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.

Detroit Lions — Matthew Stafford, QB

The newly-minted highest paid quarterback in NFL history has been pretty much the entire Detroit offense, especially since Calvin Johnson retired. A 4,000-yard passer for the sixth consecutive season, Stafford has learned how to take care of the ball and cut down on his interceptions, too, and he has a huge arm to make big plays. He is the best quarterback the Lions have had in decades.

Green Bay Packers — Aaron Rodgers, QB

There is no bigger home run play in the NFL than the Hail Mary, and Rodgers has mastered the art. That’s just one asset that one of the league’s elite quarterbacks brings to the table. Rodgers is coming off a season in which he threw a league-best 40 touchdowns. And even if you think you have him stopped, Rodgers is an impressive scrambler and even rushed for four scores a season ago.

Houston Texans — J.J. Watt, DE

After a season in which Watt barely played due to injury, it’s easy to forget just how good he is. Few in the league are better when it comes to sacking quarterbacks and blowing up plays in the backfield. Watt has two 20-sack seasons to his name, and he even saw some action as a goal-line receiver in 2014. Nobody is more important to the Texans than Watt.

Indianapolis Colts — T.Y. Hilton, WR

As great as quarterback Andrew Luck is, Hilton is one of the NFL’s best deep threats. His 1,448 receiving yards led the NFL in 2016, and he added six touchdowns to go with it. Skilled and speedy, Hilton is a big-play threat every time he lines up out wide, and has developed a very good rapport with Luck.

Jacksonville Jaguars — Allen Robinson, WR

Leonard Fournette and Jalen Ramsey may yet become elite playmakers for the Jaguars, but for now, Robinson is the most accomplished skill player on the team. He suffered in 2016 as opponents zeroed in on him, but his 2015 stands as a testament to what he’s capable of — 1,400 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns.

Kansas City Chiefs — Tyreek Hill, WR

When you think of big playmakers in the NFL, Hill is an athlete who may come to mind first these days. As a rookie last season, he scored 12 touchdowns, impressively finding the end zone in almost every way. He had six touchdown catches, three rushing TDs, two punts returned for a score and one kickoff return for a touchdown. One of the fastest athletes in the league, Hill is a threat to take it to the house any time he touches the ball.

Los Angeles Chargers — Philip Rivers, QB

The Chargers have added a lot more talent in the offensive skill positions recently, but their linchpin remains their veteran quarterback. 2016 was Rivers’s eighth 4,000-yard season and fifth 30-touchdown season. And while he’s 35 now, the Chargers are still as reliant on him as ever. Someday that will have to change, but for now, the Chargers will and should ride Rivers, who is the best they’ve got.

Los Angeles Rams — Aaron Donald, DT

To be clear, the Rams will need Donald to eventually show up if he’s going to justify his spot on this list. If he does, though, he’ll be one of the NFL’s elite defensive linemen. He has 28 sacks in his first three NFL seasons. So long as he’s on the field, there is every reason to believe he will continue to improve.

Miami Dolphins — Cameron Wake, DE

All Wake did at the age of 34 was return from an injury and rack up 11.5 sacks in only 11 starts. He was the standout on a slowly improving Miami defensive line. The challenge for him now will be keeping up a high level of play after turning 35. He still has the skills, he just needs to stay healthy.

Minnesota Vikings — Everson Griffen, DE

One of Minnesota’s most reliable defensive presences, Griffen is both effective against the passing and running games. His sack total was down a bit in 2016 to just eight, but he’s still an extremely disruptive defender who earns the nod here until the team adds more offensive playmakers — or gets Teddy Bridgewater back.

New England Patriots — Tom Brady, QB

Tom Brady is the Patriots, and the Patriots are Tom Brady. It has never much mattered who he has around him, who gets hurt, who’s left, who arrived. He remains remarkably consistent, and he’s coming off a 2016 season in which he threw 28 touchdowns and just two interceptions in 12 games. There’s no reason to think he’ll be slowing down anytime soon, even if the Patriots are thing at the receiver position.

