With the NFL calendar firmly entrenched in prognostication and ranking season, it seemed like the ideal time to assess the top triplets -- QB-RB-pass catcher -- entering the 2019 season. Acclaimed podcaster and notorious rabble-rouser Dave Dameshek normally pens this annual column, but after seeing (and thoroughly enjoying) the immense backlash I received from my team-by-team franchise QB rankings last month, he suggested I take on this project next. Thanks, Dave.
Similar to previous iterations, I ranked each team's top running back and pass catcher 1-32, assigning them points commensurate with their placement. For example, Ezekiel Elliott netted the Cowboys 32 points for being the No. 1-ranked RB, and Saquon Barkley earned the Giants 31 points for being No. 2. However, to put my own spin on this exercise, I analyzed all 32 QBs by two different metrics: 1) whom I would want in 2019 for one game; and 2) projected 2019 production. To give extra weight to the game's most important position, I then multiplied each team's combined QB score by 1.5. Add up all three position totals for each team, and you get the ranking below.
That's it. No other rules. So let's get to it!
Quarterback: Josh Rosen -- Rank: 32nd (One game: 31st | 2019 prod.: 32nd)
Running back: Kenyan Drake -- Rank: 31st
Pass catcher: Kenny Stills -- Rank: 31st
For the second year in a row, the Dolphins finish at the bottom in this exercise. And it might get worse in Miami before it gets better. Rosen ranks last among quarterbacks because his rookie season was such a wash, and because his offensive coordinator count has already hit three (four if you count his short minicamp stint with Kliff Kingsbury in April) before he's even begun Year 2. That said, there were bright moments in what was otherwise a lost season, and in those moments, Rosen showcased some of the traits (accuracy, anticipation, poise in the pocket) that made him the 10th overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. I'm convinced the former UCLA passer will end up being a quality starter in this league. Although Drake's rushing numbers dropped year-over-year, his receiving totals increased in basically every major category, so there's hope he could put it all together in Year 4. Stills is the best of the Dolphins' pass catchers, and he has yet to top 60 receptions or 900 yards in a season in South Beach since joining the team in 2015. That worries me, and it should probably worry Rosen.
Quarterback: Dwayne Haskins -- Rank: 31st (One game: 32nd | 2019 prod.: 29th)
Running back: Adrian Peterson -- Rank: 18th
Pass catcher: Jordan Reed -- Rank: 30th
How quickly will Haskins -- whom I expect to win the starting job over Case Keenum -- pick up the pace of the NFL game? Does he have enough surrounding talent to take off in Year 1? The former Ohio State passer will definitely benefit from the return of two Pro Bowl offensive linemen, left tackle Trent Williams (assuming he and the team resolve their differences) and guard Brandon Scherff, who missed a combined 11 games last season due to injury. The rookie QB, along with the ageless Adrian Peterson, will also get a boost from second-year back Derrius Guice, who's set to make his NFL debut this fall after losing his entire rookie season to an ACL injury suffered in the 2018 preseason. Still, the Redskins have major question marks in terms of aerial targets. Case in point: Tight end Jordan Reed, who has missed 31 games during his six-year career and hasn't topped 700 yards in any of the previous three seasons, is the team's No. 1 option in the passing game.
Quarterback: Josh Allen -- Rank: 29th (One game: 30th | 2019 prod.: 28th)
Running back: LeSean McCoy -- Rank: 22nd
Pass catcher: Zay Jones -- Rank: 29th
After he logged a career-worst 514 rushing yards on just 3.2 yards per carry, it's unclear how much McCoy (who turns 31 on July 12) has left in the tank. The Bills seemed concerned, as well, bringing in two veterans in free agency ( Frank Gore and T.J. Yeldon) and using a third-round pick on the position (Devin Singletary) in the 2019 NFL Draft. If Shady has a strong camp and proves that it is in fact hard to replace a guy like him, then I'll have egg on my face for ranking him so low. But after last season, there are just too many other backs I'd rather have right now. Josh Allen and Zay Jones could become a formidable QB-WR duo in time. I'm just not sure that time is in 2019. Buffalo is trending in the right direction, even if McCoy isn't.
Quarterback: Joe Flacco -- Rank: T-27th (One game: 23rd | 2019 prod.: 30th)
Running back: Phillip Lindsay -- Rank: 15th
Pass catcher: Courtland Sutton -- Rank: 24th
Lindsay was easily one of the league's biggest offensive surprises last year. Expected to be full-go by the start of training camp in July (he fractured his wrist in Week 16), the second-year back will be Flacco's best friend on offense. The Ravens' all-time franchise QB is trying to resurrect his career in Denver after four consecutive below-average seasons. Call me skeptical. Before tearing his Achilles in Week 12, Emmanuel Sanders was far and away the team's No. 1 pass catcher. (He finished the season as the team leader in both receptions and yards despite playing in just 12 games!) But with the veteran's Week 1 status in question, I'm going with Sutton as Denver's primary weapon in the passing game. The good: The former second-round pick averaged an impressive 16.8 yards per reception as a rookie. The bad: He had nine drops and just 42 catches in 16 weeks of action. I admittedly have him ranked higher than his Year 1 production warrants, but I'm banking on him taking his game to a whole new level in his sophomore season -- just as NFL Network's Reggie Wayne predicts. The Broncos (and I) will need the 23-year-old to grow up fast for their offense (my credibility) to hold up in 2019.
