View Full Version : ESPN.com blog: Who's the best running back in the AFC North?

03-16-2011, 12:22 PM
AFC North RB rankings
March, 16, 2011 Mar 16 11:00AM ET
By James Walker

The AFC North boasted four 1,000-yard rushers in 2010. But when it came down to ESPN.com's running back Power Rankings this week, only two made the cut.

I agree with our panel that Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens and Rashard Mendenhall of the Pittsburgh Steelers deserved to be on the list. But that doesn't mean Cleveland Browns running back Peyton Hillis or the Cincinnati Bengals' Cedric Benson are weak links, either.

Here is the AFC North blog's ranking of division running backs.

1. Ray Rice, Ravens

2010 stats: 1,220 yards, 63 receptions, six total TDs

Skinny: Rice was No. 8 in ESPN.com's rankings despite a down year by his standards. With so many new pieces, Baltimore's offense was never in a groove last season. The unit also lacked an identity, and it didn't help that the offense line struggled in the second half of the season. But Rice remains one of the most dynamic talents in the division. He is equally good in the running and passing game, and most running backs would take 1,200-plus rushing yards in a heartbeat.

2. Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers

2010 stats: 1,273 yards, 13 TDs

Skinny: Mendenhall finished No. 9 in our running back rankings and made major strides in 2010. He carried Pittsburgh's offense during quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's four-game suspension, and his improved toughness in the red zone was evident with 13 rushing touchdowns. I'm a little concerned about Mendenhall's yard-per-carry average (3.9), but I think it's more of a product Pittsburgh's makeshift offensive line. If the Steelers improve that part of the team in the offseason, Mendenhall's number could get even better in 2011.

3. Peyton Hillis, Browns

2010 stats: 1,177 yards, 61 receptions, 13 total TDs

Skinny: Hillis had a breakout year in 2010, but you're not certain if he's a star in the making or a one-year wonder. Hillis has great tools with a mix of power, surprising athleticism and soft hands. But once teams keyed on him late last season his production dropped. Major issues with fumbling (eight fumbles, five lost) also could be a concern.

4. Cedric Benson, Bengals

2010 stats: 1,111 yards, eight total TDs

Skinny: Benson is a solid fit for Cincinnati's running game, but he does have holes in his game. Benson is not a home-run threat. He averaged just 3.5 yards per carry last season and his longest run was for 26 yards. Benson also fumbled seven times (losing five), and many of his turnovers came at crucial moments. The Bengals want to bring Benson back and utilize a power running game in their new West Coast offense.


03-16-2011, 12:31 PM
Rice and Mendenhall among top 10 RBs
March, 15, 2011 1:15PM ET
By James Walker

It didn't take long for Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens and Rashard Mendenhall of the Pittsburgh Steelers to become great players. Although both running backs are under the age of 25, they're already among the top 10 at their position.

ESPN.com continued its series on positional Power Rankings Tuesday, and this week we rated the league's best running backs. Rice finished eighth and Mendenhall was ninth in the voting.

Are both players deserving to be on this list? You bet.

Rice made the ballot of all eight voters. He was voted as high as sixth and as low as ninth. I voted Rice No. 8. He rushed for 1,220 yards and caught 63 receptions for 556 yards last season.

But Mendenhall was a polarizing case. He received votes from only five of the eight bloggers, but that was enough to finish ninth. I voted Mendenhall 10th on my ballot, and the final vote came down to Mendenhall and LeSean McCoy of the Philadelphia Eagles. But I really liked the strides Mendenhall made last season by reducing his fumbles (except in the Super Bowl) and getting tough yards inside the red zone with 13 rushing touchdowns.

Cleveland Browns running back Peyton Hillis also received one ninth-place vote from our panel, but he didn't make the top 10. Here is the complete breakdown:

ESPN.com's RB Power Rankings

1. Chris Johnson, Titans

2. Adrian Peterson, Vikings

3. (tie) Arian Foster, Texans

3. (tie) Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars

5. Jamaal Charles, Chiefs

6. Michael Turner, Falcons

7. Steven Jackson, Rams

8. Ray Rice, Ravens

9. Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers

10. (tie) Frank Gore, 49ers

10. (tie) LeSean McCoy, Eagles

10. (tie) Darren McFadden, Raiders

Walker's RB Power Rankings

1. Adrian Peterson, Vikings

2. Chris Johnson, Titans

3. Arian Foster, Texans

4. Steven Jackson, Rams

5. Michael Turner, Falcons

6. Jamaal Charles, Chiefs

7. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars

8. Ray Rice, Ravens

9. Frank Gore, 49ers

10. Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers

Who are your top 10 running backs?