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2021 Rookie Review: Quarterbacks and Tight Ends (2022 Fantasy Football)

Feb 3, 2022


 
Welcome back to the final part of my three-part mini-series looking at all the relevant rookies for fantasy football from the 2021 season. If you missed my reviews on running backs or wide receivers, you can find them here.

This week, I will cover both the 2021 rookie quarterbacks and tight ends. It’s fair to say both classes were on opposite ends of the spectrum. Whilst the quarterbacks were plentiful and had people guessing for months who would end up where the tight end position was perhaps the weakest we have seen in several years.

However, despite all this, there are still several players that can be evaluated as we look ahead to 2022. And so, without further ado, let’s dive into the quarterbacks.

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Trevor Lawrence (QB – JAX)

  • Team: Jacksonville Jaguars
  • Draft: Round 1, Pick 1
  • 2021 ADP: QB16

How did he do?

Lawrence did not live up to expectations in 2021. However, it is fair to say the expectations were too high to begin with. Whilst it looks on paper Lawrence had a bad year, in truth, could he have done much better?

Lawrence had one of the worst coaches in NFL history in Urban Meyer. Some might call that unfair given he was only around for thirteen games. However, Meyer did very little to develop and bring along Lawrence.

It is fair to say Meyer was a lame-duck coach the moment he deserted the team to stay in Ohio and let his hair down after his team moved to 0-4 on the season after a loss to the Bengals. He became a distraction the team didn’t need and he let his players down.

Other factors for mitigation for Lawrence were losing D.J. Chark (WR – JAX) early in the season and losing Travis Etienne (RB – JAX) in the preseason. This left him weapon-deprived going into the season. Marvin Jones Jr. (WR – JAX) did his best to elevate his play and make plays, but there was little support for Lawrence.

Having said all this, it is fair to say that once Meyer was removed from his role, Lawrence did improve. In Week 18, he had his best outing of the season since Week 5 on his way to a QB12 finish on the week. Also, other than three interceptions against New England, he didn’t turn the ball over in three of his last four games. We also saw an increase in rushing attempts, peaking at 10 in Week 18. Part of the appeal of Lawrence was him being a dual-threat QB. However, he rarely demonstrated his running ability until the final few weeks of the season.

He put lots on tape that look promising. The ability to beat coverage with his eyes. Having the 3rd-most big-time throws under pressure in the league. His ability to evade sacks. There are lots of positives for Lawrence fans. However, he will need to improve on his 12 Passing Touchdowns in 2022. Also, ideally, we would like to see 100-plus rushing attempts with around 500 yards on the ground and more than two rushing touchdowns in 2022.

What is his 2022 outlook?

As a whole, it remains rather positive. There is a lot of positive regression that is coming Lawrence’s way. For starters, he boasted a 50% completion rate in the red zone with just seven TD passes on 56 attempts inside the 20-yard line. There is no way this will remain the case in 2022.

He also ran the ball just four times inside the 5-yard line. Due to the Jags struggling to get down inside the red zone, he didn’t have many chances. However, I would expect him to keep and carry more times inside the five in 2022. With better coaching, this offense will yield better results in the red zone in 2022.

Another thing that will change is the personnel. As of now, it is uncertain who will be the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars. It appears they are leaning towards an offensive coach and possible suitor Byron Leftwich, the former Jaguars QB and current Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator, will certainly be able to help develop Trevor Lawrence.

However, this roster post-free agency and the NFL Draft will look rather different. The Jaguars have the 2nd most cap room in the NFL, estimated at almost $60 million in 2022 according to OverTheCap.com. That means they can make a splash in free agency, which is deep with talented wide receivers.

They also have the 1st pick in the NFL Draft. While they are unlikely to go with a wide receiver in the 1st round, be sure to watch them attack the position with their 2nd and 3rd round picks.

All in all, 2022 should be a bounce-back year for Trevor Lawrence. Who knows, he could even be a breakout candidate and worth a late-round draft pick in your fantasy drafts this autumn.

Zach Wilson (QB – NYJ)

  • Team: New York Jets
  • Draft: Round 1, Pick 2
  • 2021 ADP: QB26

How did he do?

