Each NFL team’s best playmaker
If you’re going to win games in the NFL, you need to have playmakers. These are the guys who can turn a game around with a big play and lift the team when they need it most.
What makes a playmaker? It can be anything, really. A quarterback who can make the pinpoint throw under pressure; the running back who can burst through a hole for a huge play; the wide receiver who can make the spectacular catch for that big touchdown. They don’t even need to be offensive — defenders who have that ability to get a big pick or blow up a play in the backfield qualify too.
Here’s a look at the best playmaker on each NFL team.
Arizona Cardinals — David Johnson, RB
Few players in the league are as skilled or versatile as Arizona’s third-year running back. Johnson truly took over the role in 2016, rushing for 1,239 yards and 16 touchdowns. He was no slouch through the air, either, with five catches per game. In total, no player had more yards from scrimmage than Johnson. Even bigger numbers may be in store in 2017.
Atlanta Falcons — Julio Jones, WR
Quarterback Matt Ryan has an argument here for the first time in his career, but for the Falcons, it’s still all about Jones, who is one of the premier receivers the league has to offer. While his 2016 didn’t quite match his lofty 2015 numbers, Jones still racked up over 1,400 yards. He averaged over 100 yards receiving per game for the fourth consecutive season, which is no small feat. Want big plays? The star receiver averaged 17 yards per catch for the NFC champions. And now the team wants him to get more touchdowns.
Baltimore Ravens — Terrell Suggs, LB
The Ravens have a long tradition of elite defensive playmakers, and Suggs fits right in with that. He’s still their best, even at 34. He was down to eight sacks in 2016, but it’s only natural that as Suggs gets older, his snap counts will decline a bit to conserve him for a full season’s worth of action. He’s still an elite disruptor.
Buffalo Bills — LeSean McCoy, RB
After an underwhelming first season in Buffalo, Shady proved in 2016 that he is still Shady. McCoy surpassed the 1,000 yard plateau for the fifth time in his career. His 13 touchdowns were also the second-best mark he’s put up in his entire career. Though he was mentioned in some trade rumors over the summer, Shady has stayed in Buffalo and remains one of the league’s shiftier runners.
Carolina Panthers — Cam Newton, QB
We know, we know — the sequel to Newton’s MVP 2015 season left a whole lot to be desired. However, Newton battled through injuries, likely leading to his numbers decreasing across the board. When at the peak of his powers, there are few, if any, NFL playmakers who can do more than Newton can. Even in a comparatively bad year he threw for 3,500 yards and scored 24 total touchdowns. During his MVP season, he produced 45 touchdowns and helped carry Carolina to the Super Bowl.
Chicago Bears — Jordan Howard, RB
Not much has gone right for the Bears over the last few years, but nabbing Howard in the fifth round of the 2016 Draft will definitely go down as a bright spot. While it took the rookie from Indiana a bit of time to secure the starting role, he ultimately ended up with 1,313 yards and six touchdowns. He averaged 5.2 yards per attempt, an impressive tally for a rookie back on a bad team. He also mixed in about 20 yards receiving per game.
Cincinnati Bengals — A.J. Green, WR
Previously a model of consistency, 2016 was the first season of Green’s six-year career that he failed to surpass 1,000 yards receiving. It was through no fault of his own, as he fell just 36 yards short despite playing only ten games in an injury-shortened season. As long as he stays healthy, he’ll comfortably return to the 1,200-1,500 yard range he lived in prior to 2016 and give Andy Dalton a top-notch offensive weaon.
Cleveland Browns — Myles Garrett, DE
Is it a bit presumptive to put a rookie at this spot? Perhaps, but when you go 1-15, that means you typically don’t have a ton of great talent on your team. The Browns have some playmakers like Kenny Britt, Corey Coleman and Isaiah Crowell, though Garrett figures to be more of an impact-maker than all of them. In true Brown form, Garrett is already out with an injury, but he will return from an ankle sprain to prove why he was the No. 1 pick in the draft.
Dallas Cowboys — Dak Prescott, QB
Wide receiver Dez Bryant may have the best pure skills, but the numbers haven’t matched the reputation for the last two years. Meanwhile, Prescott made himself impossible to ignore with a successful rookie season. There was no way Dallas should have gone 13-3 after losing Tony Romo in preseason, and yet Prescott, with his 23-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio and 3,667 yards passing, made it happen. His success has the Cowboys now saying Prescott deserved to be their top pick last year.
Denver Broncos — Von Miller, LB
Still one of the league’s most dominant defensive players, Miller piled up another 13.5 sacks in 2016. He is without question an elite defender who can blow up any play, and he’s established himself as a quarterback’s nightmare. Just to drive home this point, he has the ink to prove it.