The Best Big-Play Duos in the NFL
In football, few things get the fans on their feet quite like long bombs down the field. And the big-play duos here are the best in the NFL at completing them.
To find the most prolific combinations of receivers capable of stretching the field and the quarterbacks who feed them, we can look to play-by-play data from Pro-Football-Reference.com.
While it's not a perfect method, sorting for the receivers with the most receptions of 20 yards or longer over the least three seasons (2016 included) and then excluding the receivers who have had more than one quarterback gives us an objectively killer list.
- A.J. Green (45 receptions of 20-plus yards)
- Rob Gronkowski (51 receptions of 20-plus yards)
- Antonio Brown (52 receptions of 20-plus yards)
- T.Y. Hilton (53 receptions of 20-plus yards)
- Julio Jones (72 receptions of 20-plus yards)
While a few of those receptions over the last three years may have come from quarterbacks other than those in this slideshow, the fact that all five receivers have had the same quarterback during the sample period suggests most of the connections have been between the two in the duo.
5. A.J. Green and Andy Dalton
In 2016, Cincinnati Bengals receiver A.J. Green is leading the NFL in receptions (59), receiving yards (896) and receiving yards per game (122). He's also tied for the third-most 20-yard receptions, behind Julio Jones and T.Y. Hilton.
And his quarterback Andy Dalton has not only been slinging him the ball for the last three years but for his entire career.
Since 2011, these two have been one of the most dynamic pass-catch combos in football. They've completed so many that it's almost become pedestrian.
“Every time A.J. makes a play, he’s never excited," Bengals receiver Brandon LaFell said, per ESPN.com's Katherine Terrell. "He don’t show no emotion, but if that’s the way he’s going to be, as long as he keeps making plays, he can do that.”
If the last three years are any indication, Green is going to keep making those plays.
4. Rob Gronkowski and Tom Brady
New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski appears to be enjoying the return of Tom Brady as much as anyone else.
Gronkowski played in two games during Brady's suspension, registering three targets and one reception for 11 yards. In the four games since Brady's return, Gronk has 27 targets, 21 catches, 473 yards (22.5 yards per catch) and three touchdowns.
"The NFL is the New England Patriots' playground with the other 31 teams allowed to play in it," Bleacher Report's Brent Sobleski wrote following Week 8. "Right now, quarterback Tom Brady is the face that runs the place, while tight end Rob Gronkowski is the bully no one wants to cross."
3. Antonio Brown and Ben Roethlisberger
"He's nonstop," Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said of his receiver, Antonio Brown, per the Twitter account of ESPN Radio's Mike & Mike. "He's like the energizer bunny. His work ethic is remarkable."
Roethlisberger has had the opportunity to see that work ethic up close for the last seven seasons. And he's rewarded it the entire time, particularly the last four years.
Brown first went for more than 100 receptions in 2013, when he hauled in 110. The next two seasons, he led the league in catches, grabbing 129 and 136, respectively.
2. T.Y. Hilton and Andrew Luck
Andrew Luck and T.Y. Hilton have been teammates since 2012, when both were drafted by the Indianapolis Colts. Over the last five seasons, they've developed something of a football bromance.
“He is a joy for football and life is infectious when you’re around him,” Luck said of Hilton, per Zak Keefer of the Indianapolis Star. “Professionally, on the field, it’s just reps and being around each other, practice and throwing sessions and the little things like that that do pay off.”
“We just missed each other,” Hilton said of Luck during offseason workouts, per Keefer.
The two have a bond, and it's obvious when they take the field.
1. Julio Jones and Matt Ryan
T.Y. Hilton, second on this list, has eight more 20-plus yard receptions than A.J. Green, fifth on this list, in the last three years. Atlanta Falcon Julio Jones has 19 more than Hilton.
It's not even close.
Even as defenses load up on Jones in an effort to stymie the big play, he still manages to get open. He leads all players in 2016 with 16 receptions of 20-plus yards.