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Best Quadruplets in NFL History (Single-Season)

The ’90s Cowboys had the Triplets — Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin — that helped define the team’s dynasty. Well, the modern Packers have not just an outstanding quarterback, a great running back, and one excellent wide receiver: they have two excellent wide receivers.

Let’s take some “basic” stats and see how the 2014 Packers fared:

  • To measure quarterbacks, let’s use Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt. Aaron Rodgers ranked 1st in ANY/A last year.
  • To measure running backs, we can use the most basic measurement out there: rushing yards. Eddie Lacy ranked a respectable 7th in rushing yards.
  • To measure wide receivers (and tight ends), let’s use Adjusted Catch Yards, which is receiving yards with a 5-yard bonus for receptions and a 20-yard bonus for receiving touchdowns. Jordy Nelson ranked 3rd in ACY last year, while Randall Cobb ranked 8th.

Where does that rank since 1970? Well, one thing we could do is just add the ranks: 1 + 7 + 3 + 8 = 19. That’s a pretty good score for a group of four players, but it’s not the best ever. It’s tied with two other teams for 6th best ever. Can you guess which team since 1970 has the best score using this methodology? While you think about it, let’s look at the other teams to produce a score of less than 20.

T6) 2014 Green Bay Packers (19): Aaron Rodgers (1), Eddie Lacy (7), Jordy Nelson (3), and Randall Cobb (8)

The Packers finished 1st in points, 6th in yards, 1st in NY/A, and 6th in yards per carry. Green Bay made it to the NFC Championship Game, losing in Seattle in overtime.

T6) 2000 St. Louis Rams (19): Kurt Warner (1), Marshall Faulk (8), Torry Holt (4), and Isaac Bruce (6)

In 2000, Warner led the league with a 7.97 ANY/A average, courtesy of an absurd 9.9 yards per attempt average. Faulk missed two games but still finished 8th in rushing yards that season.1 St. Louis finished 1st in points and yards, and 1st in NY/A and 2nd in yards per carry. The Rams lost in the Wild Card round to New Orleans, 31-28.

T6) 1973 Philadelphia Eagles (19): Roman Gabriel (4), Tom Sullivan (10), Harold Carmichael (1), and TE Charle Young (4)

The story here was Carmichael, who led the league in receptions and receiving yards (but not True Receiving Yards). Philadelphia led the NFL in pass attempts that year, and Gabriel was outstanding: he ranked 4th in ANY/A and 1st in Brad O’s key metric on evaluating quarterbacks. Gabriel, who may be the best quarterback ever at avoiding interceptions, led the NFL in interception rate this year, too. Young, a 22-year-old rookie out of USC taken with the 6th overall pick, was the AP choice as first-team All-Pro, and ranked 4th in the NFL in both receptions and receiving yards.

But that wasn’t enough. Philadelphia finished 5-8-1, courtesy of an Eagles defense that ranked second-to-last in points, yards, first downs, passing yards, NY/A, rushing yards, and YPC. The Eagles finished 2nd in yards but “only” 8th in points, NY/A, and YPC. Sullivan, a second-year player, had what appeared to be a breakout season by averaging 4.5 yards per carry and 74.5 yards per game. He led the league with 11 rushing touchdowns in ’74, but these two years were the highlights of his career. Young was the rare player who peaked as a rookie.

T3) 1991 Washington Redskins (18): Mark Rypien (1), Earnest Byner (5), Gary Clark (2), Art Monk (10)

We transition from a below-average team to one of the greatest ever.  Rypien led the NFL in yards per completion and ANY/A, a product of one of the more talented offenses in league history. The offensive line was led by Mark Schlereth, the primary cause of three Super Bowl champions, and Joe Jacoby, Jeff Bostic, and Jim Lachey.

