Just as we did the year before 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 difficult to argue that there’s any better way to use this space at this time — especially given everything else going on.and
So in the space below, we’re 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 2020 season. We put a bit of a twist on things this year, tweaking our grading system so that each player is rated on a 1-10 scale (rather than 1-5) and re-weighting the three positions to make quarterbacks even more important.
The bottom two tiers, comprising the teams ranked 19-32, are detailed below. Check back on Monday for the top three tiers, featuring teams ranked 1-18. (Note that the teams within each tier are not separated by all that much, making the tiers more meaningful than the pure numbered rankings.)
Tier 5: The Bottom
32. Washington (4.90)
Every team in Tier 5 except for one has a quarterback that received a below-average grade, and that’s no accident. Washington is obviously among those teams, as Haskins struggled badly during his rookie season to look anything like a starting-caliber passer. He was not exactly given much help in the form of a strong infrastructure surrounding him, but he also just did not look up to the task more often than not. He has talent, obviously, but needs to be better at processing things quickly and getting the ball out on time and with accuracy.
Peterson is probably not the team’s first choice for a lead back this coming season, but the guys behind him either have extensive injury histories (Derrius Guice), are coming off a major injury (Bryce Love), or are hybrid players entering their rookie season (Antonio Gibson). We don’t exactly have the highest of hopes for anything of them. McLaurin, meanwhile, looked fantastic early last season … but that was before Haskins got on the field. Hopefully for this team’s sake, their collegiate chemistry does a better job of translating this year.
T-30. Jaguars (5.05)
Minshew vastly out-performed any reasonable expectations one could have had for him last season. It could reasonably be argued that he was the second-best offensive rookie in the NFL. But he still has plenty of room for improvement as a passer, considering the only thing he did at a consistently above-average level last season was avoid interceptions. That’s a good trait to have, but it only helps establish a floor, not a ceiling.
Fournette had what qualifies for him as a monster season, but that’s actually even more of a sign that he’s not quite the player his reputation would have you believe. He averaged only 4.3 yards per carry and ranked 39th among 45 qualifying backs in Football Outsiders’ Success Rate. He was more involved than ever as a receiver … but averaged only 6.9 yards per reception and ranked 42nd out of 50 qualifying running backs in receiving DVOA.
Chark, though, looks like a potential stud, and flashed excellent chemistry with Minshew last season. He’s one of only 12 wideouts in the last decade to go for at least 70-1000-8 in one of his first two NFL seasons.
T-30. Dolphins (5.05)
Fitzpatrick is now just a placeholder for Tua Tagovailoa. An entertaining placeholder when he’s at his best, but a placeholder still. There’s a reason he’s had that role for several different franchises over the past few years. He’s fun, but ultimately a slightly below-average option under center.
Breida is a solid runner but his former team also never saw fit to give him a shot at the true No. 1 gig, and also traded him away for only a fifth-round pick. Perhaps you want to put Jordan Howard in that spot, but it wouldn’t help the Dolphins’ ranking here. Parker finally had the breakout season so many have been waiting for, but it only came after an injury to Preston Williams on top of the previous injury to Albert Wilson. Can he maintain the same level of contribution with healthier surrounding talent, and eventually make the transition to a new quarterback as well?
T-28. Bears (5.20)
Foles has a high ceiling when he is afforded excellent protection, schemed into wide-window throws, and working with an excellent supporting cast. He’s probably got one of those three in Chicago, so something more in line with what we’ve seen for most of his career seems like the most likely expectation for his level of play.
Montgomery had a dreadful rookie season during which he showed almost none of the skills that made him a mid-round draft pick, with his ability to break tackles completely disappearing. Robinson has been saddled with dreadful quarterback play throughout his career in both college and the pros. He is still an absolute baller, capable of dominating opposing corners no matter from whom he is catching passes.
T-28. Patriots (5.20)
Perhaps you believe Stidham really is the next Tom Brady. Perhaps you’re right. But we’re going to err on the side of not necessarily believing the hype surrounding a fourth-round pick who was not all that productive in college. Brady’s talent has not translated through osmosis to any of his previous backups, so that shouldn’t be the expectation here.
Michel has somehow become a more limited player in the pros than he was in college. Remember when he was considered the more versatile and dynamic back than Nick Chubb? That was fun. Edelman made a living for a long time by having a mind-meld with Brady. Now that his QB is gone, what becomes of the shifty slot man? His impact seems likely to be relatively muted.
27. Jets (5.30)
Darnold’s 2019 season was doomed from the jump. First, he got mono. Then, he saw ghosts. All the while, he was saddled with one of the weakest offensive infrastructures in the league, and with a play-caller who seemingly refused to scheme him into easy throws. The talent is still there, and now that the team has upgrades the offensive line and added some ancillary pass-catchers, we should be able to get a much better look at what he’s actually got.
This grade for Bell is actually quite generous considering his struggles last season. It’s now been two full years since we’ve seen him perform at an above-average level, but his versatility and passing-game contributions are still stuck in our minds. By the end of the year, the Jets presumably hope that one of Denzel Mims, Breshad Perriman, or Chris Herndon is their top pass-catcher, but Crowder’s role as a slot man is secure, and Darnold seemed to trust him intuitively last season.
