Week 1 can be strange. Not everything goes to plan and, for NFL coaches and fantasy owners alike, it's best not to overreact to the weekend just gone.

However, avoiding falling 0-2 is just as important as keeping your cool. In the high-pressure world of the NFL and amid the considerably lower stakes of fantasy football, nobody wants to fall into a hole early in the season.

And, in both cases, identifying the players who can be relied on to produce a big performance is the key to victory.

In this week's edition of Fantasy Picks, Stats Perform looks at the players who should be considered sure things to deliver the goods.

QB: Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks vs. Tennessee Titans

Wilson could hardly have been more impressive as the Seahawks swept aside the Indianapolis Colts on the road in Week 1.

Continuing his remarkable rapport with Tyler Lockett, who had two receiving scores, Wilson threw for 254 yards and four touchdowns as his marriage with new offensive coordinator Shane Waldron got off to a spectacular start.

Second in air yards per attempt (10.43) among quarterbacks with at least 10 attempts, Wilson carries substantial upside as one of the best deep-ball throwers in the NFL and should receive ample opportunity to demonstrate that prowess against an extremely vulnerable Titans defense shredded by the Arizona Cardinals for 280 net yards passing and four touchdowns through the air in their opener.

RB: Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers vs. Detroit Lions

Nothing went right for the Packers in their 38-3 loss to the New Orleans Saints, with Jones held to nine yards on five carries on a miserable day for the entire offense.

Yet a Week 2 clash with the Detroit Lions should prove the perfect tonic. Detroit gave up 131 yards on the ground to the San Francisco 49ers in the opener, with sixth-round rookie Elijah Mitchell gashing the Lions for 104 yards and a touchdown at a rate of 5.5 yards per carry.

The Packers operate a zone running game akin to that of the Niners, so Jones should be confident of finding room to rack up similar numbers. Jones has topped 100 yards in two of his past three games against the Lions, including a 168-yard, two-touchdown effort at Lambeau Field last year.

WR: Keenan Allen, Los Angeles Chargers vs. Dallas Cowboys

Justin Herbert's rapport with a receiver who has a case for being the premier route runner in the NFL continues to blossom, with the reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year going to Allen time and again as the Chargers edged out the Washington Football Team in their opener.

Allen was targeted 13 times and caught nine passes for 100 yards in a 20-16 victory. He registered a burn, which is when a player wins his matchup with a defender on plays where he is targeted, on 12 of those 13 targets.

He did that against a Washington defense that allowed the second-fewest yards per pass play (5.33) in the NFL last season. Now he gets to face a Cowboys defense that ranked 21st in that same metric with 6.69 yards and gave up 7.58 per play in their opening loss to the Buccaneers. Book in Allen for another big day.

TE: George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers @ Philadelphia Eagles

Deebo Samuel overshadowed Kittle in the Niners' win in Detroit, but the top all-round tight end in football still produced with four catches for 78 yards and should be salivating at the prospect of facing the Eagles.

Last season, in a home loss to the Eagles, Kittle hauled in all 15 of his targets from Nick Mullens for 183 yards and a touchdown.

He might not see the same level of targets at Lincoln Financial Field this year but, with a healthy Jimmy Garoppolo under center, he should see enough of the ball to excel in a matchup with an Eagles defense that has consistently struggled to defend tight ends.

Defense: New England Patriots @ New York Jets

The Patriots may have come up short against the Miami Dolphins, but there was much to admire about their performance on defense.

With the likes of Matthew Judon and Josh Uche excelling at getting pressure on Tua Tagovailoa, New England's front is likely to have great success against the Jets' offensive line, which will be without left tackle Mekhi Becton.

Jets rookie quarterback Zach Wilson was sacked six times in their loss to the Carolina Panthers, which saw him throw an interceptable pass on 5.56 per cent of his attempts, according to Stats Perform data.

Expect New England's defense to create more interception opportunities and make it another long afternoon for Wilson and the Jets.

Just when the Cleveland Browns thought they were in position to open the NFL season with a statement win, Patrick Mahomes did what Patrick Mahomes does. 

The Kansas City Chiefs star threw for a pair of touchdowns in the fourth quarter as the reigning AFC champions edged the Browns 33-29 on Sunday.

Mahomes completed 27 of his 36 passes for 337 yards and three interceptions as the former MVP made more NFL history.

The 25-year-old broke the record for most passing yards in NFL history through first 50 games, while he also boasts the most passing touchdowns ever through the same amount of appearances.

Cleveland had built a 22-10 half-time lead, with Baker Mayfield directing three scoring drives that led to Nick Chubb finding the end zone twice and Jarvis Landry running in another touchdown before the break. 

Mayfield finished 21 of 28 passing for 321 yards, but had one critical mistake late. With the Browns near midfield and just over a minute to play, the Chicago quarterback scrambled to avoid pressure before throwing a pass up for grabs to the left sideline. Mike Hughes leaped to intercept the ball and the Chiefs ran out the clock from there. 

Mahomes, meanwhile, was poised as ever as he led the Chiefs to their ninth win in the last 11 games in which they trailed by double digits. 

It started with a 14-play drive to open the second half, capped by an 11-yard TD pass to his favourite target Travis Kelce. 

The signature moment, though, was a stunning 75-yard deep strike to Tyreek Hill that brought the Chiefs within two early in the fourth quarter. 

The Browns botched a punt deep in their own territory on the ensuing drive and Mahomes hit Kelce for the go-ahead touchdown three plays later. 

It was the kind of turnaround Cleveland fans have grown all too accustomed to over the years, particularly in season openers. 

The Browns have not won in Week 1 since 2004 and are now 0-16-1 since. 

Winston, Saints crush Packers

Aaron Rodgers dominated the headlines throughout the NFL offseason but he was upstaged in a big way as the season began. 

Jameis Winston threw for five touchdowns as Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers were kept from the end zone altogether in a 38-3 New Orleans Saints rout. 

Rodgers completed just 15 of 28 passes for 133 yards and threw two interceptions. He had only five interceptions all of last season on the way to being named NFL MVP for the third time.

Winston took over the starting role in New Orleans from another future Hall of Famer, the retired Drew Brees, and was brilliant at the Superdome. He completed 14 of 20 passes for 148 yards without an interception or a sack. 

In a matchup of two young quarterbacks, Tua Tagovailoa got the better of his former Alabama team-mate Mac Jones as the Miami Dolphins edged the New England Patriots 17-16 on the road.

While the rookie Jones had the better numbers of the two with 29 of 39 passing, 281 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions, the Patriots repeatedly had to settle for field goals. 

Tagovailoa, meanwhile, ran one touchdown in himself and threw for another in the third quarter that provided the eventual winning margin.

On Sunday, four of the five quarterbacks selected in the first round of this year's NFL Draft will take the field for their debuts.

A quintet of franchises capitalised on what many considered to be an historic class at the position to select the prospects they hope will prove to be the long-term future of their respective teams.

However, so much of a quarterback's success is dependent on situation and it is likely the quarterback from this crop of rookies that initially stands out will be the one with the best supporting cast around them.

The consensus is that Trey Lance, the third overall pick of the San Francisco 49ers, is in the best spot. For now, he will have to play second fiddle to Jimmy Garoppolo and settle for only sporadic action as the Niners look to make use of his running threat.

When Lance does take over full-time, he will be playing the most important position on a roster that was seven minutes from Super Bowl glory two seasons ago.