Wilson was another player who looked like a work in progress in 2021. He was, for most of the season, incredibly inconsistent. For every great play he would produce, there would be one or two head-scratching plays. However, it was widely accepted that the New York Jets were looking at a player who can produce long-term with a high ceiling.

And, as I mentioned, he certainly flashed at times. There were some signs towards the end of the season that he was able to make plays on the run, connect with his receivers and really elevate the offense.

Wilson even managed to keep the turnovers down. He threw just 11 interceptions and only lost one fumble in 13 games. That level of protection is a very good indicator of someone who knows how to not take unnecessary risks.

However, the major concern will be the touchdowns. Wilson had just nine passing Touchdowns in 13 games, and he did look like he was unwilling to pull the trigger at times. The other blot on his copybook will be that this offense looked a lot more dynamic with backups Mike White (QB – NYJ) and Joe Flacco (QB – NYJ) under center for four games. It is these games that really do leave a question mark over Zach Wilson as much as his performances.

In truth, Zach Wilson’s rookie year looked rather similar to Sam Darnold’s (QB – CAR). Darnold had eight more passing touchdowns in the same number of games. However, he had three fewer rushing touchdowns, four more interceptions and lost one more fumble than Wilson. Wilson and the Jets’ coaching staff are trying to learn from past mistakes and protect the football. That means taking fewer risks and developing slowly. Meanwhile, Darnold was allowed to ball out and take more shots down the field.

Both Darnold and Wilson recorded their best months in December/January. Wilson’s December and January performances resulted in zero turnovers, despite playing against Miami, Tampa Bay and Buffalo.

However, it certainly felt like Wilson was playing with a handbrake on. Which, whilst good for situational football, is not good for fantasy football. He looked capable with the ball in his hand, but he only rushed for 185 yards, with almost 50% of these yards (91 rushing yards) coming against Jacksonville in Week 16.

Therefore, what we need to see from Wilson moving forward is to play without the handbrake on and to be allowed to take command of this offense.

What is his 2022 outlook?

From a growth perspective, it is exciting. Everyone from the coaching staff is returning. Also, he has a young core of talent in Michael Carter (RB – NYJ), Elijah Moore (WR – NYJ) and even Denzel Mims (WR – NYJ). There is also a young offensive line that you hope would improve on the 53 sacks (4th most) they allowed in 2021.

One immediate area that Wilson needs to improve in is his average time to throw. According to Next Gen Stats, Wilson had the 3rd highest average time to throw at a whopping three seconds, behind only Jameis Winston (QB – NO) and Jalen Hurts (QB – PHI) in 2021. Also, his passer rating of 69.7 was the worst among the 32 starting quarterbacks in the NFL. His completion percentage was also the lowest of all starting quarterbacks in the NFL. However, when looking at his completion percentage above expectation (-10.8), you can see that he didn’t get much help from his receiving corps.

Having said that, there are some quick wins for this team and they showed they can be productive.

However, none of this will result in Zach Wilson being draftable in a 1QB format in 2022. He is best to just ignore for this coming season.

Trey Lance (QB – SF)

  • Team: San Francisco 49ers
  • Draft: Round 1, Pick 3
  • 2021 ADP: QB20

How did he do?

Someone that excited the fantasy community in 2021 was Trey Lance. When San Francisco traded up to the No. 3 pick in the NFL Draft and mortgaged their future for Trey Lance, it was assumed it would only be a matter of time before Lance would be making waves in the NFL.

Fast forward nine months later and we are more confused than ever when it comes to what to expect from Trey Lance. After a one-pass cameo in Week 1 that lead to a touchdown, a wildfire started to spread. However, Lance only threw passes in three more games, starting just two in his rookie season. Meanwhile, Jimmy Garoppolo (QB – SF), the incumbent starter, managed to guide the 49ers to the NFC Championship game.

As things stand right now, Garoppolo is under contract in 2022. However, he can be cut with just a $1.4 million dead cap charge, which does make it easy to move on.

With Lance not being able to put up much of a case as to why he should start in 2022 due to the lack of game time, he will be made to wait and see.

What is his 2022 outlook?

As mentioned, the starting job in 2022 is far from assured for him right now. Fantasy owners will need to wait and see on that one before any decisions could be made.

