Scouting the AFC West: Running backs

A position breakdown of the AFC West running backs and full backs. Who is the best player? Has the most to overcome? Is the true unsung hero? Who has the most to prove? Who will improve the most? Are any San Diego Chargers besides LaDainian Tomlinson on the list? SDBoltReport.com tackles these questions and many more.

Mr. Overrated: Tyrone Wheatley (RB) Oakland Raiders

Though Wheatley is not all that bad, he has never been the force coming out of Michigan that many felt he would become. At one time, some thought he would be one of the best running backs to ever come out of college. Despite a series of mediocre seasons, Wheatley is still given too much credit for his accomplishments. It is as if some left over hype has managed to permanently stick itself to him. Wheatley has a history of splitting time with other backs, and if he was going to turn the corner it would have happened six or seven years ago.

Mr. Underrated: Derrick Blaylock (RB) Kansas City Chiefs

Blaylock has been a solid back up since being drafted three years ago. When Kansas City drafted Larry Johnson it was not due to their happiness, or lack there of, with Blaylock. Since Priest Holmes has had a full recovery from his injury, there will be an odd man out in Kansas City. Johnson has aspirations of being "the man" somewhere if not Kansas City, so Blaylock's job is probably safe. Kansas City is lucky to have him.

Old faces, new places: Garrison Hearst (RB) Denver Broncos

Hearst is an insurance policy in case the Bronco "running back finding mojo" has run its course. Hearst might be the starter this year in name only, because Denver is hoping that either Tatum Bell or Quentin Griffith will become the new "ordained stroke of genius" by the Bronco administration. Hearst is starting the down hill of his career, and regardless of the success of Bell or Griffith, he is a short term solution. In fact, the sooner the policy becomes irrelevant the sooner it will expire.

Is he Yoda or a waste of space?: Zack Crockett (FB) Oakland Raiders

It seems as if Zack Crockett has been in the NFL forever. Crockett is entering his sixth season with the Raiders and still remains a serviceable short yard specialist. He is at his best when the offense is within five yards of the end zone. In five years for Oakland he has amassed 32 touchdowns. Clearly, Oakland has gotten the best out of Crockett than any of his prior teams. Crockett has not missed a game in four years, and it would be surprising if that trend does not continue this season.

Put up, or shut up time: Amos Zereoue (RB) Oakland Raiders

Last season in Pittsburgh, Zereoue had an opportunity to put himself on the map. After all, he did a very good job filling in for Jerome Bettis when he had to. Some still feel that Zereoue has the skill of being a number one guy if it was not for his small frame. Zereoue has to prove he belongs in Oakland. As of now, Tyrone Wheatley is the starter and Justin Fargas is considered the back of the future. So where does Zereoue fit in all this? Realistically, he could be the odd man out. Zereoue better turn some heads at camp if he ever hopes to get another shot at a starting job.

Same name, new player: Quentin Griffin (RB) Denver Broncos

Last season, Griffin did a good job providing relief for Clinton Portis. Out of college, many questioned whether Griffin's body could handle the pounding of the NFL. He will be in a three way race for the open slot in training camp. Griffin has a leg up on the competition because he is more familiar with the offensive line and Denver's strategies. But with that said, the questions regarding Griffin's stability have yet to be answered. Griffin will get an opportunity to prove he is more than just a back up this fall.

Not quite there yet: Justin Fargas (RB) Oakland Raiders

The nickname of "super-fly" will inevitably follow Fargas if he becomes a feature back in this league. Unfortunately for sportswriters, they will probably have to wait another year before the "fly" adds the "super". Fargas did very well last season considering the line he had to work with and the small insignificance of him being a rookie. Even though Fargas has the skills to be a number one guy one day, Oakland will let their running game live or die on Wheatley's shoulders. But do not worry "super-fly" fans, Fargas will still have plenty to work for in training camp.

