The AFC West is the NFL’s new home for offense. Not only does the division play host to the strongest group of quarterbacks across the divisions, but it is also home to some of the best running back stables, as well as receiving groups.
No group has seen more tumult in the AFC West than the running backs. The 2018 season and subsequent offseason saw the Chargers emerge as the league’s best backfield from top to bottom. In Denver, two promising rookie backs became the face of the offense, the Chiefs moved on from Kareem Hunt, and most recently, the Raiders selected the talented Josh Jacobs out of Alabama in the first round.
Let’s take a look now at how these talented backfields stack up against each other.
No. 1: Los Angeles Chargers
When it comes to the running back position, the Chargers are head and shoulders above every other team in the AFC West.
After a slow start to his career, Melvin Gordon has inarguably transformed into one of the top-5 best running backs in the league. He’s now coming off his best season that saw him average 5.1 yards per carry, record nearly 500 yards receiving, and score 14 total touchdowns, all of which are career bests. Gordon also earned the highest grade of his career from Pro Football Focus at 90.5, which topped all running backs in the league.
This career year from Gordon is even more impressive when considering that in 2018, partner-in-crime Austin Ekeler was bursting onto the NFL scene with a career year of his own. Ekeler gained almost 1,500 yards from scrimmage on his way to scoring 11 total touchdowns, on his way to solidifying himself and Gordon as the best running back duo in the league.
No. 2: Denver Broncos
Some Broncos fans may take issue with the Broncos not topping this list with their own elite duo of running backs. Unfortunately for Denver, the Broncos don’t have a back as talented as Melvin Gordon. That being said, if the Chargers have the best running back duo in the league, the Broncos might well have the second-best dynamic duo.
Both Royce Freeman and Phillip Lindsay enjoyed fantastic debut seasons for the Broncos, and they should only get better in Rich Scangarello’s new offense. Lindsay became the first undrafted rookie to make the Pro Bowl on the offensive side of the ball, picking up 1,278 all-purpose yards and finding the end zone ten times in total, even with an injury-shortened season.
Freeman was viewed as the next Kareem Hunt or Jordan Howard before the season started, and even though Lindsay stole the spotlight, he still had a promising year. Freeman was used as the thunder to Lindsay’s lightning, racking up 500 yards and five scores of us own on the ground.
Going forward, Lindsay’s size and injury risk, as a result, will make Freeman even more valuable. Look for them to become more of a 50/50 partnership as Freeman gets the majority of the carries while Lindsay gets a higher number of total touches.
No. 3: Oakland Raiders
The Raiders will start the 2019 season with one of the least recognized backfields in the league, but don’t be surprised if by December they’re challenging the Chargers for the top spot in the division.
First-round pick Josh Jacobs was a monster at Alabama last season as a runner, receiver and blocker. NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah and Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller, two of the most highly respected media scouts, had Jacobs among their top-10 prospects in the entire draft as he checked almost every box as a prospect on and off the field.
The one question mark surrounding Jacobs was his lack of a heavy workload while with the Crimson Tide. However, according to Jeremiah’s sources at Alabama, that was because, for the majority of the season, Alabama was beating teams so badly that the coaches didn’t need to put extra tread on Jacobs’ tires.
The Raiders’ offensive line should be much improved from a season ago with the addition of Trent Brown and another offseason under 2018 rookie tackle Kolton Miller. The Raiders also boast one of the deeper backfields with Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington serving as solid rotation backs.
No. 4: Kansas City Chiefs
Had the video of Kareem Hunt not surfaced last year, the Chiefs would find themselves ranked no lower than second on the list. However, with Hunt out the door and Damien Williams as the apparent heir to the starting running back job, the Chiefs find themselves in the cellar of the division in terms of running backs.
Starting in just three games, Williams ran for 256 yards and four touchdowns while gaining another 160 yards and two scores through the air. It was a solid season, especially when considering the light workload, but Williams shouldn’t scare defenses nearly as bad as Hunt did a season ago.
All that being said, he should have a terrific year, and even be better than some of the running backs ranked ahead of him statistically. The Chiefs have an insane amount of offensive talent, from the offensive line to the receivers and Patrick Mahomes. This means that Williams should face much less stacked boxes than his AFC West peers. Williams will also be splitting very few carries, as Carlos Hyde, who is on his fourth team in 18 months, will be his backfield mate.
Running the ball may be an old-school way to gain yards in the NFL, but with their talented backfields, the Chargers and Broncos should be able to run the ball on nearly anyone in the league in 2019.