If there was one man Villarreal could rely on, it was him. If there was one man they wanted standing over that penalty, it was him. If there was one man in their squad born for such a situation, it was him.

It is April 25, 2006, the kind of night the Valencian city of Vila-Real has seen few of. It's playing host to a Champions League semi-final just eight years on from seeing its team, Villarreal, earn their first promotion to LaLiga.

Having lost the first leg of the semi 1-0 to Arsenal in London, they have so far failed to find a way to level the tie, despite laying siege to the Gunners' goal.

But with time almost up, they have the perfect opportunity to seize the initiative as a marginal call goes their way: Gael Clichy is deemed, somewhat harshly, to have fouled Jose Mari in the box.

Up steps Juan Roman Riquelme, their undisputed talisman and one of the finest midfielders of his generation. A player possessed with the kind of technical wizardry on the ball that few others are – there's surely only one outcome?

But Riquelme's spot-kick is a poor one, placed to his right and at the perfect height for Jens Lehmann in the Arsenal goal.

The German easily makes the save, and Arsenal – not little Villarreal – are going to their first Champions League final.

They met again in the quarter-finals three years later but the tie was rather more one-sided, Arsenal winning 4-1 on aggregate.

Twelve years on and the Gunners aren't quite the power they once were, and Villarreal are looking to settle a score when they meet in their Europa League semi-final first leg on Thursday.

So too is Unai Emery.

A hiding to nothing

Emery's time at Arsenal was probably doomed from the start. Succeeding Arsene Wenger, even with the lack of success towards the end of his tenure, was always going to be a tough ask.

In his second season at the helm, for a while it seemed only a matter of time before he went from Gunner to gonner. He was eventually dismissed on November 29, 2019, and the following month saw Mikel Arteta appointed as his successor.

Though, it's fair to say Arsenal have not seen much of an improvement under Arteta, whose 79 matches in charge is just one more than Emery managed.

Arteta's win percentage of 51 is shy of Emery's 55, while under the latter the Gunners scored 152 (compared to 127). The main difference in the current coach's favour is that they have conceded considerably fewer (80, down from 100), which perhaps is likely linked to the fact Arsenal are less of a threat in attack now.

Emery's Villarreal arguably come into this tie as favourites as well. They boast a better record almost across the board for this season, winning more often (53 per cent to 47), scoring more (87 to 82) and conceding fewer (47 to 54) than the Gunners, and their coach's record in this competition speaks for itself having won it three times with Sevilla, losing just six of 39 games.

If Villarreal can qualify for their first European final, Gerard Moreno will probably have had something to do with it one way or another.

The Spain international is enjoying the best season of his career and is something of a triple-threat.

The key to Emery's revenge plot

Moreno is a clever player. What makes his productivity in front of goal all the more impressive is the fact he's rarely deployed as an out-and-out central striker.

Instead, Moreno prefers to operate from the right, coming inside on to his left foot and occasionally floating around to also maximise his creative talents.

After all, not only is he Villarreal's top scorer with 20 goals this season in LaLiga, he's also laid on the most chances (38) in the Yellow Submarine's squad.

In fact, Lionel Messi (66) is one of only five forwards in LaLiga to play more key passes than the former Espanyol talent.

Moreno's unpredictability is aided by excellent dribbling skills as well, with Messi, Javi Galan and Nabil Fekir the three individuals to better his 62 completed dribbles this term.

Additionally, his success rate is 62.6 per cent – to put that into context, Messi's is 58.6.

Granted, his goalscoring record is slightly skewed by the fact he's scored nine penalties this term, but Messi (25) is the sole LaLiga player outscoring him and he looks set to claim the Zarra award (given to the top-scoring Spaniard) for a second successive season.

His haul of 20 is also an improvement of 2.5 on his expected goals (xG) value as well, evidence that he's putting away more chances than the average player would ordinarily expect.

Moreno has also carried that goalscoring form into the Europa League, where he stands joint second on the list of scorers with six.

The skillset possessed by Villarreal's talisman makes him the ideal player to carry out a number of different roles, but it also means Arsenal have to be alive to the numerous ways he can hurt them: in front of goal, creatively, or with the ball at his feet.

The 29-year-old could have a major role to play for Spain at Euro 2020 at the end of the season. Having a decisive impact for Villarreal in such a big tie may be vital in earning more of Luis Enrique's faith, with La Roja's coach initially taking a little while to warm to him.

But for the moment all the trust he needs is Emery's, and his form this term proves he has the tools to inspire Arsenal's downfall and grasp revenge for the Yellow Submarine and their pilot.

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.

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.

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.

Mike Trout, Ronald Acuna Jr., J.D. Martinez, Xander Bogaerts, Justin Turner, Bryce Harper and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Some of the biggest names in baseball, but MLB's elite hitters have taken a backseat to Yermin Mercedes.

Unheralded Chicago White Sox rookie Mercedes is the batting leader through 19 games – his .414 average setting the tone.

It is a case of perseverance and determination when it comes to the big-hitting 28-year-old from the Dominican Republic.

Involved in professional baseball for a decade, Mercedes is taking the majors by storm following his long road to the top, but can he sustain it?

 

Started from the bottom, now we're here

If you look at the career of Mercedes, few could have anticipated the red-hot start to his first season.

Signed by the Washington Nationals as an 18-year-old international free agent in 2011, Mercedes bounced between the Nats, Baltimore Orioles, Dominican league and independent league before the White Sox took him in the 2017 minor league Rule 5 draft.

A hitting machine in the minors, Mercedes combined to hit 23 homers across two teams at Triple-A level in 2019, including 17 home runs for Charlotte with a 1.033 on-base slugging percentage (OPS).

Those exploits earned an invitation to the White Sox's alternate site last season as Mercedes made his MLB debut with an at-bat during the coronavirus-shortened 2020 campaign in August.

Mercedes could have easily given up on his dream, but he has not looked back since he was a late addition to the White Sox's 26-man Opening Day roster – a team with eyes on their first World Series ring since 2005.

According to Stats Perform, Mercedes joined Washington's Cecil Travis (1933) as the only MLB players in the modern era to have five hits in their first career start.

With patience continuing to pay off, he also became the first player since at least 1900 to begin a season with eight straight hits.

Mercedes also tops the leaderboard for longest home run of the season – his crushing 485-foot bomb against the Kansas City Royals the franchise's longest regular-season homer in the Statcast era (since 2015). Overall, it was the second longest blast since 2015, behind only Luis Robert's monster 487-foot in last season's playoffs.

New York Yankees slugger Giancarlo Stanton is next best at 471 feet.

"I just want to cry every time when I see I'm in the majors right now. I just want to cry because it's a long time," Mercedes said. "I've got a big history.

"It's about time, but it's hard for me because just looking around, I'm like, 'It's real. I'm here'. I know when it was a couple years ago, I said, 'What am I going to do? What's going to happen with me?' I just said, 'God, when am I going to be in the majors? What do I need to do?' Because all the time, all my years, I put up my numbers, do the best of myself."

 

History-making rookie on the right path

There is no stopping Mercedes, whose meteoric rise through the first month of the season netted him his own burger – 'The Yerminator' at Fabulous Freddies, where they honoured the designated hitter on their menu.

The last rookie to win his league's batting title (American League or National League) was Seattle Mariners great Ichiro Suzuki (.350) in 2001. Only two rookies have done that in the live-ball era (since 1920), Tony Oliva (.323 with the Minnesota Twins in 1964) being the other. Mercedes – through 19 games in 2021 – is above that mark at the moment. Whether he maintains that figure is another story.

