Power Rankings: Rating each NFL team's best home-run hitter
JUL 16, 2014 5:38p ET
On Monday night, 10 of the best sluggers in Major League Baseball gathered in Minnesota for the annual Home Run Derby. It was a fun exhibition of power, a showcase for players who can change a game with one swing of the bat.
In the NFL, there are similar impact athletes on each roster, guys who can change the complexion of a contest with one electric play. Sometimes, this is a team’s star player who gets plenty of opportunities each Sunday to make their mark. Other times, it’s a specialist who only has one or two chances per outing to transform the game. But either way, every franchise has a player or two with this capability.
So with that in mind, the editors at cover32 gathered to rate each team’s best home-run hitter. First, they had to select what player from each franchise earned that moniker. Then, they graded them to see who was most likely to change a game with just one swing. Here are the results:
1. Calvin Johnson (Detroit Lions) – Last season, Johnson was once again the most-dangerous player in the NFL. He averaged 17.8 yards per catch, third best in the league, hauled in an 87-yard reception and scored 12 touchdowns. These numbers are par for the course for the best weapon in the game.
2. DeSean Jackson (Washington Redskins) – Jackson scares the opposition because he can beat them so many ways. For the most part, it’s through the air, where he’s developed into one of the league’s best receivers. But the occasional reverse can also be deadly, as can his ability to return punts as well as anyone in football.
3. Julio Jones (Atlanta Falcons) – During each of his three seasons in the NFL, Jones has had at least one catch of 80 yards or more; that’s a staggering display of big-play ability, something the Falcons desperately missed last season when injuries limited him to only five games.
4. Josh Gordon (Cleveland Browns) – He led the league in receiving yards with 1,646, a total he achieved through big chunks, as Gordon was second in the NFL in average yards per reception with 18.9. He also posted the league’s longest reception of the season, hauling in a 95-yard highlight in Week 13. He’d be a massive loss for the Browns.
5. LeSean McCoy (Philadelphia Eagles) – The best display of McCoy’s home-run ability was last season’s showdown against Detroit in a Philadelphia blizzard. That day, he had 219 yards rushing and scored a pair of touchdowns. But his ability to strike quickly helped turn a 14-0 second-half deficit into a 34-20 victory.
6. Demaryius Thomas (Denver Broncos) – Peyton Manning certainly knows how quickly DT can strike on the field; he’s thrown plenty of bubble screens to his wide receiver that have gone from a short gain to an 80-yard touchdown in the blink of an eye. Leading the league in yards after the catch is evidence of Thomas’ ability.
7. Alshon Jeffery (Chicago Bears) – Throw it up and hope for something good to happen; that’s what Bears quarterbacks seemed to do on occasion last season, relying on their second-year wide receiver to bail them out of a jam with acrobatic grab after acrobatic grab.
8. A.J. Green (Cincinnati Bengals) – Given that he’s the go-to guy in Cincinnati’s offense, the player Andy Dalton looks for every time the Bengals need a first down, Green doesn’t have a gaudy per-catch average. But with 18 receptions for more than 20-yards, including an 82-yard grab, it’s clear he’s not just a possession receiver.
9. Percy Harvin (Seattle Seahawks) – Anyone who watched Super Bowl XLVIII knows what kind of an impact Harvin can have on a game. In the first half, he threw the Broncos defense for a loop with a couple of big plays on end-around runs. And then, he put the dagger in Denver with a kick return TD to start the second half.
10. Jamaal Charles (Kansas City Chiefs) – Workhorse running backs aren’t supposed to average 5 yards per carry; they have too many plunges on third-and-one to maintain that kind of pace. But Charles, who had 1,287 yards on 259 attempts last season, did just that; that’s because he posts one big play after another.
11. Dez Bryant (Dallas Cowboys) – As Bryant becomes more and more of a chain-mover in Dallas’ offense, his yards per reception continue to drop. But that can be a little deceiving. After all, few who saw his 79-yard grab in 2013 or any of his 13 touchdowns don’t think he’s a big-play guy.
12. Jimmy Graham (New Orleans Saints) – Kenny Stills probably wants to appeal this decision, given that he led the league in 2013 with a 20.0 yards per catch average. But everyone knows that the player on the Saints roster who is the most dangerous is their talented tight end. He’s can score from anywhere on the field.
13. Torrey Smith (Baltimore Ravens) – Through the first three seasons of his career, Smith has primarily been a home-run hitter, but the type that comes off the bench in the ninth inning as opposed to one who is consistent enough to be in the lineup every day. That’s slowly starting to change, however, as be becomes a more well-rounded receiver.
14. Cordarrelle Patterson (Minnesota Vikings) – In terms of all-around threats, few in the NFL were as dangerous last year as the Vikings rookie. He scored four touchdowns through the air, three on the ground and two on kick returns, earning a spot in the Pro Bowl in just his first season.
