A four-year deal for Christian Kirk reported to be worth up to $84million is to be among a significant outlay by the Jacksonville Jaguars in free agency.

Within hours of the start of the legal tampering period on Monday, the Jaguars secured five deals, according to widespread reports.

The Jaguars had $39.3million in cap space to work with – the fifth-most in the NFL – and made the most of it in addressing key needs at receiver and on the offensive line.

Kirk was the player they identified as a target for second-year quarterback Trevor Lawrence, albeit at a significant cost.

The former Arizona Cardinal, who fell 18 yards shy of 1,000 receiving last season and has 11 touchdowns over the past two campaigns, is said to be due a $20m signing bonus, $37m fully guaranteed and $39m over the first two years, with $12m available in incentives.

Lawrence will also be able to look to tight end Evan Engram and will do so under the protection of five-time Pro Bowl guard Brandon Scherff, having been sacked 32 times in 2021.

Linebacker Foye Oluokun and defensive tackle Folorunso Fatukasi are also heading to Jacksonville after a busy day for the Jaguars.

Ikem Ekwonu's NFL draft stock has seen a meteoric rise over the past few months, to a point where the North Carolina State offensive lineman has emerged as a serious candidate for the number one overall pick.

Ekwonu confirmed he met with the Jacksonville Jaguars, the current holders of the top choice, earlier this week at the NFL Scouting Combine, and told reporters on Thursday he would not be surprised if he winds up as the team's selection in April.

"I wouldn't be shocked if I went number one overall," he said during his news conference in Indianapolis. "I feel like that's something I've put the work in for it. I feel like when that time comes, I wouldn't be shocked by it."

In a draft that lacks a consensus top prospect and is considered devoid of a surefire franchise quarterback, Ekwonu has been generating increased buzz as a contender to go number one overall. Long-time ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. concurs, as he projected the Jaguars to take the Charlotte native in his latest mock draft released on Tuesday.

Ekwonu, who earned unanimous All-American honours following his junior season with the Wolfpack in 2021, would fill a need for the rebuilding Jaguars. Jacksonville enter the offseason with both starting left tackle Cam Robinson and left guard Andrew Norwell set to be unrestricted free agents. 

The six-foot-four, 320-pound prospect looms as a possibility for either position, as he started at both left tackle and guard during his three-year stint at N.C. State.

Ekwonu told reporters he would be open to playing any spot on the line, though he believes left tackle is where his NFL future lies.

"I've never been shy about bouncing inside and do the best thing for the team, but if you're asking me, personally, I definitely see myself as a left tackle," he said.

"I feel like I'm barely scratching the surface of my potential at left tackle, and I feel like with some work and some refinement in my game, I can definitely be great at it."

Ekwonu is currently considered one of four main candidates to go first overall, along with fellow offensive tackle Evan Neal from Alabama and two edge rushers – Michigan's Aidan Hutchinson and Oregon's Kayvon Thibodeaux.

Offensive linemen are scheduled to take part in combine testing and drills on Friday, with the defensive linemen slated to work on Saturday. 

The Green Bay Packers are set for their first ever game outside the United States after the NFL announced its international schedule for 2022.

The Packers, who become the 32nd and final NFL team to head abroad, will play in London, as will the New Orleans Saints and Jacksonville Jaguars.

Elsewhere, the first Germany game will be hosted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Munich, while the Arizona Cardinals go to Mexico City.

"We are very excited to be staging five games outside the United States in 2022, and thank the owners for their continued commitment to growing the sport internationally," NFL executive vice president of club business and league events Peter O'Reilly said.

"Our fans in Germany, Mexico and the United Kingdom can look forward to seeing some of the most iconic names and biggest stars in the league and enjoying an incredible series of events."

The Packers had previously been reluctant to move games outside of the Green Bay area, but a new ruling agreed last year means every team is required to play abroad at least once every eight years.

That decision was part of the move to a 17-game season, which was implemented in 2021.

Opposing teams, dates and kick-off times for the Packers and the rest will be announced when the full 2022 schedule is confirmed later in the year.

Doug Pederson has been named as the new head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars, the NFL franchise announced on Thursday.

The Jaguars fired the previous man at the helm Urban Meyer back in December after a tumultuous 13-game spell in charge.

