterpiece with an unstoppable header that brought up his 38th goal of a remarkable campaign and the Brazilian architect's sixth assist in the competition this term, tied with Leroy Sane for the most in the tournament.

As a pairing, Vinicius and Benzema have now combined for 15 goals in all competitions in a season that could yet come to a close with Madrid crowned as both Spanish and European champions.

Chelsea had plenty of opportunities during the remainder of the additional half hour to make it 4-2 on the night and at least force penalties, racking up 28 shots to Madrid's 10 but with just seven of those hitting the target.

Hakim Ziyech, Kai Havertz and Jorginho will all rue chances they missed in a frantic finale as Chelsea's reign as holders came to an end in an epic tale that, for Madrid, ended in pleasingly familiar fashion. 

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