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When you combine an NFL franchise’s three main offensive weapons – quarterback, running back and wide receiver / tight end – football fans refer to it as the team’s offensive ‘triplet’. Every team has one, except some are a whole lot better than others.
With a productive triplet, a team can challenge the defense at multiple levels of the field by balancing the passing and rushing attack against each other, moving the ball and scoring big. And often.
The triplet gold standard is Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin.
When you look at their 1995 offensive numbers (that was the year their Dallas Cowboys won Super Bowl XXX against the Pittsburgh Steelers, 27-17) only one modern triplet beats their offensive output, and ironically it’s the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Technically, there’s no specific statistic to measure and compare the output of the various NFL triplets, so for the sake of this article we’ll attempt to create a very basic stat right here:
Triplet Output Number (TON) = total offensive yards + (total touchdowns x 6)
It’s not perfect, but as you’ll see for the purposes of comparing and ranking triplets, it does just fine.
Here’s the Aikman / Smith / Irvin triplet’s TON:
TOTALS: 8,347 yards + (65 TDs x 6) = 8,737 TON
The key to being a powerful triplet is not having a weak link. Most of the modern triplets include quarterbacks with noticeably better numbers than Aikman, but Smith’s and Irvin’s fat stats more than make up for it when combined.
Here are the NFL’s top ten triplets ranked according to their TON.
Also, there are five ‘What ifs…’ that should probably be included in this discussion.
And finally, there’s the NFL’s two worst triplets in 2017, one that actually used their starting quarterback, and one that couldn’t.
Feel free to debate the results in the comment section below – especially if you have a better method of measuring and comparing triplet effectiveness.
Here we go, starting with…
The only reason why quarterback Carson Wentz’s triplet ranked a ‘lowly’ 10th was because he just played in 13 games. It’s going to be fun watching him return in 2018 and boost this triplet’s output.
TOTALS: 5,888 yards + (47 TDs x 6) = 6,170 TON
Quarterback Kirk Cousins played for the Washington Redskins last season, so this one probably shouldn’t count. But it’s too hard to not wonder how this triplet will stack up, especially paired with the league’s top defense getting them lots of offensive playing time.
TOTALS: 6,105 yards + (42 TDs x 6) = 6,357 TON
Quarterback Matthew Stafford’s Lions are the big sleeper ready to wake. This triplet lacks a blowout runner to distract defenses from the passing game effectively.
TOTALS: 6,283 yards + (39 TDs x 6) = 6,517 TON
The fact that top NFL quarterback and league MVP/GOAT Tom Brady’s triplet is ranked out of the top five is a result of their weaker running game. The fact that they continue to show up in the playoffs and the Super Bowl says a lot about what Brady and head coach Bill Belichick manage to do with the rest of the team, too.
TOTALS: 6,286 yards + (58 TDs x 6) = 6,634 TON
Quarterback Cam Newton is a double threat to pass or run, so he makes up for the relatively lower rushing and receiver numbers of this triplet.
TOTALS: 6,447 yards + (46 TDs x 6) = 6,723 TON
Whenever your quarterback puts up over 4,500 passing yards, chances are he’s part of a top tier triplet. Quarterback Phillip Rivers and his trio continue to put up big numbers quietly while the team continues to stay right out of the playoffs.
TOTALS: 7,496 yards + (46 TDs x 6) = 7,772 TON
The Falcons’ triplet has no weak links. Their 8th ranked offense came close to returning to the Super Bowl last season, and this trio of production was a big reason for that.
TOTALS: 7,622 yards + (36 TDs x 6) = 7,838 TON
The Rams and their improved offense are on everyone’s radar these days. Coach Sean McVay and quarterback Jared Goff have figured out how to effectively audible and this triplet has turned the team’s total offensive production around.
TOTALS: 7,596 yards + (55 TDs x 6) = 7,926 TONz
With a consistent stats machine like quarterback Drew Brees, it’s no surprise his triplet has the second highest TON. He’s got solid help, of course.
TOTALS: 8,083 yards + (49 TDs x 6) = 8,377 TON
The modern-day triplet gold standard is the Killer B’s of the 2018 Pittsburgh Steelers. This trio has yet to turn their offensive prowess into a Super Bowl appearance, but last season they came close. They’re the only triplet whose TON is larger than Aikman/Smith/Irvin’s.
TOTALS: 8,549 yards + (57 TDs x 6) = 8,891 TON
Perhaps you’ve noticed a few of the more prominent NFL triplets are missing from this top ten list. Due to injury, there were three groups that probably would have made it to the top ten but instead ended up being fair to middling.
If you use injured (and arguably the best current NFL quarterback) Aaron Rodgers’ 2016 numbers, the Green Bay Packers’ triplet would rank at #6. And if my Aunt was a man she’d be my Uncle.
TOTALS: 7,228 yards + (67 TDs x 6) = 7,630 TON
Speaking of tempting ‘what ifs’, every Houston Texan fan is wondering how their triplet would stack up had quarterback Deshaun Watson not been injured during a November practice last season. Here’s what his triplet might have looked like, which would have been good enough to make #6 in our list.
TOTALS: 6,853 yards + (63 TDs x 6) = 7,231 TON
With a healthy quarterback Andrew Luck, the Colts’ triplet would have easily made the top ten list. Colts fans are hoping he’ll be back to do just that in 2018.
TOTALS: 6,130 yards + (41 TDs x 6) = 6,376 TON
So here’s a fun possibility – will the New York Giants’ otherwise struggling triplet enter the top ten now that their star receiver is healthy again and they have drafted running back phenom Saquon Barkley?
Since Odell Beckham Jr. didn’t play most of last season, let’s use his pre-injury 2016 numbers. Plus, it’s not fair to compare Barkley’s college numbers to pro stats, so here’s a low-ball (for a rookie-phenom) estimate of his Pro numbers to get an idea of how this triplet might do with him onboard in 2018.
TOTALS: 6,470 yards + (47 TDs x 6) = 6,752 TON
And finally, the last place triplets.
With all due respect, some seasons just don’t pan out the way they were supposed to.
Last year, the Indianapolis Colts had the triplet with the lowest TON, but because their starter Andrew Luck was injured, they were playing with their backup quarterback, Jacoby Brissett.
The Cincinnati Bengals used their starters and still their triplet took the second to last place spot.
TOTALS: 4,907 yards + (34 TDs x 6) = 5,111 TON
The 2017 triplet using their starting quarterback with the lowest TON was the Cincinnati Bengals. Again, it’s a made-up and arguable stat, but relatively speaking the Bengals have the longest road back to triplet dominance.
TOTALS: 5,410 yards + 37 TDs x 6) = 5,632 TON
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Mike Lukas is a retired standup comedian turned freelance writer now living in Dallas, Texas, originally from Cleveland, Ohio. His love for the game of football and all things Cleveland Browns turned Mike into a pro blogger years ago. Now Mike enjoys writing about all thirty-two NFL teams, hoping to help football gamblers gain a slight edge in their pursuit of the perfect wager. Email: [email protected]More info on Mike Lukas
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