The Buffalo Bills Have the Best Running Backs in the AFC East

Erik FrenzSenior Writer IApril 11, 2012

If the Bills can keep feeding these two beasts, they'll be a much better offense for it.
If the Bills can keep feeding these two beasts, they'll be a much better offense for it.Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Extinct. That's the best way to describe the "franchise" running back.

As the NFL becomes more geared toward passing, that's the sad truth that many backs have realized, and it has surely cut into their profits in free-agency periods.

Just ask former Patriots running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who signed with the Bengals for a whopping $3 million per year despite leading the league in touchdown totes.

Here's a look at things from a statistical standpoint, but even that won't paint the whole picture. More than almost any other position, running backs are not singular but by committee, and should be graded as such.

With that, let's take a look at how the AFC East's running back stables graded out.

1. Buffalo Bills

ARLINGTON, TX - NOVEMBER 13:   Fred Jackson #22 of the Buffalo Bills at Cowboys Stadium on November 13, 2011 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Averaging the most yards per attempt out of any AFC East team in 2011, the Buffalo Bills rode their running game strong in the early part of the season behind Fred Jackson and his 1,376 yards from scrimmage in just 10 games. His season was cut short when he went to injured reserve, but the Bills' running game only suffered a slight hiccup before getting right back on track behind C.J. Spiller.

All that behind a shaky offensive line that had a hard time staying healthy themselves.

And as B/R's Bills featured columnist Josh Cembellin points out, the Bills would be wise to let the two talented backs carry a bigger load to ease some of the load on Ryan Fitzpatrick.

2. Miami Dolphins

FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 24:  Reggie Bush #22 of the Miami Dolphins runs past Rob Ninkovich #50 of the New England Patriots during the first quarter at Gillette Stadium on December 24, 2011 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Winslow Townson/Getty Images)
Winslow Townson/Getty Images

Reggie Bush had his first 1,000-yard season in 2011, which also came with a career high in carries. Still, he averaged over five yards per carry, but the team as a whole averaged just 4.2, right around the league average.

He will be a real weapon in the new West Coast-style offense the Dolphins will be running under Joe Philbin because the goal will be to get the ball into his hands where he can make plays.

That being said, their depth leaves something to be desired. There's time yet for Steve Slaton to turn it around and for Daniel Thomas to turn it on, but for now, they won't inspire much confidence should injury befall Bush.

3. New England Patriots

Can the talented Mr. Ridley carry the load?
Can the talented Mr. Ridley carry the load?Winslow Townson/Getty Images

It's hard not to put New England in the bottom half of the list considering they just lost their leading rusher of the past two seasons. BenJarvus Green-Ellis wasn't just that, he was a sure-handed back who could be counted on to always pick up positive yards and was nearly a lock for a touchdown at the goal line.

The team will turn to youngsters Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley to carry more of a load in 2012. Ridley showed some promise for much of the season, apart from his inexplicable fumble-itis at the worst possible time—the playoffs.

It was essentially a redshirt year for Vereen, who had 15 carries, all of which came in blowout wins.

Danny Woodhead took a step backward in 2011, and although some of that might be attributed to fewer opportunities, he just looked a lot less explosive, averaging a full yard per carry less and 2.4 yards per reception less in 2011 than he had in 2010.

4. New York Jets

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - DECEMBER 11:  Shonn Greene #23 of the New York Jets runs away from  Justin Houston #50 of the Kansas City Chiefs during their game at MetLife Stadium on December 11, 2011 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Get
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

Shonn Greene hasn't been a dominant back thus far in the NFL, and LaDainian Tomlinson is out (though he wasn't contributing much anymore). Behind Greene, there isn't a whole lot to be confident in with the likes of Joe McKnight and Bilal Powell.  

The Jets still are looking for a home-run hitter in the backfield, and could look to find one in the draft. Running back was declared one of the deepest positions in the draft, according to Wes Bunting of National Football Post.