Ranking the NFL's Top-10 Home Run Threats Entering the 2021 Season

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistMay 24, 2021

Ranking the NFL's Top-10 Home Run Threats Entering the 2021 Season

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    When looking at offensive skill-position prospects, NFL teams are frequently looking for players who "can score from anywhere on the field."

    You'll find this phrase or some variation of it in draft profiles and on-air evaluations annually. While it may seem a tad hyperbolic, some players can indeed turn touches into touchdowns at any time. However, it's a trait that teams must search for because it's rare.

    Being a home run-hitter also doesn't come with a defined skill set. Some home run threats dazzle with pure speed. Others out-physical their opponents to grab contested catches deep down the field. Then there are those who bounce off would-be tacklers and turn on the jets in the open field.

    The one thing the NFL's top home-run threats have in common is a penchant for the big play.

    The following home run threats come in a variety of flavors, but each can legitimately score any time he touches the football—and they have the production and/or measurables to prove it.

Honorable Mention: Alvin Kamara, RB, New Orleans Saints

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    Brett Duke/Associated Press

    Alvin Kamara isn't a dominant physical runner like some players on this list, but his elusiveness, short-area quickness and receiving ability make him a threat to score on any given play. His dual-threat ability is a major factor here, as the New Orleans Saints star can split out wide and force defenders to cover him like a receiver.

    Kamara racked up 932 rushing yards, 756 receiving yards and 21 total touchdowns in 2020. He also had seven runs of at least 20 yards and two runs of 40 or more. His unique skill set as a runner/receiver makes him a matchup nightmare in the truest sense.

    "I coached Marshall Faulk, and this guy’s scarier," Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians said, per John Sigler of Saints Wire.

    With 58 total touchdowns in four seasons, it's safe to say that Kamara is proficient at putting up points, and it's impossible to keep him off this list entirely. However, while he had a 59-yard reception in 2020, he hasn't had a run of 50 yards or more since his rookie season, which is why he only gets an honorable mention.

Honorable Mention No. 2: Raheem Mostert, RB, San Francisco 49ers

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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    San Francisco 49ers running back Raheem Mostert doesn't have the gaudy statistics of some of the other players on this list. However, this is largely because Mostert isn't a high-volume back—he had 104 carries for 521 yards this past season.

    What Mostert does possess is blazing straight-line speed. He was responsible for the two fastest plays of 2020, clocking in at 23.09 miles per hour on an 80-yard touchdown run and 22.73 miles per hour on a 76-yard touchdown reception.

    Mostert doesn't need to be a high-volume back to be a difference-maker. With enough lateral quickness to evade would-be tacklers and perhaps the fastest legs in the NFL, Mostert can both create running room and exploit it.

    While the 49ers don't feature Mostert as an every-down back, this doesn't take away from his home-run-hitting ability. However, his relative lack of use and scoring production (only three touchdowns in 2020), puts Mostert into Honorable Mention territory.

10. Calvin Ridley, WR, Atlanta Falcons

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    While Atlanta Falcons wideout Calvin Ridley only has one year of elite production, his breakout 2020 campaign earns him a spot on this list. With Julio Jones injured and missing seven games this past season, Ridley took over as Atlanta's No. 1 receiver and took full advantage of the opportunity.

    Ridley racked up 1,370 yards and nine touchdowns on just 90 receptions while also accounting for 39.88 percent of the Falcons' air yards. That's an impressive feat, especially considering Jones was on the field for nine games.

    Along with two other players who made this list, Ridley tied for the league lead with 23 receptions of at least 20 yards. He had three receptions of at least 40 yards, including a 63-yarder against the Chicago Bears in Week 3.

    While Ridley never topped the coveted 1,000-yard mark before the 2020 season, he did have a 75-yard touchdown grab during his rookie season of 2018. With the Falcons looking to trade Jones—for cap purposes, according to The Athletic's Jeff Schultz—more opportunities and more home runs should be in Ridley's future.

9. Nick Chubb, RB, Cleveland Browns

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    Cleveland Browns running back Nick Chubb is a throwback, one-cut runner who can rack up chunk plays in bunches. While he has the physicality to shrug off initial contact and the straight-line sped to outrun defensive backs, Chubb's biggest asset is his vision.

