Big plays and touchdowns are fun. This is not up for debate.
Super Bowl 54 just so happens to be overflowing with skill-position talent that has made a habit of busting off chunk gains in both the run and pass game. Both the Chiefs and 49ers quite literally boast explosive playmakers all over the field at each of RB, WR and TE.
The goal here is to rank the big-play ability of these various talents ahead of the Super Bowl. I crafted the following formula to at least give us a baseline idea of each player's explosiveness and ability to find the end zone:
- Playmaker rate: (15 yard rushes * 3 + 20 yard receptions * 3 + TDs * 6) / (targets + rush attempts)
Limitations of the formula include the lack of passing metrics or QB inclusion (sorry Lamar Jackson), kick/punt return touchdowns counting without those touches being included (there were only 14 return scores anyway), and the reality that certain players are schematically utilized in more big-play friendly roles. Finally, all statistics refer to regular season totals only.
The top overall players in total 'Playmaker points' this season were Christian McCaffrey, Aaron Jones, Derrick Henry and Dalvin Cook, although their respective large workloads that featured plenty of ho-hum carries limited their 'Playmaker rate'. I'll consider both factors in the following ranks, but will ultimately lean towards those that have produced big-plays at a more-efficient rate compared to those that have benefited from immense volume.
The most-explosive playmakers in Super Bowl 54 are ...
1. Chiefs WR/KR Mecole Hardman
2019 Big Plays: 9 receptions of 20-plus yards, 6 receiving TDs, 1 return TD
Hardman had the single-highest playmaker rate in the entire league among 214 players with at least 30 touches. The electric second-round rookie has struggled to consistently find the field with the Chiefs often utilizing Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins and Demarcus Robinson in three-WR sets, but Hardman has still managed to make his touches count in a big way as a rusher, receiver and returner.
A full-time role is likely on the way next season, although it'd be shocking if the Chiefs don't find a way to get Hardman a handful of touches against the 49ers. He clocked a 4.33-second 40-yard dash at the combine and registered the seventh-fastest play of the season at 21.87 miles per hour on his 63-yard score against the Titans.
It's tough to think of another player in the league that would give Hill a closer race than his own teammate.
2. 49ers WR Deebo Samuel
2019 Big Plays: 5 rushes of 15-plus yards, 3 rush TDs, 17 receptions of 20-plus yards, 3 receiving TDs
Coach Kyle Shanahan showed a passion for getting Samuel involved as a ball carrier. Overall, the 49ers' stud second-round rookie converted his 14 rush attempts into 159 yards and a trio of scores. It marked just the 14th time since 2000 that a player averaged double-digit yards per carry (minimum 10 rush attempts).
Of course, Samuel mostly functions as a true WR. Volume was fairly scarce for every receiver other than George Kittle in this run-first offense, but it's clear the 49ers managed to get the most out of their shiny new weapon:
- Yards per target: 9.9 (No. 10 among 80 WRs with at least 50 targets)
- Yards per reception: 14.1 (No. 28)
- Yards per route run: 2.04 (No. 15)
Samuel's playmaker rate was the 10th-highest mark in the league among our 214 player sample.
The most-impressive part about his game is the consistent ability to create magic with the ball in his hands. Only A.J. Brown (8.8) averaged more yards after the catch per reception than Samuel (8.5). His 25 broken tackles in 2019 trailed only Lamar Jackson (42) among all non-RBs (PFF).
3. Chiefs WR Tyreek Hill
2019 Big Plays: 11 receptions of 20-plus yards, 7 receiving TDs
The artist known as TyFreak would certainly be No. 1 on this list if we were going off of career accomplishments. Right now you could probably make an argument that he's one of the most-explosive playmakers in the league's modern era: Hill's 17 touchdowns of at least 50 yards since entering the league easily beat Derrick Henry's second-place total (9).
Hill wasn't quite as efficient in 2019 as he was in 2018 on both a per-reception and per-target basis, and he was used less frequently than ever as both a rusher and returner.
This makes sense: why expose arguably the league's most-impactful WR to more-dangerous hits following a "sort of dislocation related to where the clavicle meets the sternum" back in Week 1?
Still, the 2019 version of Hill was unquestionably more tame than any of the previous editions. Don't be surprised if the Chiefs look to get Cheetah going sooner rather than later in all facets of the game come Sunday.
4. 49ers TE George Kittle
2019 Big Plays: 1 rush of 15-plus yards, 16 receptions of 20-plus yards, 5 receiving TDs
Kittle's season would've been even bigger if he didn't have a league-high three touchdowns nullified by penalty. His ability to dominate in all areas of the game was absolutely staggering throughout the year.
The 49ers' do-it-all TE was PFF's No. 4 highest-graded TE at run blocking among 79 qualified players. Kittle's 22 broken tackles were the most by any TE over the last three seasons, and his average of +3.4 yards after the catch above expectation trailed only 2019 A.J. Brown (+4.9) since 2016 (Next-Gen Stats).
Overall, Kittle's average of 3.1 yards per route run was the highest rate by any TE over the last decade (PFF). There isn't a more-important player to the 49ers' second-ranked scoring offense than their stud TE. It turns out containing a 6-foot-4 and 247-pound monster with both speed and a mean streak is much easier said than done.
5. 49ers RB Raheem Mostert
2019 Big Plays: 14 rushes of 15-plus yards, 8 rushing TDs, 3 receptions of 20-plus yards, 2 receiving TDs
Mostert posted the single-best Playmaker rate among 45 players with at least 100 rush attempts this season. This feat is even more impressive considering it was calculated without including his absurd 29-220-4 performance in the NFC Championship.
Shanahan utilized a hot-hand approach at RB for most of the season. Still, it's tough to deny that Mostert was a top-five RB in the league on a per-touch basis.
- Elusive Rating: 71.8 (No. 7 among 43 RBs with at least 50 carries, PFF)
- Yards after contact per attempt: 3.5 (No. 5)
- Runs of 15-plus yards: 14 (tied for No. 4)
- Percentage of yards from explosive runs: 38% (No. 6)
- Yards created per carry: 1.89 (No. 2, PlayerProfiler)
Consistently-brilliant play design, along with PFF's No. 5 ranked offensive line in run blocking, certainly helped matters for everyone involved in this run game. And yet, it was an under-sized undrafted free agent that ultimately made the most out of his opportunities.
(Continue to the next page for the 6-10 ranked explosive playmakers as well as an honorable mention section)