Byner, who ranked 4th in rushing yards in 1990, ranked 5th in that category in ’91.  And Clark was dominant in ’91, ranking 2nd in receiving yards (and ACY) while playing for a team that ranked 3rd from the bottom in pass attempts.  And Monk was Monk, leading the team in receptions. Washington led the NFL in points, NY/A, and rushing touchdowns, while ranking 4th in yards.

T3) 1982 San Diego Chargers (18): Dan Fouts (1), Chuck Muncie (13), Wes Chandler (1), TE Kellen Winslow (3)

The ’82 strike robbed us of seeing what records the Chargers could break.  San Diego ranked 1st in points, yards, first downs, passing yards, passing TDs, NY/A, and rushing touchdowns.  Fouts led the league in ANY/A, but perhaps more impressively averaged 320 passing yards per game, an NFL record that stood for nearly 30 years. Fouts was phenomenal in the team’s first playoff game, leading a two-touchdown 4th quarter comeback in Pittsburgh to pull out a 31-28 victory. But the team imploded in Miami a week later, highlighted by fumbles on consecutive kickoff returns early in the game.

Fouts wasn’t alone in setting a per-game yardage record: his top wideout, Chandler, gained 1,032 yards in 8 games, a 129 yard-per-game average that remains the highest in league history. Winslow was the AP first-team All-Pro for the third straight year as he continued to redefine the position. Muncie was the weak link here, ranking 13th in rushing yards.

T3) 1977 Pittsburgh Steelers (18): Terry Bradshaw (5), Franco Harris (4), Lynn Swann (3), John Stallworth (6)

On one hand, you might see”1970s Steelers” and historically dominant offenses in the same article and think you misread something.  On the other, it makes a lot of sense to see a team with four HOFers at the top of an article about the best quadruplets ever.  This is the only team with all four players in the top 6 in their respective categories, and it’s one worth remembering.

The 1977 Steelers went 9-5 and lost to the Broncos in the playoffs, but this was still the core of the team that would win the next two Super Bowls (and already had two titles on their resumes). Bradshaw, who won the MVP while ranking 3rd in ANY/A in 1978, ranked 5th in that category in 1977. He led the league in NY/A in 1977 and 1979, and ranked 2nd in that category in ’78. While he may be overrated in some corners of the world, he’s underrated in others. From ’77 to ’81, Bradshaw was a legitimately great, HOF quarterback, and this was the beginning of his peak years. At running back, Harris had a prime that stretched over most of the ’70s. His best year was ’75, when he ranked 2nd in rushing yards, but he was still 4th in 1977 and 7th a year later.

That brings us to the wide receivers. Swann had a peak from ’77 to ’80, and he and Stallworth were probably top-5 wide receivers during that stretch. Swann ranked 3rd in ACY in 1977, while Stallworth was just 35 yards behind him and ranked 6th in that category. The Steelers ranked 7th in points scored and 4th in yards, while the defense ranked 17th(!) in points allowed and 7th in yards allowed.

2) 1995 Detroit Lions (17): Scott Mitchell (5), Barry Sanders (2), Herman Moore (3), Brett Perriman (7)

The Lions began running the Run ‘N’ Shoot under Mouse Davis in 1989, but the offense peaked under Tom Moore when the talent blossomed six years later. Mitchell came over from Miami in ’94 but struggled during his first season with the Lions. In his second year, he looked like one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, ranking 2nd in yards and 3rd in passing touchdowns.

You don’t need me to tell you about Sanders. But just in case you do, know that his 1,500 rushing yards and 4.8 YPC average in ’95 were actually below his career averages! At wide receiver, Moore led the NFL in receptions and finished third in receiving yards, while Perriman finished sixth in both categories.

Detroit went 10-6, ranking 2nd in points, 1st in yards, 3rd in yards per carry, and 4th in NY/A. It was a historically dominant offense, but the team’s defense was far below average. In Detroit’s first playoff game, the Eagles jumped out to a 38-7 halftime lead and led 51-7 in the third quarter, before the Lions scored four touchdowns to make it… no, 58-37 doesn’t even classify as respectable.