While he may have landed in the most favourable scenario, 11th overall pick Justin Fields appears to have been dealt the worst hand, with the Chicago Bears unwilling to risk putting him out there in Week 1 with a talent-poor offense against the Los Angeles Rams despite a strong preseason.

Do the numbers back up the statements that Lance is in the best situation with Fields in the worst? And where do Trevor Lawrence, first overall pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Jets rookie Zach Wilson and New England Patriots starter Mac Jones stack up in terms of supporting cast?

Stats Perform analysed its advanced metrics to find out.

RUNNING GAME

1. Patriots 2. 49ers 3. Jaguars 4. Jets 5. Bears

The running game can be an excellent safety net that takes the pressure off a quarterback's shoulders.

Rushing the ball effectively is contingent on an offensive line that can open the holes and a back that can not only take advantage of those lanes but also create for himself.

In terms of run blocking, the Patriots are the standouts among the teams to select a signal-caller. Second in Stats Perform's projected offensive line rankings, put together using combined run blocking and pass protection data over the past three seasons, only two offensive lines league begin the season better prepared to provide the foundation for a successful ground game than that of New England.

Led by center David Andrews - whose run disruption rate allowed of 5.3 per cent was the best in the NFL at his position - and right guard Shaq Mason (6.3%), the Patriots' O-Line is one that should continue to excel at creating running lanes.

Damien Harris showed his ability to take advantage of those lanes last season when he averaged 3.11 yards before contact from a defender, 10th in the NFL, while making things happen for himself with 3.15 yards per carry on attempts where there was a run disruption from a defender.

When Jones makes his first start against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, he should have full confidence in being able to lean on Harris and the line to make his life easier.

The 49ers, whose starting running back Raheem Mostert averaged 3.28 yards before contact last season, might have a strong case for having the top running game should Lance's dual-threat ability take their ground attack to the next level.

Third-round pick Trey Sermon (4.85 yards before contact, 2.77 yards after contact for Ohio State in 2020) could prove an astute selection, though an offensive line 18th in run blocking in Stats Perform's rankings will need to take a step forward.

Still, their position is significantly more favourable than that of the Bears, who rank last in run blocking, making David Montgomery's 1,000-yard 2020 season all the more surprising.

Yet Montgomery was below the league average in yards before contact (2.54 per attempt) and after contact (1.84), hardly inspiring confidence that he can lighten the load on Fields when the Bears finally commit to him as the starter.

PASS CATCHERS

1. 49ers 2. Patriots 3. Jets 4. Bears 5. Jaguars

There isn't much use investing in a potential franchise quarterback if you cannot put weapons around him upon whom he can rely.

In terms of players he can target and trust, Lance has the edge over his fellow rookies, though no team to take a quarterback in the first round landed in the top half of Stats Perform's rankings by collective open percentage.

The Niners landed 18th on that list but conventional wisdom says they will be much higher should tight end George Kittle and top wide receivers Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk stay healthy.

All three endured injury-hindered 2020 seasons, though Kittle still led all tight ends in adjusted open percentage (45.03%). He was first among tight ends with 3.9 burn yards per route (a burn is a target where the receiver wins his matchup with a defender).

Samuel's burn yards per route rate of 3.0 was particularly eye-catching because his average depth of target of 2.3 was the lowest in the NFL, the former second-round pick showing his skills with ball in hand with 12.1 yards after the catch per reception, best in the NFL.

Aiyuk, meanwhile, produced a big play on 33.1 per cent of his targets, third among rookie receivers with at least 50 targets, a breakout year appears on the horizon for the second-year wideout.

With an elite tight end and two promising wideouts, the Niners' situation is substantially better than Jacksonville's. The Jaguars' pass-catchers ranked last by collective open percentage.

Late free-agent addition Tyron Johnson is the sole wide receiver on the Jaguars' roster to have posted a burn percentage above the average of 62.5 per cent last year.

Johnson did so on 69.2 per cent of his targets and was first in burn yards per target (19.89) and second in burn yards per route (3.6) with an average depth of target of 20 yards.

This evidently skilled deep separator will be tasked with stretching opposing defenses while D.J. Chark (30.33% adjusted open) and Laviska Shenault (27.44%) must do a better job of beating coverage and taking advantage of the stress Johnson can put on opponents to lift this group from the cellar and give Lawrence more to work with.

PASS BLOCKING

1. Patriots 2. Jets 3. Jaguars 4. 49ers 5. Bears

Though most accept Fields is the most exciting quarterback on the Bears' roster, Matt Nagy's decision to not start him and protect him from an offensive line that can hardly protect anyone may be an astute one with Chicago facing Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald and the Rams Week 1.

Eventually, Fields will have to take his lumps. There are good defensive players across the NFL by which he will one day be confronted, but a reticence to put him out there behind a line ranked 30th in pass protection by Stats Perform is understandable.

Starting left tackle Jason Peters is 39 and allowed a pressure rate of 12.4 per cent last term, the 10th-worst in the league. The interior of the line is also a substantial concern.

Right guard James Daniels is coming off a year where he gave up a pressure on 11.3 per cent of pass protection snaps. Cody Whitehair is at left guard having played center in 2020, when only three players at his former position allowed a higher adjusted sack rate than his 1.9 per cent. One of those players was this year's starting center Sam Mustipher (2.3%).

While Fields would have the NFL equivalent of a turnstile in front of him. Jones will head on the Gillette Stadium field with an O-Line that is the definition of solidity.

Though not quite the brick wall he had the benefit of at Alabama, the Patriots' line should provide Jones with excellent protection, ranking fifth in pass blocking.

Mike Onwenu ranked as the best pass-protecting left guard in the NFL and in Trent Brown, credited with one adjusted sack allowed on 162 pass-block snaps in his final season with the Las Vegas Raiders, and Isaiah Wynn, the Patriots have a solid pair of tackles to give Jones the time to prove his pre-draft doubters wrong.

The left side of the Jets' line could rival that of the Patriots. Mekhi Becton's pressure rate allowed of 5.5 per cent was ninth among left tackles in 2020. On his inside shoulder, rookie left guard Alijah Vera-Tucker conceded only five pressures on 387 pass protection snaps the last time he played that spot for USC in 2019. Wilson can afford to have great faith in that duo.

DEFENSE

1. 49ers 2. Bears 3. Patriots 4. Jets 5. Jaguars

Defense is often neglected when it comes to talking about a quarterback's supporting cast but, if a team has one that can stifle opposing attacks, it leaves more wiggle room for a young quarterback to endure the 'rookie mistakes' and not sink his team's chances of competing.

Lance's performances during the preseason, while exciting, indicated he is a quarterback who could be a little turnover-prone as he adapts to reading defenses at the NFL level.

San Francisco's is a defense that is strong up front and better than given credit for in the secondary. The 49ers ranked eighth in pass coverage grade, which was produced by multiplying each player's coverage baseline by a projected target share for 2021 with the results then aggregated at the team level.

On the front, Stats Perform projected the average Niners defender to produce a pressure on 11.5 per cent of pass rush attempts, putting them fourth in the NFL.

Though there is great depth on the defensive line, much of that projection is built on Nick Bosa, getting back to his Defensive Rookie of the Year levels of 2019, when he had a pressure rate of 28.3 per cent, after suffering a torn ACL in Week 2 last year. With Bosa healthy and Fred Warner the premier all-round linebacker in the NFL, the Niners have a defense that could help them contend amid bumps in the road for Lance.

