The AFC North boasted four 1,000-yard rushers in 2010. But when it came down to ESPN.com's running back Power Rankings this week, only two made the cut.
I agree with our panel that Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens and Rashard Mendenhall of the Pittsburgh Steelers deserved to be on the list. But that doesn't mean Cleveland Browns running back Peyton Hillis or the Cincinnati Bengals' Cedric Benson are weak links, either.
Here is the AFC North blog's ranking of division running backs.
1. Ray Rice, Ravens
2010 stats: 1,220 yards, 63 receptions, six total TDs
Skinny: Rice was No. 8 in ESPN.com's rankings despite a down year by his standards. With so many new pieces, Baltimore's offense was never in a groove last season. The unit also lacked an identity, and it didn't help that the offense line struggled in the second half of the season. But Rice remains one of the most dynamic talents in the division. He is equally good in the running and passing game, and most running backs would take 1,200-plus rushing yards in a heartbeat.
2. Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers
2010 stats: 1,273 yards, 13 TDs
Skinny: Mendenhall finished No. 9 in our running back rankings and made major strides in 2010. He carried Pittsburgh's offense during quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's four-game suspension, and his improved toughness in the red zone was evident with 13 rushing touchdowns. I'm a little concerned about Mendenhall's yard-per-carry average (3.9), but I think it's more of a product Pittsburgh's makeshift offensive line. If the Steelers improve that part of the team in the offseason, Mendenhall's number could get even better in 2011.
3. Peyton Hillis, Browns
2010 stats: 1,177 yards, 61 receptions, 13 total TDs
Skinny: Hillis had a breakout year in 2010, but you're not certain if he's a star in the making or a one-year wonder. Hillis has great tools with a mix of power, surprising athleticism and soft hands. But once teams keyed on him late last season his production dropped. Major issues with fumbling (eight fumbles, five lost) also could be a concern.
4. Cedric Benson, Bengals
2010 stats: 1,111 yards, eight total TDs
Skinny: Benson is a solid fit for Cincinnati's running game, but he does have holes in his game. Benson is not a home-run threat. He averaged just 3.5 yards per carry last season and his longest run was for 26 yards. Benson also fumbled seven times (losing five), and many of his turnovers came at crucial moments. The Bengals want to bring Benson back and utilize a power running game in their new West Coast offense.