When we look back on some of the top running backs in NY Jets history we think of great players like Curtis Martin, Emerson Boozer, Matt Snell, and Freeman McNeil. A case can also be made for versatile running backs like Bruce Harper and Johnny Hector.
However, since the retirement of Curtis Martin in 2007, the most well recognized running back for the Jets has been Bilal Powell. In terms of longevity, consistency, and character, he has been without a doubt the team's most productive running back over the last 15 years.
Powell last played in an NFL game on December 29, 2019, but officially announced his retirement by signing a one-day contract with the Jets on April 26, 2022.
Though mostly utilized as a backup, Powell was still able to sustain a level of excellence during his nine years with the Green and White. He currently stands in eighth place on the Jets' all-time rushing list with 3,675 yards.
Bilal Powell forged an undeniable legacy with the NY Jets
Bilal Powell grew up in Lakeland, Florida where he was an All-State football player for Lake Gibson High School. Life was not always easy for Powell, and as a youth growing up without a father figure, he often turned to a life of violence. In 2005, at the age of 16, he was stabbed and almost died as a result of his injuries.
Powell's talent on the football field allowed him to escape from his rough upbringing and earn a football scholarship to the University of Louisville.
Powell was a star running back for the Cardinals from 2007 to 2010. His finest season was in 2010 when he set a school rushing record gaining 1,405 yards on the ground. He was also a 2011 Senior Bowl invitee.
For his efforts, Powell was named fourth-team All-American and first-team All-Big East. Overall, Powell gained 2,338 yards rushing, scored 19 touchdowns, and caught 45 passes for 344 yards while at Louisville.
Upon completing a very successful collegiate career, Powell was selected by the Jets in the fourth round of the 2011 NFL Draft. Things started out slowly for the all-purpose back as he only played in two games in his rookie season.
In 2012, Powell began to make his mark as his playing time increased. In just his second season, Powell rushed for 437 yards, scored four touchdowns, and caught 17 passes for an additional 140 yards. No. 29 was well on his way and his statistics became more impressive each year.
In 2016, Powell had perhaps his best season for the Jets. He rushed for 722 yards and his 5.5 average yards per carry was second-best in the league. Powell also caught 58 passes for 388 yards in that same season. His 1,110 yards from scrimmage was the highest total for his career.
Powell would go on to play nine seasons for the Jets from 2011 to 2019. When it was all said and done he had very clearly become a fan favorite. Quiet and low key off the field but tenacious and fierce on it.
Powell's toughness was never more evident than in his final 2019 season with the Jets. In 2018, Powell sustained a severe neck injury and the thought at the time was that he may never play again.
Powell proved the doubters wrong and came back in 2019 appearing in 13 games. He was honored by his teammates and received the Ed Block Courage Award for his comeback that season. He also became the longest-tenured player on the Jets' roster that same year.
In 2020, Powell expressed a desire to return for another season, but new head coach Adam Gase had other plans and signed Frank Gore instead.
From a personal standpoint, I believe Powell had at least one more good season left in him and if Todd Bowles had remained the head coach, he likely would have been re-signed.
In spite of only "starting" 38 games for the Jets, Powell's overall body of work for his nine-year career is impressive. In addition to his 3,675 yards rushing, he also caught 211 passes for 1,600 yards and scored 15 rushing touchdowns and five more receiving. His 5,275 scrimmage yards rank seventh all-time in team history among running backs.
These days, Powell has begun a second career doing custom home building in Louisville, Kentucky with his wife Jessica. He also completed his Bachelor of Science degree in 2017 and stays active on the football field by coaching his son's sixth-grade team.
Powell will always be remembered as a fan favorite here in New York. He had numerous opportunities to leave the Jets and play for other contending teams but chose to stay with Gang Green instead.
In his own words, Powell states that he came back to the Jets because he wanted to be part of a Super Bowl-winning team here in New York. Not just for himself but for the fan base which he has called one of the very best in the NFL.
With his official retirement now effective, Bilal Powell takes his rightful place as a well-respected and much-deserved lifetime member of the New York Jets' family.