Darren McFadden #20 of the Oakland Raiders runs against the New York Jets
Ah, yes. We are getting near the end of the rankings and saving the heart of the offense for last. Running back is another position in which the AFC West has some good ones. When healthy, every one of the starters is easily a 1000 yard back. They are also all Pro Bowl caliber.
Several teams will also have new faces than they had last season. Some are returning from injury and others were brought in as free agents to replace backs who have left. With this turnover, the hierarchy among each team's running game will shift.
Here is how I rank each AFC West team by their running backs:
A former All Pro in Charles with one of the best change of pace backs in the league in Hillis. Charles is coming back after being out nearly all of last season but he had run for 1467 yards in 2010 and 1120 yards in 2009. He has averaged over five yards per carry every season of his career an incredible 6.4 yards per carry in his All Pro 2010 campaign. Hillis has some attitude problems and had a down year in 2011 but he ran for 1157 yards in 2010 with a respectable 4.4 yards per carry.
McFadden is unquestionably one of the best running backs in the NFL. But he has yet to be able to finish a season. In his best season in 2010, he played in 13 games and ran for 1157 yards with 507 yards receiving. He ran for 614 yards in just over six games last season before being lost for the season with aa lis franc foot injury. Behind him currently are two unproven backs looking to break out. Goodson had 762 yards from scrimmage in 2010 in relief of injured starters in Carolina. Jones was stuck behind McFadden and Michael Bush last season before going out injured. The team could still be looking to add a big back before training camp.
Mathews crept over 1000 yards last season and was named a Pro Bowl alternate. Joining him as a free agent signing is Brown who at 30 years old may not have much, if anything, left in the tank. His numbers have been mediocre since his one 1000 yard season in 2006. He is on his third team in three years and has averaged 3.5 yards per carry over the past two seasons. The newest addition as of Friday is former Chief running back Jackie Battle. This is a significant pick up for the Chargers and he has a good chance of taking over the number two job from Brown. The big back had a breakout year last season when he ran for 597 yards with four starts.
McGahee went over 1000 yards last season for the first time since 2007. He had been stuck behind Ray Rice in Baltimore much of that time. He will be 31 years old in October which means he has reached the mark at which running backs begin to slow down. Although, he may just have a season or two left due to his lack of carries from 2008-2010. The Broncos have no faith in Moreno. The team appears to be looking to phase him out especially if rookie Ronnie Hillman can come on strong. In fact, with the team going to a more pass oriented offense, none of them will get as many carries as they did in years past.