A look at the running back situation of the Jets for 2017

Dec 5, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets running back Matt Forte (22) runs with the ball during the first half against the Indianapolis Colts at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 5, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets running back Matt Forte (22) runs with the ball during the first half against the Indianapolis Colts at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports /

As the New York Jets have a lot of tough decisions to make this offseason, here’s a look at their current running back situation so far and what makes sense for next season.

The New York Jets featured Matt Forte and to some degree Bilal Powell in 2016. The results were mixed, and the discussion this offseason has focused on what the running back situation might be for the 2017 season. The position will be addressed in one matter or another, that is pretty clear. How the Jets choose to do it, has become a hot topic with Jet fans.

Forte came over from a long successful career with the Chicago Bears. The veteran running back was supposed to be the answer at the position, as the team signed him to a three-year, twelve million dollar contract. His first year wasn’t spectacular for the aging veteran.  Forte made a base salary of a million dollars for his efforts last season, but his salary is about to jump to four million in 2017.

Forte will be 32 years old in 2017 and many have begun to question his worth as a featured back. In 2016, Forte managed 813 yards on the ground on 218 attempts, putting his average at 3.7 per carry. His yardage total and yardage per carry were the lowest of his career, a sign that Forte’s best years might be behind him. Through the air Forte also hit career lows, on 40 targets, Forte posted  263 yards and crossed the goal line just once. Injuries also slowed the veteran, limiting him to thirteen games in 2015 and fourteen games in 2016. The writing is on the wall and the Jets need to be looking for a replacement sooner than later.

Powell has quietly aged with the Jets, in 2017 he will be 29 years old and his durability has been questioned throughout his career.  Powell is a fan favorite, with many calling for him to become the featured back in 2017. The Jets chose to sign him to a three-year deal in 2016 worth a little more than eleven million dollars. He’s due a base salary of $3,750,000 dollars in 2017.

While Powell has had his flashes that have won over many Jet fans, his career with the team isn’t one that is anything that is near a featured back. In 2016, he produced 722 yards on the ground and added another 388 yards through the air.  For Powell, it was his first combined 1,000-yard season of his career. Unfortunately for Powell, that likely isn’t enough to win him the starting job in 2017.

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Beyond Powell and Forte, the Jets have several youngsters that they’ll need to evaluate as they rebuild the offense.  Brandon Wilds is a 6’2″, 220-pound rookie running back that went undrafted in the 2016 NFL Draft.  He spent time with both the Atlanta Falcons and the Jets in 2016.  In four games for the Jets, Wilds put up 27 yards on ten attempts on the ground and 20 yards on two receptions in the passing game.

Romar Morris is another rookie the Jets had on the roster last season. Morris measures in at 5’9″ and tips the scales at 190 pounds. He turned in a 4.3 forty yard dash time at his North Carolina pro day. He was cut during camp last summer but ended the season on the Jets roster. He’ll be looking to use his speed and agility on special teams in 2017.

The third rookie on the roster is Brandon Burks out of Troy University. Burks was signed to the Jets practice squad late in the 2016 season. He was promoted to the active roster on December 28th. Burks also spent time on the Green Bay Packers practice squad before being released. Burks stands 5’9″ and weighs 208 pounds.

It appears there is a need for an upgrade at the position for 2017 and it comes at a good time for the Jets. There is a long list of running backs that could hit the free agent market this year. Of course, there is also a highly touted draft class as well. The free agency market isn’t particularly strong, so I’d look for the Jets to look at the draft.

With a solid running game, there will be less pressure on whomever the Jets start at quarterback. Forte is aging and he’s coming off a career low season. Powell while still productive has questions to his durability and his ability to be a three-down back. The Jets have some decisions to make, but I’m expecting them to look to the draft to get younger.

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Many mock drafts are connecting the team to first round talent Leonard Fournette. While Fournette is a dynamic talent, first round running backs make me nervous. At No. 6, the Jets could be stretching. There is a deep class of talent in this year’s draft.  The Jets might want to wait and see how the names fall. I personally like Alvin Kamara out of Tennessee in the second round for the Jets. There will be plenty of talent worth their attention into the third round.  It promises to be an interesting watch as the offseason gets underway.