Super Bowl-winning coach Pederson was first interviewed by the Jags on December 30 and had a second one on Tuesday. Having spent the 2021 season out of the game, he has now secured a return to the NFL.

The 54-year-old previously spent five seasons at the Philadelphia Eagles between 2016 and 2020, making three playoff appearances and ending with a 42-37-1 record.

It was the 2017 season that was the jewel in Pederson's crown when, after going 13-3 in the regular season, the Eagles survived the loss of starting quarterback Carson Wentz to get through the playoffs and win Super Bowl LII 41-33 against the New England Patriots with backup QB Nick Foles.

Two more playoff appearances would follow but after going 4-11-1 in 2020, Pederson was fired at the end of that season.

"Doug Pederson four years ago won a Super Bowl as head coach of a franchise in pursuit of its first world championship," Jaguars owner Shad Khan said via a team statement. 

"I hope Doug can replicate that magic here in Jacksonville, but what is certain is his proven leadership and experience as a winning head coach in the National Football League. It's exactly what our players deserve. Nothing less.

"Combine this with his acumen on the offensive side of the ball, and you have why I am proud to name Doug Pederson the new head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

"I know our fans will warmly welcome Doug and his family to Duval and I personally look forward to having Doug as part of everything we envision for the team, downtown and community in the years ahead."

Mayer's brief tenure was riddled with issues, which included two videos going viral showing him dancing close a woman who was not his wife in Ohio in October.

There were reports of tensions between Meyer and the Jaguars players and coaches which included former kicker Josh Lambo alleging the head coach had kicked him in the leg while stretching in warm-ups prior to a practice.

Pederson inherits a team with a miserable record for over a decade. The Jaguars have lost 10 or more games in 10 of the of their previous 11 seasons, and have gone 4-29 over the previous two which included a 20-game losing streak – representing the second longest in the history of the NFL.

They went 3-14 in 2021 and will have the first pick in the NFL Draft.

Indianapolis Colts head coach Frank Reich says his side has been left with a "scar" after missing the playoffs following Sunday's shock 26-11 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Indianapolis needed only to beat a two-win Jaguars team to secure their place in the postseason but were humbled, allowing the Pittsburgh Steelers to clinch a playoffs spot.

Quarterback Carson Wentz was sacked six times in a game the Jaguars led the entire way, with the Colts having not won in Jacksonville since 2014.

The Colts finished the season with back-to-back defeats to slip to a 9-8 record and second in the AFC South behind the Conference-leading Tennessee Titans.

"It was hard to imagine after the Arizona game, we get to 9-6, we feel like we’re one of the two or three teams to beat, a team everybody’s talking about," Reich told reporters on Monday.

"When you think about how all this was going to end, certainly, no one including myself, really, ever thought it would end like it did the last two weeks.

"That’s something that can’t be undone. It’s part of our record. It’s part of my record. … It’s a scar."

Reich revealed that he met with team owner Jim Irsay and general manager Chris Ballard for several hours after the Jaguars defeat.

“It was a good conversation, a supporting conversation, but also demanding and wanting answers, [with Irsay] wanting to hold us accountable,” Reich said.

He added: "‘We’re going to get better.' … We walked out of there saying, ‘We’ve got a lot of the right pieces in place.'"

The Jacksonville Jaguars helped the Pittsburgh Steelers virtually secure a playoff place as they stunned the Indianapolis Colts in their regular-season finale.

Indianapolis needed only to beat a two-win Jaguars team to secure their place in the postseason.

History, however, was against Frank Reich's team, the Colts having not won in Jacksonville since the 2014 season.

And the Jags' home hoodoo over the Colts continued as Indianapolis quarterback Carson Wentz imploded in a 26-11 defeat.

Wentz was sacked six times in a game the Jaguars led the entire way, rookie first overall pick Trevor Lawrence throwing multiple touchdowns for the first time since Week 1.

The dagger effectively came when Lawrence capitalised on Wentz's lone interception, the former Philadelphia Eagle picked by Jags linebacker Damien Wilson in the third quarter.

Lawrence then successfully handled a high snap from center, rolled to his right and lofted a three-yard pass to Marvin Jones Jr, who made a leaping grab in the back of the endzone.

