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)
6. Chiefs RB Damien Williams
2019 Big Plays: 3 rushes of 15-plus yards, 5 rush TDs, league-high 91-yard rushing TD, 1 reception of 20-plus yards, 2 receiving TDs
Yes, the Chiefs' starting RB also benefited from consistently positive play design; only Devin Singletary (5.3%), David Johnson (5.3%) and Joe Mixon (7.9%) had a lower percentage of their carries occur against defenses with eight-plus defenders in the box than Williams (8.1, Next-Gen Stats).
Also yes, Williams demonstrated the ability to function efficiently on both the ground (No. 2 in Elusive Rating, No. 4 in yards after contact per attempt) and also through the air -- particularly on wheel routes.
7. Chiefs TE Travis Kelce
2019 Big Plays: 13 receptions of 20-plus yards, 5 receiving touchdowns
Kelce has added another 13 receptions for 164 yards and three scores in the playoffs (so far). He's been nothing short of remarkable since teaming up with Patrick Mahomes last season, as only Michael Thomas (3,130), Julio Jones (3,071), DeAndre Hopkins (2,737) and Mike Evans (2,681) have more receiving yards than Kelce (2,565) since 2018.
2019 marked the fourth straight season that Kelce finished as fantasy's overall PPR TE1. He took a step back in terms of efficiency and tackle-breaking ability compared to what we saw in 2018, but it remains pretty much impossible to note a real weakness in the 30-year-old's game.
8. 49ers WR Kendrick Bourne
2019 Big Plays: 4 receptions of 20-plus yards, 5 receiving touchdowns
Bourne has only cleared 50 receiving yards once this season. He's hardly a physical specimen at 6-foot-1 and 203-pounds, and his 4.68-second 40-yard dash is almost laughably slow for an NFL WR.
And yet, he's found the end zone on six separate occasions this season if we include the playoffs. The 49ers' No. 3 WR converted all five of his targets inside the 10-yard line into scores during the regular season, making the most of his part-time role in this run-first offense that features multiple TEs in addition to high-usage FB Kyle Juszczyk.
Points win football games. Bourne wouldn't make this list if we were ranking the flashiest or freakiest players in the Super Bowl, but that's not the intent here. The 49ers have consistently found positive results when targeting Bourne throughout the season and the third-year WR deserves credit for making the most out of his opportunities after rebounding from multiple early-season drops.
9. 49ers RB Tevin Coleman
2019 Big Plays: 8 rushes of 15-plus yards, 4 rush TDs, 2 receptions of 20-plus yards, 1 receiving TD
Coleman rushed for more than 50 yards in four games this season:
- Week 5 vs. Browns: 16 carries-97 yards-1 TD
- Week 7 at Washington: 20-62-0
- Week 8 vs. Panthers: 11-105-3
- NFC Divisional Round vs. Vikings: 22-105-2
It remains to be seen if he'll manage to play through his dislocated right shoulder and suit up for the Super Bowl. Still, Coleman deserves credit for providing sparks throughout the season despite the generally inconsistent play. His straight-line speed has by and large been put to good use inside of Shanahan's RB-friendly scheme even if Mostert was the better overall back throughout the season.
Be sure to monitor our Super Bowl Injury Dashboard for daily practice participation along with estimated and official game statuses for every injured player on the Chiefs and 49ers.
10. 49ers FB Kyle Juszczyk
2019 Big Plays: 1 receiving TD
Haters will blame a consistently small sample size and limited overall volume, but the 49ers' ridiculously-versatile FB has largely functioned as one of the league's most-efficient backs *period* during his three seasons in San Francisco:
- 2017: 8.7 yards per touch (No. 3 among all RBs and FBs with at least 20 touches)
- 2018: 9.3 (No. 1)
- 2019: 10.7 (No. 1)
There's obviously a bit of speed discrepancy between Juszczyk and some of the other players that didn't make this list. This is a good reminder that creating big plays in football is more than just speed. It's not hard to imagine why defenders are hesitant to devote too much attention to Juszczyk (or even Kittle) in coverage when they're perennially at risk of being steam rolled in the run game.
Best of the rest
- Chiefs WRs Demarcus Robinson and Sammy Watkins: Watkins balled out in Week 1 (9-198-3) and in the AFC Championship (7-114-1). Robinson's big-play production was most limited to Week 2 (6-172-2). The consistent disappointment from both throughout the rest of the season leaves them off this list.
- 49ers WRs Emmanuel Sanders and Richie James: Manny Sanders proved to not be washed following his offseason Achilles surgery, but he also continued to battle injuries in 2019 and has had fewer than 50 receiving yards in nine of his 12 games with the 49ers. James averaged a team-high 16.5 yards per target during the regular season, although it's tough to reward the WR/KR too much when he had just eight offensive touches all year.
- Chiefs RBs LeSean McCoy and Darwin Thompson: It's been the Damien Williams show in the Chiefs' backfield during their playoff push. Still, Shady, and to a lesser extent Thompson, demonstrated some much-needed tackle-breaking ability throughout the season as Dame dealt with various injuries. Everyone that said McCoy (4.6 YPC) was washed following last season's disappointing campaign with the Bills was wrong.
- 49ers RBs Matt Breida and Jeff Wilson: Breida has been in the dog house in recent weeks after fumbling twice back in Week 15. Still, he showed a penchant for creating big plays earlier in the season and ultimately racked up 42.4% of his production on the ground via explosive runs (No. 2 among all RBs, per PFF). Wilson will likely be a healthy scratch for the Super Bowl, but he deserves credit for racking up five touchdowns and two big plays on his 32 combined carries and targets this season. This was good for the single-best playmaker rate among all RBs with at least 30 touches, although clearly the minuscule sample size is the factor there.