NFL big plays: Who and what makes them

February, 25, 2013
2/25/13
11:00
AM ET
NFL teams spent Sunday watching running backs and wide receivers work out at the NFL scouting combine. As always, teams are looking for players with big-play ability.

But what is a big play?

In my experience, NFL teams tend to see them as runs covering 12-plus yards and passes covering 16-plus yards.



Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch used different measures in a recent piece suggesting the St. Louis Rams need to find a game-breaking player in the draft. But the idea is the same across the board. The longer the play, the better for offenses.

I've put together a couple charts showing where NFC West teams stood last season in big plays, using NFL teams' definition of them. The Rams had 102, which is about the same as they had in 2011 (100) and 2010 (100). They had 89 in 2009.

Rams quarterback Sam Bradford led the NFC West with 66 of these 16-plus completed passes. Seattle's Russell Wilson was second with 64. San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick (41) and Alex Smith (32) combined for 73. John Skelton (26), Kevin Kolb (20), Ryan Lindley (12) and Brian Hoyer (4) combined for Arizona's total of 62.

The San Francisco 49ers had 126 total big plays, up from 108 in each of the previous two seasons. Seattle had 121, a rise from 95 in 2011, 100 in 2010 and 80 in 2009. Arizona had 84, down from its totals in 2011 (103), 2010 (102) and 2009 (122).

The first chart shows totals for last season. The chart below shows individual NFC West leaders, also from last season.

The Seahawks and 49ers pumped up their totals for rushing with additional quarterback runs covering at least 12 yards. Wilson (14) and Kaepernick (11) combined for 25 of them. Smith added two for the 49ers. Kolb had five. Bradford had three.

We can revisit in the future whether the 12- and 16-yard cutoffs are most meaningful. I just know those are the cutoffs teams cite when evaluating players and offensive production.

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