The New York Jets have a plethora of talent at running back heading into the regular season but could have a potential hidden gem in Elijah McGuire if everything falls into place.
New York Jets running backs coach Stump Mitchell has lofty expectations for one of his players of the positional group and it’s not who you would first suspect. No, it’s not Isaiah Crowell or Bilal Powell, but rather, second-year pro Elijah McGuire. Mitchell believes McGuire has the tools and skill set to have a similar career to that of Pro Football Hall of Famer, running back LaDainian Tomlinson.
The 24-year-old reminds him a lot of the former Jet and legendary player. Tomlinson, who ranks sixth all-time in total yards, had the honor of being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame last August. He came over to the Jets from San Diego following the 2010 season and spent two years with Gang Green.
It would appear McGuire will have to wait a little while to get his chance at proving Mitchell right, as he’s currently the third back on the team’s depth chart behind Crowell and Powell. As a rookie last year, McGuire showed some promise in his limited playing time, rushing for 315 yards on 88 carries to go along with a touchdown run of 69 yards.
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The sixth-round pick also flashed potential as a receiver catching 17 passes for 177 yards and a touchdown. Mitchell has been a fan of McGuire from day one when the Jets selected him in the sixth round of the 2017 NFL Draft. As soon as he flipped on the running back’s tape, he immediately saw game-breaking potential and a skillset that could one day make him a star in the NFL.
Mitchell wasted no time alerting McGuire of his high expectations for him, telling the young running back the first time he met him that he saw a lot of LT in the 23-year-old. Mitchell certainly has experience with talented running backs that have flown a bit under the radar, as he coached All-Pro David Johnson of the Arizona Cardinals. This was back when he was a member of their coaching staff back during the 2015-2016 seasons.
Johnson was an underappreciated third-round pick out of Northern Iowa who burst onto the scene during his rookie year and quickly became one of the league’s most productive and versatile backs. While McGuire was drafted three rounds later than Johnson, there are still similarities between the two. Like Johnson, McGuire went to a smaller Division 1 school in Louisiana Lafayette and did not generate a whole lot of buzz at the combine.
General manager Mike Maccagnan has been good at finding hidden gems in the later rounds of the draft during his four-year tenure with the Jets. Specifically in 2016 when Brandon Shell fifth-round pick, emerged as the Jets starting right tackle. Then again with wide receiver Robby Anderson who was signed as an undrafted free agent and has caught 105 passes for over a thousand yards and nine touchdowns during his first two years in the league.
Even cornerback Juston Burris, drafted in the sixth round that same year, has been a solid contributor both as a solid defender and doing well on special teams. The Jets are hopeful that the promise McGuire showed in his rookie season carries over into the 2018 season.
Even if he doesn’t end up wearing a gold jacket one day like Mitchell believes, he has the potential to and can one day become Gang Green’s featured back. The potential is there for him to be a hidden gem at running back for years to come if he continues to develop well over time.