For the third straight year, we’re continuing the Ranking the Rooms: AFC North series here at Steelers Depot. This summer, we started off with the AFC North QBs. Today, we’ll stay in the backfield, taking a look at the AFC North RBs room.
I’ll personally run down each position, taking a look at quarterbacks in the division, and ending with specialists in this 10-part series.
In case you forgot the rankings from last summer, I have you covered.
Here is the 2017 Ranking the Rooms: AFC North RBs list:
1. Cincinnati Bengals
2. Pittsburgh Steelers
3. Cleveland Browns
4. Baltimore Ravens
Without further ado, let’s jump into the 2018 version of Ranking the Rooms: AFC North RBs.
1. Cincinnati Bengals
While the Bengals did lose Jeremy Hill to the New England Patriots in free agency, Cincinnati boasts the return of second-year running back Joe Mixon, do-everything veteran scatback Giovani Bernard, and promising rookie Mark Walton out of the University of Miami (Fl).
Truth be told, the Bengals are loaded in the running backs room. While Mixon had his discretions off the field at the University of Oklahoma, he had a promising rookie season, rushing for 626 yards and four touchdowns, while averaging nearly 10.0 yards per catch through the air on 30 receptions. Mixon has the balance, vision, and power as a running back, while possessing soft hands and the ability to separate as a receiver out of the backfield. Should he stay out of trouble, the future is very bright for the second-year pro.
Bernard seems to be the overlooked back out of the group, and it’s been that way since he’s entered the NFL. Bernard is so incredibly solid for the Bengals that it wouldn’t surprise me if another team pulls the trigger on a trade for him. He has a low cap hit, can play all three downs, and is a unique weapon for an offense. The Bengals need to find a way to use him much more.
With Walton, he’ll struggle to get touches in this backfield, should Mixon and Bernard stay healthy, but he’s a very good insurance policy to have as a No. 3 back in case of injury. Walton had some of the best vision and elusiveness of any back in the 2018 NFL Draft class, and the fact that he fell to No. 112 overall to Cincinnati was tough to deal with.
Behind the trio, guys like Ray Lawry, Quinton Flowers, and Tra Carson don’t move the needle much, but Flowers was a tremendous dual-threat quarterback at South Florida. He should be able to sneak onto the practice squad with an eye toward the future for the Bengals.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers
Le’Veon Bell returns as arguably the best overall running back in the NFL, which will keep the Steelers’ backfield room near the top of the division as long as he’s in the fold. But behind Bell, I have to admit I’m a bit worried.
Second-year running back James Conner returns, but he’s coming off of a season-ending knee injury, while the Steelers drafted versatile running back Jaylen Samuels out of NC State in the fifth round of the 2018 NFL Draft, adding an intriguing body to the room. Behind the two young guys, veteran Steven Ridley returns, as does Fitzgerald Toussaint. While those are names Steelers fans undoubtedly like right now, there’s some concern with depth, at least in terms of experience.
Bell is going to continue producing as one of the best backs in the entire league, while Conner flashed at times as runner. Beyond that, it still remains to be seen what Samuels brings to the team, should he make the roster. Ridley is the one that I feel most comfortable with behind Bell, but he has the odds stacked against him to make the team.
Toussaint is just a guy at this point, as is James Summers and Jarvion Franklin, although I do like the idea of sneaking Franklin onto the practice squad.
3. Baltimore Ravens
This year, the Ravens jump over the Browns, largely riding the coattails of Alex Collins, who burst onto the scene midway through last season, providing the Ravens with a terrific young running back to build around.
Coming out of Arkansas, Collins was expected to be a short-yardage/goal line back. While with the Seattle Seahawks, Collins never really received much of a chance to carve out a role, but the Ravens took a shot on him, claiming him off of waivers and inserting him into the lineup. From there, the third-year running back rushed for 976 yards and six touchdowns, helping reignite the Ravens offense. I’m sure Steelers fans remember that Sunday night game at Heinz Field when Collins rushed for 120 yards and a touchdown, gashing the Steelers’ defense all night long.
Behind Collins, the Ravens have veteran Javorius Allen, and third-year pro Kenneth Dixon, who is coming off of a PED suspension, and a season-ending knee injury. I’ve always been a fan of Allen’s game, as he’s a hard runner, and can catch the ball out of the backfield, while Dixon was one of my favorite backs in the entire 2016 NFL Draft class.
I’m curious to see how Collins responds this season, now that defensive coordinators have a ton of tape on him, and I’m interested to see if Dixon can realize his potential and push Collins this year. Don’t be surprised if this Ravens group jumps the Steelers and Bengals next year. They have a ton of talent.
4. Cleveland Browns
Last year, I had the Browns at No. 3, largely because I liked the pair of Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson that much. Now, Crowell is a New York Jet, and Johnson is just coming into his own as a good dual-threat weapon for the Browns.
The Browns signed Carlos Hyde to replace Crowell, and drafted Nick Chubb in the second round out of Georgia. On paper, it’s an interesting group, but I just don’t have a clue how the rotation will work, and if Hue Jackson and Todd Haley will know how to find the right mix with this group.
Hyde and Chubb provide the power, while Hyde and Johnson can add the receiving out of the backfield until Chubb eventually takes over that role from Hyde. I personally like this group moving forward, but right now, in June, I just don’t know how it all works, considering Chubb and Hyde have injury histories, while Johnson can’t be a 25 touch per game guy if those guys go down.