The other downside is the lack of playing time, as Lance has started just three games in the last two years. Regardless of talent, quarterback is a position where you need time and repetition under center. If Lance does start in 2022, it is going to be a while before we see significant improvements in his game.

Right now, it appears Lance’s 2022 prospects are almost slightly worse than the ones he was facing in 2021. However, he has had time to learn a complicated offense. He also would have gotten reps with the first team starters through training sessions if he does get the starting nod.

Having said that, he did record five passing touchdowns, 41 completions and just two interceptions. He also rushed 38 times, resulting in 168 yards and one score, which shows his true dual-threat credentials.

So, whilst there is not a large sample, all signs point to Lance being a highly productive quarterback for fantasy football. He is certainly someone who will be worth a late-round pick in drafts next season, especially if he is named the starter. If he is not, then he is one you star and add to your watchlist. Because the second he is named the starter, he will carry top-10 fantasy upside for the rest of the season.

Justin Fields (QB – CHI)

  • Team: Chicago Bears
  • Draft: Round 1, Pick 11
  • 2021 ADP: QB17

How did he do?

Another quarterback that, despite being drafted highly and started early, had an inconsistent season at best. In truth, Fields really struggled to get any form of passing game going in Chicago. He only managed to pass for over 225 passing yards twice in 2021 in 10 starts. He also never broke the 300-yard passing mark. It took Fields seven starts to break the 225 passing yards mark, which he did with 291 yards passing against Pittsburgh in Week 9. That was his highwater mark for the season.

Once again, there was a lot of mitigation for Fields. For starters, he was lacking a lot of talent to throw the ball to in Chicago. Another was that Matt Nagy, who would ultimately lose his job, set him up to fail in those early games as a starter. Finally, Fields did not have the requisite protection, made apparent by his Week 3 performance when he was sacked nine times.

In fact, there were many times that Nagy was scheming a game that just didn’t fit into the skillset of Justin Fields at all. Which, as someone who executed a trade that allowed them to move up and take Fields in the draft, was nothing short of mind-boggling. Why trade up for a quarterback that you have absolutely no idea how to scheme an offense around? I guess that is why Mr. Nagy and Mr. Pace received their pink slips at the end of the season.

Fields’ completion percentage was the second-worst among the 32 recognized starters in the NFL in 2021, behind Zach Wilson. Also, his seven passing touchdowns were the lowest of any quarterback who started 10 games or more in 2021. A 2-8 record and an average passing yards per game as a starter of 180 yards are severe causes for concern when it comes to looking for a fantasy or regular starting quarterback. Add in an average time to throw 0f 2.91 seconds and some injury concerns, and you have a recipe for disaster on your hands.

However, there are some glimmers of hope. The first is that he led all qualifying quarterbacks in the NFL when it came to average completed air yards last year (7.1 yards/completion). He also ranked third in intended air yards at 9.5 yards per attempt. A lot of this was due to the fact Chicago was trailing in a lot of games. However, it also points to the fact that Fields was keen to take shots and move the ball. Despite these large vertical moves, he was only picked off 10 times. That shows control, and not just the Jameis Winston hit-and-hope approach.

Lastly, he carried the ball 72 times for 420 yards and two rushing Touchdowns. These metrics also show his dual-threat ability. However, what will help Fields stand out is that willingness and ability to get the ball downfield. With the right coaching staff and talent around him, as well as the correction of some mistakes that have crept into his game, there is an expectation that Fields can break the top-15 QBs in 2022 for fantasy football.

What is his 2022 outlook?

Matt Eberflus has recently been appointed the Chicago Bears head coach. Whilst this isn’t bad news for Justin Fields, it isn’t the kind of news he would have been hoping for. Eberflus is a strong defensive mind in the NFL and has managed the Colts to extremely strong defensive finishes.

However, with no idea on who the offensive coordinator will be, there is some worry that the wrong appointment here will not lead to the progression that fantasy owners will be hoping to see from Fields in 2022.

On top of that, Chicago does not have a first-round pick this year after trading up to get Fields in 2021. Also, the Bears are likely to lose Allen Robinson II (WR – CHI) in Free Agency, meaning a thin wide receiver corps will be getting even thinner. They will have to use the draft to acquire some talent. However, will the power struggle of having a defensive head coach mean most of the top available picks will be spent on defensive players?

