In the NBA, it’s called a “Big Three.” In the NFL, they’re called “triplets.”
When three star athletes end up on the same team, visions of championships start dancing in the heads of fans and media (and of course owners and general managers) as expectations and ticket prices climb higher and higher.
An NBA Big Three typically consists of three standout offensive playmakers. But due to the two-way nature of the game, it can still include a player whose bread-and-butter is his defense. Think Dennis Rodman with the 1990s Chicago Bulls, or DeAndre Jordan with the current-day L.A. Clippers.
In the NFL, a set of triplets is — at least according to the media and fans who come up with these labels — almost always made up of three offensive players. And because the 1990s Dallas Cowboys led by Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin were the original inspiration for the term, a set of NFL triplets almost always consists of a quarterback, a running back and a receiver.
ESPN writer Bill Barnwell has taken an unconventional and more logical view on the whole “triplets” thing, however. In his recent ranking of the NFL’s top defensive triplets, he not only gives the defense some recognition but also isn’t as rigid when it comes to positions. The triplets are simply the three best players on the unit.
At the top of Barnwell’s list is the Seattle Seahawks’ trio of defensive lineman Michael Bennett, free safety Earl Thomas and cornerback Richard Sherman.
The latter two make up half of the infamous “Legion of Boom” secondary, along with strong safety Kam Chancellor and cornerback Brandon Browner. The original foursome that formed in 2011 hadn’t been fully intact after Browner spent a two-year hiatus playing for the Patriots and Saints, but he re-signed with the Seahawks this offseason.
The LOB is Seattle’s most recognized group of four, but the Sherman-Thomas-Bennett group of three represent the Seahawks’ most valued defenders.
Here’s the write-up on the Seahawks’ defensive triplets from ESPN:
Seattle has two future Hall of Fame defenders in the prime of their respective careers. Sherman was overshadowed by (Washington CB Josh) Norman last season, but there’s a reason Seattle posted the NFL’s best DVOA against No. 1 wideouts last year while simultaneously holding them to a league-low 46.8 yards per game. Sherman can shut them down on his side, allowing the Seahawks to devote extra attention to taking away the receivers on the opposite side of the field. Thomas’ brilliance is almost routine at this point, and he’s the best safety in football by a staggering amount. And then, merely in the category of great players, there’s the unblockable Bennett. He had 30 quarterback knockdowns last year. I could just as easily swap out Bennett for Bobby Wagner, who is one of the five best middle linebackers in football. If the Broncos had the 27-year-old (DE Demarcus) Ware instead of the 33-year-old version, they might be able to leap past the Seahawks. As is, though, no team can stand up to Seattle’s trio of superstars.
And here are the defensive triplets that include at least one defensive back, along with where Barnwell ranked them:
32. Cleveland Browns — CB Joe Haden, DT Desmond Bryant, LB Paul Kruger
31. New Orleans Saints — DE Cameron Jordan, CB Delvin Breaux, LB James Laurinaitis
28. Atlanta Falcons — CB Desmond Trufant, LB Vic Beasley Jr., DE Adrian Clayborn
27. San Francisco 49ers — LB NaVorro Bowman, S Eric Reid, LB Aaron Lynch
26. Jacksonville Jaguars — DE Malik Jackson, OLB Telvin Smith, CB Jalen Ramsey
25. Indianapolis Colts — CB Vontae Davis, S Mike Adams, DE Arthur Jones
24. San Diego Chargers — CB Jason Verrett, CB Brandon Flowers, DE Corey Liuget
23. Tennessee Titans — DE Jurrell Casey, LB Brian Orakpo, CB Jason McCourty
21. Baltimore Ravens — NT Brandon Williams, LB C.J. Mosley, S Eric Weddle
20. New York Giants — DE Olivier Vernon, CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, NT Damon Harrison
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — DT Gerald McCoy, LB Lavonte David, CB Brent Grimes
18. Minnesota Vikings — DE Everson Griffen, S Harrison Smith, LB Anthony Barr
17. Buffalo Bills — DT Marcell Dareus, CB Stephon Gilmore, DT Kyle Williams
16. Washington — CB Josh Norman, OLB Ryan Kerrigan, CB Bashaud Breeland
15. Philadelphia Eagles — DT Fletcher Cox, DE Connor Barwin, S Malcolm Jenkins
14. Oakland Raiders — LB Khalil Mack, CB Sean Smith, DT Dan Williams
13. Cincinnati Bengals — DE Carlos Dunlap, DT Geno Atkins, S George Iloka
12. Green Bay Packers — LB Clay Matthews, CB Sam Shields, DE Mike Daniels
11. Miami Dolphins — DT Ndamukong Suh, S Reshad Jones, DE Cameron Wake
10. New England Patriots — LB Jamie Collins, LB Dont’a Hightower, S Devin McCourty
9. Los Angeles Rams — DT Aaron Donald, DE Robert Quinn, CB Trumaine Johnson
8. Detroit Lions — DE Ezekiel Ansah, CB Darius Slay, LB DeAndre Levy
7. Houston Texans — DE J.J. Watt, CB Johnathan Joseph, LB Whitney Mercilus
6. Kansas City Chiefs — LB Justin Houston, CB Marcus Peters, S Eric Berry
5. New York Jets — CB Darrelle Revis, DT Sheldon Richardson, DE Muhammad Wilkerson
4. Arizona Cardinals — CB Patrick Peterson, DE Calais Campbell, LB Chandler Jones
2. Denver Broncos — LB Von Miller, LB DeMarcus Ware, CB Chris Harris Jr.
1. Seattle Seahawks — CB Richard Sherman, S Earl Thomas, DL Michael Bennett