Ah, yes. The dog days of summer (almost?)
Although the Pittsburgh Steelers are currently in the midst of the rookie minicamp on the South Side, we’re stuck in the slow days of the offseason.
Fortunately for you, the “Ranking the Rooms: AFC North” series is rolling along!
After looking at the AFC North QB’s room earlier in the week, we’ll take a look at the AFC North RB’s today.
1. Cincinnati Bengals
Hear me out: this is a ranking of the rooms, and the Bengals’ running backs room is very, very deep.
Sure, the Steelers have arguably the best running back in the game today, but there are plenty of question marks behind him.
With the Bengals, the duo of Jeremy Hill and Gio Bernard returns, but the addition of Joe Mixon — a second-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft — puts this group over the top.
While I’m sure a majority of you knows my personal feelings on Mixon being in the NFL, there’s no denying just how great of a talent he is. Adding him into the mix in Cincinnati pushes that backfield towards one of the top committees in the league.
It’s true that Hill was very poor last season on the field, but a lot of that had to do with the offensive line struggling. Granted, the Bengals regressed up front this offseason, but with added weapons in the receiving game, it should open up running lanes for Hill, Bernard and Mixon.
I know they’re the Bengals and I know Mixon is unknown, but I really like this trio.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers
Le’Veon Bell is in the discussion for the NFL’s best running back, so he automatically boosts this group up the charts, but there is no doubt that the concerns behind him are real.
Just last season there was a comfort level knowing DeAngelo Williams was the backup to Bell, but this season Williams is gone and rookie James Conner and veteran backup Knile Davis are the pieces behind Bell, who has a history of suspensions and injuries to his resume’.
Although a large majority of Steelers fans loved the selection of Conner, there’s no denying that as of right now he’s an unknown behind Bell, and Davis has proven over time that he’s not a durable running back outside of third downs and the return game.
Conner will most likely develop into a solid No. 2 behind Bell, but for now it’s a large unknown (for the record: I loved the Conner pick and the fit for the Steelers), which played a role in the Steelers falling behind the Bengals this summer in the running back rooms debate.
3. Cleveland Browns
Isaiah Crowell had a really strong year on the ground in the first season under Hue Jackson in Cleveland, as the fourth-year back really stepped up to serve as a legitimate No. 1 back in this league.
But the depth behind Crowell improved as well, starting with Duke Johnson, who developed into a solid third-down back and between the tackles runner for Cleveland in 2016. He’s the ideal change-of-pace back behind Crowell.
Rookie Matthew Dayes had arguably the best vision of any running back in the 2017 NFL Draft, so adding him in the final round in April was a great addition to the Browns, while George Atkinson III and Darius Jackson are going to compete for the final roster spot.
There’s plenty of depth at the running back position for the Browns, which is something that couldn’t be said two years ago.
4. Baltimore Ravens
There are plenty of recognizable names in this group, but tons and tons of question marks for the Ravens on the running backs depth chart.
Terrance West is back for another year, but he fell off a cliff last season after a strong start, raising serious concerns about his ability to be a No. 1 running back in the NFL.
Second-year pro Kenneth Dixon is the clear No. 1 back in this group, but he was popped this offseason with a four-game suspension for PED use, forcing the Ravens to be without their best running to start the season.
Dixon’s suspension caused the Ravens to go out and sign veteran scat back Danny Woodhead, who is coming off of a second torn ACL in his career, so concerns about his durability and diminished skills are real. That being said, he fits perfectly into what Joe Flacco and the Ravens like to do.
Behind that trio is Javorius Allen, whom I loved coming out of USC, but he hasn’t been able to develop into a decent running back at the next level.
Lorenzo Taliaferro is just a guy (JAG) for this team, while undrafted free agent Taquan Mizzell could make the team as a returner.
Last Year’s Rankings