The Bears don't have many areas where they can be considered to be the best in the NFL, yet their front seven has a strong claim. The average Chicago pass rusher is projected to produce a pressure on 11.4% of pass rush attempts and the average run defender is forecast to cause a run disruption 10.2% of the time.

While Chicago's front may be well-rounded, their secondary looks extremely shaky, as illustrated by the Bears' ranking of 22nd in pass coverage grade. Jaylon Johnson enjoyed an encouraging rookie season at corner yet, with Kindle Vildor set to start across from him having only started one game in his brief career, there is clear a potential weakness for opponents to target.

The Patriots have no such problems on the back end, at least when the absent Stephon Gilmore is on the field. New England are seventh in coverage grade, and with linebacker D'Onta Hightower returning and the addition of edge rusher Matthew Judon, they will hope their front seven can dramatically outperform the projection of a pressure from a defender on just 9.51% of attempts.

New York's pass rush suffered a substantial blow when free agent signing Carl Lawson, who had a pressure rate of 22.3% that was seventh in the NFL last season, was lost for the year due to a ruptured Achilles. Without him, the average Jets defender is predicted to cause pressure 10.34% of the time, and there is an even greater onus on defensive tackle Quinnen Williams to carry his 2020 emergence into this year.

The Jets' hopes of the defense offering support to Wilson may be dashed should the front prove unable to lift a secondary bereft of talent beyond safety Marcus Maye, New York entering the season 23rd in pass coverage grade.

A lack of pass-rushing options beyond Josh Allen, who took a step back in an injury-affected 2020, contributed to the Jaguars' mediocre projected pressure rate of 10.18% and, with Jacksonville just above the Jets and Bears in 21st in coverage grade, they need cornerback Shaquill Griffin to live up to his lucrative free agency pricetag to elevate the play in the defensive backfield and ensure Lawrence is not tasked with coming through a shootout every week.

OVERALL

1. Patriots 2. 49ers 3. Jets 4. Bears 5. Jaguars

Aided by an offensive line that excels in both facets, a running back seemingly primed for a breakout year and a defense restocked with players returning from opt-outs and quality free agents, Jones will head into his NFL debut with the top supporting cast of any of the rookies.

The most important thing in Jones' favour, though, is his head coach, as he will benefit from playing for the greatest coach of all-time in Bill Belichick, whose incredible expertise on the defensive side of the ball should prove a significant help to the former Alabama star as he adapts to different looks from opponents.

Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan's play-calling acumen will give Lance an advantage most quarterbacks in the league do not enjoy when he hits the field, with the weapons they boast on both sides of the ball meaning he will likely take over a team headed for the playoffs when he eventually displaces Garoppolo.

Wilson has the luxury of playing for two Shanahan disciples in head coach Robert Saleh and offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur. The early signs have been promising in terms of him settling into LaFleur's offense but Saleh will need to do a particularly impressive coaching job on defense to turn them into a unit capable of making Wilson's life easier.

Fields may get help in that respect from the defensive front and will have one of the most underrated wide receivers in the NFL in Allen Robinson. He and Lawrence were deemed by many to be the best quarterbacks in the 2021 class, however, due to the holes on both sides of their respective rosters, it is they who have the most obstacles to immediate success in front of them.

The New England Patriots drafted Mac Jones to be their quarterback of the future, but the rookie is not surprised that future will start in Week 1 of the NFL season. 

Jones beat out incumbent starter Cam Newton, who was released last week, and will be under center in Sunday's season opener against the Miami Dolphins. 

In an interview Tuesday with Boston radio station WEEI, Jones said he was "not really" caught off-guard when he learned in a team meeting that he had won the job. 

"I mean, like I always say, I prepare to be the starter and every day you come in and I got the chance to get a lot of reps, so nothing really changes," Jones said. "Just trying to be a good teammate.

"Trying to learn the plays every day and fix what I messed up on, listen to [offensive coordinator] Josh [McDaniels] and all the guys in the quarterbacks room, you just take their advice like I always have since I have been here.

"Like I said, nothing really changes. It’s exciting.”

Jones, who turned 23 on Sunday, led Alabama to the College Football Playoff national championship last season. He completed a record 77.4 per cent of his passes while throwing for 4,500 yards with 41 touchdowns and just four interceptions. 

While his resume was as impressive as any rookie's, the jump to the NFL can be daunting. Jones said Newton was a mentor to him throughout the off-season and training camp and was helpful throughout even though they were competing for a job. 

"Obviously Cam is a great guy, a great player, and hopefully he lands somewhere," Jones said. "I definitely learned a lot from him and I'm excited to keep learning from Brian [Hoyer] and everyone in the quarterback room."

Jones has been impressive throughout the pre-season, completing 36 of 52 passes (69.2 per cent) for 389 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions as the Patriots won all three of their games. 

Beginning Sunday, the stakes will be much higher, and Jones knows he will have to perform to maintain his role. That would be true anywhere in the NFL, but the pressure figures to be turned up given New England's championship pedigree. 

"It is a great opportunity and it’s something I have always wanted to do - be a NFL starting quarterback," Jones said. "But like I said, it doesn’t really mean much. The label is the label, but you’ve got to go out and produce and that’s just what it comes down to." 

With every NFL season, new stars emerge, thrusting themselves to the forefront of the consciousness with breakout campaigns that put them firmly in the conversation as one of the best players at their position.

Often such years come as a significant surprise, as was the case in 2020 when Justin Jefferson broke the record for receiving yards by a rookie, topping 1,400 having only posted 70 through his opening two games.

But frequently it is possible to project breakout seasons before they happen by looking at the numbers from previous years and the situation a player finds himself in heading into the campaign.

Using its advanced metrics, Stats Perform looks at five players poised to emerge with stellar performances in the 2021 season.

Joe Burrow – Cincinnati Bengals

The fate of the Bengals' season, and perhaps that of head coach Zac Taylor, rests predominantly on how Burrow fares on his return to regular-season action after a serious knee ligament injury curtailed his rookie year.

Burrow, the first overall pick in 2020, being back at his best is far from a guarantee. However, the former LSU star has seemingly grown in confidence in the preseason after some initial struggles in training camp and demonstrated enough in his 10 games last campaign to suggest he can justify his draft status and lift the Bengals from the AFC North cellar.

The primary issue facing Burrow is the lack of talent on the offensive line protecting him, which is a lowly 28th in the NFL per Stats Perform's rankings, with Cincinnati bemusing many by selecting wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase instead of tackle Penei Sewell with the fifth pick in this year's draft.

Yet Burrow does an excellent job of moving in the pocket and finding lanes out of it to escape pressure. He reads the field well and delivers his throws with consistently accurate placement. Burrow ranked sixth in the NFL among quarterbacks with at least 100 pass attempts with a well-thrown percentage of 80.6.

That number dipped to 69.8 when under pressure, but still gave him the best mark of any quarterback in the AFC North, reflecting his poise when the pocket breaks down.

With Chase joining Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd in an impressive wide receiver room, Burrow has the weapons to make a huge leap in year two providing he stays healthy and the offensive line can produce even a slight improvement.

Damien Harris – New England Patriots

While the New England offense disappointed for the most part last year, their running game was efficient, and Harris played a significant role.

He averaged five yards a carry in recording 691 rushing yards and two touchdowns in 10 games. Those latter two numbers may be slightly underwhelming, yet Harris was one of the premier backs in the league when it came to getting to the second level of the defense in a hurry.

