NY Jets: Scouting newly-signed running back Ty Johnson

NY Jets Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
NY Jets Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports /

The NY Jets recently signed former Detroit Lions running back Ty Johnson to their active roster.

The NY Jets decided to add an intriguing name to their backfield on Friday claiming former Detroit Lions running back Ty Johnson off waivers. But just what should Jets fans be expecting from Johnson?

The 23-year-old played his college ball at Maryland and held a pretty prominent role in his team’s offense for the better part of his last three years in college.

While he was never able to wrestle away a full-time starting role, Johnson put up eye-popping numbers as part of Maryland’s committee rushing for 1,004 yards and six touchdowns in 2016 on a whopping 9.1 yards per carry.

He followed that up with an impressive 875-yard performance in his junior season that saw him average 6.4 yards per carry. His usage in his senior season dipped a little, but he still managed to average 7.7 yards per carry and total 506 rushing yards.

With numbers like that at a Power 5 school in Maryland, one would think that Johnson would receive some NFL attention — at least as a possible mid-round sleeper. But that wasn’t the case.

Johnson wasn’t invited to the NFL Scouting Combine and fell all the way to the sixth round of the 2019 NFL Draft where the Lions scooped him up.

Despite facing an uphill battle, Johnson made the 53-man roster and immediately established himself as a core special teamer playing in all 16 games with the team.

And after an abundance of injuries to the Lions’ running back group, Johnson finally got his chance to shine on offense receiving his first career NFL start in Week 10. The Maryland product finished the year with 63 rushes for 273 yards on a swift 4.3 yards per carry.

Viewed as the team’s third-down back heading into 2020, Johnson’s role was taken from him after the Lions signed veteran Adrian Peterson. And after playing almost exclusively on special teams, Detroit cut ties three games into the season.

Where could Ty Johnson fit in with the NY Jets?

Johnson is an intriguing athlete with blazing speed and very impressive burst. His 40-yard dash was clocked anywhere from 4.30 to 4.40 at his pro day with one scout even claiming he had run a 4.26.

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For reference, the fastest time from a running back at the 2019 Combine was Oklahoma State’s Justice Hill, who ran a 4.40. It’s quite likely that Johnson would have had the fastest time had he been invited.

Johnson’s best asset is undoubtedly his breakaway speed. Best used as an off-tackle runner, few players are as explosive once they hit the second level, especially when he gets downhill.

However, for as impressive as his speed may be, Johnson is incredibly raw as an actual runner. The Maryland native is a poor decision-maker and doesn’t have the change-of-direction skills needed to make tacklers miss consistently at the next level.

Think of him as the anti-Le’Veon Bell in many ways. Perhaps a slightly more talented version of Trenton Cannon, but a player who certainly can be molded.

Much like Cannon, Johnson performed well on special teams in Detroit and at Maryland serving as a gunner on punt coverage and a return man while in college. He even returned three kicks for 58 yards with the Lions in 2019.

With Bell likely set to return in Week 5, the Jets’ backfield is looking a bit crowded. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the team move on from Kalen Ballage or at least remove him from the active roster, especially considering Frank Gore and La’Mical Perine also figure into the equation.

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On an offense devoid of much promise, Johnson could be quite the fine if the team could harness his raw speed.