The AFC East has essentially been run by the same team for over 15 years. The New England Patriots have dominated the division season after season, riding on the success of the most prolific quarterback this league has ever known, and a head coach who always seems to be three steps ahead of the rest of the NFL.
That being said, each team in the division, the Patriots, New York Jets, Buffalo Bills, and our Miami Dolphins, have their strengths and weaknesses. Over the offseason, I’ll be giving an overview of each position on each team, and ranking them according to skill and depth. With the inaugural edition of the AFC East Position Power Rankings, we start with a rundown of the running backs.
4) New York Jets
Elijah McGuire (R)
The running back position is one of the only spots at which every team in the division is strong, yet the Jets, like with most positions in this series, have come out at the bottom. This is simply because Jay Ajayi, LeSean McCoy, and the stable of backs that Belichick has accumulated outrank New York’s duo of Matt Forte and Bilal Powell. While Forte is a capable tailback, the former Chicago Bear is on the wrong side of 30, and the depth behind him is relatively limited. He was used heavily during his tenure in Chicago, and the wear and tear on his legs are due to catch up with him soon. Powell is a decent complement, but he’s not a workhorse by any measure, and he’s never gained over 750 yards in any of his six years in the league. The fact that the Jets have a poor offensive line and a group of underwhelming quarterbacks will only make it more difficult for their running backs to be successful this season.
3) New England Patriots
LeShun Daniels Jr. (R)
The Patriots have one of the deepest running back lineups in the NFL, but lack the star power of a player like Ajayi or McCoy. However, they do have a rusher to cover almost every skillset, with pass catchers in James White and Dion Lewis, a power back in Mike Gillislee, and a versatile weapon who can play all over the field in the underused former Cincinnati Bengal Rex Burkhead. Despite the absence of a standout runner, Belichick will know how to best make use of this group, making them dangerous in tandem with the rest of New England's powerhouse offense.
2) Buffalo Bills
Jordan Johnson (R)
The Bills had the most dangerous rushing attack of the year in 2016, and would top this list if not for the loss of Gillislee to the evil empire. McCoy and Gillislee made for a dangerous duo last season, and although Gillislee is gone, I still believe that McCoy will be productive. He is one of the most skilled runners in the league, with quickness and a shifty style of running that makes him one of the hardest rushers to tackle in open space. He’s accumulated over 1,000 rushing yards in 5 out of his 8 seasons in the league, including over 1,200 last year, and has never averaged under 4.0 yards per carry over a full season. McCoy is also a capable pass catcher, meaning he contributes on third down as well. The biggest knock on this crew of runners is the lack of quality depth.
1) Miami Dolphins
De’Veon Smith (R)
In the inaugural edition of the AFC East Position Power Rankings, we kick off the series with our Miami Dolphins holding the number one spot, and it’s absolutely well deserved. Jay Ajayi enjoyed one of the biggest breakout seasons in the NFL last year, churning out THREE 200 yard games, with two of them coming against the division rival Buffalo Bills. Ajayi is one of the hardest runners in the league to take down, and his ability to mow down defenders is just one aspect of his game. Ajayi is also able to beat defenders to the edge, popping off big plays seemingly every time he touches the ball. The quality of Miami’s running back corps goes past Ajayi as well, which gives them the bump over the number two ranked Bills. Damien Williams and Kenyan Drake are very capable backups who make plays for Miami both on third down and on special teams. Williams has proven to be a strong redzone threat, and Drake showed last season that he can be a real playmaker with the ball in his hands. The three of them are all locks to make the roster, and De’Veon Smith, who looks like a pure Ajayi clone, would be a good candidate to round out this group of powerful rushers. The Dolphins truly have one of the league's best running back corps, and it’s certainly the strongest in the AFC East.