A patient back who reads his blocks intelligently, Harris' decisiveness and burst when he identified the running lane to hit allowed him to average 3.11 yards before contact by a defender per attempt, putting him 10th in the NFL.

His rate of 2.05 yards after contact was less impressive but still above the average of 1.91, while Harris was 11th in the NFL with 3.15 yards per carry on rush attempts where there was a run disruption by a defender.

The Patriots possess the third-best run-blocking line in the NFL, according to Stats Perform's rankings, and – though Cam Newton's exit may make their ground game less diverse – Harris could reap the benefits of facing lighter boxes if Mac Jones' impressive preseason translates into the regular season and gives New England's passing attack a much-needed jump.

Brandon Aiyuk – San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers' second first-round pick of 2020 was in a difficult situation as he dealt with sub-par quarterback play between the struggles of the oft-injured Jimmy Garoppolo and backup Nick Mullens before they finished the season with C.J. Beathard.

However, the former Arizona State receiver still excelled in defeating coverage with his route-running ability and showed his potential with the ball in his hands after the catch.

Aiyuk caught 60 passes for 748 yards and five touchdowns in 12 games as a rookie. He added a further two scores on the ground.

His big-play percentage of 33.1 was third among rookies with at least 50 targets behind Gabriel Davis and Tee Higgins. Davis has Stefon Diggs, Cole Beasley and Emmanuel Sanders as competition for targets with the Buffalo Bills while Higgins will have to share the receiving workload with Chase and Boyd.

George Kittle and Deebo Samuel will command a significant number of targets for San Francisco but Aiyuk holds an undisputed position at the top of the wide receiver depth chart, meaning he will likely see enough passes thrown his way in 2021 for him to outperform both Davis and Higgins.

With Garoppolo healthy and Trey Lance lurking as a high-upside successor, Aiyuk is in a much better spot in 2021 to surpass 1,000 yards and establish himself as one of the league's brightest young stars at the receiver position.

Marcus Davenport – New Orleans Saints

Davenport has yet to justify the trade up the Saints struck to draft him in 2018 despite flashes of the brilliance that convinced New Orleans to make such a dramatic move up the board.

His influence was limited by a series of injury issues in 2020 but Davenport still registered a pressure rate of 21.3 per cent that was 11th among edge rushers. His run disruption rate of 15.7 per cent was 12th.

The Saints did spend a first-round pick on an edge rusher in Payton Turner, whose stock rose dramatically late in the process. However, with Trey Hendrickson, who had 13.5 sacks last year, having departed for a lucrative payday with the Bengals, Davenport is in line for a clear uptick on the 374 defensive snaps he played in 2020.

At his best, Davenport is an explosive pass rusher blessed with tremendous power who can drive blockers back with the bull rush but also bend around the edge and flatten to the quarterback with excellent closing speed.

The Saints have not seen his best often enough, yet if he can stay healthy, Davenport can play a crucial role for the New Orleans defense as part of a front that has enough talent to ensure he will regularly have the benefit of one-on-one matchups to help him significantly pad his career total of 12 sacks.

Darious Williams – Los Angeles Rams

There is a strong argument that Williams has already enjoyed his breakout campaign, having racked up 14 passes deflected and four interceptions for the Rams last year.

Despite his superb 2020, Williams is not a player talked about as one of the premier cornerbacks in the NFL. Should he back up last season's efforts with a similarly productive 2021 for a Rams team many expect to contend for the Super Bowl following Matthew Stafford's arrival, that may change.

Williams excels at reading the eyes of the quarterback to break on the football and make plays at the catch point, with his ball skills reflected by his gaudy press breakup and interception numbers.

Only K'Waun Williams of the San Francisco 49ers allowed a burn, which is when a receiver wins his matchup with a defender on plays where he is targeted regardless of whether the ball is catchable, at a lower rate than Williams, who did so on 30.3 per cent of balls thrown in his direction.

Williams' big-play percentage allowed of 16 was the 12th-best among all cornerbacks and, though his on-ball production may be a product of playing across from Jalen Ramsey, the fact he so frequently stood up to the test when challenged by opposing passing games indicates he is a player who can continue his ascent in his fourth year.

David Patten, a three-time Super Bowl champion with the New England Patriots, has died at the age of 47, his agent has confirmed.

Patten played for the Patriots between 2001 and 2004 and won three Championship rings with the franchise.

He had previously played for the Cleveland Browns and the New York Giants and went on to have spells in Washington and New Orleans before returning to Ohio and then New England to round off his career as an offseason and practice squad member.

The former wide receiver, who had been the assistant coach of the Western Carolina Catamounts since 2013, cemented his place in Pats history when he caught Tom Brady's first postseason touchdown pass to put New England 14-3 ahead against the St. Louis Rams in 2002. 

New England went on to win 20-17, with the catch the only one Patten made in the game. It was Brady's first Super Bowl success, and the quarterback went on to become an all-time great, winning the Championship game on seven occasions, most recently with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers earlier this year.

Patten tallied up 4,715 regular-season receiving yards over a 12-year career in the NFL, and 106 for rushing.

On Friday, news of his passing was confirmed by Sam Gordon, who runs the G2 Management agency of which Patten was a client.

"Today, I woke up to the worst news you could hear," Gordon posted on Instagram, alongside a photo of himself and Patten.

"My close friend and childhood hero David Patten passed away suddenly last night.

"Very rarely do people get to call their childhood heroes/favorite players their friends. Or even have them take a chance on you. You blessed with me with that. You blessed me with your belief in me when I was getting my company off of the ground.

"But most important of all, you were there to talk when the stress was too great and I was unsure of myself in my field. Mr Patten. My friend, my hero, the first one to believe in me as a manager/agent. I will miss you every day.

"Thank you David Patten. Thank you so much for your friendship, your inspiration, believing in me and trusting me to be your manager."

Richard Seymour, who was Patten's team-mate during his stint with the Patriots, tweeted: "heartbroken... great man of God… lost for words – David Patten..."

Cam Newton has been cut by the New England Patriots, according to widespread reports, leaving Mac Jones as the new starting quarterback.

Newton and Jones had appeared in a battle for the starting spot ahead of the 2021 season.

On Sunday, after the Pats' final preseason game against the New York Giants, coach Bill Belichick refused to declare his starter, saying: "We still have decisions to make."

But Newton played just 39 snaps in preseason, also missing five days due to a "misunderstanding" relating to COVID-19 tests. He has now been released.

The decision clears a path for Jones, a first-round pick who led Alabama to the College Football Playoff National Championship this year.

Belichick will hope the 22-year-old can be a long-term replacement for Tom Brady, who left for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before last season and went on to win the Super Bowl.

Newton was signed as a free agent to fill the void but completed just 65.8 per cent of his passes for 2,657 yards, eight touchdowns and 10 interceptions across 15 regular season games.

Although the 32-year-old did rush for 12 touchdowns – the most since 14 in his rookie year with Carolina Panthers in 2011 – even his underlying numbers through the air were poor.

Newton delivered a well-thrown, accurate ball on 76.1 per cent of his passes while averaging 7.07 air yards, below the 2020 league averages for quarterbacks with at least 100 attempts in both metrics (78.0 per cent and 8.16).

The departing three-time Pro Bowler was still handed a one-year contract ahead of Jones' arrival, but New England have clearly seen enough from the rookie in preseason.

