College Football's Top 10 QB-RB-WR Combinations for the 2016 Season
A lot goes into having a fantastic offense in college football. The five offensive linemen up front need to be at peak performance in order to pave the way for huge yards through the air and on the ground. Smart and efficient play-calling is vital as well.
But when fans think of a top-tier attack, they mostly are concentrated on three key figures: the starting quarterback, the top running back and the No. 1 wide receiver.
Teams that have the best combinations of those three key positions are usually the ones that terrorize defenses the most in the fall. They can be balanced and explosive in both facets of offensive football, and they make it hard for opponents to key on just one position.
Here are the 10 best quarterback-running back-wide receiver combinations in college football for the 2016 campaign. These trios were chosen based on statistics in previous seasons, amount of time played together, overall experience and fit in their respective offensive systems. They are listed in alphabetical order.
Some powerhouse schools, such as Alabama and Ohio State, will always have exceptional talent at these spots. But due to the fact they have to replace a couple of statistical leaders there for 2016, they fell short of programs that return a lot of experienced firepower for the upcoming season.
Louisville (QB Lamar Jackson, RB Brandon Radcliff, WR James Quick)
Lamar Jackson has the potential to put up big-time dual-threat numbers as a full-time starting quarterback in his sophomore season, and Brandon Radcliff has been Louisville's top ball-carrier in back-to-back seasons. James Quick led the team in catches and touchdowns last fall and should get a tremendous boost from Jackson's offseason improvement.
Miami (QB Brad Kaaya, RB Joseph Yearby, WR Stacy Coley)
Brad Kaaya is coming off a strong sophomore season as Miami's quarterback, and he could be a breakout star in 2016 under Mark Richt's wing. Joseph Yearby cracked 1,000 rushing yards last season for the 'Canes. Stacy Coley is now the new No. 1 target for Kaaya after a big 2015 campaign, making this a high-potential trio out of the intriguing ACC Coastal.
USF (QB Quinton Flowers, RB Marlon Mack, WR Rodney Adams)
This trio clicked at the perfect time for head coach Willie Taggart last season as the Bulls broke out for a successful 2015 campaign. Quinton Flowers is a dual-threat machine who will only get better with more experience, and favorite target Rodney Adams is coming off the best season for a receiver in USF history. Throw in powerful Marlon Mack's 1,381 yards from last season, and this is a Group of Five force.
Washington (QB Jake Browning, RB Myles Gaskin, WR John Ross III)
Washington's triplets have the potential to explode in 2016. Jake Browning and Myles Gaskin were a freshman combo last year that got better and better as the season continued. John Ross III was a multifaceted threat in 2014 for the Huskies but missed all of 2015 with an injury. He has speed out wide and will be a tremendous weapon for what has been one of the trendiest picks in the Pac-12 this offseason.
QB: Seth Russell (Sr.)
RB: Shock Linwood (Sr.)
WR: KD Cannon (Jr.)
There's justified uncertainty surrounding Baylor in the midst of its sexual assault scandal, but it has a lot of returning talent on offense. Baylor has had the best offense in the country over the last several seasons, so it's only natural to assume the Bears have a stellar set of offensive "triplets."
Seth Russell is back and ready to go for 2016 after missing the second half of last year with a scary neck injury. The Baylor quarterback averaged some absurd numbers—10.5 yards per pass attempt, 8.2 yards per carry and five total touchdowns per start—through six games and some change. If Russell can return to that form, he'll be one of the best quarterbacks in the country.
Running back Shock Linwood rushed for more than 1,250 yards and double-digit touchdowns for a second straight season last year. Even though he's not the only ace running back the Bears can use, he's the leader at the position and could be in line for another big year.
At receiver, KD Cannon is the new No. 1 target after the departure of Corey Coleman and his 20-touchdown talents. Cannon didn't crack 1,000 yards last season and struggles with consistency, but he's a pure burner who can churn out plenty of big plays with the ball in his hands.
QB: Brett Rypien (So.)
