In this week leading up to the season opener, I thought it would be a fun activity to rank the various position groups in the AFC South. This exercise should help give us a gauge on the overall talent level around the division.
In case you missed it, I have already ranked the AFC South quarterbacks, so make sure to check that one out too. Moving on in this series, I will be ranking the running backs next.
- Derrick Henry
- Darrynton Evans
- Khari Blasingame
This one should be a no brainer. Derrick Henry was the best ball carrier in 2019. He ranked first in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, and yards per carry last season (200 attempt minimum). While the Titans’ offensive line did a great job of blocking for Henry, he also maximized those running lanes by leading the league in yards after contact. By breaking tackles and outrunning defenders in the opening field, Henry gave the Titans an explosive play ability on offense to complement the play action pass. In fact, Derrick Henry ranked fifth in big play percentage (runs of 15 yards or more). The Titans made a deep run in the playoffs on the back of Henry’s dominant performances, averaging 148.7 yards per game in the playoffs. You could argue that he was the team’s most valuable player in 2019.
The Titans also added Darrynton Evans in the 3rd round of the NFL Draft to substitute the departure of Dion Lewis. Evans is similar to Henry in the sense that once he hits the open field, he has the second gear to hit home runs. However, Evans has more elusiveness and wiggle to his game to complement Henry’s powerful style of running. If Evans can just come in and take some of the load off of Henry, this should be a very dynamic duo, and undoubtedly the best backfield in the division.
- Marlon Mack
- Jonathan Taylor
- Nyheim Hines
- Jordan Wilkins
The Colts have a sneaky good group of running backs that all bring something different to the table. Marlon Mack was an effective runner for the Colts last season rushing for over 1000 yards for the first time in his career while averaging 4.4 yards per carry. The Colts also added a stud bell-cow back in Jonathan Taylor in April’s draft. Similar to Derrick Henry, Taylor is a thickly built back that can power through defenders but also has the 4.41-speed to break long runs. Also, they have a solid receiving back in Nyheim Hines that can help contribute on third downs.
I would expect the Colts to start off the season with a running-back-by-committee approach and slowly progress to utilizing Taylor as the lead back. Combined with the elite Colts’ offensive line, I could see a scenario where the Colts have the best running back group by the end of the 2020 season, due to the versatility and depth.
- David Johnson
- Duke Johnson
- Buddy Howell
The Texans traded DeAndre Hopkins for an aging David Johnson in what many people consider the most lopsided trade of the 2019 offseason. Since his MCL sprain in 2017, Johnson has not had the same juice and burst as he did in his first two season with the Cardinals. Down the stretch last year, Johnson was vastly out performed by Kenyan Drake and Chase Edmonds for the Cardinals, who both averaged over five yards per carry.
On the other hand, I love me some Duke Johnson. Over the course of his career, Duke has been very efficient, averaging 4.4 yards per carry and 9.2 yards per reception, on limited touches. I think with more touches Duke could be a very impactful player for the Texans.
The depth beyond these two doesn’t bear mentioning.
- Ryquell Armstead
- Chris Thompson
- Devine Ozigbo
- James Robinson
The Jaguars have one of the worst, if not the worst, running back rooms in the entire NFL. Even before cutting Leonard Fournette, this group was going to rank last on this division rankings list.
While I really liked Ryquell Armstead coming out of Temple, he was ineffective in limited snaps in 2019 and was recently placed on the reserve/COVID list for the second time this offseason. Meanwhile, Chris Thompson is turning 30 this year and has never rushed for more than 400 yards in a season. Devine Ozigbo has apparently had a great training camp, but is also an inexperienced undrafted free agent from last offseason. James Robinson has received some camp buzz, but he’s yet another undrafted player trying to make his mark. The Jaguars went from investing the fourth overall pick in a running back to cobbling together a group of UDFA’s and the aging veteran Thompson. Overall, this bunch just lacks the talent and experience to be competitive in this ranking.