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Breaking down the Jets running backs ahead of training camp

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - SEPTEMBER 24: Bilal Powell #29 of the New York Jets runs the ball against the Miami Dolphins during the first half of an NFL game at MetLife Stadium on September 24, 2017 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - SEPTEMBER 24: Bilal Powell #29 of the New York Jets runs the ball against the Miami Dolphins during the first half of an NFL game at MetLife Stadium on September 24, 2017 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
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The New York Jets will be looking for a little more consistency in their rushing attack going into 2018. That consistency begins with the team’s running backs and the Jets hope that their offseason acquisitions will help guide the team to more success on the ground.

The New York Jets 2018 running back committee is primed to be a blend of the old and the new. Multiple fresh faces have been acquired by the team via free agency and the draft to join forces with the already present members of last year’s Jets roster.

While there are no superstars among the bunch, each running back possesses a unique skillset and excels in different aspects of the game. The Jets are hoping that this combination of different styles and attributes will transition well when it comes to actual competitive games but for now, each player is just trying to earn every snap they can.

Gang Green currently has five running backs under contract, but it’s highly unlikely that all five will make the 53-man roster. Out of the five members of the backfield, only two are returning members of the team so there will certainly be plenty of change to become accustomed to this year. Let’s take a quick look at each of these five players.

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The elder statesman of the Jets backfield is without a doubt none other than Bilal Powell. Powell is now the longest-tenured player on the entire team and will be 30-years old once October rolls around. As crazy as that seems, it’s even crazier to think that Powell now ranks 11th in career rushing yards with the Jets. He will all but assuredly leap into the top-10 once this season begins and solidify his place in Jets history.

Powell has been the model of consistency since joining the team as a 4th-round selection back in 2011. Out of players with at least 600 career attempts, Powell’s 4.4 yards per carry ranks behind only Jets legend Freeman McNeil as New York’s most efficient ball carrier.

On top of that, Powell’s uncanny ability to hold onto the football has led to the team’s increased faith in him. Out of the 20 players with at least 350 career rushes with the team, Powell has the fewest fumbles (tied with Thomas Jones) of the entire group. With just six career fumbles on 711 attempts, his 118.5 rushes per fumble ratio rank well above essentially any Jets player not named Curtis Martin.

What does all of this mean? It means that Bilal Powell has had a pretty darn good career and when all is set and done, Powell might very well go down as one of the most underrated and underutilized Jets of all time.

Despite his age, Powell still has more mileage than most NFL running backs with similar experience under their belts and one should expect him to perform at his usual level, provided he stays healthy.

Injuries have nagged Powell his entire career and have ultimately taken away his chances of being an every-down back in the NFL. Still, with a solid supporting cast and enough offensive snaps, there’s no reason to suspect that Powell’s 2018 campaign will be any different than his previous seasons.

One player Jets fans will be eager to see in action is the newly acquired Isaiah Crowell. Crowell was signed away from the Cleveland Browns in free agency this offseason and the 25-year old is ready to make an impact from day one.

Crowell is a bruising tailback whose skills complemented backfield mate Duke Johnson’s very nicely during his time in Cleveland. The Jets are likely hoping that they could recreate a similar dynamic between him and Powell.

Behind a strong offensive line, Crowell enjoyed major success back in 2016 when he rushed for a career-high 952 yards and seven touchdowns all while managing a spectacular 4.8 yards per carry.

However, the Alabama State product’s production slowed down last season when he rushed for 853 yards and two touchdowns while his average yards per carry dropped to just 4.1. Although his total carries actually increased, Crowell ultimately lost some of his snaps to Johnson who was given an increased role in the offense, primarily in the passing game.

If Crowell can return to the 2016 form of himself, the Jets could have a dangerous duo on their hands. However, the drop off in offensive line talent from the Browns to the Jets is pretty steep so the big boys up front will have to do a better job at getting a push this year if Crowell is going to find similar success in the Big Apple.

Aside from Powell, the Jets also return second-year running back Elijah McGuire to the fold. McGuire showed flashes as a rookie including a breakout performance at home against Jacksonville in which the rookie rushed for 93 yards, including a long 69-yard touchdown.

He also showed that he could contribute a little in the passing game as the now 24-year old totaled 48 yards and a score in the air during a Week 14 loss to the New Orleans Saints. McGuire still must get better as a blocker, however, before the Jets thrust him into passing downs on a consistent basis.

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Overall, the Lousiana-Lafayette product exceeded expectations as a rookie but his inconsistency has held him back to this point. 2018 will be a critical season in the development of McGuire as a player and he will have to earn his snaps as training camp begins and transitions into the preseason.

Crowell wasn’t the only acquisition the Jets made during the free agent period as the team opted to bring in former Seattle Seahawk Thomas Rawls to compete for playing time in a crowded backfield. Rawls made the most of the opportunity he was given as an undrafted rookie back in 2015 rushing for 830 yards and averaging a stellar 5.6 yards per attempt.

However, since that season, Rawls career has plunged into a downward spiral at a rapid rate. His physical, bruising rushing style that he had become known for had taken its toll and the Central Michigan product failed to stay healthy during the 2016 and 2017 seasons.

Once thought to be the successor to Marshawn Lynch in Seattle, Rawls saw his playing time diminished and he averaged a career-low 2.7 yards per carry behind a poor Seahawks offensive line in 2017.

At this stage, Rawls may be on the outside looking in and he will have to do everything he can over the next couple months to earn his roster spot, but it won’t be easy. If he can stay healthy, there’s a chance that the 24-year old sneaks his way on to the roster but unfortunately, his playing style may ultimately be too similar to that of Crowell to justify keeping him.

However, if Rawls does exceed expectations, there’s a chance that he could challenge rookie 6th-round selection Trenton Cannon for a roster spot. For the second consecutive season, the Jets opted to select a running back in the 6th round, albeit this time with a vastly different skillset.

Cannon has the type of blazing speed that can’t be taught. When the 23-year old gets going, he has the ability to accelerate quickly and burst past defenders as if he had been shot out of, well, a cannon.

He also has the dynamic qualities to be a presence in the return game, something the Jets have been desperately in need of for a number of years now. Coming out of NCAA Division II Virginia State, Cannon is a raw talent but he might be able to prove his value to the team if deployed properly.

While he may not be much of a presence early on in the backfield, Cannon will look to solidify his roster spot as a special teamer before transitioning more into the offense if his development goes according to plan. But if Cannon’s playmaking ability doesn’t transition well to the NFL, Cannon could very well find himself on the team’s practice squad come September, or worse, without a job.

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It will certainly be interesting to see the dynamic between these five talented players unfold as the weeks go on and training camp gets underway. With three players with established seasons under their belts and two young players with promise, there’s no shortage of potential.

All the Jets need now is for a player or two to step up and, literally and figuratively, take the ball and run with it.

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