What Running Back Will Emerge in 2012?


With a return to the ground and pound offense the New York Jets need to find a star in their crowded backfield. While handing off early and often can help to win games, a game changing back is what teams who utilize this philosophy need to posses to win consistently. Without a clear cut star Jets fans are left with the question of who will be the breakout running back in 2012?

My answer to this question is Joe McKnight, the shifty back drafted out of USC in 2010. So far throughout his NFL career McKnight has had a minimal impact on the offense, getting a few touches a game and contributing when asked.  The lack of production from McKnight is due to a variety of reasons, from a lack of conditioning, to limited understanding of the playbook under old offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.

With a new simpler offensive system and no holdout this season McKnight should have no issues understanding the new playbook. While his strength and conditioning has vastly improved from his first two seasons, no one should expect this small statured back to be a force up the middle. McKnight has game breaking speed and can give defenses headaches in the open field when he gets up to speed. Hopefully the new offense features enough misdirection and stretch plays to get him out on the edge of the defense where he has the ability to consistently bust big plays.

After becoming a First Team All-Pro in 2011 as a kick returner the speedy McKnight is poised to contribute more on offense in the upcoming season. He has increased his weight by roughly ten pounds which can help him take the pounding significant carries in a run first system can inflict on a running back. The absence of screen plays in Brian Schottenheimer’s offense always baffled me, but if McKnight can catch passes out of the backfield on screens, he can add another dimension to the offense and help take pressure off of Mark Sanchez and the passing game. Nothing makes a quarterback happier than a 50 yard touchdown pass on a 3 yard screen, and if Tony Sparano can add a few of these to the mix nobody would be happier than Sanchez himself.

While nobody yet knows the role the Jets have for Joe McKnight I would speculate that he will have a much larger role than in previous seasons. McKnight should have no problem getting 8-10 carries a game and a handful of catches if he remains healthy throughout the preseason. Should he get hot during the season Tony Sparano will not hesitate to stick with him, hoping his increased weight and stronger frame can take the abuse NFL defenses will be trying to inflict. Overall I feel McKnight will be the biggest surprise for the Jets in 2012 and could be a late blooming star just as running back Darren McFadden has become for the Oakland Raiders.

Joe McKnight 2012 Offensive Predictions

135 Carries

650 Yards Rushing

40 Receptions

375 Yards Receiving