The Colts were eliminated from the playoffs after the Steelers beat the Baltimore Ravens in overtime. The Steelers will qualify unless the Los Angeles Chargers' game with the Las Vegas Raiders ends in a tie.

Despite the win, the Jaguars claim the number one pick in the 2022 draft by virtue of the Detroit Lions' win over the Green Bay Packers, who rested players for much of the game.

Titans take one seed

The Kansas City Chiefs kept the pressure on the Titans with their win in Denver on Saturday, but Tennessee did not waste the opportunity to clinch the one seed, though they received a scare from the lowly Houston Texans.

Tennessee surged to a 21-0 lead, only for the Texans to respond with 18 unanswered points of their own. Ryan Tannehill's fourth touchdown pass, on which he hit Julio Jones for the receiver's first touchdown as a Titan, gave them breathing room that proved enough as they hung on for a 28-25 win after Danny Amendola's second touchdown reception frayed the nerves.

Watt ties sack record as Steelers stay alive

Ben Roethlisberger bid a tearful farewell to Heinz Field in the Steelers' home finale on Monday, but his likely final season in the NFL looks like being extended into the Wild Card round.

The Steelers fought back from 10-3 down to lead 13-10 on a Roethlisberger pass to Chase Claypool and, though Justin Tucker's field goal forced overtime, the leg of Chris Boswell had the final say, giving the Steelers a 16-13 victory in a game that saw T.J. Watt tie Michael Strahan's single-season sack record as he took his tally to 22.5.

With Chargers head coach Brandon Staley saying they would not play for a tie that would punch the postseason ticket for them and the Raiders, the Steelers' spot seems virtually assured.

Matthew Stafford inspired the Los Angeles Rams to move one step closer to securing their second straight NFC West title with a 20-19 win over the slumping Baltimore Ravens on Sunday.

The defeat for the Ravens, who were without quarterback Lamar Jackson for the third straight game, leaves them perilously close to slipping out of the Wild Card hunt after their fifth consecutive loss.

Justin Tucker's field goal had put the Ravens up 19-14 with 4:33 left but Stafford launched a game-winning 75-yard drive to overhaul the deficit.

Stafford completed a 15-yard pass to Tyler Higbee and a 24-yarder to Cooper Kupp, before finding Odell Beckham Jr twice in a row, with the latter being the decisive TD.

The Rams QB finished with 26 of 35 passes for two touchdowns but also two interceptions, including a Chuck Clark first-quarter pick six, as well as a sack.

Clark's TD was the Ravens' only for the game, as QB Tyler Huntley completed 20 of 32 passes for 197 yards.

Rams running back Sony Michel had 19 carries for 74 yards including a TD along with wide receiver Kupp with six receptions for 95 yards and one touchdown.

Over a month ago the Ravens had been 8-3 and looking good for the AFC top seed but now they are scrapping for a playoffs spot after a series of narrow defeats and desperate for Jackson's return.

Carlson field goal gives Raiders edge in Wild Card race

The Las Vegas Raiders claimed a crucial last-gasp win from Daniel Carlson's 33-yard field goal in the AFC Wild Card race with a 23-20 victory over the Indianapolis Colts.

Colts quarterback Carson Wentz cleared protocols for the game but completed 16 of 27 passes for 148 yards and one touchdown, while running back Jonathan Taylor had one TD from 20 carries for 108 yards, with the defeat marking the first this season when he has rushed more than 100 yards.

The Raiders pipped the Colts in the final quarter, trailing 17-13 at the final break with QB Derek Carr hitting Hunter Renfrow on a fourth-down play for a TD, before Michael Badgley squared the game with a 41-yard field goal, only for Carlson to win it with one from 33 yards as time expired. The Raiders improve to 9-7, pulling ahead of the 9-7 Colts in the AFC Wild Card race.

 

Bengals clinch maiden AFC North title

The Cincinnati Bengals clinched their first-ever AFC North title as Evan McPherson kicked a late 20-yard field goal to secure a 34-31 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs.

Bengals wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase set an NFL rookie record and franchise record with 266 yards and three touchdowns on 11 catches, while QB Joe Burrow threw 30 of 39 passes for 446 yards and four touchdowns.