1) 2000 Denver Broncos (14): Brian Griese (2), Mike Anderson (4), Rod Smith (1), Ed McCaffrey (7)

Why yes, it’s an article about a great Broncos offense, but no, there’s nothing in here about John Elway or Peyton Manning. If you managed to guess that the 2000 Broncos would have the highest score in this random, made-up category, I am impressed!

In 2000, Griese actually led the NFL in interception rate and passer rating, and ranked 4th in yards per pass attempt. The Broncos defense was a disaster this year, ranking 25th in NY/A and 29th in YPC allowed, and finished 23rd in points allowed. The only thing the defense had going for it was that it forced 44 turnovers, the second most in the NFL. The offense, though, was legitimately outstanding, ranking 2nd in both points and yards (to the dominant Rams in both metrics), while finishing in the top six in passing yards, passing TDs, interceptions, NY/A, rushing yards, rushing TDs, and yards per carry. And the Broncos even led the NFL in first downs! With 383 first downs, Denver fell just four shy of the record set by the ’84 Dolphins. And while modern offenses are picking up first downs with ease, the ’00 Broncos still rank 9th all-time in first downs.

Anderson burst on to the season as a rookie, rushing for 1,487 yards in essentially just 13 games. Meanwhile, McCaffrey and Smith both caught 100 passes. It’s easy to overlook the 2000 Broncos — they are the post-Elway/SB Broncos and have to compete with the Rams — but this was an offense worth remembering. Unfortunately for Denver, they had two big problems in the playoffs: an injured starting quarterback, and a historic defense on the schedule.

  1. He also finished 4th in rushing yards per game, 2nd in yards from scrimmage, and 1st in yards from scrimmage per game. []
  • sacramento gold miners

    The 1977 Steelers are a good example of how off field distractions can affect the on field product, they were a very inconsistent team. At their best, the Steelers easily handled the eventual World Champs(Dallas). But that was the exception, as the club barely eked into the playoffs with an ugly 10-9 win over San Diego.

    • Delevie

      They really should/could have won 6 straight. 1977 was bad mojo before the season even started and 1976 was probably the best defense of that run, but racked by injuries in playoffs.

      • Tom

        6 in a row is a stretch, but I suppose possible. If Harris and Bliere had been able to play in the Conference game against the Raiders, the Steelers have a much better chance of winning…and then moving on and (possibly) beating the Vikings.

        You can watch that AFC game on YouTube…Stabler and the Raiders played great, but there were simply too many three-and-outs for the Steelers offense – their defense got tired, quickly.

        • Richie

          I can’t seem to find it, but I think there was a guest post here about a year ago where somebody calculated the probabilities of teams winning Super Bowls in history.

          I wish I could find it, so I can see what it said about the Steelers’ probabilities of winning the Super Bowl in those 6 seasons,

          • Archive Page –> ctrl + f for “likely”

            http://www.footballperspective.com/how-likely-or-unlikely-was-each-super-bowl-winner-since-1978/

            Although that only begins in ’78

            • Richie

              I feel like there was a guest post on a similar topic once. I seem to remember something that calculated who the most likely Super Bowl winners were from each season. Am I imagining it?

              • Tom

                Richie – that sounds familiar…not sure if it was here though. Could have been on FO?

                • Richie

                  I’m pretty sure it was here, but could be wrong.

                    • Richie

                      Yeah, that’s the one I was looking for.

                      But, it doesn’t provide the season-by-season breakdowns I was thinking it did, to see the chances of the Steelers winning 6 straight Super Bowls.

                      Though, the Steelers and the 80s 49ers and 90s 49ers are the only 3 franchises to even get a calculation for winning 6 Super Bowls in a decade (.001).

