Ranking the top QB-RB-WR trios for all 32 NFL teams ahead of the 2018 season
Offenses -- as much as defenses -- win championships in today's NFL
In 2018, offenses -- as much as defenses -- win championships. Of the 12 playoff teams, half fielded better offenses than defenses, and the Patriots, who lost to the Eagles in the Super Bowl, took it to the extreme; according to Football Outsiders, New England had the league's best offense and its second-worst defense.
And as the NFL continues to evolve, the importance of a franchise quarterback, do-everything running back, and game-changing downfield threat will only grow. With that in mind, we've ranked the best quarterback-running back-wide receiver trios from worst to best. For our purposes here, we're only considering the top three players at these positions and with the full realization that the depth chart could change between now and the start of the season.
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OK, let's get to it.
32. New York Jets
QB Josh McCown | RB Isaiah Crowell | WR Robby Anderson
McCown will be 39 years old when the season begins. And while NFL quarterbacks can have success at that age, they're also future Hall of Famers with a strong supporting cast. McCown has had a solid career but he's not headed for Canton, and as it stands, the Jets don't have any established offensive playmakers which goes a long way in explaining why they're dead last on this list. Crowell has shown glimpses of big-play potential, and Anderson averaged 14.9 yards per reception in 2017 to along with seven touchdowns. The good news is that Quincy Enunwa is healthy after missing last season; he averaged 14.6 yards per catch in 2015-2016.
31. Baltimore Ravens
QB Joe Flacco | RB Alex Collins | WR Michael Crabtree
This will almost certainly be Flacco's last season in Baltimore (the team drafted Lamar Jackson in the first round), and that reality is related to where the Ravens find themselves here. The offense has been flaccid for a long time. The problems start with Flacco, who ranked 32nd in total value among all quarterbacks last season, but also extends to the wide receivers. Yes, Derrick Mason, Anquan Boldin, Steve Smith and Mike Wallace have all had some success, but all were in their 30s and near the end of very good careers. Which brings us to Michael Crabtree, who scored 25 touchdowns in three seasons in Oakland but had just 10.7 yards per catch last season. Collins, meanwhile, has the potential to be one of the league's best young backs, and he could go a long way in making life easier for Flacco and wide receivers corps that enters the summer with plenty of questions.
30. Miami Dolphins
QB Ryan Tannehill | RB Kenyan Drake | WR DeVante Parker
Tannehill is coming off ACL surgery and we still don't know if he's the long-term answer in Miami (there was speculation that the Dolphins might draft a quarterback in Round 1 -- they took defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick instead). Drake, the team's 2016 third-rounder, averaged 4.8 yards per carry last season (644 rushing yards) and 7.5 yards per reception (239 receiving yards) in six starts. Meanwhile, Parker, the 2015 first-round pick, has never had more than 57 receptions, 744 yards and four touchdowns in a season. The Dolphins added Danny Amendola in the offseason and drafted tight end Mike Gesicki, but the former is 32 and the latter hasn't played in an NFL game.
29. Indianapolis Colts
QB Andrew Luck | RB Marlon Mack | WR T.Y. Hilton
Luck, the 2012 No. 1 overall pick who missed all of last season following shoulder surgery, is expected to return to the field during training camp. If this sounds familiar it should; a year ago, the expectation was that Luck would be ready to go by training camp. Instead, he didn't take a snap at all in 2018. Put another way: Indy's season rides on Luck's right shoulder. Hilton averaged 16.9 yards per catch last season with Jacoby Brissett under center, but it was the first time since 2012 that he didn't log at least 1,000 yards receiving. Mack, the team's 2017 fourth-round pick, had just 93 carries last season for 358 yards and three touchdowns.
28. Buffalo Bills
QB AJ McCarron | RB LeSean McCoy | WR Kelvin Benjamin
Two questions come to mind when McCarron's name comes up: 1) Can he play quarterback in the NFL, and 2) Will he get a chance to? The Bills traded up from 12th to seventh to draft Josh Allen, who looks to be at least a year away from competing for the starting job. That said, in today's NFL you don't trade into the top 10 for a passer you plan on parking on the bench. Either way, the quarterback situation in Buffalo is a huge question mark. And while Shady McCoy has been one of the league's most versatile backs for almost a decade, he wasn't even a replacement-level runner a season ago when he ranked 38th in value per play (he was 32nd in value per play as a pass-catching running back). Benjamin, who was traded from Carolina midway through last season, managed 16 catches and a single touchdown in six games in Buffalo. He has just one 1,000-yard receiving season, and that came as a rookie in 2014.
