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Fantasy Football: AFC Running Back Preview

Kevin Roberts@BreakingKevinSenior Writer IJune 11, 2009

FOXBORO, MA - NOVEMBER 13: Thomas Jones #20 of the New York Jets runs against the New York Jets at Gillette Stadium on November 13, 2008 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

(Above: Another huge season for Thomas Jones?)

In continuation of my early fantasy overview, I pick up at the running back spot where I left off at the quarterback position; still excited about the fantasy season, but bewildered over all the possibilities that still remain.

There are now more RBBC in NFL backfields than ever, and in Denver, we also have to worry about Peyton Hillis stealing touches from rookie Knowshon Moreno.

That's why there's a little thing called handcuffs, baby.

Let it be known—these are not rankings, but merely a close look at the top runners for each team, as well as some analysis toward their 2009 season.

New England Patriots—Fred Taylor, Sammy Morris, Kevin Faulk, Laurence Maroney

It is anyone's guess in log-jam city, a.k.a., New England's backfield.

Former first rounder Laurence Maroney returns at near full health, but how much will he play? As it stands, ex-Jacksonville back Fred Taylor and Sammy Morris seem to be the front-runners, with third-down back Kevin Faulk certainly to be in the mix.

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Three 30+ year-old backs sharing the ball. Not exactly the usual recipe for success in a ground attack, but who are we to question Bill Belichick?

New York Jets—Thomas Jones, Leon Washington, Shonn Greene

Thomas Jones returns after a huge season, but after going from one touchdown to 13, which version will we get?

Jones may have fallen out of love with Brett Favre at the end of last season, but if he sticks in New York, he'll sorely miss him.

Leon Washington figures to get more touches, both out of the backfield and as a receiver, while also adding some spice as a returner.

There is quiet talk that Jones and Washington's contract woes could have either one of them (or both) sent packing, which would quickly make rookie Shonn Greene a hot commodity.

Buffalo Bills—Marshawn Lynch, Fred Jackson, Dominic Rhodes

Lynch is currently facing a three-game suspension, but an appeal has a small chance at the suspension either being reduced or erased altogether.

Regardless, Fred Jackson will be used this year because he's too good not to be.

Newly signed Rhodes, however, probably won't sniff too much action as a runner, at least not after the first three weeks, barring an unforeseen injury. He should have a minimal impact as a receiver, though, and could be used sparingly on third downs.

Miami Dolphins—Ronnie Brown, Ricky Williams, Patrick Cobbs

Because Ricky Williams is still a fairly effective back, it figures to be another year of splitting carries between Williams and Ronnie Brown, as well as more sexy additions to the "wildcat" package.

Miami's style of offense means big things for Ronnie Brown if he can stay healthy, and locks in Williams for solid yardage production, as well as the opportunity for five to eight touchdowns.

Patrick Cobbs probably won't be able to lock down any major role, but considering how diverse the Dolphins' offense is, he should be able to make an impact catching passes out of the backfield.

Pittsburgh Steelers—Willie Parker, Rashard Mendenhall, Mewelde Moore

The Steelers face a very promising problem: They have three guys they wouldn't be afraid starting the season with as their primary back.

While that gives them an A for depth and versatility, that means hell for fantasy owners.

Regardless, Parker should be the stud, while Mendenhall and Moore pick away at the scraps and compete for third-down duty.

Cincinnati Bengals—Cedric Benson, Brian Leonard, Kenny Watson

Cedric Benson continues his quest to prove last season's late run wasn't a fluke, and that he is still deserving of that fourth overall selection.

While the latter can't be proven this season, I'm also still not sold that he's the right back for the Bengals.

Cincy obtained Brian Leonard from the Rams for a reason, and it's becoming clear that it wasn't to waste him at fullback. He's younger and more versatile than Kenny Watson, so he has the jump-start for the third-down back role, and could end the season with some solid production.

