After a week off, I am back with a vengeance! Since this was kind of a trending topic a few weeks ago and I saw a lot of media outlets/networks put out their rankings of the top triplets in the NFL, I thought I needed to put myself into the conversation and right some of wrongs that were done.
This list only includes combinations of one quarterback, running back and wide receiver each. That means no players beyond that and no consideration of the offensive scheme or play-caller, as much as that’s possible. And to lay the ground rules – all three positions are weighed equally. So just because you have one of the elite quarterbacks doesn’t necessarily put you up there and if one of those spots doesn’t have a really good player, I don’t care how great the other two are.
So with that being said, here is my list of the best trios in the league:
1. Green Bay Packers – Aaron Rodgers, Aaron Jones & Davante Adams
I usually found this trio around five or six on most lists, but this is the way I have these guys ranked – Aaron Rodgers is my number five quarterback in the league right now, Jones has established himself as a clear top ten back – and you could argue that he is closer to five than ten – and Adams is the third-best receiver in football for me.
Rodgers might have declined a little these last few years, but a lot of that had to do with injuries in 2017 and ’18. In 2016 he led the league with 40 touchdown passes and a passer rating North of 100. Last season in Matt LaFleur’s offensive system, which is an adaption of Shanahan’s scheme, being built on the zone run game and bootlegs off that, to go with well-designed screen passes, Rodgers didn’t quite put up as explosive numbers as we are used to from him, but he still elevated a roster that I wouldn’t put in my top ten to a 13-3 record with a first-round bye in the playoffs. He led the team to an 8-1 record in one-score games and was top ten in both intended air yards (8.9) and yards to the sticks on average (+0.1), without a second receiver reaching 500 receiving yards. He might have lost some of that mobility to extend plays and is a little more hesitant to just fire the ball deep, but he is still one of the league’s best.
Jones had the breakout season I projected him to pretty much exactly a year ago. He put together 1558 yards and 19 touchdowns from scrimmage, whilst becoming the Packers’ first 1000-yard rusher since Eddie Lacy back in 2014. Jones may not be very big, but he has good contact balance and ability to slither through defenses, whilst also featuring that second gear to pull away from opponents. While his production might not have been quite as consistent as it was with other guys at the position, what really stood out about the fourth-year back for Green Bay is the way he took over some games. There were five contests in which he recorded 150+ yards from scrimmage and he scored multiple touchdowns in six of them. He is a tough inside runner, has that burst to the edge and he gets involved as a downfield receiver as well.
Adams has steadily improved every single season pretty much since coming out of Fresno State in 2014. In 2018 he put up career-highs with nearly 1400 receiving yards and 13 TDs. Last season he was off to a great start once again and on pace to set new personal marks, before banging up his toe in a ten-catch, 180-yard performance against the Eagles in week four. That cost him four games and slowed him down even after that, before going off for 300 combined yards in their two playoff games. Adams is one of the best route-runners in the NFL, thanks to the way he sets up his breaks with head-fakes and body-language, but his body control and great hands also allow him to win in 50-50 ball situations and routinely keep his feet in bounds on catches along the sideline. Rodgers will once again heavily rely on #17 this season.
2. New Orleans Saints – Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara & Michael Thomas
This is the clear second choice for me here and the gap between two and three is much bigger than the difference between one and two. There’s a strong argument that the Saints have a top three running back and wide receiver, but to me their aging quarterback drags them down just a little bit. As great as he is all-time, we are talking about the talent of these players in 2020.
Brees is the league’s all-time leader in completions, yards and touchdowns for a reason. He is like a well-oiled machine in that Sean Payton offense, with complete control at the line and rapid quickness to work through progressions. Last season he missed five games (plus) with a thumb injury, but still threw for just under 3000 yards and 27 touchdowns compared to only four picks. However, you have to consider that he has one of the all-time great offensive play-designers, a record-setting wide receiver and an elite offensive line. As much as he excels from the shoulders up, he can not really push the ball down the field anymore because of the way his arm has fallen off, indicated by the fourth-lowest number of intended air yards (6.7) among quarterback with at least 100 attempts. Brees is still one of the premiere field generals, but he’s just not as explosive a passer as some other guys on this list.