27. Cleveland Browns
QB Tyrod Taylor | RB Carlos Hyde | WR Josh Gordon
Coach Hue Jackson insists Taylor will be the quarterback for all of 2018 but the Browns drafted Baker Mayfield with the top pick for a reason. Whomever's under center will have Hyde lined up behind them in the backfield, assuming that 2018 second-round pick Nick Chubb doesn't earn the starting job in training camp. Hyde averaged 4.6 yards per carry with the 49ers in 2016. That average dropped to 3.9 in '17 but he scored eight touchdowns -- two more than he had the season before. Gordon is one of the NFL's most physically gifted wide receivers. His issues have come off the field; in 2013 he had 87 catches for 1,646 yards and nine touchdowns but he played in just 10 games over the next four seasons -- including not seeing the field at all in 2015 and 2016.
26. Chicago Bears
QB Mitchell Trubisky | RB Jordan Howard | WR Allen Robinson
Trubisky had a rocky rookie season but some of that was because he was a rookie playing on a terrible Bears team. But defensive-minded John Fox is gone, replaced by Matt Nagy, a former offensive assistant under Andy Reid in Kansas City. Put another way: The conditions are right for Trubisky to take a big step in Year 2. Howard and his 1,112 yards and nine touchdowns ranked 10th in total value among all backs last season. And the addition of Robinson could pay off handsomely if he's fully recovered from the ACL injury that forced him to miss all of 2017. Robinson had 73 receptions for 883 yards with the Jaguars in 2016 and the season before he had 80 catches for 1,400 yards and 14 scores.
25. San Francisco 49ers
QB Jimmy Garoppolo | RB Jerick McKinnon | WR Pierre Garcon
The 49ers finally have their franchise quarterback but Garcon missed the second half of last year with a neck injury after 40 catches for 500 yards and no touchdowns in eight games. He'll be 32 when the season begins. The team signed McKinnon this offseason and general manager John Lynch lauded the former Vikings back as "an extremely versatile football player whose speed, elusiveness and tackle-breaking ability make him a very difficult matchup for defenses." As a runner last season, McKinnon ranked 40th in value per play; he was 31st as a pass-catching back.
24. Jacksonville Jaguars
QB Blake Bortles | RB Leonard Fournette | WR Marqise Lee
Bortles, the Jaguars' 2014 first-round pick, had his most consistent season in 2017 and in February the team rewarded him with a three-year, $54 million contract extension that will keep him in Jacksonville through 2020. But for as well as Bortles played, there were still holes in his game; he completed a career-best 60.2 percent of his passes for 3,687 yards to go along with 21 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, but he was no better than replacement level, according to Football Outsiders' metrics. As a rookie, Fournette ranked 11th in total value among all backs, but the second-biggest question after whether Bortles can continue to improve is who will be the No. 1 receiver. Lee was re-signed in the offseason but he had just 56 catches and three touchdowns in 14 games last season. Donte Moncrief, who arrives from Indy, had 26 catches with two scores in 12 games.
23. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
QB Jameis Winston | RB Peyton Barber | WR Mike Evans
Collectively, there wasn't a lot to celebrate last season. That said, despite the 5-11 record, Winston did rank 11th in total value among all passers. That's something to build on heading into 2018, and Evans remains one of the league's best deep threats. The big question is at running back where Barber is currently at the top of the depth chart following Doug Martin's departure, though the more likely scenario could see rookie second-rounder Ronald Jones earn the bulk of the carries with a good showing in training camp and preseason.
22. Washington Redskins
QB Alex Smith | RB Derrius Guice | WR Josh Doctson
It's reasonable to believe that Smith could have a better season than Kirk Cousins, the man he's replacing in Washington, because ... well, that's exactly what happened last season. Smith was ninth in total value among all quarterbacks; Cousins was 16th. Of course, Smith was playing in an explosive, balanced Chiefs offense while Cousins was stuck in Washington with something much less than that. Doctson, the team's 2016 first-round pick, improved in '17 -- he scored six touchdowns but managed just 35 receptions in 16 games -- and he'll need to be even better in Year 3. The biggest difference in this offense could be the addition of Guice, widely considered a first-round pick who slipped to the second round because of off-field issues.
