Top 10 NFL gamebreakers
Who are the biggest home-run hitters in the NFL? John Breitenbach takes a look at the league's top gamebreakers.
Top 10 NFL gamebreakers
The best NFL offenses have a combination of reliable weapons and game-breaking threats—players capable of changing the momentum of games in a single play are invaluable in the modern NFL. Big plays can also have a demoralizing effect on opponents.
With that in mind, here are the 10 most dangerous game-breaking weapons set to take the field in 2016.
1. Todd Gurley, RB, Rams
No NFL player posed more of a home-run threat than Todd Gurley in 2015. He led the NFL in 20+ yard runs, with 14, despite missing three games due to injury. The former 10th-overall pick also accumulated nearly half his yardage on runs over 15 yards. Gurley led the league in breakaway percentage—a metric that looks at the percentage of yardage accumulated on long runs—with 508 of his 1,106 yards (45.9 percent) generated on big plays. He also scored 10 touchdowns, one short of the league-lead, and broke an impressive 47 combined tackles (only six backs managed more). With even more touches in 2016, Gurley could emerge as an elite running back—he is already one of game’s most dangerous players.
2. Odell Beckham Jr., WR, Giants
Odell Beckham is a nightmare for opposing defensive backs. He possesses an ideal combination of shiftiness underneath and explosion deep. The downfield threat he poses ensures a large cushion, putting extra strain on defensive backs to tackle in the open field. Few are capable of bringing Beckham down in space; he broke 13 tackles on just 96 receptions last season, highlighting the difficulty of their predicament. Beckham also scored 13 touchdowns, six of which came on deep targets. Only three receivers could better that total. No receiver has even come close to Beckham’s +44.8 cumulative receiving grade in their first two NFL seasons (since PFF began grading games in 2007). He may only just be getting started.
3. Doug Baldwin, WR, Seahawks
Baldwin has the perfect skillset for a slot receiver. He can threaten every level of the defense, both with the ball in hand and during his route. Inside receivers typically have a lower yards-per-catch average. Not Baldwin, who averaged a ridiculous 14.6 yards per reception from the position. He added a further 12 touchdowns (14 in total) and broke a tackle once in every 4.3 receptions. With the ball in hand, Baldwin also managed to average 5.6 yards after the catch. He’s a supreme talent capable of taking over games.
4. Antonio Brown, WR/PR, Steelers
Antonio Brown is not only the league’s best receiver, but also amongst the most dynamic. The Steelers’ top wideout shattered our previous record for the highest receiving grade in a season, finishing with a 97.0 mark in the 0–100 system. Brown managed 23 broken tackles on 136 receptions, scoring 10 touchdowns. He is also a dangerous, if not elite, deep threat. Brown’s 43.8 percent catch rate on deep targets was 16th in the league last year, even if his two downfield touchdowns are somewhat underwhelming. That said, he still ended up dancing in the end zone on 11 occasions in 2015. As well as his significant contributions on offense, Brown averaged 9.6 yards per punt return, scoring a touchdown in the process. He’s rightly considered one of the NFL’s best players, and a true gamebreaker.
5. Rob Gronkowski, TE, Patriots
Gronkowski has revolutionized the expectations for an elite tight end. He is the most complete player we’ve seen at the position in recent seasons. Gronk’s 95.9 receiving grade easily outstripped the competition; on just 72 catches, he gained 1,176 yards, averaging a league-leading 16.3 yards per catch. Nearly half of his yardage came after the catch; his 7.6 YAC average was fourth at the position. Those numbers are partly explained by Gronkowski’s talent in the open field—he broke a tackle once every 6.5 receptions. The Patriots’ top TE remains one of the biggest matchup nightmares in the game.
6. Allen Robinson, WR, Jaguars
Few wideouts, let alone defensive backs, can match Robinson at the catch point. His physicality, ability to elevate and strong hands make it an unfair contest. Blake Bortles owes Robinson a lot. His capacity to bail out quarterbacks on poorly-located passes is unmatched. The Jaguars’ wideout finished second in the NFL with an average of 17.5 yards per catch (minimum 50 receptions), catching 14 touchdowns from just 80 receptions. He’s also not just a pure deep threat, breaking ten tackles last season. Robinson — along with fellow deep-threat Allen Hurns — is one of the key reasons the Jaguars have a great chance to contend in 2016.
7. Doug Martin, RB, Buccaneers
The second running back on the list, Martin recovered from a couple of injury-plagued seasons to display his full potential in 2015. He finished behind only Todd Gurley in PFF’s breakaway percentage metric, amassing 590 of his 1,402 yards on 15+ yard runs (42.1 percent). The Bucs’ RB also led the league with 14 plays of 20+ yards from the position. Martin’s combination of speed and power enables him to break tackles in a variety of ways; he broke a league-leading 67 combined tackles a year ago, and finish with the fourth-highest elusive rating (65.7). Longevity remains a concern for Martin, but he enters 2016 as one of the league’s best backs.
8. Travis Kelce, TE, Chiefs
Kelce lacks the consistency of the league’s elite players, but certainly does not lack game-breaking ability. He tied for a position-high 16 broken tackles last season, making a number of defenders miss regularly on his 72 receptions. Kelce’s total of 7.5 yards after the catch per reception was also bettered by only three other tight ends. He also caught 50 percent of targets, and one of his five touchdowns, on deep targets (pass traveling 20+ yards in the air). Kelce finished among the top five TEs in 20+ yard receptions.
9. Sammy Watkins, WR, Bills
The Bills have one of the best quarterback-to -receiver deep connections in Tyrod Taylor and Sammy Watkins. Taylor hit a number of bombs to his favorite wideout, connecting 16 times from 34 attempts (47.1 percent catch rate). Watkins managed 606 deep yards, good for second in the league, as well as eight touchdowns, which led the NFL. His combination of speed and body control make him an ideal downfield threat. Although Watkins was not as effective after the catch as some of his peers (five broken tackles, 3.0 YAC average), he regularly breaks games open by threatening defenses over the top.
10. Jarvis Landry, WR/PR, Dolphins
The Dolphins’ commitment to feeding their top playmaker produced big results in 2015. Landry produced as a receiver, runner, and returner last season. He ranked second amongst receivers with 28 broken tackles, adding a further 12 from just 18 attempts on the ground. Landry also averaged an impressive 5.2 yards after the catch per reception. He contributed on special teams, too, recording the top grade of returners last season. Landry averaged 10.9 yards per punt return, adding a touchdown in the process. One gets the impression new head coach Adam Gase will get the best out of his versatile, talented weapon.