Kamara was banged up quite a bit last season as well. While he did play in all but two games and put together over 1300 scrimmage yards, according to himself, Kamara was playing “on one leg”, referring to lingering knee and ankle injuries. He still made his third straight Pro Bowl, but after two years of being part of a one-two punch with Mark Ingram, Kamara had a chance to really blow up last season. We still have to see if he can handle the full load, but there are only about four guys I would define as true workhorse backs in the league anyway, and the Saints’ young star has been incredibly effective (6.61 per touch through first two seasons). He has just stupid contact balance, is super explosive and basically uncoverable on option routes out of the backfield. Even with Latavius Murray taking away some touches, I would expect 1600-1800 scrimmage yards next season.
Thomas to me is the second-best receiver in the league behind only Julio Jones. Most people want to put him at the top of the list right now, after setting a new record in most receptions in a season (149) and leading the league in receiving yards (1725), but I don’t think he is quite as dynamic after the catch and threating the defense vertically. Still, he is such a physical, well-schooled route-runner, who routinely comes through for them on third downs and catches pretty much everything thrown his way, thanks to his strong hands and concentration (only nine drops on 274 receptions since 2018). While he can obviously win from the outside and at the catch point, you “can’t guard Mike” on slant routes or crossers and operating out of the slot. And now the Saints finally added a viable number two receiver in Emmanuel Sanders.
3. Kansas City Chiefs – Patrick Mahomes, Clyde Edwards-Helaire & Tyreek Hill
This triplet is the only with an unproven commodity at the NFL level, but I see their rookie running back as such a perfect fit and my belief in the other two pieces is so large, that I couldn’t really put them any lower. Patrick Mahomes is pretty much in a class by himself and Tyreek Hill is the league’s premiere big-play threat.
Mahomes just earned the biggest contract for any professional athlete in team sports that we have ever seen (based on total earnings). He may be the most talented player we have ever gotten to watch and the accomplishments through his first two years are just absurd. He has combined for 76 touchdowns compared to 17 INTs, 303.6 passing yards per game, while still completing 66 percent of his passes despite averaging 8.6 yards per attempt (second to only Otto Graham all-time). He has already won a league MVP and led his team to their first Super Bowl trophy in 50 years, leading his team to three consecutive double-digit comebacks and wrapping things up with an MVP in the big game. He can make throws no other QB in the league would even attempt and the scary thing is that he can still get better.
Edwards-Helaire to me was right on the fringe of being a top 50 prospect in the draft and I had a few backs ranked ahead of him, but I predicted he would go there in my mock draft and he could make this KC offense outright unfair. At LSU last season he averaged 6.6 yards per carry and caught 55 passes, whilst reaching the end-zone 17 times. As great as Joe Burrow and all those receivers were for the Tigers, in a lot of games you could argued that this 5’7” bowling ball was the best player on the field. Not only does Edwards-Helaire have excellent vision and short-area quickness, but he routinely ran through defenders and he averaged 3.65 yards after contact. I have talked about this several times now – when you have all those guys streaking downfield for the Chiefs and then this guy catches a check-down with the mentality to go through your face, nobody will want to tackle him.
Hill came into the league as more of a gadget player, going for 860 yards and nine touchdowns on 85 touches as a rookie, in addition to three more scores in the return game. However, he has developed into an outstanding all-around receiver, highlighted by just under 1500 yards and 12 TDs through the air alone in 2018. While we don’t have any official combine numbers on him, my eyes tell me that Hill is the fastest player in the NFL and nobody puts more fear into the heart of defenses to beat them deep. Yet, he also has lightning-quick feet, has become a much more advanced route-runner and shows tremendous focus when the ball is in the air. Last year he was knocked out early in the season-opener and ended up missing four games, but when his team needed him most, he came through – catching that 44-yard bomb on third-and-long in the Super Bowl, when the 49ers seemed to have firm control over the game.
