Bilal Powell has to feel like his time in New York has been some kind of practical joke.
He’s played alongside one of the worst quarterbacks in recent memory, he’s been stuck behind one of the most mediocre running backs in the NFL, and the coaching staff and front office have been a dog and pony show that constantly show up on the front and back page of every media publication in New York.
This past offseason has seen a good amount of change in New York, but unfortunately for poor Bilal, his place on the depth chart hasn't moved an inch. The Jets let go of the boring Shonn Greene and replaced him with the “exciting” Chris Ivory. Bilal? Nothing.
But you should have some faith in the underdog. It's time to target Bilal Powell in your fantasy football drafts.
Bilal Powell Will Have the Opportunity to Succeed
Sure, Powell is going to be behind a better running back in 2013 than he has ever been behind in his career, but let’s not forget a couple things about Chris Ivory before we get too excited about what he’ll do in New York this season. First, in three seasons in the NFL, Ivory has rushed the ball a grand total of 256 times. Powell's former teammate, Shonn Greene, surpassed that total in 2012 alone in New York. It's not as though he's got a ton of experience, paving a potential path for Powell.
Second, in an extremely pass-happy offense (New Orleans), Chris Ivory has somehow managed to catch the football just three times throughout his career. Three. Times. To put that into perspective, Warren Sapp had four receptions in 2003. And he was a defensive tackle.
Taking a look inside the numbers, we find that there’s actually an opportunity to catch the football in New York, and even be successful in doing so! (And not just by being traded to the Giants) Last season, Shonn Greene had a receiving NEP per target of .23, which was higher than Jamaal Charles, Adrian Peterson, and Matt Forte.
So what does this mean? The NEP per target tells us how much value - in terms of real football points - a player adds to his team every time he’s targeted in the passing game. So throwing the ball at Shonn Greene was generally a good decision for the Jets, as it would lead to plays that advanced the ball down the field for scores (or heart-breaking Mark Sanchez interceptions).
And while I’m not trying to say that Greene was a better pass catcher than Charles, Peterson, or Forte (he’s not), what we can learn from those numbers is that he had the opportunity to post similar numbers in the passing game, and that throwing the ball his way was generally a good idea for the Jets.
Powell was right behind Greene in terms of receiving NEP per target, and was very successful when he caught the football. In fact, 12 of his 17 receptions were considered “successful” for the Jets, meaning he had four times as many successful receptions in 2012 than Chris Ivory has had total receptions in his entire NFL career. A successful catch means the resulting yards increased the chances of the Jets' offense scoring points, so they'll be wise to take what they can get from Powell in the passing game in 2013.
There's a chance for Powell to see the field as a viable pass-catching option, even with Mike Goodson in town, a pretty skilled pass catcher himself. But the last time I checked, Powell hasn’t been up to any blatantly illegal activities this summer (Goodson has), so I suspect his chances will come sooner than Goodson’s within the Jets offense.
And finally, let's not forget that Chris Ivory just can't stay healthy. Blame it on his genetics, blame it on his running style, blame it on whatever you want, but Ivory has only appeared in 24 games in his three-year NFL career. He spent a good chunk of 2011 sidelined with a foot injury that ended his 2010 campaign. He had previously spent most of 2010 on the injured list with various ailments. In other words, Ivory needs a backup to keep him healthy, or to play in his place when he's gone down with yet another injury.
Powell has sincere opportunity in the Jets offense this season.
Powell Has the Ability to be a Valuable Late-Round Pick
Powell carried the ball 110 times last season, and according to numberFire’s statistics, he was the 11th-best runner in terms of rushing NEP per carry among backs with 100 or more touches. He finished ahead of notable names like Jamaal Charles, Arian Foster, Reggie Bush, and Steven Jackson. Pretty impressive for a guy struggling to see fantasy draft boards.
Again, this isn’t to say that Bilal Powell is better than any of those particular players, but it tells us that Powell did well with the chances he was given last year in New York. The offensive line there isn’t bad, and they’re going to need to run the ball no matter who winds up at quarterback when the season kicks off. There will be absolutely zero success in New York without a serviceable running game, and given his second-year success, Powell may be able to help.
And when you compare Powell's NEP per rush to other late-round options at running back, you can see why I am quick to point out where he stands. According to ESPN.com's Live Draft Results, Powell is being selected in the mid-150's overall, which puts him among kickers and defenses in most leagues with standard sized benches. He's taken later than Michael Turner, Fred Jackson, Bryce Brown, and Mikel Leshoure.
Michael Turner is currently not on an NFL roster, and was in the bottom 10 amongst NFL running backs with more than 100 carries in the rushing NEP per carry category in 2012. Leshoure, Brown and Jackson were even worse than Turner in NEP per rush in 2012. Jackson actually came in third-to-last with a -.18 rushing NEP per attempt, and yet he remains far ahead of Powell on ADP lists and most fantasy rankings.
So when you're thinking about taking a late-round running back with some real ability and a path to playing time, Powell is making a strong case to be a better value than any of the "trendy backups" who are being taken rounds ahead of him. The opportunity is present for him to potentially snag a high number of touches, especially considering the injury-prone Chris Ivory ahead of him. And in a year where the proverbial cliff at running back seems to fall off fairly quickly, there’s value to be had in a reliable runner and catcher in an offense with little else going on.
So do Bilal a favor and draft him, will ya? He’s been through enough as it is.