21. Arizona Cardinals
QB Sam Bradford | RB David Johnson | WR Larry Fitzgerald
Bradford is the reason the cliche "the backup is only a play away from becoming a starter" exists. Injuries have plagued him throughout his career but when he's been healthy, he's been very good. The problem is that he's played 16 games exactly once in his eight NFL seasons (he appeared in just two games last year he was Wally Pipp'd by Case Keenum) and he missed all of 2014 with an ACL injury. Johnson, meanwhile, was one of the league's best young backs before a broken wrist ended his 2017 campaign after just one game. The hope is that he can return to his '16 form when he rushed for 1,239 yards, added another 879 receiving yards and totaled 20 touchdowns. Fitzgerald is a first-ballot Hall of Famer but he'll also be 35 next season. That said, he tied a career high with 109 receptions in 2017, though his 10.6 yards per reception were more than two yards below his career average.
20. Cincinnati Bengals
QB Andy Dalton | RB Joe Mixon | WR A.J. Green
Dalton is coming off his worst season as a pro, though some of that can be blamed on an offensive line that struggled to protect him. He was sacked 80 times the last two seasons and his passer rating was around 90. In 2015, when he was sacked just 20 times, Dalton completed two-thirds of his passes and set career highs in yards per attempt (8.4), passer rating (106.2) and touchdown-to-interception ratio (25:7). The Bengals spent the offseason upgrading the O-line, which should also benefit Mixon, who managed just 3.5 yards per carry as a rookie but has the potential to be an explosive player. Green turns 30 this summer but he remains one of the league's best deep threats; the seven-year vet logged his sixth 1,000-yard season in 2017 to go along with eight touchdowns.
19. Oakland Raiders
QB Derek Carr | RB Marshawn Lynch | WR Amari Cooper
The biggest question surrounding the Raiders' offense is what new (old) coach Jon Gruden's scheme will look like. Carr is coming off a forgettable year, but in 2016 he was the front runner for league MVP before an injury ended that campaign. Assuming Lynch buys into what Gruden's selling, he's still a very good back, even at 32. He rushed for 891 yards on 207 carries last season and scored 7 times. Lynch ranked ninth among all backs in total value, just behind Mark Ingram. Cooper had his worst season as a pro in 2017, catching 48 passes for 680 yards though he scored seven times. The Raiders added Jordy Nelson and Martavis Bryant this offseason, which could open things up for Cooper.
18. Denver Broncos
QB Case Keenum | RB DeVontae Booker | WR Demaryius Thomas
The two biggest unknowns are 1) Can Keenum recapture the magic he found in Minnesota last season, and 2) What can we expect from Booker? Keenum was in the MVP race up until the final month of 2017 and he ranked first in value per play among all quarterbacks. FIRST. He helped the Vikings to the NFC Championship Game, although the team decided to let him walk in the offseason and replace him with Kirk Cousins. Whatever happens in Denver, this much is certain: Keenum is a huge upgrade over Trevor Siemian/Brock Osweiler/Paxton Lynch. Booker, a 2016 fourth-rounder, has averaged just 3.6 yards per carry in his career, though he could face competition from 2018 third-rounder Royce Freeman. Thomas is coming off his worst season since 2011 -- he had six-year lows in catches (83), yards (949) and touchdowns (5), but much of that can be pinned on the poor quarterback play.
17. Dallas Cowboys
QB Dak Prescott | RB Ezekiel Elliott | WR Allen Hurns
Prescott was just average last season and now he'll be tasked with overcoming the loss of Hall of Fame tight end Jason Witten. The good news is that Elliott, one of the league's best players as a rookie in 2016, isn't facing suspension, though there are plenty of unknowns at receiver. The Cowboys cut Dez Bryant but signed Hurns, traded for Tavon Austin and drafted Michael Gallup and Cedrick Wilson. After a 64-catch, 1,031-yard, 10-touchdown season with the Jags in 2015, Hurns averaged nine starts, 37 catches, 480 yards, 2.5 touchdowns the last two seasons. He'll need to ramp up his production to in Dallas to make up for the loss of Witten and Bryant.
16. Seattle Seahawks
QB Russell Wilson | RB Rashaad Penny | WR Doug Baldwin
One of the biggest surprises of the first round was the Seahawks' decision to take Penny when they had glaring needs along the offensive line. But coach Pete Carroll is unconcerned with what we think, saying shortly after selecting Penny that "I don't mind telling you, this pick fired me up." If the offensive line continues to bumble its way through games, Penny's skills won't much matter in much the same way Wilson's effectiveness was mitigated by the lack of protection. Baldwin, who is one of the league's most tenacious receivers, had 75 catches for 991 yards, his lowest output since 2014.