At Alabama, Jones showed himself to be far more effective through the air than the man he will be replacing as starter. His 83.21 well-thrown percentage ranked third in the Power 5 in 2020.

A whirlwind day last Friday saw Manchester United reach an agreement with Juventus to bring Cristiano Ronaldo back to the club.

The deal was confirmed just hours after it had looked likely the Portugal star would be heading to Premier League champions Manchester City instead.

According to reports, United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer encouraged the club to enter the race when it began to seem inevitable Ronaldo would head to the Etihad Stadium. Contact from Bruno Fernandes, Rio Ferdinand and even Alex Ferguson helped persuade Ronaldo that a return to Manchester could mean only one thing.

It all made for a short-lived but extraordinary transfer saga that ended with United re-signing a player who made history with the club between 2003 and 2009, winning three Premier League titles, the Champions League and the first of his five Ballons d'Or.

Here, Stats Perform looks at some other deals that caused a shock in the sporting world...

 

Lionel Messi: Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain, 2021

In the most sensational free transfer of all time, PSG again laid down a marker to the football world with the signing of Lionel Messi on a two-year contract. Just as he looked to sign a new Barcelona contract, the club informed him that their dire financial situation meant they could not bring their greatest ever player back under LaLiga's salary restrictions after his previous deal expired in June. A tearful Messi said farewell to the only club he had ever played for before heading to the fanfare of Paris and a reunion with Neymar.

Neymar: Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain, 2017

The Brazilian had formed a potent attacking trio with Messi and Luis Suarez at Camp Nou but a move to PSG was inevitable when the French side met his world-record buyout clause of €222million. He has played an important role in their continued dominance of French domestic football but has so far been unable to guide them to Champions League glory. He was reduced to tears by his side's 1-0 defeat to Bayern Munich in the 2020 final and then failed to inspire the team in the 2021 semis as Manchester City knocked them out.

LeBron James: Cleveland Cavaliers to Miami Heat, 2010

Basketball icon James announced he would sign with the Miami Heat instead of returning to his hometown team, the Cleveland Cavaliers. Then a two-time NBA Most Valuable Player and a six-time All-Star, James added to the spectacle of the stunning move by announcing it on a special television broadcast called The Decision. He enjoyed four years in Miami, where he won a pair of NBA titles, before returning to the Cavaliers in 2014. 

Tom Brady: New England Patriots to Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 2020

Few people expected Brady to leave the Patriots after 20 years and six Super Bowl victories. Not only did one of the game's greatest ever quarterbacks leave, but he joined one of the least successful franchises in NFL history and instantly guided them to glory, leading the Buccaneers to the franchise's second Lombardi Trophy with a 31-9 triumph over the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV.

Luis Figo: Barcelona to Real Madrid, 2000

Should Messi ever return to Camp Nou as an opposition player it is unlikely he will be on the receiving end of the kind of abuse that greeted Figo. Barca fans threw bottles, lighters and even a pig's head at the Portuguese star when he went back to Camp Nou with Los Blancos in the seasons following his controversial move.

Wayne Gretzky: Edmonton Oilers to Los Angeles Kings, 1988

In 1988, the Edmonton Oilers and Los Angeles Kings agreed a deal that shook the NHL to its core. The trade left Canada in disbelief, with a member of the country's parliament even proposing the federal government block the trade or buy Gretzky's contract and sell it to another Canadian team. "The Great One" would go on to enjoy eight successful years in Los Angeles before spells with St. Louis Blues and New York Rangers.

Cam Newton will be away from the New England Patriots' facility until Thursday due to coronavirus protocols following a "misunderstanding" about daily testing.

Newton is seen as the frontrunner in his competition with rookie first-round pick Mac Jones to be the Patriots' starting quarterback.

However, he will now miss time as the Patriots take part in joint practices with the New York Giants ahead of their preseason finale on Sunday.

Explaining Newton's absence, a Patriots statement read: "On Saturday, Cam Newton travelled to a club-approved medical appointment that required him to leave the New England area. He received daily COVID tests, which were all negative. 

"Due to a misunderstanding about tests conducted away from NFL facilities, and as required by the NFL-NFLPA protocols, Cam will be subject to the five-day entry cadence process before returning to the facility. 

"Cam will continue participating virtually in team activities and return to the club facility on Thursday, August 26."

Only players who are not vaccinated against COVID-19 are subject to the five-day re-entry process.

Newton and Jones have each impressed in preseason for the Patriots and had little difficulty moving the ball against second and third-stringers in their 35-0 rout of the Philadelphia Eagles last time out.

Former MVP Newton went eight of nine for 103 yards and a touchdown while Jones completed 13 of his 19 pass attempts for 146 yards.

Newton missed one game last season after testing positive for COVID-19. Across 15 games, he completed 65.8 per cent of his passes for 2,657 yards, eight touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

While his numbers through the air were disappointing, he did rush for 12 touchdowns, Newton's most since his rookie year with the Carolina Panthers in 2011 (14).

The 2020 season saw Newton, according to Stats Perform data, perform below the average in well-thrown percentage and air yards per attempt. He delivered a well-thrown, accurate ball on 76.1 per cent of his passes while averaging 7.07 air yards. The league averages for quarterbacks with at least 100 attempts in those metrics in 2020 was 78.0 per cent well-thrown and 8.16 air yards.

Jones, who was third in the Power 5 with a well-thrown percentage of 83.21 in his final season at Alabama last year, now has a chance to further his claim to the starting job with extra practice reps as Newton sits out.

Bill Belichick is keeping everyone in the dark about who will start under center for the New England Patriots this season – including the quarterbacks themselves.

Cam Newton revealed on Monday he does not know whether he will be preferred to Mac Jones for the Week 1 game against the Miami Dolphins on September 12.

"No, [Belichick] hasn't said that," he said on Monday. "It is what it is.

"Every single day, I'm coming out here with the anticipation to just get better, and that's the only thing that I can do, so I can control that."

Newton is returning in 2021 after a difficult first year with the Patriots following Tom Brady's departure for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The former Carolina Panthers QB, who was the MVP in 2015, threw for 2,657 yards and eight touchdowns – his lowest career marks across a full season – as well as 10 interceptions.

Starting 15 games after seeing his final campaign in Carolina disrupted by injury, Newton's arm appeared to be impacted as he threw for just 7.07 air yards on average.

His 103 carries excluding scrambles led the NFL at his position, but his 4.06 yards per carry were comfortably below average.

Newton now has competition from Jones, who was selected with the 15th overall pick after leading Alabama to the College Football Playoff National Championship title.

Jones put up 4,500 yards, 41 TDs and only four picks, ranking first among Power 5 QBs in completion percentage (79.1) and third in well-thrown percentage (83.2).

The 22-year-old was also below par in air yards (8.52) and yards per carry (2.09), however.

Newton is widely expected to start ahead of Jones for now, but the three-time Pro Bowler understands the reasons for such questions.

"I don't take it personal," Newton said. "I just want you guys to understand everything you know I know. There's no hidden motives or things like that.

"I do know those things like that I can't worry about, because each and every day I don't necessarily care about who's starting.

"I mostly care about making sure I put the best product out there for me. I know Mac is feeling the same, and I know Brian [Hoyer] is feeling the same way, and everyone else, going down each and every position.

"As far as Week 1, we have so much to worry about prior to Week 1; that's where my focus is right now."

Paris Saint-Germain have once again rocked the world of sport after they confirmed the signing of Lionel Messi.

