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 staffers ranked that individual team. For example, our No. 32 team, the Atlanta Falcons, had an average ranking of 30.5, with a high ranking of 26 and a low of 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 Texans had an average ranking of 28.5 and the Giants had an average of 26.4, so the Giants begin a new tier.
The rankings reflect the collective wisdom of this crowd, while the corresponding analysis is mine. Today, we’ll start with the bottom half of the league, and we’ll finish up tomorrow with top tiers. Without further ado…
Tier 7: It’s Ugly
32. Atlanta Falcons (Avg: 30.5, High: 26, Low: 32)
QB: Marcus Mariota RB: Cordarrelle Patterson TE: Kyle Pitts
The Falcons have taken a big step back in these rankings. That’s in part because Calvin Ridley will not be on this year’s team, but mostly because they traded Matt Ryan and replaced him with Mariota, who was benched three years ago in Tennessee and has not been a starter since. He developed a relationship with Arthur Smith during his time with the Titans, though, which is how he landed in Atlanta. Patterson broke out as a dual-threat back last year, but the second half of the season showed his limitations. Pitts is a future star, but needs a better option under center in order to reach his ceiling.
31. Seattle Seahawks (Avg: 30.2, High: 21, Low: 32)
QB: Geno Smith RB: Rashaad Penny WR: DK Metcalf
Seattle’s range of rankings was far wider than I expected, though I suppose that is likely owed to Penny’s monster stretch run and the track record Metcalf established with Russell Wilson under center. Still, it looks like Geno Smith is going to be this team’s starting quarterback, so it’s no surprise that they land in the bottom tier.
30. Chicago Bears (Avg: 28.6, High: 25, Low: 31)
QB: Justin Fields RB: David Montgomery WR: Darnell Mooney
The Bears checked in dead last in our offensive infrastructure rankings, so it makes sense that they’d fall near the bottom of this list as well. Fields is wildly talented, so he has the chance to make this ranking look silly. However, he’s likely not going to be put in position to succeed, due to the lack of overall talent around him. Montgomery showed he can handle a three-down workload last year and Mooney developed chemistry with Fields, but this group does not have enough help from the rest of the unit to inspire much confidence.
29. Houston Texans (Avg: 28.5, High: 18, Low: 32)
QB: Davis Mills RB: Marlon Mack WR: Brandin Cooks
Mills looked dreadful in his first stretch as a starter last year, but showed great progress during his second stint. We don’t yet know if he has the talent to be a long-term starter, but he earned a shot to prove he can do it. Mack was usurped in Indy by Jonathan Taylor but has shown he can run efficiently — if he gets good blocking. He likely won’t have it in Houston. Cooks is one of the league’s most underrated receivers, a guy who just keeps producing 1,000-yard seasons despite dealing with a host of injuries.
Tier 6: Not Awful, But Not Great
28. New York Giants (Avg: 26.4, High: 23, Low: 29)
QB: Daniel Jones RB: Saquon Barkley WR: Kenny Golladay
I was surprised to see the Giants check in this low, but if you look at the actual averages, you can see that our staff felt there was virtually no difference between them, the Jets, and the Panthers. That seems reasonable, given Daniel Jones’ struggles, and Barkley and Golladay’s injury issues. Brian Daboll should help this group perform better than it did under Joe Judge and Jason Garrett, but it may just need a talent upgrade.
27. New York Jets (Avg: 26.3, High: 22, Low: 30)
QB: Zach Wilson RB: Breece Hall WR: Garrett Wilson
Wilson was awful for the significant majority of last season and he is paired here with two rookies, yet the Jets checked in ahead of five teams. That’s actually kind of impressive, and a strong vote of confidence in the prospects the Jets selected in the first and second rounds.
26. Carolina Panthers (Avg: 26.2, High: 21, Low: 29)
QB: Sam Darnold RB: Christian McCaffrey WR: D.J. Moore
Moore has been saddled with terrible quarterback play for his entire career. He’s a superstar in hiding, waiting for someone to get him the ball with accuracy and timing. CMC has missed most of the last two seasons due to injury, and it seems like we can’t necessarily count on him to make it through a full season. Those two have a ton of talent, but not enough to lift Sam Darnold out of this tier.
25. Pittsburgh Steelers (Avg: 25.5, High: 22, Low: 31)
QB: Mitchell Trubisky RB: Najee Harris WR: Diontae Johnson
Trubisky was apparently the greatest backup quarterback of all time in Buffalo. At least, that’s what you’d think if you only listened to the hype surrounding his free agency, when he somehow became the top quarterback on the market and drew interest from several teams. Last time we saw him as a starter, it was not pretty. That’s why despite employing an extremely productive running back and a receiver who has been racking up catches every year, they still check in near the bottom of the league in these rankings.
