In last week’s “Hodgkinson’s Huddle” I started on a journey to rank the positional depth of each AFC West team. In the barren mid-summer months without any meaningful football, what else is there to do? So, the AFC West Positional Power Rankings were born.
The AFC West is set to be the most competitive division in the NFL in 2019. As I progress through each position, I fully expect this to be reflected in the rankings. You won’t find the same order for all positions.
So, without further ramblings, let’s dive in to this weeks rankings. Which team is rushing to the top of the positional power rankings? Which team is running in to a brick wall? Of course, it’s running backs week!
4. Kansas City Chiefs
When you have Patrick Mahomes throwing for 50 touchdowns, it’s hard to see the argument for having a strong running game. However, Mahomes can’t carry the Chiefs on his own. Every successful quarterback needs the support of a running game.
Unfortunately for the Chiefs, and Mahomes, the current roster doesn’t scream “strong running game”.
They picked up Carlos Hyde early in the off season and he looks set to be the feature back this season. If he can recapture his 2016 season form he can be a very productive player. He’s coming off a season where he only featured in 8 games for Jacksonville. During his career in the NFL he has never had a 1000 yard season. That 2016 season for the San Francisco 49ers he fell just short of the mark with 988 yards.
Hyde will be supported by Damien Williams and the rookie Darwin Thompson. Williams has played 5 years in the league and never had a season where he exceeded 50 rushing attempts. Thompson is an intriguing prospect out of Utah State. In his junior season he rushed for over 1000 yards with an impressive 6.8 yards per carry. It remains to be seen if that can translate to the NFL.
3. Oakland Raiders
The Raiders wouldn’t be the Raiders without an amount of dysfunction. They signed Isaiah Crowell to lead their running back room and released Doug Martin to make room for him. After Crowell suffered a season ending injury, months before the season, Martin was re-signed.
The success of the Raiders running game will come down to which version of Doug Martin turns up in 2019. “The Muscle Hamster” has two seasons with 1400+ yards in his career and that sort of performance could transform the Raiders. Unfortunately, that form seems to be behind him and he struggled last year on his way to 723 yards and 4 touchdowns. The Raiders were happy to move on from him just a couple of months ago.
The future of the Raiders running back room clearly sits with Alabama rookie, Josh Jacobs. He was critical to the success of Alabama in big games and he brings a winning pedigree to Oakland. He’s that rare thing, a college running back that hasn’t be run in to the ground due to Nick Saban’s rotational policy.
Finally, Jalen Richard and De’Andre Washington provide rotational pieces for the Raiders. Back in 2016, these two combined with Latavius Murray, helped the Raiders to the 6th best rushing game in the league. Richard in particular brings a pass catching threat to the backfield. Neither has been able to recreate that 2016 form, however, and Washington limped to just 2.7 yards per carry in 2017.
2. Denver Broncos
It’s an exciting time to be a Denver Broncos fan. They absolutely aced the draft this year, and in signing Vic Fangio to be the head coach set about returning the Broncos to the defensive powerhouse that led them to Super Bowl 50. With a strong defensive game, a strong running game is a must to help drain the clock.
A strong running game is what they’ve got! It’s a young running back room too. Between the three running backs, they have just 5 years experience in the league, combined!
Last year’s rookie phenom, Philip Lindsay is back to carry the rock in 2019. Lindsay was the surprise sensation of 2019. The undrafted free agent ran for over 1000 yards at an average of 5.4 yards per carry. He became the first undrafted offensive rookie to make the Pro Bowl.
Much was expected of his rookie stablemate, Royce Freeman, in 2018. As a third round pick, it was anticipated that he would lead the Broncos backfield. However, he was overshadowed by Lindsay’s performances. Despite this, he still rumbled in for 5 touchdowns and 521 yards.
The final horse in the running back stable will be Devontae Booker. The 4th round pick in 2016 fumbled the ball on his first play as a Bronco and that set the tone for his career in Denver. He was used sparingly last year, but recorded a career best 5.4 yards per carry.
1. Los Angeles Chargers
Despite claiming in my introduction that the AFC West is a tight division, and the power rankings will reflect this, the LA Chargers sit atop the division for the second week running. Like last week with the safeties, it was a close run thing but comes down to one man just making a team better than the rest.
In the running back rankings, that one man is Melvin Gordon.
For me, Gordon is one of the best running backs in the league. There is nothing that the man can’t do. If you think you’ve got him stopped in the ground game, he’s just as much a threat as a pass catcher out of the backfield. Despite injuries last year he still averaged 5.1 yards a game and found the end zone 10 times. His injury history is a concern as he has only managed a full 16 game season once in his 4 years in the league. In that year he rushed for over 1100 yards.
Gordon is ably backed up by Austin Ekeler. The undrafted free agent out of Western State signed for the Chargers in 2017. In his 14 games in 2018, Ekeler actually had a higher yards per carry average than Melvin Gordon. Like Gordon, he’s also highly proficient as a pass catcher out of the backfield. He also added 404 yards and 3 touchdowns as a receiver to his 500+ rushing yards in 2018.
Rounding out the Chargers running back room are Justin Jackson and Detrez Newsome. Jackson bagged himself 2 touchdowns last season as a 7th round rookie. Newsome only saw 11 carries but managed an impressive 4.5 yards average on those limited opportunities.
With that, the AFC West running back power rankings are in the books. Next week, I’ll break down the linebacker position. As always, any feedback is welcomed and you can find me on twitter at @ojhodgkinson.
Photo Credit: Peter Joneleit (AP)