One of the most exciting things about the NFL is watching the team’s best playmaker in action. We are talking massive plays when 70, 80 and 90-yard touchdowns are scored. Plays when receivers and running backs leave their defenders in the dust looking silly as they breeze into the end zone.
On that note, we’re taking a look at one playmaker from each NFL team most capable of making big plays happen. Some of these guys aren’t necessarily going to be the ones scoring the most points or tallying the highest yards each week. But they are the most dangerous playmakers on their respective teams.
The official 2017 NFL season kicks off in just a few weeks, and we can’t wait to see the following playmakers explode.
Baltimore Ravens: Mike Wallace, wide receiver
As an overall unit last year, the Ravens averaged a league-low 9.9 yards per reception. Wallace, however, was in a class of his own. He produced some huge plays, including a blazing 95-yard touchdown reception in 2016. Wallace averaged 14.1 yards per catch last year, and he has maintained a career average of 15.1 yards per reception. Look for the 6-foot speedster to keep burning defenders again this year.
Cincinnati Bengals: A.J. Green, wide receiver
Green finished 2016 on a down note, leaving his fantasy football owners high and dry after 10 games due to injury. But when he was on the field, Green was averaging a lofty 14.6 yards per reception. When he gets the ball in his hands, it’s go time. At 6-foot-4, Green is a nightmare for opposing corners to defend. He will look to build on the career-best 96.4 yards he averaged per contest last year.
Cleveland Browns: Isaiah Crowell, running back
The Browns lost 15 games last season, which put a damper on the career-highs Crowell set on a personal level. While Browns fans were crying in their beers, Crowell was busy tallying 952 rushing yards at strong pace of 4.8 yards per carry. He also scored seven rushing touchdowns and added 319 receiving yards. Crowell’s longest rush was a sweet 85-yard score (watch here). The Browns are set up for more success this year than they were in 2016. Crowell should be too.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Le’Veon Bell, running back
Provided Bell signs the franchise tag and returns to the field this fall, he’ll be the most dangerous playmaker on Pittsburgh’s roster. It was a close call between Bell and wideout Antonio Brown. We went with Bell based on his dual-threat capabilities. The fifth-year running back averaged 4.9 yards per carry as well as 105.7 rushing yards per game. Bell also caught 79.8 percent of balls thrown his way for a total of 616 yards. Based on the average of the 28 touches Bell received last year, he is bound to continue busting out on some huge plays, if he shows up at all.
Houston Texans: DeAndre Hopkins, wide receiver
We cannot wait to see Hopkins return to making some big plays now that quarterback Brock Osweiler is an ex-teammate. Hopkins would be the first to second this. The 25-year-old receiver has maintained an average of 14.2 yards per catch over his career. But his stats dropped last year to 12.2 yards per reception, thanks to Osweiler. Either Tom Savage or Deshaun Watson should launch Hopkins back into the upper echelon of NFL playmakers in 2017.
Indianapolis Colts: T.Y. Hilton, wide receiver
Despite the Colts’ woes the past couple of seasons, and despite quarterback Andrew Luck’s health issues, Hilton has never failed to make sensational big plays. Whether he’s playing with Luck or playing with fifth-string quarterbacks like he did last year, Hilton has averaged a notable 15.7 yards per catch through his career. The three-time Pro-Bowler should be on track to make more magical plays, no matter who is under center in 2017. But for the sake of the Colts and their fans, we sure hope it’s Luck.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Leonard Fournette, running back
Looking at just how horribly quarterback Blake Bortles is regressing before our very eyes, the Jags will lean on the run in a big way this year. Rookie running back Leonard Fournette, by default, stands to explode. He finished up last year at LSU with an average of 6.5 yards per carry and a total of 843 yards in seven games. Look for the rookie to make some huge, jaw-dropping plays as he steals the spotlight on offense.
Tennessee Titans: Marcus Mariota, quarterback
There are many people excited to see Mariota in action heading into his third year. With some added weapons on offense, including red zone vulture Eric Decker and rookie Corey Davis, we expect some huge development from Mariota as a passer. The mobile quarterback stands to impress on his feet as well after accomplishing rushes of 87 and 41 yards during his first two seasons. Let’s see if our prediction for Mariota holds true for 2017.
Buffalo Bills: LeSean McCoy, running back
Now that big-play wide receiver Sammy Watkins is gone, the path is cleared for McCoy to dazzle even brighter as the key to the offense. As spry than ever, McCoy was ripping off runs at a career-high 5.4 yards on average last year. He also recorded a career-best 75-yard long run. Meanwhile, the 29-year-running back caught 87.7 percent of all passes thrown his way. The team’s new wide receiving corps isn’t going to produce a lot of big plays, making McCoy an easy choice here.
Miami Dolphins: Jay Ajayi, running back
The Dolphins come equipped with some pretty fancy receiving talent. But Ajayi had three, 200-plus yard performances last year. This makes for a compelling argument that he might just have some huge plays hidden in his back pocket again this season. After a dismal rookie campaign, Ajayi managed to boost his rushing yards on average to 4.9. He stands to benefit even more this year, because Jay Cutler loves to throw the ball deep. With defenses in retreat mode on the back end, the running back will feast.