Cleveland Browns—Jamal Lewis, Jerome Harrison

Lewis is getting older and slowing down a bit, but as long as he can plow into people and move the chains, he'll remain the starter.

Harrison is a good backup that is eager to get his shot. Whether or not Lewis goes down to injury, Harrison is likely to get some solid touches as their top change-of-pace back.

Baltimore Ravens—Ray Rice, Willis McGahee, LeRon McClain

The hot talk has Ray Rice as the starter for 2009, but considering the money is going to McGahee, I wouldn't buy into that hype so quickly.

Rice is easily the most exciting option in the Ravens' backfield, while McClain remains the most productive and effective.

If McGahee's knees hold up he could still put up good numbers, but this backfield is way too muddled for anyone to call the final score just yet.

Indianapolis Colts—Joseph Addai, Donald Brown

Addai may have had a down year last season, but with Dominic Rhodes playing in Buffalo, he's once again healthy and primed for a big season.

That is, if you're not afraid of Donald Brown stealing his carries.

There is a ton of excitement surrounding Brown, but his poor receiving ability may hold him back some. Reports have him being an absolute terror after he catches the ball, but that's just it—he rarely does.

Tennessee Titans—Chris Johnson, LenDale White

Are we headed for another split like 2008? In one fashion or another; probably.

White is still more than likely the guy they'll rely on inside the 10-yard line, while Chris Johnson is their speedy, elusive guy that's going to be their workhorse.

They both have great value, although it's likely White comes down to earth a bit in the touchdown department.

Jacksonville Jaguars—Maurice Jones-Drew

MJD still isn't the only back in Jacksonville, but he might as well be.

With Fred Taylor now in New England, MJD is officially the feature back for the Jaguars and will be a threat on all three downs.

He's a dynamo talent with excellent speed, toughness, and versatility.

The guy has run for at least 760 yards and nine touchdowns in three straight seasons, and is only 24. Imagine what he'll do with the backfield all to himself.

Houston Texans—Steve Slaton, Ryan Moats, Chris Brown

Slaton was very impressive as a rookie, rushing for over 1,200 yards and performing admirably as a receiver out of the backfield.

He should only get better as he grows more comfortable with the offense.

With no real threat to steal many of his carries, the only thing preventing Slaton from improving on 2008's numbers is an unfortunate injury.

Denver Broncos—Knowshon Moreno, Correll Buckhalter, Lamont Jordan, Peyton Hillis

Despite being a first-round pick and possessing the most talent out of all his running-mates, Knowshon Moreno isn't a lock to get the most carries in 2008.

At least for now, it appears Josh McDaniels will ride into the season with as many as five running backs, and should also look to incorporate fullback Peyton Hillis in some fashion.

Until someone gets cut or injured, though, predicting the Denver backfield is a waste of time.

San Diego Chargers—LaDainian Tomlinson, Darren Sproles, Jacob Hester

LT is still "the guy" in San Diego, and a franchise tagging of Darren Sproles isn't going to change that.

However, you don't tag a guy simply to be a backup, so Sproles is definitely in for some serious touches, whether it be by rushing or receiving.

Former LSU Tiger Jacob Hester is the front-runner at fullback, and after only being average as an offensive option last year, he could still actually see more carries as he learns the offense more.

Oakland Raiders—Justin Fargas, Darren McFadden, Michael Bush

Justin Fargas is listed as the starter, but that figures to be just a formality. Darren McFadden is the most talented runner in Oakland, and one of the top young talents in the league.

It'd be a shock if he wasn't starting by Week Eight. Still, Fargas and Michael Bush should get enough touches to get their names in the paper every now and then.

Kansas City Chiefs—Larry Johnson, Jamaal Charles, Kolby Smith

Larry Johnson appears to have mended the fences between him and the front office—for now.

If he gets hurt or sees his play drop again like it did last season in the early going, Charles and Smith could benefit immensely.

Charles looks to be the top backup as it stands, though, as Smith is still rehabbing from injury.

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