NFL

NFL Draft: Justin Fields to the 49ers and perfect potential pairings

By Sports Desk April 23, 2021

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.

Related items

  • Is Chelsea new-boy Enzo Fernandez worth over £100million? Is Chelsea new-boy Enzo Fernandez worth over £100million?

    Football can feel like a Formula One race at times, with things moving so rapidly that if you blink for a second, you could miss something.

    For example, few would have been able to predict six months ago that in January 2023, a player called Enzo Fernandez would be joining Chelsea for a British-record transfer fee of £106.8million (€121m).

    Not even many Benfica fans knew much about the midfielder when he arrived from River Plate for a reported fee of €12m in July.

    Fernandez had been making a name for himself in his home country, with a loan spell at Defensa y Justicia under former Chelsea and Argentina striker Hernan Crespo convincing River Plate to give him a chance, which he took.

    After 52 appearances for Los Millonarios, interest from Europe saw Fernandez linked with some big names, and it was Benfica who took the plunge.

    The Lisbon club will be pleased they did after making a profit of well over €100m after just half a season, with the midfielder not only impressing in the Primeira Liga and Champions League, but also starring for Argentina as they lifted the World Cup in Qatar last month, with Fernandez claiming the FIFA Best Young Player of the Tournament award.

    Is he really worth all that money, though?

    Chelsea clearly think so, and in Fernandez they have bought a player who will feel like a dream come true for head coach Graham Potter.

    In his time at Brighton and Hove Albion, Potter delighted in building midfields that could dominate the ball, that could keep hold of possession while also making incisive passes to turn the opposition around.

    Despite being one of the smaller clubs in the Premier League, Potter's Brighton averaged 54.3 per cent possession in league games in 2021-22 (only Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea had more), while averaging 496 passes per game, and 59 passes into the final third per game (sixth in the league for both metrics).

    Only Man City, Arsenal and, funnily enough, Brighton have a higher possession average than Chelsea since Potter took charge at Stamford Bridge in September, while only City have attempted more passes than the Blues, which will be where Fernandez comes in.

    The man who only turned 22 earlier on January 17 is a passing machine, having completed 1,431 in total in just 17 Primeira Liga games, over 200 more than the player with the next most in the Portuguese top-flight.

    It is not simply quantity over quality either, as Fernandez has also made 248 passes into the final third, at least 51 more than any other player.

    Not only do they lead the league in terms of the table, but Benfica are also league leaders in averages for possession (66.0 per cent), passes per game (623) and passes ending in the final third per game (70.6). Their style enables Fernandez, but in turn, his ability allows them to execute it, which must have Potter salivating. 

    Fernandez showed similar form in the Champions League as Benfica surprisingly won a group that included Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus, before going on to star in the World Cup as well.

    Several big clubs had already taken a shine to him, but the astonishing figure shelled out for him by Chelsea was no doubt rubber-stamped after his performances in Qatar, with Fernandez leading all players in the epic final between Argentina and France for touches (118), successful passes (77) and tackles (10). His 10 tackles were the most of any player in a World Cup final since Gennaro Gattuso in 2006 (15).

    But is he better than what Chelsea already have?

    In the Blues' midfield this season, Mateo Kovacic leads the way in terms of number of passes per 90 in Premier League games (69.0), ahead of Jorginho (61.7), with no other player to have played more than five games averaging even 50.

    Fernandez has been averaging 84.18 successful passes per game in Portugal, though consideration must be given to the difference in strength between the Premier League and Primeira Liga. In fact, it is the second-most of any midfielder in any of Europe's top 10 leagues this season, behind only Manchester City's Rodri (84.58), and ahead of Paris Saint-Germain's Marco Verratti (78.06) and Real Madrid's Toni Kroos (74.53).

    There is also the Argentine's creativity to take into account, with Chelsea struggling to score goals this season having only managed 22 in 20 league games so far.

    In league games, of those to have played more than twice, Conor Gallagher is averaging the most chances created from open play of Potter's midfield options at 1.59 per game, followed by Carney Chukwuemeka (1.38) and Mason Mount (1.24). Fernandez has averaged 1.62 per game.

    When you consider that Potter already had Kovacic, Mount, Gallagher, N'Golo Kante, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Denis Zakaria, Lewis Hall and Chukwuemeka to choose from, with Jorginho having departed for Arsenal on deadline day, you might think spending nine figures on another midfielder to be somewhat indulgent.

    With the early promise and potential trajectory of Fernandez though, Chelsea have quite probably taken the next step in a long-term rebuild. Jorginho and Kante are both 31 years old and out of contract at the end of the season, and investing in the future rather than the past makes sense for a team that always wants to be challenging for the biggest trophies.