Burrow got the better of opposing QB Patrick Mahomes who completed 26 of 35 passes for 259 yards and two touchdowns as the Chiefs, who have already won the AFC West title, moved to 11-5.

 

Brady cool after Brown meltdown

Tom Brady was cool in a crisis after Antonio Brown stormed off the field as the NFC South-winning Tampa Bay Buccaneers rallied to win 28-24 over the New York Jets.

Brady completed 34 of 50 attempts for 410 yards and three touchdowns, including leading them on a 93-yard drive in the final minutes to clinch the victory.

The game was marred after Brown's meltdown, storming off the field in the third quarter with the Bucs 24-10 down, with head coach Bruce Arians confirming "he is no longer a Buc" after the game.

Matthew Stafford inspired the Los Angeles Rams to move one step closer to securing their second straight NFC West title with a 20-19 win over the slumping Baltimore Ravens on Sunday.

The defeat for the Ravens, who were without quarterback Lamar Jackson for the third straight game, leaves them perilously close to slipping out of the Wild Card hunt after their fifth consecutive loss.

Justin Tucker's field goal had put the Ravens up 19-14 with 4:33 left but Stafford launched a game-winning 75-yard drive to overhaul the deficit.

Stafford completed a 15-yard pass to Tyler Higbee and a 24-yarder to Cooper Kupp, before finding Odell Beckham Jr twice in a row, with the latter being the decisive TD.

The Rams QB finished with 26 of 35 passes for two touchdowns but also two interceptions, including a Chuck Clark first-quarter pick six, as well as a sack.

Clark's TD was the Ravens' only for the game, as QB Tyler Huntley completed 20 of 32 passes for 197 yards.

Rams running back Sony Michel had 19 carries for 74 yards including a TD along with wide receiver Kupp with six receptions for 95 yards and one touchdown.

Over a month ago the Ravens had been 8-3 and looking good for the AFC top seed but now they are scrapping for a playoffs spot after a series of narrow defeats and desperate for Jackson's return.

Carlson field goal gives Raiders edge in Wild Card race

The Las Vegas Raiders claimed a crucial last-gasp win from Daniel Carlson's 33-yard field goal in the AFC Wild Card race with a 23-20 victory over the Indianapolis Colts.

Colts quarterback Carson Wentz cleared protocols for the game but completed 16 of 27 passes for 148 yards and one touchdown, while running back Jonathan Taylor had one TD from 20 carries for 108 yards, with the defeat marking the first this season when he has rushed more than 100 yards.

The Raiders pipped the Colts in the final quarter, trailing 17-13 at the final break with QB Derek Carr hitting Hunter Renfrow on a fourth-down play for a TD, before Michael Badgley squared the game with a 41-yard field goal, only for Carlson to win it with one from 33 yards as time expired. The Raiders improve to 9-7, pulling ahead of the 9-7 Colts in the AFC Wild Card race.

 

Bengals clinch maiden AFC North title

The Cincinnati Bengals clinched their first-ever AFC North title as Evan McPherson kicked a late 20-yard field goal to secure a 34-31 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs.

Bengals wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase set an NFL rookie record and franchise record with 266 yards and three touchdowns on 11 catches, while QB Joe Burrow threw 30 of 39 passes for 446 yards and four touchdowns.

Burrow got the better of opposing QB Patrick Mahomes who completed 26 of 35 passes for 259 yards and two touchdowns as the Chiefs, who have already won the AFC West title, moved to 11-5.

 

Brady cool after Brown meltdown

Tom Brady was cool in a crisis after Antonio Brown stormed off the field as the NFC South-winning Tampa Bay Buccaneers rallied to win 28-24 over the New York Jets.

Brady completed 34 of 50 attempts for 410 yards and three touchdowns, including leading them on a 93-yard drive in the final minutes to clinch the victory.

The game was marred after Brown's meltdown, storming off the field in the third quarter with the Bucs 24-10 down, with head coach Bruce Arians confirming "he is no longer a Buc" after the game.

Trevor Lawrence will begin the 2021 NFL season as the starting quarterback for the Jacksonville Jaguars, coach Urban Meyer has confirmed.