As bizarre as that may look written down, the deal is complete with the Argentina forward signing a two-year deal following his Barcelona departure.

Barca announced last Thursday that their dire financial situation meant they could not bring their greatest ever player back under LaLiga's salary restrictions after his previous contract expired in June. He had spent his entire career at Camp Nou.

But the Parc des Princes now beckons and he will form probably the most-feared front three in world football alongside Kylian Mbappe and his old friend Neymar.

It's with the Brazilian where Stats Perform starts in this look at a selection of other sporting deals that shocked the world.

 

Neymar: Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain, 2017

The Brazilian had formed a potent attacking trio with Messi and Luis Suarez at Camp Nou but a move to PSG was inevitable when the French side met his world-record buyout clause of €222million. He has played an important role in their continued dominance of French domestic football but has so far been unable to guide them to Champions League glory. He was reduced to tears by his side's 1-0 defeat to Bayern Munich in the 2020 final and then failed to inspire the team in the 2021 semis as Manchester City knocked them out. But maybe Messi will be the final piece of the puzzle...

LeBron James: Cleveland Cavaliers to Miami Heat, 2010

Basketball icon James announced he would sign with the Miami Heat instead of returning to his hometown team, the Cleveland Cavaliers. Then a two-time NBA Most Valuable Player and a six-time All-Star, James added to the spectacle of the stunning move by announcing it on a special television broadcast called The Decision. He enjoyed four years in Miami, where he won a pair of NBA titles, before returning to the Cavaliers in 2014. 

Tom Brady: New England Patriots to Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 2020

Few people expected Brady to leave the Patriots after 20 years and six Super Bowl victories. Not only did one of the game's greatest ever quarterbacks leave, but he joined one of the least successful franchises in NFL history and instantly guided them to glory, leading the Buccaneers to the franchise's second Lombardi Trophy with a 31-9 triumph over the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV.

Luis Figo: Barcelona to Real Madrid, 2000

Should Messi ever return to Camp Nou as an opposition player it is unlikely he will be on the receiving end of the kind of abuse that greeted Figo. Barca fans threw bottles, lighters and even a pig's head at the Portuguese star when he went back to Camp Nou with Los Blancos in the seasons following his controversial move. 

Wayne Gretzky: Edmonton Oilers to Los Angeles Kings, 1988

In 1988, the Edmonton Oilers and Los Angeles Kings agreed a deal that shook the NHL to its core. The trade left Canada in disbelief, with a member of the country's parliament even proposing the federal government block the trade or buy Gretzky's contract and sell it to another Canadian team. "The Great One" would go on to enjoy eight successful years in Los Angeles before spells with St. Louis Blues and New York Rangers.

It wouldn't be an NFL offseason without some contract controversies.

Though the two most recent collective bargaining agreements have made it more difficult for players to hold out, several teams are still approaching the start of training camp needing to resolve issues surrounding players unhappy with the terms of their current deal.

Aaron Rodgers' continued self-enforced exile has cast a shadow over the offseason, but his staring contest with the Green Bay Packers is not tied to his level of remuneration.

For four big-name defenders who skipped mandatory minicamp – though Jamal Adams was permitted to do so due to personal reasons – it is indeed about the money.

New England Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore said recently to ESPN: "I just want what I'm worth, however that plays out. Every player should be paid what they're worth. That's just how it is."

But what is the worth of Gilmore and the three other high-profile defensive players? And should the teams in question make the effort to sign them to more lucrative deals?

Stats Perform looked at the advanced metrics surrounding each player to assess the best course of action for their respective franchises.

Stephon Gilmore, CB, New England Patriots

Gilmore's demand to be paid what he is worth may strike some as bemusing from a player who carries the highest salary cap hit among cornerbacks ($16.27million) and missed five games in a down year.

However, his wish is more likely related to his base salary rather than his overall cap number. Gilmore is due $7m in base salary in 2021, half of what Byron Jones of the Miami Dolphins, whose $14m base salary is the most among corners, is scheduled to receive next season.

Though 2020 was a disappointing year for Gilmore and the entire Patriots defense, he has a strong case for narrowing that gap to Jones.

While he only managed one interception and three pass breakups, Gilmore still had the edge over Jones in several metrics.

His adjusted open percentage, which measures how frequently an opponent got open against a defender's coverage, adjusted for position, was 24.18 compared to 26.16 for Jones.

 

Though both spent time playing as inside corners, both Gilmore and Jones are primarily outside defenders and there was a contrast between the two when they lined up at that spot in 2020. Gilmore allowed a burn – when a receiver wins his matchup on a play where he is targeted regardless of whether the pass is catchable – on 50 per cent of his targets, compared to 60.4 for Jones.

Gilmore was also superior in terms of burn yards per target (10.08 to Jones' 14.08), while his burn yards per snap average of 1.36 was 12th among corners with at least 200 pass coverage snaps on the outside. Jones struggled by comparison, allowing 1.92 burn yards per snap.

The Patriots used a lot of their salary cap space on a free-agency splurge they hope will get them back in contention. However, given Gilmore's past level of performance – since signing with New England in 2017, he has racked up 52 pass breakups, tied for sixth-most in the NFL, and 11 interceptions – they might well be wise to find a way to negotiate a contract with an increased base salary for a player whose unadjusted open percentage of 46.6 was fourth among outside corners in his last full season in 2019.

Xavien Howard, CB, Miami Dolphins

Like Gilmore, Howard may also be comparing his contract to that of Dolphins team-mate Jones, whom Miami made the highest-paid cornerback in the NFL with a five-year $82.5m deal in March 2020.

Howard still has four years left on a deal paying him over $15m a year, but the All-Pro will have his eyes on a contract closer to Jones' average annual value of $16.5m.

Such compensation would unquestionably be deserved given Howard led the league in interceptions for the second time in three seasons in 2020 by picking off 10 passes.

His adjusted open percentage of 25.19 was almost a full percentage point better than that of Jones, and he had a significant edge in burn yards per target, though Howard was not exactly impressive in that category, giving up an average of 11.12 while playing on the outside.

 

Yet that number is likely more reflective of how often the Dolphins left Howard in single coverage. Indeed, Howard's average depth of target of 14.5 yards speaks to the frequency with which he was given the task of staying in tight coverage with a receiver downfield.

The Dolphins aren't flush with cap room – Miami sit just over $5.5m under the 2021 cap – but, in a year where the team will be expected to make a year-three leap under head coach Brian Flores, identifying a method by which to keep Howard happy is the smart move.

With a league-leading 18 interceptions in the past three seasons, Howard is a playmaker the Dolphins need on the field and motivated if they are to challenge in the AFC.

Jamal Adams, S, Seattle Seahawks

Having long since angled for a lucrative extension even before his blockbuster trade to the Seahawks last offseason, Adams is finally in line for his payday at some point this year.

Still playing on his rookie contract and due to earn close to $10m in 2021, Adams will have designs on becoming one of the highest-paid safeties in the NFL.

Justin Simmons of the Denver Broncos is the safety with the top contract, his average annual salary coming in at over $15m, but a better comparison for Adams may be division rival Budda Baker of the Arizona Cardinals ($14.75m).

Baker and Adams each spend a significant amount of time in the box and down near the line of scrimmage and the latter's reprsentatives will base much of their argument in negotiations around him leading the Seahawks in sacks with 9.5 last year.

 

Yet they may struggle to make a compelling case when the discussion turns to his skills in pass coverage.

