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Most explosive playmaker on every 2023 NFL playoff team

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver A.J. Brown (11) reacts after a first down catch against the Jacksonville Jaguars during the second quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

  • It Hurts being this good: Philadelphia Eagles WR A.J. Brown continues to work as one of the NFL’s single-most efficient receivers.
  • Danny Vick: New York Giants QB Daniel Jones is a big reason why the team boasts a top-five offense in explosive run-play rate.
  • Speed kills: Miami Dolphins WR Jaylen Waddle has worked as one of the league’s most lethal YAC artists despite continuing to boast an elevated average target depth.
Estimated reading time: 16 minutes

Wild-card weekend is here. Keep your head on a swivel and prepare accordingly.

Today’s goal is to highlight every playoff team’s most explosive playmaker. This will be accomplished by ranking the big-play ability of all remaining skill-position talent. I crafted the following formula to at least give us a baseline idea of each player's explosiveness and ability to create big plays:

  • Playmaker rate: ((10-yard rushes * 3) + (15-yard receptions * 3) + (TDs * 6) + (forced missed tackles)) / (targets + rush attempts)

Limitations of the formula include the lack of passing metrics (sorry Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes), kick/punt return production not counting (there were only nine return scores anyway), and the reality that certain players are schematically utilized in more big-play-friendly roles.

The top overall players in total “playmaker points” this season were Nick Chubb, Josh Jacobs, Derrick Henry, Austin Ekeler, Christian McCaffrey and Tony Pollard, although their “playmaker rate” was limited by respective large workloads featuring plenty of ho-hum carries. I'll consider both factors in the following rankings but will ultimately lean toward those who have produced big plays at a more efficient rate compared to those who have benefited from immense volume.

Every team’s most explosive playmaker in the 2022-23 playoffs is listed below and also includes an honorable mention.


NFC


  1. Philadelphia Eagles: WR A.J. Brown

AJB didn’t skip a beat with his new employer, posting career-high marks in receptions (88) and receiving yards (1,496) while looking like an absolute menace in his black visor. He finished with the sixth-most playmaker points at the fourth-highest rate among all wide receivers with at least 50 combined targets and carries. It was rare to see the stud fourth-year receiver ever go too long without finding a way to impact the game.

Ultimately, the season-long performance is par for the course: You doesn’t need more than two hands to count the number of wide receivers more efficient than Brown on a per-route basis since entering the league in 2019:

  • 2019: 2.67 (No. 3 among all wide receivers with at least 50)
  • 2020: 2.65 (No. 3)
  • 2021: 2.5 (No. 8)
  • 2022: 2.59 (tied for No. 3)

Honorable mention: TE Dallas Goedert. Flip a coin between Goedert and DeVonta Smith but give the former credit for managing better rates in terms of 15-yard receptions per target (32.8% vs. 22.7%) while nearing matching the latter in missed tackles forced per reception (10.9% vs. 11.6%). Ultimately, all parties involved with the league’s third-ranked scoring offense were damn good in 2022. We should have known this offense was going to be absolutely lethal the second Jalen Hurts rocked a Boobie Miles jersey back in August.


  1. San Francisco 49ers: TE George Kittle

Kittle finished the season on an absolute heater, posting 4-93-2, 6-120-2, 4-23-1 and 4-29-2 receiving lines while finally seeing something closer to a more consistent featured role in the passing game.

The Kelce brothers even agree that Kittle doesn’t get as many targets as he deserves. It’s pretty wild just how good the sixth-year veteran has been with his opportunities during his still-young career:

  • PFF receiving grade: 93.3 (No. 2 among 67 tight ends with 100-plus targets since 2017)
  • Yards per reception: 13.3 (No. 6)
  • Yards per route run: 2.34 (No. 1)
  • Yards after the catch per reception: 7.3 (No. 2)

This season was truly one of Kittle’s finest performances yet: His 1.74 playmaker rate was the highest mark among 203 players with at least 50 combined carries and targets — the next-closest player was Green Bay Packers WR Christian Watson (1.51). Good things happen when the 49ers throw Kittle the ball as fun as it can be watching him block from time to time as well.

Honorable mention: WR Brandon Aiyuk just rather quietly peeled off a pretty awesome 78-1,015-8 season. Yes, Christian McCaffrey and Deebo Samuel are great. Also yes, Aiyuk scored more receiving touchdowns (eight vs. six) and racked up more receptions of 15-plus yards (25 vs. 22) than CMC and Deebo combined. This offense has scored 33, 35, 21, 37, 37 and 38 points since Brock Purdy was thrust under center, and Aiyuk, like his fellow baller teammates, is a big reason why.

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