15. Philadelphia Eagles
QB Carson Wentz | RB Jay Ajayi | WR Alshon Jeffery
The big unknown: When will Wentz be cleared to play and more importantly, when will he approach 100 percent? There's a very good chance Wentz is under center in Week 1, but the ACL injury he suffered last December may mean that he's more pocket passer than athlete for the first month or two of the 2018 season. That will almost certainly affect his production. Ajayi averaged 5.8 yards per carry after the Dolphins sent him to Philly in a midseason trade, which was more than a yard per carry above his career average. Jeffery is a big target but is more possession receiver than deep threat. Tight end Zach Ertz will draw attention in the middle of the field but there isn't much depth at wide receiver after Jeffery.
14. Green Bay Packers
QB Aaron Rodgers | RB Ty Mongtomery | WR Davante Adams
It seems silly to rank any Rodgers-led offense as replacement level but Rodgers is coming off a shoulder injury that limited him to just seven games last season. Likewise, rib and wrist injuries forced Montgomery to miss half the season. Adams managed 885 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns, which is impressive given that Brett Hundley started nine times.
13. Carolina Panthers
QB Cam Newton | RB Christian McCaffrey | WR D.J. Moore
The Panthers went 11-5 last season, which gets overlooked, at least nationally, because the Falcons went to the Super Bowl in 2016 and the Saints were a fluke play away from the NFC Championship Game in 2017. McCaffrey rushed for just 435 yards last season but he led the team with 80 receptions and 651 receiving yards. With a year in the league, and likely sharing carries with C.J. Anderson, McCaffrey should be even better next season. Moore, the rookie first-rounder, is the key; retired Panthers legend Steve Smith was ecstatic when the team drafted him going so far as to say, "They have never been able to replace me ... until today." And if you're looking for one play that sold Carolina on Moore, this is it:
But the question remains: How quickly can Moore make the transition from college to the NFL?
12. New England Patriots
QB Tom Brady | RB James White | WR Julian Edelman
We wonder where the Patriots would rank on this list if, say, Garoppolo had remained in New England and was penciled in as the starter in 2018. We'd like to think they'd still be among the top 15. But they're this high because of Brady, who continues to get better with age. But the offense, at least on paper, has taken a step back. Dion Lewis is gone and James White -- or perhaps first-round pick Sony Michel -- will have to pick up the slack. Brandin Cooks is also gone, traded to the Rams, and Edelman, who missed last season with an ACL injury, will be vying for the No. 1 wide receiver job along with offseason addition Jordan Matthews.
11. Detroit Lions
QB Matthew Stafford | RB Kerryon Johnson | WR Golden Tate
Stafford is among the NFL's most talented passers but the Lions have been a one-dimensional offense for much of his career. The hope is that will change in 2018; the Lions took Johnson in the second round and the Auburn standout has drawn comparisons to Le'Veon Bell though he'll likely began his NFL career behind LeGarrette Blount on the depth chart. Tate had 92 receptions for 1,003 yards and five touchdowns last season but you could argue that Marvin Jones (61 catches, 1,101 yards, 18.0 YPC, 9 TDs) is the Lions' No. 1 receiver. Jones ranked No. 2 in total value among all wideouts last season behind only Antonio Brown.
10. Tennessee Titans
QB Marcus Mariota | RB Dion Lewis | WR Rishard Matthews
How Mariota progresses new coordinator's Matt LaFleur's offense will go a long way in determining how good the Titans will be in '18. Mariota was replacement level a season ago though he was 10th in value per play in 2016. Having Lewis in the backfield will be a huge benefit; in 2017 he was the NFL's best rushing back, according to Football Outsiders, and ranked ninth in value per play as a pass-catching back. The Titans of course still have Derrick Henry to form a dangerous 1-2 punch with Lewis. Mathews had 53 receptions for 795 yards and four touchdowns but he did average 15.0 yards per catch. He also ranked 19th in total value among wideouts two spots behind the aforementioned Doug Baldwin.
9. Kansas City Chiefs
QB Pat Mahomes | RB Kareem Hunt | WR Tyreek Hill
Here's the question: Can Hunt and Hill make up for Mahomes' growing pains? We think they can -- and we also think that the transition from Alex Smith to Mahomes, the team's 2017 first-round pick, won't be particularly bumpy. Of course, being able to lean on Hunt (1,327 rushing yards, 455 receiving yards, 11 touchdowns) and Hill (75 receptions, 1,183 yards, 7 touchdowns) will certainly make things easier for Mahomes. Also helping: Having Travis Kelce at tight end.
