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Grading the 2017 running back situation

SANTA CLARA, CA - DECEMBER 11: Bilal Powell #29 of the New York Jets rushes for a 19-yard touchdown to beat the San Francisco 49ers 23-17 in overtime of their NFL game at Levi's Stadium on December 11, 2016 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CA - DECEMBER 11: Bilal Powell #29 of the New York Jets rushes for a 19-yard touchdown to beat the San Francisco 49ers 23-17 in overtime of their NFL game at Levi's Stadium on December 11, 2016 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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General manager Mike Maccagnan of the New York Jets has one unit to be proud of on the offensive side of the ball. That unit would be the backfield.

The New York Jets are in line to be one of the worst teams in the league and it’s not hard to see why. The quarterback situation, per usual, is an accident waiting to happen. Veteran Josh McCown is made of glass while Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg have ways to go before taking the reigns of a franchise. Another face is destined to join this bunch when the 2018 NFL Draft hits. As a result, Gang Green’s running backs will be doing most of the heavy lifting in 2017.

Matt Forte and Bilal Powell are certainly the two for the job. Forte is 31 and he may be viewed by some as trade bait, but he’s a problem for any defense as long as he stays healthy. New offensive coordinator John Morton needs to make sure this happens.

The All-Pro finished 2016 with 813 rushing yards and seven touchdowns on 3.7 yards per clip. He also caught 30 passes for 263 yards and a touchdown. He’s obviously out of his prime, however, those numbers are respectable since Powell puts up decent ones himself.

Powell concluded last season with 722 yards and three touchdowns on 5.5 yards per carry. On the receiving end, he had 388 yards and two touchdowns. Since Forte’s tank is emptying, Powell could take the role as the lead back in 2017. Forte may be used more on third down. Regardless of how Morton utilizes the duo, they’re undisputedly the heart and soul of the offense. You won’t find many versatile one-two punches like them across the NFL.

The wildcard here is rookie Elijah McGuire. The sixth-rounder played his college ball at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette where he finished second all-time in rushing yards and fourth all-time in rushing touchdowns. In his four-year career, he totaled 4,312 yards and 42 touchdowns on the ground. Through the air, he racked up 1,383 yards and 10 touchdowns.

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What makes McGuire even more intriguing is his ability as a return man. He didn’t make much of an impact on special teams in his freshman campaign, but he did return three kicks for 46 yards.

In the next three seasons, he was used strictly as a punt returner, accumulating 227 yards on 29 returns. McGuire isn’t the only return man in New York’s backfield. Jordan Todman has strung together quite the resume on special teams.

He has a total of 2,262 kick return yards and one touchdown in five years. In 2012 and 2015, he was deep on the depth chart and had a mere 100 combined yards on five returns. This means he had 2,162 yards in only three seasons on 80 returns. If general manager Mike Maccagnan chooses not to keep McGuire, Todman is clearly the guy to keep.

Romar Morris, Brandon Wilds, Julian Howsare and Anthony Firkser round out the rest of the group. Morris and Wilds are practice squad backs while Howsare and Firkser are competing for the fullback job. Morton’s value of the fullback position gives the Jets’ offense a new feature and allows one less roster spot to go to waste.

All in all, Gang Green should be proud of their backfield. They’ll need it big time in the fall.

Grade: A-

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