Tier 4: Below-Average
26. Broncos (5.50)
Lock looked quite good in his first two starts, and then quite average in his final three. The accuracy and decision-making issues are still there, but the Broncos have made every effort to put him in position to succeed. Adding talent along the offensive line and at receiver was seemingly the team’s biggest priority this offseason, and we’ll likely know exactly what he is by the end of the year.
I had to be talked into giving Gordon this grade. His above-average skills seem to be limited to “having an offensive coordinator that likes to run the ball near the goal line.” He does at least bring some skill as a receiver, but it’s not like the Broncos didn’t already have that with Phillip Lindsay. Sutton, on the other hand, is awesome. He’s got great size and speed, strong hands, and the ability to make play after the catch.
T-23. Bengals (6.05)
The Bengals were extremely difficult to rank for this exercise. We tried to make the default rankings for rookies a 5, but Burrow is one of the best prospects to enter the league in some time. It’s entirely possible he has a grade 7 or 8-type rookie season and makes this look silly. Mixon was awesome down the stretch last year and was verging on a 9 but we ultimately felt he fell just below the cut. And if we knew Green was 100 percent healthy, he’d been graded much higher. These guys will be much higher on this list next year.
T-23. Bills (6.05)
The midseason adjustment Allen made after being told by Sean McDermott and Brian Daboll that he was being too aggressive and making too many turnovers turned him into more of a winning player. It also lowered his ceiling quite a bit, though, as he stopped throwing downfield as often and was more inclined to take sacks and throw the ball away. His rushing ability raises his floor high enough, but he needs to figure out a way to balance the aggressiveness and turnover avoidance in order to become the best of both worlds.
Singletary is a really nice back, and he probably should have gotten more (and more diverse) touches last year. But the Bills seem to view him as a committee guy, so we graded him accordingly. Bringing in Diggs in exchange for their first-round pick was a great move for the Bills, as it moves John Brown and Cole Beasley into more appropriate roles. Diggs should be a good fit for Allen if he gets back to his more aggressive ways.
T-23. Giants (6.05)
Jones has one of the most important skills a modern quarterback can have: the ability to make plays outside of structure. Now, he needs to work on his accuracy, decision-making, and turnover-avoidance. Those are pretty important qualities, and he has yet to show that they’re in his toolbox. Still, he looked far better last season than many of his detractors expected him to.
Barkley is less consistent on a carry-to-carry basis than some of the other top backs in the league, but he is a big play waiting to happen and an excellent pass-catcher. If Jones becomes more willing to check it down when the big play isn’t there, Saquon should be able to make guys miss and gain some of those yards back anyway. Slayton is my pick for the guy to lead this receiver corps in production this year. He had an excellent rookie season and chemistry with Jones, and he’s the only one who doesn’t have a duplicative skill set with one of the other guys.
T-21. Raiders (6.15)
Carr is coming off what was a surprisingly effective season. Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock have left something to be desired in terms of their roster building, but Gruden has done a strong job of play-calling and turned an under-manned group into a top-10 offense by both yards per play and DVOA last season. Carr may not be all that willing to test defenses down the field, but he’s been accurate and a strong decision-maker, which is a decent enough start.
Jacobs seems to have more to offer than the Raiders are willing to explore. He’s a good runner and they recognize him as such, but he did more as a pass-catcher at Alabama than he did last year, and now the team has brought in Lynn Bowden Jr. to fill that role in the future. Waller fits extremely well with Carr’s risk-averse nature, but he also is not quite as valuable as a true No. 1 target on the outside would be, simply because he’s more of a short-to-intermediate target that slowly moves chains down the field.
T-21. Rams (6.15)
It’s been quite a fall for Goff, who appears far more dependent on Sean McVay’s play-calling and the offensive line in front of him than the team should be comfortable with, given the massive extension they signed him to last offseason. If everything is clicking at a high level, he’s capable of reaching great heights, but with the Rams having overloaded their roster with highly-paid players, the likelihood of the line ever reaching its 2017 and 2018 peak seems a bit low.
It seemed like Darrell Henderson was in place as the team’s lead back for the future, but then they used their first 2020 draft pick on another back, so we’re pretty confident Akers will be that guy. He’s versatile enough and a good fit in the outside zone-heavy scheme, but we need to see if he has more to offer beyond just that clean fit. Kupp is one of the league’s more reliable slot men but he’s also become much more of a close-to-the-line target over the past couple years, in part due to the backslide of the aforementioned offensive line.
20. Chargers (6.20)
Taylor is a floor-raiser at quarterback due to his rushing ability and historic aversion to turnovers, but he also doesn’t provide much of a ceiling. He won’t push the ball downfield all that often and, if history is any indication, won’t inspire enough of a pass-heavy offense to really reach a ceiling anyway.
Ekeler worked fantastically alongside Philip Rivers as an outlet on swing routes and checkdowns, and he should be similarly effective working with Taylor. He may not see as much pass-game volume, but he now seems more like the clear lead back with Gordon no longer in town. Allen is at the very least the Vice President of the Always Open Club, and he’s now played three consecutive full seasons after some fluky early-career injury issues. He’s really, really good.
19. Panthers (6.35)
Bridgewater makes for a really strong fit with Carolina’s playmakers. Because of his conservative nature he is not likely to lead a high-scoring or high-efficiency offense on his own, but he’ll do a strong job of getting the ball into the hands of playmakers and letting them try to make plays after the catch. He’s lucky enough to have the best pass-catching running back in the league on his side, and a trio of fast, dynamic perimeter playmakers let by Moore.