Friday - Feb 22, 2019

Home / Commentary / Running Backs: AFC North

Running Backs: AFC North

1 Star – Look Elsewhere
2 Star – Handcuff/Desperation pick
3 Star – A Serviceable Starter
4 Star – Solid Starter you can count on every week
5 Star – Studs, should be in the Top 10 at the end of the year


Ray Rice / Bernard Pierce

Ray Rice is a stud. All day, every day. Ray Rice is the heartbeat of this team on offense. Joe Flacco has been making a strong case for himself recently, but who are we kidding? How much trouble would this team be in without Ray Rice? He’s produced more than 1,000 yards four years running and I would still venture to say he was underutilized last year. But with Flacco playing the way he has and the Torrey Smith/Anquan Boldin tandem firing off extremely well, it was OK for them. Rice is a bit of a jack of all trades: blocking, speed, hands, elusiveness (4th-and-29? Sorry, San Diego chargers fans!) and power to make him an All-Star on the field. However, the touchdowns may not always get to him in the goal line as Bernard Pierce is finding his niche in the team as well. Rice should be taken as one of the Top 5 backs in any league no matter the scoring format. Pierce is another backup who only holds value as a handcuff and really isn’t worth the risk of starting on any given week.

Rice –
5 Stars; Pierce –
1 Star

Cincinnati – BenJarvus Green-Ellis/Giovani Bernard /Bernard Scott

This is one of those backfields where you will not get fantastic production from but you’ll never find yourself being completely disappointed, either. Green-Ellis is a plodder in the truest sense of the word; he started heating up in the latter part of the season but throughout the year he never really stood out as an elite running back. There’s nothing particularly special that he does as far as speed, hands, elusiveness or power. But the good thing about him is that he always seems to at least fall forward and he holds onto the ball 98 percent of the time. This provides many goal line carries, an expectation of a handful of points per game and the reliability of a second running back/flex option any given week. If you find comfort in being average at all times, Green-Ellis is your man! Especially, since I predict he will not post many duds, either, I predict that he will end the season just outside the top 10 list this year.

However, the Bengals apparently were not all too impressed with Green-Ellis as the team spent its second-round pick on Giovani Bernard, who was the NFL’s highest rated running back in the draft. He’s got good acceleration, top speed and legs that just keep on churning. He’s going to give Green-Ellis a run for his money (pun intended). The likely scenario is Green-Ellis winds up holding onto the starting gig. But that’s not to say that by Week 4 or 5 we won’t start seeing an increased workload ny Bernard as this rookie learns the system. Perhaps this young kid will light a fire under Green-Ellis and make him better, or perhaps we’ve seen the very best from him already. Regardless, Bernard will be making an impact on the team this year and I would even go as far as saying he is a necessary handcuff if you plan on investing in Green-Ellis.

Bernard Scott is really just kind of there right now and if you take him at any point this year you should really ask yourself why.

Green-Ellis –
3.50 Stars; Bernard –
3 Star; Scott –
1 Star

Cleveland – Trent Richardson

When I think of Trent Richardson, the word warrior comes to mind. He’s a tough physical runner and he’s got excellent hands out of the backfield. I have a really good feeling about the Browns and Richardson this year; they’ve got a lot of pieces coming together and I think they will surprise this division as long as he is healthy. Keep in mind that he played a lot of last season injured and still managed to produce good numbers. He’s a workhorse back with the capability of being an elite running back as far as fantasy points are concerned. I don’t see him being available after the fifth pick in any draft this year.

Richardson –
4.5 Stars

Pittsburgh – Le’Veon Bell/Jonathan Dwyer /Isaac Redman/LaRod Stephens-Howling

These are definitely not your grandfather’s hard-nosed-run-first Steelers of old; this is a team that needs to win throwing the ball. None of the running backs on the current Steelers roster stand out and I feel none of them are fully capable of being a featured back. The Redman/Dwyer experience happened last year; it was pitiful and full of injuries. Sure they both had a few good games, but are either of these guys going to be stars? No. But what about Stephens-Howling? Well, he is an excellent third down back but that’s his role.

The good thing about the Steelers is they have identified a problem and signed their second- round pick Bell to a four-year contract. Word from Steelers camp is that he’s the real deal and could be a third down back. Bell comes in right around 6-foot-1 and 230 pounds, and for someone as heavy as he is he’s still got some moves. This is the exact kind of guy that we expect to see when we think of the Steelers running game. The kind of guy who is going to rush and make defenders pay for the tackle every time; the proverbial “I’m going to punch you in the mouth” style that our grandpa knew. Based on his potential alone and the disaster of last year’s rushing attack, I would be starting him over anyone in this stable. But I am not coach Mike Tomlin and the problem fantasy owners have in Pittsburgh is too much uncertainty, and quite frankly, too many running backs on the team right now to make any of them a viable RB1 or RB2 on your team.

Perhaps one of the other three gets released during preseason to lighten the load and make Bell more viable. If my draft was today I’d try to snag Bell in the later rounds of a draft and hope for the best.

Bell –
2.50 Stars; Dwyer –
2.25 Stars; Redman –
1.5 Stars; Stephens-Howling –
1 Star

About Fantasy Sharks began in 2003, disseminating fantasy football content on the web for free. It is, or has been, home to some of the most talented and best known fantasy writers on the planet. Owned and operated by Tony Holm (5 time Fantasy Sports Writer Association Hall-of-Fame nominee,) Tony started writing fantasy content in 1993 for the only three fantasy football web sites in existence at the time.