Triplets are awesome, if you mean three babies born around the same time (and if the parents have unlimited energy and patience). They’re like getting a full house in five-card draw, plus adorable matching outfits!
The NFL.com “triplets rankings,” on the other hand, are dumb, sick and profoundly wrong. Not just lousy analysis and number-crunching, though that’s also true. (George Kittle as the league’s 18th best pass catcher? He’s top ten in almost every category.)
I’m saying that you don’t even want the best triplets in the league. Best quarterback, sure. No downside there. But you don’t win in the playoffs from a single great receiver or running back. You win with deep rosters.
I’d much rather have the 17th, 29th, and 47th receivers than #1, #67 and #127. So would the New England Patriots (Julian Edelman is listed as 17th here); they’re ranked just 7th for their triplets, but did pretty well last season if I recall correctly.
The Rams are 8th, only two points behind the Pats (out of 114) even though Goff was exposed and Gurley’s gimpy. So the numbers are unconnected to any reality. (But kudos to writer Ali Bhanpuri for merging tight ends together with wide receivers into one category, anyway.)
Number crunching aside, I don’t think you even want the best QB, WR and pass catcher. You might be thinking, “That’s crazy, though, Mark! Why wouldn’t you want the best individual talent possible?”
Three reasons: injuries, game planning, and the salary cap.
Players get injured. A team can get lucky for a year or two and will usually do well those years. The Rams, for example, had the lowest adjusted games lost in 2017 and the 4th lowest last year, according to Football Outsiders.
But over the long run, you need depth to go deep in the playoffs. How far would the Eagles have advanced the last two years without the league’s best backup quarterback?
If your team is dependent on three superstars while the rest of your roster lags, an injury to anyone of them knocks you out. That’s not a smart way to build a roster.
2) Game planning
People say this is a quarterback’s league, but it’s even more of a coordinator’s league, especially in the playoffs. Look at how the Patriots smothered Goff. Sure, Ezekiel Elliot might be the best running back, but if a DC can load the box and shut him down, what then? A star receiver can be bracketed. Etc.
Teams win by being multiple, and unpredictable. When Cooper Kupp was out and Todd Gurley’s knee deteriorated, the Rams were no longer multiple and it was easier to scheme against them.
The beauty of Kyle Shanahan’s offense is that you don’t have to be Odell Beckham, Jr. or Saquon Barkley shine in it. Even with SF’s three most successful running backs out or injured last year, a fourth — Jeff Wilson, Jr. — was able to step up and gain big yards.
With all of the backs good at catching passes, San Francisco arguably has a dozen quality receivers on the roster now. Even with this team’s injury rate, they’re not all going to get hurt.
3) The salary cap
The biggest reason to seek depth over triplets is that resources are limited. Quarterbacks and wide receivers are among the most expensive players, especially the big stars, and the best running backs are high picks still on their rookie contracts.
Zeke Elliot was a #4 overall pick. He’s been a great RB, aside from violence against women and such, and had almost 2,000 combined yards last year. But facing a DC as good as Wade Phillips, he managed only 47 yards on 20 carries as Dallas lost in the playoffs this January.
San Francisco, in comparison, had a much less heralded offensive line and a running back corps consisting of 3 undrafted players and 31-year old free agent Alfred Morris, who was a 6th round pick in 2012. They combined for 1,902 yards, just 61 less than the Cowboys.
Dallas has only won one playoff game during Zeke’s three years, and if their treatment of DeMarco Murray is any guide, the Cowboys will grind him into the dirt over the next two years and not extend him. Meanwhile, they could have had Jalen Ramsey or DeForest Buckner or traded down for a slew of picks for all that draft capital.
Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch have followed the opposite of the “triplets” strategy, and their offense has kept running despite a horrible run of injuries. Meanwhile, the teams that draw three aces consistently fade in January.