New England Patriots: Rob Gronkowski, tight end
Even if you are not a fan, it is hard not to be impressed by Gronk in action on the gridiron. Quarterback Tom Brady’s trusted tight end is reportedly healthy and produces like The Hulk when he is at 100 percent. Gronkowski has averaged 15 yards per reception through his career, and the 21.6 he accomplished last year was promising until he was lost due to injury for the season. Brady has many targets, but Gronk is hardwired to make big plays.
New York Jets: ArDarius Stewart, wide receiver
If the Jets have any players left on their roster come September (only sort of kidding), Stewart is an intriguing choice here. The former Alabama product averaged 16 yards per reception and hauled in eight touchdowns last year. Provided one of the Jets quarterbacks can consistently get Stewart the ball, he can certainly bust out with big plays. There’s really nobody else on the team we see possessing more of that “wow” factor.
Denver Broncos: Demaryius Thomas, wide receiver
Thomas only found the end zone five times last season, but he still hauled in 90 catches. We would like to think the Broncos quarterback (whoever starts) can help Thomas score more this year. Outside of fellow wideout Emmanuel Sanders, we can’t trust Denver’s gang of running backs to outperform Thomas’ big-play ability. The eighth-year receiver has averaged 14.1 yards per catch since 2010.
Kansas City Chiefs: Tyreek Hill, wide receiver
Hill is one of the most explosive playmakers in the entire NFL. He should be primed for a huge second season based on the jaw-dropping plays he made in his rookie year. As a return specialist, Hill posted a 95-yard long punt return and an 86-yard long kick return. He found the end zone a total of 12 times and averaged 11.1 yards per carry on the 24 rushing attempts he made. Look for more of the same from the Chiefs’ new No. 1 receiver this year.
Los Angeles Chargers: Hunter Henry, tight end,
Henry will be fascinating to watch in his sophomore year. He thrived as a rookie, even with fellow tight end Antonio Gates still very much in the picture. We could have gone with either Melvin Gordon or Keenan Allen here. But quarterback Philip Rivers loves hitting up his tight ends on red zone plays as indicated by the eight touchdowns Henry scored. The 22-year-old tight also averaged 13.3 yards per reception and posted a 59-yard long catch. We don’t see any reason why Henry won’t be a stud again this season.
Oakland Raiders: Amari Cooper, wide receiver
If Cooper could find the end zone more than he has the past two years (11 touchdowns), things would be perfect. Maybe the third year for Cooper will be the charm. Cooper has maintained an average of 14.3 yards per reception and has busted out catches of 68 and 64 yards in his short career. He has also been targeted an average of 131 times per season. The production and raw speed are there, which makes Cooper the Raiders player most capable of consistently making huge plays.
Chicago Bears: Jordan Howard, running back
Howard is our pick for the Bears’ most explosive playmaker based on the inconsistencies across the board for all other offensive positions. No matter who is throwing or catching the ball, it will be Howard destroying defenses on the ground. Howard had a gem of a rookie year and earned Pro-Bowl status after racking up 1,313 yards at a healthy pace of 5.2 yards per carry. We should expect the trend to continue as the Bears fight to put wins on the board in 2017.
Detroit Lions: Matthew Stafford, quarterback
Stafford’s mobility and gun-slinging arm makes him a dual-threat. Never shy to attempt a running play, Stafford averaged 5.6 yards on 37 attempts last year. He made a 24-yard long rush (a career-high) and scored twice on the ground. As a passer, the 29-year-old quarterback tallied 4,327 yards, including a 73-yard pass. Stafford also has that knack for making those long-distance plays at the last moment for those nail-biting fourth-quarter comebacks.
Green Bay Packers: Jordy Nelson, wide receiver
Nelson is the most consistent weapon quarterback Aaron Rodgers has in his arsenal. When White Lightning gets near the end zone, he’s practically unstoppable. Nelson has scored 27 times over his past two playing years (minus his 2015 injury season) and has averaged 14.25 yards per catch during that stretch. He has also never caught less than 61.1 percent of his targets. It is bye-bye Nelson once he makes a catch.
Minnesota Vikings: Adam Thielen, wide receiver
Up until last season Thielen was not much of a household name in Minnesota. Last year, Thielen broke out and tallied 967 receiving yards, averaging 14 yards per catch. He was one of quarterback Sam Bradford’s go-to guys and caught 75 percent of the passes thrown his way. The 6-foot-3 receiver should be up for even a larger role with more opportunities to explode in 2017.
Atlanta Falcons: Julio Jones, wide receiver
The only thing we would like to see more of this year is touchdowns for Jones. Other than that, he is, hands down, the most explosive playmaker on this offense. In 2016, Jones averaged 17 yards per catch and 100.6 yards per game. He also hauled in 64.3 percent of his targets. Until we see any signs of regression, Jones is on course to keep making life miserable for opposing corners.
Carolina Panthers: Christian McCaffrey, running back
This might be a gutsy call, but Run CMC is destined to rip off some huge rushes, leaving his defenders in the dust. The young rookie rushed for 6.3 yards per carry last year at Stanford and tallied 1,913 yards and 16 touchdowns from scrimmage. He also showed his incredible burst on his first touchdown run of the preseason Saturday (watch here). The Panthers will utilize McCaffrey in many ways, which in turn should produce some electric results.
New Orleans Saints: Drew Brees, quarterback
The glue that holds the Saints together, Brees is also the guy that moves the ball downfield on the most consistent basis. Brees has an arm that for now is as powerful as ever, and the offense runs through him. The future Hall of Fame quarterback completed his longest pass ever last year, which went for 98 yards (watch here). He also completed 70 percent of his attempts for 5,208 yards, marking the second-highest passing yards of his career. Brees is bound to keep slinging the rock a bunch, making more huge plays look easy-breezy (pun intended).
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Mike Evans, wide receiver
Once Evans gets the ball in his hands, there is not much that can stop him. He is quarterback Jameis Winson’s No. 1 man, even with the addition of veteran DeSean Jackson. Like a wine that gets better over time, Evans at a mere 23-years-old, should keep producing sweeter results in the coming years as he and Winston grow together. He has averaged 15 yards per catch and was a red zone viper, hauling in 12 touchdowns in 2016. Even bigger accomplishments should be on tap for this year.
Dallas Cowboys: Dez Bryant, wide receiver
Some may have expected to find running back Ezekiel Elliott’s name here. But we went with Bryant instead, because he really excels at long, explosive plays (like this). The eighth-year wideout averaged a career-high 15.9 yards per reception in 2016 in his first year working with young quarterback Dak Prescott. More of the same or better will be accomplished in 2017, especially with a six-game suspension looming on the horizon for Elliott.
New York Giants: Odell Beckham Jr., wide receiver
No surprises here. OBJ clearly ranks No. 1 ahead of his teammates when it comes to explosive plays. Beckham consistently produces grand results and has a knack to go off on a regular basis to, produce magnificent, long receptions. He is ridiculously elusive and literally unstoppable at times. Beckham has found the end zone no less than 10 times per season in three years. Oh, and a long reception of 75 yards last season marked Beckham’s shortest per year in his young career. He had an 87-yard catch as a rookie and an 80-yard catch in 2015.
Philadelphia Eagles: Alshon Jeffery, wide receiver
IF Jeffery can stay healthy, he is the guy we see going off the charts on some explosive plays with his new team. The 27-year-old receiver has averaged 15 yards per catch over six seasons. If he can extend more plays into the end zone, then he’ll earn his keep on his one-year contract with the Eagles. So far, he and quarterback Carson Wentz, have been on the same page. If they can do that during the regular season, then the Eagles will have something to build on in the years to come.
Washington Redskins: Jordan Reed, eight end
Speaking of health-challenged players, Reed, when he’s on the field, is capable of extending some major plays. The Pro-Bowl tight end has particularly excelled working with quarterback Kirk Cousins the past two seasons. Cousins targeted Reed 203 times in that stretch and the pair connected for 17 touchdowns. Reed should remain Cousins’ favorite red zone target in 2017, especially after the Redskins lost their two top receivers to free agency this offseason.
Arizona Cardinals: J.J. Nelson, wide receiver
This third-year receiver hasn’t had his hands on the ball much after tallying just 45 catches in two years. Nelson should get more chances with John Brown out of the picture. When Nelson touches the ball, he is blazing fast. The 5-foot-10 receiver has averaged 19.3 yards per catch, which is otherworldly. In four rushing attempts in 2016, Nelson averaged 20.8 yards per carry as well. He is our sneaky Cardinal favorite to dazzle with the biggest plays this season.
Los Angeles Rams: Sammy Watkins, wide receiver
Knock on wood that California living helps keep Watkins healthy all year. If so, he will be a tremendous asset to quarterback Jared Goff to create long plays. Watkins has great hands and is incredibly speedy. Despite missing 11 career games, Watkins gains an average of 16.1 yards per reception. He should create plenty of havoc for opposing corners.
San Francisco 49ers: Pierre Garcon, wide receiver
Garcon is a seasoned veteran who is slated to be quarterback Brian Hoyer’s right hand man. That is why the team paid him a generous $16 million to play this year. About as underrated as receivers go, Garcon caught 69.3 percent of his targets last season for 1,041 yards, and he recorded a 70-yard touchdown. He’ll surely continue to flourish working with his former Washington coordinator and now head coach, Kyle Shanahan.
Seattle Seahawks: C.J. Prosise, running back
If Prosise can keep healthy, he is going to amazing to watch in action. Forget about running backs Eddie Lacy and Thomas Rawls. Prosise is the fastest of the bunch when given opportunities to shine. As a rookie, Prosise averaged 5.7 yards on 30 carries and scored a 72-yard rushing touchdown. The former college receiver/running back will also see plenty of passes come his way. We wish defenders luck in catching Prosise this fall.