Just as we didand the year before that and the year before that and the year before that and the year before that, 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 an offseason tradition around these parts.
So in the space below, we’re once again counting down the NFL’s best QB-RB-WR / TE trios, grading the expected starters at quarterback and running back and their presumed top pass-catcher for the 2022 NFL season. For some teams, it was obvious who would fill each role. For others, less so. Where we had to make judgment calls on which player would start at quarterback or who would be the top target, we did.
In the space below, you’ll see our rankings of these triplets. The first number in parentheses is the team’s average ranking based on the votes of several of our staff writers and editors at CBSSports.com, while the second number reflects the high and low end of where our staff ranked that individual team. For example, our No. 16 team, the Philadelphia Eagles, had an average ranking of 15.8, with a high ranking of 12 and a low of 21. We have denoted tier breaks in any place where the difference between the average ranking of one team and another exceeded 1.5. For example, the Indianapolis Colts had an average ranking of 15.5 and the Arizona Cardinals had an average ranking of 12.4, so the Cardinals begin a new tier.
The rankings reflect the collective wisdom of this crowd, while the corresponding analysis is mine. We started this exercise on Thursday, working through the. Today, we’ll continue with the top half. Without further ado …
Tier 3: Pretty Good!
16. Philadelphia Eagles (Avg: 15.8, High: 12, Low: 21)
QB: Jalen Hurts RB: Miles Sanders WR: AJ Brown
I suspect this ranking would be higher if we had seen more from Hurts as a passer last season. The Eagles began 2021 with a pass-heavy lean, and it did not look pretty. Only after pivoting toward an extremely run-heavy offense did they begin to play well offensively. Obviously, Hurts is a major contributor to that success; but the Eagles probably won’t be explosive enough to become a top offense unless he makes strides as a thrower. Still, his talent, along with the acquisition of Brown and the potential that Sanders puts it all together this year, got Philly (just barely) into the top half of the league in these rankings.
15. Indianapolis Colts (Avg: 15.5, High: 14, Low: 18)
QB: Matt Ryan RB: Jonathan Taylor WR: Michael Pittman
It appears our crowd thinks Ryan’s down season was a result of the infrastructure around him in Atlanta, and not a steep decline in his own ability. At least, that’s what I’m reading into this. The Colts had a very narrow range of rankings, with basically everyone considering them an approximately league-average trio. With perhaps the best running back in the league and a wide receiver who showed great strides in Year 2, there is potential for more if Ryan rediscovers his prior form.
Tier 2: Good, Maybe Not Great
14. Arizona Cardinals (Avg: 12.4, High: 10, Low: 14)
QB: Kyler Murray RB: James Conner WR: DeAndre Hopkins
The Cardinals, like the Colts, had a very narrow range of rankings, only they were universally considered slightly above-average rather than smack-dab average. Murray has shown an extremely high ceiling during his three years in the league, but also the propensity to fall off over the second half of the season as his body wears down. Conner had a remarkable scoring season a year ago, but touchdown variance is not likely to be as kind in the future. Hopkins is suspended for the first six games of the season, and did not look like himself for much of last year. Still, the heights of this group can reach kept it safely in Tier 2.
QB: Aaron Rodgers RB: Aaron Jones WR: Allen Lazard
This shows you the importance of Davante Adams. Over the last three years, the Packers had ranked seventh, sixth, and first when we did this exercise, with the same three players comprising their triplets each time: Rodgers, Jones, and Adams. Simply by replacing Adams with Lazard, they dropped out of the top 10, and received rankings as low at 17th! With Rodgers coming off back-to-back MVP campaigns and Jones continuing to play at an extremely high level, that is quite a significant drop.
QB: Kirk Cousins RB: Dalvin Cook WR: Justin Jefferson
It’s pretty wild that the Vikings could not crack the top 10 here despite the top-five options at both running back and wide receiver, and it speaks to our crew’s collective lack of confidence in Cousins. They did receive rankings as high as eighth in the NFL, but their average fell outside the top 10. The Vikes should be utilizing a somewhat similar offensive system this coming season as they’ve used in the recent past, but the hope is that Kevin O’Connell and Wes Phillips can get more out of Cousins than the Cubans did in 2020 and 2021.
11. Cleveland Browns (Avg: 11.2, High: 8, Low: 16)
QB: Deshaun Watson / Jacoby Brissett RB: Nick Chubb WR: Amari Cooper
The Browns were tough to rank. We don’t yet know if (or how many games) Watson will play this season, nor what he will look like after a year of not playing at all. We also don’t know how Cleveland’s offense will change with him under center, or what it will look like with Brissett out there, if Watson is indeed suspended in the wake of his being accused by 20-plus women of sexual misconduct. We do know the Browns have one of the best running backs in the league in Chubb, and that they stole Cooper from the Cowboys, but this ranking seems like the group collectively throwing up its hands. Until the league office makes a decision on Watson’s status, what we should think of the Browns is almost impossible to accurately gauge.
