This week's installment of Around the AFC East comes with a new twist. Instead of the four bloggers asking each other one question, we are each ranking the division's loaded backfields.
By just about any measure, the Jets have the top backfield in the division. Gang Green led the AFC East a year ago with 4.7 yards per carry. Thomas Jones led the conference in yards and touchdowns on the ground. His primary backup, Leon Washington, averaged an ungodly 5.9 per carry a year after averaging 5.0 per run with one of the worst offensive lines in the league. In case this was not enough depth, the team took Shonn Greene, who was only college football's second leading rusher a season ago and won the Doak Walker Award as the nation's best running back.
A backfield also includes the fullback, and the Jets have the game's best lead blocker in Tony Richardson. He is not much of a threat as a runner like a Le'Ron McClain, but the team does not need him to carry the football with such great talent at tailback. Gang Green only needs Richardson to utilize his terrific athleticism to clear the path for his runners. Jones, Adrian Peterson, Priest Holmes, and Larry Johnson all had their greatest seasons with Richardson playing a key role in their teams' blocking schemes.
Let's go back to the men who carry the ball for a second, though. What is really striking about the Jets is the diversity of their runners. All three are primarily one cut backs, but they all excel in different areas. Washington is the homerun threat who can get to the edge, make men miss in space, and serve as a threat in the passing game. He has lined up anywhere from the slot to Wildcat quarterback. Greene is a thumper, difficult to bring down between the tackles and capable of getting the tough yards. Jones can do it all, run hard, receive, and block. This committee of runners together does everything well.
Washington also gets bonus points because he adds an additional threat in the return game as one of the five most dangerous kickoff men in the league.
The Bills come in second in my book in the AFC East. Marshawn Lynch has had a tough time keeping his name out of the news for the wrong reasons lately, but he still gives Buffalo the complete package out of the backfield. Truth be told, he is probably better than anybody the Jets have. Despite having shaky blocking in front of him, he has run for over 1,000 yards in both of his professional seasons and is a quality receiver out of the backfield. Fred Jackson has emerged over the past two years as a quality backup and change of pace runner. While perhaps not as dangerous of a runner or a receiver as Washington, he has the speed to serve as a legitimate homerun threat and enough pass catching skills that the Bills are giving him work in the slot. Dominic Rhodes is a very solid number three. Even though he has averaged well under 4 yards per run over the past five seasons, he is another decent receiver at the position and has a 1,000 yard season as well as a 100 yard Super Bowl performance under his belt. If you limit his carries, you could do worse for a third runner.
I love Ronnie Brown. Even on one of the worst teams in league history, he was having an excellent 2007 before suffering a horrible injury. It usually takes two years to fully heal from a torn ACL. Even so, he had a solid 961 yard 2008 campaign. He should be even better this season and prove himself as the division's most complete back. His work as a quarterback in the Wildcat had almost every team in the league copying Miami's gadget formation. Why are the Dolphins only ranked third then? Look at what is behind Brown.
Ricky Williams is a nice player when he is on the field. The problem is he has averaged under 6 games played in the past 5 years, most of which was his own doing. He has shown himself to be one of the least accountable players in football, but regime after regime in Miami still welcomes him back with open arms. This is not a great insurance policy, and there is not much behind him.
While the Dolphins have a quality innovative running game, they lack the backfield depth of the Jets and Bills and only rate third. It gets interesting if you consider Pat White a running back and the dimension he could bring to the Wildcat, but most people think he'll either be listed as a quarterback or wide receiver.
This is perhaps the only time the Pats will rank last in this division for anything. I'm just not feeling their backfield. Kevin Faulk might be the game's best receiving threat out of the backfield. I don't love their runners, though. Laurence Maroney showed promise during his rookie season of 2006 but faded down the stretch and has not been heard from since. That is not really his fault. The 2007 Pats were very pass oriented, and Maroney was hurt for much of 2008. While I still think he can bounce back to have a good career, I thought he was a tad overrated as a rookie. Nice player, but not a difference-maker like a Maurice Jones-Drew, DeAngelo Williams, or even Leon Washington of the same 2006 Draft class. After him, there is Fred Taylor. Taylor has had a great career and will be a positive in the locker room. How much does he have left in the tank, though? He is coming off a bad 2008, and things usually do not get better for 33 year old backs once things start to go. Sammy Morris has been productive for New England, though.
Not that any of this matters. With the game's best quarterback and an incredibly deep receiving corps, the Pats won't have to run the ball to contend for a title. Also the spread passing game will open things up for the runners. On their own, though, I like the Pats' backfield least of any team in the East.
What do you think? Register for a free account if you don't have one and leave thoughts in comments. If you have your own analysis, write it on the Fan Post feature on the right hand side of the page. If it's good, I'll promote it to this front page for all of our readers to see. Also check out Buffalo Rumblings, The Phinsider, and Pats Pulpit for more running back analysis. See what fans of other teams think about how the AFC East backfields stack up.