NFL Teams with Backups That Are a Luxury
It's one thing when a team has an All-Pro or Pro Bowl player at a key position, but it's quite another when a team has an excellent player backing up that star.
It gives a head coach options when he has multiple playmakers at the skill positions. In past eras of the NFL, the 49ers had Jerry Rice and John Taylor at wide receiver and Joe Montana and Steve Young at quarterback at the same time.
While no team has that kind of riches at the same position right now, there are a number of teams that have multiple levels of excellence in a single role.
For the purposes of this feature, we are looking at those teams and concentrating on the skill positions.
Running Backs C.J. Anderson and Jamaal Charles, Denver Broncos
The Denver Broncos figure to have a dominating defense again in 2017, and they could have a stellar season if the offense can uphold its end of the bargain.
While quarterback Trevor Siemian is off to a solid start and is a smart leader, he is limited athlete who is not a star.
If the Broncos are going to play consistent football, they need their running game to perform well. Head coach Vance Joseph appears to have an excellent pair of running backs.
C.J. Anderson is off to an excellent start with 199 yards in the first two weeks of the season along with a touchdown and an average of 4.4 yards per carry. In addition to Anderson, Joseph can turn to former Kansas City star Jamaal Charles for production.
Charles has excellent quickness and moves, and he is capable of dominating on his own. He has rushed for 86 yards and a 4.5 yards per carry mark. If opponents let up when Charles is in the lineup, he has the speed to break long runs and find his way into the end zone.
Wide Receivers Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant, Pittsburgh Steelers
It may be debated by some, but Antonio Brown is the best receiver in the NFL—at least from this corner.
While there are those who would take Julio Jones of the Atlanta Falcons, Brown is the more skilled receiver when it comes to making the tough catch, getting his feet down inside the sidelines and getting to full speed after making his cut.
Jones is bigger and stronger, and he may make many big plays, but Brown will catch more clutch passes.
Brown caught 106 passes for 1,284 yards and 12 touchdowns last year, and he can dominate for long stretches. He has already caught 16 passes for 244 yards in the first two games of the season.
Brown has an excellent No. 2 receiver working in tandem. Martavis Bryant has size, speed and skill, and he is motivated after contending with a suspension that prevented him from playing in 2016.
Bryant is a big-play performer who is getting back on track. He has caught five passes for 105 yards, averaging a robust 21.0 yards per catch. He has already gotten into the end zone, and he is likely to approach double digits in that category before the end of the season.
Running Backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons hope to get back to the Super Bowl and finish the job this time.
Perhaps they would not have fallen short in last year's championship game against the New England Patriots if they had relied more on their dynamic running back combination of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman.
Both are game-breaking runners who have excellent pass-catching skills. Freeman is the No. 1 running back, and he ran for 1,079 yards and 11 touchdowns last season, while Coleman rushed for 520 yards and eight touchdowns.
Freeman caught 54-462-2 last year, while Coleman had 31 receptions for 421 yards and three touchdowns. Look for those two to once again form a sensational one-two punch that is likely to make the Falcons a dangerous team again this season.
Tight Ends Jimmy Graham and Luke Willson, Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks are struggling on the offensive side of the ball through the first two weeks of the season, and that may not change until head coach Pete Carroll starts to get more consistent play from his offensive line.
However, once that starts to happen, the tight end combination of Jimmy Graham and Luke Willson is capable of doing quite a bit of damage.
When Graham is healthy and on top of his game, he is capable of making big big plays on an every-week basis, while Willson is one of the most underrated performers at the position. He has excellent hands and can make the tough catch in traffic.
Graham caught 65 passes for 923 yards and six touchdowns last year, while Willson is a reliable receiver who will catch anything he can get his hands on.
Running Backs DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans
The Tennessee Titans have done an excellent job of helping rising young star Marcus Mariota reach his potential.
Instead of putting all the responsibilities for a productive offensive team on his shoulders, the Titans have given Mariota an outstanding running back combination of DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry.
Murray ran for 1,287 yards and nine touchdowns in 2016, and his downhill running style was complemented by Henry's power running. Henry ran for 490 yards and five touchdowns, and he excelled at bowling over tacklers.
Henry is still on the rise, and he has rushed for 117 yards and 5.9 yards per carry through two games. Murray has rushed for 69 yards, but he is likely to pick it up shortly.
Running Backs Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray, Minnesota Vikings
Minnesota general manager Rick Spielman did not have a first-round pick in last spring's draft, but when he saw that Florida State's Dalvin Cook was not selected on the first day, he was determined to make sure the Vikings selected him on Day 2.
Cook had a spectacular college career with the Seminoles, and Spielman thought Cook could be a do-it-all back for the Vikings. Minnesota certainly needed to address the position after parting company with Adrian Peterson shortly after the end of the 2016 season.
In addition to selecting Cook, the Vikings acquired former Raiders running back Latavius Murray in free agency.
Cook is off to a fine start with 191 rushing yards and an eye-opening 5.6 yards per carry, while Murray is off to a slow start since he underwent ankle surgery shortly after signing with the Vikings. However, when Murray is 100 percent, he is a solid between-the-tackles runner who can also run away from tacklers.
Quarterbacks Tom Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo, New England Patriots
This may be a bit of a reach because Jimmy Garoppolo has done little besides back up the future Hall of Famer, but circumstantial evidence indicates that the No. 2 quarterback has big-time ability.
Garoppolo is in his fourth year with the Patriots, and if Bill Belichick didn't believe in him, Garoppolo would not remain on the roster. Belichick would have traded him for a king's ransom.
At some point, Garoppolo will get an opportunity, and it may be with the Patriots, but it could be with another team. Garoppolo has a strong arm, a quick release and he reads defenses well. He has completed 63 of 94 passes for 502 yards with four TDs and he has not thrown an interception in limited action.
Tom Brady, of course, has led the Patriots to five Super Bowl titles and is generally considered to be one of the top quarterbacks in the history of the game.