Offensive Player Rankings, Week 11: Top five Hail Mary targets

Every once in a while, the football gods bless us with a play so spectacular that it goes down as one of the most memorable in NFL history. Sunday’s Hail Mary touchdown connection between the Arizona Cardinals’ Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins was certainly one of those moments.

The Cardinals, who are atop the NFC West heading into a pivotal Thursday Night Football clash with the Seattle Seahawks, trailed by four with 34 seconds remaining in regulation on Sunday after the Buffalo Bills orchestrated a go-ahead TD drive. The magic happened a few plays later, with Murray unleashing the 43-yard bomb that gave Arizona the victory. Murray became the third QB in the past 10 seasons to throw a game-winning touchdown pass of at least 40 yards in the last 15 seconds of regulation, joining Ryan Tannehill (Miami Miracle) and Aaron Rodgers (Miracle in Motown).

Hopkins’ spectacular catch got me thinking: If I were still playing, whom would I want on the receiving end of one final heave? Here are my top five Hail Mary targets:

No surprise here. Hopkins has the best hands in the league, as we witnessed on Sunday. According to Next Gen Stats, the 43-yard TD pass had a 16.9 percent completion probability. I know that number makes sense when factoring in Murray’s scramble yards (30.2), the air yards on the throw (51.7) and the number of defenders in coverage (three), but it doesn’t measure the quality of the hands of the the player on the receiving end. 

Remember, Hopkins recorded 115 receptions with ZERO drops back in 2018. He’s so reliable, in part, because of the sheer size of his hands (he wears size XXXXL gloves). He’s had a Hall of Fame-worthy career full of acrobatic catches with defenders hanging on him. 

His hops — as displayed on his touchdown reception in Week 10 — are incredible. Adams is so good at high-pointing the ball and has the ability to outjump most defenders, which gives him an advantage on fades or 50-50 balls. On pace to shatter his previous career high in catch percentage (75.3%), Adams’ confidence is at an all-time high in Year 7. That’s a player I want to throw to with the game on the line.

The other three wide receivers on this list each have one trait that makes them the best: Hopkins’ freakish hands, Adams’ out-of-this-world jumping ability and Julio Jones’ size/physicality. Mike Williams possesses all of those qualities, even if he doesn’t necessarily stand out distinctly in any single one of them. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound receiver is a big-bodied playmaker who makes tough catches look routine. Williams has great hang time, body awareness and a wide catch radius. A player who does everything well always gives you a chance.

Anyone who can rip the ball away from a defender like Jones needs to be on my list, especially when you consider how many bodies are around the ball on most Hail Mary attempts. Jones knows how to box out defenders and make a play on the ball. His size, competitiveness and God-given ability make him one of the most physical receivers the NFL has ever seen.

Travis Kelce’s size, craftiness and spatial awareness are perfect for the jump ball. He’s one of those players who could make the clean catch himself, tip the ball to give a teammate a chance or react off a tipped ball to catch it.

Top 15 Offensive Players

Each week in the 2020 campaign, former No. 1 overall pick and NFL Network analyst David Carr will take a look at all offensive players and rank his top 15. Rankings are based solely on this season’s efforts. Now, let’s get to it — the Week 11 pecking order is below.

NOTE: Arrows reflect changes from last week’s rankings.

Given Russell Wilson’s recent struggles, Patrick Mahomes has positioned himself as the MVP front-runner with 25 touchdown passes and only one interception. He has a chance to pull away in the race if he takes down the one team that has defeated him this season when the Chiefs travel to Las Vegas on Sunday. 

Kamara, who had three TDs in Week 10, is the one constant for the Saints right now. He’s building a fine case to be named Offensive Player of the Year — or maybe even MVP — with the way he’s playing.

Sunday’s tilt with the Jaguars wasn’t a perfect game for Adams, who caught eight of his 12 targets and left briefly in the second half with an ankle injury before returning. However, the last impression is what matters most. Trailing with a little more than nine minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Adams came up with a nice play on a high pass from Aaron Rodgers for the 6-yard, game-winning touchdown.

An awful showing by Tennessee’s special teams units doomed any chance of the Titans holding on to the top spot in the AFC South. Even Derrick Henry’s fifth 100-yard rushing performance of the season (19 carries for 103 yards) couldn’t dig them out of their error-filled hole.

