With the 2010 NFL season quickly approaching, it's time to take a look at the leading rushers in the AFC Conference. Last year, we saw some unknown and under the radar players take center stage. Let's see how they stack up in the rankings of the top ten running backs in the American Football Conference.
Some players that just missed the cut:
1.) Thomas Jones, Kansas City Chiefs
2.) Willis McGahee, Baltimore Ravens
3.) Joseph Addai, Indianapolis Colts
4.) Ricky Williams, Miami Dolphins
5.) Darren Sproles, San Diego Chargers
Ronnie Brown was plagued by injury last season, but is expected to return to his Pro-Bowl caliber play in the 2010 season.
In nine games, Brown managed just 658 yards and eight touchdowns.
While complementing Thomas Jones in one of the most potent rushing attacks in the NFL, rookie Shonn Greene offered enough optimism to the Jets front office to part ways with Thomas Jones, opting to sign aging LaDanian Tomlinson to handle the third-down and goal-line situations.
Greene only rushed for just over 500 yards in the regular season, yet he was dominating in the offseason, rushing for 135 and 128 yards against the Bengals and Chargers while scoring a touchdown in each game.
Behind the Jets offensive line, look for Shonn Greene to be a huge contributor to the team.
Before the 2009 season, Jerome Harrison wasn't exactly what one would describe as a household name.
Harrison started only five games, yet shredded opposing defenses for 862 yards, with over 600 in THREE games. Harrison found the endzone five times, and was also a valuable option in the receiving game, catching 30 passes for just under 300 yards.
Jamaal Charles of the Kansas City Chiefs exploded on to the scene last year, when he earned the starting role in Week 10.
Charles has incredible speed and agility, as proven by his impressive 5.9 yards-per carry average. Charles earned 1,120 yards on 190 carries, scoring seven touchdowns, in addition to catching 40 passes out of the backfield for another 297 yards.
It will be interesting to see how much playing time he sees this season, considering the addition of veteran running back Thomas Jones, and the selection of hybrid running back/ wide receiver, Dexter McCluster.
Either way, Charles deserves to be named with the top ten running backs in the AFC.
Knowshon Moreno was a highly touted prospect coming out of Georgia, and the rookie posten an impressive 2009 season, just barely missing the 1,000 yard mark, rushing for 947 yards and seven touchdowns.
What is even more impressive is that he was splitting carries with Correll Buckhalter. Now that Brandon Marshall is gone, the Broncos will have to rely on their 2009 first round pick to carry the workload.
I think Moreno could end up higher on this list next year, but only time will tell.
After dismal seasons with the Chicago Bears, Cedric Benson seems on the right track to being a top caliber NFL running back. Benson stepped up to the plate last year, rushing for 1,251 yards and scoring six touchdowns along the way.
With second year left tackle Jason Smith reportedly making huge improvements, Benson's productivity should continue through the 2010 season.
Rashard Mendenhall will not be the primary back for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Team management has stated that they want the Steelers to return to more of a "smash mouth," run-first offense, giving Mendelhall more opportunities to succeed.
Mendenhall eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark last season, starting 12 games. The four game suspension of Ben Roethlisberger, will force the Steelers to run the ball more, and they also added Florida Center/ Guard, Maurkice Pouncey to create some holes for him as well.
Ray Rice simply does it all. Aside from rushing for 1,339 yards with an impressive 5.3 yards-per-carry, he also recorded 78 receptions for another 702 yards.
Rice is a game changing player, with the speed to break a huge run at any moment. With the Ravens adding passing weapons this season, opposing defenses may not be able to focus as much on containing Rice, giving him more opportunities for big plays.
Then the Jacksonville Jaguars passed the torch from Fred Taylor to Maurice Jones-Drew, MJD hit the ground running.
Jones-Drew is on the shorter side, but has the strength and toughness that led him to gaining over 1,700 yards from scrimmage. Jones-Drew ranked No.5 in rushing yards in the NFL.
Look for his numbers to improve this season, as their offensive line is still young and developing.
Chris Johnson made history last season, as he joined the likes of O.J Simpson, Eric Dickerson, Barry Sanders, Terrell Davis, and Jamal Lewis to be the only players in NFL history to rush for over 2,000 yards, while scoring 14 touchdowns.
Not only was he explosive in the backfield, but he also added 50 receptions for 503 yards, adding another three touchdowns.
Chris Johnson is the best running back in the AFC, if not the NFL.