Ranking the running backs

In March, we ranked the AFC West quarterbacks after the arrival of Peyton Manning in the division. We are continuing our post-draft tradition of ranking the positions every Monday. Today, we’re look at the tailbacks.

Here are the guidelines: My rankings are based on past play and projected 2012 performances and roles. Rookies are eligible. I only rank players who I am sure will have a role. If I think a third stringer is worthy, I’ll list him. If I don’t think a second stringer is worthy, I won’t list him.

1. Darren McFadden, Oakland: This was a tough choice between McFadden and Jamaal Charles. I went with McFadden because he played more last season and his foot injury was less serious than Charles' knee injury. When healthy, McFadden is a game changer but he has to show durability.

2. Jamaal Charles, Kansas City: I think Charles will come back from his torn ACL. If he still has the same game-breaking speed, the Chiefs will be in great shape.

3. Willis McGahee, Denver: McGahee was my division MVP last season. He will turn 31 this season and he was dinged up last season. I think McGahee can still be very effective if he gets some help. He is a tough player.

4. Ryan Mathews, San Diego: Mathews is a good player and I expect him to be higher on this list next year. Entering his third year, Mathews could be a breakout player if he stays healthy and focused.

5. Peyton Hillis, Kansas City: He was an intriguing pickup in free agency. Hillis is a tough runner who will help the Chiefs.

6. Taiwan Jones, Oakland: I would like to see Oakland get a veteran running back and make Jones a change-of-pace option and not McFadden’s primary backup. I think Jones will be most effective that way.

7. Ronnie Hillman, Denver: He is a home-run hitter who could excel in Manning’s offense. I expect exciting things from this third-round pick.

8. Knowshon Moreno, Denver: I’m only putting Moreno here because he was a first-round pick three years ago. He is coming off a torn ACL and an arrest for drunk driving. He could surprise me, but I’m not expecting much.