AFC West Running Back Breakdown

DENVER - JANUARY 03: Running back Knowshon Moreno #27 of the Denver Broncos rushes for yardage as Travis Daniels #34 of the Kansas City Chiefs makes the tackle during NFL action at Invesco Field at Mile High on January 3, 2010 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)Source: Yardbarker 

The best backfield in the AFC West? There’s no denying it now. Hand the title over to the Chiefs. They’ve got that position battle won hands down, but let’s evaluate each team’s backfield anyway.

Denver Broncos:

Last year, the Broncos 2009 first round draft pick, Knowshon Moreno, led the team in rushing with 947 yards on 247 carries (3.8 Avg.), 7 TDs and 4 fumbles. His debut with the team was less than thrilling as many fans expected bigger plays from him as well as from the Broncos offense in general. Correll Buckhalter was second on the team in rushing production with 642 yards on 120 carries (5.4 yards Avg.), 1 TD, 2 fumbles.

This year, the Broncos will continue their transition from zone blocking to a power blocking scheme. Two mystery pieces are thrown into the Broncos upfront blocking with rookie offensive linemen, guard Zane Beadles (Utah), and center J.D. Walton (Baylor) who appear to be the starters in week 1.

Moreno and Buckhalter are solid runners, but neither of them is a one-cut back. I expect Moreno to have a break out year if he stays healthy. He’s got a lot of raw talent, but needs to get the small yardage to keep drives going. He (and the offense) failed to do that last season. Buckhalter is an older back and produces more the less he carries the ball. He is a great guy to use when running screen plays. Both backs should have better years if the QB (Orton or otherwise) is a threat downfield.

In addition to Moreno and Buckhalter, the Broncos will possibly utilize J.J. Arrington quite a bit. Arrington came to the Broncos shortly after Josh McDaniels arrived in Denver, but was cut before the ’09 training camp for failing his physical. Look for him to see a lot of action on 3rd downs.   

Overall, the Broncos were 17th in the league in rushing last season averaging nearly 115 yards per game. Time to step it up and get those legs churning even with a defender or two around the waist.

Kansas City Chiefs:

The Chiefs were good on the ground last year thanks to Jamaal Charles who led the team with 1,120 yards on 190 carries (5.9 Avg.), 7 TDs and 2 TDs. Not to be a downer, but he got about 23 % of his season total yardage during the last game of the year against the Broncos.

The Chiefs were 11th in rushing in ’09 averaging 120 yards per game. While they were good runners, they fumbled the ball 16 times (a league high) and lost 6 of those. To add depth and insert fear into the Broncos defense, the Chiefs signed Thomas Jones in the off season. Jones was the leading rusher for the league’s leading rushing team. Jones led the Jets with 1,402 yards on 331 carries (4.2 Avg.), 14 TDs and no fumbles lost. He a major reason why the Jets went so far into the post season. Helluva pick up by the Chiefs. I’ve got to tip my orange and blue hat to that move.

Larry Johnson is now with the Redskins, but who knows if he’ll make the roster with three other aging backs (Clinton Portis, Willie Parker, and Brian Westbrook) already on the roster. Doesn’t matter – the Chiefs don’t need him now. All they need is a decent QB, which they’ve got in Matt Cassel, and this offense is on its way up. AFC defenses, beware!

Oakland Raiders: 

The Raiders used the running back by committee approach last season. It didn’t do much for them. They were 21st in the league in rushing and averaged 106 yards per game. Who can place all the blame on the RB’s when JaMarcus Russell was QB, however? Teams would cheat towards the run just to put the ball in Russell’s hands. Hence, Mr. Bling is no longer with the team, and Jason Campbell was brought in to be a threat.

Michael Bush led the team with 589 yards on 123 carries (4.8 Avg.), 3 TDs, 2 fumbles. Justin Fargas had 491 yards on 129 carries (3.8 Avg.), 3 TDs, no fumbles. Darren McFadden had 357 yards on 104 carries (3.4 Avg.), 1 TD and 3 fumbles.

Fargas is no longer with the team, so McFadden and Bush will handle most touches. Al Davis is invested in McFadden so despite his lackluster year in ’09, he will still be the featured back for the Raiders. Bush will probably see more touches as the season carries on. I’d imagine that both backs will have better seasons this year with Campbell in their corner. This is a Raiders team that’s no longer afraid of the endzone.

San Diego Chargers:

The team that won the division last year was the worst rushing team in the AFC West. They ranked 31st with only the Colts behind them. They averaged just 89 yards per game, but had 17 rushing TDs and only 2 fumbles. This shows that Philip Rivers is working out quite nicely for them.

LaDanian Tomlinson packed his bags and even changed his Chargers tattoo into the Jets tattoo. He led the team with 730 yards on 223 carries (3.3), 12 TDs, 2 fumbles. Everyone knew he was on his way out the door after many declining seasons. He was still a great back in the league, just didn’t have the numbers that he had a few years ago. He will be a nice addition to the Jets. Darren Sproles had 343 yards on 93 carries (3.7 Avg.), 3 TDs, no fumbles.  As we know, Sproles is a better receiving back and is so deadly on special teams that any time he’s on the field, he’s the LeBron of football – always a threat to score.

The Chargers did a nice job in the draft by picking Ryan Mathews (Fresno State) in the first round. He led the NCAA in rushing during his junior season, and he’s expected to make an immediate impact for the Chargers. He’s a physical runner who will take pressure off of Rivers’ game. If it’s possible, the Chargers’ offense just got a lot better.

Which team will lead the AFC West in rushing in 2010?

  • Kansas City Chiefs (40%, 211 Votes)
  • San Diego Chargers (33%, 172 Votes)
  • Denver Broncos (25%, 132 Votes)
  • Oakland Raiders (2%, 13 Votes)

Total Voters: 525

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*Note: Poll closes at 7 pm ET on Wednesday

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Tags: Denver Broncos Jamaal Charles Knowshon Moreno Michael Buch Ryan Mathews Thomas Jones