4. Arizona Cardinals – Kyler Murray, Kenyan Drake & DeAndre Hopkins
This is the new wave of playmakers. Kyler Murray came in as the number one overall pick in last year’s draft and instantly became the man for this team. Kenyan Drake came over from Miami in the middle of last season and immediately got the majority of the touches among that group of backs and now with the trade for DeAndre Hopkins as a true number one receiver, this passing attack could go to a different level.
Murray had an easy transition from Oklahoma to another Air Raid offense under Kliff Kingsbury in Arizona and while there were some struggles early on for him personally, as well as the head coach having to make some adjustments to his system, overall the rookie QB had an excellent debut campaign. Kyler completed 64.4 percent of his passes for 3700 yards and 20 touchdowns compared to 12 INTs, to go along with another 544 yards and five scores as a runner (second to only Lamar). While the team “only” won five games, I expect their dynamic signal-caller to take a big step forward in 2020. Murray was sacked a league-high 48 times last season and his best receiver for most of his rookie campaign was a 36-year old Larry Fitzgerald. This guy has one of the top five arms in the world and the elusiveness to extend plays or make people miss for crucial first downs.
Drake was a revelation in Arizona last season, after he was acquired for a sixth-round pick mid-season. After averaging only 3.7 yards per carry through the first six games with Miami, he put together 814 yards from scrimmage on just 151 touches and eight touchdowns over the final eight weeks. While he did show some signs with the team that originally drafted him, he never got the amount of touches he deserved and he is just a perfect fit in this wide-open Cardinals offense. When they spread the field with four receivers and then run zone-read or speed option against six defenders in the box, they actually have the +1 a lot of times, and when you give Drake some space to work with, he can be a dynamic player. That also is the case on quick swing screens as an extension of the run game or getting involved on delayed screens. However, he can also make people miss in tight spaces and I would expect the 26-year old to have a monster year in his first full season in the desert.
Hopkins has been one of the elite receivers in the game for several years now. Outside of that 2016 season, when Brock Osweiler couldn’t even put the ball to where “Nuk” could make a play on it, he has averaged 100 catches for 1369 yards and 9.6 touchdowns since his rookie season, despite catching passes from quarterbacks like Matt Schaub, T.J. Yates, Case Keenum, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett until the Texans finally found a franchise signal-caller. D-Hop is probably the most physical and aggressive receiver before the catch, he shows outstanding body adjustments when it’s in the air and he has the most reliable hands in the game with huge paws to just swallow the ball. Now with extra motivation after being traded away and as part of an offense that already finished top ten in pass attempts, despite having a rookie QB and limited weapons, expect this guy to ball out once again.
5. Cleveland Browns – Baker Mayfield, Nick Chubb & Odell Beckham Jr.
Probably the most controversial pick on my list here, I still think the Browns have one of the most lethal trios in the game. Baker Mayfield had kind of a sophomore slump after showing great signs as a rookie, but Nick Chubb led the league in rushing all the way until week 17 and while he hasn’t lived up to expectations in Cleveland yet, OBJ is clearly one of the most talented receivers this league has ever seen.
Mayfield certainly showed some regression in year two, when it comes to downfield accuracy, decision-making and just taking care of the ball. If it wasn’t for Jameis Winston blowing everybody out of the water, Baker would have led the league with 21 interceptions thrown and like I mentioned recently, you can put several of those 40 sacks last season on him for bailing on the pocket or holding onto the ball too long. However, the Browns did have a horrendous duo of offensive tackles that were often more speedbumps on the way to the guy with the ball and there were a bunch of lingering injuries with this group of skill-position players. This offense should be built on the ground game, but because they fell behind in so many games, Baker finished with 33.4 pass attempts per game and there were so many occasions, where he and his receiver clearly weren’t on the same page, in terms of how to break off routes, and they let him down quite a bit with drops, as six of them directly lead to INTs.
