Breakdowns

How Important Are Explosive Plays For An Offense?

How Important Are Offensive Plays to an Offense?

The NFL today is a pass-heavy league, and often the best teams are the ones who can effectively move the ball through the air. Seen in the plot below are teams that could pick up a high volume of chunk-plays, defined here as 20 or more yards, on pass plays had more success, on average. Let’s take a look at the key players who contributed towards some of the best and worst in this category.

A Few of the Best

Buccaneers

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, led by recently unretired Tom Brady, had the most completions of at least 20 yards last season. With three players who placed in the top-20 in the league for this statistic, it checks out that the Super Bowl LV Champions were atop the NFL here.

Mike Evans, the NFL leader in consecutive 1,000-yard seasons to begin a career, reeled in 20 of these 20+ yard passes. The Texas A&M product cashed five of these plays into touchdowns, and less than one-quarter of the yards racked up came after the catch.

Next is Brady’s longtime tight end Rob Gronkowski, finishing with 16 of these catches. Gronk is tied for second in this category with Kyle Pitts among tight ends, trailing just Mark Andrews. The newly-extended Chris Godwin had 15 catches of 20 or more yards. However, he was unable to reach the endzone on any of these plays.

It’s tough to say the NFL passing-leader Tom Brady didn’t play an ultra-impactful role in the Bucs having the most of these long receptions, but the dangerous skill-position players in Tampa should also receive credit for this achievement. This team effort led the Bucs to the third-most points per drive last season and an NFC South title.

Raiders

Given the previous team, it’d be sensical to assume the organization with the second-most 20+ yard receptions would have also ranked among the top-scoring offenses on a per-drive basis. But, the Las Vegas Raiders did not fit this mold. Instead, Vegas’ offense didn’t even place in the top half of the league in this statistic.

Interestingly enough, the Raiders’ leader in catches of 20 or more yards only had 13 of them, and this belongs to Darren Waller. Eleven players had at least one of these receptions, with three of them being running backs, and even fullback Alec Ingold had one. Only six of these catches resulted in touchdowns, which is the lowest among the teams in the top twelve for 20+ yard receptions. Their two fumbles on these catches is another issue with taking the raw number at face value.

From this graph, it appears that Las Vegas’ below-average points per drive metric was not due to a lack of completed deep passes, but other factors such as capitalizing on these explosive players.

A Few of the Worst

Giants

The New York Giants finished 2021 with the fewest receptions of at least 20 yards, racking up just 31 of them. This is more than 20 less than the league average, so it checks out that their offense also posted the fewest points per drive. As the only team failing to accrue 1,000 yards by way of these large completions, New York struggled to create chunk plays through the air.

To add perspective, Kadarius Toney tied the Giants’ lead in this category despite appearing in just ten games last season. Unsurprisingly, New York did not rank well in this passing category since they were the penultimate team in total passing yards last season. To improve their offensive capabilities, it would make sense to acquire more pass-catching talent. Another important position to address is tight end with Evan Engram signing with the Jaguars.

Titans

Although Tennessee ranked in the top half of the league in points per drive, the Titans struggled to complete 20+ yard passes in 2021. Totaling the second-fewest receptions of at least 20 yards with 35, Tennessee would have been last in this statistic if not for A.J. Brown. The star receiver had ten receptions of 20+ yards last season, which is over one-quarter of the Titans’ total in this category. More than 21% of Brown’s receiving yards from these plays came after contact, showing his exceptional physicality in his 6-1 and 226-pound frame.

Third on the Titans last season in receptions of over 20 yards was Julio Jones, who was released recently. Filling Jones’ role, which was a struggle all season as he only suited up for ten of their 17 regular-season games, will be something Tennessee should pursue this offseason. If the Titans can improve the explosive passing aspect of their offense, the team should be able to take a step in increasing their points per drive.

Players Who Can Help Add 20+ Yard Receptions

Jarvis Landry

After Amari Cooper was traded to Cleveland, the Browns announced Landry would be released. Although he has dealt with injuries in the past few seasons, the former LSU Tiger has been great at creating explosive receptions when on the field. He averaged nearly 13 receptions of at least 20 yards each season with Cleveland despite being unable to suit up for a sizable portion.

Odell Beckham Jr.

Like his friend Jarvis Landry, OBJ has dealt with injuries, most recently coming in Super Bowl LVI by way of an ACL tear. At his peak, however, Beckham Jr. provides a true spark to an offense; he has done this to the tune of five seasons with at least 16 catches of 20+ yards.

Julio Jones

Although Julio Jones’ first year away from Atlanta did not go according to plan, he has been incredibly dominant since entering the NFL. Other than this past season and 2013 (when he played just five games), Jones has posted at least 16 catches of 20+ yards each season, reaching as high as 31 of these in one year. He may not be as healthy as before, but Julio Jones at full strength can provide verticality to NFL offenses.

Rob Gronkowski

A team that was deficient in explosive catches at the tight end spot should take a look at Gronk to fill that need. He has finished with double-digit 20+ yard receptions in every season of his career, except when he didn’t play the full year in 2018. It is yet to be seen if he would play with a signal-caller other than Tom Brady, but he adds lots of value in this category.

Emmanuel Sanders

Sanders is a good example of a receiver who can help stretch the field for a team. In his last four seasons, each with different organizations, Sanders has averaged over ten 20+ yard catches per year. He also offers upside, seen as he finished with 25 of these plays in 2014.