Quarterback: Eli Manning -- Rank: 30th (One game: 29th | 2019 prod.: 31st)
Running back: Saquon Barkley -- Rank: 2nd
Pass catcher: Sterling Shepard -- Rank: 26th
As good as Barkley is (and he's awesome!), he can only do so much to help the Giants overcome their deficiencies and uncertainties in other offensive areas. As of now, New York will open the 2019 campaign with two WR2s (but no WR1) and a legitimate QB battle between Manning and Daniel Jones. How many teams in the past decade have started a season with a competition under center and still made the playoffs? I'll wait. Third-year tight end Evan Engram is perhaps deserving of the team's top pass-catcher honor after a strong finish to last season, but he's been inconsistent and hampered by injury (14 drops in 26 total games) for chunks of his young career. Not sold on either the 38-year-old Manning or the rookie out of Duke to be a positive difference-maker for this team in 2019, so it might not matter who receives the majority of snaps under center this season.
Quarterback: Jimmy Garoppolo -- Rank: T-24th (One game: 24th | 2019 prod.: 23rd)
Running back: Tevin Coleman -- Rank: 27th
Pass catcher: George Kittle -- Rank: 18th
As I was ranking Garoppolo, I had to remind myself repeatedly that he's started just 10 games in his NFL career. And as good as he's looked in most of them, that's still too small a sample size for me to rank him significantly higher with real confidence. If he stays healthy, he definitely has the potential to make good on the massive contract the 49ers handed him back in February 2018. Tevin Coleman has had an up-and-down four seasons in the NFL, but his career apex up to this point came under current 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan, back when both were in Atlanta and a mere 30 minutes away from winning a Super Bowl. So there's reason to believe Coleman could be set for a big 2019. Kittle was phenomenal last year, setting the single-season record for receiving yards by a tight end (1,377). But can the fantasy darling repeat that level of success?
Quarterback: Lamar Jackson -- Rank: T-24th (One game: 22nd | 2019 prod.: 25th)
Running back: Mark Ingram -- Rank: 17th
Pass catcher: Marquise Brown -- Rank: 27th
Of all the trios on this list, Baltimore's offensive core is the one I'm most excited to see take the field in September. Lamar Jackson proved in Year 1 he's one of the league's most electrifying playmakers, and the team's commitment to running an offensive system designed around his unique skill set is refreshing. Even at 29, Ingram is a quality back who will add experience and production (fifth-most yards from scrimmage among RBs since 2015) to Baltimore's backfield. And I can't wait to watch "Hollywood" Brown sprint by defenders on the M&T Stadium turf. But will Jackson be able to hit him in stride? Hard to say, considering Jackson attempted just 13 passes of 20-plus air yards last season (ranking 39th among QBs), per Next Gen Stats. So as much as I appreciate and am intrigued by the Ravens' Army-like offensive approach, the potential run-run-run-run philosophy could ding Jackson's (and Brown's) overall production. I'll have no problem issuing a mea culpa in January if the Ravens have a top-10 unit.
Quarterback: Marcus Mariota -- Rank: T-27th (One game: 26th | 2019 prod.: 27th)
Running back: Derrick Henry -- Rank: 13th
Pass catcher: Corey Davis -- Rank: 19th
Henry was the hottest running back in the league at the end of last season, racking up the most rushing yards (655), touchdowns (8) and yards per attempt (6.2) among players with at least 55 carries over the final six weeks. During that stretch, he also had nearly 200 more yards after contact than the next-closest back (Chris Carson), per Pro Football Focus. The Titans will need Henry, who's entering a contract year, to sustain that type of production for a full season to take pressure off Mariota, who has yet to show that he can carry the offense since being selected No. 2 overall in the 2015 NFL Draft. Davis took a huge leap from Year 1 to Year 2, and I expect him to do the same this upcoming season, especially with free-agent addition Adam Humphries working underneath.
Quarterback: Nick Foles -- Rank: T-18th (One game: 11th | 2019 prod.: 26th)
Running back: Leonard Fournette -- Rank: 20th
Pass catcher: Marqise Lee -- Rank: 32nd
Foles should bring a level of consistency to the Jaguars' QB1 position that the Duval County faithful haven't enjoyed in a long time. I'll direct Foles haters who want to argue about his one-game ranking to the shiny Lombardi Trophy on display at the Philadelphia Eagles' practice facility. And his 4-1 postseason record over the past two years. It's entirely possible (and more than likely) that Foles wouldn't rank this high if I were to revisit this exercise in October. But it's July. Right now, what's fresh in our collective football minds (specifically those of Bears fans) is that Foles has been getting it done when it matters. Lee, who's returning from an ACL tear, has yet to establish himself as a true No. 1 receiver -- no matter how badly the Jags need him to fill that role this season. As for Fournette, few running backs have had a more notable fall from grace than the third-year pro, who went from being the focal point of the Jags' offense as a rookie to missing half of his sophomore season because of a hamstring injury and a one-game suspension. His future in Jacksonville depends heavily on his 2019 production.
Quarterback: Mitchell Trubisky -- Rank: 20th (One game: 18th | 2019 prod.: 21st)
Running back: David Montgomery -- Rank: 29th
Pass catcher: Allen Robinson -- Rank: 20th
The Bears' ranking here doesn't adequately capture how balanced and talented this unit is as a whole. Although they don't have superstars (yet) in any of these three areas, they do have a ton of young talent ready to take the next step in their development. If Trubisky builds on his 2018 Pro Bowl season, Robinson returns to his pre-injury production and Montgomery proves to be the three-down, Alvin Kamara-esque back that many smart people think he could be, I'll (un)happily take a shot of Malort as penance for ranking them 23rd.