    The Georgia product has an uncanny ability to find running lanes, and when he hits the hole, look out. Arm tackles aren't going to bring him down, and he runs like a gazelle in the open field.

    Despite missing four games in 2020, Chubb still ranked second in the NFL with 12 runs of at least 20 yards. He ranked third with three 40-yard runs, and he produced a nifty 40-yard catch-and-run touchdown against the rival Pittsburgh Steelers in the playoffs.

    Chubb wasn't just a home-run hitter last season either. He's been doing it since he entered the league in 2018. As a rookie, he had a 92-yard scamper against the Atlanta Falcons. In 2019, he hit an 88-yarder against the Baltimore Ravens.

    There isn't a spot on the field where Chubb can't score.

8. Justin Jefferson, WR, Minnesota Vikings

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    Al Godlis/Associated Press

    The lone 2020 rookie on this list, Minnesota Vikings wideout Justin Jefferson has yet to prove his home-run ability over multiple seasons. However, the LSU product showed enough in his inaugural campaign to suggest he'll remain one of the league's top deep threats for years to come.

    The rookie Pro Bowler caught 88 passes in 2020 for 1,400 yards and seven touchdowns. His longest reception was a 71-yarder against the Tennessee Titans, and Jefferson finished the year with four catches of at least 40 yards.

    Jefferson also tied for the league lead with 23 receptions of at least 20 yards.

    Jefferson was a home-run-hitter in college too, racking up 1,540 yards and 18 touchdowns in 2019. This suggests his impressive debut season with the Vikings was no fluke.

7. Travis Kelce, TE, Kansas City Chiefs

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce isn't a pure burner like some of the wideouts on this list, though he certainly possesses elite speed for his position. Arguably the best deep-threat tight end in the NFL, Kelce also creates mismatches with his size, versatility and football IQ.

    Kelce can help set up big plays before the ball is even snapped.

    "Kelce's the best player in football that's not a quarterback," ESPN's Dan Orlovsky said in December on The Dan Patrick Show (comments start at the 2:38 mark), "...the amount of times they place him in specific positions to get the coverage [they want]. It's such an advantage because it doesn't just affect the outcome of the play after the snap."

    Too fast for most linebackers to handle and too big for most defensive backs, Kelce is extremely tough to contain once the play starts. This is why he tied for the league lead with 23 receptions of 20 or more yards this season.

    While Kelce's long was only 45 yards in 2020, he had an 80-yard reception back in 2016 and has topped the 1,000-yard mark every year since. Speed, smarts, physicality and consistency make Kelce the total package at tight end.

6. Davante Adams, WR, Green Bay Packers

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    Morry Gash/Associated Press

    Arguably the league's most underappreciated wideout over the past few seasons, Davante Adams of the Green Bay Packers is also one of its best.

    Despite missing two games in 2020, he led the NFL with 18 touchdown receptions. Adams also racked up 1,374 yards and led the league in yards per game with 98.1.

    "This guy is the best receiver in football," NFL Network's Peter Schrager said on Good Morning Football (at the 1:51 mark), "...and it's not even close at this point."

    Adams has produced catches of at least 50 yards in each of the past five seasons. As Schrager pointed out, Adams also leads the league in touchdown receptions since 2016. Playing with the reigning league MVP, Aaron Rodgers, has definitely helped Adams thrive, but the 28-year-old wideout is a playmaker, pure and simple.

5. DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Arizona Cardinals

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    DeAndre Hopkins found a new home with the Arizona Cardinals this past season but remains the same game-changing deep threat he was with the Houston Texans.

    Not every home-run-hitter wins with raw speed, and Hopkins fits into this category. While Hopkins is unquestionably quick enough, it's his combination of size (6'1", 212 pounds), catch radius and reliable hands that makes him lethal with the long ball.

    Hopkins is virtually impossible to cover one-on-one, and he can even win when double- or triple-teamed—as he was on the Week 10 Hail Mary from quarterback Kyler Murray, affectionately referred to as the "Hail Murray."

    While Adams has benefited from playing with Rodgers for his entire career, Hopkins played with a number of different quarterbacks before Deshaun Watson arrived in Houston and then getting traded to Arizona. He has remained one of the league's best jump-ball receivers regardless of who has been throwing his passes, though.

