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Saturday, April 13, 2013
AFC West running back update

By Matt Williamson

With the draft less than two weeks away, here’s a look at the running back situation for each team in the division:

Denver Broncos: They could add another body here, but the Broncos’ running-back situation is serviceable and capable of developing into more if Ronnie Hillman takes a step forward in his second year. Hillman probably will never carry the full load, but he is Denver’s best big-play option out of the backfield and could become a force in the passing game once Peyton Manning and company trust him with protection and route-running. Willis McGahee's role should remain intact for the most part, and he is effective moving the chains and churning out tough yardage. Knowshon Moreno looked like a draft bust, but you can’t deny how well he played once given the chance last season -- very effective as both a runner and receiver. In fact, Moreno was probably the Broncos’ best running back in 2012, although I still feel that McGahee is the superior ball carrier. Of course, every defense will fear Manning and the Denver passing game -- especially now that Wes Welker has been added. Plus, Denver improved its offensive line by signing Louis Vasquez. So overall, this is a pretty sound unit.

Kansas City Chiefs: Jamaal Charles is a great player who could even step up his production, especially as a receiver, in Andy Reid’s offense. He is a big play waiting to happen, but also consistently churns out yardage even when his blocking isn’t superb. Expect a huge year from Charles in 2013. That said, the Chiefs would be wise to address the No. 2 running back spot in the draft or late in free agency with a bigger back to complement Charles. Right now, Shaun Draughn and Cyrus Gray, both heading into their second full seasons, are the only backups of note. Draughn carried the ball 59 times and caught 24 passes in 2012; Gray only touched the ball nine times during his rookie season. Reid could further utilize Draughn’s pass-catching skills, but he really was a liability in protection last season. The Chiefs need more from Draughn and Gray in 2013 and should find an improvement elsewhere.

Oakland Raiders: This might be the strongest position on the Raiders’ terrible roster, at least when Darren McFadden is actually healthy. But even when McFadden is on the shelf, which he so often is, the Raiders are not too badly off. Marcel Reece is just a heck of an all-around football player. A fullback in title, Reece is an outstanding receiver who caught 52 passes last year, a serviceable blocker and a solid runner. He is the type of player every team should want. Mike Goodson, who is talented but hard to rely on, is out. In is former Jaguar Rashad Jennings, who is bigger than Goodson and should fit the man blocking scheme Oakland will bring back. But Jennings also is tough to rely on due to his injury history -- and he really didn’t play well last season when he was healthy. Still, Jennings has produced at this level and was a good signing considering McFadden’s injury history. McFadden is only 25 years old, but he has never played more than 13 games in his five NFL seasons and appeared in only 19 over the past two seasons. And frankly, he was less than impressive when he did see the field in 2012, although next season’s scheme change could really benefit him. Even with this uncertainty, the Raiders will probably address their multitude of other needs in the draft rather than taking a running back high.

San Diego Chargers: The Chargers signed Danny Woodhead to go along with Ryan Mathews and Ronnie Brown as their primary running backs. Woodhead can act as a slot receiver and move all over the formation to create mismatches in the passing game as well as contribute with some carries. This is a fine addition, but Brown acted as the Chargers’ third-down back last season. With the problems with San Diego’s offensive line, checking down to Brown became a favorite decision for Philip Rivers. Few running backs have Mathews’ talent, but his injury history and lack of reliability are troubling -- especially for a former first-round pick. The new coaching staff might not be as enamored with Mathews as the last, but it is easy to overlook the fact that Mathews was rather effective running the ball last year for a team that had blocking woes. He also gives the Chargers three backs who catch the ball well, although neither excels in protection. Woodhead, Brown and Mathews combined to catch a whopping 128 passes in 2012.