Quarterback: Jameis Winston -- Rank: 23rd (One game: 28th | 2019 prod.: 17th)
Running back: Peyton Barber -- Rank: 32nd
Pass catcher: Mike Evans -- Rank: 6th
Winston had the third-largest discrepancy between his one-game ranking and his 2019 expected production of all the QBs on the list, which illustrates my confidence in offensive guru Bruce Arians (and his belief in offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, now in Tampa). Under Arians' stewardship, I see Winston steering the Bucs' offense to numerous chunk plays and racking up a ton of yards. The key will be whether he can reduce his turnover totals, especially in pressure moments. Barber had 234 carries and started all 16 games last year, but ran for just 3.7 yards per carry and five touchdowns. Of course, Ronald Jones II could take over RB1 duties in Year 2, but he was such a non-factor in his rookie season (23 rushes for 44 yards) that the question of which guy Tampa Bay starts is almost irrelevant. The Bucs' backfield and the offensive line will have to perform better for this unit to have the balance it needs to be successful. Evans is a game-changing WR1 and has the fifth-most receiving yards (6,103) since entering the NFL in 2014. He's carrying this trio.
Quarterback: Sam Darnold -- Rank: 21st (One game: 21st | 2019 prod.: 22nd)
Running back: Le'Veon Bell -- Rank: 5th
Pass catcher: Robby Anderson -- Rank: 28th
I have Darnold as the 21st-best QB in the league, but he'll likely rank higher by season's end. I'm counting on the former third overall pick building on his strong finish to last year (he posted a 6:1 TD-to-INT ratio and a 99.1 passer rating in the final four weeks of the season). Bell's arrival should help Darnold's development and provide balance to the Jets' offense. I had a tough time ranking Bell in this exercise, because I'm not sure what to expect from the former All-Pro after he sat out the entire 2018 season rather than sign his franchise tender. Is he rusty? Is he rejuvenated? Is he recording a new mixtape? I had him as the second-best back in the NFL going into last season, but he drops a few spots now because of the emergence of guys like Saquon Barkley and Christian McCaffrey. Anderson is perhaps a few spots higher than his performance calls for, but he could be poised for a breakout if Darnold delivers in Year 2.
Quarterback: Kyler Murray -- Rank: 22nd (One game: 25th | 2019 prod.: 19th)
Running back: David Johnson -- Rank: 9th
Pass catcher: Larry Fitzgerald -- Rank: 22nd
Johnson quietly put up 1,386 scrimmage yards and 10 total touchdowns last year. Although his numbers were way down from his monster 2016 season, the Cardinals' offense as a whole was a disaster. Unlike my colleague Maurice Jones-Drew, I'm not at all ready to drop the former All-Pro out of the top 10. ( Let alone down to 25!) After all, the biggest takeaway from Johnson's 2018 campaign was that he started all 16 games for Arizona after losing basically the entire previous season to injury. While it's unclear how Johnson will fit into new coach Kliff Kingsbury's version of the Air Raid offense, I'm not docking the runner for a potential poor scheme fit. I know I might get some flak for ranking Murray higher in the one-game scenario than a few more-established passers, such as Andy Dalton and Jameis Winston, but the 2018 Heisman Trophy winner's dynamic skill set and overflowing confidence have made me a believer. Fitzgerald is a first-ballot Hall of Famer and will almost certainly finish his 16th NFL season No. 2 on the all-time receptions list (he's 22 short of Tony Gonzalez) after already working his way up to second all-time in receiving yards. That said, it's hard to rank the soon-to-be 36-year-old receiver much higher on the list at this stage in his career -- as much as I want to.
Quarterback: Matthew Stafford -- Rank: T-18th (One game: 19th | 2019 prod.: 18th)
Running back: Kerryon Johnson -- Rank: 16th
Pass catcher: Kenny Golladay -- Rank: 23rd
After a terrible start to the 2018 campaign (throwing four picks against the Jets in Week 1), Stafford rebounded and strung together an OK season, despite playing part of it with a broken back. The numbers he posted this past year -- many career worsts -- are more in line with what we should expect from the 11th-year pro going forward, as his role in the Lions' offense is likely to be different from what was required by the throw-it-1,000-times strategy the team employed earlier in his career. With the emergence of running back Kerryon Johnson and the arrival of former Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, Stafford probably won't be throwing the ball 600 times or for 4,500-plus yards. Instead, he'll be asked to be efficient with his opportunities and come up big when the team needs him most, like Bevell's former quarterback in Seattle, Russell Wilson. Stafford's inability to lift Detroit over quality opponents (he's 20-59 against teams .500 or better) looms large over the Lions' passer and his ranking above. Golladay took over WR1 duties last season and quietly broke 1,000 receiving yards while averaging 15.2 yards per catch. And though I expect the young wideout to keep improving in Year 3, the potential changes to the team's offensive philosophy could limit his production.
