Bilal Powell suffered a season-ending neck injury during the New York Jets game against the Minnesota Vikings which could mean the end of his tenure with the franchise. If it really is the end, Powell leaves behind an impressive legacy.
Underutilized and underrated, but never would he underperform.
Bilal Powell has long been the model of professionalism and stability for a New York Jets organization that at times has lacked both qualities. A fan favorite since his early days with the franchise, Powell has had some sort of a presence with the team since he was first drafted back in 2011.
He played through the Mark Sanchez era and is a survivor of the infamous “butt fumble” squad. He’s seen the Jets go through embarrassment after embarrassment from Geno Smith‘s broken jaw to Ryan Fitzpatrick‘s six interception meltdown. He has played under six different offensive coordinators and seen just one winning season.
All throughout, Powell has remained a constant. A stable presence in a world of everchanging roster turnover. He even survived the Jets 2016 roster makeover proving that longevity and permanence were rooted in his blood. Not only is an eight-year tenure on one team impressive for any player, but it’s downright unheard of for running backs.
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Going into the 2018 season, 22 running backs in the NFL were aged 29 years or older. Powell is the only one on that list to have played on just one team for his entire career. In today’s NFL, a running back even playing for eight years is a rare feat let alone doing so for just one franchise.
And it didn’t matter how poorly the Jets were playing or how mismanaged the team was from the top down, Powell never complained. He remained an upstanding, noble team player even when the team around him was in shambles. Powell was never the outspoken type and come to think of it, he was rarely even the “spoken” type.
Powell had a sort of quiet, reserved demeanor to him. His on-field leadership resonated with fans which often made him a source of hope and happiness even in the darkest of times for the franchise.
The constant cries for more touches for the Louisville product were a yearly tradition among the Jets community. While the pleas were never fully answered, a deep dive into his career numbers make it hard to argue that they shouldn’t have been.
At the moment, Powell sits 10th all-time in Jets history with 3,446 rushing yards, just one yard behind Adrian Murrell for ninth place. Yards are one thing, but Powell had an innate ability to maximize his yardage on any given carry, a characteristic exemplified by his high yards per carry.
Out of players with at least 700 attempts, only Jets legend Freeman McNeil averaged more yards per carry than Powell’s stellar 4.4 yards per carry, and that’s just by 0.1. Not even the great Curtis Martin averaged that many yards per attempt.
On top of that, Powell was incredibly safe with the ball in his hands, fumbling just eight times throughout his career. Out of players with as many carries as Powell or more, only Thomas Jones had fewer fumbles.
Despite these impressive numbers, Powell never recorded more than 180 carries in a season and he never totaled over 800 rushing yards in a single campaign.
But it wasn’t as if the Jets were the only team that didn’t get the memo. Leaguewide, Powell has been viewed as a solid rotation back who could come in and make a few plays but never was he viewed as a player that could lead a backfield.
That role has been reserved for players like Le’Veon Bell and Todd Gurley. Even players such as Lamar Miller and Carlos Hyde have seen bigger workloads with teams and as such the league generally views them as more talented than Powell.
What if I told you that Powell has a higher yards per carry than every player that was just mentioned?
Now, of course, yards per carry isn’t a perfect statistic and no one here is arguing that Powell has had a better career than Bell and Gurley simply because he averaged more rushing yards per attempt.
At the same time, it’s certainly an eye-opening statistic and one that hopefully puts Powell’s impressive maximization ability into perspective. In fact, only three running backs currently on active rosters have averaged more yards per carry in their careers.
But we could talk statistics for days. We could talk about the various football traits that made him the very good player that he was. How he was a great pass blocker, how he could catch out of the backfield, and we could talk all day about his explosive first cut that made him dangerous once he hit the hole.
But at the end of the day, Powell’s legacy will not be defined by his statistics. Jets fans will not remember him for his yards per carry rate nor will they for his low fumble ratio. Instead, Powell will be remembered by fans for one word.
In many ways, Powell resonated with the average fan. He was a guy who showed up every day for eight years and made the most of what he was given. He put up with the Jets through their worst days, never complaining and always returning for more. Never once did he betray his team or his teammates despite the circus of embarrassment that would often surround the organization.
He was loyal. He was always there.
It’s hard to imagine a Jets roster without Powell but this might just be the reality that we will have to face. With his season over and his contract set to expire at the end of the year, there’s a very good chance that Powell has taken his last snap as a member of the New York Jets.
The NFL will move on. The Jets franchise will move on. But the legacy that Powell has forged will resonate with an entire generation of Jets fans who watched him grow from an undersized fourth-round pick to a staple of the franchise for almost a decade.
If this truly is the end, it’s an unfortunate reminder that football and life aren’t always fair. The Jets never reached the postseason with Powell and his career would have ended not with a bang, but with a whimper. A midseason injured reserved candidate lost in the everchanging football shuffle. But when all is set and done, no one will remember how it ended.
They will remember his legacy.
Thank you, Bilal Powell, for your eight years of gracious service and may your legacy live on for generations to come.