When it comes to hits, Mercedes has tallied 29 in 70 at-bats this season. The last rookie to lead his league (AL or NL) in hits in a season was also Ichiro, who topped the American League with 242 hits in 2001.

Mercedes is only the second player to have a .400-plus batting average and 15-plus RBI over his first 20 career games since RBI became an official stat in 1920, along with Atlanta's Jeff Francoeur in 2005. Francoeur recorded a .406 avg and 19 RBI for the Braves in that 20-game span.

Francoeur was in the NL, so Mercedes is the first AL player to ever do that.

Mercedes made his debut aged 27 – only Ichiro managed more hits through 20 career games in the expansion era (since 1961). Coco Laboy, like Mercedes, also registered 29 hits for the Montreal Expos in 1969.

"A couple months ago, I wouldn't have believed that I would be at this point right now," said Mercedes. "I'm surprised. So I'm so excited for that. I never imagined I would be here. Now we're here, keep going. Don't put the head down. Just keep doing what I'm doing every day to keep it at that point.

"That's great for me, I'm feeling great, feeling nice because I'm with my people, with my fans and with everybody. So I'm excited for that."

While the season is still young, it feels like this is just the tip of the iceberg for Mercedes, who is seizing his opportunity after years battling away outside the majors. Enjoy the ride.

When FIFA announced last year they were set to introduce limits on the number of players teams could send out on loan, unsurprisingly many people's first thoughts turned to Chelsea.

At the time, the Blues had a remarkable 28 players at other clubs, though this was by no means a recent trend; in 2018-19, that figure was 41.

The 'hoarding' of talent might be a solid ploy when looking to stunt the growth of a rival team or generate long-term revenue on Football Manager, but in the real world it was a practice that had long attracted criticism.

While by no means the only club in the world to have lots of young players out on loan, Chelsea have – rightly or wrongly – arguably been the most synonymous with it.

Some feel this has directly contributed to the club's struggles in developing homegrown talent because they have so many players, whereas others point out it offers more players the chance to play first-team football at a higher level than the Under-23s.

Putting aside some of the moral issues, Mason Mount falls into the latter category and proves there is a route to the first team through the fog of war for Chelsea's loan army.

By his own admission Mount needed an extra kick when he was in Chelsea's Under-23s as an 18-year-old, and that led to his temporary switch to the Eredivisie with Vitesse, where he won the club's Player of the Year award.

But it's unlikely even he realised how important his next move would be as he linked up with Chelsea great Frank Lampard.

In at the deep end

Mount made 44 appearances across all competitions for Derby County in 2018-19 as they missed out on promotion in the play-off final, but regardless of that ultimate disappointment it proved a massive year for both he and Lampard.

With Maurizio Sarri departing Stamford Bridge to join Juventus following Europa League success, Lampard was brought back to the club as head coach. Given his status and the trust he placed in young players – and, more pertinently, young players owned by Chelsea – at Derby, Lampard was seen as the ideal candidate to guide the team through a transfer embargo by bringing through homegrown talent.

Whether or not Lampard was a success as Chelsea coach is a discussion for another time, but his faith in Mount was unquestionable, chucking him straight into the team on the first day of the 2019-20 season.

The Blues suffered a rather harsh 4-0 defeat at Manchester United, but Mount didn't look out of his depth in the Premier League.

He clearly earnt the trust of his manager, with Lampard using the midfielder in 37 league matches over the course of the season, more than any other player. Across all competitions, the young Englishman made a whopping 53 appearances, missing just two games all year.

Mount finished his debut season with 12 goal involvements (seven scored, five set up), a figure bettered by only Tammy Abraham (18), Willian (16) and Christian Pulisic (13) in the Chelsea squad.

But that doesn't quite tell the whole story. To say he was consistent throughout the season would be a lie, as after the turn of the year there was a growing sense of frustration regarding his form. Between the start of November and the final day of the season, his three assists amounted to a couple of corner deliveries for Antonio Rudiger to head home, and a free-kick against Arsenal that Bernd Leno made a mess of. Mount's one open-play assist of 2019-20 came on the final day of the season against Wolves.

Some felt Mount was being overworked by Lampard, others put his issues down to being used in a variety of roles.

The 'teacher's pet' tag began to raise its head, with Lampard's almost incessant use of Mount leading to suggestions of preferential treatment.

Getting past this was going to be Mount's Everest.

A star of his own merit

When Thomas Tuchel was hired as Lampard's replacement in January, there wouldn't have been too many particularly worried for Mount's future given he had been a fixture in the team, his 2,130 minutes played across all competitions the most of anyone in the Blues' squad.

But when Mount was dropped for the German's first game in charge, Tuchel's decision certainly made people sit up and take note.

While he explained it away as opting to go with experience, dropping Mount suggested he had to earn his place again.

And it would be fair to say he's risen to the challenge.

"I understood and wanted to get back into the team, so that motivation and that fire that I have inside me came out," Mount said at a news conference last month. "I really tried to push to get back into the team. It's been brilliant."

Since then, he's become more productive almost across the board in the final third under Tuchel than he had been for Lampard in 2020-21.

Seemingly one of the main contributing factors is his role. While Lampard used Mount in numerous positions, Tuchel has largely deployed him further up the pitch in an attempt to get him closer to the opposition's penalty area.

Touch maps show a significant change between the two coaches' usage of the 21-year-old. While Mount's touches per 90 are almost identical under the two managers, Lampard deployed Mount deeper than his German successor, while Tuchel has shown a clear desire to get him on the ball in more advanced areas.

So much of the positive work that Mount does with the ball is not captured in goals and assists, the baseline figures that many would deem the primary indicator of an attacking midfielder's contribution. His link play and overall involvement in Chelsea’s attack can be highlighted by sequences framework.

In the 14 games since Tuchel's arrival, only Bruno Fernandes (91) has been involved in more open play sequences (or 'passages of play') that have resulted in a shot than Mount's 86. This figure translates to 7.6 sequences per 90 minutes, which is a big increase on the 5.6 per 90 he was involved in during Lampard's 18 top-flight games this term.

Not only is Mount involved more heavily in Chelsea's attacking play under Tuchel, but his involvement is generating better quality chances. The expected goals value from these sequences has increased from 0.43 per 90 minutes under Lampard to 0.7 under Tuchel. Simply put, Chelsea are creating greater quality chances with Mount further up the pitch.

Similarly, the England international's six goal-ending sequences in the same period are more than any of his team-mates have contributed to.

Even though he's still without a single open-play assist in 2020-21, it's clear to see that Mount's strong associative talents and ability to play tidily in busier areas of the pitch make him a real asset to Tuchel, who has acted quickly to shift him into a position that seemingly suits him better. He's also proving more decisive, with four of his six Premier League goals coming since January 25 – that's more than any of his team-mates in that period.

In general, though, scoring has been a bit of an issue for Chelsea. The likes of Timo Werner and Kai Havertz haven't properly hit their stride yet, and this has undoubtedly impacted Mount's baseline assist numbers, as his expected assists total from open play is 4.1. With more clinical finishing he wouldn't still be sat on zero.

Mount's form lately suggests that once Chelsea begin to click in front of goal, he'll be key to much of their build-up if he's not the one finishing the chances.

Another string to Mount's bow is that he is a genuine set-piece specialist. His corner deliveries are consistently dangerous, and he's created more chances from set plays (38) in 2020-21 than any other player. That's six more than James Ward-Prowse and 16 more than Trent Alexander-Arnold, both of whom have received acclaim for their set-piece prowess over the years.