Newest addition with the biggest impact potential: Tatum Bell (RB) Denver Broncos

It would be a very tall order to expect Bell to live up to the legacy that Terrell Davis, Olandis Gary, and Clinton Portis have left behind. Unfortunately for him, that is what the fans have come to expect. Considering the size of Griffin and the age of Garner, most fans are expecting Bell to win out. Oklahoma State University was known for the dynamic play of Rashaun Woods, but it was the rushing attack that made their offense one of the best. Bell is good enough to transcend his success to the next level.

On the hottest seat: Mike Anderson (FB) Denver Broncos

Four short years ago, Anderson was looking to be the next coming of Olandis Gary and Terrell Davis. In his first year, he rushed for almost 1,500 yards. Since then, he has declined every year to pulling off a whopping 257 yards last season. Some of the decline is somewhat understandable with the position change and the emergence of Clinton Portis, but Anderson's poor play has been the majority of his downfall. To add insult to injury, he has let his substance abuse get the better of him of late. Anderson is soon becoming more of a detriment, and the memory of his miraculous rookie season has almost been long forgotten.

El numero uno: LaDainian Tomlinson (RB) San Diego Chargers

Some are asking why not Priest Holmes? The decision was not an easy one by any means, and even though Priest Holmes is probably the top fantasy pick, Tomlinson is the best running back in the NFL. Tomlinson has the ability to be either a 2,000 yard rusher, or have a 1,000 yard rushing and 1,000 yard receiving season in any given year. All he needs is the touches and Tomlinson will put up the record breaking numbers. Considering he has been the Chargers only offensive threat, his accomplishments are that much more mind boggling.

RANKING THE SKILLS

Best blocker: Lorenzo Neal (FB) San Diego Chargers

Neal knows what it is like to play for struggling teams. Before helping LaDainian Tomlinson, he was bulldozing linebackers for Corey Dillon. The Chargers need to take advantage of his skills while he still has gas in the tank.

Best in between the tackles: Priest Holmes (RB) Kansas City Chiefs

Twenty seven touchdowns means something. It means even more when the longest run from scrimmage is 31 yards. Is there a better short yardage runner in the NFL? One can certainly make an argument that there is not.

Best runner in the open field: LaDainian Tomlinson (RB) San Diego Chargers

When Tomlinson gets in the open field there is very little opposing defenses can do. Tomlinson is always a threat for the big play and he is also no stranger to the 70 yard run.

Hardest to tackle: Priest Holmes (RB) Kansas City Chiefs

Arm tackling will just not cut it. Holmes creates headaches for middle linebackers and defensive lineman every time he touches the ball, and it generally takes "tacklers by committee" to bring him down.

Best catching out of the backfield: LaDainian Tomlinson (RB) San Diego Chargers

What more can be said about this guy? Tomlinson is the first running back ever to catch 100 passes and rush for more than 1,000 yards in the same season (let alone 1,600 yards). Tomlinson also had games of 144 and 148 yards receiving.

RANKING THE TEAMS

1. San Diego Chargers: The bolts have the best running back and the best full back in the division. If they had a more consistent offensive line and a better passing game, their rushing attack would be one for the ages.

2. Kansas City Chiefs: Not only do the Chiefs have one of the top five running backs in football, they have a big-time talent waiting behind him. The Chiefs have to find a way to get Larry Johnson in the backfield. If they can pull this off, watch out.

3. Denver Broncos: Sure, Clinton Portis is not around anymore. But the Broncos have a interesting crop to choose from. Will Tatum Bell be the next Bronco great? Is Griffin too small to be an every day player? Can lightning strike again for Charlie Garner? One of these questions is bound to have a satisfactory answer for Denver.

4. Oakland Raiders: Fargas is the back of the future, and Oakland might as well take their lumps next season. Oakland would be better off in the long run if they did, because Wheatley has never proved he can carry a full load.

ALL AFC West Team: Running backs

RB - LaDainian Tomlinson - San Diego Chargers
RB - Priest Holmes - Kansas City Chiefs
FB - Lorenzo Neal - San Diego Chargers
FB - Tony Richardson - Kansas City Chiefs

Next in line, Quarterbacks ...

Byran Martin can be reached at Byran@sandiegosports.net

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