Adams finished the 2020 season with an adjusted open percentage of 24.94, comfortably below that of Baker, who set the fourth-best mark among all NFL defenders with 16.38 per cent.

Such a disparity would on the surface appear to make it tough to justify Seattle giving Adams a deal akin to that of Baker.

Yet after surrendering two first-round picks to prise Adams from the Jets, the Seahawks have locked themselves into a situation where they have no choice but to pay him. Though he has proven himself a playmaker near the line of scrimmage, his performance in coverage should lead Seattle to try to ink Adams to a deal with eye-catching headline numbers but a team-friendly structure.

Chandler Jones, EDGE, Arizona Cardinals

Due to earn $15.5m in base salary and carry a $20.8m cap hit in the final year of his contract in 2021, Jones' desire to receive the compensation he believes he is due before his deal expires is likely motivated by the Cardinals' decision to sign J.J. Watt to a two-year, $28m deal this offseason.

Watt remains an ominous presence on the defensive line, but – now 32, with a checkered injury history, and having posted nine sacks in 24 games over the past two seasons – his signing is a gamble by the Cardinals, and Jones may be wondering why they did not instead invest in keeping him around.

Jones has been the picture of consistency for the Cardinals, posting double-digit sacks in each of his first four seasons with Arizona before a torn bicep cut his 2020 campaign short after five ineffective games.

The Cardinals' reticence to pay the 31-year-old now is understandable given that recent injury, but Jones will feel he has already proven himself dependable heading into 2021 and is more deserving of a new deal than several of his fellow edge rushers who have already received paydays this offseason.

 

In his last full season in 2019, only one edge rusher, Cameron Jordan (70), had more pressures where he beat a pass protector than the 69 Jones produced.

Watt had 51 such pressures in 2020, Shaquil Barrett received a $17m-a-year contract from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after producing 53, while Leonard Floyd was paid $16m a year by the Los Angeles Rams after beating a man on 39 pressures.

Those deals complicate matters for the Cardinals, who might have to choose between paying a player they may not trust to stay healthy and potentially shipping out the most productive pass rusher in their recent history.

The obvious solution is a new deal laden with playing-time incentives that reward Jones for staying healthy. If that cannot be done, then the Cardinals could possibly soften the blow of losing him by getting a clutch of 2022 draft picks to help them restock their defense in return via trade.

Stephon Gilmore is hopeful he can find common ground with the New England Patriots and that he can be "paid what I'm worth".

The 2019 Defensive Player of the Year and two-time first-team All-Pro is seeking a new contract and held himself out of mandatory minicamp to attempt to force the Patriots' hand.

Cornerback Gilmore carries a salary cap hit of $16.26million, the largest among players at his position, in 2021.

However, his base salary of $7m is half that of Byron Jones of the Miami Dolphins, who leads all corners in that regard with $14m.

While he appears content to remain in New England, Gilmore clearly wants a contract that he feels reflects his status as one of the NFL's premier corners.

"I just want what I'm worth, however that plays out," Gilmore told ESPN's Josina Anderson.

"Every player should be paid what they're worth. That's just how it is.

"Hopefully, we can find some common ground and get it situated. I just know what I bring to the table and my style of play.

"Right now, I'm just trying to focus on myself and make sure I'm good mentally and physically."

Gilmore was limited to 11 games last season and underwent surgery in the offseason to repair a torn quadriceps muscle.

He added of his physical condition: "I feel stronger than I've ever felt since the surgery. I've been running a lot, building full speed.

"We'll see [if he is ready for training camp]; if I need to be. But I also don't want to push it."

Since signing a five-year, $65m contract with the Patriots in 2017, Gilmore has racked up 52 pass breakups, tied for sixth-most in the NFL, and 11 interceptions.

 

The New England Patriots are hoping their first-round pick from this year's draft, Alabama quarterback Mac Jones, can help return them to glories of the Tom Brady era, but they appear set to move on from another recent top selection.

Wide receiver N'Keal Harry, the first-round pick of the Patriots in 2019, seemingly has no desire to catch passes from Jones should he win the starting quarterback job in 2021, his agent this week announcing Harry had requested a trade from New England.

Given the Patriots invested heavily in the wide receiver position in free agency this offseason, Harry may well have found himself on the outside looking in come roster cutdown day.

Therefore, New England will likely be only too willing to oblige his request, but they might find a lack of suitors following an extremely disappointing first two seasons in the league from the former Arizona State star.

Harry has 45 catches for 414 yards and four touchdowns so far in his NFL career, disappointing numbers that reflect his inability to separate from coverage at the highest level.

Indeed, even in college Harry was known more for his ability to make contested catches than for his prowess as a separator, and his struggles in getting free from defenders have been exacerbated in the pros.

Thrown at only 24 times as a rookie by Tom Brady, he was open on just 43.5 per cent of those targets in 2019, the lowest percentage among NFL wide receivers to be targeted at least 20 times in that campaign.

He improved his open percentage markedly to 63.2 in 2020 but that was still 17th-lowest for all wide receivers last season, with opposing cornerbacks experiencing little difficulty in keeping him under wraps over the past two years.

In 2019, Harry registered a burn – when a receiver wins his matchup with a defender on a play where he is targeted regardless of whether the pass is catchable – on only 47.8 per cent of targets, well below the average of 60.5 per cent for wideouts with a minimum of 20 targets.

His big-play percentage, which measures burns for 20 yards or more and burns for touchdowns, was 24.5, while Harry was tied for fourth-bottom in burn yards per target (6.82) and his burn yards per route average of 1.3 was a yard below the mean.

The 2020 season saw Harry's big-play percentage decline to 20.6 and decent improvements in burn percentage (52.6), burn yards per target (8.27) and burn yards per route (1.7) were not enough to get him even close to average in those categories.

Harry's failure to hit the ground running helped push Brady out the door after the 2019 season and he again failed to stand out in an offense that struggled mightily following the now seven-time Super Bowl champion's departure.

He is the epitome of a draft bust and a cautionary tale to teams thinking of investing in players who struggle to separate at the college level. Harry might want out of New England, but he may have significant trouble finding a new home.

With offseason programs in the books, NFL teams will next month turn their attention to training camp as preparations for the 2021 season ramp up.

Every coaching staff in the league knows that having a reliable offensive line will be crucial to their hopes of success in the coming campaign.

Too many holes in the trenches can doom a team's chances in a hurry regardless of the talent at quarterback and the offensive skill positions.

Reflecting the importance of strong play up front, five offensive linemen were taken in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft.

And, using combined run block and pass protection data over the past three seasons, Stats Perform has produced projected offensive line rankings to see how each team stacks up in the trenches.

Here we look at which teams are in the best shape, which O-Lines could cause problems for their quarterback and which appear to ready to make the leap to the league's best in 2021.


THE ELITE

1. Dallas Cowboys

LT – Tyron Smith, LG – Connor Williams, C – Tyler Biadasz, RG – Zack Martin, RT – La'el Collins

Injuries decimated the Dallas O-Line in 2020 but, when healthy, it is tough to see another unit in the league that can match this group for overall talent.

That may be a substantial caveat but, should the Cowboys keep their starters in the line-up in 2021, Dak Prescott will have the benefit of excellent protection from several spots up front.

Tyron Smith missed all but two games last season but remains the top pass protecting left tackle in our projected ranks. Zack Martin is second in pass protection among right guards and, if he can return to his best after missing six games in 2020 and right tackle La'el Collins can stay on the field and play at a high level, a stacked Cowboys offense will be in an excellent spot to produce at an historic pace as they did last year before Prescott went down.