Quarterback: Andy Dalton -- Rank: T-24th (One game: 27th | 2019 prod.: 20th)
Running back: Joe Mixon -- Rank: 8th
Pass catcher: A.J. Green -- Rank: 7th
Dalton has been an average-to-slightly-above-average quarterback for much of his career ... when the scope is limited to just the regular season. But the wheels fall off in January, when the Bengals' franchise passer becomes the worst version of himself. His 0-4 record and 57.8 passer rating in the postseason dropped him to 27th in the one-game ranking and sabotaged an otherwise-formidable unit. Mixon has proven he's a top-notch back, displaying great power, vision and breakaway ability (ranked third in runs of 10-plus yards, per PFF) in his second season. While he did catch 43 balls in 2018 (on 55 targets), it would behoove new coach Zac Taylor to feature Mixon even more in the passing game -- and not just on screens. (I'm sure he'll read and consider my savvy advice.) When healthy, Green is still an upper-echelon WR1. The seven-time Pro Bowler was off to a tremendous start last year, catching 45 balls for 687 yards and six scores through eight games before a toe injury limited him to just one brief appearance in Week 13 and, soon thereafter, a spot on IR. Durability, not a drop-off in ability, is the main concern for the soon-to-be 31-year-old superstar.
Quarterback: Deshaun Watson -- Rank: 15th (One game: 16th | 2019 prod.: 16th)
Running back: Lamar Miller -- Rank: 30th
Pass catcher: DeAndre Hopkins -- Rank: 1st
It might be controversial to rank Hopkins as the NFL's No. 1 pass catcher, but it shouldn't be. Since entering the league in 2013, Nuk ranks third in receiving yards (7,437), fifth in receptions (528) and second in touchdown grabs (47). The guy who appears in front of him in all three categories, Antonio Brown, is unquestionably an all-time great and also worthy of the top spot. But 95 percent of Brown's 837 career receptions have come courtesy of future Hall of Famer Ben Roethlisberger. Very different story for Hopkins, who has somehow managed to haul in 369 passes (69.9 percent of his total) from a group consisting of Brock Osweiler (66), Brian Hoyer (65), Ryan Fitzpatrick (57), Tom Savage (51), Matt Schaub (33), Ryan Mallett (33), T.J. Yates (26), Case Keenum (26) and Brandon Weeden (12). Look, I won't fault anyone for anointing A.B., Julio Jones, Odell Beckham Jr. or even Michael Thomas as the game's top WR1. But I'm more than comfortable crowning the person who had 115 receptions and zero drops last season, per PFF. Miller has been a sneakily-serviceable option out of the backfield for Houston since arriving via free agency in 2016, but he has yet to top 1,300 scrimmage yards in any one season during that period. Arguably the least-talked-about superstar QB in the league, Watson had a rock-solid 2018 campaign (26 TDs, 9 INTs, 103.1 passer rating) that was overshadowed some by his NFL-high 62 sacks taken. If Houston is finally able to shore up its O-line, the Texans' triplets could rocket up the rankings in 12 months' time.
Quarterback: Kirk Cousins -- Rank: 16th (One game: 20th | 2019 prod.: 14th)
Running back: Dalvin Cook -- Rank: 11th
Pass catcher: Stefon Diggs -- Rank: 14th
No quarterback in the NFL is entering this season under as much pressure as Cousins. The organization guaranteed him a whopping $84 million when he signed in 2018 with the expectation that he'd be the final piece of what was otherwise a championship-caliber roster. Cousins, individually, had a statistically-solid first season in Minnesota, ranking among the top 10 QBs in passing yards, touchdowns and completion percentage. But when it counted most, in a win-and-you're-in scenario at home against the Bears in Week 17, the Vikings' signal-caller delivered his least-productive game of the season, throwing for a paltry 132 yards on 33 attempts. The Vikings' offense as a whole ranked nine spots worse in both points scored (from 10th to 19th) and total yards (11th to 20th) year-over-year. To be fair, that's not all on Cousins. Part of the unit's problem, as head coach Mike Zimmer frequently lamented, was its lack of commitment to the running game (and questionable O-line play). Neither should be as big a problem this year, with Gary Kubiak now in-house as an offensive consultant and first-round pick Garrett Bradbury slated to start at center. Cook, who deserves at least 20 touches per game (a total he's logged just four times -- all wins -- in 15 career games), should be firmly in the top-10 RB mix by year's end, if he can just stay healthy. As for the Stefon Diggs- Adam Thielen debate: Both are exceptional receivers who are essential to the Vikings' success. But Thielen gets to eat as well as he does because Diggs commands the bulk of attention from opposing defenses. So the "Minneapolis Miracle" hero gets the nod here.
Quarterback: Carson Wentz -- Rank: 11th (One game: 14th | 2019 prod.: 8th)
Running back: Jordan Howard -- Rank: 26th
Pass catcher: Zach Ertz -- Rank: 16th
If Kirk Cousins is the QB facing the most pressure this season, Wentz might be the guy with the most to prove -- a crazy thing to say for a passer with a career 70:28 TD-to-INT ratio and an MVP-caliber season under his belt. Whether it's fair or not, Wentz's durability (he's gone on IR the last two seasons for knee and back injuries, respectively) has led to questions about his overall value, especially after Nick Foles stepped up in relief to go 4-1 in the postseason and lead the franchise to its first-ever Super Bowl title. Clearly the Eagles' decision-makers don't harbor those same concerns, as they recently locked up their young signal-caller on a four-year extension that includes $66 million fully guaranteed. I'm a bit less convinced, which is why a top-10 talent like Wentz sits just outside of that elite group to start the season. Ertz has established himself as a complete tight end and the ultimate security blanket for Eagles passers. Perhaps he should be ranked higher after his 116-reception season, but defensive coordinators are more apt to let Ertz gobble up passes underneath than they are to let T.Y. Hilton (ranked 13th) or Brandin Cooks (11th) flip the field in a moment's notice. Howard posted back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons to begin his career before seeing his production suffer in Year 3, after Matt Nagy's arrival in Chicago. Although I do think Howard can still be an effective runner in the NFL, he doesn't pose much of a threat in the passing game, which hurts his overall ranking. Still, picking up a quality young player like Howard for a conditional 2020 sixth-round pick was yet another savvy move by general manager Howie Roseman.
