Just as we did the year before, the crew here at CBSSports.com recently set out to rank each NFL team‘s “triplets.” Why not, right? It’s the middle of the offseason and it’s difficult to argue that there’s any better way to use this space at this time.and
So in the space below, we’re counting down the NFL‘s best QB-RB-WR trios among the expected starters at quarterback and running back, and their presumed top pass-catcher throughout the league for the 2019 season.
(Note that the number in parentheses is the average of the team’s ranking based on the votes of myself, Will Brinson, John Breech, Ryan Wilson, and Sean Wagner-McGough. For example, the Dolphins received one vote at No. 32, three votes at No. 31, and one vote at No. 30, for an average of 31.0, which was the lowest in the league.)
32. Miami Dolphins (31.0)
Rosen was not put in position to succeed last season in Arizona, and at least at the start, he will not necessarily be in position to succeed in Miami, either. The Dolphins appear to have a rebuilding plan, but it’s still in its beginning stages. This is the core of a tear-down team’s offense.
31. Buffalo Bills (30.4)
Allen had a productive rookie season … on the ground. But he’s a quarterback, and he needs to be more productive through the air. McCoy and Frank Gore form the oldest backfield in the league, and while Brown is a speedster, he is often injured, and he’s backed up in the receiving corps by the likes of Cole Beasley and Zay Jones. This group is not a lot to write home about.
30. Baltimore Ravens (29.6)
Much like Allen, Jackson was very productive on the ground. But he was even less productive through the air, so though the Ravens might be exciting and fun to watch, we can’t exactly say with any degree of certainty that they’ll be any good. At least they have a strong running back tandem with Ingram and Gus Edwards, and speedsters on the outside, led by Hollywood Brown.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars (28.0)
Foles is now a very wealthy man thanks to the contract the Jags bestowed on him this offseason, but he is also a player who has had zero success outside the confines of Philadelphia. He’s not in nearly as friendly an offensive environment now as he was there, a fact driven home by the questions surrounding Fournette from a production and behavior standpoint, and from the reality that Lee is his No. 1 wideout.
28. Washington (27.4)
Washington may have a find in Haskins — and getting him at No. 15 overall was a steal in terms of value either way — but the weapons surrounding him right now are old, injury-prone, or both.
27. Arizona Cardinals (27.2)
I was a little surprised the Cardinals didn’t end up higher on this list simply because of the WOW factor, but the reality is most quarterbacks are not very good as rookies. Kliff Kingsbury will use David Johnson better than he was used last year almost by default, but the receiving corps outside of Fitzgerald is very young and the offensive line still has holes. There are high hopes for this group, but they are unlikely to be realized in 2019.
26. New York Giants (25.4)
Barkley is explosive, but not very efficient. Tate fell off hard last season and plays best in the slot, which is also where Sterling Shepard does his best work. Manning is no longer a starting-caliber quarterback, which is apparent to everyone except Manning and Dave Gettleman.
25. Denver Broncos (24.2)
The Broncos are in essentially the same situation as the Giants, except Sanders is coming off an injury and Flacco is probably ever-so-slightly more reliable than Manning at this point — though making a decision either way is probably splitting hairs. The Broncos seem more likely to turn the keys over to Drew Lock more quickly than the Giants will to Daniel Jones, though, even if only because John Elway is slightly less defiant about this stuff than Gettleman.
24. New York Jets (23.4)
It’s very easy to see the Jets shooting up these rankings next year. But for now, they’re led by Darnold coming off an up-and-down rookie season, Bell coming off a year where he sat out rather than collect $14-plus million, and Anderson fronting a pass-catcher group that is more about depth than top-end talent.
23. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (23.2)
I’ll cop to not totally getting what some others see in Winston, who turns the ball over far too often for my liking and does not appear to be the kind of player who can transcend his surroundings. The Bucs had the NFL’s worst ground game last year, but perhaps they can unlock Jones in Year 2. And Evans is a flat-out stud.
22. Chicago Bears (22.4)
Trubisky may well be the widest-variance quarterback in football right now. He can throw six touchdowns against the Bucs and he can also miss wide-open receivers by 10 feet. It will be fascinating to see how Cohen handles a presumably larger workload as a lead-ish back, and how Robinson looks in his second year after ACL surgery.
21. San Francisco 49ers (19.4)
I was surprised the 49ers did not rank higher than this, but Garoppolo is coming off an ACL tear, the running back room is crowded but not with super high-level talent, and the receiving corps outside of Kittle is inexperienced and full of question marks. This could be a situation where we have vastly underrated a team, but it could also be about right.
20. Tennessee Titans (19.2)
Mariota is like Winston, but with fewer turnovers and fewer explosive plays. He probably has the best skill-position group surrounding him this year that he has ever had, and in the fifth-year option of his rookie deal, it’s pretty much now or never to prove he’s the Titans’ guy over the long term.
19. Oakland Raiders (17.2)
The perception of Carr’s game has fallen off big time over the past couple seasons. With the exception of 2016, he has looked fairly average throughout his career, but perhaps the presence of Brown and Tyrell Williams will take his game to a new level. Jon Gruden has talked about Jacobs like part of a time-share, but you don’t take a running back in the first round in 2019 to not make him your featured guy.
T-17. Carolina Panthers (17.0)
McCaffrey is perhaps the most versatile player in the league right now, but Newton and Olsen are coming off major injuries and we have no idea what they’ll look like this season. The Panthers winding up in the middle of the pack feels right.