2. New England Patriots

LT – Isaiah Wynn, LG – Mike Onwenu, C – David Andrews, RG – Shaq Mason, RT – Trent Brown

The Patriots lost Joe Thuney in free agency but, despite the departure of one of the most dependable guards in football, New England heads into 2021 with an elite group hoping to help the offense bounce back from a dismal 2020.

Trent Brown's return should fortify the right side of the line while left tackle Isaiah Wynn shouldn't have to worry much about his inside shoulder with Mike Onwenu ranking as the second-best pass protecting left guard in the NFL after an excellent rookie season.

David Andrews grades out as the top run-blocking center in football -- he allowed a run disruption on only 5.3 per cent of his snaps in 2020, with Corey Linsley well adrift in second on 6.2 per cent -- while Shaq Mason is in the top three in that area at right guard.

Regardless of whether it's Cam Newton or Mac Jones under center in 2021, the O-Line is constructed in a way where the quarterback and a replenished set of skill-position players should have every chance to succeed.

3. Baltimore Ravens

LT – Ronnie Stanley, LG – Bradley Bozeman, C – Patrick Mekari, RG – Kevin Zeitler, RT – Alejandro Villanueva

Baltimore's presence in the top three may raise a few eyebrows given they traded right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. to the Kansas City Chiefs.

However, their lofty position is largely a testament to the play of Ronnie Stanley, the left tackle who will be looking to bounce back after seeing his 2020 season ended by an ankle injury.

Stanley ranks tied-fourth among left tackles and was stellar in pass protection prior to getting hurt, with his pressure rate allowed of 4.4 per cent bettered only by David Bakhtiari and Andrew Whitworth at his position.

Having given up a pressure rate of 11.9 per cent at left tackle for the Pittsburgh Steelers last season, Alejandro Villanueva will have a challenge replacing Brown, who allowed pressures on just 5.8 per cent of his right tackle snaps in 2020.

But the interior was the main issue for the Ravens last season and, with fourth-ranked right guard Kevin Zeitler arriving from the New York Giants, Baltimore should be confident of a noticeable improvement in the middle of their line.

THE STRUGGLERS

30. Chicago Bears

LT – Teven Jenkins, LG – Cody Whitehair, C – Sam Mustipher, RG – Germain Ifedi, RT – Elijah Wilkinson

After surprisingly allowing Charles Leno to leave, the Bears are banking on Teven Jenkins successfully making the switch from college right tackle to NFL left tackle as a rookie. That he will do so successfully is a dubious presumption to make and there is little to rely on at any spot on the trenches for Chicago.

Cody Whitehair at least provided a solid presence at left guard but the interior protection for Andy Dalton, or rookie first-round pick Justin Fields, will be suspect if Sam Mustipher cannot make strides at center.

Tied as the third-worst center in the NFL in the projected rankings, only Hroniss Grasu (2.8%) fared worse than Mustipher (2.3%) in terms of adjusted sack rate allowed in 2020.

31. Carolina Panthers

LT – Greg Little, LG – Dennis Daley, C – Matt Paradis, RG – John Miller, RT – Taylor Moton

Carolina looks set at right tackle, with Taylor Moton ranking as the fifth-best player at the position, but they have little in the way of solutions elsewhere up front.

The left side looms as a massive issue for the Panthers. Greg Little grades out as the worst left tackle in football and Dennis Daley is 30th among left guards in the projected rankings.

It is far from an ideal scenario for Sam Darnold to step into as quarterback, and he will hope center Matt Paradis can do a significantly better job snapping the football. Paradis' bad snap percentage of 3.49 was fourth-worst in the NFL in 2020.

32. Minnesota Vikings

LT – Christian Darrisaw, LG – Dru Samia, C – Garrett Bradbury, RG – Ezra Cleveland, RT – Brian O'Neill

Offensive line issues have long since plagued the Vikings, who invested a premium pick in a new left tackle by using their first-round selection on Christian Darrisaw of Virginia Tech.

Darrisaw named Trent Williams and Laremy Tunsil as his favourite linemen to watch prior to the draft. If he replicates their impact, he will be a success, but there are substantial problems on the interior.

Dru Samia is the worst left guard in the NFL in the projected rankings, and center Garrett Bradbury allowed pressure on 8.1 per cent of his pass protection snaps. Only two players to take snaps center had worse pressure rates in 2020.

READY TO MAKE THE LEAP

Kansas City Chiefs

LT – Orlando Brown Jr, LG – Joe Thuney, C – Austin Blythe, RG – Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, RT – Mike Remmers

The Chiefs completely remodelled their offensive line in the wake of giving up 33 pressures in the Super Bowl LV, and there is little doubt they head into 2021 with a much-improved group as they attempt to win back the Lombardi Trophy.

Kansas City will need an improvement from Brown following his trade from Baltimore. In his 221 pass protection snaps at left tackle after Stanley's injury, Brown gave up a pressure rate of 10.9 per cent. Having campaigned to play on the left side, Brown's performance figures to come under significant scrutiny.

He will be helped by the presence of Thuney, second among all left guards in the projected rankings after allowing pressure on just 4.3 per cent of his snaps in his final season in New England.

With Laurent Duvernay-Tardif returning to man the right guard spot, the Chiefs' line has an air of solidity about it. Eleventh in the projected ranks, the Chiefs could jump into the top 10 if not the top five should their additions perform to their potential.

Los Angeles Chargers

LT – Rashawn Slater, LG – Matt Feiler, C – Corey Linsley, RG – Oday Aboushi, RT – Bryan Bulaga

Staying in the AFC West with a Chargers team many will be backing to surge towards postseason contention after an Offensive Rookie of the Year season from Justin Herbert, for Los Angeles much hinges on the performance of rookie left tackle Rashawn Slater in his first season in the league.

That is a lot of expectation to place on a player who did not feature in the 2020 college season, but the optimism should come from Slater's 2019 performance for Northwestern, which saw him give up just six pressures on 220 pass protection snaps.

Yet the most important addition for Herbert may be that of center Corey Linsley, who arrived from the Green Bay Packers. Just three centers graded above Linsley in the projected ranks and his ability to quickly develop a rapport with Herbert will be pivotal to the Chargers realising their potential. History suggests the 2020 first-team All-Pro should succeed in doing so.

Arizona Cardinals

LT – D.J. Humphries, LG – Justin Pugh, C – Rodney Hudson, RG – Brian Winters, RT – Kelvin Beachum

The Cardinals must be strong up front if Kyler Murray and Kliff Kingsbury are to have a chance of inspiring Arizona to a successful season in an NFC West loaded with pass-rushing talent, and they made an astute addition on the interior this offseason in a trade with the Las Vegas Raiders that saw them acquire three-time Pro Bowl center Rodney Hudson.

Tied for fourth with Linsley among centers in the projected rankings, Hudson's experience will be a valuable asset to Murray as he looks to take a step forward in year three, the former Kansas City Chief recording a pressure rate allowed of 1.7 per cent that was the second-best in the league at his position.

Kelvin Beachum is a substantial asset to the ground game. His run disruption percentage of 5.9 per cent was third among right tackles in 2020 and, with D.J. Humphries allowing only 28 pressures on 450 pass protection snaps last season, Murray will have three dependable players at the most important positions on the line in a year where another underwhelming campaign will not be acceptable.

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