Quarterback: Cam Newton -- Rank: T-13th (One game: 15th | 2019 prod.: 15th)
Running back: Christian McCaffrey -- Rank: 4th
Pass catcher: D.J. Moore -- Rank: 25th
The further removed we are from Newton's incredible 45-total-touchdown, MVP-winning season in 2015, the more it's fair to wonder whether we've already seen the best from the three-time Pro Bowler. He hasn't come anywhere near that level of production in the three seasons since and will head into the 2019 campaign with a re-worked throwing motion after having surgery on his shoulder (the second of his pro career) in January. Changing a passer's mechanics is a grueling undertaking at even the developmental stages of a career, let alone after eight NFL seasons. In his defense, I'll note that Newton finished last year completing 67.9 percent of his passes (shattering his previous career high of 61.7 in 2013), which had been an area of emphasis for offensive coordinator Norv Turner. So it's hard to know what to reasonably expect from the Panthers' all-time franchise passer in 2019. Luckily for Newton and Norv, they can lean on third-year veteran Christian McCaffrey, who has emerged as a legitimate every-down back. His breakout 2018 campaign, in which he rushed for nearly 1,100 yards and then added 867 more in the passing game (on 107 catches!), could be just the tip of the iceberg for the former Stanford standout. Moore's rookie season wasn't perfect (13 catches in his first six games), but it sure was promising. The second-year pro was a YAC monster, finishing the year tied for first in YAC per reception (7.1) among receivers who were targeted at least 40 times, per PFF. If Newton's arm is right, this trio could easily be a top-10 or even top-five unit by season's end.
Quarterback: Derek Carr -- Rank: T-13th (One game: 17th | 2019 prod.: 13th)
Running back: Josh Jacobs -- Rank: 23rd
Pass catcher: Antonio Brown -- Rank: 3rd
I fully recognize that I'm higher on Carr than most, but I truly think the sixth-year pro is set to have a career season. After battling injuries and a roster overhaul the past couple years, Carr has been supplied the surrounding talent he needs to recapture his MVP-caliber form from 2016. Perhaps the biggest reason for my faith in the Raiders' franchise passer is the arrival of Antonio Brown -- far and away the most productive receiver of the past decade. Sure, he just turned 31 and, of course, has been involved in some distracting off-field dramas. But just last year, he caught 104 passes for 1,297 yards and a career-best 15 receiving touchdowns. His work ethic has become a thing of legend and is why he should be able to sustain his Hall-of-Fame-level play this season and well beyond. However, for both Carr and Brown to really take off, they'll need help from the run game -- something Oakland has received little of the past two seasons. Football minds much smarter than mine raved about Jacobs in the pre-draft process, with NFL.com draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah ranking him No. 8 on his top 100 prospects list. Hard for me to rank the rookie much higher than 23rd here without a single pro snap on his ledger. If DJ's right, though -- as he often is -- expect Jacobs to quickly climb the RB ladder.
Quarterback: Dak Prescott -- Rank: 17th (One game: 12th | 2019 prod.: 24th)
Running back: Ezekiel Elliott -- Rank: 1st
Pass catcher: Amari Cooper -- Rank: 12th
How the Cowboys figure out a way to pay this trio the money each star deserves will be interesting to see. Few teams have a young nucleus as dominant as Dallas', and I wouldn't be surprised if this group finishes the year firmly within the top 10. As the engine of the Cowboys' offense, Elliott is even more impactful than his gaudy stats suggest and is certainly more than just a product of a great offensive line. He's a powerful, elusive runner who's also become an essential component to the team's passing attack, both in terms of his hands and his blocking ability. Simply put, he's the most complete back in the NFL at a time when there are four or five incredibly strong candidates for that honor. Trading for Cooper was a brilliant move by Jerry Jones and Co., one that changed the entire tenor of Dallas' season. Cooper injected life into a lackluster receiving corps after being acquired at the trade deadline, helping the franchise rip off seven wins in its final nine games. (He also finished the season as the Cowboys' top receiver.) And then there's Dak. Since his rookie season in 2016, Prescott leads the NFL in game-winning drives (14), is tied for fourth in fourth-quarter comebacks (8) and is second only to Tom Brady in regular-season wins (32). So I won't apologize for his one-game ranking. The two-time Pro Bowler is at his best when asked to be efficient instead of prolific, much like Russell Wilson in Seattle. (I'm not saying he's as good as Wilson!) If Dallas manages Dak correctly, though, his raw stats should never wow in the way other QBs' numbers might. Well, except maybe in the only metric that matters.
