Some fans feel that the running back position is less important in the modern NFL. While that may be true, it is still necessary to have a strong stable of running backs. A strong running game can open up play-action, run time off the clock, grind out first downs, create personnel mismatches and change the defense’s expectations. With the completion of minicamps, I have seen enough to start ranking the AFC East, this time regarding the RBs.
1. New England Patriots: The Patriots have, by far, the deepest roster in the East when it comes to RBs. Stevan Ridley is coming off a break out season in which he rushed for over 1,200 yards and 12 TDs. Shane Vereen will be Danny Woodhead’s “replacement” as the change of pace/third down back. I can confidently say to look for Vereen to have a big impact on the passing game; that is one area where he is surely better than Woodhead. Behind them is Brandon Bolden, who makes the most of his opportunities. He may not get the guaranteed carries every week, but he is one of the better third string RBs in the league. LeGarrette Blount will be competing for a spot on the roster this season. He has potential to be a strong situational back if he makes the team.
2. Buffalo Bills: The Bills were a very close second to the Patriots, and lost out on first because of depth issues. There is no doubt that the Bills running game is more important to their offense. When C.J. Spiller has the ball in his hands, he has the tendency to make big plays. However, the Bills are clearly devoted to improving their passing game. Three of Buffalo’s first four picks were QB, and two WRs. You don’t invest that much into the passing game just to hand the ball off 30+ times per game. After C.J. Spiller, there is Fred Jackson who seems to be losing a step. Beyond that is Tashard Choice, who is merely an average back that was signed for injury insurance. Spiller is likely to be a running highlight reel for the near future, but I’d bet on the Bills to continue to shift into a strong passing offense. That’s all depending on how E.J. Manuel transitions to the NFL.
3. New York Jets: The Jets made a big move with their signing of Chris Ivory from New Orleans. Ivory fits the Jets much better than the Saints, and I think most Jets fans were happy when they heard the news. With Shonn Greene dressed in a Titans uniform, the bulk of the carries this season will go to Ivory. The rest of the depth chart is filled in with Mike Goodson and Bilal Powell, who will likely compete for the number two spot. I don’t believe either of these players can successfully take over as the starter in the event of Ivory being injured. If Ivory can stay healthy, I’m expecting a big year from him. If he does go down with an injury, then the Jets will be forced to rely on their passing game (which is not what the fans want to see).
4. Miami Dolphins: It’s tough for me to put the Dolphins in last, but their players are still so unproven. Lamar Miller has the chance to be a dangerous back in the NFL, but has yet to serve a season as the starter for Miami. Daniel Thomas is decent at best, and could be competing with Mike Gillislee for the backup gig. I think Dolphins fans could live without seeing Thomas getting carries this season. Gillislee is a player who shows good potential. It’ll be interesting to see if he can develop for the Dolphins into an impact player. I wouldn’t expect him to have a great season statistically, but he could be a player to watch.