RB: Jeremy McNichols (Jr.)
WR: Thomas Sperbeck (Sr.)
While Boise State fell short of its usual lofty standards last season in the Mountain West, the Broncos still got plenty of production from their top quarterback, running back and wide receiver. This year, they'll all be back and eager to lead the way toward a return to the top of the Group of Five ranks.
Brett Rypien was either red-hot or ice-cold last year after taking over as the starter a few weeks into the season. The then-freshman had six games in which he completed at least two-thirds of his passes and scored multiple touchdowns—all Boise wins. Rypien also had three games in which he completed fewer than 55 percent of his passes and threw a combined six picks—all Boise losses. With more consistency as a sophomore, Rypien could be a star.
Jeremy McNichols became the latest in a line of 1,000-yard rushers for Boise State when he racked up 1,337 yards and 20 touchdowns for the Broncos in 2015. He rushed for at least 100 yards and a touchdown in seven straight appearances last season, including 192 yards on just 20 carries in the regular-season finale against San Jose State.
Thomas Sperbeck averaged the second-most receiving yards last year of any FBS player who is returning for the 2016 campaign. Sperbeck averaged more than 10 yards per target last season for the Broncos and will be a lock to lead the team in receiving for a third straight year.
QB: Deshaun Watson (Jr.)
RB: Wayne Gallman (Sr.)
WR: Artavis Scott (Jr.)
Clemson's offense is beyond loaded for the 2016 season, and it's all thanks to its unbelievable combination of quarterback, running back and wide receiver. In fact, the Tigers are so deep, there's a legitimate debate as to who should be the representative here at wideout.
Deshaun Watson's place is locked in, though. The Clemson quarterback was the first player in major college football history to throw for 4,000 yards and rush for 1,000 in a single season, leading the Tigers to an undefeated season and a berth in the national title game. Watson has the best Heisman odds, per Odds Shark.
Watson is joined in the backfield by Wayne Gallman, who was truly underrated for what he brought to the Clemson offense last season. He rushed for more than 1,500 yards—a Clemson single-season record—and had nine 100-yard games. No longer overlooked, Gallman should be considered one of the best running backs in a season full of them this fall.
A healthy Mike Williams, who led Clemson in receiving yards in 2014, might be the most talented receiver in the country. But here, let's team Watson and Gallman up with Artavis Scott, who has led Clemson in receptions and touchdowns for receivers each of the last two campaigns. He's had back-to-back 900-yard seasons and is as consistent as they come for a deadly offense like the one Clemson has.
QB: Sean Maguire (Sr.)*
RB: Dalvin Cook (Jr.)
WR: Travis Rudolph (Jr.)
Florida State has some uncertainty at who will start at quarterback this season, but whoever takes over the job can rely on a talented group of playmakers around him—especially superstar running back Dalvin Cook and No. 1 wideout Travis Rudolph.
Sean Maguire is the returning starter at quarterback for Florida State, but an ankle injury in the Peach Bowl last December kept him out of spring practices. Maguire took over as the top quarterback in Tallahassee for the final six games, finishing the season with 1,520 yards and 11 touchdowns. Redshirt freshman Deondre Francois made a huge impression this spring and could snatch the job this fall.
The winner of the battle will hand things off to Cook, college football's most explosive weapon at running back. No other Power Five running back had as many big plays as consistently as Cook. He had 13 runs of 30 or more yards, three more than the next running back.
He has some serious Heisman potential if the Seminoles can contend for a national championship in 2016.
While Florida State has a deep cast of receivers coming back for 2016, none are as accomplished as Rudolph, who led the team with 916 receiving yards and seven touchdowns last fall. He has the ability to completely take over games, and head coach Jimbo Fisher called him one of the most dominant players of the spring for Florida State, according to Tom D'Angelo of the Palm Beach Post.
QB: Brandon Harris (Jr.)
RB: Leonard Fournette (Jr.)
WR: Malachi Dupre (Jr.)