24. Detroit Lions (Avg: 24.2, High: 21, Low: 30)
QB: Jared Goff RB: D’Andre Swift TE: T.J. Hockenson
The best thing you can say about Goff is that he won’t kill your offense. Most of the time. He can keep the trains running on time if everything around him is working perfectly. Given a strong offensive line in Detroit, he likely won’t crater the Lions offense. But he won’t lift it above where the talent level dictates it should be, either. Swift is electric catching passes out of the backfield, and could do more in the run game if allowed to pull more of the backfield away from Jamaal Williams. Hockenson has yet to have the true breakout season many have been predicting, but he’s probably a top-10 pass-catching tight end at the moment.
23. Jacksonville Jaguars (Avg: 23.7, High: 20, Low: 28)
QB: Trevor Lawrence RB: James Robinson WR: Christian Kirk
It seems to me like the Jags got a “no longer coached by Urban Meyer” bump in the rankings. Doug Pederson should put Lawrence in much better situations than he was in a year ago, and having professional receiving options should be of great help. But Kirk has never had more than 982 yards in a season, and the track record of “No. 3 wideout on a pretty good offense becomes the No. 1 wideout elsewhere” is very bad. Robinson and Travis Etienne are each coming off major injuries.
22. Washington Commanders (Avg: 23.1, High: 18, Low: 27)
QB: Carson Wentz RB: Antonio Gibson WR: Terry McLaurin
I cannot explain why a Carson Wentz-led group ranks this highly. McLaurin is a superstar and needs a real quarterback before we end up wasting the majority of his career. Gibson has been misused during his two NFL seasons, pigeonholed as an early-down grinder despite being a hybrid wide receiver/running back in college. The coaching staff has hyped him as the next coming of McCaffrey in consecutive offseasons, but refuses to give him passing-down work. It doesn’t make much sense, but they also added another running back in the draft this year, after Gibson was again plagued by toe and foot injuries last year.
21. New England Patriots (Avg: 22.7, High: 19, Low: 28)
QB: Mac Jones RB: Damien Harris TE: Hunter Henry
Jones’ strong rookie season carried the Patriots nearly into the middle tiers, but not quite. How much room does he have to grow? How likely is he to progress without Josh McDaniels coordinating his offense, and with an uninspiring pass-catching corps? Harris will likely again lead the Patriots’ 47-man timeshare in the backfield, and he’s been efficient when running behind a very good offensive line.
Tier 5: The Niners
20. San Francisco 49ers (Avg: 20.2, High: 18, Low: 23)
QB: Trey Lance RB: Elijah Mitchell WR: Deebo Samuel
If Lance fulfills the potential he has in a Shanahan-style offense, this ranking has the potential to look very silly. How unprepared he was to start last year has been a bit overblown, and the constant questions regarding whether the Niners will bring Jimmy Garoppolo back as their starter seem very strange. They traded two first-round picks to move up for Lance; he is going to have the job. Mitchell is the latest Shanahan system back to have a breakout season despite a lack of pedigree. He runs incredibly hard, and showed at least some pass-catching ability late in the year. Samuel is a one-of-one type player, and so long as he’s on the roster, he will raise the floor of those around him.
Tier 4: More Questions Than Answers
19. Tennessee Titans (Avg: 18.5, High: 16, Low: 22)
QB: Ryan Tannehill RB: Derrick Henry WR: Treylon Burks
How much higher would these guys rank with A.J. Brown instead of Burks? A lot, methinks. How much higher than that would they rank had Henry not missed a big chunk of last season with a foot injury? Would they be a threat to crack the top 10? Can’t rule it out.
18. Miami Dolphins (Avg: 17.9, High: 13, Low: 20)
QB: Tua Tagovailoa RB: Chase Edmonds WR: Tyreek Hill
Sorry, TuAnon truthers, but the Dolphins don’t quite crack the top half of the league. There are questions regarding his ability to push the ball down the field, his ability to make throws under pressure, and his ability to make it through a season healthy. There are questions regarding Hill’s ability to maintain his combination of efficiency and explosiveness when outside the Kansas City incubator. Edmonds will likely split work with Raheem Mostert, Sony Michel, and possibly Myles Gaskin, but his contract makes it seem like he’ll get the first crack at heavy snaps.
17. New Orleans Saints (Avg: 17.3, High: 15, Low: 21)
QB: Jameis Winston RB: Alvin Kamara WR: Michael Thomas
Our last team to finish with a below-average ranking is one of the most confusing in the league. Winston was all high-risk, high-reward in Tampa, but was extremely low-risk, high-efficiency (on ridiculously low volume) prior to his injury last year. Will he be able to maintain that style without Sean Payton calling plays? That’s an open question. Will Kamara be suspended? Will Thomas get back on the field? If not, can Chris Olave be a No. 1 receiver right away?
Stay tuned for Part II tomorrow…