8. Houston Texans
QB Deshaun Watson | RB Lamar Miller | WR DeAndre Hopkins
It took coach Bill O'Brien about 30 minutes to realize that he had made a grave mistake at the beginning of the 2017 season. That's why he replaced Tom Savage with then-rookie Deshaun Watson at halftime in Week 1. Waston would start the next six games, completing 61.8 percent of his throws for 1,699 yards, 19 touchdowns and eight interceptions, and he added another 269 yards and two scores on the ground. He tore his ACL in November, ending his season, but he should be ready for training camp. Miller was replacement level last season though he should benefit from a full season with Watson. Hopkins, meanwhile, had 96 receptions for 1,378 yards and 13 touchdowns despite having to catch passes from Savage, T.J. Yates and Taylor Heinicke.
7. Los Angeles Chargers
QB Philip Rivers | RB Melvin Gordon | WR Keenan Allen
Rivers might be 36 but he ranked second in value per play among all passers last season behind only old-man Brady. Given his style of play there's no reason to think his production will change anytime soon. Gordon had his best season in '17, rushing for 1,105 yards and eight touchdowns and adding 476 yards and two more touchdowns on the ground. Allen isn't particularly fast but he's one of the NFL's best route-runners, which goes a long way in explaining his 102-catch, 1,393-yard, six-touchdown effort last season. Allen also ranked third in total value among all wideouts.
6. New York Giants
QB Eli Manning | RB Saquon Barkley | WR Odell Beckham
Here's a depressing stat:
The takeaway: While it's easy to blame Manning for the offensive struggles last season -- he was 23rd in total value among all passers -- the reality is that he had virtually no supporting cast. That changes with the addition of Barkley, whom the Giants took with the No. 2 pick in the draft, and the return of Beckham, who missed 12 games in 2017 due to injury. Sterling Shepard and 2017 first-round pick Evan Engram will also open things up for Manning.
5. Minnesota Vikings
QB Kirk Cousins | RB Dalvin Cook | WR Adam Thielen
The Vikings let Case Keenum walk after an MVP-level season and replaced him with Cousins, who had a down 2017 campaign after ranking third in total value among all passers in 2016 behind Matt Ryan and Drew Brees. There's every reason to believe he'll be successful in Minnesota, where he'll have a great defense and dynamic offensive playmakers. Cook returns after tearing his ACL (he averaged 4.8 yards per carry and 8.2 yards per catch in four games before the injury), and Thielen has emerged as a top-10 wide receiver. And if you prefer Stefon Diggs as the Vikes' No. 1, he ranks ninth in total value.
4. Atlanta Falcons
QB Matt Ryan | RB Devonta Freeman | WR Julio Jones
It all starts with Matt Ryan, who was the league's best quarterback in 2016 and "dropped" all the way to No. 7 last season. The 33-year-old shows no signs of slipping, which explains the organization's decision to pay him $150 million over the next five years. Freeman averaged 4.4 yards per carry last season (865 rushing yards) as well as 8.8 yards per catch (317 receiving yards) while scoring eight touchdowns. Julio Jones was absolutely dominant (88 catches, 1,444 yards, 3 scores). Mohamed Sanu was a fantastic No. 2 receiver and oh by the way, the Falcons took Alabama wideout Calvin Ridley in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft.
3. Los Angeles Rams
QB Jared Goff | RB Todd Gurley | WR Brandin Cooks
Jeff Fisher was the coach during Goff's rookie season and the quarterback looked like a bust. The arrival of Sean McVay changed all that and Goff was one of the league's most exciting players in 2017. Even more exciting: Gurley had 1,305 rushing yards, 788 receiving yards and 19 touchdowns. And the offense, which looked to be in the running for Odell Beckham earlier this offseason (seriously, imagine that) ended up with a nice consolation prize: deep threat Brandin Cooks.
2. New Orleans Saints
QB Drew Brees | RB Alvin Kamara | WR Michael Thomas
Brees might be 39 but he's still the engine of the Saints' offense. It helps having Kamara, the 2017 third-round pick who averaged a staggering 6.1 yards per carry last season (728 rushing yards), 10.2 yards per catch (826 receiving yards) and 13 touchdowns. Michael Thomas followed up a 1,137-yard rookie campaign with 1,245 yards in 2017. In any other year, this trio would be No. 1.
1. Pittsburgh Steelers
QB Ben Roethlisberger | RB Le'Veon Bell | WR Antonio Brown
Big Ben threw for 4,251 yards in 2017, including 28 touchdowns, nine of which went to Antonio Brown, who logged his fifth-consecutive 100-catch season. He also had 1,533 receiving yards. For an idea of just how dominant he's been, those 1,533 yards ranks third behind his 2015 (1,834) and 2014 (1,698) seasons. Bell averaged just 4.0 yards per carry but he still rushed for 1,291 yards and had a career-best nine rushing touchdowns to go with 655 receiving yards and two receiving touchdowns.
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