A better offensive system will yield better results for Fields in 2022. However, we will need to see the fruits of this before investing significant draft capital in Fields and the Chicago Bears offense in 2022.

Mac Jones (QB – NE)

  • Team: New England Patriots
  • Draft: Round 1, Pick 15
  • 2021 ADP: QB24

How did he do?

Quite simply put, out of all the quarterbacks drafted, Jones was on top of the pile in almost every category when it came to passing. He also took his team to the playoffs as a rookie. That is extremely impressive for someone most fantasy players criticized as someone who couldn’t throw or make plays.

His completion percentage was the second-highest of all time among NFL rookies, only bettered by Dak Prescott (QB – DAL) in 2016. He also ranks 5th-all time in passing yards and completions by a rookie in NFL history.

Mac Jones demonstrated a maturity and poise unlike most rookies that will set him up for many years to come in the NFL. Jones was the only one of the five first-round quarterbacks to outperform his ADP, finishing as the QB18.

For a rookie year, it was incredibly successful. However, due to the lack of rushing output (44 times for 129 yards and zero touchdowns), despite that excellent rookie season, there will be little appetite to draft Jones in a 1QB league next fall.

What is his 2022 outlook?

Despite a successful season under center for the Patriots and some room to improve, his fantasy football prospects look rather bleak.

Whilst every other quarterback mentioned so far has a path to a top-12 or 15 finish, that cannot be said for Jones. He is already performing at a high completion level, so it is unlikely that his yardage totals go up by more than a few hundred at most. Also, his rushing output is unlikely to increase much more than what we saw in 2021.

Therefore, we will be relying on Jones to outperform in the touchdown column in order to improve his fantasy standing, and that is a dangerous thing to rely on. Touchdowns is the one area you don’t want to be relying on for any player on your team.

It is unlikely we will be able to move up Jones much higher than his QB18 finish this year. He does make an intriguing safe play in Superflex and 2QB leagues, however.

Davis Mills (QB – HOU)

  • Team: Houston Texans
  • Draft: Round 3, Pick 67
  • 2021 ADP: QB26

How did he do?

Davis Mills was one the sensational quarterback stories of the season. Very few outlets respected or appreciated the fact that Davis Mills had a chance to make it onto an NFL field. Even fewer projected him to ever start a game. And yet, Mills started 11 games in 2021 and replaced Tyrod Taylor (QB – HOU) as the starter.

What is even more remarkable is that his 66.8% completion percentage ranks 3rd all-time amongst NFL rookies starting 10 or more games, behind Dak Prescott and Mac Jones. The fact that he did it with Brandin Cooks (WR – HOU) and a bunch of veteran free agent acquisitions that could only be likened to something out of The Replacements is nothing short of remarkable.

Mills threw for 16 Touchdowns in 13 games and only 10 interceptions (four came in just his second ever start vs Buffalo). He also managed 228.5 passing yards per game he started and was tied for 5th amongst recognized NFL starters in time to throw. That shows his awareness of coverages and ability to make plays and process his reads quickly. A Passer Rating of 88.8 ranked him second amongst all rookies also, behind Mac Jones.

The Texans organization clearly saw something in Mills, which is why they traded up to get him. And he repaid that faith with some fine performances in 2021. Despite not many W’s in the win column, Mills showed he can be a starting NFL quarterback, which certainly is more than can be said for some in this class in 2021.

What is his 2022 outlook?

In truth, his future is tied to Deshaun Watson (QB – HOU) and whoever the new head coach will be. Mills certainly did enough to go into a camp battle with a veteran if they sign someone to replace Watson.

Deshaun Watson is still facing 22 counts in court, while no decision has been made on the next head coach. Despite this, it seems unlikely that Davis Mills will be the starter in 2022. Having said that, there is certainly more chance of him being the starter in 2022 than there was when he was drafted in 2021. Never say never.

Despite his passing production, he offers almost nothing in the run game. And, despite outperforming expectations in 2021, with an average of under 13 fantasy points per game, you cannot and should not draft Davis Mills in any format other than perhaps as a QB4 in a Superflex or 2QB league.

Now, it’s time to review the rookie tight ends of this 2021 class.