The number one overall pick had been widely expected to come straight into the team since he was selected, and that decision was made official on Wednesday.

Lawrence can now prepare for Week 1 and the Houston Texans, who are expected to be one of the worst teams in the league this year.

That September 12 meeting should therefore give Lawrence the opportunity to display his outstanding talent.

The Jaguars will hope the transition is as seamless as it was for Lawrence at college, where he threw for 3,280 yards, 30 touchdowns and just four interceptions in his freshman year at Clemson.

He tossed for 90 scores across 40 games in his three-year college career and was well established as the leading prospect in a strong QB class.

Lawrence led all Power 5 passers in well-thrown percentage in 2020, delivering a well-thrown, accurate ball on 84.31 per cent of his passes. The average was 75.37 per cent.

The 21-year-old, under first-time NFL coach Meyer, will hope to lead improvement in Jacksonville after a miserable 1-15 record last time out, the Jags' third consecutive year without playoff football.

They and Lawrence have been dealt a blow this week, however, as his Clemson team-mate and fellow first-round pick Travis Etienne suffered a season-ending Lisfranc injury.

Across four college seasons, including three with Lawrence, the dual-threat running back racked up 1,115 receiving yards, ranking third in the FBS.

The Jacksonville Jaguars have signed first overall pick Trevor Lawrence to a four-year rookie contract.

Jacksonville completed what had long been seen as a formality when they made Lawrence the first pick in April following his stellar collegiate career at Clemson.

He is now a fully contracted member of the Jaguars having signed a deal worth $36.8million with $24.1m in guarantees and a standard fifth-year option included.

Since the introduction of fixed contract lengths and slotted salaries for first-round picks in the 2011 collective bargaining agreement, signing highly drafted rookies is not the challenge it once was.

But Lawrence agreeing to terms on his rookie deal is another hurdle cleared as the Jaguars look to get the player they hope will turn their franchise around on the field.

Provided that he stays healthy through training camp, Lawrence – who underwent surgery on a torn labrum in his non-throwing shoulder prior to the draft – will make his preseason debut for the Jaguars against the Cleveland Browns in August.

His regular-season debut is set to come a month later when the Jaguars visit the Houston Texans on September 12.

 

The Jaguars finished the 2020 season with a 1-15 record, losing 15 straight games having won their opener, but gaining the right to select a quarterback most deemed as a generational prospect in the process.

Lawrence led Clemson to a National Championship in his first season in 2018 and racked up 10,098 passing yards and 90 touchdowns – the first of those tallies putting him third in school history behind Tajh Boyd and Deshaun Watson, the second joint-second – while throwing just 17 interceptions in his three seasons with the Tigers.

Though he did not lead Clemson to glory last season, Lawrence was first among quarterbacks with at least 100 snaps and 20 pass attempts in well-thrown percentage. He delivered an accurate, well-thrown ball on 84.3 per cent of his passes, per Stats Perform data.

If he maintains that remarkable level of accuracy at the NFL level, the Jaguars may turn things around much quicker than anticipated.

Judging draft picks in the immediate aftermath of their selection can be a foolhardy endeavour, as the success of rookies that enter the league depends on several factors including situation, opportunity and luck.

While it is tough to dole out grades for players who have not even hit the practice field for their new teams, it is possible to assess the totality of a franchise's moves in a draft and determine who has been impacted, positively and negatively, by those player selections.

In a draft dominated by a historic level of talent at the position, it is the classes of teams that made changes at quarterback that will likely have the most significant influence on the league.

After five quarterbacks went in the first round, we use Stats Perform data to determine the winners and losers from a draft that should go on to be remembered as one of the most important in NFL history.


Winners

Chicago Bears fans

Who knows whether the Justin Fields-era in Chicago will be a success? The weight of history surrounding Bears quarterbacks suggests it has a very good chance of being a failure.

But by trading up to land the Ohio State quarterback instead of committing to a year of purgatory with Andy Dalton, the Bears ensured they should be significantly more watchable in 2021, assuming post-draft talk about wanting to sit Fields behind Dalton proves false.

