AFC West Report: Quest for 7,000 yards?

There have been several teams in NFL history that fielded "dynamic duos" at running back. From Larry Csonka and Jim Kiick to Marcus Allen and Bo Jackson, the dreaded "two headed monster" seems to appear every now and again.

There's no one team like that in the AFC West this year, but there are four good, if not excellent, running backs that should get the bulk of the carries for their respective teams. If everything falls into place, we could see record-shattering rushing totals within the division in 2006.

To my knowledge, the total rushing yards amassed between the premiere running backs of any particular division has never been documented as a whole. After this season, that may change. The four running backs atop their respective depth charts in the AFC West have a chance to run into history. Barring injury, Larry Johnson, LaDainian Tomlinson, LaMont Jordan and Tatum Bell have a good chance to rush for a combined 7,000 yards. If records are kept on such a thing, they will likely shatter those records, or at the very least set a new one.

When it comes to the Chiefs, it's pretty simple. It's all about Johnson. After Priest Holmes' season ended prematurely due to a neck injury, Johnson got his chance to prove himself as a full-time player. The third-year back out of Penn State started only nine games but managed to rush for 1,750 yards and averaged 5.2 yards per carry.

Even with the possible return of Holmes, Johnson will get the nod as the featured back. When the Chiefs offensive line is doing its' job, Johnson pounces on opposing defenses, running at will. Johnson rushed for more than 100 yards in every start last year, passing the 200-yard mark twice.

At 6'1" and 230 pounds, Johnson runs downhill, bowling over defenders in his path. Had he started every game last year, Johnson could have easily crushed Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record of 2,105 yards.

Johnson is not the only back in the AFC West with a chance to break Dickerson's record. San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson has a good shot. In five seasons, Tomlinson has 7,361 yards rushing and 72 touchdowns. Although he's fallen well over 400 yards short of Dickerson's record before, a special player like Tomlinson should never be counted out.

Tomlinson ended 2005 without a single 100-yard game in December. A lot of that had to do with San Diego's struggles during a failed attempt to make the playoffs. A lot of times he simply did not get enough carries. The formula for success should be an easy one for Marty Schottenheimer this year. Get the ball in Tomlinson's hands and the Chargers will win. There is every reason to believe that "LT" will get the touches this season and have a career year.

In Oakland, LaMont Jordan may be the best-kept secret among NFL running backs. Despite another horrible season for the Raiders in which their offense struggled with injuries and poor quarterback play, Jordan still managed to produce, rushing for 1,025 yards and catching passes for another 563. Those are pretty solid numbers considering how disappointing the rest of the offense was. Jordan should have a chance to improve on them in 2006.

Oakland's offensive line played below expectations in 2005, but that should change under new Head Coach Art Shell. Even with a new system, the line should be better after playing together for a year with Jordan.

With a new quarterback and hopefully a healthy receiving corps, holes could open up quite nicely for Jordan in 2006. If Oakland's offense can threaten downfield consistently and spread defenses out with multiple receiver sets, then Jordan should be able to improve on last year's 3.8 yards-per-carry average. Jordan averaged 5.15 yards a carry while with the Jets. If he can return to that form then he will do his part in the quest for 7,000 yards.

Denver lost Mike Anderson to free agency, so Tatum Bell will get a shot to be the star running back. Bell rushed for 921 yards on just 173 carries last year, and he has averaged 5.3 yards per carry in each of his first two seasons.

Bell has fresh legs and will run behind one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. The Broncos have been a running back factory and Bell is just another in a long line of backs to make Denver one of the most consistent rushing offenses of the modern era.

With Jake Plummer at quarterback, Bell will get plenty of carries. Plummer will only be asked to make plays when he has to. Bell should have every opportunity to get close to 300 carries. If Denver's line can continue to stay healthy, he has a good chance to run for 1,500 yards.

If all four running backs can stay healthy, the AFC West - which has been traditionally known for aerial fireworks - will get a new reputation as a bruising rushing division. Teams will get points through the air, but that will only make these running backs all the more dangerous. The AFC West Report will update the quest for 7,000 yards after every week this season.

Email your AFC West questions to steve@tailgateplayers.com
Last Week's Mail:
Dean, a Chargers fan, writes:
How does Drew Brees have two productive seasons in San Diego? Last year he led the entire AFC in interceptions. Not very productive, really. Good numbers vs. horrible teams, horrible numbers vs. good teams.

SM: Thanks for the email. Nice point on Brees. What made him productive were the comparisons to his statistics in previous years, especially considering how horrible the quarterback position was in San Diego. Even with the 15 interceptions, he still had close to a 65 percent completion mark and he passed for over 3,500 yards and 27 touchdowns. He had the 10th-best passer rating in the league, a lot better than most NFL teams, hardly a flop.

Even if his accomplishments still don't impress you, he did stand up for his job when A.J. Smith and Marty Schottenheimer were ready to dump him for Rivers before the 2004 season. If you remember, only a Rivers holdout gave him a chance. Two years ago he threw 27 touchdowns against seven interceptions. Tom Brady had 14 interceptions and Jake Delhomme had 15 interceptions last year. If you were to ask fans of New England or Carolina if they like their quarterback's production, I think many would say yes.

WarpaintIllustrated.com Top Stories