How do you stop a 6'5" 235-pound freak on a fade route? You don't.
The NFL is home to some of the most talented athletes on the planet.
The man they call "Megatron," Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson, runs a 4.3 forty-yard dash at 6'5" 235 pounds, and Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul can do backflips at 6'7", 280 pounds. These supremely talented players continually put their talents on display and dominate the football world.
And while not everyone is blessed with unworldly athletic ability, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady have shown over the past decade that a brilliant mind can be every bit as dangerous as a fast forty-yard dash time or a high vertical jump.
The NFL's most respected coaches face the daunting task of stopping the league's best athletes, but X's and O's can only do so much against the best football players on the planet.
Let's take a look at five plays that are virtually unstoppable from the NFL's top stars.
5. Darren Sproles: Receiver out of backfield
Video breakdown: In last year's postseason thriller between the New Orleans Saints and the San Francisco 49ers, Sproles definitely made a splash. Saints quarterback Drew Brees senses pressure from an irregular defensive front, prompting him to dump the ball off to Sproles almost immediately. After the 5'6" lightning bug catches the ball, it's off to the races.
Sproles as a receiver: The NFL is full of "matchup nightmares," but most difficult matchups are the result of imposing, athletically gifted tight ends in the middle of the field. But the 5'6" Sproles may present the biggest matchup problems in the entire league.
The always creative Saints often move Sproles around their formation to get him matched up with a bigger, (much) slower linebacker. Sproles posted a career-high 86 receptions in his first season with the Saints. When a 250-pound linebacker is matched up on the lightning-quick Sproles, forget about it.
4. Cam Newton: QB keeper
Video breakdown: Newton makes a quick decision after the defense takes away his primary read, and decides to tuck the football and run. Before he's even touched by a defender, Newton reaches the three-yard line before bouncing off a Bengals defender into the end zone.
Newton on the run: In the Panthers' trip to Tampa Bay last season, Newton scorched the Bucs for three rushing touchdowns. As evident in this highlight video from NFL.com, Newton proves to be nearly impossible to stop on a quarterback keeper from the one-yard line.
Newton had an incredible rookie season in 2011, racking up over 4,000 yards through the air and adding another 706 yards on the ground. Standing 6'5" at a sturdy 245 ponds, Newton proved to be a force to reckon with near the goal line—his 14 rushing touchdowns would back that up.
3. Wes Welker: In the slot
Video breakdown: After torching the Dolphins on crossing routes all game, the Patriots called the perfect play to get Welker open deep. The small, quick Welker was simply too slippery for the defender to jam on the line, leaving him the entire field to work with on this 99-yard touchdown.
Welker in the slot: Welker has played five seasons with the Patriots, and he's had at least 111 catches in four of them. The man simply can't be covered in the slot, constantly getting open for Tom Brady in the middle of the field.
Last year was Welker's best season as a professional, catching 122 passes for 1,569 yards and nine touchdowns. Despite standing just 5'9" and weighing only 185 pounds, Welker is one of the craftiest receivers in the game and seems to always be open on crossing routes.
2. Aaron Rodgers: Back-shoulder throw
Video breakdown: Rodgers notices Patrick Robinson in single-coverage against the Packers' No. 1 receiver Greg Jennings. The chemistry between Rodgers and Jennings is simply too good for Robinson to manage, as the quarterback delivers a perfect back-shoulder ball to Jennings. Once Robinson had his head turned as if Jennings were running a fade route, the ball is already on its way to Jennings.
Rodgers's back-shoulder throw: The back-shoulder pass is becoming more and more a part of today's NFL with the expansion of the passing game, and Rodgers is the best at it. Just take a look at this video from NFL.com, where Rodgers puts the ball at a spot where it'd be impossible for the defender to get to. Jordy Nelson ends up on the grass with the ball in his hands—a simply unstoppable play.
Armed with elite receivers like Jennings and Nelson, with an ultra-athletic tight end in Jermichael Finley, Rodgers has the benefit of numerous matchup advantages all over the field. But what sets the Green Bay offense apart from the rest of the league is the communication between Rodgers and his receivers. There's simply no defense for a perfect pass, and Rodgers' back-shoulder ball is as good as it gets.
1. Calvin Johnson: Jump-ball
Video breakdown: What can you say about this play? As Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford drops back to pass, he has his eyes on Calvin Johnson through his entire route. And despite Mike Jenkins and Barry Church covering Johnson in the end zone, Stafford lets it loose and gives Johnson a chance. By the time the ball reaches the end zone, three Dallas Cowboys surround Johnson. However, it simply doesn't matter—the 6'5" Megatron is simply unstoppable.
Johnson on a jump-ball: While Johnson is capable of beating even the league's top cornerbacks with his speed on the outside, it's his 6'5" frame and 43-inch vertical jump that make him unstoppable in the red zone. In this video, Megatron offers some tips of the fade route—but there's no secret to being a 6'5" 235-pound athletic freak.
The league has certainly taken notice of Johnson's freakish athletic ability, as the New Orleans Saints opted to put two defenders on Johnson—as if he were a gunner on the punt team—in their regular season matchup last year. Johnson's 2011 season was by far his best as a professional, racking up 96 catches for 1,681 yards and 16 touchdowns. And although he's under the Madden Curse Watch, football fans can expect more of the same production from Megatron in 2012.