- The threesome of Big Ben, Bell and Brown will go down as one of the best ever, but the Patriots and the Falcons feature offensive trios that are not far behind.
There’s no question as to which team boasts the best offensive trio in football. The Pittsburgh Steelers, with two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, receiver Antonio Brown and running back Le’Veon Bell, have been among the most dominant offensive players the past three seasons. Roethlisberger has been in the top-five in passing yards per game in two of the three seasons, while Brown has been top-five in receiving yards three times in that span and Bell has placed in the top five in rushing yards twice.
It speaks more to NFL media’s lack of creativity that we have yet to give them a name better than “best triplets in the NFL.”
But which trio is second-best in the NFL today? About a month away from the start of training camps, at least four teams could lay claim to having the second-best set of triplets in the NFL going into the 2017 season. With Pittsburgh at No. 1, here’s a look at Nos. 5–2.
5. Dallas Cowboys: QB Dak Prescott, RB Ezekiel Elliott, WR Dez Bryant
Prescott had one of the best out-of-nowhere rookie seasons for a quarterback in NFL history. There’s also no getting around what Elliott accomplished as the first rookie to lead the league in rushing since 1999. To top it off, Dez Bryant could return to 1,000-yard form this season. What’s holding this Cowboys’ trio back from being higher on this list—and what will also hold the two teams above them on this last back—is the great unknown.
Prescott’s rookie season didn’t seem like a flash in the pan by November when he officially unseated Tony Romo as the starting quarterback. But this is a league that has swallowed up quarterbacks in their sophomore campaign after defensive coaches get an offseason with tape. It’s not implausible to suggest Prescott take a slight step back after an incredible 2016 season.
And though Elliott is the second back in the past three seasons to win the rushing title behind Dallas’ offensive line, it’s clear the Ohio State product is a special talent. Again, teams can and have caught up to special talents the next year.
In Bryant’s case, he’s never had a top-five receiving season in his seven years in the league. Only twice has he been in the top ten, and knee and foot injuries have held him to less than 1,200 receiving yards in the past two seasons combined.
Together and healthy, this group offers the most potential of any on this list. But they also offer the most risk.
4. Green Bay Packers: QB Aaron Rodgers, WR Jordy Nelson, TE Martellus Bennett
The best thrower of the football the league has ever seen doesn’t even need a running back in his trio to be in the top five. Rodgers, a two-time NFL MVP, hasn’t thrown more than eight interceptions in a season since 2010, and his 1.5 percent interception rate is the best all-time.
Since 2012, when Jordy Nelson plays a full season, he’ll get you at least 1,200 receiving yards. He’s been Rodgers’ go-to receiver for years, and the Packers hurt when he missed 2015 with a torn ACL. Nelson has hauled in 27 receiving touchdowns in the past two seasons he’s been on the field, including 14 in his Comeback Player of the Year season in 2016.
The wild card here, and the player who replaces a very deserving Randall Cobb, is tight end Martellus Bennett. Green Bay scooped him up in free agency, and as appetizing as his addition is to this offense, these guys still haven’t played together. Before Jared Cook, the Packers didn’t have a downfield threat at tight end since Jermichael Finley. Cook left in free agency, and the Packers replaced him with an even better Bennett, who hobbled his way through multiple injuries last season with the Patriots to 55 catches for 701 yards and a career-high seven touchdowns.
3. New England Patriots: QB Tom Brady, WR Julian Edelman, TE Rob Gronkowski
If Rodgers is the greatest thrower of all time, Brady is certainly the greatest quarterback of all time. That legacy was cemented with his fifth Super Bowl title in February in the come-from-behind overtime victory against Atlanta. He, too, doesn’t need a running back in his trio to be near the top of the list.
Edelman’s utility as a receiver and punt returner makes him valuable to the Patriots, but this list focuses only on his offensive production. In his past three healthy seasons Edelman has been targeted more than 90 times per season by Brady. And he’s especially been crucial in the playoffs, where he’s racked up 993 scrimmage yards in 10 games across four postseasons.
And much like the Packers and Bennett, the wild card here is the tight end. He only happens to be the best tight end in the game today, and he may go down as the best ever. Gronk was looking for an unprecedented third-consecutive 1,100-yard season last season before no fewer than three injuries ultimately sidelined him for the season. Since 2009, Gronkowski has had no fewer than nine surgeries. When he’s healthy, he’s the best. Even when he’s banged up he’s still the best. But doubts about his health keep the Pats’ trio in third.
2. Atlanta Falcons: QB Matt Ryan, RB Devonta Freeman, WR Julio Jones
The Falcons have the league MVP at quarterback, one of the most freakish talents at wide receiver and one of the best young backs in the game whose gaudy numbers the past two seasons would be even better if he didn’t have to split carries. The Falcons’ triplets are the best of the rest in the league.
Former Atlanta offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan unlocked Ryan’s full potential, and it’ll be up to Ryan and new OC Steve Sarkisian to repeat as one of the top-ten offenses in NFL history in terms of scoring. Jones has been in the top-three in receiving yards in each of the past three seasons (despite multiple foot injuries), including 1,871 yards in 2015 that is second-most all-time.
And Freeman is the only rusher with 1,000 yards in both 2015 and ’16, and his totals would have likely been hired if he wasn’t sharing backfield duties with the excellent Tevin Coleman. Freeman’s 11 touchdowns in 2015 were the most in the NFL, and he followed that up with 11 more last season. His nearing contract extension will further solidify his place as one of the best young backs in the game.