  • Obviously the smaller league gives this a huge asterisk, but in 1947 the Browns saw Graham finish 1st in AY/A, Motley finish 3rd in rushing, and Speedie and Lavelli go one-two in receiving.

    The previous year, they ranked 1, 4, 1, and 3.
    The following year, they ranked 3, 1, 3, and 12 (a down year).
    Then in 1949, they went 1, 3, 1, 10. Lavelli dropped the ball, man.

    In 1951, the Rams were an odd case. Waterfield and NVB ranked 1 and 2 in AY/A. Towler was 3 in rushing (while Hoerner was 7), and Hirsch and Fears were 1 and 11 in receiving.

    In 1961, Lee and Blanda went 1-2 in AY/A. Cannon was first in rushing. Hennigan and Groman were 1 and 3 in receiving (Cannon also ranked 15th in receiving).

    The 63 Raiders swept the top spots in each category, but their second leading receiver ranked only 13th. Art Powell was basically the entire receiving crew.

  • Joe Wright

    Fascinating to read about the ’77 Steelers. As a life-long fan just a shade too young to remember the Super Bowl era, that year is a black hole to me. The four Super Bowl years have their highlights films for both the season and the Super Bowl, and the 1976 season has a great highlight film and is legendary in its own right for the Kruzcek/insane defense run. But good luck tracking down the ’77 highlights or finding much information about that year in the many chronicles of the ’70s Steelers.

    • Tom

      The Steelers were so dominant in the 1970’s – not just the four Super Bowls, but all that mythology – that for most fans (maybe even Steelers fans) the years where they didn’t win it all, or as you pointed out, didn’t have some kind of amazing thing happen (Immaculate Reception, ’76 defense pitching 5 shutouts, etc.), are just these “forgotten” years. I haven’t given much thought to the ’77 team as well…it’s like “The 1977 Steelers? They didn’t win that year, right?” And the discussion ends there!

      • Joe Wright

        I agree, except you’ve got ’69-’71 as not really part of the dynasty, ’72 as the Immaculate Reception, and ’73 as the About Three Bricks Shy of a Load year. So ’77 is really the hole, unless you want to say maybe ’80-’82 years are not terribly well-chronicled either, which would be fair.

        And Chase: The ’82 Chargers actually started the Steeler playoff game with back to back kickoff muffs–the first one a TD for Steelers on the opening kickoff, the second ending up with San Diego starting at the one-yard line.

        • sacramento gold miners

          The ’82 Steelers got off to an impressive 2-0 start before the strike, with wins over Dallas and Cincinnati.
          But after the strike, it was a struggle. The recent poor drafts and age were catching up to the Steelers by this point.

    • One of my favorite facts from the Steelers dynasty: they rostered more Hall of Fame players on offense than they did on defense.

      • Yep. That’s a good one.

    • sacramento gold miners

      The convincing win over the Cowboys in ’77 as definitely the high point of the season, but the problems began in the offseason for that club. Players getting in trouble, contract issues, and even a lawsuit, and these events went on during the season. Bradshaw broke his left wrist during the year, and the Steelers lost to Oakland and Denver during the regular season as well.

    • Richie

      It’s too bad the way we focus so much on teams that win championships. I was too young to see any of the 1970’s football. In the 80’s, I grew up watching NFL Films shows, and learned about the Packers, Cowboys, Dolphins, Raiders and Steelers. And a little bit about the Vikings. It wasn’t until I was a little bit older that I learned how good the Rams were from basically 1967-1980. But since they had just the one weak Super Bowl appearance in 1979, they are mostly forgotten.

      • Joe Wright

        Yeah, NFL Films had a deal with Hulu for a while giving them lots of old content that included a whole bunch of half-hour games of the week from the ’70s and early ’80s. I watched a condensed game from ’75 or ’76 between the Colts and Bengals, who were both really good teams at the time and thought about how little you hear about those teams. Unfortunately the deal expired, and the NFL Now app historical content doesn’t include the Games of the Week. They really need an “NFL THEN” app for the history geeks among us.