Fields is an exciting downfield thrower who averaged 10.10 air yards per attempt in the 2020 college season. It is an imperfect comparison given the difference in the level of competition but the two Bears starters in 2019, Mitchell Trubisky (7.94) and Nick Foles (7.92), each averaged under eight air yards per attempt.

And Fields was accurate when he pushed the ball downfield. On throws of 15 air yards or more, 76.47 per cent were well thrown, compared to 71.43 for Lawrence, 69.41 for Wilson and 67.39 for 15th overall pick Mac Jones.

His aggressive style should mesh well with number one receiver Allen Robinson, who was fifth in the NFL with 908 of his receiving yards coming at the point of reception.

Fields will also have the benefit of improved protection from a nasty offensive tackle in the form of second-round pick Teven Jenkins.

Jenkins allowed a pressure rate of 2.9 per cent in 2020, third among tackles with at least 100 pass protection snaps. The top tackle in that regard was Larry Borom of Missouri (1.8%), whom Chicago drafted in the fifth round.

Chicago also further helped Fields' cause by drafting Virginia Tech running back Khalil Herbert, who was second in the Power 5 in yards per carry (7.63) among running backs with at least 100 carries and Dazz Newsome, the North Carolina wideout who was 11th in burn percentage (71) among receivers with at least 25 slot targets. 

The Bears have been a chore to watch in recent years. It isn't clear whether the move up for Fields will work and it is debatable whether general manager Ryan Pace should have been allowed to make it given his track record, but there is finally reason for a passionate fanbase to be genuinely excited about their team.

Zach Wilson

Wilson going second overall to the Jets was no secret, but New York did an excellent job of taking steps to ensure concerns over his one season of elite production against non-Power 5 opposition do not prove prescient by surrounding him with talent.

A trade up for guard Alijah Vera-Tucker raised eyebrows but his pressure rate allowed of 1.3 per cent when playing left guard for USC in 2019 was the best in the Power 5 and suggests he can lock down that spot for the next decade for the Jets.

Wide receiver Elijah Moore brings inside-out versatility and should have gone in the first round. Instead, the Ole Miss star went 34th overall to the Jets, adding a wideout who led the FBS in receiving yards per game (149.1) last season to an intriguing group that includes Denzel Mims, Corey Davis and Jamison Crowder.

Third-round running back Michael Carter will give offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur a versatile skill set to utilise.

The North Carolina back led Power 5 runners with 100 carries or more in yards per carry (7.98) and yards before contact per rush (5.36) in 2020.

As a receiver, Carter was eighth among those Power 5 backs, who also had a minimum of 10 targets, in burn yards per target (10.86).

Carter should, therefore, be able to have a substantial impact in the zone-running scheme the Jets will employ in 2021 and influence the passing game significantly.

Growing pains are to be expected in Wilson's rookie season in New York but this was a draft in which the Jets went to great lengths to make his adaptation to the pros as smooth as possible.

Lamar Jackson

Every year, the Baltimore Ravens do an excellent job of letting the draft board come to them and reaping the rewards.

In 2020, they stole linebacker Patrick Queen in the back end of the first round. This year they grabbed arguably the most well-refined receiver in the draft, Minnesota's Rashod Bateman, with the 27th overall pick.

A truncated 2020 season in which he played just five games following a bout of coronavirus may not have helped Bateman's stock, but his 2019 tape showed a receiver who can develop into a number one target for Lamar Jackson.

Bateman can excel at all levels of the field and his downfield upside shone through in 2019, when he was open on 70.8 per cent of his targets in 2019 with an average depth of target of 16.2 yards.

His burn yards per target average of 16.15 was sixth among all Power 5 receivers with at least 50 targets two seasons ago, with Henry Ruggs III and Chris Olave the only players in the same group to produce a superior big-play percentage to Bateman's 50.4.

Big plays in the passing game have not been consistent for the Ravens. Jackson (25) had fewer passing plays of 25 yards or more than Teddy Bridgewater (27) and Drew Lock (28) in 2020.

Bateman has the talent to greatly increase that tally of explosive plays while the addition of Tylan Wallace, who was eighth among Power 5 receivers with a minimum of 50 targets last season with a burn yards per route average of 4.33, should further boost Jackson's hopes of bouncing back as a passer in 2021.