How much does having arguably the most talented player in the country help out the standing of your main offensive trio? In the case of LSU, which returns some of the most experience of any team in college football for the 2016 season, Leonard Fournette can be a tremendous boost alongside a passing game that has plenty of potential.
Junior quarterback Brandon Harris had his issues last season, but he won't enter 2016 completely inexperienced like some of the signal-callers on this countdown. Harris has had his strong performances—including three in a row in wins over South Carolina, Florida and WKU last season when he tallied 716 yards and seven touchdowns—and consistency is the only thing eluding him from being a top quarterback in the SEC.
Fournette is one of the favorites for the Heisman Trophy. Only an off night against Alabama's punishing run defense stalled his momentum in his race for the 2015 award. The LSU running back can beat a defense with his strength, speed, agility and vision, and he's a true home run threat every time he touches the football.
LSU's passing attack is set to take off if Harris can make the next major step in 2016 thanks to the presence of wide receivers such as Malachi Dupre. Even through the issues of the Tigers' aerial attack over the last two seasons, Dupre averaged 22.7 yards per catch as a freshman in 2014 and led the team in receptions and touchdowns in 2015.
Think of what he could do with an improved Harris in 2016.
QB: Mitch Trubisky (Jr.)
RB: Elijah Hood (Jr.)
WR: Mack Hollins (Sr.)
North Carolina couldn't come out on top against Baylor in the head-to-head matchup at the Russell Athletic Bowl last year, but the Tar Heels were still above the Bears in one category that is important to both programs—total yards per play. UNC was the best, and it should keep up the momentum in 2016 with its trio.
While the Tar Heels will have to adjust to a new quarterback in 2016, they're plenty confident in his talent. Mitch Trubisky lit up the competition whenever he had a chance to get on the field as a backup to Marquise Williams last season, and the former 4-star recruit's brand of efficient passing should be a perfect fit to lead UNC's offense.
Trubisky will be paired with Elijah Hood, who gave Dalvin Cook a real run for his money when it came to explosion out of the backfield in ACC play. Hood averaged 6.68 yards per carry and found the end zone 17 times. All that momentum should lead to a big junior season behind an offensive line that returns four starters.
UNC has a number of returning receivers to highlight, but Mack Hollins gets the nod here for averaging an absurd 24.83 yards per reception last season—the most in the FBS. Hollins has led North Carolina in touchdown receptions each of the last two seasons and is a serious big-play threat.
QB: Baker Mayfield (Sr.)
RB: Samaje Perine (Jr.)
WR: Dede Westbrook (Sr.)
In the battle for the title of best offensive triplets in college football, Clemson's biggest competition will come from the team it knocked off last season in the playoff semifinal—Oklahoma. The Sooners have a Heisman contender, an NCAA record-holder and a guy who was formerly one of the best JUCO players in the country.
Baker Mayfield was the perfect fit for Oklahoma's shifting offense last season under new coordinator Lincoln Riley. He was in the top five nationally in yards per attempt, quarterback rating and completion percentage and finished sixth in passing touchdowns. Mayfield probably deserved a Heisman finalist spot last season and will have a great chance to make sure he gets to New York City this time around.
Samaje Perine didn't have the success in Riley's offense that he enjoyed as a freshman, but he still had several huge performances out of the Oklahoma backfield last season. Perine scored in all but two games last season and had four different games of 150 or more rushing yards. Expect huge numbers from him again this fall.
At wide receiver, Dede Westbrook will take over as the No. 1 weapon in place of the departed Sterling Shepard. Westbrook averaged 16.2 yards per catch last season and has incredible speed, making him the perfect main target for Mayfield in 2016. He'll challenge for the 1,000-yard, double-digit-touchdown campaign Shepard enjoyed last year with the Sooners.
QB: Dakota Prukop (Sr.)
RB: Royce Freeman (Jr.)
WR: Darren Carrington (Jr.)