Kyle Pitts (TE – ATL)

  • Team: Atlanta Falcons
  • Draft: Round 1, Pick 4
  • 2021 ADP: TE4

How did he do?

Pitts was a curious case. On one hand, he had the second-most productive rookie tight end season of all time in terms of receiving yards. He was one of only three tight ends to break the 1,000 yard mark, joining the ranks of Mark Andrews (TE – BAL) and Travis Kelce (TE – KC). His target share of 20% was third among all tight ends in 2o21 as well. However, on the other hand, he was a fantasy bust.

Fantasy owners bought the hype that Pitts was going to be a special player. And he very well might be. However, the one thing that was forgotten  about tight ends in fantasy was that, unless they are going to put 15 PPR points per game, you might as well fade them all way to the later rounds and take a chance on someone breaking out.

Pitts’ overall ADP was 48, which is the end of round four. Players you could have gotten in the 5th round were Cooper Kupp (WR – LAR), Mark Andrews, Justin Herbert (QB – LAC), Diontae Johnson (WR – PIT), Tyler Lockett (WR – SEA) and Dak Prescott.

The argument was that while Pitts does have enormous talent, could he 1) Defy the odds and produce the single greatest rookie season of all time? No! or 2) Could he produce a significant advantage to a position that struggles to have many players putting up difference-making numbers? No again!

None of that is Pitts’ fault. He produced big moments and showed why he was taken 4th overall in the 2021 NFL Draft.

However, the fact that he only caught one touchdown will baffle most people. The two concerning factors for me, which will roll into next season are as follows:

  1. He only had 14 red zone targets (10th among tight ends)
  2. He only caught four of them!

That is a shocking ratio of targets to catches. It also shows a lot of areas that the Falcons need to improve on in 2022. With Matt Ryan (QB – ATL) under contract in 2022, it is unlikely they will make a quarterback change next year. This will not be a good thing for Pitts.

So while he had a good first season with the Falcons that is measurable against all other rookie tight end seasons, there are some worries. There is no doubt Pitts is a candidate for positive regression in 2022 in the touchdown column, but there is very little in terms of encouraging signs that will demonstrate his true value in 2022.

What is his 2022 outlook?

There is no way fantasy owners could or should draft him at his 2021 ADP. His 2021 ADP will see a correction. It is just a case of how much. I have done a lot of work on taking tight ends in the middle rounds and find that it very rarely pays off for fantasy owners. Mark Andrews in 2021 would be the outlier.

In truth, Pitts is going to see a small bump in numbers. But not an astronomical amount, especially considering that he will see more competition for targets in 2022 than he saw in 2021. The big question for Pitts and fantasy owners is how many touchdowns Pitts can haul in. That will be the difference between Pitts breaking into the top-3 at the position or remaining outside the top-5. That would mean taking a gamble on Matt Ryan, who didn’t look good at times in 2021.

For me, it would depend where Pitts falls. The fifth and sixth rounds would be a no-no for me. Anything after the seventh round would be more attractive. The advantage is that he is a safe option that can be viewed as a set and forget guy at a weak position.

However, does he have true upside? I am yet to be convinced that will be the case in 2022. 2023 and beyond, I have no doubt we will see a breakout. Dynasty players have a true asset on their hands. They will just need to be patient and hold onto Pitts to see his true value.

Pat Freiermuth (TE – PIT) 

  • Team: Pittsburgh Steelers
  • Draft: Round 2, Pick 55
  • 2021 ADP: TE19

After just spending time talking about a player that failed to meet expectations, let’s move on to someone who exceeded them. Freiermuth was a focal point of the Steelers offense down the stretch as he became a valuable weapon, most notably in the red zone.

Freiermuth, who became responsible for the awesome “The Muth is Loose” slogan (somebody get a t-shirt made of this please), was second amongst all tight ends in 2021 in red zone yardage (92), with only Tyler Higbee (TE – LAR) (100) having more. He was also tied for the most red zone targets (20) with Mark Andrews and Cameron Brate (TE – TB). His 13 receptions within the 20-yard line was only one behind Travis Kelce amongst all tight ends in 2021. Meanwhile, only Mark Andrews (9) and Hunter Henry (TE – NE) (8) had more red zone touchdowns than Freiermuth (7).