15. Victor Cruz (New York Giants) – Last season was a disaster all around for the Giants, a free fall in the standings that seemed to take down everyone at once. Thus, too much emphasis shouldn’t be put on Cruz’s numbers. Instead, look at what he did in 2011, when he averaged 18.7 yards per catch and hauled in a 99-yard touchdown.
16. Andre Ellington (Arizona Cardinals) – Plenty of people are going to be shocked by this selection, as Larry Fitzgerald has been the big-play guy in Arizona for years. But last season, this rookie running back emerged as the home-run hitter for the Cardinals, averaging a league-best 5.5 yards per carry.
17. Chris Johnson (New York Jets) – Admittedly, this standing is probably based a lot on reputation, as Johnson is still living off of his 2009 season, when he eclipsed the 2,000-yard mark and averaged 5.6 yards per carry. But he’s still one of the fastest players in the NFL, meaning he can go the distance on any play.
18. Rob Gronkowski (New England Patriots) – Given that he was limited to only seven games last season, after only 11 in 2012, it’s easy to forget how much of an impact a healthy Gronk can have on the game. But down the seam, this tight end is as much of a game breaker as anyone in the league.
19. Vincent Jackson (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) – Despite catching passes from the immortal Mike Glennon, Jackson had a stellar second season in Tampa Bay. But it was his first year with the Bucs that should raise some eyebrows; in 2012, he averaged a league-best 19.2 yards per catch.
20. Nate Washington (Tennessee Titans) – Because he plays in Tennessee, where they constantly have QB problems, Washington is relatively anonymous. And since he only scored three touchdowns last year, he’s not even well known in fantasy football circles. But 20 percent of his catches were for more than 20 yards.
21. Jordy Nelson (Green Bay Packers) – Many thought that Randall Cobb should be the selection for the Packers, but Nelson actually averaged more yards per catch (15.5 to 14.0) on significantly more receptions (85 to 31). Nelson is the true big-play receiver in Green Bay.
22. Vernon Davis (San Francisco 49ers) – Perhaps it says something about the 49ers offense when their tight end is their home-run hitter. But in reality, it just shows what kind of a weapon Davis is when he’s on the field. Last season, he averaged 16.3 yards per catch (eighth in the NFL) and scored on 25 percent of his 52 catches.
23. C.J. Spiller (Buffalo Bills) – A year ago, Spiller would have been higher on this list, as he averaged 6.0 yards per carry and 10.7 yards per reception in 2012. But for now, that seems like a bit of an aberration, as the running back saw his numbers plummet last season. Let’s see what happens in 2014.
24. T.Y. Hilton (Indianapolis Colts) – With Reggie Wayne recovering from a knee injury and not getting any younger, the torch has been passed to Hilton in Indy. But as he caught more passes in 2013, his flashy numbers (yards per catch and touchdowns) dropped. Does that mean he can’t excel when defenses pay attention to him?
25. Cam Newton (Carolina Panthers) – It may seem ridiculous that a quarterback is on this list; after all, they’re typically not the one crossing the goal line on a big play. But Newton is the exception to the rule. He averaged 5.3 yards per carry last season, good enough for second in the league, and posted a 56-yard scamper.
26. Antonio Brown (Pittsburgh Steelers) – The Steelers aren’t exactly a big-play team, as they prefer to grind things out in Pittsburgh. So it should be no surprise that their leading receiver, who caught 110 passes for 1,499 yards, is more of a possession, move-the-chains kind of player.
27. DeAndre Hopkins (Houston Texans) – Andre Johnson is still the best offensive player in Houston, but the receiver the Texans added last season to play opposite their star wideout is the team’s best home-run threat. He averaged 15.4 yards per catch as a rookie, which is a nice start, but only got in the end zone twice.
28. Ryan Mathews (San Diego Chargers) – Finally healthy for most of a season, Mathews got the chance last season to show what he can do. And with Mike McCoy at the helm, a coach who puts all of his weapons to use, look for even more during the running back’s fifth season.
29. Tavon Austin (St. Louis Rams) – As a rookie, Austin showed that he still has a long way to go in order to be an every-down contributor in St. Louis. But during a Week 10 upset in Indianapolis, he showed flashes, hauling in 81- and 57-yard touchdowns, while also taking a punt back for a 98-yard score.
30. Mike Wallace (Miami Dolphins) – The Dolphins were hoping that Wallace would bring a big-play threat to their offense, helping Ryan Tannehill stretch the field in his second season. But that never materialized, as Wallace had the worst season of his career in terms of yards per catch and touchdowns.
31. Denarius Moore (Oakland Raiders) – Now that Matt Schaub is in Oakland, perhaps Moore – a player who has shown flashes of brilliance despite playing with quarterbacks like Terrelle Pryor – can emerge as a legitimate wide receiver. Up until now, he’s been a hit and miss guy who shines one week and disappears the next.
32. Mike Brown (Jacksonville Jaguars) – There’s a reason why the Jaguars selected both Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson in the second round of May’s draft; they’re a team completely devoid of big-play threats. Without Justin Blackmon on the field, Jacksonville has had just a bunch of guys in the huddle.