    With great spending comes great expectations though, and the pressure will be immense on Fernandez to not just shine on the big stage, but to do so immediately.

    Chelsea's newest addition could justifiably insist he has done just that with every challenge thrown at him in a short space of time, including the biggest challenge of winning the World Cup.

    Enzo will no doubt back himself to prove he can live up to the price tag and be the Ferrari that Graham Potter needs.

  • Chelsea sign World Cup star Fernandez for Premier League record fee Chelsea sign World Cup star Fernandez for Premier League record fee

    Enzo Fernandez has finally signed for Chelsea, becoming the Premier League's record signing after the Blues met his £106.8million (€121m) release clause at Benfica.

    Fernandez, who was named Young Player of the Tournament after helping Argentina win the 2022 World Cup, was strongly linked with Chelsea earlier in the transfer window before talks broke down.

    However, the big-spending Blues went back in for him with the end of the window drawing closer, signing Fernandez to a long-term contract – rumoured to run until 2032 – with confirmation arriving an hour and a half after the transfer window closed.

    Chelsea submitted the relevant paperwork in time and Benfica were first to announce details of the deal on their official website on Wednesday.

    His arrival takes Chelsea's spending to a reported £288.5m (€328.5m) in January alone, with the midfielder becoming their eighth signing of the window.

    Fernandez only joined Benfica from River Plate last year but has played a starring role for them since making that move, helping the Portuguese giants top their Champions League group.

    He had looked likely to remain in Lisbon at least until the end of the season, but Chelsea revisited the deal with head coach Graham Potter reportedly keen for midfield reinforcements.

    The fee surpasses the previous Premier League transfer record, set by Jack Grealish's £100m switch from Aston Villa to Manchester City in 2021.

    Fernandez could make his Chelsea debut against Fulham at Stamford Bridge on Friday, as the Blues look to climb the table after a poor run of form saw them drop to 10th position. 

    A dogged competitor with an eye for the magnificent, Fernandez featured in all seven of Argentina's games in Qatar, starting five of them after he came off the bench to net a superb goal against Mexico in the group stage.

    Fernandez's ability on the ball, as well as his tenacity, will add a new facet to Potter's midfield options.

    Only 11 players carried the ball further than Fernandez (1,239.7 metres) at the World Cup, while just 10 were involved in more shot-ending sequences than his 27.

    Fernandez boasted a duel success rate of 58.8 per cent, winning 40 of his 68 engagements at the tournament.

    He made just 17 league appearances during his short stint with Benfica, though he also featured in five group games in the Champions League.

  • BREAKING NEWS: Chelsea sign World Cup star Fernandez for Premier League record fee BREAKING NEWS: Chelsea sign World Cup star Fernandez for Premier League record fee

    Enzo Fernandez has finally signed for Chelsea, becoming the Premier League's record signing after the Blues met his £106.8million (€121m) release clause at Benfica.

    Fernandez, who was named Young Player of the Tournament after helping Argentina win the 2022 World Cup, was strongly linked with Chelsea earlier in the transfer window before talks broke down.

    However, the big-spending Blues went back in for him with the end of the window drawing closer, signing Fernandez to a long-term contract – rumoured to run until 2032 – with confirmation arriving an hour and a half after the transfer window closed.

    Chelsea submitted the relevant paperwork in time and Benfica were first to announce details of the deal on their official website on Wednesday.

    His arrival takes Chelsea's spending to a reported £288.5m (€328.5m) this month alone, with the midfielder becoming their eighth signing of the January transfer window.

    Fernandez only joined Benfica from River Plate last year but has played a starring role for them since making that move, helping the Portuguese giants top their Champions League group.

    He had looked likely to remain in Lisbon at least until the end of the season, but Chelsea revisited the deal with head coach Graham Potter reportedly keen for midfield reinforcements.

    The fee surpasses the previous Premier League transfer record, set by Jack Grealish's £100m switch from Aston Villa to Manchester City in 2021.

    Fernandez could make his Chelsea debut against Fulham at Stamford Bridge on Friday, as the Blues look to climb the table after a poor run of form saw them drop to 10th position. 

    A dogged competitor with an eye for the magnificent, Fernandez featured in all seven of Argentina's games in Qatar, starting five of them after he came off the bench to net a superb goal against Mexico in the group stage.

    Fernandez's ability on the ball, as well as his tenacity, will add a new facet to Potter's midfield options.

    Only 11 players carried the ball further than Fernandez (1,239.7 metres) at the World Cup, while just 10 were involved in more shot-ending sequences than his 27.

    Fernandez boasted a duel success rate of 58.8 per cent, winning 40 of his 68 engagements at the tournament.

    He made just 17 league appearances during his short stint with Benfica, though he also featured in five group games in the Champions League.

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.