10. Denver Broncos (Avg: 10.9, High: 7, Low: 16)
QB: Russell Wilson RB: Javonte Williams WR: Courtland Sutton
What Wilson will look like in an offense that is not Seattle’s antiquated system is obviously the subject of limitless fascination, but our crew has enough confidence in him, along with Williams and Sutton, to get Denver into the top 10. (At least, in the Broncos’ average ranking did check in higher than 10.) Wilson struggled with injuries and ineffectiveness for basically the first time in his career last year, but the supporting cast around him should bring out whatever the best he has left Shoo. Williams looked like a stud in his first action, and while he’ll likely continue to split work with Melvin Gordon, he should gradually take over a larger and larger role as time goes on. Sutton has simply been more productive in his career to date than has Jerry Jeudy, so we went with him for this exercise.
QB: Derek Carr RB: Josh Jacobs WR: Davante Adams
The Raiders checked in 16th last year, with Carr, Jacobs, and Darren Waller. Swapping one of the league’s best tight ends for one of its best wide receivers (and Jon Gruden for Josh McDaniels calling the plays) got the Raiders into the top 10 … but still third in their own division. That might be a theme throughout this season.
QB: Lamar Jackson RB: JK Dobbins TE: Mark Andrews
The Ravens are the lowest-ranked of our eight teams that received at least one top-five vote. This ranking reflects a confidence that Jackson’s inconsistency last season was likely the result of injuries to both himself and the offensive line, and that Andrews’ monster season was just the beginning of him solidifying himself as one of the NFL’s best tight ends. Dobbins and Gus Edwards are each coming off torn ACLs, but Dobbins was expected to be the lead ball-carrier last season, so we expect that to be the case in 2022.
7. Dallas Cowboys (Avg: 7.5, High: 4, Low: 13)
QB: Dak Prescott RB: Ezekiel Elliott WR: CeeDee Lamb
I suspect that if we swapped out Elliott for Tony Pollard, who has been more efficient and more explosive than Elliott in each of his three NFL seasons, the Cowboys might rank higher than this. But the Cowboys themselves refuse to cut Elliott’s snap share and give Pollard more work, so we can’t do that, either. Zeke’s backslide, Prescott’s injuries, and the open question of how Lamb will do as unquestioned no. 1 option in this offense knocked Dallas out of the top five (and Tier 1) for the first time in the last few seasons, but the Cowboys did receive votes as high as fourth in the league and did not receive any that would have ranked them lower than Tier 2.
Tier 1: Best of the Best
QB: Matthew Stafford RB: Cam Akers WR: Cooper Kupp
Had Akers looked better in his return from a torn Achilles tendon, the Rams likely would have cracked the top five. (It’s impressive that he came back as quickly as he did, but Akers averaged 2.6 yards per carry during his playoff run.) As it is, the Stafford-Kupp combination and the potential that Akers can eventually get back to the player he looked like down the stretch of his rookie season got the Rams into Tier 1.
QB: Tom Brady RB: Leonard Fournette WR: Mike Evans
If Brady did not decide to unretire, the Bucs would probably have been in one of the bottom two tiers. But when the GOAT is back under center, the Bucs have a top-five triplets group. Fournette was fantastic throughout last season, especially in his passing-game contributions. Evans continues to put together one of the best starts to a career of any receiver in NFL history, and with Chris Godwin not guaranteed to be healthy to begin the season, Evans will likely be even more central to Tampa’s passing attack.
QB: Patrick Mahomes RB: Clyde Edwards-Helaire TE: Travis Kelce
This is the first time Kansas City is outside the top 2 since 2018, Mahomes’ first season as the starter – and it’s probably not due to anything the Chiefs are lacking. There are just a few trios that have become so electric, so quickly, that having a running back whose efficiency has been questionable and a tight end who is on the wrong side of 30 (while still being one of the best in the NFL) was enough to knock them a few spots backward, and to prevent them from getting any first-place votes for the first time.
3. Buffalo Bills (Avg: 3.3, High: 2, Low: 6)
QB: Josh Allen RB: Devin Singletary WR: Stefon Diggs
Allen still has some head-scratching games every once in a while, but man, when he puts it all together it is absolutely exhilarating. His performance down the stretch of the season and especially in the playoffs was remarkable, and he has firmly solidified himself as one of the few quarterbacks who can seemingly sustain a top-flight offense all on his own. Even while his connection with Diggs was a little bit off line last year, they still formed one of the league’s most productive duos. And Singletary’s emergence as the lead back over the second half of the season gives Buffalo a bit more clarity at the position, even while rookie James Cook may take some of the passing-down work due to his facility in that area.
QB: Joe Burrow RB: Joe Mixon WR: Ja’Marr Chase
QB: Justin Herbert RB: Austin Ekeler WR: Keenan Allen
The Burrow-Chase connection figures to be one of the NFL’s best for a long time, and was nearly enough to nab Cincy the top spot in our rankings. As you can see from the average rankings and the fact that both teams only received votes between first and fourth, our panel considered these two teams the clear cream of the crop, a step above Buffalo. Herbert’s remarkable first two seasons, Ekeler’s breakout as perhaps the league’s best pass-catching running back, and Allen’s year-to-year consistency are likely what earned Los Angeles just a single more first-place vote than Cincinnati, and made the Chargers the No . 1 team in this year’s Triplets Rankings.