Back earlier in July, Pro Football Focus published a list of the top 10 players that they believe to have game-breaking ability, the sort of home-run hitters who can turn a small opening into a big gain. While the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Le’Veon Bell did not make the list, unsurprisingly, wide receiver Antonio Brown did, coming in at number four on the list.
About Brown, they wrote, he “is not only the league’s best receiver, but also amongst the most dynamic”. Noting that he accounted for 23 broken tackles during the season on 136 receptions and scored 10 touchdowns, he is described as “also a dangerous, if not elite, deep threat” with a 43.8 percent catch rate on deep targets, which ranked 16th in the league.
Still, he actually only recorded two touchdowns last season on deep passes, in spite of the fact that he registered 25 receptions of at least 20 yards last season, and eight receptions that went for at least 40 yards, both numbers representing the best totals for a season in his career.
They also noted that Brown, of course, does more than just catch passes for the Steelers, also serving as the team’s punt returner—at least for most of the season last year. He averaged 9.6 yards per punt return last year and recorded a return touchdown for the fourth straight year, this time somehow not against the Bengals.
He was, however, only the third wide receiver to make the list, behind both Odell Beckham, Jr. of the Giants and Doug Baldwin of the Seahawks. The article notes Beckham’s six touchdowns on deep targets, while noting that Baldwin’s 14.6 yards per reception from primarily a slot position is an exceptional figure where the average depth of target is more than three yards shallower than from the outside.
Topping the list was second-year Rams running back Todd Gurley, who had an underwhelming NFL debut against the Steelers in the third week of the season, but then took off, leading the league with 14 yards of at least 20 yards or more. He also led the league in breakaway percentage, which accounts for the percentage of his total yards on the ground accumulated on long runs, while breaking 47 tackles.
It is important to note, of course, that being an elite game-breaking player does not necessarily translate to being an elite player overall, although there is indeed some level of correlation between the two. having game-breaking ability is one thing, but for many with that sort of ability, they have to be provided with the opportunity to use it, unable to create opportunities of their own.
Of course, when you have a quarterback like Ben Roethlisberger, nearly any play can be a game-breaker, as he has one of the biggest arms in the league, and his deep ball accuracy has only improved over recent years. Adding a dynamic receiving tight end such as Ladarius Green with their legion of speedy wide receivers and talented pass-catching running backs should find them among the most game-breaking offenses in the league, with Brown leading the charge.