The secret behind big plays? We asked the NFL's best receivers

If you're a fan of clean, well-played football, Giants-Buccaneers might not be for you on Sunday afternoon. If it's quick strikes from big-play wide receivers that piques your interest, though, then this might be the one to watch.

Since Odell Beckham Jr. entered the league in 2014, nobody has more 50-yard receptions than the Bucs' DeSean Jackson and Beckham. Jackson and his teammate Mike Evans are tied for the league lead this season with three.

Beckham has been watching Jackson do it for years. They've even learned from each other while training together at times in California during the summer.

"There's always [an extra sense of motivation with him]. He's a good friend of mine," Jackson said. "We spent a lot of time in the offseason together training. Definitely when you've got a chance to play against other receivers who are at the top of the league, it's definitely an exciting thing. The more plays he makes, the more plays we wanna go out and make as well, too, and try to match that intensity. It'll be exciting."

They have the qualities Bucs coach Dirk Koetter sees in most elite big-play receivers:

  1. Elite speed

  2. Crisp route running

  3. Ability to track the deep ball and make adjustments

Jackson and Beckham are the complete big-play packages, part of an elite group of playmakers who are able to beat coverages, shades and double-teams over and over again.

"Of course, it's a rarity," Koetter said.

There is an art form to the big play, though. Beckham and Jackson are just some of the players who have perfected it in recent years. NFL Nation writers asked the league's best how do they do it.

DeSean Jackson:

Receptions of 50 yards or more since 2014: 18

What allows you to make those electrifying plays: "It's like a [knack] you have ... it's something I've [had] in my game since I've been playing ... just speed, electrifying plays down the field, to be fortunate enough to be one of the fastest guys to get down the field makes it a lot easier [to score]. But I think it's energy, it's electrifying for the team to feed off of ..."

What has been your favorite: "Monday night when we were playing the Washington Redskins. Michael Vick threw, I want to say, like, an 80-yard pass to me, and we scored on the first play of the game. So I think that was one of my favorite big plays of my career. It was definitely a dope play. It was huge. A lot went into that."

On scoring on a 75-yard reception on the first play from scrimmage in Week 2 against the Eagles: "Anytime we have an opportunity to make those plays, we look forward to them because they don't happen too often. When my number's called, I'm doing everything I can to make the play. ... You never know how it plays out. That play, the defense was actually in a coverage where it allowed us to make that play."

On breaking Jerry Rice's record for most touchdown receptions of 60-plus yards against the Bengals on a pass from Jameis Winston: "It was a dream come true, obviously. When I came into the NFL -- I've been looking up to Jerry Rice my whole career, so to be able to surpass him, I couldn't ask for [a] better way to do it. Training with him when I was in college and just being able to play 11 years in the NFL and to beat his record, it was awesome -- it was a great experience."

Odell Beckham Jr.:

Receptions of 50 yards or more since 2014: 13

Key to big plays: "That threat of the speed. And then you get behind them ... there has got to be that throw, too. I hate to say it's just speed, but it's a lot about speed. Being able to get up on the toes, make a move, and, depending on where the ball is, you just have to make a play."

The setup: "You know when you have a deep ball. Like, 'Oh, yeah.' You can tell by the alignment. They're playing off by about 9 yards, and you know you have a post. It's very hard for someone to backpedal, backpedal, turn and run with someone who is a 4.3 guy like DeSean is and keep up with him. It's just about setting them up early."

Watching yourself on the scoreboard running to the end zone: "Man, that is a great feeling. When you know you hit a long one and you know you got past a defense, there are not many better than that ... unless you catch one short, make everyone miss and take one to the crib."

Michael Thomas:

Receptions of 20 yards or more in 2018: 11

The art of the big play: "Early on in my career, I might not have been considered the guy to be the deep threat. But as you transition in this league and you grow up, you want to also expand your game and expand the things that you can do and put on film, things that can threaten a defense more. So I kind of put the onus on myself to become that guy that can do it all. And you always want that big play, because that big play sets you up to have that big game. Or it just opens up everything and keeps the offense explosive. ... If Coach dials up that big play or Drew [Brees] gives you the opportunity to make that play, you want to make that play -- not just for yourself but for everyone involved, because that's gonna open up the run game and it'll open up the pass game for other people. We're just trying to keep every defense we play honest."

Have you softened up defenses with so many underneath and intermediate routes? Do they sleep on staying over the top of you sometimes? "Yeah, a lot of people may not think I'm the fastest guy or the scouting report may not say I'm fast or it may say what I ran at the combine, this or that. I don't know what causes them to underestimate me. But I accept the challenge, and I accept it for what it is. I only can control what I can control, and that's getting open and making a big play for this offense."

DeAndre Hopkins:

Receptions of 20 yards or more in 2018: 14

What's the secret to popping the big play? "Honestly, it's just being aware of the scenario, the game, what's going on ... and just trying to make a play."

Do you and Deshaun [Watson] practice those big plays? "We talk about it because sometimes you can't take reps like that. There's only so much stuff you can do in a practice, so we always practice plays, but we also talk about it outside of it and what we can do to understand the play better."

What's your most memorable big play? "The Dallas game. Against the Cowboys. We talked about that. We talked about how if the defender undercut me, how he was going to put the ball. And that's what he did."

Antonio Brown

Receptions of 50 yards or more since 2014: 12

On his 31-yard, game-winning touchdown against Cincinnati's zero coverage in Week 6: "Ben [Roethlisberger] tells me all the time to just stay with him. And I knew if I stayed with him that there was going to be opportunity. And that's what we did."

Why in the money moment does it always work with the two of you? "I'm just grateful it worked. I'm excited about it. That's how it is. When I come out to the games, they're going to be rolling two people my way the whole game. And I know as the game goes on we're going to be presented with opportunities. It's all about being positive, about staying poised, trusting in your belief and letting the game come to you. Today in the clutch moment, I had the opportunity to make a play."

Contributing: Jenna Laine, Mike Triplett, Sarah Barshop, Jeremy Fowler