Running back tandems have become nearly a necessity around the league. With hard hitting defenses, injuries abundant, and fast action play, there are never too many backs on the depth chart.
The AFC is chock full of great backs, and there is no lack in the AFC East. Here's a look at what's to come in the backfields this year.
Marshawn Lynch, Fred Jackson, and Dominic Rhodes. The word, "stacked," comes to mind.
With the signing of Rhodes to a two year deal, and the four year extension of backup Jackson, Lynch and the Bills seem set for quite some time.
Jackson set career marks last year backing up Lynch, with 571 yards on 130 carries. His forte is his versatility, though, as he is adept at lining up outside, going in motion, and he even mans the quarterback spot in the Wildcat.
Catching 37 passes for 317 yards outdid Marshawn's 300 in 2008. He gave the division rival Patriots fits in the last game of the season, racking up 136 yards on 27 carries.
Marshawn Lynch is appealing his three game suspension for having federal gun charges filed against him in February. Beast Mode has lived up to his name in his two year career, compiling two 1,000 yard rushing seasons and 16 total touchdowns (15 rushing, 1 receiving).
As any defensive player in the NFL who's faced him can tell you, he's hard to bring down. I can't emphasize that enough. I would say that next to Marion Barber of the Cowboys, Marshawn Lynch is the toughest person in recent years to bring down.
Dominic Rhodes is a solid veteran pick up, and shares similarities with both running backs. Rhodes, like Jackson, was an undrafted free-agent coming in to the league. He shares legal troubles in California with Marshawn, which paired with the drafting of Darren McFadden made Rhodes dispensable in Oakland.
Much like Lynch and Jackson he's had to split time throughout his entire career. Rhodes will compete with Jackson this offseason to see who starts on opening night, and when Marshawn comes back, expect a healthy, ready backfield.
In 2005, a chill went down every AFC East fans back, when with the second overall pick, the Miami Dolphins selected Auburn running back Ronnie Brown. Brown, already part of a stacked backfield in Auburn next to Cadillac Williams, went into yet another running back tandem with Ricky Williams.
Ronnie Brown's ego got the best of him that year, though, when he held out of training camp in a contract dispute. Ricky was suspended four games, and Ronnie's rust showed. When Williams came back, though, Brown sniffed a thousand yard season, finishing the year with 907 yards.
In '07, Ronnie started the season off great, leading the league in yards from scrimmage, but was injured and lost for the season.
Then came 2008.
Dan Henning and Tony Sparano wanted to utilize both running backs immediately. Ricky Williams was penciled in as the seasons starter, and did so for the first two games. Then, week three against the Patriots, the Wildcat was born.
Although not really "born" (it had been used numerous times in colleges and the early NFL), but the Dolphins made it look good. Ronnie Brown had great success out of it, and ended the season with 916 yards on 214 carries and 10 touchdowns.
Williams ended his season with 659 yard on 160 carries, and added another four touchdowns to the tandem force.
Pat White, while listed at quarterback, will most likely rush out of the Wildcat, forming a scary trio for the Wildcat.
New England Patriots
Crowded backfields are seemingly commonplace in New England. This year is no exception.
With the signing of Fred Taylor, the Patriots now have Laurence Maroney, Taylor, Sammy Morris, Kevin Faulk, and BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Five interesting names (six if you can change Green-Ellis' name into two) with plenty of talent. Fresh talent is always welcome in Tom Brady's backfield.
Taylor knows a thing about crowded depth charts, as he's shared one with Maurice Jones-Drew the past few seasons in Jacksonville. Seemingly expendable, the Jags parted ways with the veteran.
Fred Taylor quickly signed with the Patriots. The 12 year veteran brings his 11,271 yards and 62 TD's to the Pats, and will provide strong run support for Brady.
Laurence Maroney was injured the final thirteen games of last season. He's dealt with injuries ever since being drafted in the first round, but has put up solid numbers in his career with the Patriots. If he comes back healthy, he could again be the incumbent starter on day one.
Sammy Morris and Kevin Faulk have been around the league and did great last year when called upon. Morris has been an AFC East staple for years. An ex-Buffalo Bill and Miami Dolphin, Morris may have been the best Patriot running back last year with his 7 TD's and 4.7 yards per carry.
Faulk has been with the Patriots his entire career since 1999, and has always been a solid change of pace back. He's been a great out-of the backfield threat for Brady, and that role shouldn't change this year.
Green-Ellis is a darkhorse to make the squad, but filled in admirably in his three starts, finding the end zone five times.
New York Jets
Eric Allen wrote a great article for the Jets this past week. He said that the number one running back on the depth chart right now is Danny Woodhead. Thomas Jones, Leon Washington, and rookie Shonn Greene have all been missing from OTA's. Greene isn't allowed at the facility until next week, but Jones and Washington have skipped voluntarily.
Thomas Jones, the old Bears cast-off, has played admirably in his two years with the Jets, putting up thousand yard seasons and scoring 17 TD's (14 rushing, 3 receiving). He produced in '07 on the ground, but only put up two TD's.
Last year he did wonders for the Jets offense, putting up 13 rushing touchdowns. He is now apparently unhappy with his contract.
All around threat Leon Washington is also unhappy about his contract. He's proved he's worth being on the team, but at this point it's strange to see him not participate. Is his asking price too high?
Do the Jets want one more quality year out of him? His versatility in the passing game, running game, and special teams would make it hard to not pay the man.
A Jet's friend of mine said something that brought back memories:
"Curtis Martin, where are you now?"