Chubb still isn’t getting the recognition he deserves. He was the best player on this entire team and while I don’t want to take anything away from that incredible run Derrick Henry had late last season, the Browns RB deserved that rushing crown. He was up almost 100 yards on Henry, who went for over 200 in a week 17 matchup with Houston, who were sitting most of their starters. Chubb still finished with just under 1500 yards and eight TDs on right around 300 attempts and he added another 36 catches for 277 yards, while Henry was the only other player with 200+ carries to average at least 5.0 yards per attempt. Because of those two tackles I already referenced (which will be replaced by what could be one of the better duos in the league), Chubb did not nearly have as much success running off-tackle as he should have, but he is built low to the ground, with a running style that has a cumulative effect on the opposing team because of the way he loads up that shoulder, and he has much better pull-away speed than people think.
Beckham Jr. had the greatest rookie season we have ever seen from a wide receiver and he continued to wow fans over his next four years in New York City. Until he was traded to Cleveland last offseason, he was averaging 92.8 receiving yards per game – which would rank behind only Julio Jones in terms of career averages – and expectations were high for him pairing up with Baker and his former LSU teammate Jarvis. Unfortunately he never looked like the dynamic superstar we were used to from the Big Apple, with just two games of more than 100 yards. However, I think a lot of that was due to a foot injury that was bothering him all year long and missing chemistry with his new QB. While the Cleveland offense will be run-first under new head coach Kevin Stefanski, with Baker going deep off play-action or giving OBJ a chance to run after the catch on a slant on the backside of an RPO concept, we could see a lot more of those splash plays that we’re accustomed to from him.
6. Dallas Cowboys – Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott & Amari Cooper
The Cowboys are the team that brought us the original triplet in the 90s with Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin. This version of it is pretty good too, even though those guys are very expensive. Dak Prescott had a good chance of becoming the league highest-paid player until Patrick Mahomes got his monster deal, Ezekiel Elliott got the biggest contract at his position last offseason (before Christian McCaffrey recently surpassed him) and Amari Cooper’s 100 million dollars of total value is the still the highest among all receivers.
Prescott came in as a fourth-round pick in 2016 and played so well in place of Tony Romo, that the veteran QB decided to retire. I don’t think his development has gone the way people expected it to after seeing what he did as a rookie, but he just put up career-highs in passing yards (4902) and touchdowns (30), whilst picking up the second-most first-downs through the air (229) and finishing in the top five in yards per attempt (8.2). While I would classify him to have general rather than pin-point accuracy, he can get the ball anywhere on the field, extends plays and you simply can’t overlook his rushing production, with over 1200 yards and another 21 trips to the end-zone through his four years in the league. With that being said, he has benefitted from a great O-line in Dallas and a team that was built on the rushing attack. He came up small in some of their biggest games (at New England, versus Buffalo on Thanksgiving and at Philadelphia to decide the division for example). He is right on the fringe of top ten at the position for me.
Elliott had an even greater debut campaign and should have actually been the Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2016 over his teammate, after leading the league with over 1600 rushing yards. He repeated that feat two years later and got a big-time contract, which he now needs to justify. Last season I thought he didn’t quite have that breakaway gear and explosion through the hole we have gotten used to from him. But some of that might have to do with the fact he has averaged 20.8 rushing attempts per game alone and that doesn’t even include 189 more catches, plus the Cowboys’ heavy tendency of running the ball on first down, where Zeke was not effective on at all last season. He is still one of the elite pass-protecting backs in the league and if he can shed just a couple of pounds this offseason, he might look more dynamic already again. This guy is certainly one of the most complete backs we have.
