- Jamison Hensley, ESPN Ravens reporter
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The AFC North blog is continuing its rankings of each position for the next two weeks. This is a projection on how the group will fare this season. It's not an evaluation based on last year. For Tuesday, let's look at the running backs.
1. Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens have one of the best running back tandems in the NFL with Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce. Rice remains a dangerous threat in the running and passing games. There should be some concern over his production dipping last season. He is looking to rebound from his worst rushing season since becoming the featured back in 2009. Rice still finished with 1,621 total yards from scrimmage. Pierce was the biggest surprise in last year's Ravens draft class. He came on strong late in the season and into the playoffs. This effort should result in more touches this season.
2. Cleveland Browns: Trent Richardson ran for 950 yards and 11 touchdowns despite never being fully healthy. Knee and rib injuries limited his effectiveness throughout his rookie season. If he can stay healthy, Richardson has the potential to be among the top 10 rushers in the NFL this year. He'll have to become more explosive to do so. His longest run last year was 32 yards. Montario Hardesty, the primary backup, has been a disappointment since being a second-round pick in 2010. He has averaged 3.5 yards per carry in two seasons and has scored one touchdown.
3. Cincinnati Bengals: It took time for BenJarvus Green-Ellis to hit his stride in Cincinnati. He gained over 100 yards in four of his final six regular-season games. While Green-Ellis was more explosive than anticipated, he averaged 3.9 yards per carry. This is what you're going to get from Green-Ellis -- a solid but not spectacular back. He'll still carry the load on early downs and in the red zone. The spark will be provided by rookie second-round pick Giovani Bernard. He brings more speed to the backfield as well as more impact in the passing game. The Bengals' backfield will be improved from last season, but the Ravens and Browns have more talented featured backs.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers: The only new starting running back in the division will be rookie second-round pick Le'Veon Bell. He is more agile than his size indicates (6-foot-1, 230 pounds) and provides much-needed fresh legs to the Steelers' backfield. Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman failed to provide any consistency in the Steelers' running game. The Steelers will likely only keep one of them as a backup. Bell should be ready to take over immediately after starting three seasons at Michigan State. He'll need to adjust his upright running style at this level, but he knows how to generate yards after contact.
The AFC North blog is continuing its rankings of each position for the next two weeks. This is a projection on how the group will fare this season. It's not an evaluation based on last year.