The AFC North blog will take a look at the top five division players at a position each day this week. This is a projection for the 2012 season, so predicted progress and decline has been factored into the rankings. The next position is running back.
1. Ray Rice, Ravens: He's been the NFL's most consistent all-around running back over the past three seasons. Since 2009, Rice has produced at least 1,700 total yards. Last year, he led the AFC North in rushing (1,364 yards) and receptions (76). Rice isn't just the best running back in the AFC North. He's the best in the AFC.
2. Trent Richardson, Browns: The third overall pick in the draft will have the same impact on the running game as last year's top rookie in the division, the Bengals' A.J. Green, had on the passing game. He could have a bigger immediate impact than Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. There's not another back in this division who can match Richardson's combination of power and elusiveness.
3. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Bengals: The replacement for Cedric Benson upgrades the Bengals in the red zone and in ball security. He led the Patriots with 24 rushing touchdowns over the past two seasons, and he has never fumbled in his four seasons. The biggest question is whether he'll improve his 3.7-yard per carry average from last year.
4. Isaac Redman, Steelers: This is Redman's prime opportunity to show he can be a featured back with Rashard Mendenhall recovering from ACL surgery. Redman ran for 121 yards in the playoff loss at Denver and he's averaged 4.5 yards per carry in his two-year career. But, in 36 career games (including playoffs), Redman has had double-digit carries in just four of them.
5. Vonta Leach, Ravens: He has the best résumé of any NFL fullback the past two seasons. One year after blocking for the NFL rushing champion, Leach paved the way for the league's No. 2 rusher in Rice this season. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Ravens averaged 91.4 yards rushing and 4.5 yards per carry on runs during the regular season when Leach was the lead blocker. Baltimore also scored 14 touchdowns running behind Leach.