When thinking of players you might consider to be particularly good at dead-ball situations, Mount may not be the first that comes to mind among non-Chelsea fans, but maybe he should be.

An unsung hero

Mount's improvements certainly don't begin and end with his creativity in the final third, however. Tuchel's preference to play him more centrally is also leading to greater off-the-ball productivity.

He's always been a hard worker and certainly couldn't be accused of neglecting the less glamorous side of the game, yet his role for Tuchel seems to be harnessing his attitude and tirelessness even more effectively.

Mount is averaging 2.2 attempted tackles per 90 minutes under Tuchel, up from 1.7 across Lampard's time at the club. While he may be winning tackles at an almost identical rate (0.95 per 90 mins, up from 0.93), the increase in challenge attempts suggests Mount's work rate makes him a good fit for Tuchel's intense pressing system.

Since the German's first game in charge, Chelsea have the lowest PPDA (9.2) in the Premier League, proof that they press higher than anyone else. PPDA is the number of opposition passes allowed outside of the pressing team's own defensive third, divided by the number of defensive actions by the pressing team outside of their own defensive third. A lower figure indicates a higher level of pressing.

Mount leads Tuchel's press from the front. The midfielder has won possession in the final third 17 times in 19 games for Tuchel. Over the same period, İlkay Gundogan (20), Mohamed Salah (20) and Kevin De Bruyne (23) are the only Premier League players to have a better record than the Chelsea star across all competitions.

A homegrown beacon of hope

Throughout Roman Abramovich's time as Chelsea owner, the club has often found itself in a sort of purgatory. While they've undoubtedly wanted success and a first team full of homegrown talents, it's difficult to say they've truly struck a balance between the two.

After all, since the start of the century, Chelsea products reaching 100 Premier League appearances for the club have been a rarity.

John Terry, of course, leads the way, but beyond him it becomes a bit murky. John Obi Mikel and Nemanja Matic perhaps come closest to fitting the bill, though both did play senior football elsewhere before joining the club as teenagers.

Granted, Mount remains a little way off yet as well having played 69 times in the top-flight for Chelsea, but he's quickly making up ground.

Not too far behind him are Tammy Abraham (57), Callum Hudson-Odoi (55) and Ruben Loftus-Cheek (54), while Andreas Christensen – at Chelsea since 2013 – has featured 72 times.

What's in store for their long-term futures at Chelsea remains to be seen – they are far less certain than Mount.

But Mount especially shows that where there wasn't much hope for young talent coming through at Chelsea in the past, now there is for arguably the first time in the Abramovich era.

The accusations of Mount being a 'teacher's pet' have faded. Tuchel has no ulterior motive to keep picking Mount other than the fact he wants to pick the best side to win games. And with just two defeats in his first 21 games for Chelsea in all competitions, the German is certainly doing just that.

It is business time in the Champions League as the 2020-21 semi-finals get under way with the first legs this week.

Chelsea visit Real Madrid, who have seen pre-match questions focus on their continued pursuit of the controversial European Super League.

In the other tie, Paris Saint-Germain are the only remaining outfit not to have signed up for the competition prior to its collapse, gaining favour with UEFA.

They have a tough ask against Manchester City, however, after Pep Guardiola's men collected their first piece of silverware this season in the EFL Cup final.

Using Opta data, we break down the two matches...

Real Madrid v Chelsea: Los Blancos yet to beat Blues or Tuchel

When English football fans consider their country's most-consistent representatives in the Champions League, Chelsea will not be the team that immediately springs to mind for most.

Yet this will be the Blues' eighth semi-final appearance at this stage of the competition, a record among Premier League sides, and they have every reason to feel positive about the Blues' chances here.

They have only lost the first leg in one of their previous seven Champions League semis and head into the tie in good shape domestically, with Thomas Tuchel inspiring a significant improvement in their fortunes since taking over in January.

The German was in charge of PSG as they lost in last season's final to Bayern Munich but boasts a strong record against Madrid, having faced them more often without losing in this competition than any other side (W1 D3). The only other coach to take them on as many times in the Champions League and not lose is Gerard Houllier (P4 W2 D2).

Further to that, Madrid's record against Chelsea is poor, as they've not won any of their three previous meetings. Los Blancos haven't faced any other side more often without winning in their entire history.

A key factor in Chelsea's run to the semis has been their solidity at the back, and Edouard Mendy has more than played his part.

The Frenchman has let in just two goals in his first nine Champions League matches; if he keeps a clean sheet on Tuesday, he will match the record set by ex-Madrid man Keylor Navas for fewest conceded in a goalkeeper's first 10 games.

Paris Saint-Germain v Manchester City: Pep back in the big time

If Madrid and Chelsea are vastly experienced at this level, the same is not exactly true of PSG and City. The Ligue 1 club are playing their third Champions League semi-final, while this is City's second.

Indeed, City have only progressed through one of their prior three semis in all European competitions, winning the Cup Winners' Cup on that occasion in 1970.

PSG are finally getting to grips with UEFA's premier club tournament, however, becoming only the third French team to reach the last four in consecutive seasons - after Saint-Etienne 1975-76 and Marseille 1990-91 in the European Cup - and bidding to be the ninth side to play back-to-back finals.

They will require a first win over City to get there, though, drawing two and losing the other of their previous three meetings. Only against Juventus (eight), Arsenal and Milan (both four) have PSG played more games without winning in their history.

And Guardiola, having finally returned to this stage, has the know-how his players might lack. This a record-equalling eighth Champions League semis appearance, level with Jose Mourinho.

Mauricio Pochettino, then Tottenham manager, eliminated Guardiola in their only past European clash two seasons ago at the quarter-final stage, although the Catalan coach has 10 career wins against the PSG boss.

Pochettino will rely heavily on Neymar, who has either scored (three) or assisted (one) in each of his previous three Champions League last-four outings, while Guardiola can turn to Kevin De Bruyne, with four goals and four assists across his past seven knockout appearances.

De Bruyne scored in both legs when City beat PSG in the 2015-16 quarter-finals and could join Neymar (four), Lionel Messi and Marcus Rashford (both three) in netting against the Parisians in three consecutive Champions League games.

There is light at the end of the NBA tunnel. A difficult regular season played out amid the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic is drawing towards a conclusion.

However, there is still plenty to play for in the closing weeks. For some teams it is about jostling for position as a play-off seed, while others are just frantically trying to make it into the postseason.

For those who have found the pace too tough, there comes the chance to give players opportunities to prove their worth. A strong finish can make all the difference to your career prospects.

Following a busy week that has seen some big names return to action, Stats Perform highlights those who have starred – as well as a few who have struggled – between April 19-25.


RUNNING HOT...

Paul George 

With team-mate Kawhi Leonard sidelined due to a foot injury, George has picked up the slack. The seven-time All-Star sat out a win for the Los Angeles Clippers over the Memphis Grizzlies, but scored 33 points against both the Portland Trail Blazers and the Houston Rockets last week.

He also recorded double-digit rebound totals in those outings, helping the Clippers remain firmly in the hunt to finish as the top seeds in the Western Conference. For the season, George is averaging career highs in points per game (24.0), rebounds (6.5) and assists (5.4). He is also shooting 89.1 per cent from the free-throw line.

OG Anunoby

A see-saw season for the Toronto Raptors still may yet wind up with a postseason appearance, though the 2019 champions have some work to do if they are to get inside the top 10 in the East.

Anunoby looks to be set for a strong finish to his campaign, having scored 52 points in his previous two outings following a short spell out of action - the London-born forward had averaged 14.78ppg going into the week. His six three-pointers made against the New York Knicks was a career high, though the landmark came in a losing cause.