Cooper was originally selected at the same spot in the draft a year before Zeke (fourth overall) by Oakland, where he had kind of an inconsistent start to his career. Since he has come over to Big D, he has put up over 1900 receiving yards and 14 TDs in 25 games. I can deal with some drop issues for this guy, but the two things that keep me from ranking him higher individually are the facts that similar to his quarterback, he hasn’t really shown up in the big matchups and he had big issues getting off press against the really physical corners like Stephon Gilmore and Jalen Ramsey last season. With that being said, he is still an exquisite router-runner, who can break the ankles of defenders with the way he sets up double-moves. 54 of his 79 catches last season resulted in a fresh set of downs and he is an amazing toe-tap artist.
7. Minnesota Vikings – Kirk Cousins, Dalvin Cook & Adam Thielen
For the Vikings, they might be the most underrated trio we have in the league. They have a quarterback who is always right there around the top ten, until this offseason they had two guys who could be called number ones and now a running back, who finished behind only Christian McCaffrey in terms of yards from scrimmage per game.
Cousins may not ever be looked at as an elite quarterback and you could argue that he is more the result of the pieces around him, but you can’t disagree with the numbers. There have been some bad moments for him, but all he has done through his two years in Minnesota, is complete almost 70 percent of his passes for 7900 yards and 56 touchdowns. He had a lot of success last season in particular in that Kevin Stefanski/Gary Kubiak offense, where he was put on the move off bootlegs and could get his tight-ends involved or square his shoulder and go deep. He finished in the top six in touchdown percentage (5.9%), average yards per attempt (8.2) and passer rating (107.4), while also leading the league in time to throw (3.01 seconds), killing some of the stereotypes of not been as much of a vertical passer. He still has that stigma around him when it comes to primetime games, but with a big playoff victory in New Orleans, he has given himself some room to breathe.
Cook was on an incredible pace last season, until he got knocked out in week 15 with a shoulder injury, averaging 118 yards and just under one touchdown per game up to that point. He would return for their Wildcard Round game in New Orleans and go for 130 yards from scrimmage and reach the end-zone twice in an upset victory, before the 49ers put the clamps on that entire Vikings squad the following week. Dalvin is a homerun threat from the running back position, who does an excellent job pressing the front-side on those zone run plays and making a fluid cutback to take advantage of those lanes opening up inside once he gets around the edge a few times early on. He was also highly effective on screen plays last season and was the main reason their play-action was as effective as it was.
Thielen to me was always right behind his now-former teammate Stefon Diggs, but the guy who still remains with the Vikings has mostly been more productive and more trusted by his quarterback during their time there. I still remember watching Thielen cover and return kicks as an unknown player, who got his shot after a local tryout, in preseason of 2014. He has come incredibly far to someone who recorded 2790 yards and 13 TDs in 2017 and ’18 combined. I thought Thielen was actually a little overhyped two years ago, when he started the season with an impressive eight straight 100-yard games, until he began facing some of the better corners in the league, but because he was banged up for most of last season, he is actually being undervalued right now and will be a frequent target for me in fantasy football. Thielen is a very patient and deceptive route-runner, plus he routinely makes the tough catches downfield. It will be interesting to see how the Vikes use him and rookie Justin Jefferson, since both to me are at their best in the slot, but could have interchangeable roles.
8. Tennessee Titans – Ryan Tannehill, Derrick Henry & A.J. Brown
If you had put this trio up here a year ago, most people would have probably laughed at you. Derrick Henry did look like a monster down the stretch in 2018, but Ryan Tannehill was mostly referred to as a disappointing draft pick and Brown was selected just outside the top 50 and labelled as a slot receiver only. However, these guys were a huge part in leading Tennessee to their first AFC Championship game appearance since 2002.
