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Just as we did and and 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 2023 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 staffers ranked that individual team.
For example, our No. 32 team, the Arizona Cardinals had an average ranking of 32.0, with a high ranking of 32 and a low of, well… 32. 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 Commanders had an average ranking of 28.1 and the Panthers had an average of 26.2, so the Panthers begin a new tier.
The panel included myself, John Breech, Jeff Kerr, Tyler Sullivan, Jordan Dajani, Cody Benjamin, Shanna McCarriston, Chris Trapasso, Kevin Steimle, Brett Anderson, Garrett Podell, Joel Magaraci, Kyle Stackpole, R.J. White, Eric Kernish, and Eric Kay. The rankings reflect the collective wisdom of this crowd, while the corresponding analysis is mine.
Today, we’ll start with the bottom third of the league, then we’ll continue tomorrow with the middle of the pack, and we’ll finish up Thursday with the top tiers. Without further ado…
Last year: 14th
QB: Colt McCoy RB: James Conner WR: Marquise Brown
Kyler Murray tore his ACL in December and the Cardinals have what is pretty clearly the worst roster in football, so there is zero incentive for them to bring him back at any point this season, let alone a significant portion of it. For that reason, we went with McCoy at quarterback, and the Cardinals were a unanimous pick in dead last by our panel.
Last year: 5th
QB: Baker Mayfield RB: Rachaad White WR: Mike Evans
The downgrade from Tom Brady to Mayfield is perhaps the most significant expected drop in quarterback play in the league, even accounting for Brady’s relatively subpar 2022 season. Even if we subbed in Chris Godwin for Evans, I can’t imagine the Bucs would have ranked much higher than this. As it is, they didn’t get any votes above 28th.
Last year: 29th
QB: C.J. Stroud RB: Dameon Pierce WR: Nico Collins
This ranking begins a run on teams with young quarterbacks that mostly goes uninterrupted through the bottom third of the league. Stroud, the No. 2 overall pick in this year’s draft, is supported in the backfield by a Day 3 pick from last year, and his presumed top wideout has 70 catches for 927 yards and three scores in two NFL seasons. The Texans have a chance to build things up in the future, but we shouldn’t expect big things just yet.
Last year: 22nd
QB: Sam Howell RB: Brian Robinson WR: Terry McLaurin
The Commies are signaling much more confidence in Howell than our panel apparently has. I feel like this ranking would be quite a bit higher if Jacoby Brissett were expected to start under center for Washington, but that’s just an opinion. One of these days, McLaurin will hopefully have a surefire top QB throwing him the ball. He’s capable of so much if he eventually gets that chance.
Last year: 26th
QB: Bryce Young RB: Miles Sanders WR: Adam Thielen
Like Stroud, Young is not exactly surrounded by a bevy of skill-position talent. He does have a stronger offensive line in front of him and a veteran back in Sanders, but his top receivers are likely Thielen and D.J. Chark, barring rookie Jonathan Mingo stepping in and immediately asserting himself as the best pass-catching option. For that reason, this group ranks pretty low leaguewide, and barely escaped being ranked inside the bottom tier.
Last year: 21st
QB: Mac Jones RB: Rhamondre Stevenson WR: JuJu Smith-Schuster
Had Matt Patricia not been in charge of New England’s offense last season, I think the Pats would probably be in the next tier, rather than sitting way down here. Mac Jones took such a significant step back a year ago that it’s tough to place New England much higher than this, but Stevenson is a stud and Smith-Schuster is at least a semi-reliable slot target. Perhaps after a year under Bill O’Brien, the Patriots can take a step forward.
Last year: 32nd
QB: Desmond Ridder RB: Bijan Robinson TE: Kyle Pitts
How you feel about this ranking will likely depend almost entirely on how you feel about Ridder. Did you love him coming into last year’s draft? Not much has happened to dissuade you of that opinion. Were you not so high on him? Same story. Most quarterbacks drafted in the third round do not become starter-quality players, though, and it seems like our panel expects that to hold true with Ridder, which drags down the ranking of a team that has drafted two explosive weapons in the top 10 in recent years.
Last year: 19th
QB: Ryan Tannehill RB: Derrick Henry WR: Treylon Burks
The exception to the young quarterback run, we have the Titans in a clear period of transition. It’s entirely possible that next year’s triplets rankings include Will Levis and Tyjae Spears alongside Burks. This definitely seems like a last hurrah for Tannehill and Henry.
Last year: 15th
QB: Anthony Richardson RB: Jonathan Taylor WR: Michael Pittman
Richardson seems likely to be a fantasy football star in short order given his outrageous athleticism and rushing ability, but he may take a while longer to come along as a passer. Armed with Taylor to augment his skills in the run game and Pittman (and Alec Pierce) on the outside to make contested catches and take advantage of YAC opportunities, though, the immediate floor might be a bit higher than people would think for a player with his skill set. (Still, one vote as high as No. 16 seems a bit optimistic.)
Last year: 13th
QB: Jordan Love RB: Aaron Jones WR: Christian Watson
I was shocked to see the Packers get a vote at No. 13, given how little we know about Love and how relatively unproven Watson still is. Jones is one of the NFL’s most explosive backs, but he is also heading into his age-29 season, and running backs typically begin to decline well in advance of that age. We haven’t seen signs of him slowing down all that much yet, but the cliff typically sneaks up on backs pretty quickly.
Last year: 25th
QB: Kenny Pickett RB: Najee Harris WR: Diontae Johnson
If there is any team from this group that is most likely to make a significant jump this year, it might be the Steelers. Second-year quarterbacks typically take a step forward if they are going to end up being any good, and Pickett has an improved offensive line in front of him as well as both Johnson and George Pickens, plus Allen Robinson, Pat Freiermuth, and Darnell Washington in his pass-catching corps. , the Steelers can certainly jump into the top half of the league.
Last year: 10th
QB: Russell Wilson RB: Javonte Williams (or Samaje Perine) WR: Courtland Sutton
This ranking seems like a show of faith that Sean Payton can get a lot more out of Wilson than did Nathaniel Hackett. That seems like a safe bet. Still, nobody even had the Broncos in the top half of the league, which is a big difference from last year, when they checked in 10th overall and didn’t get any votes lower than 16th.
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