Breaking down running back situation of the Jets for 2017
By Paul Newbold
Since the New York Jets have a big question mark at the quarterback position, here’s a breakdown of their running back situation heading into next season.
Looking at the running back situation as it stands today for the New York Jets, many fans have found it lacking. Yet others in the fanbase, are excited to see Bilal Powell featured in the backfield this upcoming season. Last season, the Jets featured ten-year veteran Matt Forte. He will be 32 years old by season’s end and Powell turned 27 last month.
Because of the age of the starting duo for the team, many fans have been talking replacing at least one of them in the 2017 NFL Draft. The name of LSU product Leonard Fournette continues to be connected to the Jets with the sixth overall pick this year. Others have suggested Christian McCaffery or Dalvin Cook might be able to fill the role.
There is, of course, those fans that argue the team has more pressing needs, and don’t care for drafting a running back early or even one at all. This group sees Powell as an underused weapon in the Jets offense. The belief is given the bulk of the load, Powell will have a breakout year. The same group sees Forte as an adequate backup, who can still produce when he’s called upon.
For his part, Forte produced 813 yards on 218 attempts on the ground, which was good for a 3.7-yard average. Through the air, Forte caught 30 passes for 263 yards. He produced over a thousand yards of offense for the team while scoring eight touchdowns in 14 games in 2016. Forte will return to the team in 2017 to compete for his role in the offense.
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Powell, on the other hand, has spent his entire career as a backup running back for the Jets. He is a talented player who has flashed a ton of talent, but under former offense coordinator Chan Gailey, his opportunities were limited. In 2016, Powell totaled 722 yards on 131 attempts, which was good for a 5.5-yard average.
Showing off his versatility, Powell snatched 58 passes which he turned into 388 yards and a 6.7 yard average per catch. Powell finished the season with over a thousand yards of combined offense and five touchdowns.
Together, the duo provided the offense with over 2,000 yards of combined offense and 13 touchdowns. Behind a much maligned offensive line, and considering the lack of offense in 2016, those numbers made up a big chunk of the team’s production in 2016.
Yet, there is more to the Jets running back corps that few have even mentioned. As of today, the team currently has three other running backs under contract. The names may not be of the household variety among Jets fans, but these three young men will be in camp to try and find a role for themselves. Let’s take a look at them.
Brandon Wilds was signed by the Jets after he was released by the Atlanta Falcons at final cuts. The Falcons signed him as an undrafted free agent following the 2016 NFL Draft. Wilds participated in the preseason, before being cut and spending the majority of 2016 on the Jets practice squad.
Wilds possesses 4.56 speed in the forty yard dash and measures out at 6’1″/220 pounds. He is an interesting prospect as he possesses adequate size for an NFL running back.
Wilds takes on would-be tacklers well and can accelerate quickly in the open field. The downside of his game is a history of minor college injuries and lack of experience as a blocking back. He shows a good set of hands, but his routes needed considerable work coming out of college.
He has potential, look for development from him this summer. Here’s a clip below of Wilds with the Falcons last summer.
Along with Wilds, the Jets brought in Brandon Burks in last season. Burks came to the team after the Green Bay Packers released him from their practice squad in November. Burks was signed by the Packers as an undrafted free agent following last year’s draft. Burks is an undersized running back by NFL standards, measuring in at just 5’9″ and weighing out as just over 207 pounds.
The young 23-year-old possesses 4.56 speed and displays good field vision with the ball in his hands. Burks played his college ball at Troy and showed glimpses of talent, before having a solid senior season. Burks is a long shot to have any impact on the team’s offense this season, but if he can find a way to contribute on special teams, he’ll have a small chance of making the roster. Here’s a clip of Burks with Green Bay last season.
Finally, the other back the Jets possess is Romar Morris. He happens to be the fastest running back the Jets have on the roster. He’s an undersized running back for the NFL, but his 4.36 speed might make up for some of his lack of size. Morris stands at 5’9″ but is listed at just 188 pounds on the team’s roster.
Undersized and fast, Morris’ opportunity to stick with the team in 2017 likely comes down to special teams play. Given the opportunity, Morris may become the returner the Jets have been looking to find for a long time. He has capable hands and with his speed, could be exciting to watch. Here’s a short highlight clip of Morris.
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The running back position will be crucial for the Jets offense this season. It’s highly likely the team will be led by a young quarterback at some point in 2017. A young quarterback’s best friends are his offensive linemen and his running backs. A dependable running game keeps defenses honest and slows the pass rush. Let the competitions begin.