Green Bay survived a feisty Jaguars team on Sunday thanks to the 17th fourth-quarter comeback of Rodgers’ career. With 26 passing TDs and just three picks this season, Rodgers represents just the fifth instance of the Super Bowl era in which a QB has at least 25 passing TDs and fewer than five INTs over the first nine games of a season. Three of those instances have resulted in the quarterback winning MVP that season (including both of Rodgers’ MVP-winning campaigns), according to NFL Media Research.

Hopkins’ aforementioned touchdown snag on a Hail Mary pass to beat the Buffalo Bills was one of the most amazing plays we’ll ever see. He’s averaging a career-high 7.4 receptions per game and has posted 95.7 receiving yards per game (would be the second-most in his career).

The Raiders rode their run game to a victory over the Denver Broncos, as Derek Carr and the aerial attack missed some opportunities to put points on the scoreboard. Nelson Agholor dropped a would-be touchdown, Darren Waller dropped another potential touchdown and Henry Ruggs III missed a gem of a deep pass that went right through his hands. Regardless, Derek was Pro Football Focus’ highest-rated quarterback in Week 10 and has the Raiders sitting at 6-3 ahead of another showdown with the division-rival Chiefs.

The Chicago Bears’ defense held Dalvin Cook in check all game long, limiting him to just 3.2 yards per carry. That number doesn’t tell the whole story, though. While the Vikings’ RB1 didn’t match his production from the previous two games, his presence in the backfield, physical running style and ability to move the chains to control the clock opened up the field for Kirk Cousins and friends in Monday night’s victory.

The Chiefs want to avenge their Week 5 loss to the Raiders in Week 11 and will look to Kelce to duplicate his 108-yard, one-TD performance from their first meeting. The good news is Kelce has traditionally played well against the Raiders, averaging 5.2 receptions on 7.5 targets for 73.3 yards in 13 games.

I had a feeling Tom Brady and Co. would bounce back from a rough Week 9, and Sunday’s performance didn’t disappoint. It looked like Brady and his receivers — in their first year together — had been teammates for a long time. He connected with eight pass catchers for 341 yards — Antonio Brown, Mike Evans and Chris Godwin combined for 238 of them — and three touchdowns in a much-needed victory.

Russell Wilson’s play continues to decline. With a pair of picks and a fumble lost in a Week 10 loss to the Rams, the early-season MVP front-runner now has a league-high 10 giveaways since Week 7. To make matters worse, the Seahawks are 1-3 in that span after starting the season 5-0 and sit in third place in the NFC West. There’s a lot riding on their Thursday Night Football clash with the Cardinals, who won the first meeting between the two teams in overtime. 

Murray is on pace to become the first player in league history to post 4,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards in a single season. His fearless approach and ability to execute Kliff Kingsbury’s system have taken the Cardinals’ offense to the next level.

Josh Allen did not have one of his better games on Sunday vs. Arizona, but the Bills were still thisclose to winning. Allen threw a beautiful 21-yard touchdown pass to a spot where only Stefon Diggs could catch it, putting the Bills ahead with 34 seconds remaining in regulation. He proved the moment wasn’t too big for him and put his team in position to come out victorious. The stunned look throughout State Farm Stadium when Hopkins came down with the ball on the Hail Mary pretty much said it all.

The NFL’s receiving yards leader further proved why he belongs on that throne, hauling in 10 catches for 93 yards, including a 21-yard TD reception with 34 seconds remaining in Sunday’s game. Stefon Diggs’ presence has made every player on the Bills’ offense better.

Lamar Jackson played about as well as anyone could expect in the rain and wind on Sunday night, but he’s still not that electrifying dual threat we saw during his MVP season. It didn’t help that the Ravens had several miscues in the second half of the loss to New England, including several bad snaps and an unfortunate dropped pass by J.K. Dobbins on fourth-and-6 during Baltimore’s final drive of the game. Jackson and Co. will have to play better against the Titans and Steelers over the next two weeks to get back on track.

DROPPED OUT: A.J. Brown, WR, Titans (previously No. 12); DK Metcalf, WR, Seahawks (No. 15)

Follow David Carr on Twitter @DCarr8

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