Sal's AFC East position battles: Running back

Ranking the running back groups from one to four in the division

Sal Capaccio
June 13, 2019 - 10:46 pm

Photo: Mark Brown - Getty Images


For my next installment of “AFC East Position Battles,” it’s time to rank the running backs. Just like the wide receivers, which I started with for this series, the running backs for the division have a different flare for each group, depending on what you’re looking for.

Once again, thank you for all the replies when I asked for them about this on Twitter. If you haven’t responded, you can do so in the tweet below, which shows each team's running back stable. My breakdown follows.

My rankings and explanations:


1.) New England Patriots

New England has quite a few options and versatility with their group, but they also have injury concerns. There’s not one bell-cow back, and usually never is with Bill Belichick. He knows how to use his running backs and create matchups in a game-to-game situation. Sony Michel just had his knee scoped, which is concerning considering he’s had knee injuries in the past, as well. Word is he should be able to go before training camp but it’s going to be something to watch all season. Rex Burkhead also had injuries last year, but looked like he was in line for a big role before that. That could be the case again. Rookie Damien Harris could be the next good one to emerge from New England’s backfield, especially if Michel isn’t able to stay healthy. James White is a terrific pass-catcher and also averaged 4.5 yards per-carry last year, totaling almost 1,200 yards from scrimmage. Brandon Bolden is mostly a special teams player now, returning to the Patriots after one year in Miami, but can be used to run the ball in a pinch.


2.) New York Jets

The Jets have the best running back in the division, and one of the best in the league in Le’Veon Bell, which is why they get No. 2 on my list. Obviously, being away from football for an entire year could hurt him as far as conditioning, and he’s also joining a new team and learning a new playbook, but he also stayed fresh and doesn’t have the wear and tear because of that. He’s obviously tremendous at both running the ball and catching it. After Bell, it’s a whole lot of average and questions. Ty Montgomery is listed on the roster as a wide receiver/running back and can play a hybrid role as a nice compliment to Bell in the passing game. The team did just re-sign Bilal Powell (not pictured in the above screenshot because it happened after my tweet). He rushed for over 700 yards two years in a row for them and was on pace for about that again before being injured last year. Elijah Maguire and Trenton Cannon both averaged only 3.0 yards per-carry last year, which may explain why they brought Powell back to compete for the No. 2 spot.


3.) Buffalo Bills

The Bills might have the most depth of any team in the division, but a lot of questions at the top of that depth chart, and most of them are about LeSean McCoy. If McCoy can return to even what he was a couple of years ago, the Bills might have a better overall group than the Jets and maybe even the Patriots. But that’s a big question mark going into his 31-year-old season. McCoy had his worst season as a pro last year, but the team is hoping a revamped offensive line can get him back to where he’s accustomed to. A lot has been made about 36-year-old Frank Gore joining this group. Especially a lot of jokes. But what he’s done in his career and even last year is no joke at all, averaging 4.6 yards per-carry and 722 yards in only 14 games in Miami. He is still kicking Father Time’s butt. There’s no guarantee he’ll make the roster, but I wouldn’t bet against Gore not only doing that, but having a solid role. Then there’s rookie Devin Singletary, who scored 66 touchdowns on the ground at Florida Atlantic University and has a similar style to McCoy. T.J. Yeldon was brought in through free agency to be a receiving threat out of the backfield. He’s caught 50 or more balls twice in his four-year career (171 total receptions) and had over 900 yards from scrimmage last year for the Jacksonville guars. Senorise Perry has a chance to make the roster as a special teams player and Marcus Murphy is there to grab a spot if anyone at the top falters or gets injured.


4.) Miami Dolphins

This really comes down to a two-man group with Kenyan Drake and Kalen Ballage, who combined for a total of 626 yards last year. Drake is probably the No. 1 heading into camp, but he’s never started more than seven games in his three NFL seasons. He’s valuable as a pass-catcher, as well, hauling in 53 balls for 477 yards a year ago. That put him over 1,000 total yards from scrimmage. Ballage was a rookie who showed some flashes last year, and will most likely have a bigger role now. He could even push for the top job when it’s all said and done, but we’re probably looking at a little running back by committee here with those two. Gaskin, Cox, and Laird are all rookies and Farrow hasn’t played since 2016 with the Chargers. Walton was picked up by a Miami after the Bengals released him following his third arrest in less than three months. He had 14 carries as a rookie last year in Cincinnati.


Related: AFC Position Battles - wide receiver

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