New York Jets: Evaluating the running back position


The old saying goes, if it ain’t broke, then don’t fix it. Most teams wouldn’t consider changing around a unit, such as the New York Jets’ running back corps, which ranked third in the NFL last season in yards per game (142.4), but Gang Green is in a unique situation. This team features a revamped coaching staff, headed by new head coach Todd Bowles, so anything really goes this offseason.

New general manager Mike Maccagnan told Boomer and Carton of WFAN 660 on Thursday that he wants to “make every position competitive here.” While he was referring to the quarterback position, specifically in regards to Geno Smith, the running back position among everything will be in the conversation for change this offseason. In 2014, New York’s backfield featured two main rushers, Chris Ivory and Chris Johnson, who had a combined 353 rushing attempts. No matter who is in the backfield next season, don’t expect that two-back system to fade.

With regards to the team’s success running the ball, obviously there are some discrepancies as far as how the team looked. The one area that can’t be overlooked is the fact that both Ivory and Johnson averaged over four yards per carry this past season, 4.1 and 4.3, respectively. Conversely, the Jets only had three games in 2014 where a running back recorded over 100 yards. The fact that the Jets had two mobile quarterbacks playing behind center definitely inflated some of the team’s rushing numbers though. Both Michael Vick and Geno Smith averaged over four yards per carry last season, 5.9 and 4.0, respectively.

The good news for the Jets is that they don’t owe Ivory or Johnson that much next season, which will be a contract year for both players. Ivory, 26, has made a solid impact for New York since coming over from the Saints in 2013, but he is still in need of a partner that can compliment him. Johnson is 29 years old, and while he does still show his home-run ability at times, it isn’t as frequent as his younger days with the Tennessee Titans. Typically, a running back starts their decline at around 30 years old, which Johnson is closing in on quickly, as he’s 29.

The Jets should begin to search for a replacement for Johnson because the fact of the matter is that he only recorded two touchdowns in 2014, one rushing and another receiving. His best days are certainly behind him, and Ivory is entering the prime of his career. While he won’t put up DeMarco Murray or LeSean McCoy’s numbers, he’s a physical runner, who can get the tough yards on third down if there is a capable speed back in the system.

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Free agent targets

2015 appears to be a very solid year to pick up a running back in free agency, which bodes well for various teams, including the Jets. Names like DeMarco Murray, Mark Ingram, and Justin Forsett will be house-hold names if they aren’t re-signed by their respective teams. Two players that I’d seriously have to consider if I’m New York though are C.J. Spiller and Knowshon Moreno. Both men won’t require Gang Green to shell out a great deal of money to obtain them, as they didn’t see much of the field in 2014 due to injuries.

Spiller and Moreno have both had a history of being injured somewhat frequently, but if guys like Murray and Ingram aren’t available or are too costly, then it’s a solid risk-reward scenario for the Jets to take a chance on one of them. In 2013, Moreno had the best season of his career while in Denver, totaling 1,038 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground.

Statistically speaking, Spiller’s best year came in 2012, when he had 1,244 yards and six touchdowns. Again, the biggest thing about these guys is keeping them healthy, which coming to New York could potentially do. Having a complimentary back like Chris Ivory, who can take punishment throughout the course of a season, can keep Spiller or Moreno available for the long haul.

The biggest assets that either player would bring to the Jets though is their speed and elusiveness. Coming out of the college, Spiller recorded a 4.37 40 yard dash. While Moreno’s 4.5 wasn’t nearly as impressive, he’s much more elusive and looks much faster on the field than his combine times displayed. Obviously New York will have various areas to tackle this offseason, highlighted by quarterback and defensive back, but make no mistake, their will be competition within the entire roster, so don’t be surprised if the Jets do add another running back into the fold.

Next: New York Jets need to be active in free agency