Tannehill is a former top ten pick from the 2012 draft, who six weeks into last season, when taking over for Marcus Mariota, started turning this Titans squad and his career around. Completing 70.3 percent of his passes for 22 touchdowns compared to six INTs and leading the team to 7-3 record in the regular season is already pretty great, but the reigning Comeback Player of the Year was one of the best across pretty much all of the advanced stats. He finished third in both average intended air yards (9.6) and yards beyond the sticks (0.6) – both behind only Matt Stafford and Jameis Winston. He also had the second-highest touchdown percentage behind only Lamar Jackson (7.7) and a full yard more per attempt than any other QB in the league, to along with the top passer-rating (117.6). In addition to that, Tannehill pulled the ball on a couple of zone read plays or just took off for big conversions. Of his 43 carries last season, 14 went for first downs and he finished four of them in the end-zone. The only question now – Did he just catch lightning in a bottle for one year on a team with a great rushing attack?
Henry is the league’s reigning rushing leader with 1540 yards and he tied for a league-high 16 touchdowns, giving him an average 5.1 yards per attempt and almost 1000 of his rushing yards came after contact. While a 250-pound banger like that puts fear in the heart of defenders just because of what a freight train he is coming right at them, the speed for a guy his size is just ridiculous. The Titans run a lot of inside and outside zone, where Henry can build up momentum and as long as you don’t force him to stop his feet and change directions in the backfield, he is a load to bring down. But if you allow him to get to the edge, he has those long arms to keep defenders away from his body and once he gets past the second level of the defense, opposing safeties better be willing to stick their face in the fan and be able to keep up with those long strides.
Brown was only a rookie last season, but immediately became the team’s number one receiver over a slightly older top five pick in Corey Davis. The former Ole Miss pass-catcher hauled in 52 balls for 1051 yards and eight touchdowns, averaging 20.2 yards per grab and picking up 39 first downs on the way. All of that despite seeing only 84 targets come his direction. Comparing that to a guy like Alshon Jeffery of the Eagles, with similar measurements, who saw 73 targets, he didn’t even crack the 500-yard mark. Brown has such a thick, strong build and not only is he physical with the ball in his hands, but he also showed the ability to rip off big plays by running away from defenders on slants over the middle or tracking the deep ball, to go along with some jet sweeps. He has already proven that he can succeed inside and out and should improve his production with more chances.
9. Seattle Seahawks – Russell Wilson, Chris Carson & D.K. Metcalf
This group from the Pacific Northwest is somewhat carried by their quarterback, but they have a running back who just continues to produce no matter how much people want to doubt and a potential superstar in the making at the wide receiver position. When the quarterback fakes the hand-off and then throws the ball deep to his young wideout, it creates major issues for opponents.
Wilson to me is the second-best quarterback in the league and if I needed one score at the end of the game, I want the ball in that guy’s hands. Even if you take away those three years to start off his career, when the Legion of Boom got all the credit and Russ was quietly getting the job done as a super-effective player – over these last five seasons, he has averaged 3957 passing yards and 31 touchdowns compared to 8.4 interceptions. That doesn’t even include well over 2000 yards and eight more scores on the ground. Wilson is an incredible deep-ball thrower on those rainbow passes right into the bread-basket of his receivers, indicated by an average of 54.2 passes of 20+ yards over that same stretch. Most impressively, he has done all of that despite playing behind a top bottom-ten offensive line pretty much throughout his career and his own coaching staff taking the ball out of his hands, as one of the most run-heavy teams with little chances to throw the ball on first downs. Russ constantly extends plays and wills his team to victory, having finished above .500 every single season of his career.
Carson is a guy who people constantly believe will be replaced, especially after selecting Rashaad Penny in the first round of the draft a couple of years ago, but somehow he always shoulders the majority of the load. Over these last two seasons as a starter in Seattle, he has put up just over 2800 yards and 18 touchdowns, despite missing three combined games. Since 2018, Nick Chubb is the only running back with more missed tackles forced (110 over 107) and 55.8 percent of Carson’s rushing yards have come after contact, while gaining 29 yards more after the catch than his receiving total shows. I don’t think anybody in the league runs harder than this guy and not even his own team could bench him, if they wanted to. The only issue with Carson has been fumbles, since he has put the ball on the ground ten times combined over these last two years.
