NFL 2016: Clutch Receivers
NFL 2016: Clutch Receivers

Here's the receivers that NFL teams rely on for clutch plays -- whether it's moving the chains for first downs, gaining clutch yards after the catch, or providing big play excitement

Moving The Chains

A precise route can be the difference between a game-changing play and an appearance by the punt team. It's a skill for a receiver to know exactly where he needs to go in order to move the chains and keep a drive going. On third down, the best receivers carefully gauge each step to ensure their routes finish beyond the first-down marker.

Pittsburgh Steelers Pro Bowl wide receiver Antonio Brown led all receivers on third down with 31 first-down catches in 2015. Brown has 265 total receptions over the past two seasons, the most catches in any two-season span in NFL history.

"You can tell him that he doesn't have the best measurables, but his will and mentality make him special in critical situations," says Steelers head coach MIKE TOMLIN. "Certain things go beyond the cookie cutter of what you imagine an ideal player looks like. His mentality every day is what makes him great."


NFL 2016 Top 20 Receiving Leaders

3rd-Down Receiving Totals: Most 1st Downs

Player Team 1st Downs Rec Yards TDs
Source: NFL
Antonio BrownPittsburgh31426423
Odell Beckham, Jr.New York Giants28314552
DeAndre HopkinsHouston26304272
Julio JonesAtlanta25283923
Brandon MarshallNew York Jets24283736
Emmanuel SandersDenver24263424


Yards After The Catch

Additional yards after the catch are an important part of an offense's success.

"You want yards after the catch," says Kansas City Chiefs head coach ANDY REID. "That's especially important in the short and intermediate game."

San Diego Chargers running back DANNY WOODHEAD (left) led the league with 737 yards after the catch last season and ranked first among running backs with 755 receiving yards.

"It's a two-fold thing," says former Chargers offensive coordinator and current Eagles offensive coordinator FRANK REICH about Woodhead's success with yards after the catch. "One is Danny's ability to create leverage, create space and create windows for PHILIP RIVERS to throw into. And then Philip has the ability to find him and get him an accurate throw. Because if you get a guy who's already created leverage and created space and separation, then with his athletic ability I think that's why Danny is doing so well with yards after catch."

"He knows when to get skinny and take two extra yards," echoes Rivers. "He knows when to try and make a big play."

Atlanta's JULIO JONES led all wide receivers with 679 yards after the catch last season and ranked first in the NFL with 1,871 receiving yards. "Julio, he's an awesome player," says Falcons quarterback MATT RYAN. "He shows that basically every time he steps onto the field. He's able to catch it and get yards after contact. He's as good as there is and we're lucky to have him."

With 80 catches last season, Detroit Lions running back THEO RIDDICK set the franchise record for the most receptions in a season by a running back and his 697 receiving yards were second in the league among running backs. Riddick's 645 yards after the catch ranked third in the league last season and were an asset for Detroit's offense.

"Theo caught the ball really well last year," says Lions offensive coordinator JIM BOB COOTER. "He was really successful for us in the pass game."

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver ANTONIO BROWN, who finished second (1,834) behind Jones for the most receiving yards last season, ranked fourth with 587 yards after the catch and was fifth in 2014 with 632 yards after the catch.

"He is a great competitor, extremely fast and quick," says Indianapolis Colts head coach CHUCK PAGANO about Brown. "It's really hard to cover this guy. He can run by anybody in this league. He has great burst, long speed, catch and run, and yards after catch. Just a dynamic guy and his numbers reveal that."

Drafted in 2014 by Miami, Dolphins wide receiver JARVIS LANDRY (583) (left) finished fifth in yards after the catch last season and has 194 career receptions, the most by any player in his first two seasons in NFL history.

"He's a playmaker," says Dolphins quarterback RYAN TANNEHILL about Landry. "Once you get the ball in his hands, it's a chance of a touchdown every single time. He runs hard and once he gets the ball in his hands, he's determined to make yards after the catch. He's one of the most fun guys to play with because every time he touches the ball he can do something with it."

The players with the most yards after the catch in 2015:

Most Yards After The Catch

Player Team YAC Rec Yards Avg TDs
Source: NFL
Danny WoodheadSan Diego737807559.46
Julio JonesAtlanta6791361,87113.88
Theo RiddickDetroit645806978.73
Antonio BrownPittsburgh5871361,83413.510
Jarvis LandryMiami5831101,15710.54


Big Play Excitement

Everyone in the stadium, from the field to the stands, feels the fans' excitement as they celebrate a big play with their team. Those plays can change the momentum of a game and give a team a lift.

Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver ALLEN ROBINSON, who tied for the most touchdowns in the NFL (14) in 2015, had a league-best 31 receptions of 20 yards or more and is regarded as one of the premier playmakers in the game today.

"He's going to be a beast for a long time," says Pro Football Hall of Famer MICHAEL IRVIN about Robinson. "I text him about what it takes to be great and he soaks it up with a sponge. It shows on the field."

Jaguars quarterback BLAKE BORTLES agrees, and looks for continued success in the 2016 season and beyond. "Our chemistry is continuing to grow," says Bortles, "not only on the field, but off the field as well -- in the weight room and in the locker room."

The top five "big play" receivers in 2015:

Most 20+ Yards Receptions

Player Team 20+ Yards Long Rec Yards TDs
Source: NFL
Allen RobinsonJaguars3190t801,40014
Antonio BrownSteelers25591361,83410
Julio JonesFalcons2570t1361,8718
Rob GronkowskiPatriots2276t721,17611
Mike EvansBuccaneers2168741,2063

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