My take on ESPN.com's Scouts, Inc. and their rankings of every position continues today with running back. Remember, as we go along I will average out the ranking so we can get a feel for where Scout's, Inc really thinks the Broncos are. Whether we agree or not, that will be the question!
The AFC West is loaded with qualtiy running backs, with #1 and 1A in the entire League calling the division home. With the Broncos adding Travis Henry to the list I was eager to see where these so-called "experts" had the Broncos ranked. It didn't take long to find out.
Running Back --
1. San Diego Chargers
It is hard to not be ranked No. 1 when you have the reigning league MVP and best running back in the NFL on your roster. LaDainian Tomlinson was unstoppable last season. He is the most versatile running back in the NFL because he can beat you as a runner and receiver. The 2006 coaching staff did an excellent job creating mismatches with him in the passing game. With his vision, run instincts and playmaking ability, we expect him to pick up right where he left off in 2007. The other thing that makes this unit special is depth. In addition to Tomlinson, they have Michael Turner, who is the best backup in the NFL. Turner provides an excellent change of pace to Tomlinson. When both are in the lineup at the same time, they give defenses fits.
My Take - Hard to really argue here. There isn't a team in the NFL that wouldn't take L.T. and few teams, if any, that wouldn't want Turner on the either. The Chargers running attack is the best in the business and had they used it even more in the playoff game against the Patriots last season who knows what would have happened. Us Bronco fans got our fill of Tomlinson and many of the moves Mike Shanahan made this off-season on defense were made to figure out a way to stop Tomlinson, and the team that is #2 on this list.
2. Kansas City Chiefs
We put the Chiefs second not because of their depth, but because of the star power they have in No. 1 RB Larry Johnson. Johnson is the No. 1 workhorse back in the NFL and set a league record last season with 416 carries. Throw in 41 receptions, and Johnson averaged nearly 29 touches per game. With veteran quarterback Trent Green gone to Miami, Johnson will be counted on for similar production in 2007. The Chiefs must avoid overworking him and get better production out of their backups. Often injured and seldom-used backup Michael Bennett has excellent speed, but he can't stay healthy. He could be a solid change-of-pace runner if he can shake the injury bug. Veteran Priest Holmes is still on the roster, but his neck injury remains a concern. Don't look for him to play anywhere in 2007.
My Take - A bit higher that I would like but you can't argue with Larry Johnson being high on this list. Problem is, it's hard for Johnson to have an impact if he isn't on the field. Whether he decides to hold out to get the type of money he deserves, or he gets hurt because Herm Edwards forgets that he simplay can't give the ball to Johnson 500 times, something bad is going to happen this year with K.C. and their running attack. The offensive line is also a big facotr in a running game, and with Shields and Roaf gone Johnson may have trouble finding the running lanes he has become so accustomed to. All the beef Denver added to the defensive front was in direct response to the #1 and #2 running back corps in the NFL. Wise move.
8. Denver Broncos
Despite finishing the 2006 season ranked in the top 10 (No. 8) in rushing, the Broncos shook up their backfield this offseason. They traded starter Tatum Bell to the Detroit Lions. Despite being productive at times, Bell had durability issues, is not a physical runner, and fumbles too often. The team got a solid upgrade when it added former Titans RB Travis Henry. Henry is more experienced, has better vision and is a tougher runner than Bell. Backing up Henry will be Mike Bell, who put together a solid rookie season in 2006 as an undrafted free agent. There is no legitimate star power here, but Henry and Bell will provide a solid 1-2 punch for an offense that loves to work its play-action passing game off the run game.
My Take - As solid as the Broncos running game has been under Mike Shanahan I thought the Broncos would get a bit more respect here. Sure, finishing in the Top 10 in rushing last season would be an accomplishment to most teams, but 8th in the league is a disappointment to the Broncos who feel better to finsih in the Top 3. I think Henry couold have a huge season, and while I have had my qualms with Mike Bell I have to admit he is a solid backup. If the Broncos runners can stay healthy I think the Broncos can re-emerge as the best running attack in football. I will be keeping a close eye on the running games of the teams ESPN has in front of Denver -- Washington, Jacksonville, Minnesota, New Orleans and Seattle - to see if they really are better than Denver. My guess is they are not.
13. Oakland Raiders
Despite finishing the 2006 regular season ranked 29th in rushing yards per game, it would be hard to argue against the talent the Raiders will line up with in 2007. LaMont Jordan should be the starter, and though he missed some time with injuries last season, he is an extremely talented runner. With the addition of a new coaching staff, the team wanted to add some depth so it added former Colts starter Dominic Rhodes. Rhodes will miss the first four games of the season because of a violation of the substance abuse policy, but will contribute if he can stay out of trouble and return to the team in good physical condition. Rhodes' status moved the Raiders out of the top 10. Throw in speed back Justin Fargas, who was productive at times last season, and the drafting of rookie Michael Bush at the top of the fourth round and this unit is extremely deep. The inability of the Raiders to run the ball last season had to do with poor offensive line play and being behind early and often. Those facts do not diminish the overall talent this unit has going into 2007.
My Take - It is obvious that the guys over at Scouts, Inc are completely infatuated with name recognition, not production and performance. LaMont Jordan had been nothing short of a disappointment in Silver and Black, and Dominic Rhodes benefitted from playing on the best offense in football, in the same backfield with one of the best quarterbacks in football. He gets neither with the Raiders, and missing 4 weeks to start the season only makes it worse. The Raiders Offensive Line is easily the worst in football, and whether it's Josh McCown or rookie JaMarcus Russell behind center the passing game figures to struggle as well. Way to high for Raiders....
Here is the tally after Scouts, Inc's QB and Running Back rankings -
San Diego -- 7 - (3.5)
Denver -- 28 - (14)
Kansas City -- 34 - (17)
Oakland -- 37 - (18.5)
Remember, the lower the number the better!
Next up, Wide Receiver!