T-17. Detroit Lions (17.0)
The days of Stafford as a volume-driven passing yard king are long gone, as last year he threw for a career full-season low 3,777 yards. Matt Patricia wants the Lions to be a slow-down, grind-out team, but he also doesn’t want Johnson to be a true lead back. He’d rather a Patriots-style timeshare. So while there’s talent here, it doesn’t really feel like it’ll be put to its best possible use.
16. Cincinnati Bengals (16.2)
I’m puzzled as to how the Bengals ended up this high, but I suppose I’m just lower on Dalton and Mixon than my colleagues. I thought the Bengals could and should have moved on from Dalton as they begin the Zac Taylor era, but it looks like they’re keeping him for at least one more go-round. He’s got nice weapons to work with, but I’m not confident they’ll be all that explosive.
15. Los Angeles Rams (15.2)
This is a situation where the rampant injury speculation about Gurley is surely affecting things, but Goff’s late-season swoon and Super Bow implosion may be affecting the ranking even more. Cooks leads a wide receiver group that is among the best in football, but it’s because the top three guys are all basically about as good as each other — three really good No. 2 wideouts who happen to be on the same team.
14. Philadelphia Eagles (14.8)
Wentz’s injury uncertainty is also assuredly affecting the rankings here. Howard will presumably play the 2017 LeGarrette Blount role as the between-the-tackles guy in this backfield, but Wendell Smallwood and Corey Clement and Josh Adams should get work as well. With Rob Gronkowski retired, Ertz has as good an argument as anybody that he is the best tight end in the league right now.
13. Minnesota Vikings (14.0)
Thielen is awesome and it seems like he’s propping up this ranking, but Cousins was decidedly meh during his first season in Minnesota after signing a record-setting contract, and Cook has largely proven unable to stay on the field. The ceiling is really high for this group, but the floor is also pretty low.
12. Houston Texans (13.0)
Now we’re getting into the group where it’s really tough to differentiate between top teams. This is the dividing line for the best trios in the league. Watson and Hopkins are one of the best and most exciting QB-WR duos in football, and Miller is perpetually underrated.
11. Atlanta Falcons (12.6)
The Falcons say Freeman is healthy after struggling with injuries the past two years, and, well, he better be. Tevin Coleman is gone and Ito Smith did not look ready for this last year. Ryan is two seasons removed from winning MVP, and he was nearly as good last year as he was in 2016. Julio is Julio.
10. Indianapolis Colts (9.8)
Remember the first few weeks of last season when people were worried about Andrew Luck because he wasn’t throwing downfield? That was fun. Luck basically turned back into himself over the course of the year, and he’s got help in the backfield in the form of Mack and second-year man Nyheim Hines now. And of course, Hilton to take the top of the defense.
9. New England Patriots (8.0)
After losing Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots slide to the back half of the top 10. The team’s running back group gets a bit underrated here because Michel is clearly a runner while James White is actually arguably the top passing-game option now, but either way it’s safe to say that things will look a bit different in New England than they have in the past.
T-7. Seattle Seahawks (7.6)
Wilson’s longtime top receiver, Doug Baldwin, is now retired. Lockett emerged as a viable No. 1 receiver last season, and Carson still looks to have a grip on the No. 1 job in the backfield even after the team drafted Rashaad Penny in the first round last year. Wilson was paid more than any quarterback in history for a reason — he’s damn good, and this ranking is justified because of his presence.
T-7. Green Bay Packers (7.6)
I’m a bit surprised Green Bay did not rank even higher than this, but I suppose that stems from a reluctance to fully buy in on Jones being quite as good as he’s looked in his limited role through two seasons. Adams is perhaps the most underrated receiver in football, and he’s coming off an absolute monster of a season where he put up numbers very few wideouts in history have ever touched. Rodgers is the highest-ceiling quarterback in the league when he’s on his game, but he’s also had some injury issues in the recent past and will be adjusting to a new system.
6. Dallas Cowboys (5.8)
If we had done these rankings at the midway point of last season, it feels like the Cowboys probably would have ended up in the 20s. But then Cooper arrived in Dallas, Prescott took off, and Elliott managed to get even more explosive and efficient. Now they look like they have one of the best young QB-RB-WR cores in the league.
5. Los Angeles Chargers (5.6)
Rivers and Gordon are each coming off their best NFL seasons. Allen is the best route-runner in football not named Antonio Brown, and the man is just always, always, always open. There’s a synergy to these guys that drives the Chargers’ offense, and it’s awesome to watch.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers (5.4)
It’s wildly impressive that the Steelers ended up here despite losing possibly the best receiver in football and after replacing a player who was considered possibly the best running back in football on the fly last year. That’s a testament not only to Roethlisberger’s staying power, but also the way Smith-Schuster and Conner stepped up and became elite options themselves.
3. Cleveland Browns (3.2)
The Browns, y’all! The Cleveland Browns. No. 3. I almost can’t believe it. It’s deserved, though. Mayfield was fantastic as a rookie despite working for half the season in Hue Jackson’s offense. Chubb was buried on the bench until the team traded Carlos Hyde, then promptly exploded. And then Cleveland added possibly the NFL’s best receiver. Yeah. It’s go time.
2. Kansas City Chiefs (2.4)
The Chiefs not landing at No. 1 is a bit of a surprise given the way they scorched the league last season, but Kareem Hunt’s suspension and eventual release, and the uncertainty surrounding Tyreek Hill knock them back from the No. 1 perch. Still, it’s tough to compete with Mahomes and Kelce, and Williams looked great in his first run as the lead back last year.
1. New Orleans Saints (1.2)
No. 1 with a bullet. The Saints got four out of five votes in the top spot, and that makes perfect sense. Not only are all three of these players superstars, they are also perfect schematic fits within Sean Payton’s offense. Right now, they’re the best triplets in the league.