New Orleans Saints — Drew Brees, QB

Brees is pretty much the favorite to lead the NFL in passing yardage every season. Part of that is due to the offensive scheme he plays in, but most of it is simply because he’s a great quarterback. His 5,208 passing yards in 2016 was his highest tally since 2011, and he added 37 more touchdowns to his career total as well. He’s one of the smartest quarterbacks in football, and he is still more than capable of making the huge play.

New York Giants — Odell Beckham Jr., WR

Let’s keep this simple. There is no other wide receiver in the NFL, no matter how good, who is going to be making a catch like this one in a game anytime soon. The Giants have had to answer a lot of questions about Beckham’s focus and temperament, but for a talent like him, it’s all entirely worth it. There isn’t a more exciting player in the NFL.

New York Jets — Muhammad Wilkerson, DE

It’s an indictment of the Jets that their best playmaker had 4.5 sacks in 2016, but there’s a higher ceiling in there. Wilkerson had a fine 2015, a year in which he collected 12 total sacks, but took a big step back last season and is now facing major questions about his fitness and commitment. The Jets lack skill players. Wilkerson should be the best they have — if he can be disciplined and live up to his potential.

Oakland Raiders — Khalil Mack, DE/LB

Oakland’s monstrous hybrid sacrificed four sacks in 2016, but was better across the board. Eleven sacks is nothing to sneeze at. And what Mack was able to do in other departments was even more impressive — five forced fumbles and a pick six. Mack was a defensive wrecking ball for Oakland and should remain one in 2017 — in fact, he has even loftier ambitions. Giving Mack these honors when he’s on a team that also boasts Derek Carr, Amari Cooper and Marshawn Lynch is saying a lot, but he deserves it.

Philadelphia Eagles — Carson Wentz, QB

There are a lot fewer questions about the Eagles’ decision to trade up for Wentz now than there were a year ago following a very solid rookie season for the QB. Wentz’s touchdown tally was a bit low at 16, but that can improve with some better receivers, and 3,782 passing yards is nothing to scoff at. He should only continue to progress, especially now that Philly has given him some quality receiving options.

Pittsburgh Steelers — Antonio Brown, WR

Le’Veon Bell certainly has a claim here, but in terms of big play ability, Brown is the best. After two truly remarkable seasons, his numbers were down last year to a comparatively modest 1,284 yards. He still pulled in 12 touchdowns, although his season was ultimately overshadowed by some self-imposed playoff drama. He’ll look to be back to his very best in 2017.

San Francisco 49ers — Carlos Hyde, RB

The 49ers have a dearth of skill players, but Hyde looks to be one on the rise. Ultimately, he may not be long for San Francisco, but the third-year running back played in a career-high 13 games in 2016, scoring six touchdowns and racking up 988 yards. Provided he gets regular carries, 2017 might see him take another step forward.

Seattle Seahawks — Russell Wilson, QB

Wilson’s star seems to have dimmed since he led the Seahawks to consecutive Super Bowl appearances in 2014 and 2015. In certain aspects, his 2016 was better than ever — his 4,219 passing yards were a career-high. His touchdowns were down, though, and interceptions were up. Still, along with Cam Newton, Wilson is the NFL’s best dual-threat quarterback, and the key to Seattle’s success.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Jameis Winston, QB

Winston entered the league with two straight 4,000-yard seasons, and as the Buccaneers have given him more weapons, he looks poised for a real breakout in 2017. He improved to 28 passing touchdowns in 2016, though his rushing touchdown tally dropped from six to one. He’s still a gifted quarterback who can pass and run, and Bucs fans have every reason to be excited for what the future holds.

Tennessee Titans — Marcus Mariota, QB

Mariota looks like he’s on his way to stardom. A 26-9 touchdown-to-interception ratio in his second NFL season is demonstrative of the talent the Titans have here. He’s a threat with his legs as well, as the mobile Mariota has four rushing touchdowns in his NFL career. He, too, has a chance to take a big step forward in 2017.

Washington Redskins — Terrelle Pryor, WR

A college quarterback, Pryor has evolved into a remarkable athlete. That background makes him useful in so many roles. In 2016, he finally broke out with a 1,000 yard receiving season and four touchdowns. Now with Washington, Pryor is a versatile playmaker who can be deployed in several roles. He is a threat to change a game, and many are expecting a Pro Bowl season for him.

Yardbarker: NFL

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