Metcalf is the “other” Ole Miss receiver, who actually went a little later than his teammate in the second round of last year’s draft, but people just overthought. I had him as my number one receiver available because of the freakish size, speed and physicality he presented. People got way too hung up with his poor time in the three-cone drill and the fact he ran a very limited route-tree in college. While he did mostly run slants, hitches and fade routes as a rookie and will probably never run too many intricate routes down the field, he is very productive on those and ran some double-moves later on in the season. While he did have his struggles early on with drops and fumbled three times, he also showed improvements with setting up his routes and already earned the trust from his quarterback to win one-on-one or make the proper adjustments on the scramble drill. Metcalf finished the season by breaking the rookie receiving record in their Wildcard game against the Eagles, when he went for 160 yards. I could have easily chosen Tyler Lockett here as well, but D.K. could be nightmare to cover for years to come.
10. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Tom Brady, Ronald Jones II & Mike Evans
And the final trio on this list starts with a quarterback, who after two decades in New England has now joined a new team. Tom Brady is coming to Tampa to pair up with probably the best receiving duo in the league today in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, plus a three-headed monster at tight-end. The running back room still has to settle the split of their workload, but to me RoJo is still their top guy.
Brady has a resume that nobody in NFL history can match – second to only Drew Brees in both passing yards and touchdowns, 14-time Pro Bowler, three league MVPs and the six rings of course – and while his numbers have gone down these last two seasons, because of all the young phenoms we have today, people seem to forget that he led the league in touchdown passes and was named MVP in 2017 only. I saw a little tendency to not be willing to stand in there and take some hits in order to make those big-time throws last season – which is why I will be interested to see how much more of the quick game Bruce Arians will incorporate into his vertical passing attack – but at 43 years old, Brady’s arm isn’t much worse than it was 20 years ago. He is still close to a pin-point thrower in-between the numbers, plays with a tremendous fire and has come up clutch when his team needed him most over and over again.
Jones II had an unbelievable junior season at USC, when he averaged 5.9 yards per carry and 13.4 yards per reception, on his way to over 1700 scrimmage yards and 20 touchdowns. His rookie season in the NFL was highly disappointing, touching the ball only 30 times and averaging less than two yards per carry in the nine games he played. Last year he looked a lot better and started the final nine games, touching the ball over 200 times overall for more than 1000 yards and six TDs, while more than doubling his yards per rush attempts (4.2) and catching 31 passes. While I don’t the same kind of dynamic runner, in terms of making people miss and ripping off long runs, I think he has become a much tougher ball-carrier in-between the tackles and that production as a receiver will be crucial as Brady comes in, who has completed 120+ passes to his backs in each of the last three seasons.
Evans got the slight nod over Chris Godwin, simply because he has done it for a longer period of time and is a little more of a downfield weapon. Evans is now the only receiver in NFL history to start out his career with six consecutive seasons of 1000+ receiving yards. His 80.7 receiving yards per game is more than Jerry Rice, Randy Moss or T.O. have put up for their respective careers and he has scored 49 touchdowns in 90 games so far. Big Mike is a dominant receiver when the ball is in the air of course, but he also gets in and out of his breaks much better than any 6’5”, 230-pound receiver I have seen and what I really appreciate about him, is the fact he gets after defenders as a blocker. And since we’re at comparisons right now, Evans’ 17.5 yards per grab over the last two seasons is 1.5 yards better than what Tyreek Hill has done over that stretch with the most explosive deep-ball thrower in the league.
Just missed the cut:
Atlanta Falcons – Matt Ryan, Todd Gurley & Julio Jones
Detroit Lions – Matthew Stafford, D’Andre Swift & Kenny Golladay
Pittsburgh Steelers – Ben Roethlisberger, James Conner & Juju Smith-Schuster