Unit by unit: Ranking the running backs

July, 2, 2013
7/02/13
4:33
PM ET
We pick up our series in which ESPN.com’s resident scout, Matt Williamson, ranks the AFC South position-by-position.

Today, we examine running backs.

Williamson’s AFC South running back rankings:
1) Texans (Arian Foster, Ben Tate)
2) Titans (Chris Johnson, Shonn Greene, Jalen Parmele)
3) Jaguars (Maurice Jones-Drew, Justin Forsett, Denard Robinson)
4) Colts (Ahmad Bradshaw, Vick Ballard, Donald Brown, Delone Carter, Kerwynn Williams)

It’s the same order I’d choose, though I considered flipping the Colts and the Jaguars. That would have meant I was confident in Ahmad Bradshaw’s foot and not confident in Jones-Drew’s foot. And I have no inside information on either to help prompt me to swap the two teams here.

SportsNation

Matt Williamson's ranking of AFC South running back units is:

  •  
    52%
  •  
    34%
  •  
    14%

Discuss (Total votes: 1,624)

My questions for Williamson based off of his list:

What was overall thinking as you sorted through running backs? Where is the biggest gap (between 1-2, 2-3 or 3-4)?

“I thought ranking the running backs was the toughest position in the AFC South, so the gap even from 1 to 4 isn't that extreme, as I am quite fond of the stable that Indy has put together.”

Do the lead backs fall into the same order if you're ranking them and not the overall position?

“Yes, I would keep the lead backs in the same order, but MJD vs. Johnson is a real tight call for me. Both could have nice seasons, as Johnson's supporting cast is much improved and MJD is obviously going to get a lot of volume.”

How do you rank the four No. 2s?

“As for the backups, Tate is first for sure and Forsett is clearly last. I also prefer Ballard to Greene. I am not a Greene fan at all, but he should help the Titans with their short yardage issues.”

How much did you factor in the blocking you anticipate them getting? Their capabilities as pass catchers and in pass protection?

“I didn't factor in the blocking at all. I factored in the passing game. Ranking them strictly in that capacity, I would probably go: Jax, Indy, Tennessee then Houston, but that -- again -- is VERY close."

“I am also quite excited as to what Williams can bring to Indy's attack as a receiver. We might not see it this year, but he can be a real weapon.”

As for me...

I didn’t go even three deep for the Texans, as undrafted guys will fight it out for the No. 3 spot. I went deeper than three for the Colts because the have veterans and a draft pick who will be in the mix.

Jones-Drew’s volume needs to go down. To be more competitive, the Jaguars have to throw more by design and less out of need than they have the last couple years. But if he’s clearly their best offensive player, as he’s been in the past, it can be hard to resist giving it to him.

Like Williamson, I have questions about Greene. I think the Titans overpaid for him and could have found a guy who can do what he does, and more, in the middle of the draft. But he still will help them in a key area.

I like Forsett more than Williamson does, but I wouldn’t want him as my fulltime starter, something Tate (if healthy), Ballard or Greene would fare better at if called on.

Health questions abound, even beyond Bradshaw and MJD. Ben Tate’s had a lot of nagging stuff and heading into a contract year needs to prove he can stay healthy.

If the full crop is healthy, Brown or Carter won’t make the Colts. Williams should, so long as he can help on special teams.

Paul Kuharsky | email

ESPN Tennessee Titans reporter

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