Who had the NFL's best skills in 2016?

Dolphins RB Jay Ajayi ran over the competition in 2016. Kevin Hoffman/USA TODAY Sports

Thursday’s NFL Skills Competition got us thinking:

Who were the best at some of the most notable football skills in 2016? We went through the numbers and came up with a few answers.

Throwing it deep and accurately

The average NFL quarterback completed 35 percent of his passes on throws at least 21 yards downfield. The top quarterbacks in completion percentage on those passes were Kirk Cousins of the Redskins (49.3 percent), Russell Wilson of the Seahawks (49.2 percent), Andrew Luck of the Colts (49.1 percent) and Matt Ryan of the Falcons (48.2 percent).

Ryan and Cousins had nine touchdowns on those throws, tied for second in the NFL (Ben Roethlisberger led with 13). Ryan was the only quarterback to have more than two touchdown passes on deep throws without throwing an interception.

Passing against the blitz

Which quarterbacks fared best against the blitz in 2016? Alex Smith of the Chiefs had the highest Total QBR (93.0), completing 66 percent of his passes with four touchdowns, two interceptions and only three sacks.

Tom Brady had the best touchdown-to-interception ratio with 11 touchdowns and no interceptions. Ryan’s 13 touchdowns were the most in the NFL (he had one interception).

Toughest to tackle

There are two ways to evaluate who the toughest running back to tackle in the NFL was this season.

If we look at it from a power perspective, we’re looking at yards after contact, in which case the answer is Jay Ajayi of the Dolphins.

Ajayi led the NFL with 656 rushing yards after contact and led the league in yards after contact per rush (2.5). Ajayi had two games with over 100 yards gained after contact this season, both against the Bills (and both in games in which he amassed 200 yards).

If we look at it from the perspective of agility, we’re looking at those who averaged the most yards before contact. On a per-rush basis, that was Bills running back LeSean McCoy (NFL-best 3.9 yards before contact per rush) and Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (999 total rushing yards before contact).

Best getting to the outside

We’ll measure effectiveness rushing to the outside by looking at who fared best on runs outside the tackles. The best there, minimum 25 rushes, is David Johnson of the Cardinals, who averaged 6.3 yards on 74 rushes. He’s followed by Mike Gillislee of the Bills (6.2) and Jordan Howard of the Bears (5.8).


Our method for looking at sure-handedness is to look at how frequently a player was charged with a drop. Among wide receivers and tight ends, five players were targeted at least 50 times without dropping a pass: Randall Cobb of the Packers (60 receptions), Zach Miller of the Bears (47), Taylor Gabriel of the Falcons (35), Andrew Hawkins of the Browns (33) and Corey Brown of the Panthers (27).

Among the most prolific pass-catchers, Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson had 97 receptions on 147 targets and only one dropped pass (a drop percentage of 0.7 percent). Right there with him are Doug Baldwin of the Seahawks (94 receptions, one drop), Greg Olsen of the Panthers (80 receptions, one drop), Pierre Garcon of the Redskins (79 receptions, one drop) and Emmanuel Sanders of the Broncos (79 receptions, one drop).

Dangerous after the catch

Who are the best receivers once they have the ball in their hands?

In 2016, Gabriel led in average yardage gained after the catch (8.0), which helped him tie Julio Jones for the team lead with six touchdowns. Dolphins wide receiver Jarvis Landry gained the most total yardage after the catch (639 yards). His 6.8 yards after contact per reception ranked third in the NFL behind Gabriel and Adam Humphries of the Buccaneers.