Big plays—if you’re into fantasy football, you want them. A lot of them. Whether you're in a traditional scoring system or get bonus points for longer gains and touchdowns, knowing the players who have found success (and, more importantly, will find success) is an important part of your draft research. That’s where I come in! I’ve pulled five players from each of the four major fantasy positions whose big pass play data from 2021 is the most interesting for this season. Some of it’s good, some of it not so good.
Read on to find out how this information can help you build a better 2022 fantasy team!
Note: Big pass plays from quarterbacks are defined as completions of 20-plus yards. Big plays from running backs, wide receivers and tight ends are a combination of plays of 10-plus rushing yards and 20-plus receiving yards. 2021 big plays listed in parenthesis.
Tom Brady, Buccaneers (75): I included Brady on this list because the man will be 45 years old! However, his extended age hasn't stopped him from throwing the ball downfield. Brady did have the smallest percentage of quarterback pressures (11.1) at the position (minimum 12 games), though, so the loss of C Ryan Jensen does hurt.
Derek Carr, Raiders (67): Carr ranked second behind Brady in big pass plays and total number of explosive passes (16-plus yards). Imagine what those totals might look like in 2022 with Davante Adams in the mix. He accounted for 19 big plays in Green Bay last season. Based on his current ADP, Carr could be a great late-round value in drafts.
Kirk Cousins, Vikings (60): Cousins, who ranked tied for fourth in big plays among all field generals, could turn into a great draft bargain. The Vikings will throw the ball a ton under new head coach Kevin O'Connell, and Cousins has one of the league’s best wideouts in Justin Jefferson at his disposal. Like Carr, he could be a draft bargain.
Aaron Rodgers, Packers (55): Rodgers finished tied for seventh in big plays in 2021, but, notably, almost 35% of them went to Adams. Allen Lazard, one of my top sleepers, ranked second with 10. That total should rise with Adams now in Vegas, but it’s tough to see a scenario where Rodgers remains in the top seven this season.
Tua Tagovailoa, Dolphins (30): Tagovailoa tied for the third-fewest big pass plays a season ago among quarterbacks who played at least 12 games. That should change with Tyreek Hill, who had 18 such plays, now in the offense. If Tua doesn’t see a strong upward tick in this department, he and Hill could be statistically disappointing.
Nick Chubb, Browns (43): Chubb ranked second among running backs in big plays, posting 41 runs of 10-plus yards. That’s impressive when you consider he also saw eight-plus men in the box on nearly 27% of his rushes. Still in the prime of his pro career at age 26, Chubb figures to remain an attractive borderline No. 1 fantasy runner.
Dalvin Cook, Vikings (37): Cook had a disappointing 2021 campaign for fantasy fans, as he failed to finish in the top 10 in points among running backs. The good news is that he was still third in big plays, although he missed four games. His pace would have been good enough to finish second behind Jonathan Taylor with 48 such plays.
Elijah Mitchell, 49ers (29): Mitchell finished tied for fifth in big plays last season and did it in just 11 games. That’s notable, as it puts him in the neighborhood of Taylor on a per-game basis. There has been talk of a committee situation this season, but that might keep his ADP reasonable. He’s still a borderline RB2/RB3 in most fantasy drafts.
Cordarrelle Patterson, Falcons (28): You might be surprised to learn that Patterson ranked seventh among running backs in big plays last season. You probably won’t be surprised that he also led the position in receptions of over 20 yards. He also had 20 plays of 10-plus rushing yards, which helped fuel his breakout season at the age of 30.
Javonte Williams, Broncos (27): Williams tied for eighth among backs in big plays while playing in a committee is notable for his future value. However, what is notable is that Melvin Gordon tied for ninth with just one fewer big play. Williams was also second in broken tackles but just 0.4 per game better than Gordon.
Antonio Gibson, Commanders (26): Gibson’s draft stock is falling, as talk of a split backfield with J.D. McKissic and rookie Brian Robinson Jr. has swirled. Still, he was tied for ninth in big plays and broken tackles a season ago. I’ve been in a few best ball drafts where he fell to me as a No. 3 running back, and I’ll take that discount every time.
CeeDee Lamb, Cowboys (24): One of the most popular breakout candidates in fantasy land, Lamb ranked fourth in big plays among wideouts a season ago despite playing in 16 games. He was also fourth in yards after first contact and second in broken tackles. With more targets and red zone looks a virtual guarantee, Lamb should be a beast.
Tyler Lockett, Seahawks (22): Lockett has long been a big play receiver, and finishing sixth in that department last season proves it. The problem is that he’ll no longer have Russell Wilson throwing him the football. Instead, it’ll be Geno Smith or Drew Lock. Lock has had 51 big plays in 19 contests in the last two seasons. It's a major downgrade.
D.J. Moore, Panthers (19): Moore ranked tied for eighth in big plays a season ago, as he had 19 in his 17 games. He did it while catching most of his passes from Sam Darnold, who ranked tied for 28th in big plays among all field generals. By comparison, Baker Mayfield was tied for 18th. Moore should be considered a borderline WR1/WR2.
Chase Claypool, Steelers (19): Claypool tied for 10th in big plays in 2021 and did it while missing two contests. He also did it with Ben Roethlisberger under center, with just 39 big plays. Mitchell Trubisky, in his last full year as a starter, recorded 35 big plays (15 games). Claypool, who is seeing time in the slot, could be a draft bargain.
Christian Kirk, Jaguars (17): Kirk tied for 12th in big plays, accounting for 35% of Kyler Murray’s passes of 20-plus yards. Now with the Jaguars, he’ll be a top option for Trevor Lawrence. He was 17th in big pass plays among quarterbacks, which isn’t bad considering the offense was a disaster in 2021. Kirk has WR2/WR3 potential.
Kyle Pitts, Falcons (16): Pitts tied Rob Gronkowski with 16 catches of 20-plus yards in 2021, just four behind the positional leader, Mark Andrews (20). He was also third in catches of 10-plus yards. The downside is that Matt Ryan is no longer a Falcon, and Marcus Mariota was 28th in big pass plays in his last full year as a starter (2018).
Rob Gronkowski, Buccaneers (16): Why am I listing Gronkowski, knowing he’s retired? Well, it’s just a reminder that there are plenty of opportunities for guys like Julio Jones, Russell Gage and Cameron Brate to make plays for Brady behind Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. All three will be worth late-round looks in larger leagues.
Mike Gesicki, Dolphins (12): Gesicki was eighth in big plays and 10th in plays of 10 or more yards. Unfortunately, adding Hill and Cedrick Wilson will eliminate some of these opportunities as the Dolphins look to use their new weapons downfield. Gesicki was a viable No. 1 tight end last season, but I’d expect statistical regression in 2022.
David Njoku, Browns (8): Njoku was a top-10 tight end in big pass plays last season, with Mayfield under center. Imagine what he'll do once the Browns have Deshaun Watson under center? He led all quarterbacks in that department back in 2020, so Njoku could see his value rise in the second half. He’ll be a buy-low option.
Cole Kmet, Bears (7): Kmet quietly had 60 catches last season but didn't score a single touchdown. That certainly dragged down his fantasy value. Still, you have to like his chances of improving in terms of big plays and red-zone opportunities in an offense led by Justin Fields. He was fifth in targeting tight ends (minimum 12 games) in 2021.
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Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on Sports Illustrated and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA) Hall of Fame. Click here to read all his articles here on SI Fantasy. You can follow Michael on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram for your late-breaking fantasy news and the best analysis in the business!