In part two of our series “Ranking the Rooms,” we take a look at the running back position groups across the AFC North.
Last week we looked at the QB rooms in the AFC North. You can find that here.
No. 1 — Pittsburgh Steelers
Obviously this could seem a little biased, but I’ve never bought into the hype of Jeremy Hill in Cincinnati. That fumble late in the AFC Wild Card game this past January added to the notion that I don’t think he’s that special.
I did buy into the Giovani Bernard hype, and rightfully so, but Hill-Bernard is nowhere near better than the combination of Le’Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams.
One, when healthy, is a perennial All-Pro candidate and almost often a lock to lead the league in all-purpose yards for a running back. The other is an outstanding backup who can step up at any point and carry the load.
Then when you add in Fitzgerald Toussaint and consider what he did in the playoffs last year, you understand how deep this running back room is for the Steelers.
There is plenty of experience, versatility and athleticism in this room that no other running back room in the AFC North can offer. That alone puts them at the top of the list for me.
No. 2 — Cincinnati Bengals
Sure, Hill is a former 1,000-yard rusher and a bruiser in between the tackles, but he just doesn’t do much for me the way that Bernard does.
Although Bernard was knocked out of the AFC Wild Card game by a vicious hit from Ryan Shazier, he’s the most valuable running back to the Bengals. Having to leave the game in a critical juncture proved that for me.
I’d have much rather have given the ball to Bernard than Hill to close out the game if I were a Bengals fan.
He’s a mini version of Bell and actually plays a similar style to Williams, if we’re being honest. A tough runner and a great receiver out of the backfield, Bernard should be the starter for the Bengals moving forward.
Behind Hill and Bernard, Cincinnati doesn’t have much to get excited about.
Cedric Peerman is your typical special teams role player, Rex Burkhead really hasn’t made the transition from Nebraska to pro football and Tra Carson is a ways away despite being an intriguing player.
If one of Bernard or Hill were to go down, the Bengals could be in trouble in the backfield.
No. 3 — Baltimore Ravens
Although I’m not as high on Justin Forsett as others, I really, really like what the Ravens have done in the backfield. By drafting Kenneth Dixon out of Louisiana Tech this year, Baltimore took my love child in the draft.
It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if Dixon beats out Forsett for the starting job at some point. He reminds me a lot of Maurice Jones-Drew, who I loved watching on a weekly basis.
Outside of Dixon and Forsett, who is a good — not great — dual-threat running back, the rest of the Ravens running back room is made up of “meh” to “blah” guys.
Terrance West had so much promise coming out of Towson, but he seems more interested in racking up followers on Instagram than learning how to play running back in the NFL. Trent Richardson — whom I root hard for being a diehard Alabama fan — is never going to be anything in this league, and Javorius “Buck” Allen — whom I was high on coming out of college — hasn’t really shown anything in this league and appears to be out of favor in Baltimore.
There’s a lot of potential here with Dixon, but when your main running back is coming off of a major injury and is on the wrong side of 30 years old, that drops you down the list for me.
That being said, Baltimore could easily jump the Bengals next season if everything breaks right for them in the backfield.
No. 4 — Cleveland Browns
I’m well aware that Hue Jackson said that his running backs group — namely Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson Jr.— are “two guys are as good as I’ve seen in awhile. Their talent is extreme,” but let’s be honest here: there’s just not much talent at the position for the Browns.
I’m a big fan and proponent of Duke Johnson and think that he should get the bulk of the touches in the backfield, but for some reason the Browns like Crowell and I just don’t see it.
Sure, he has the ideal size, speed and power for the position, but he struggles to stay on the field and really doesn’t make the best decisions off of it.
This is certainly a big year for Crowell under yet another new Cleveland coaching staff, so we’ll see. Jackson sure does have a great history with offenses.
Outside of Crowell and Johnson, I think I’ve heard of maybe one other guy in the Cleveland running backs room and that’s Patrick Skov, who will play fullback!
There’s not much to like at running back in Cleveland, but that perception could change heading into next season if Crowell and Johnson blossom under Jackson.