The term "triplets" predates the early 1990s Dallas Cowboys, but it will forever be linked with the Hall of Fame trio of Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin, and Emmitt Smith. That combination was a quarterback, wide receiver, and running back. In the pass-happy modern NFL, it seems unnecessary to limit a team's so-called triplets to that particular combination. And so, ESPN's Bill Barnwell, in his ranking of all 32 sets of triplets, instead takes each team's quarterback and what he perceives to be their top two skill position players.
The Chargers' triplets, Philip Rivers, Melvin Gordon, and Keenan Allen, rank 14th overall and 2nd in the AFC West. The Chiefs are the only division rival ranked ahead of the Chargers thanks to Alex Smith, Jamaal Charles, and Jeremy Maclin. I suppose there could be an argument to be made there. Rivers is clearly superior to Smith and Allen is arguably better than Maclin. The gap between Charles and Gordon is so incredibly wide, however, that it probably makes up for the other two positions with room to spare.
The Broncos' trio of Mark Sanchez, Demaryius Thomas, and Emmanuel Sanders brings up the rear in the division as only a group headed by the great butt-fumbler can. They rank 19th largely on the strength of one of the better receiving duos in the NFL. The Raiders also sported QB-WR-WR triplets with Derek Carr, Amari Cooper, and Michael Crabtree. Their 18th-place ranking feels low but the teams immediately in front of them do appear to be stronger units.
Barnwell wrote of the Chargers:
Hopkins was the third-best receiver in football, but that's only because Allen missed the final eight games with a lacerated spleen. The work the newly signed veteran put in was staggering in hindsight. He finished those first eight games with 67 catches for 725 yards and four touchdowns, numbers virtually identical to those of Marvin Jones (65 catches, 816 yards, four scores) in 16 games. Allen's projected totals -- 134 catches, 1,450 yards, eight scores -- would leave him just below Brown and Julio Jones as football's third-most productive receiver. And while Gordon was a mess in his first season and underwent microfracture surgery on his knee, it's too early to count him out; running backs such as Le'Veon Bell and Devonta Freeman were spectacular in their sophomore seasons after anonymous, underwhelming rookie campaigns.
It's interesting that he makes no mention of the most important member of the offense in Rivers. The respect shown to Allen is noteworthy and becoming more common with each passing day. The part that is difficult to wrap one's mind around, though, is the inclusion of Gordon. The only positive he can find for the second-year running back is that two other players have had strong second seasons after being less than impressive in their rookie years.
One wonders where the Chargers would rank if the third member of the triplets were Antonio Gates, Travis Benjamin, or even Danny Woodhead. All three are superior offensive weapons compared to Gordon. Gates is a likely first-ballot Hall of Famer. Benjamin is coming off a spectacular breakout season. Woodhead is consistently one of the most effective pass-catching backs in football.
Perhaps they were considered and thought to be lesser players, but it is difficult for me to accept that given the lack of argument presented on behalf of Gordon. Maybe it's as simple as the fact that when one is writing about all 32 teams it's just easier to stay at the surface level of a team. Either way, the Chargers ranking of 14th certainly seems within the "margin of error" for such a list.