The AFC North running backs are here

The AFC North running backs are here

Sure, the NFC East has some great RBs, but don't sleep on the AFC North

Kareem Hunt cares not for your disdain for the Browns or the AFC North.
Kareem Hunt cares not for your disdain for the Browns or the AFC North.
Image: Getty Images

The NFC East gets a lot of media attention, mostly because the Dallas Cowboys are “America’s Team” or something, and rightly so. The division is constantly a circus and has very large, passionate fan bases. Home to Saquon Barkley and Ezekiel Elliot, rounded out by Miles Sanders and up-and-coming Antonio Gibson, the NFC East has some pretty damn good running backs in its division. They’re currently the best running back division in football.

That crown, however, will be challenged this year by the AFC North.

Advertisement

2 / 6

Cleveland Browns

Cleveland Browns

Image for article titled The AFC North running backs are here
Image: Getty Images

Let’s start in Cleveland, where the duo of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt are the most talented backfield tandem in the NFL. Chubb, for my money, is the best pure runner in the game. His combination of vision, balance, physicality, burst, and speed makes him a threat to score on any play. Chubb and Hunt combined for 172.98 scrimmage yards per game, and are clearly the focal point of their own offense. The Browns ran the ball the fifth-most of any team in 2020. Both of these running backs — with Chubb at 5-foot-11, 227 pounds, and Hunt at 5-foot-11, 216 pounds — are versatile, physical, can run, and can catch. It’s an embarrassment of riches for one team to have both of these running backs.

Advertisement

3 / 6

Cincinnati Bengals

Cincinnati Bengals

Image for article titled The AFC North running backs are here
Image: Getty Images

In Cincinnati, the Bengals just gave Joe Mixon a contract through the 2024 season with an average annual salary of $12 million. He’s the guy there, and will be for a while. Mixon, who played his college ball at the University of Oklahoma, has been hampered by injuries throughout his young career, but has proven to be an explosive playmaker when on the field. Despite playing in an offense last year with rookie quarterback Joe Burrow and a hobbled offensive line, Mixon still managed the 11th most scrimmage yards per game, with 94.33. In 2018 and 2019, Mixon posted consecutive seasons of over 1,400 scrimmage yards. He played only six games last season, but posted career highs with 3.5 receptions per game and 19.8 carries per game, showing that the new offense with Burrow under center and Zac Taylor as head coach will feature Mixon. Give him a vastly improved offensive line, and there’s a good chance Mixon has his best season to date in 2021.

Advertisement

4 / 6

Baltimore Ravens

Baltimore Ravens

Image for article titled The AFC North running backs are here
Image: Getty Images

Baltimore is a run-heavy team, but the numbers are skewed because of quarterback Lamar Jackson’s rushing usage, which has him running 10.5 times per game over his first three seasons. In the backfield this year, we’ll see Gus Edwards and sophomore running back J.K. Dobbins form a 1-2 punch, but it’s Dobbins who could emerge as an elite running back. Dobbins only saw 8.9 rushing attempts per game last season, but with the departure of veteran Mark Ingram, his role is set to increase. Of running backs with at least 6.25 carries per game, Dobbins led everyone — everyone — with 6 yards per carry.

Advertisement

5 / 6

Pittsburgh Steelers

Pittsburgh Steelers

Image for article titled The AFC North running backs are here
Image: Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers used their first-round draft pick this year on running back Najee Harris out of Alabama. If you’re unfamiliar with this prospect, the short description is that he’s really damn good. 6-foot-1, 232 pounds, and the guy has hands and agility that a running back his size should not be allowed to possess.

Yeah, it says 6-foot-2, because that’s what Alabama had him listed at, but still. The big guy doesn’t play like a big guy. He plays like a running back three inches shorter and 15 pounds lighter. Pittsburgh has always featured a bell-cow running back when they have one. Harris should see around 300 touches his rookie season and will immediately plant himself in the top tier of running backs.

The AFC North has a stable of veterans and young running backs alike who will dominate football storylines this year. While there is elite talent elsewhere, no division possesses the top-to-bottom talent offered by the AFC North’s four teams.

Advertisement

6 / 6