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Ranking the AFC North teams by position, Part 2: Running Backs

How do the AFC North backfields stack up heading into 2023?

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The AFC North projects as one of the leagues toughest divisions in 2023, with all four teams’ eyes set on a division title and a playoff run. One can debate the validity of each team’s chances to reach that goal, but the fact is that the Cincinnati Bengals, the Baltimore Ravens, the Cleveland Browns, and our own Pittsburgh Steelers all believe they belong in the conversation with the AFC’s best.

In this series, I will attempt to rank the four AFC North teams by position. In part two, we take a look at each team’s running back situation. For our consideration, we’ll include the top two backs on each squad in this exercise.

Cleveland Browns

Nick Chubb | 302 att, 1,525 yds, 5.1 yds/att, 12 td
Jerome Ford | 8 att, 12 yds, 1.5 yds/att, 0 td

Analysis: Nick Chubb by himself is enough to put the Browns backfield at number 1 in this exercise, even with 2nd-year player Jerome Ford looking to earn RB2 status in 2023 after essentially a redshirt rookie campaign. Chubb is the top pure runner in football. Tell me I’m wrong. He’s also underrated as a receiver, specifically in Cleveland’s excellent screen game. Finally entering a season without touch-vulture Kareem Hunt, fantasy football heads and Cleveland fans alike are hoping for an All-Pro bid as the feature of the Browns’ backfield. If the “Brahnies” are smart, Chubb will be the focal point of their offense in 2023.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Najee Harris | 272 att, 1,034 yds, 3.8 yds/att, 7 td
Jaylen Warren | 77 att, 379 yds, 4.9 yds/att, 1 td

Analysis: The Steelers almost took the top spot in this ranking with what I believe is the best duo in the division. However, unlike the Brown’s top back, there are questions about whether or not Steelers RB1 Najee Harris can be more than a grinder at RB. He needs to show more explosiveness and efficiency in year 3 to join the ranks of the elite backs. In truth, Harris might not even be the best RB on the team, though he will get the title and run of RB1. Jaylen Warren showed truly exciting explosiveness as an undrafted Rookie in 2022 and is a very effective 3rd down back with solid receiving chops and a bone-jarring blitz pickup. These two players as a duo have a chance to be special and the driving force of a clock-churning offense with plenty of breakout candidates.

Baltimore Ravens

JK Dobbins | 92 att, 520 yds, 5.7 yds/att, 2 td
Gus Edwards | 87 att, 433 yds, 5.0 yds/att, 3 td

Analysis: The Ravens backfield is good, but injuries have derailed the promising young career of Dobbins to this point. The injury history, as well as the Ravens new offensive approach in 2023 under new coordinator Todd Monkin could lead to a drop in rushing production for the Baltimore backs, with a likely regression in volume and efficiency outside of former OC Greg Roman’s elite rushing scheme. Dobbins has shown that when healthy he can be an extremely efficient, explosive player, and a return to form could be huge for the Charm City. You have to like the thundering Gus Edwards at RB2, one of the more impressive power backs in football. Together the duo can be formidable. Can they play a full season together and prove it?

Cincinnati Bengals

Joe Mixon | 210 att, 814 yds, 3.9 yds/att, 7 td
Chase Brown (R)

Analysis: The Bengals backfield looks pretty “sus”, to quote the kids today. Mixon is coming off his worst season as a pro, and looks like a player the team could still move before the start of the season. Behind him, it’s Rookie Chase Brown with nary and NFL carry and 3rd down receiving specialist Chris Evans, who recorded exactly 0 carries himself in 2022. This is a team that will likely add to their backfield before the season, but for now, the RB position is easily the weakest link on this offense.

Next time on my AFC North Rankings by position, we’ll look at the wide receiver rooms for each squad and sort out the top unit in the division. What did you think of my RB rankings? Who’s too high/low? Chat it up!