Having also addressed the interior of the offensive line by drafting Ben Cleveland, whose pressure rate allowed of 2.7 per cent was seventh among Power 5 guards last season, in the third round, Jackson goes into 2021 in an excellent position to take the passing game to levels that escaped the 2019 MVP in 2020.

In the coming season, Jackson will have much better weapons and should have improved protection. If the Ravens' offense falls short again in the playoffs in 2021, he won't have much room for excuses.

Losers

Ben Roethlisberger

Pittsburgh lost left tackle Alejandro Villanueva and the versatile Matt Feiler in free agency but did nothing to fill either of the voids left by that duo until the third round when they picked up athletic Illinois guard Kendrick Green. Tackle Dan Moore was picked in the fourth round.

Instead, they spent their first two picks on a running back and a tight end in Alabama's Najee Harris and Pat Freiermuth of Penn State, stacking the offense with further weapons for Ben Roethlisberger in what will likely be his last season in the NFL.

But, beyond running back, weapons were not the need for the Steelers. Harris is an upgrade in the backfield but he averaged only 2.14 yards after contact per rush last season, below the Power 5 average of 2.21, and typically the offensive line has just as much of an impact on running game production as the back.

A failure to prioritise the trenches could result in Harris struggling to evade defenders that the O-Line has allowed into the backfield. More worryingly for Roethlisberger, the lack of a dependable replacement at left tackle could leave a quarterback who missed 14 games as recently as 2019 open to punishment from opposing pass rushers.

Roethlisberger completed 50.7 per cent of his passes when under pressure in 2020, the fifth-worst number of all quarterbacks with at least 100 attempts. If this is to be his swansong, the Steelers are not setting him up for a successful one.

Trevor Lawrence

Ok, so Trevor Lawrence is a winner. He's the number one overall pick and is set to be paid millions to take his talents to the highest level.

But, in terms of the situation he is going into in Jacksonville, the Jaguars did little to help him.

With the 25th pick, they passed up the chance to boost their pass-catching options in favour of drafting his Clemson team-mate, running back Travis Etienne, following a 2020 season in which undrafted rookie James Robinson finished the year sixth in yards after contact per attempt (2.34). 

Simply put, Etienne was the definition of an unnecessary luxury pick.

Tyson Campbell was a decent value pick at 33rd overall in the second round but Jaguars general manager Trent Baalke, who developed a reputation during his time running the San Francisco 49ers for taking ill-advised risks on players with bad injury histories, picked a safety in Andre Cisco who tore his ACL in September and offensive tackle Walker Little, who has not played a game since 2019, when he featured in just one before suffering a knee injury.

The only pass-catching additions came in the form of a 29-year-old tight end, Luke Farrell, in the fifth round and wide receiver Jalen Camp in the sixth. 

Between D.J. Chark, Marvin Jones and Laviska Shenault, Lawrence does have reasonable weapons, but the Jags did not do much to add to his arsenal.

NFC West run defenses

Teams trying to stop the 49ers' ground game have had a hard time since Kyle Shanahan became head coach in 2017.

Their 224 rushes of 10 yards or more are tied sixth in the NFL in that time, and that tally looks set to increase after San Francisco drafted a franchise quarterback in Trey Lance who boasts a devastating mix of speed and power in the open field.

Lance's 14 touchdowns in 2019 were bettered by just four quarterbacks across the FBS and FCS, his rushing average of 6.5 yards fifth among signal-callers with at least 100 rushes.

San Francisco then added further to their ground game by picking Trey Sermon in the third round and Elijah Mitchell in the sixth.

In the Power 5 and Group of Five, just four running backs with a minimum of 100 attempts had a better yards per carry average than Sermon's 7.50 last season.

Burst to the second level is a key trait for Sermon, who was fourth in average yards before contact per attempt with 4.85.

The electric Mitchell, meanwhile, averaged the third-most yards after contact per attempt, putting up 3.23 per rush, a rate beaten by Javonte Williams (4.59) and Jaret Patterson (3.25).

Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr. are each free agents in 2022 but, by drafting Lance, Sermon and Mitchell, the Niners ensured their run game is about to get more diverse and potentially more destructive.

For the three NFC West teams that face them twice a year, that is simply terrible news.

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