Quarterback: Ben Roethlisberger -- Rank: 10th (One game: 9th | 2019 prod.: 12th)
Running back: James Conner -- Rank: 12th
Pass catcher: JuJu Smith-Schuster -- Rank: 15th
The Steelers' Killer Bs ( Big Ben, Le'Veon Bell, Antonio Brown) were the most dominating QB-RB-WR trio of the decade, with all three ranking consistently at the top -- or near the top -- of their respective position groups. Now, only Roethlisberger remains in the Steel City. The QB eclipsed 5,000 passing yards for the first time in his career and threw the ball more (675 attempts) last season than ever before. But more didn't mean better for the veteran signal-caller. In fact, the Steelers went 5-1-1 in games in which Big Ben had fewer than 45 attempts and 4-5 when he had 45 or more. Big Ben is still a great player, but the Steelers are at their best when they're balanced, which is where Conner comes in. Although not as dynamic or multi-faceted as Bell (who sat out the entire season rather than sign his franchise tender), the third-year back out of Pitt more than held his own as the Steelers' fill-in RB1, totaling 1,470 scrimmage yards and 13 touchdowns while earning his first Pro Bowl selection. Conner had five 100-yard rushing efforts but struggled as the season wore on, failing to reach the 70-yard mark in any of his final five games. He will need to be fresh down the stretch for this Steelers offense to be successful. Conner's draft classmate, JuJu Smith-Schuster, will have even bigger shoes to fill. After a strong rookie campaign, Smith-Schuster exploded in 2018, catching 111 passes for 1,426 yards and seven scores. But much of his success stemmed from defenses keying on Brown, often sliding a safety to the veteran's side of the field to provide support over the top. It's damning that Smith-Schuster recorded his lowest yards per target (3.7) in the one game A.B. didn't play last season -- a Week 17 clash at home against the 32nd-ranked Bengals pass defense. If Smith-Schuster shows he can still produce without an elite talent playing opposite him, he'll move up the list.
Quarterback: Russell Wilson -- Rank: 8th (One game: 4th | 2019 prod.: 10th)
Running back: Chris Carson -- Rank: 14th
Pass catcher: Tyler Lockett -- Rank: 21st
I have to admit that I'm a bit surprised by the Seahawks' score, considering Lockett's modest spot among the pass catchers. But it's a testament to Russell Wilson's greatness and Chris Carson's take-notice arrival last season. The former seventh-rounder is one of the few one-dimensional backs to break into the top 15, mainly because I'm expecting him to pick up where he left off in 2018. No, not his 20-yard effort in the Wild Card Round (that technically would've been 2019 anyway ...), but rather his 447 yards and five touchdowns over the final four weeks of the regular season. While former first-rounder Rashaad Penny could eat into Carson's workload, if Carson continues to perform as he has, there's no organization I trust more to disregard draft pedigree and start the better player than Pete Carroll's Seahawks. Lockett might not be the Seahawks' No. 1 for long, with Wilson lauding rookie D.K. Metcalf's offseason progress, but we shouldn't overlook Lockett's contributions: Wilson had a perfect passer rating when targeting Lockett (57 catches, 965 yards, 10 TDs, 0 INTS) last season, per PFF. As far as Wilson is concerned, the QB is reliable, efficient, can make plays with both his arm and his legs and is incredibly clutch. In the fourth quarter since 2016, Wilson has thrown 38 TDs against just seven picks and has a 115.9 passer rating -- 7 points higher than the next-closest QB (Drew Brees). I wish my self-imposed point system resulted in a higher overall ranking for Wilson.
Quarterback: Andrew Luck -- Rank: T-5th (One game: 6th | 2019 prod.: 5th)
Running back: Marlon Mack -- Rank: 25th
Pass catcher: T.Y. Hilton -- Rank: 13th
Luck's return to elite-level play after missing the entire 2017 season with a shoulder injury was one of the best stories in the NFL last year. A vastly improved offensive line and a concerted effort to get the ball out of his hand more quickly (dropped his time to throw to 2.63 seconds from 2.88 seconds in 2016, per Next Gen Stats) allowed Luck to operate more efficiently (and safely) from the pocket. His completion percentage (67.3) and passer rating (98.7) were both career highs. It feels like Luck's on the brink of having an MVP-type season. After a quiet rookie year, Mack -- like the Colts as a whole -- caught much of the league by surprise, rushing for 908 yards and nine touchdowns with an impressive 4.7 yards per carry. But like most of the backs ranked in the 20s, Mack's stock takes a hit because he's not much of a factor in the passing game. That said, with only one fewer 10-yard-plus run than Alvin Kamara (per PFF), despite playing in three fewer games, Mack probably warrants more touches, including as a pass catcher. Too often overlooked but always productive, Hilton has been a reliably consistent deep threat since he was drafted 92nd overall in 2012. He has the sixth-best yards-per-reception average (15.97) since his rookie season, and over the past three years, only Brandin Cooks and Antonio Brown have caught more passes (37) that traveled at least 20 air yards than Hilton's 36, according to Next Gen Stats. The potential for this triplet to rise up the board depends mainly on Mack's progression.
