Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger will be forever linked by the 2004 NFL Draft. And I'm sure at some sushi joint in a strip mall in Sandy Springs, Georgia, Matt Schaub sits belly to the bar saying to nobody in particular, "Hey, I was part of that draft class, too." And you know what? I have your back, Matt. You certainly were. But for this exercise, we're just going to focus on the first-rounders. Well, besides J.P. Losman.
And the focus is: Who has possessed the best weapons around him?
Your first question is probably going to be: Why? Well, let me tell you, it's kind of slow right now. Most of my days are spent wandering around the office throwing my opinions at people. My favorite subject to debate -- well, besides the immense awesomeness of "The Last Jedi" and "Solo" -- is the 2004 quarterback class. I'm of the mind Rivers is the best of the bunch. If he played for the Steelers, he'd probably have at least four rings. And in that vein, let's take a closer look at how each of these guys have been supported at the skill positions over the past 14 seasons. Who has enjoyed the best weaponry? Let's take a look, in alphabetical order:
Eli Manning, Giants
Some of my friends, who just so happen to be Giants fans, act like Eli has never played with credible threats during his career. I'm here to tell you that it's not the case. However, I'm not sure Eli has worked with a Hall of Famer. I mean, we could projectOdell Beckham Jr. as a Cantonite (Cantonian?), but it's probably a little too early at this point. Tiki Barber was a really good running back, but I have a very hard time arguing for his gold jacket -- even if you put him up against the Bettis Bar. (The lowest HOF running back. When considering a borderline candidate, you should always ask yourself, Was this running back better than Jerome Bettis?).
Skill-position Hall of Famers: None.
Guys who should get in: Do you want to say Tiki? Again, Beckham has more work to do.
BEST OFFENSIVE GROUPS
2005 Giants: Tiki Barber was really at his best in 2004 and '05, having cut down on his fumbles and put up some great numbers: 2,000-plus scrimmage yards and double-digit TDs in each season. He rushed for 1,662 yards in 2006, but had just five touchdowns. (Fantasy dorks are feeling me here and remember this. Distinctly! Brandon Jacobs cleaned up with nine touchdowns in that '06 campaign.) There is always this notion Eli didn't have great receivers before OBJ. But this era had Plaxico Burress, Amani Toomer and Jeremy Shockey.
2011 Giants: Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs didn't enjoy their best seasons in 2011 -- both were much better in 2010 -- but they were still good. And this team had the receiving duo of Victor Cruz (82 receptions for 1,536 yards and nine touchdowns) and Hakeem Nicks (79 for 1,192 and seven TDs).
Philip Rivers, Chargers
The only guy on this list to not win a Super Bowl. And it seems wrong. Should have won in 2006 -- blame Marlon McCree. If he just falls down after the interception of Tom Brady in the Divisional Round -- as opposed to fumbling the ball back to New England -- Chargers win. And then blow out the Colts in the AFC Championship Game. Trust me: They owned the Colts. I've told this to Reggie Wayne and he agrees ... Agrees with you that I'm an idiot. But I'm convinced I'm right.
Skill-position Hall of Famers: RB LaDainian Tomlinson (2017).
Guys who should get in: TE Antonio Gates.
BEST OFFENSIVE GROUPS
2010 Chargers: They led the NFL in total offense. Might not have had the best weapons, though -- Rivers threw for 4,710 yards, but didn't have a single receiver even reach 800. Sproles had a team-high 59 receptions. Gates had 782 receiving yards. The top running backs were Mike Tolbert and Ryan Mathews. Man, this was all Rivers.
Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers
People think I'm kidding when I credit Ben with 1.5 Super Bowl wins, as he was merely a spectator for the team's win in Super Bowl XL. Any other approach would be like me crowing about Jim McMahon's "two" Super Bowl wins, even though his second came as Brett Favre's backup in Green Bay. Roethlisberger's also had the benefit of having the top-ranked defense five times during his career. More crucially to this particular piece, there has been at least a Hall of Fame receiver or running back on his team every year -- and most of the time, he's had one of each.
BEST OFFENSIVE GROUPS
The current Steelers: Brown and Bell are in their prime. Brown is currently the best receiver in the game and has logged at least 100 receptions in five consecutive seasons. Since entering the league in 2013, Bell has averaged a whopping 129 scrimmage yards per game. These guys are money. It's one thing to boast two Hall of Famers, but one is typically ascending while the other's past his prime. It's not often you get both at the height of their powers. It's like the current Golden State Warriors. Except those folks win titles.
2009 Steelers: Roethlisberger didn't have a Hall of Fame running back, but Rashard Mendenhall ran for 1,108 yards at 4.6 per carry, and Willie Parker was there. And then there was the receiving corps ... Santonio Holmes, Hines Ward, Mike Wallace and tight end Heath Miller, who received nearly 100 targets. This team was loaded.
I mean, it's clear Roethlisberger has had the most skill-position talent to work with. He's had no shortage of big-name players come through. Rivers had the best individual player (LT). And the Chargers always find those rangy, 6-foot-5 receivers -- kinda like how producers on "The Bachelorette" always find vapid, vein, self-indulgent bros. But the Steelers have had a lot of over-the-top talent. I mean, I won't let Eli say he's played with nobody. But it's clear: Ben Roethlisberger has not only benefitted from having the better defenses, but he's been blessed with the most talented skill-position players, as well.