All of this is exactly what we want to see out of a tight end. In fantasy football, touchdowns for tight ends are what matter. In fact, most savvy players will stream the position and select tight ends purely on their chances of getting a touchdown that weekend based on their matchup.

Freiermuth also was splitting time with Eric Ebron (TE – PIT) at the start of the season, until injury ended Ebron’s campaign.

While Freiermuth did excel in many areas, the most notable area where he was handicapped was his quarterback play. In 2021, Freiermuth’s yards before reception was just 4.2 yards. His yards per catch was 8.3, meaning that almost 50% of Freiermuth’s yards in 2021 came after the catch. In fact, Freiermuth, on less receptions, ended with just 66 yards after catch fewer than Kyle Pitts.

A change in QB will certainly help in this area. And, with a strong red zone presence established, 2022 could be a breakout year for Freiermuth.

What is his 2022 outlook?

Simply put, that will all depend on who will throw him the ball in 2022. Ben Roethlisberger retired, which means the Steelers will need to find a new signal caller in 2022.

This will massively affect the outcome of Pat Freiermuth in 2022. A strong QB who likes to use his tight ends like Jameis Winston would be a really big arrow up for Freiermuth. However, if the job gets handed to Mason Rudolph (QB – PIT), this could affect Freiermuth’s output significantly.

All the peripherals are there for Pat Freiermuth to stake a claim in the top-5 tight ends in 2022. However, that quarterback puzzle piece will be a huge one to his 2022 value.

Tre’ McKitty (TE – LAC) 

  • Team: Los Angeles Chargers
  • Draft: Round 3, Pick 97
  • 2021 ADP: N/A

How did he do?

In truth, it wasn’t a good season for McKitty. He only caught six balls for 45 yards and first saw the field for Chargers in Week 8.

However, he did start the final two games of the season. In Week 17, he actually caught three passes for 22 yards.

So, while it’s not much to write home about, there is a reason for optimism in 2022.

What is his 2022 outlook?

McKitty was not drafted to contribute much in 2021, as they had lots of depth on the roster at the tight end position. However, as we head into 2022, all of that changes.

Jared Cook (TE – LAC), the teams starter at tight end in 2021 is a free agent. As too is Stephen Anderson (TE – LAC). In fact, as it stands right now, Tre’ McKitty is the only tight end guaranteed to be in training camp for the Chargers in 2022, as Donald Parham Jr. (TE – LAC) is an exclusive restricted free agent. However, I would expect Parham to be on this roster in 2022.

Therefore, barring a major free agency signing at tight end, McKitty will have the opportunity to fight for the starting job in 2022. As a result, given the potency of this offense and Justin Herbert, McKitty becomes a buy-low target right now. He might not even be owned in many leagues.

He is one name you should keep an eye on at Chargers camp in 2022.

Brevin Jordan (TE – HOU)

  • Team: Houston Texans
  • Draft: Round 5, Pick 147
  • 2021 ADP: N/A

How did he do?

Jordan was buried in the depth chart for much of the season, as he only officially started two games in 2021. However, he did lead all tight ends on the Texans in average yards per catch (8.9) and touchdowns (3).

Jordan certainly flashed, especially in the red zone, where he caught all four of his targets and scored on three of them.

And, as it looks like Houston is cleaning house, opportunities might present themselves for Jordan in 2022.

What is his 2022 outlook?

When it comes to Jordan, his situation is similar to McKitty’s. Pharaoh Brown (TE – HOU) and Jordan Akins (TE – HOU) are free agents in 2022. As too is Antony Auclair (TE – HOU). That means every other tight end could be off the roster by the time training camp rolls round.

Also, we have no idea who the coaching staff or the quarterback will be in Houston. Because of this, Jordan will carry more risk than McKitty. However, due to having more production and a relationship with quarterback-possibility Davis Mills, it could be a really good opportunity for Jordan to rise to the top of the depth chart. Therefore, he appeals as another buy-low candidate for tight end starved rosters in dynasty formats in 2022.

It won’t take much to acquire Jordan, so maybe see if you can get him on a roster or two and see what happens. I know I will.

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Adam Murfet is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Murf, check out his archive and follow him @Murf_NFL.

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