Quarterback: Jared Goff -- Rank: 12th (One game: 13th | 2019 prod.: 11th)
Running back: Todd Gurley -- Rank: 6th
Pass catcher: Brandin Cooks -- Rank: 11th
Where do you rank Gurley after what we saw at the end of last season, and then what we've been hearing this offseason? When healthy, Gurley is a do-it-all back who scores at an incredible pace. When he's not, well, the high-flying Rams score 3 points. I'm keeping him fairly high among RBs because he is still a threat every time he touches the ball -- even if he's touching the ball far less than before. Rarely do talents like Brandin Cooks get shipped around as often as he has, but that hasn't stopped the 5-foot-10 speedster from racking up yards wherever he lands. In his first season with the Rams last year, Cooks was everything the team could've hoped for when they included a first-rounder in the trade to acquire him. In fact, he had nearly 400 more yards than the top rookie receiver, Calvin Ridley, who went 26th overall. Score one for GM Les Snead. Goff started out the season as a legitimate MVP candidate, but struggled in the postseason, throwing only 1 TD pass against 2 picks and posting a 71.7 passer rating over three games. When the Rams needed him most, especially with Gurley not at 100 percent, Goff couldn't elevate his play, giving credence to critics who suggested he was merely a benefactor of Gurley's immense talent and Sean McVay's offense. I'm not one of those people, though. He'll have the chance to further cement his status as a true franchise QB now that his All-Pro RB is likely to take on a lighter workload.
Quarterback: Tom Brady -- Rank: 4th (One game: 1st | 2019 prod.: 9th)
Running back: Sony Michel -- Rank: 19th
Pass catcher: Julian Edelman -- Rank: 17th
I'm done doubting Tom Brady. If he says he's going to play until he's 45, then I'll enjoy watching the GOAT for another three years. Sure, TB12 wasn't as sharp last season as we've come to expect. (Talk about a high bar ...) But there's no other QB I trust more with the game on the line than Brady, the winningest QB in NFL history. You could argue his one-game ranking lifts his overall spot on the QB list a few places higher than it should be ahead of his 20th season, but I'm OK with that. For years, Rob Gronkowski earned the Pats' top-pass-catcher honor, but with the tight end retired ( and staying retired), Julian Edelman is well-equipped to take the baton. I wrote back in early October how No. 11's return could be the catalyst for yet another Patriots Super Bowl run. Consider this my victory parade. I agree with my colleague Adam Rank that Edelman is a Hall of Famer. The Super Bowl MVP has postseason production and iconic moments by the duckboat-load. My biggest concern among this trio is the youngster in the backfield, who underwent arthroscopic knee surgery this offseason. NFL Network's Mike Giardi reported recently that Michel is back to running at " full tilt," which is certainly encouraging news after his solid rookie campaign. However, his non-existent production in the passing game, plus the 11 other RBs on the Patriots' roster, keep Michel from breaking into the top 15.
Quarterback: Matt Ryan -- Rank: 7th (One game: 8th | 2019 prod.: 4th)
Running back: Devonta Freeman -- Rank: 24th
Pass catcher: Julio Jones -- Rank: 2nd
I put off writing this blurb until the end because I knew it meant defending my decision to rank Julio Jones No. 2 among pass catchers and figuring out where to place Devonta Freeman. ( Matt Ryan is great, and I can't imagine anyone taking issue with his place among the QBs.) Jones, who turned 30 in February, had one of the best seasons of his career in 2018, silencing critics who say he's too inconsistent from game to game (his 10 100-yard performances were the most of his career), doesn't score enough touchdowns (went from 3 to 8) and gets hurt too often (started all 16 games in back-to-back seasons). Only Jerry Rice has more receiving seasons of 1,400-plus yards (six) than Jones' five, but not even the 49ers legend managed the feat five years in a row like Julio. The only reason Hopkins ranked higher than the two-time All-Pro was because of the drop differential (0 for Nuk in 2018, 8 for Jones). While I lamented not putting Jones one spot higher, I'm worried I perhaps put Freeman too high. The two-time Pro Bowler has missed 16 of his last 23 games due to a series of ailments (hamstring, groin, concussions). But I'm banking on the back returning to his shifty, versatile self this year with the help of an upgraded offensive line, a plethora of talent on the perimeter and, most importantly, a clean bill of health.
Quarterback: Patrick Mahomes -- Rank: 1st (One game: 2nd | 2019 prod.: 1st)
Running back: Damien Williams -- Rank: 28th
Pass catcher: Travis Kelce -- Rank: 8th
Mahomes is the most talented quarterback in the NFL. He can make every throw ( whether he's looking or not), evade pressure using both his athleticism and intelligence and seemingly score at will. All that said, if I had one game I needed to win, the six-time Super Bowl-winning Brady is still my choice over the 2018 MVP. I fully expect 15 years from now to be taking the same uncompromising stance on Mahomes' behalf against a younger league-changing superstar. With Rob Gronkowski retired, Kelce now becomes the premier size-speed-strength matchup nightmare in the NFL. It was a close call between Kelce and Tyreek Hill for the Chiefs' top pass-catcher in terms of sheer production, but Kelce is the choice in part due to the uncertainty around Hill's availability in 2019, pending an ongoing league investigation into recent child abuse allegations. This trio is carried by Mahomes and Kelce, but don't sleep on Williams. The sixth-year back acquitted himself well in a small sample size last year, scoring six total touchdowns and averaging 5.1 yards per carry. However, it's difficult to distinguish how much of his 2018 success was the result of the Chiefs' potent offense vs. his unique ability, especially considering he totaled just 477 rushing yards in 58 games with the Dolphins.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was published before the NFL announced it could not conclude that Tyreek Hill violated the league's personal conduct policy and thus would not be suspended.