For the second straight season, Oregon is banking on the success of an FCS transfer quarterback who destroyed defenses at the lower level. When healthy last season, Vernon Adams was just what the Ducks needed. Now their lightning-fast attack, which ranked fifth in yards per play last season, will hope projected starter Dakota Prukop can take full advantage of the talent around him.
Prukop was electric at Montana State over the last two seasons, completing 63.8 percent of his passes for more than 5,500 yards, 46 touchdowns and just 16 interceptions. He also added more than 1,700 yards and 24 touchdowns on the ground. Since he avoided the enrollment issues Adams had last year, he's had a lot more time to get engrained in the Oregon system.
The former Montana State Bobcat will be well-served by running the zone-read option a lot with Royce Freeman, who had one of the best and yet most overlooked 2015 seasons for any running back in the country. Freeman cracked the 1,800-yard mark and scored 17 touchdowns as well as adding 348 yards receiving, making him the perfect all-around back to energize the Oregon offense.
At wide receiver, all eyes are on Darren Carrington, who has shown a ton of promise in his first two seasons in Eugene. After missing the first six games of 2015, Carrington put up four 100-yard games and scored six times for Oregon while averaging 19 yards a catch—the same number he averaged in his off-and-on 2014 campaign. Carrington has jaw-dropping speed and should be hard to stop as a junior in 2016.
QB: Max Browne (Jr.)*
RB: Ronald Jones II (So.)
WR: JuJu Smith-Schuster (Jr.)
USC has to figure out how exactly it will replace Cody Kessler at quarterback in the 2016 campaign. But based on the last decade and change of quarterback play in Los Angeles, the Trojans should be just fine with their next golden-armed leader—especially with the top running back and wide receiver he has at his disposal.
The Trojans left spring practices without a winner in the competition between Max Browne and the younger Sam Darnold, but they'll be confident in both options. Browne has spent a lot of time in the system and has looked strong in limited mop-up duty over the last two seasons. The former 5-star quarterback has a ton of arm strength and will most likely be the one to lead the way for USC this fall.
His backfield partner will be sophomore Ronald Jones II, who broke out to rush for nearly 1,000 yards last season. Jones split time with veteran Justin Davis but made more of his chances, scoring more times and racking up more yards on fewer touches. He had 177 huge yards in a tight win over Arizona last November, and there are plenty of reasons to be excited about him in 2016.
And last but certainly not least, USC's offensive trio is rounded out by wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, who is the most accomplished wideout in the Power Five returning for 2016. As a sophomore, Smith-Schuster had 1,040 yards more than USC's second-best wideout, two-way player Adoree' Jackson, and 52 more catches than Steven Mitchell.
He has the skill set to take over games and is in line for a tremendous 2016.
QB: Zach Terrell (Sr.)
RB: Jamauri Bogan (So.)
WR: Corey Davis (Sr.)
Most teams on this countdown have to slightly adjust their offensive trio from last season. But Western Michigan, one of the nation's most prolific offenses, can keep rowing the boat just like it did in 2015 with the fantastic trio of Zach Terrell, Jamauri Bogan and Corey Davis.
Terrell is entering his fourth season as the top quarterback in Kalamazoo, and his impressive numbers from a strong 2014 campaign went to the next level last fall. He broke the 3,500-yard mark passing, completed 67 percent of his passes and kept his interceptions in the single digits as he threw 29 touchdowns.
Western Michigan got a breakout performance from a freshman running back for the second straight season last year, when Bogan passed Jarvion Franklin as the star rusher for the Broncos. Bogan scored 16 touchdowns in the final eight games of the season and capped the campaign with a 215-yard, four-score day against Middle Tennessee State in the Bahamas Bowl.
Davis won't have his tag-team partner of Daniel Braverman at wide receiver this fall, but there's still plenty to like about the senior wideout from Illinois. Davis ranked fourth in the nation last season in receiving yards per game behind three stars who are now in the pros. If Terrell can establish a new threat or two to take the pressure off Davis, he could have another 1,400-yard season with the Broncos.
Justin Ferguson is a National College Football Analyst at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR.