What is a great performance? Is it Mikhail Baryshnikov at the ballet? Is it Bette Davis in All About Eve? Is it Prince at the Super Bowl? Or is it Crystal at Sapphire Gentlemen’s Club in Las Vegas last Saturday night? The answer is all the above. Plus Julio Jones’ performance this past Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Not only did it put Jones back on everyone’s radar this year (as he was the most popular personality in the sports world on Monday), it makes us think about who are the greatest performers in the NFL.
With all due respect to Nick Foles and his seven touchdowns in 2013, we’re talking about epic performances year in and year out. Trendsetters like Walter Payton, Joe Montana and Randy Moss who have set the bar.
Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons
It’s been a fairly quiet year for the Falcons in their new stadium. Rebounding from an epic Super Bowl loss would be insanely difficult for any team. Yet the Falcons are in the midst of the playoff chase again this year and Julio Jones remains their star.
Jones put up numbers on Sunday that would make Randy Moss proud. 12 catches, 253 yards and two touchdowns. And what makes Jones even better is his comments after the game. “I’m not a selfish guy, I’m not a stats guy.” Love him!
Tom Brady, New England Patriots
What’s funny with Brady is that him throwing three or four touchdowns in a game is the norm. And he’s 40 years old. Whether it’s with Moss (some 10 years ago), or with Julian Edelman, Brandin Cooks and Rob Gronkowski, Brady is the greatest of all-time.
Brady’s greatest performance? Well, five Super Bowls would be an argument. Though, we’re going with a game from 2009. In that game, the Patriots beat the Titans 59-0. Wow. The Patriots’ quarterback finished with six touchdowns, three to Moss, two to Wes Welker and one to Kevin Faulk.
Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers
Twice Big Ben has put on an epic performance during the regular season. Both times Roethlisberger threw for six touchdowns in a single game. And lest we forget about his two Super Bowl rings.
In Roethlisberger’s storied career, the most amazing statistic is that Big Ben has only been named to one All-Pro team, and that was the second team in 2014.
Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers
You can’t have one without the other. Both of Ben Roethlisberger’s epic performances have come with Antonio Brown. Unfortunately for Brown, both of Big Ben’s Super Bowls have come without him.
With Julio Jones and now Antonio Brown, are we finding out that a quarterback can win a Super Bowl without a wide receiver? Both Jones and Brown have a total of zero rings, despite being the two of the top performers in the NFL.
Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
About four years ago, before the Minnesota Vikings’ defense became elite, we thought the Vikings should offer their entire team to the Packers for Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers is that good.
He’s proved it over the years with a Super Bowl win and with a six-touchdown performance against the Bears in 2014. Rodgers threw 18 completions in that game, yet six of them went to the house, including two to Jordy Nelson. In addition, two more went to Andrew Quarless and Brandon Bostick. This goes to prove that a great quarterback can find anyone in the end zone.
Josh Gordon, Cleveland Browns
Remember Josh Gordon? Yeah, he’s good. Unfortunately, he can’t stay on the field or out of the commissioner’s office. The Cleveland Browns are so bad. Historically bad. Perhaps the worst franchise in the history of sports. Or the unluckiest. Yet Gordon can ball.
Twice Gordon has gone over 230 yards receiving in a game. And guess who the quarterbacks were? In the first game in 2013 they were Brandon Weeden AND Jason Campbell. Wow, that’s how horrible the Browns are.
One week later, Gordon connected with Weeden for 261 yards receiving and two touchdowns. Gordon is an amazing performer. He also returns this week in an attempt to resurrect a once promising career.
DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans
It’s ironic that Hopkins – while being able to stay on the field and play – has led a similar existence to that of Josh Gordon. Both have been gifted with extreme talent, yet extremely bad quarterback talent.
Looks like that had changed for Hopkins in 2017, as rookie Deshaun Watson out of Clemson was setting the world on fire. Perhaps not in the direction of Hopkins as he wished, yet times were changing. Then the injury to Watson returned a slew of crappy quarterbacks to Hopkins’ world.
Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers
Not only do the Pittsburgh Steelers have Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown, they have one of the best performing running backs in the NFL in Le’Veon Bell. Unfortunately the three have not been able to come together and win a Super Bowl. Though with the quality of play in 2017, the team may have its best shot in a few years.
What will confuse people about Bell is that he’s equally a great receiver as he is a running back. While guys like Adrian Peterson (in his hey-day) will pile up the yards, Bell is dynamic enough to gain 100+ yards receiving in any game.
Ezekiel Elliot, Dallas Cowboys
Was 2016 a fluke? Ezekiel Elliot certainly has the talent, yet that dominating Dallas Cowboys offensive line opened up a lot of holes. In 2017, it’s been harder going and now Elliot is suspended by the NFL for off-the-field activities.
When Zeke was at his best in 2016, there was no one better. 2018 will be a test for Elliot to see if he remains on this list, or if he is just another Beanie Wells.
Khalil Mack, Oakland Raiders
From Ed “Too Tall” Jones to Richard Dent to everyone’s favorite mullet-man Jared Allen, the sack is one of the most exciting aspects of an NFL game. And only one player on defense could be called a performer and that player is Khalil Mack.
The Raiders’ star has already registered a five-sack game in his brief career. As he moves into his prime, expect more of the dominance he’s shown in the first four years in the NFL. Derrick Thomas once sacked Dave Krieg seven times in a game, and if there is one player in the NFL that could equal that, it’s Mack. Watch out Alex Smith.