    Hopkins tied for the league lead with six receptions of at least 40 yards this past season, had 17 catches of at least 20 yards and racked up 1,324 yards and six touchdowns.

4. Stefon Diggs, WR, Buffalo Bills

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Stefon Diggs was one of the NFL's best big-play receivers before being traded to the Buffalo Bills. He topped the 1,000-yard mark in both 2018 and 2019 with Minnesota while catching passes of 66 and 75 yards—and, of course, he was the receiving end of the Minneapolis Miracle in the 2017-18 playoffs. 

    However, pairing Diggs with strong-armed quarterback Josh Allen appears to have unlocked Diggs' complete home-run potential. Diggs caught a 73-yarder this past season while tying for second with five receptions of at least 40 yards.

    Diggs also led the NFL in both receptions and receiving yards in 2020, catching 127 passes for 1,535 yards, eight touchdowns and 20 catches of at least 20 yards.

    Despite playing alongside quality receivers like John Brown and Cole Beasley, Diggs still accounted for more than a third of Buffalo's air yards in 2020. There is a clear connection with Allen, who has made Diggs both his favorite target and the Bills' biggest deep threat.

3. DK Metcalf, WR, Seattle Seahawks

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Seattle Seahawks wideout DK Metcalf has track speed. He showed that by running a 10.36-second 100-meter dash at the USA Track and Field Golden Games.

    "To test my speed up against world class athletes like this…just having the opportunity to run against these guys was just a blessing," Metcalf said, via the Seahawks' official website.

    Metcalf has game speed too, which he has shown over the past two seasons in Seattle. He has already racked up 2,203 receiving yards as a pro with 17 touchdowns and a 15.7 yards-per-catch average. This past season, Metcalf produced five receptions of 40 or more yards and 17 receptions of at least 20.

    Against the Arizona Cardinals, Metcalf clocked the 10th-fastest play of 2020, running 21.66 miles per hour on a 48-yard touchdown reception that was nullified by a holding penalty. Despite having that one called back, Metcalf still had 10 touchdown receptions this past season.

2. Tyreek Hill, WR, Kansas City Chiefs

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    Are there NFL players faster than Chiefs wideout Tyreek Hill? Perhaps. Are there players who more consistently dictate coverage and break open games with their receiving speed than Hill does? There are not.

    This past season, Hill logged 20 receptions of at least 20 yards and five receptions of 40 or more. His long was a 75-yard touchdown catch against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. His fastest play was a 44-yard touchdown catch on which he hit 21.91 miles per hour—the fifth-fastest speed of 2020.

    Hill also had a 71-yard touchdown catch in the playoffs against the Buffalo Bills.

    Kansas City has utilized Hill as a runner and as a returner, too—far less often as a returner over the past two seasons—and Hill has added five return touchdowns and six rushing touchdowns to his total. He has 47 receiving touchdowns in five pro seasons and has produced a scrimmage play of at least 70 yards in four of five years.

    Hill's ability to score from anywhere on the field, and in multiple phases, makes him one of the most indefensible deep threats in the NFL, but there is one player who is more difficult to contain.

1. Derrick Henry, RB, Tennessee Titans

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    Stephen B. Morton/Associated Press

    Players who are 6'3" and 247 pounds shouldn't be able to move the way Derrick Henry does. The bruising Tennessee Titans back might not be the shiftiest ball-carrier in the league, but if he gets into the open field, he's nearly impossible to catch.

    Against the Houston Texans, Henry hit 21.62 miles per hour on a 94-yard touchdown run, the 11th-fastest play of 2020. Henry is no stranger to breaking long runs either, which is why he's won the NFL rushing title in back-to-back seasons.

    Henry has logged runs of 74 or more yards in each of the past four seasons, including a record-tying 99-yard touchdown run in 2018. He led the NFL with 16 runs of 20 or more yards and tied for the league lead with four 40-plus yard carries in 2020. Henry is able to regularly take it to the house because of his speed as well as his ability to break tackles and hit high gear.

    "Henry has 2,758 yards after contact since the start of the 2019 season, almost 1,000 more than any other back in that span," Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus wrote.

    Tackling Henry is not a one-man job, and chasing him down from behind is an exercise in futility. This combination of power and speed can dominate a game and makes Henry the league's best home-run threat heading into the 2021 season.

               

    Advanced statistics from NFL Next Gen Stats

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