Oshae Brissett

Brissett has seized the opportunity to impress for the Indiana Pacers while making four consecutive starts. He reached double figures for points in all of them, including posting a career-high 23 against the Oklahoma City Thunder to celebrate signing a long-term deal with the franchise.

The second-year prospect out of Syracuse played a total of 135 minutes in his rookie season with the Raptors, but nearly matched that number in a week that saw the Pacers win three out of four. Brissett also contributed when it came to rebounds, averaging 9.25 per outing.

GOING COLD...

Anthony Davis

Davis admitted it felt like the Lakers were "starting from zero" after the second outing on his return from an Achilles issue. Prior to his two-month absence, he was averaging 22.5 points per game, 8.4 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in the season.

However, unsurprisingly considering the amount of time spent off the court, the eight-time All-Star has struggled upon his return (albeit on a minutes restriction). Having shot 2-for-10 from the floor in the first of back-to-back meetings with the Dallas Mavericks, Davis followed up by going 5-for-19 in the second game between the teams.

Gary Trent Jr.

After a ridiculously hot start to life with Toronto following his involvement in a deadline-day trade, Trent Jr. has cooled off in recent outings. That is in part due to a drop in his minutes following the return of some of the regular starters for the Raptors, including back-court duo Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet.

The former Portland Trail Blazer still had 23 points against Oklahoma, but then dipped to a combined total of nine in limited action against the Brooklyn Nets and the Knicks. The three-point shooting is also a reason for a dip in points, as he made just one of his nine attempts from the beyond the arc during the past week.

Tobias Harris

Harris' drop in production in recent times has had less to do with him going cold and more to do with injury management. A bothersome right knee kept him out of games against the Golden State Warriors and the Phoenix Suns, both of which the Philadelphia 76ers lost.

His return in a double-header against the Milwaukee Bucks - one of Philadelphia's major rivals in the East - failed to help his team get back to winning ways. Harris had 18 points in the opening game but then just nine in the second, the first time he had recorded a single-digit outing in a game since February 25.

A week on from the drama, controversy and anger surrounding the European Super League, it felt like football – rather than its potential ruin – was at the front of the agenda this weekend.

However, the spectre of the Super League continued to loom over much of the action, with many of the so-called "big six" seeing it used as a stick to beat them with as they largely stuttered to underwhelming results.

Of those in league action over the weekend (Manchester City beat Tottenham in the EFL Cup final), only Chelsea emerged victorious, as Manchester United and Liverpool were held, while Arsenal lost at home to Everton.

Using Opta data, we look at some of the quirky facts from the latest Premier League matches…

Liverpool 1-1 Newcastle United: Reds to join exclusive list?

It was another underwhelming weekend for defending champions Liverpool, as their 1-1 draw at home to struggling Newcastle United saw them lose further ground in the fight for Champions League places.

Jurgen Klopp's men are four points adrift of Chelsea in fourth, after the Blues beat top-four rivals West Ham 1-0 at the London Stadium.

Liverpool have five matches to close the gap otherwise they face the prospect of an ignominious achievement.

Only five times before have the reigning Premier League champions failed to qualify for the Champions League the season after winning the title.

Manchester United were the first in 1994-95, also doing so in 2013-14. The other teams do this were Blackburn Rovers (1995-96), Chelsea (2015-16) and Leicester City (2016-17).

Wolves 0-4 Burnley: Wood and New Zealand join the United Nations of hat-tricks

Chris Wood enjoyed a weekend to remember as he netted his first Premier League hat-trick in Burnley's 4-0 win over Wolves.

In doing so, he became the first New Zealand national to score a treble in the competition, meaning there have been hat-tricks scored by 46 countries in the Premier League.

New Zealand has joined Gabon, South Korea, Venezuela, DR Congo, Japan, Israel, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Paraguay, Iceland, Sweden, Costa Rica and Serbia on one.

England, unsurprisingly, leads the way with 154 hat-tricks from 69 individuals. Joint second with 18 each are Netherlands and Argentina, while France (17) and Spain (11) are the only other countries into double figures.

Leeds United 0-0 Manchester United: 'Boring, boring Man United'

Fans expecting a repeat of Manchester United's 6-2 thrashing of Leeds United will have been sorely disappointed, not just with the 0-0 draw, but also given it was a fairly drab encounter.

Sure, United have excited on occasion this season, that previous win over Leeds and the 9-0 demolition of Southampton immediately coming to mind.

But Sunday's stalemate was United's seventh 0-0 draw of the season, more than any other team in the Premier League.

On top of that, 2020-21 has now seen United play out more goalless draws than any other Premier League season.

They previously played out six in 2004-05 and 2016-17, but 2020-21 now leads the way.

West Ham 0-1 Chelsea: Tuchel's at home on the road

Thomas Tuchel has made a fine impression at Chelsea since replacing Frank Lampard in January. The achievements seem to be piling up.

Chelsea's latest win saw them leave London rivals West Ham with a 1-0 win that moved them back into the top four at the expense of David Moyes' boys.

As such, he became the first Chelsea manager to avoid defeat in his first 10 away games across all competitions.

The previous club record was set by William Lewis over 100 years ago in 1906-07, when they went nine unbeaten on the road.

Tuchel also matched the record set by Luiz Felipe Scolari for the number of clean sheets (10) in his first 14 Premier League matches.

What's even more impressive about that is it's a league record, rather than just relevant to Chelsea.

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.

Chatter rippled quickly across the Wembley press room, a buzz of excitement quickly following. It was the first thing most people looking at hot-off-the-press team sheets mentioned.

"Foden's starting."

Since describing the playmaker as "a gift" in the aftermath of his maiden senior outing for Manchester City against Manchester United in the 2017 International Champions Cup, Pep Guardiola persistently had his use of Foden questioned.

The teenager wasn't playing enough, then he wasn't starting enough, then he wasn't starting enough meaningful games. Guardiola maintained he had a plan and it absolutely did not include Foden going out on loan.

But there he was in the first XI for a major cup final. He responded by turning in a man-of-the-match display as City beat Aston Villa 2-1 to win a third consecutive EFL Cup.

They will look to make it four in a row against Tottenham at Wembley on Sunday and, in the interim period, Foden has scarcely looked back.

A serious player

His outing in the 2020 final was Foden's 61st appearance for City, going back to a competitive debut from the bench against Feyenoord in the Champions League in November 2017.

Those initial steps of his career saw him make 24 starts and play 2,439 minutes. His knockdown for Sergio Aguero to open the scoring against Villa was a 10th assist to sit alongside 10 goals.

In a little over a year since, Foden has almost doubled his appearances with 56 and 38 starts contribute to a major leap of 3,598 minutes played.

The returns those appearances have yielded do much to explain his status as a one of Guardiola's go-to men, to the extent it is possible he will be afforded the luxury of a rest against Spurs, given City have a Champions League semi-final against Paris Saint-Germain on the horizon and a Premier League title to wrap up.

That might not be the most advisable course of action, given City's record of won 26, drawn three, lost one when Foden starts this season. The sole defeat came in the second Premier League game of the season against Leicester City in September.

That win percentage of 86.7 per cent drops to 68.2 (W15 D3 L4) when Guardiola opts to take Foden out of the firing line.

"His influence in our game is massive right now," the City manager told Sky Sports after another man-of-the-match showing at Villa's expense in midweek, where Foden netted a first-half equaliser in a 2-1 win before his twinkling feet mercilessly goaded opposition right-back Matty Cash into a red card.

