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New York Jets Year in Review: Grading the 2018 running backs

EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY - NOVEMBER 11: Elijah McGuire #25 of the New York Jets carries the ball against the Buffalo Bills during the second quarter at MetLife Stadium on November 11, 2018 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)
EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY - NOVEMBER 11: Elijah McGuire #25 of the New York Jets carries the ball against the Buffalo Bills during the second quarter at MetLife Stadium on November 11, 2018 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)
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EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY – NOVEMBER 11: Elijah McGuire #25 of the New York Jets carries the ball against the Buffalo Bills during the second quarter at MetLife Stadium on November 11, 2018 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)
EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY – NOVEMBER 11: Elijah McGuire #25 of the New York Jets carries the ball against the Buffalo Bills during the second quarter at MetLife Stadium on November 11, 2018 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)

With the 2018 season officially over, it’s time to break down the performances of each of the New York Jets positional units. Next up, we look at the team’s running backs.

The New York Jets running game in 2018 was the exact definition of boom or bust.

The team regularly followed up incredible, record-shattering performances like the game against the Denver Broncos with dreadful duds where the team couldn’t even average three yards per carry. Be it a combination of poor offensive line play or subpar running backs, the team’s running game was about as inconsistent as could be over the past year.

Due to multiple injuries, four different running backs were given substantial time at the position with three earning starting roles at various points. Despite contributions from all of the following players, one thing remains clear.

The Jets do not have a clear cut number one running back.

In today’s NFL, this isn’t nearly as detrimental as it used to be. Still, it’s apparent that the Jets haven’t found their “guy” at the position which should lead them to explore external options this upcoming offseason.

That being said, let’s take a look and examine each of the players currently under contract and break down how they played in 2018.

Isaiah Crowell

If the Jets running game in 2018 was the land of the boom or bust then Isaiah Crowell was the reigning king.

In some games, Crowell looked like a legitimate top 10 running back using his impressive combination of power and agility to evade would-be tacklers with ease. In other games, he appeared sluggish and complacent going down on first hits and running straight into contact.

The highlight of his year came in Week 5 against the Broncos when Crowell rushed for a team record 219 yards on just 15 carries. It was the greatest single-game rushing performance in the history of the New York Jets but when analyzing Crowell’s entire season, it paints an upsetting picture.

Crowell’s 219 yards in Week 5 accounted for nearly one-third of his total yards on the season. Despite averaging a strong 4.8 yards per carry, that number drops all the way down to a below-average 3.6 yards per carry when you remove his big game.

Now it is certainly at least partially unfair to just remove a player’s best game from his stat sheet. Of course, his numbers will regress to the mean when you take away his best performance. But with an outlier as significant as this one, it’s at least a healthy exercise to examine his stats without said outlier.

Outside of his running ability, Crowell offered little as a pass-catcher and even less as a pass blocker. This isn’t to say that the former Cleveland Brown was downright awful in 2018, only that numbers can be deceiving.

As it stands, the Jets have a potential out after this year which would only cost them $2 million is dead cap meaning Crowell’s status with the team is up in the air for 2019. The team could very well decide to go elsewhere with the position and look to make a big splash in free agency – Le’Veon Bell – or simply look to find a gem in the draft.

Either way, despite the excellent numbers, Crowell’s 2018 season wasn’t all too impressive.

Final Grade: C+

Bilal Powell

Long a favorite of many Jets fans, Bilal Powell continued his impressive streak of seven consecutive seasons averaging at least 4.0 yards per carry, despite playing in just seven games.

A neck injury cut his season short but before he was injured, Powell was producing as the Jets most efficient running back, something very familiar to Jets faithful. Three of Powell’s seven games he managed to average 4.9 yards per carry or more, something Crowell did in just two games despite playing in nearly double the amount of contests.

Moreover, Powell served as a safety blanket for quarterback Sam Darnold. The Louisville product has always been a very capable receiving back and his ability to serve as Darnold’s check down option was instrumental early on in the season.

One aspect of Powell’s game that shouldn’t be lost either is his pass blocking ability which has allowed him to carve out a very nice career for himself despite not being the most athletically gifted runner. Powell has never been the most dynamic runner but he generally has made the most of his touches and 2018 was no different.

With his contract set to expire, we may have seen the last of Powell in the green and white and if so, he leaves behind an impressive legacy with the Jets. His 2018 season won’t be remembered as one of his best, but Powell was effective nonetheless.

Final Grade: B-

Elijah McGuire

After a promising rookie campaign, fans were eager to see more of young running back Elijah McGuire in 2018. A summer foot injury forced him to miss the first half of the season but after injuries to both Crowell and Powell, McGuire was finally able to take on a lead role in the Jets backfield.

Unfortunately, the Louisiana-Lafayette product didn’t make the most of his opportunity.

McGuire failed to record an average of 2.5 yards per carry or higher in each of his three starts despite totaling 14 or more carries in each game. He finished the season with a lowly 3.0 yards per carry and while some of that should be blamed on the Jets run blocking, much of the blame does have to fall on McGuire.

The second-year pro did offer a bit of versatility as a receiver and was likely the best pass blocker on the team after Powell went down.

Altogether, McGuire is probably best served as a complementary back and not one that should be receiving 10 or more touches in a game. His offensive line did him no favors, but his 2018 performance should likely be indicative of just that.

Final Grade: C-

Trenton Cannon

Like McGuire, rookie Trenton Cannon benefited from injuries at the position and received more playing time than first anticipated. Also like McGuire, it’s pretty clear that Cannon will never be a feature back.

That said, the rookie did enough in his inaugural NFL campaign to indicate that he could be a solid rotational player going forward.

Cannon showed impressive burst with a quick first step allowing him to accelerate through holes quickly. His quick first step was one of the most impressive parts of his game although his lack of size held him back when running up the middle.

At just 5’11” and 185 pounds, Cannon lacks the size to be able to deal with the wear and tear of an every-down running back. But his speed is something that could be used in gadget plays and simply to keep the defense honest as a change-of-pace back.

He still has room to improve as a receiver but his speed could be deadly on wheel routes especially if he finds himself matched up against a linebacker.

Grading on a curve for a rookie 6th-round pick, Cannon did his best to make an impact but he’s likely best served as a rotational running back and a special teamer in the future.

Final Grade: C

Final Team Grade: C

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