        It’s also sad that NFL Films didn’t keep making the Missing Rings series, which was great.

      • Tom

        Richie – you’re right. The Rams teams in the 1970’s were generally really, really good (not that I remember, just looking at numbers, and the occasional YouTube game). The 1973 team is most likely the best, #1 yards on offense, #1 points scored, #1 yards allowed, #3 points allowed. PFR’s SRS has them as the 12th best (regular season) team of all time (since the merger)!

        Made the playoffs every year from ’73 to ’80. Before finally reaching the Super Bowl in 1979, they would get stopped at some point by either Dallas or Minnesota. Just one of those consistently great teams from an era that couldn’t get those damn rings…

  • Clint

    The 2000 Broncos? So random! I looked to see what happened after that. Turns out, Ed McCaffrey got hurt week 1 of 2001, so instead of having another receiver step up, they just rolled with one receiver! Outside of Rod Smith, no wide receiver had 200 yds for them that year! You guys ever seen anything like it?
    (Carswell and Clark were TEs)

    http://www.pro-football-reference.com/teams/den/2001.htm

  • I won’t pretend that I thought they would top the list, but I did think of the 2000 Broncos. Griese looked like a budding star before that injury, even though it seemed everyone was writing him off as a failure already.

  • Tom

    I’m not anywhere near as knowledgeable as the folks who post here, but I’ve gotta say, I would not have guessed the 2000 Broncos in 100 tries…maybe 1000.

    • Wolverine

      I remember watching Brian Griese that year, and he looked like a legit great quarterback. I can’t really explain what happened to him after that. I know he got concussed a bunch in the early/mid-2000’s, so maybe that had something to do with it.

    • Richie

      Me neither. I thought one of the 96-98 Broncos teams might be on the list, though.

    • That’s why this is fun.

      • Tom

        Yep. I sent my older brother (huge NFL fan) the link and he could not wrap his mind around any list having the Brian Griese-led 2000 Broncos ahead of the Montana/Craig/Rice/Taylor 1989 Niners. It was hilarious.

  • Tom

    I love the 2000 Rams:

    Points scored: 540 (1st in the league)
    Points allowed: 471 (last in the league)

    There must be a post on this somewhere…they might be the most lopsided team in league history. I suppose a good amount of those points allowed came in garbage time when the Rams had the game in hand…but certainly that doesn’t explain all the points.

    • Wolverine

      Some of it was that Mike Martz notoriously didn’t care about turnovers, and that year the offense had 35 (good for -11 ratio). I’m sure the defense had to deal with quite a few short fields, which often didn’t matter because the offense would simply score on the next drive anyway.

      • Tom

        Wolverine – what do you mean “Mike Martz didn’t care about turnovers”? As in, he didn’t instruct his players not to turn the ball over? I’m seeing that between Warner and Green, the team threw 23 interceptions which was 4th highest that year, but I’m not understanding how the coach has an impact on that…I’m asking because I don’t understand, not because I think you’re wrong, by the way.

        • Wolverine

          Mike Martz literally said as much in an interview with ESPN during the 2001 season. Paraphrasing him (because I don’t remember the exact quote), he basically said that he’s not that concerned about his offense turning the ball over, because 1)if you worry too much about it, you won’t take risks, and you won’t score as many points, and 2)his offense was so good, that it almost doesn’t matter.

          As far as what impact that would have on actual results, I can only speculate. Maybe his offense attacks the intermediate/middle of the field more? (where the safety can more easily make a break on the ball), or he coached his quarterbacks to take more risks? And we all know about his 7 step drops (made infamous by Jay Cutler’s whining about it), which could lead to more strip sacks?

          • Tom

            Ok, that makes sense…Martz could be telling Warner to just play loose, let it fly, etc. Of course, I don’t think that attitude would affect guys fumbling the ball, but in any event, by what you’re saying it appears that they had a “play loose” mentality that year.