"He is becoming a serious player for us," Guardiola added.

Pep's most prolific youngster

Last season's EFL Cup final was played out in front of a capacity Wembley crowd, for whom the Super League was a rugby league competition. It truly was a different world.

Whatever this disorientating reality is, Foden is making it his own.

In the period since he has scored 19 and laid on a further 11 in all competitions, with his minutes-per-goal figure down from 244 to 189 and shot conversion up from 13 to 16.5 per cent.

Such sharp shooting saw him score the winner in both legs of City's Champions League quarter-final win over Borussia Dortmund, the latter rasping strike leading to a cathartic and emotional embrace with Guardiola.

Unsurprisingly, Foden is far outstripping his expected goals (xG) figure of 11.8 since the 2020 EFL Cup final, while an xG 9.8 aligned almost exactly with his 10 goals beforehand.

This higher output is because, much to the profound discomfort of Cash and others, Foden has evolved from the scheming midfielder of his youth to an explosive and versatile wide attacker.

Only Kevin De Bruyne with 24 has been directly involved in more City goals than Foden's 23 this season, thanks to his 14 goals and nine assists.

Looking further back across a career where Guardiola has worked with some of the finest young talent in the game, Foden's overall 29 goals and 21 assists give him 50 goal involvements – more than any other player before turning 21 under the former Barcelona Bayern Munich boss.

The England international's 29 goals are also unmatched among that age group, with Bojan Krkic also scoring the same number for Guardiola's Barcelona.

This weekend is unlikely to be the last time Foden graces Wembley this year, as a starring role with England at Euro 2020 surely awaits – the 20-year-old having taken to international football effortlessly.

From boy to main man

"He was a boy when I arrived, at 17 years old he trained every day with these guys and played more minutes," Guardiola said on Friday.

"Now he is stronger with his physicality, but it is normal. He is still at an age to get stronger, play more minutes and have more experience.

"He has the ability to play in different positions. That's why he is a better player but still, like every player, he can be better. It depends on him."

In this week of all weeks, as he hauled his boyhood team to a vital win, there was something delightful about watching Foden's star continue its unchecked and rapid ascent since that surprise cup final call.

When the modern City began stacking up trophies almost a decade ago, he cheered them on from pitchside as a ballboy. Now, he plays a pivotal role in everything they achieve.

Given his employers' involvement in the tawdry Super League debacle, it will be an incredibly long time until any vaguely romantic notions can be pinned to Manchester City as an organisation.

But Foden's story, that of a young man living out his childhood fantasy every week, playing the football from all of our wildest dreams, is one any fan can cherish. Its appeal is something the suited goons and hedge fund cretins will never understand.

When Foden plays, in those moments of velvet first touches, darting dribbles and thumping finishes, all the nonsense melts away in the face of pure footballing talent. Guardiola was right, he really is a gift.

The 2021 NFL Draft is now under a week away, with excitement rapidly building for fans of the 32 franchises.

With five quarterbacks tipped to go in the first round, and potentially all going in the top 10, the stakes this year are even higher than normal with many teams sensing a chance to secure their future at the game's most important position.

Clemson sensation Trevor Lawrence, billed as a generational talent at QB, is the presumptive number one pick for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

BYU standout Zach Wilson, meanwhile, appears to be locked in for the New York Jets at number two.

From there, a host of speculation and debate has followed the key picks, not least the selection of the San Francisco 49ers.

The Niners traded two first-round picks to move up from 12 to 3, with their trade partners the Miami Dolphins subsequently getting themselves back up to 6 in a deal with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Using Stats Perform data, we have picked out some of the mooted selections that may make the most sense as the draft begins to unfold on Thursday.

JUSTIN FIELDS TO SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

It is hard to see how offensive guru Kyle Shanahan would turn down a skillset like that possessed by Ohio State QB Justin Fields.

While a couple of poor performances in 2020 ended talk he could challenge Lawrence as number one, while a stellar season from Wilson propelled him up draft boards, the data suggests Fields is a unique talent.

He threw for 63 touchdowns and just nine interceptions in 22 games across 2019 and 2020.

Fields added 867 rushing yards and 15 TDs on the ground in that period, earning 59 first downs with his legs and forcing 37 missed tackles.

It is that dual-threat athletic ability that creates endless possibilities for an elite play-caller like Shanahan and should separate Fields from the productive but statuesque Mac Jones. 

However, Trey Lance - who has the highest range of outcomes of the first-round prospects - also ticks many of the boxes that Fields does and is another contender for the Niners at three.

KYLE PITTS TO ATLANTA FALCONS

Kyle Pitts racked up 43 catches for 770 yards and 12 touchdowns in just eight games in 2020, not dropping any of his targets.

Much more than a tight end, his athletic numbers have seen him surge up draft boards and he is rightly considered to be an offensive weapon unlike any other to have come out over recent years.

If the Atlanta Falcons are unable to find a deal to their liking and move out of the number four spot, they would be wise to look at the Florida pass-catcher.

With Matt Ryan remaining at QB and Pitts added to the receiving mix with the likes of Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, Russell Gage and Hayden Hurst, new head coach Arthur Smith may have an offense that is close to unstoppable.

PENEI SEWELL TO CINCINNATI BENGALS

Huge debate continues in Cincinnati over whether the Bengals should draft their left tackle of the future in Penei Sewell or reunite Joe Burrow with LSU wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase at number five.

While having an elite player in one of three WR spots may have a slight analytical advantage over filling one of five offensive line spots with a star, the Bengals may feel there is plenty of receiving talent in the second round, as they showed with the impressive pick up of Tee Higgins in 2020.

If they opted for Sewell, it would be a decisive step in protecting Joe Burrow, whose promising rookie season behind a dreadful offensive line was curtailed by a brutal knee injury.

Sewell allowed just 13 pressures on 285 true pass protection snaps in 2019, ninth in pressure rate allowed (4.6%) among LTs with at least 200 snaps.

Given he did that in the Pac-12 at age 19 and has since posted incredible athletic numbers, it is easy to see why he should be one of the highest non-QBs taken.

JA'MARR CHASE TO MIAMI DOLPHINS

An extraordinary 2019 season for Chase saw him grab 20 touchdowns and 1,780 yards in 14 games for LSU as they won the National Championship.

A receiver who can win at all levels of the field, Chase's draft stock has not been impacted by sitting out of the 2020 season.

The Miami Dolphins have committed to building around QB Tua Tagovailoa despite his shaky rookie season.

What better way to help him than adding an immediate number one receiver who would suddenly make a group already containing DeVante Parker, Will Fuller and Preston Williams one of the NFL's best.

If the Dolphins end up getting Chase at number six and emerge from the process with an extra first-round pick for their troubles after the trade with the Niners, it may prove to be one of the great draft moves.

MAC JONES TO DENVER BRONCOS

With 4,500 passing yards, Mac Jones topped college quarterbacks in an incredible 2020 campaign for Alabama, adding 41 touchdowns and only four interceptions.

He threw a touchdown on 10.2 per cent of his 402 attempts, highest of any QB to attempt more than 250 passes, with only Wilson (11) having a higher TD/INT rate than Jones (10.25).

The two main concerns with Jones are whether his lack of athleticism lowers his chances of success in the modern NFL and how much his stellar supporting cast should be weighted in his evaluation, particularly after a rough start for Tagovailoa coming out of the same college offense.

While the latter question is part of the typical draft uncertainty, the athleticism could become less of an issue in a team where a stellar group of receivers who can get open regularly is already in place, reducing the emphasis on plays outside of structure.

That is the case with the Denver Broncos, who pick at number nine, with Jones' former college team-mate Jerry Jeudy joined by Courtland Sutton, Tim Patrick, K. J. Hamler and Noah Fant.

PATRICK SURTAIN II TO DALLAS COWBOYS

With offensive talent likely to dominate the early picks, the Dallas Cowboys' selection at 10 has been a popular one in many mocks for the first defensive player to come off the board.

Caleb Farley's back procedures mean he is no longer seen as a clear number one option at cornerback – a position of need for Dallas – so Patrick Surtain II may be a safe selection for them depending on their evaluation of Farley.

Surtain was seventh in burns allowed percentage (39.6%) among draft-eligible outside corners with at least 100 coverage snaps and 25 targets in the Power 5 in 2020. He is also seventh in burn yards per target allowed (7.63).

KWITY PAYE TO NEW YORK GIANTS

There is significant uncertainty over the edge class in 2021, with many prospects tipped to go in the mid to late first round and multiple candidates to be the leading representative at the position.

Coronavirus opt outs mean there are lower snap counts and smaller sample sizes to work from compared to those to come out in previous seasons, so there remain some intriguing prospects but no home runs like Chase Young.

One of the most enticing is Kwity Paye, who was restricted to four games for Michigan in 2020 but had 6.5 sacks in 2019.

The New York Giants' defense was a surprise success story in 2020. They have reinforced the secondary in the offseason and remain strong on interior of the trenches with Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams, so a consistent threat off the edge could make for a formidable unit.

While receivers DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle - or offensive tackle Rashawn Salter - would be big temptations if available at number 11, reports this week claimed Giants GM Dave Gettleman was considering taking the unusual step of trading down.

If it happens, it may indicate finding better value and taking a pass-rusher is their preferred route.

Should he can do that and still land a top pass-rusher like Paye or the ultra-athletic Jayson Oweh, whose overall pressure rate in 2020 was 26.2%, good for fourth-best among edge rushers in the draft, it would make sense for the Giants.

TREY LANCE TO NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

A spending spree from New England, and their transition last year from Tom Brady to Cam Newton, means they could represent an exciting landing spot for the raw but prodigious talent Lance.

With 1,100 rushing yards and 14 TDs in 2019, Lance is a QB who provides an elite rushing threat like Newton did in his prime for the Carolina Panthers.

Two top tight ends in Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith offer big bodies to throw to, with the Patriots possessing an offensive line and a system already geared around a rushing QB in Newton who has a similar skill set.

New England will be pondering whether to move up from 15 to secure a QB and would be an excellent landing spot for Lance, regardless of whether they want him to start Week 1.

The NFL Draft looms large on the horizon as rosters continue to take shape ahead of the 2021 season.

Some big offseason moves have already threatened to alter the landscape of the league, even boosting the championship hopes of teams who missed out on the playoffs in 2020.

Most notably, the San Francisco 49ers and Miami Dolphins will each feel they won a trade that saw the number three overall pick sent to the NFC West team in exchange for assets including multiple future first-rounders.

The Niners will get a look at one of the top quarterbacks in an exciting class as they aim to challenge again following an injury ravaged campaign, while the Dolphins can now surround starter Tua Tagovailoa with talent in year two and beyond.

But what of the teams who were already Super Bowl contenders?

When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Green Bay Packers reached the NFC Championship Game and the Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills advanced in the AFC, pre-game predictions could scarcely separate the four.

It was the Bucs who ultimately prevailed, progressing past Green Bay before beating the Chiefs at Super Bowl LV, but their rivals will expect to be in the mix again.

Although chaos higher up in the draft could see plans quickly go out the window, we assess where the Bucs, Packers, Chiefs and Bills might be looking next week - with the help of Stats Perform data.
 

Green Bay Packers

All four of these teams will have interesting options in the first round as the early rush for quarterbacks leaves great depth at several other positions across the board. But the Packers, picking 29th, would be wise to think about how they might help Aaron Rodgers.

The veteran QB was understandably surprised last year when, rather than recruiting help, Green Bay drafted another passer in the first round. Jordan Love did not take a single snap all season long.

Packers wide receiver Davante Adams led the league in receiving touchdowns (18) and ranked fourth for targets (149), joint-second for catches (115) and joint-fifth for receiving yards (1,374), despite playing only 14 games. However, Rodgers clearly lacked a second WR option, with tight end Robert Tonyan's 11 TDs coming on just 59 targets.

There should be no shortage of prospects available to Green Bay, with Elijah Moore - ranked first in the FBS with 149.1 yards per game for Ole Miss - a good fit in the slot.

Yet the team have not selected a receiver in the first round since before Rodgers was drafted, while Adams, in 2014, was the last WR taken higher than the fourth round.

Defensive reinforcements may be more likely over the first two days of the draft. A linebacker like Zaven Collins - four interceptions last season for Tulsa - or a cornerback such as Caleb Farley - falling following back surgery - could be called in the first round, with a later punt on a potential WR project following.
 

Buffalo Bills

Buffalo's needs are two-fold as they aim to give QB Josh Allen the platform to contend with Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes and Tom Brady again.

The Bills ranked fourth in the NFL in 2020 for yards per attempt but 20th for rushing average (4.19). Allen contributed 421 of their 1,723 total rushing yards and half of their 16 rushing TDs.

Neither Devin Singletary (156 carries for 687 yards and two TDs) nor Zack Moss (112 carries for 481 yards and four TDs) look capable of being a game-changer on the ground, while the best running backs in the class may well still be on the board at number 30.

Alabama's Najee Harris, who led the FBS with 26 rushing scores, is an obvious standout.

Yet Buffalo's issues against the Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game came as they failed to disrupt Mahomes, who was sacked only once and threw three TDs and no interceptions.

The Bills were in the middle of the pack for sacks (38, tied 15th) and hurries (163, 17th) and could use someone on the edge, particularly with Jerry Hughes - the man who sacked Mahomes - turning 33 in August.
 

Kansas City Chiefs

If the playoffs made the shortcomings for Buffalo clear, Kansas City's flaws were even more blatant. The best QB in football was helpless in the Super Bowl.

Mitchell Schwartz and Eric Fisher, the Chiefs' starting tackles, missed the big game through injury and Mahomes was sacked three times, throwing two picks and no TDs. The pair have each since been released, too, increasing the team's need at the position.

Arrivals Joe Thuney, who allowed 0.5 sacks last season, and Kyle Long, back out of retirement, are not best suited to playing outside. Kansas City would ideally find both a right and left tackle in this draft.

They should have no shortage of options, with a number of prospects mooted as potential picks. Teven Jenkins, out of Oklahoma State, can play either side and would be a popular signing.
 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Bucs are in a truly unenviable position in that they have no positions of major need.

Some defensive end depth would be nice, but this unit pressured Mahomes into submission. The team ranked second for both hurries (182) and knockdowns (115). Linebacker Shaquil Barrett alone had 13 Super Bowl pressures.

Or how about a receiver to deliver the late-season impact provided by Antonio Brown? He had only four starts yet scored a touchdown in the Super Bowl triumph. Of course, he could also still return.

The rest of the title-winning roster from last year is back, meaning Tampa Bay remain in 'win now' mode and can simply look to pick up the best player left on the board at pick 32.

That might mean a RB like Harris, while the Bucs would have little to lose in taking a flier on Farley, despite his fitness concerns, if he falls to them.

The 2020 NFL Draft delivered one of the best wide receiver classes of the modern era, headlined by Justin Jefferson producing an historic rookie season for the Minnesota Vikings. Unfortunately for NFL defenders, the 2021 crop may well be even better.

Jefferson, having gone 22nd in the draft last year as the fifth receiver selected, set a league record for the most receiving yards by a rookie as he racked up an incredible 1,400 in 2020.

Six receivers went in the first 32 picks last year, with CeeDee Lamb, Brandon Aiyuk and Jerry Jeudy all impressing in their debut seasons in the league.

That number might not be matched this year, but it looks likely there will be at least four receivers taken on day one.

Ja'Marr Chase, DeVonta Smith, Jaylen Waddle and Rashod Bateman all possess skill sets that should mean they too can take the league by storm as Jefferson did so emphatically last season.

Beyond that quartet, there is a deep crop of likely day-two picks who can make an immediate impact for teams looking to bolster their pass-catching options.

Franchises eyeing an infusion of talent in the slot won't be short of options and, as the league tilts ever further towards pass-heavy offenses, it is an excellent year to be in need of a receiver regardless of where they line up.

Here we take an in-depth look at the consensus top four as well as some of the best of rest in another class of wideouts that has the potential to transform offenses across the league.

Ja'Marr Chase - LSU

Widely regarded as the top receiver in the class, Chase earned that moniker despite not displaying the ability to separate from coverage at an elite level.

In 2019, Chase was open on 61.8 per cent of his targets, well below the average of 69.7 per cent among Power 5 receivers with at least 20 targets.

Yet he put up 127.1 yards per game, second in the FBS behind Arkansas State's Omar Bayless (127.2), and was second in yards per reception among receivers with at least 40 catches with an average of 21.2 that trailed only Lamb (21.4).

His pass rating when targeted of 233.0 was second in the same group, with Smith (238.6) the sole man ahead of him.

Chase excelled in spite of a lack of separation because of two factors: his hand usage and his proficiency at the catch point.

To watch Chase is perhaps as close as you will come to watching a pass rusher play receiver, excelling at working off physical press coverage and showing the willingness to aggressively handfight with defenders throughout the route to gain an advantage.

At the catch point, the explosion in his lower body that helped him record a 41-inch vertical jump at his pro day comes to the fore, with Chase consistently succeeding in elevating over the heads of defenders to come down with the ball in contested-catch situations.

His success in those areas helped Chase finish sixth among Power 5 receivers with a minimum of 50 targets with a big-play percentage of 45.6, far outranking that of former Tigers team-mate Jefferson (38.8).

After a year away from the game following his 2020 opt-out, teams picking in the top 10 must decide if Chase's skill set can translate to the NFL as well as Jefferson's did. The majority of the numbers from his critical role in LSU's march to the National Championship present a compelling case.

DeVonta Smith - Alabama

Smith could have declared for the draft last year and been considered the top Alabama receiver in a draft that saw Crimson Tide stars Henry Ruggs III and Jeudy go in the first round after a stunning 2019 in which he outperformed both.

His decision to return for 2020 was emphatically vindicated, though, with Smith becoming the first receiver since Desmond Howard in 1991 to win the Heisman Trophy.

Doubts over Smith's 166-pound frame will persist, yet there was nothing during his career with Alabama to suggest his lack of bulk will be something that prevents him from succeeding at the next level.

Adept at creating separation with his route-running, Smith was open on 85.8 per cent of his targets - seventh among all Power 5 receivers with at least 50 targets - while his burn percentage of 76.4 trailed only Ohio State duo Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave.

His talents in getting free from coverage allowed Smith to rack up 142.8 receiving yards per game, that average second in the FBS, while his passer rating when targeted improved to 283.9.

And rather than allowing himself to be hindered by his slender frame at the catch point, Smith relied on his leaping ability and body control to haul in one spectacular grab after another, his catch percentage of 79.6 eighth on the FBS list for receivers with a minimum of 50 targets.

Deceptively quick and elusive with the ball in his hands, Smith's yards after catch per reception average of 8.33 saw him rank sixth among wideouts with 40 or more receptions.

In short, there is not a facet of the game in which Smith did not excel at Alabama. Perhaps his lean frame, and the doubts over whether he can succeed against press that come with it, will put off some top-10 teams, but there is scarce little evidence Smith cannot live up to the weight of expectations that come with being drafted in the first round.

Jaylen Waddle - Alabama

The same durability concerns surrounding Smith could be applied to Waddle after his final season with Alabama was curtailed by an ankle injury, though he made an ill-advised return for their National Championship game win over Ohio State.

However, any lingering doubts over his health will likely be put to one side, with Waddle firmly established as the premier deep threat in the draft.

Blessed with game-changing speed and a remarkable talent for elevating at the catch point for a receiver of his 5ft 10in and 182-pound frame, Waddle was sensational over six games in 2020 for the Crimson Tide.

He averaged 21.1 yards per reception, a number only bettered by Western Michigan's D'Wayne Eskridge (23.3) among those with 25 catches in the FBS, frequently gaining substantial separation from defenders to make huge plays downfield.

Waddle was open on an astonishing 90.6 per cent of his targets in 2020; the average was 72.8 among receivers with a minimum of 20 targets.

That number can partially be attributed to the success of Steve Sarkisian's scheme last season. However, a burn yards per target average of 19.96 - bettered by just two receivers who met that 20-target threshold - speaks to his ability to defeat coverage with a frightening combination of agility and acceleration that helped him produce 10.3 YAC per reception (13th in the FBS for wideouts with a minimum of 25 catches).

In addition to his explosiveness, Waddle brings reliability that is not always a fixture of deep threats in the NFL. He dropped only one pass on 32 targets last year, catching 87.5 per cent of balls thrown his way (third in the FBS among receivers with at least 30 targets).

Waddle finished his final season in Tuscaloosa with a catch rating of 0.966, further illustrating his status as a receiver who excelled at hauling in catchable passes and consistently ensured those receptions ended in big plays. Nothing scares NFL defenses more than speed and, regardless of where Waddle lands, corners across the league can consider themselves on notice.

Rashod Bateman - Minnesota

While Chase, Smith and Waddle have garnered the vast majority of the attention, Bateman has an extremely credible claim for being the most well-rounded receiver in the entire class.

His case was not helped by a 2020 season in which he only played five games following a battle with coronavirus, but his 2019 campaign was one illustrative of a prospect with all the tools to blossom into a number one wideout at the highest level.

A talented downfield weapon who was open on 70.8 per cent of his targets in 2019 with an average depth of target of 16.2 yards, Bateman does an excellent job of engineering separation with his route-running.

His burn yards per target average of 16.15 was sixth among all Power 5 receivers with at least 50 targets two seasons ago and only Ruggs and Olave in the same group had a higher big-play percentage than Bateman's 50.4.

Bateman can use his 6ft 190-pound frame to dominate at the catch point, while his abilities after the catch have been severely underrated. Indeed, his missed/broken tackle per touch rate of 0.300 was superior to that of Smith (0.299) in the same year, though Chase (0.353) and Waddle (0.441) each outperformed him in that regard.

He could go well outside the top 10 but, should Bateman put everything together in pros with the same consistency as he did in college in 2019, he could prove the best of an ultra-talented bunch.

Best of the rest

For as exciting of a prospect as Bateman is, many believe Terrace Marshall Jr. is even better.

He was the forgotten man in that juggernaut LSU offense of 2019 and impressed last year when thrust into the lead receiver role following the exits of Joe Burrow, Chase, Justin Jefferson and play-caller Joe Brady.

