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Tuesday, May 4, 2010
Ranking the AFC West running backs

By Bill Williamson
ESPN.com

Between now and the start of training camp, we will rank the players at each position in the AFC West. We started by looking at the quarterbacks last week.

We’re now taking a look at the running backs. This is a good group. Not one of the eight players I have listed is a slouch. It was a very tight ranking, especially in the middle of the pack.

Here are my top running backs. I’m sure you’ll be ready to give your thoughts in the comment section:

1. Jamaal Charles, Kansas City: I think this guy is the next great running back star in the NFL. If the Chiefs can keep Charles healthy, he will be dynamite. He is a game breaker and he’s fun to watch. He ended the 2009 season with a 259-yard performance against Denver. I think that was a hint of big things to come from the player who is entering his third NFL season.

2. Thomas Jones, Kansas City: If the Chiefs are going to make big strides as a team in 2010, it will be because of their terrific 1-2 running back punch. Jones may be one of the best additions in the NFL this offseason. He will be 32 in August, but can still help in a big way. He was third in the NFL in rushing last season with 1,402 yards. He had 14 touchdowns. The guy can play.

3. Darren Sproles, San Diego: Sproles is a role player, but he is a spectacular role player. He can change games as a change-of-pace runner with his game-breaking ability. He is a dangerous receiver out of the backfield. When kept fresh, Sproles is a difference maker.

4. Michael Bush, Oakland: I really like this player. He is pounder that can wear defenses down. But he has to show his consistency. Perhaps this will be the season in which Bush breaks out for the 1,100- to 1,400-yard rushing season I think he is capable of achieving.

5. Knowshon Moreno, Denver: This is an interesting season for Moreno. He started well as a rookie last season, but slowed considerably as the season wore on. Denver has worked on getting a bigger offensive line and it is hoping that Moreno will be better prepared for the long haul. He is a talented player, but he needs to show he can stay consistent for an entire season and he needs to show more explosiveness than he did as the No. 12 overall pick last season.

6. Darren McFadden, Oakland: I’d like to see McFadden earn himself a higher ranking next year. This is an important year for him as well. He just hasn’t been very impressive in his first two NFL seasons. He has been hampered by injuries and he has been inconsistent. Still, I believe in this player. He is a speedster and he has great skills. He just has to put it all together. I think he can.

7. Ryan Mathews, San Diego: I was tempted to put Mathews at No.4 on this list and I won't be stunned at all if he is in the top two next year. But the kid has to prove himself in a solid running back division. If he can stay healthy, the No. 12 overall pick will be a standout for San Diego. He is perfect for the Chargers’ offense and I think he will be a yards eater right away.

8. Correll Buckhalter, Denver: I was impressed with Buckhalter last season when he was healthy. But he dealt with injuries often. When he played, though, he was a big-play performer. Buckhalter, who will turn 32 during the season, averaged 5.4 yards per carry on 120 attempts last season. He is a nice second option.