AFC West Preseason Running Back Rankings

Michael SanteramoContributor IIIJuly 31, 2012

AFC West Preseason Running Back Rankings

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    My AFC West preseason rankings continue with the running backs. All four teams in the division have the possibility of a potent rushing attack, but we can see from 2011 that injuries at the running back position are extremely detrimental. 

    This is how I see the AFC West's running backs stacking up going into 2012.

    (Check out my AFC West QB rankings by clicking here)  

1. Darren McFadden

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    I can hear the Chiefs, Broncos, and Chargers fans already yelling, "He can't stay healthy!" 

    I'm well aware of Darren McFadden's inability to stay on the field for an entire season. McFadden hasn't played more then 13 games in a single season. His injuries have indeed held him back from being considered one of the best running back in the league. 

    However, when I look at McFadden's on-field production, there is no doubt that he is an elite back. 

    In 2010, McFadden was able to compile 1,157 yards in only 13 games. He averaged 5.2 yards per carry. It was a great season for McFadden, who finally began to look like what we thought he could be during his stellar college career at Arkansas. 

    Last season, McFadden looked even better. Going into Week 7, McFadden had rushed for 612 yards. He was the leading rusher in the NFL and was on pace for his second consecutive 1000 yard season.

    Then, he injured his foot against the Chiefs, and his entire season was derailed. Despite speculation of a late season return, McFadden ended up missing the rest of the 2012 season.

    McFadden is expected to be entering 2012 at full strength. If he is 100 percent healthy, there is no doubt that he will be the best running back in the AFC West. 

2. Jamaal Charles

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    Here's where it gets iffy. Jamaal Charles missed almost the entire 2011 season with a torn ACL that he suffered in Week 2.

    So how can he be No. 2 on my list?

    Lets take a look at 2009 and 2010. He rushed for 1,120 yards in 2009 and then followed it up with an amazing 1,467 yards in 2010. He was one of the top-five running backs in the entire league.

    Nobody in the AFC West, other than McFadden, can compete with his numbers.

    His ACL tear is troubling. There are very few running backs that come back with the same effectiveness after that type of injury. Still, even if Charles loses a step, he will remain effective and still No. 2 on my list. 

3. Ryan Mathews

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    After a somewhat disappointing rookie season, Mathews bounced back in 2011 with 1,091 yards and six touchdowns.

    Still, it has yet to be seen just how high Mathews' ceiling is. San Diego drafted him to be LaDainian Tomlinson's replacement, but he doesn't appear to have the talent to come anywhere close to LT's impact in San Diego. 

    He is constantly battling hamstring issues and was ineffective in too many games. In fact, seven of his 14 games in 2011 ended in less than 70 rushing yards.

    He has talent and can be a very good back. But very good only gets you third in the AFC West.  

4. Willis McGahee

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    That's right, the AFC's leading rusher in 2011 is dead last among starting running backs in my rankings.

    How is this possible? How can I reference stats for my other running backs and then ignore McGahee's? I'm not. But there are some facts that we have to recognize.

    First off, McGahee is 30 years old. Thirty is the scariest number for a running back. It's the point where most running backs see their production drop significantly.

    Second, McGahee's success was largely a product of the Tim Tebow option offense. Let's face it, nobody saw McGahee being a huge threat in 2011. He had just come off three sub-par seasons in Baltimore including in 2010 in which he rushed for a career low 380 yards in 15 games as Ray Rice's backup. Yet, in an offense where the rushing attack was centered around the threat of Tim Tebow, defenses couldn't commit to McGahee. I believe that with Peyton Manning under center, McGahee may see a rise in team victories but a big decline in personal production.  

Ranking the Backups

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    1. Peyton Hillis, KC: After an injury-filled 2011, the Chiefs are hoping that he can return to the form he had in 2010 when he rushed for 1,177 yards with 11 TDs.

    2. Knowshon Moreno, DEN: Not the franchise RB that the Broncos were hoping for, but his 2009 and 2010 seasons indicate that he can be a productive backup.

    3. Ronnie Brown, SD: He is on the decline. Losing Mike Tolbert a year after losing Darren Sproles is proving to be a problem for San Diego.

    4. Mike Goodson, OAK: There's a reason that Raiders fans want Cedric Benson. The reason is Mike Goodson's lack of NFL carries and experience.