Of the 16 teams in the AFC, every one has at least one back capable of 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns. Do the math. That means every owner in an eight-team, AFC-only league could have a pair of solid backs.
The AFC West boasts the most running back talent, as LaDainian Tomlinson finished second in the 2002 rushing race with 1,683 yards, Clinton Portis won Offensive Rookie of the Year, Priest Holmes led the league with 24 touchdowns, and Charlie Garner led all running backs with 91 receptions.
Not only will Tomlinson, Portis, and Holmes (if healthy) fight each other for the division crown, they will be neck-and-neck in the rushing race as well.
Charlie doesn’t garner enough carries to challenge for a rushing title, but he could become the first back to join the 1,000-1,000 Club since Faulk did it in 1999. Garner closed the 2002 regular season with 962 on the ground and 941 through the air.
The AFC South probably falls in line behind the West because of the explosive Fred Taylor and the versatile Edgerrin James. Both are susceptible to injury, but both have 1,500-rushing yard, 15-touchdown potential. If you sleep on Edge this summer, he will keep you awake at night all fall. That's a promise.
(I don't know what I'm more psyched about: watching the real Edge work the gridiron or Lisa Guerrero work the sidelines for "Monday Night Football." Guerrero is in a different league than Melissa Stark, who never could overcome those man hands.)
Of course, you also have Eddie George, who hasn’t missed a game since…um, never. George goes for his eighth 1,000-yard season in nine tries. Then there’s Stacey Mack of the Texans, who desperately need to run the ball to take pressure of battered quarterback David Carr. Mack scored 19 touchdowns over the past two seasons and he’s hungry to gain a grand for the first time.
It could be argued that the AFC East is a better running back division that the South, as it has three backs who could lead the league in rushing.
I know he once wore a wedding dress that was more befitting of a queen, but Ricky is the reigning rushing king. And if Wannstedt’s quotes are to be believed, Ricky may be the favorite entering 2003.
Travis Henry should top last year’s stellar total of 1,438 yards because the Bills want to run more. And when you consider Emmitt Smith led the league with 1,486 yards back in 1993, Henry is a legitimate contender.
Curtis Martin struggled through ankle injuries last season, but he is one year removed from battling Holmes for the rushing title all the way to the second half of the last game.
Antowain Smith has proven he’s capable of 1,000 yards and 10 scores, and he may surprise us with a spirited effort this season. However, not since The Fridge has the NFL seen a player who cares less about conditioning than Smith. If the Pats had a can’t-miss back, the East would be right there with the West.
Though the AFC Central brings up the rear, it still sports plenty of running back talent. In fact, the AFC Central would be the top running back division in the NFC.
Corey Dillon has reached double digits in touchdowns just twice in seven seasons, but he has safely topped the 1,000-yard mark each year. Plus, he hasn’t dipped below 1,300 rushing yards since the 90s.
One of the more underrated backs in the league is Jamal Lewis, who already has a pair of 1,300-yard seasons under his belt. Don’t be surprised if Lewis adds touchdowns to his bottom line this season. His head is on straight, his body is in great shape, and he is Baltimore’s offense.
William Green, who reportedly has caught everything thrown to him this offseason, is a stud in the making. Despite rushing for only 161 yards in the first nine games last year, Green finished his rookie campaign with 887 yards. He has the look of a 1,200-yard, 10-touchdown player.
The Steelers are the only AFC team with a question mark at halfback, as future Hall of Famer Jerome Bettis and Amos Zereoue figure to platoon this season. But that doesn’t mean each player can’t help fantasy owners, as The Bus tallied nine scores last year while Z compiled 1,103 total yards.
I know what you’re thinking. With over a dozen solid backs from the AFC alone, you’re considering a new draft/auction philosophy that prioritizes wide receivers.
Fantasy football always has been and always will be all about the backs. And when in doubt, pick one from the AFC, where 1,000-yard rushers grow on trees.
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