Boasting an intriguing blend of size and speed, Marshall ranked 14th in the FBS in 2020 with 104.4 receiving yards per game. Only two receivers - Smith and Jaelon Darden - caught more than Marshall's 23 touchdowns over the last two seasons.

North Carolina's Dyami Brown is of a similar physical profile to Marshall but used it in a very different way, developing into one of college football's premier deep threats.

With an air yards per target average of 17.6 last season, Brown led FBS receivers with a minimum of 40 catches as he averaged 20.0 yards per reception.

He was open on 75.6 per cent of his targets despite having the fourth-highest average depth of target (18.0 yards) among Power 5 receivers with at least 20 targets. His burn yards per target average of 17.30 was seventh.

While Brown does the bulk of his damage getting downfield before making the catch, teams eyeing receivers who can pick up significant yardage after the reception will have taken a strong look at Florida star Kadarius Toney.

Toney enjoyed a breakout year in 2020, using the elasticity in his legs to rack up 6.93 yards after catch per reception, that average 20th among receivers with a minimum of 40 receptions.

He had a missed/broken tackle per touch rate of 0.360 that was bettered by just four wideouts among Power 5 receivers with a minimum of 50 targets.

And though there is concern about Toney's status as a one-year wonder who often ran undisciplined routes, his hands have proven extremely reliable, his catch percentage of 83.3 fourth among FBS receivers targeted at least 50 times.

Elijah Moore can't quite match Toney for YAC (6.02 per reception in 2020) but he was the picture of reliability for Ole Miss last season as he led the FBS in receiving yards per game with 149.1 while catching 84.3 per cent of his targets (third in FBS among those with 50 targets).

Ultra-dependable at the catch point, Moore demonstrates extremely strong hands, excellent ball-tracking ability and the body control to adjust to inaccurate passes. His catch rating, which measures how well a receiver successfully brings in throws that are considered catchable, of 0.989 was bettered by just one receiver in the Power 5 with at least 50 targets in 2020.

Beating defenders consistently with his lower-body agility and stop-start quickness that makes him a significant threat on double moves, just five Power 5 receivers with a minimum of 50 targets did a better job of getting open than Moore.

He was open on 86.3 per cent of his targets. Expecting Moore to immediately have the same success in the pros is unrealistic, but he has all the makings of a second-round steal.

The New York Jets didn't get the chance to draft Baker Mayfield. Three years later, they may not be passing up on taking a reasonable facsimile.

There's seemingly little drama at the very summit of this year's NFL Draft, where Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence has been seen as a foregone conclusion to land in Jacksonville from the day the Jaguars clinched the No. 1 overall pick in December. And if a growing amount of media speculation can be taken as fact, the Jets appear locked in to making BYU's Zach Wilson their latest attempt at finding a franchise signal-caller when they pick at No. 2.

So, why has Wilson, a fringe prospect leading into his stellar junior season with the Cougars, presumably vaulted to near the top of a quarterback-heavy class that also features three other likely first-round choices in Ohio State's Justin Fields, North Dakota State's Trey Lance and Alabama's Mac Jones?

Joe Burrow had a similar rise just a year ago, going from a projected late-round prospect to the top overall pick on the strength of a record-setting final season at LSU. And when using Stats Perform's advanced metric data, Wilson's 2020 campaign compares quite favourably with the final collegiate seasons of the last three No. 1 overall selections – Mayfield, Kyler Murray and Burrow.

Wilson v former No. 1 overall picks

Wilson's final year with the Cougars has the edge over the farewell college seasons of that trio in two key areas, completion percentage on third down and on throws of at least 20 air yards. He completed 79.7 per cent of his third-down throws (first in the FBS among QBs with a minimum of 40 attempts) and connected on 63.3 per cent of throws of 20 air yards or more, which also led FBS quarterbacks with at least 30 attempts.

Neither Mayfield (62.0), Murray (65.0) or Burrow (65.6) come close to Wilson in third-down percentage. It is the same story when pushing the ball over 20 yards through the air. Mayfield's completion percentage on such pass attempts (53.3) ranked first in the FBS in 2017 while Burrow (58) was second in 2019 but they and Murray (10th in 2018 with 49.3) were again well adrift of Wilson.

When blitzed, Wilson's completion percentage of 67.9 trailed only Burrow in 2019 (69.6), though on play-action throws (73.4 per cent) he was inferior to both Mayfield (73.6) and Burrow (75.2). That duo also had the edge in the red zone. Mayfield led FBS quarterbacks with at least 25 attempts in 2017 with a 70.7 completion percentage, with Wilson's mark of 66.7 below that and Burrow's effort in 2019 (72.2).

Yet in essence, Wilson's performance on deep throws, in play-action situations and within the red zone was a near carbon-copy to those of Mayfield and Burrow. Mayfield has been a popular comp to the Utah native, and for good reason as they're similarly sized and play with an evident abundance of bravado and swagger. That gunslinger mentality often worked against Mayfield in his second NFL season, when his 21 interceptions were the second highest in the league in 2019, but a more judicious approach in 2020 led to a much higher rate of efficiency and more importantly, greater team success as the Cleveland Browns nearly doubled their win total from six to 11.

Wilson's numbers, in fact, trump those of Lawrence, who finished no higher than 19th among qualified FBS quarterbacks in those categories.

Now, that still doesn't necessarily mean that Wilson should be viewed as the superior prospect. Lawrence, much like the three quarterbacks mentioned above, faced an overall higher level of competition than his draft counterpart, who did not go up against a single Power 5 team during BYU's breakout 2020 season.

Wilson did face four major conference teams as a sophomore in 2019, and while his overall stats in those games (997 passing yards, 62.8 completion percentage, three touchdowns, three interceptions) were not overwhelming, he did lead the Cougars to wins at Tennessee and against Southern California with turnover-free efforts in each. While the sample size is still small, it's enough to suggest he can succeed against quality opponents at the next level if he plays within himself.

Why Wilson fits the Jets like a glove

Perhaps Wilson's most endearing trait to quarterback-needy teams, and arguably the main reason why he seems destined to be off the board within the top three picks, is his prowess on play-action passes. That is a staple of the Kyle Shanahan offense run by the San Francisco 49ers, who own the No. 3 pick and have gone on record stating they intend to take a quarterback.

The Jets, meanwhile, have spent the offseason attempting to morph into 49ers East by hiring San Francisco defensive coordinator Robert Salah as their new head coach and tabbing Shanahan disciple Mike LaFleur as offensive coordinator. And with Sam Darnold having been shown the door following three seasons of largely unmet expectations, it's clear the next order of business is finding a young field general well-suited to run LaFleur's scheme.

It's also clear that this is a decision the Jets can't get wrong this time around. Wilson may not have the highest ceiling of the group behind Lawrence – that belongs to the uber-athletic but somewhat unpolished Lance – but he'd be the safest bet. He's the best play-action quarterback in this class and probably the most seamless fit for either the Jets or 49ers, having operated in an offense at BYU that utilised a heavy dose of outside-zone running that's common to the Shanahan system. Wilson can also reasonably be viewed as a better prospect than Burrow, as his arm strength is superior to last year's top choice.

Detractors can fairly point out, however, that Burrow may not have been the best quarterback of the 2020 class – Justin Herbert certainly had the best rookie season. The same can be said for Mayfield, who was drafted No. 1 in the same year as an eventual NFL MVP (Lamar Jackson) and a runner-up for last season's award (Josh Allen).

Still, Mayfield has a playoff win on his resume and an above .500 record as a starter for a franchise that went 0-16 before his arrival. If the Jets can get the same from Wilson through his first three years, it will be a worthwhile decision.

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