The New York Jets have a hidden gem in their backfield and would be wise to actually feature it in the future. Running back Bilal Powell should be given many more opportunities in 2017, especially to start.
For years, the backfield of the New York Jets has been a major problem. They never really claimed that true “star” back, always trying new runners out but most being deemed unsuccessful. Finally, this past offseason, the Jets signed two-time Pro Bowler, Matt Forte, after the Chicago Bears chose not to extend his contract.
Forte was off to a fantastic year, on pace for over 1,000 yards for the season. However, Forte was knocked out of this past Sunday’s game early, which paved the way for Bilal Powell. He ran wild for career-highs of 2carriesrs for 145 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winning 19-yard bolt in overtime to defeat the San Francisco 49ers 23-17. He also hauled in five catches for 34 yards in the game.
Powell has always had an all-around skill, one of the few runners in the league with the ability to catch the ball, as well. David Johnson and Le’Veon Bell have made their careers off this asset, and Powell had the capability to do so when given the chance. However, there lies the problem: his opportunities have been completely limited, and he has yet to be a true starter for the team. In 2011, his rookie season, he was the third back behind
However, there lies the problem: his opportunities have been completely limited, and he has yet to be a true starter for the team. In 2011, his rookie season, he was the third back behind Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson. In 2012, he moved up to backup behind just Greene, with promise to take over the lead back in 2013. But once again, the Jets signed another free agent in Chris Ivory, who claimed the starting job for two seasons, before Forte took over this year.
The Jets drafted Powell in the fourth round of the 2011 NFL Draft. While overshadowed by an incredible draft class that included Von Miller, Cam Newton, and A.J. Green, Powell has slowly developed into an offensive force and was definitely underrated out of college. He played football for Louisville, where he had the second most rushing yards and the most touchdowns from scrimmage in the Big East for his Senior year in 2010. His speed and versatility make him one of the most overlooked runners in the league.
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What separates Powell from many players in today’s NFL is his consistent work ethic and smart decisions off the field. When asked about the young Powell, head coach Todd Bowles had only positive things to say. “His work ethic,” Bowles said, per Daniel Popper of the Daily News. “He’s always the same every day. You know what you’re getting out of the guy. He’s going to put in a hard day’s work. And he’s going to bust his butt no matter whether he’s playing special teams or offense or anything else. He just loves to play the game, and that’s rare. He kind of has an old soul, (like) an old-school player. But he’s very much a modern-day player.”
One major problem that Powell has faced, which results from deficiencies in the rest of the team, is the Jets’ inability to stay ahead or tied in games; they fall behind way too early into games. Other runners in the league, like Carlos Hyde of the 49ers and Isaiah Crowell of the Cleveland Browns, face the same problem, which leads to a more pass-heavy approach and lesser reps for running backs.
With a 4-9 record, the final three games of this lost season are about preparing for the future. Whether Forte’s injury is serious is yet to be determined, but the Jets will need to figure out soon how to handle the Forte-Powell rotation next year, with both players under contract for the 2017 season. Powell turned 28 in October, while Forte turned 31 on Saturday, so maybe some young fresh legs out of the backfield could be just the right recipe for success for the Jets’ future.