Where the NFL's running back battles stand: AFC

  • By Gregg Rosenthal
  • Updated: June 17, 2013 at 10:31 p.m.

Last Friday, we ran down where things stood among the NFL's quarterback battles following "football in shorts" season. Now let's move on to the running backs:

Buffalo Bills: This isn't exactly a battle, but coach Doug Marrone made it clear that C.J. Spiller would be a clear No. 1 back over Fred Jackson. Spiller will no longer come off the field in the red zone. There is an expectation that Marrone will run the ball plenty, so it sure sounds like Spiller's usage will go up.

Cincinnati Bengals: Even though we expect him to be a difference maker, rookie Giovani Bernard should have a complementary role behind starter BenJarvus Green-Ellis.

Denver Broncos: With Willis McGahee gone, it's a three-way battle between Ronnie Hillman, rookie Monte Ball and veteran Knowshon Moreno. A local Denver paper suggested Hillman is the favorite to be a Week 1 starter, but that's hard to imagine. He is a classic third-down back; executive John Elway has said as much. Ball should be the guy, with Moreno hanging around if things go poorly for the rookie.

Indianapolis Colts: Ahmad Bradshaw still might be in a walking boot, but The Indianapolis Star projects him as the team's starter over Vick Ballard. We're not sure the starter designation will matter much. It would be a surprise if either back topped 200 carries.

Miami Dolphins: Second-year pro Lamar Miller might not even truly have to compete for the starting job. Miller, one of Wesseling's favorite breakout picks, looks like the clear leader over Daniel Thomas for the starting job. Thomas currently is working ahead of rookie Mike Gillislee.

New England Patriots: New pickup LeGarrette Blount reportedly did not impress during offseason work. If everyone stays healthy, Blount could have a tough time making the team with Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, Leon Washington and possibly Branden Bolden ahead of Blount.

New York Jets: Running backs are much easier to evaluate when pads come on, but we didn't hear anything to dispute the line of thinking that offseason acquisition Chris Ivory will step into a top role. Bilal Powell could challenge Mike Goodson for the third-down back role. Fourth-stringer Joe McKnight, meanwhile, only is talking to the media on designated days. We'll miss the Rex Ryan era.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Rookie Le'Veon Bell is the favorite to start, but coach Mike Tomlin doesn't like handing jobs to rookies. It's believed that Isaac Redman is ahead of Jonathan Dwyer among returning backs. LaRod Stephens-Howling and Baron Batch also are trying to make the team.

Bell has a good chance to rack up touches as a rookie, but he has to prove he can pass protect in training camp.

San Diego Chargers: This isn't a battle as much as a situation. The Chargers want Ryan Mathews to take a step forward this season, but he's going to have far fewer snaps even when he's healthy. Danny Woodhead fully is expected to take over third-down duties after a standout offseason. Mathews has struggled in pass protection.