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2020 AFC North Positional Rankings: Running Back

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NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Cleveland Browns Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

As the dog days of the NFL offseason continue to settle in, each team’s roster is pretty much set with free agency and the draft in the rear view mirror. Therefore, it’s an opportune time to detox with our annual positional rankings for the AFC North.

After kicking off this year’s series with some quarterback analysis, we’ll stay within the realm of the backfield once again by examining the running back stables throughout the division. Whereas the lone starter on is more important than depth when ranking quarterbacks, the same isn’t necessarily true at the running back spot.

As a whole, the AFC North is loaded with high-end talent at the position - quite possibly more than any other division in football. Nick Chubb and Mark Ingram represented the AFC in the Pro Bowl last season and Joe Mixon exceeded over 1,000 yards rushing for the second consecutive year.

You can find last year’s rankings by clicking the link here.

Check out the ranking below, vote on the corresponding poll and join in on the conversation!


1) Baltimore Ravens

Starter: Mark Ingram

Depth Chart: J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards, Justice Hill

No, the Ravens do not have the best running back in the division. That title belongs to Nick Chubb. They also don’t necessarily have the best backup, either, who also resides in Cleveland - Kareem Hunt.

However, in terms of top-to-bottom talent, the Ravens backfield stable is uniquely deep and versatile. This was the case before the draft but the addition of J.K. Dobbins only makes this position group stronger.

Mark Ingram was one of the most efficient runners in the NFL last season, turning 202 rushing attempts into 1,018 rushing yards (5.0 YPC) and 15 total touchdowns. So too was Gus Edwards behind him, who rushed for 711 yards with a 5.3 YPC average.

How exactly Dobbins fits into the picture remains to be seen, but the initial assumption is that he’ll usurp Edwards as Ingram’s primary backup while taking away snaps from both players nonetheless. This isn’t a bad dynamic for the Ravens, as Dobbins is a talented downhill runner with good athleticism and vision.

Justice Hill may be the odd man out of this equation but he has a case to receive snaps in his own right, too. The speedy change-of-pace back showed promise towards the end of the 2019 season with extended snaps.

Poll

Where would you list the Ravens in the RB ranking?

This poll is closed

  • 60%
    First
    (386 votes)
  • 33%
    Second
    (213 votes)
  • 4%
    Third
    (29 votes)
  • 1%
    Fourth
    (7 votes)
635 votes total Vote Now

2) Cleveland Browns

Starter: Nick Chubb

Depth Chart: Kareem Hunt, Dontrell Hilliard

Keeping the Browns out of the No. 1 spot is no easy submission. Between Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, Cleveland boasts what most consider to be the best running back duo in the NFL. Put the Browns in any other division and their halfback core would surely be ranked first, no questions asked.

Hilliard doesn’t bring much to the table in the third spot, but the combination of Chubb and Hunt is more than enough firepower.

After a productive rookie season, Chubb burst further onto the scene in 2019 as the league’s leading rusher. The Browns leaned heavily on Chubb throughout the season and he responded by churning out almost 1,500 rushing yards and eight scores. Like Ingram, Chubb averaged 5.0 YPC and also added over 200 receiving yards.

In his first year with the Browns, Hunt missed the first eight games of the season due to suspension but added value in the second half of 2019. He rushed for 179 yards and two scores on over 4.0 YPC and was productive as a receiver, reeling in 37 of 44 targets.

Hunt’s efficiency fell short of his 2017-18 tenure with the Chiefs and after a downward spiral from his early pinnacle as the league’s leading rusher, Hunt is no longer mentioned alongside the top running backs in the NFL. However, he’s still only 24 years old and has little injury history to his name.

Poll

Where would you list the Browns in the RB ranking?

This poll is closed

  • 45%
    First
    (218 votes)
  • 48%
    Second
    (232 votes)
  • 3%
    Third
    (17 votes)
  • 1%
    Fourth
    (8 votes)
475 votes total Vote Now

3) Cincinnati Bengals

Starter: Joe Mixon

Depth Chart: Giovani Bernard, Trayveon Williams

Compared to the Browns, the Bengals 1-2 punch of Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard is far less potent. However, it’s a solid duo nonetheless.

Mixon came on late after a rough start in 2019, ultimately eclipsing over 1,100 yards on the ground for the second straight campaign. His efficiency and touchdown rate fell slightly compared to his rookie year, but it was still a productive season regardless.

Bernard’s 2019 season was a bit forgettable. He rushed for only 170 yards and averaged a mere 3.2 YPC. The biggest appeal to Bernard’s game has always been his pass-catching prowess and he caught 30 receptions for 234 yards on the year. For the first time in his career, though, Bernard did not score a touchdown.

The Bengals signed Bernard to a two-year contract extension at the beginning of last season, ensuring he’ll be back in the fold as Mixon’s backup in 2020.

It’s possible that the additions of Joe Burrow and Tee Higgins in the draft, combined with A.J. Green and Jonah Williams returning from injury, could make life easier for both Mixon and Bernard next season.

Poll

Where would you list the Bengals in the RB ranking?

This poll is closed

  • 2%
    First
    (8 votes)
  • 7%
    Second
    (30 votes)
  • 71%
    Third
    (273 votes)
  • 18%
    Fourth
    (69 votes)
380 votes total Vote Now

4) Pittsburgh Steelers

Starter: James Conner

Depth Chart: Benny Snell Jr., Jaylen Samuels, Anthony McFarland Jr.

While it may have been controversial to slot the Steelers third in the quarterback ranking, there isn’t a great argument for them be anything higher than fourth here.

James Conner showed great promise in 2018, his first season as the full-time starter in place of Le’Veon Bell. He took a step back last year, though, in large part due to a mirage of injuries throughout the season.

Conner missed six games and even in his ten appearances, he seemingly was always nicked or bruised in some way or another. He finished the season with 116 rushing attempts and 464 rushing yards (4.0 YPC), while 251 receiving yards and seven combined scores.

Pittsburgh has decent depth behind him with second-year RB Benny Snell Jr. and Jaylen Samuels, an adequate pass-catcher out of the backfield. Samuels finished second on the team last season in receptions (47) but mustered just 305 receiving yards, an indicator of the dink-and-dunk passing attack the Steelers deployed under Mason Rudolph.

The Steelers added Anthony McFarland Jr. in the fourth round of the NFL draft, who could potentially add some juice as a home-run threat in the backfield.

Poll

Where would you list the Steelers in the RB ranking?

This poll is closed

  • 1%
    First
    (5 votes)
  • 1%
    Second
    (5 votes)
  • 14%
    Third
    (55 votes)
  • 83%
    Fourth
    (320 votes)
385 votes total Vote Now