    • Hmm — I guess that sounds like the opposite of the Billick Index, eh?

      http://www.footballperspective.com/the-billick-index/

      As it turns out, I already ran those numbers, and called it the Coryell Index. And guess which team ranks #1?

      http://www.footballperspective.com/the-coryell-index/

      • Tom

        Man, those games must have been fun to watch…none of that boring 1970’s defensive crap…just score, score, score!

    • Nuclear Badger

      The 2011 Packers were the second highest scoring team to date, and ranked 32nd in yards given up

  • Wolverine

    When I saw the title of the article, I immediately wondered if the ’95 Lions were going to make the list. I have to say I’m surprised they’re as high as #2. After the way Scott Mitchell looked that season, I thought the Lions’ search for a franchise QB was over. How wrong I was!

    In all honesty, that Lions offense got to face a fairly easy schedule of defenses (especially during the 7 game winning streak that got them into the playoffs), so they probably weren’t as good as the numbers suggest. But Tom Moore did perfect his 1 back/3WR and 1 back/2TE sets that he would eventually use with a much better quarterback in Indianapolis during the 2000s.

  • Wolverine

    Seeing Brian Griese and Scott Mitchell on the #1 and #2 teams makes we wonder if you guys have done an article on “The most impressive one year wonder seasons in history”.

    Scott Mitchell ’95, Brian Griese ’00, Steve Beurlein ’99, Lynn Dickey ’83 are a few that come to mind (maybe RG3 2012 will be on the list someday?).

    Maybe you could calculate by the biggest difference between a QB’s ANY/A for their best season, compared to their career ANY/A?

  • Steven Macks

    I’d love to see this as sortable data. Where are the 2000 Vikings, for example, with Culpepper, Smith, Moss, and Carter all having respectable years? (Just the first omission to come to mind with a big 4.)

    • Richie

      Yeah, I was expecting to see a circa-2004 Colts team on the list with Manning, James, Harrison and Wayne.

      • Well, it’s not that difficult to calculate for any one team. ANY/A and rushing yards per carry are on each player page, while you can go to the PFR Receiving Leaders page for any year and quickly figure out ACY rank.

        Just an FYI.

  • Nuclear Badger

    Just for kicks – instead of summing the numbers, I looked at the products (which benefits having someone ranked #1 in category):

    Steelers – 360
    Lions – 210
    Rams – 192
    Packers – 168
    Eagles – 160
    Redskins – 100
    Broncos – 56
    Chargers – 39

  • Richie

    When I think great skill position players, I think: Rypien, Byner, Clark and Monk!

  • Richie

    “You don’t need me to tell you about Sanders. But just in case you do,
    know that his 1,500 rushing yards and 4.8 YPC average in ’95 were
    actually below his career averages!”

    That is a stat I hadn’t heard/noticed before. Barry Sanders AVERAGED 1,527 rushing yards per season!! (His median was 1,496).

    But then, Jim Brown averaged nearly 1,700 yards if you pro-rate for 16 games.

    • Yeah, Sanders was insane. It just so happens that Brown may have been insaner.

  • Richie

    Chase, not that it matters since this is more of a “fun” than “meaningful” analysis, but is there any reason you chose a metric that includes touchdowns for the WR’s, but not for the RB’s?

    • Not really. Just simpler to use rushing yards.

  • Steve

    Bradshaw’s prime was really 1975-1982. For that period, he’s first in passing TDs with 162 (Fouts, who had almost 450 more attempts, is second with 148) third in Y/A and fifth in ANY/A (.01 behind Danny White for fourth). YMMV, but I put the qualifying bar at those with at least 1,000 attempts. I believe he was also eighth or ninth in passer rating.

  • Gary Goslin

    At least I got to relive the Lions bashing vs Philly in ’95. I need a new team 😉