Quarterback: Aaron Rodgers -- Rank: 2nd (One game: 3rd | 2019 prod.: 3rd)
Running back: Aaron Jones -- Rank: 21st
Pass catcher: Davante Adams -- Rank: 10th
Rodgers is so good and so dangerous that I'm genuinely shocked whenever he throws a pick or doesn't lead a late rally to put the Packers on top. That's why his 2018 season was so alarming. For the first time in a decade, the two-time MVP was just really great, and not some Thanos-like Titan sent to eradicate Bears fans' Super Bowl dreams with a snap of his fingers. How he and new coach Matt LaFleur navigate their budding partnership is one of the most crucial storylines around the league. My colleague Maurice Jones-Drew has been high on Jones since the Packers runner was just a prospect out of UTEP, and I can see why. The more involved he is in Green Bay's offense, the more he flashes. We'll see if LaFleur calls the third-year back's number more often in 2019 (and if Rodgers audibles out of it at the line). After a shaky start to his NFL career, Adams has become a reliable and productive WR1, stringing together three straight seasons with 10 or more touchdowns. The guy shows up each week and quietly goes about his business, though he catches too many passes for too many yards for my taste.
Quarterback: Baker Mayfield -- Rank: 9th (One game: 10th | 2019 prod.: 7th)
Running back: Nick Chubb -- Rank: 10th
Pass catcher: Odell Beckham Jr. -- Rank: 4th
I know some folks will scoff at Mayfield's top-10 ranking (or the Browns at No. 3), but the former Heisman Trophy winner was that impressive as a rookie. Add in Odell Beckham Jr. (we'll get to him in a bit), a full dose of Nick Chubb and another year in the same offensive system, and I don't think it's hyperbole to expect fireworks every time Mayfield lines up under center. I initially had Chubb in the mid-teens, and then at the behest of NFL.com editor and noted Browns fan Tom Blair, I re-watched some tape from last year and dove a bit deeper into the data. I'm not sure how Kareem Hunt will work into the rotation when he returns from his eight-game suspension, or how long Duke Johnson will remain with the team, but Chubb proved as a rookie he's a game-changing back. He finished Year 1 ranked fourth among RBs in yards after contact (858) and ninth in runs over 10 yards despite finishing 21st in snaps (198), according to PFF. As for Beckham, the table is set for a career-defining season. He has a strong-armed and accurate quarterback throwing him the ball, skilled pass-catchers lining up all around him (including his close friend, Jarvis Landry) and his college position coach serving in the same role in Cleveland. We should expect the best from the 26-year-old generational talent. If not now, when?
Quarterback: Philip Rivers -- Rank: 3rd (One game: 7th | 2019 prod.: 2nd)
Running back: Melvin Gordon -- Rank: 7th
Pass catcher: Keenan Allen -- Rank: 9th
Where's the weak spot in this trio? Rivers somehow continues to get better with age, Gordon can't stay out of the end zone and Allen is a complete WR1 who can beat DBs on basically the entire route tree. The only real concern for these three is their health, with Allen missing 26 games over his six-year career and Gordon missing nine in his four. But when the RB and WR1 have been healthy and available for Rivers, the eight-time Pro Bowler has led an impressively efficient unit: The Chargers rank third in yards per play (6.1) and tied for fourth in fewest turnovers lost (34) over the past two seasons. Still questioning my projection for Rivers? Then factor in the return of tight end Hunter Henry (ACL), the expected rise of former first-rounder Mike Williams and the improvements to an already-fantastic defense, which will give Rivers and Co. numerous offensive possessions. I fully expect the future Hall of Famer (that's right, I said it) to be in the MVP race down the stretch.
UPDATE: On Thursday, NFL Network's Tom Pelissero reported that Gordon will not report to training camp and will demand a trade unless he receives a new deal this offseason. Hard to believe the Chargers -- a legitimate Super Bowl contender -- would go into the 2019 season without one of the best backs in the NFL, but stranger things have happened ( especially to the Chargers). If Gordon isn't the team's RB1 come kickoff, and the Bolts opt to rock with Austin Ekeler, they'd easily drop out of the top five here. But I'm counting on both sides realizing what they've got and reaching an agreement before irreparable damage has been done.
Quarterback: Drew Brees -- Rank: T-5th (One game: 5th | 2019 prod.: 6th)
Running back: Alvin Kamara -- Rank: 3rd
Pass catcher: Michael Thomas -- Rank: 5th
If the point system didn't score the Saints' triplets as the league's best, I would've had to redo the entire exercise. New Orleans is the only team to have a top-five player at each position. I'm intrigued to see how Kamara responds to life without Mark Ingram. Curious, not concerned. More touches for the All-Pro back could lead to diminished returns, sure, but his numbers are so impressive that a slight decrease in averages would still net tremendous overall gains. As my colleague Bucky Brooks recently wrote, Thomas is worthy of becoming the first $20 million receiver. The two-time Pro Bowler always seems to be open, catches everything thrown his way and has injected new life into a 40-year-old Brees. Speaking of the Saints' all-time franchise QB, he was an MVP candidate for most of last season before enduring a rough stretch to close out the campaign. He's reached the stage in his illustrious career where his teammates are elevating him more than the other way around. And that's OK, because his "great" is still as good as (if not better than) 80 percent of the league's best.
Follow Ali Bhanpuri on Twitter @AliBhanpuri.