What Should the New York Jets Do About Their Running Back Situation Entering 2015?
Rome wasn't built in a day, Mike Maccagnan.
Still, Maccagnan has been busy since being anointed the New York Jets' new general manager. Since coming on board, he's been signing, trading, and re-signing players to help his vision for this roster come to fruition.
He's already starting to leave his thumbprints all over the roster of this New York Jets team, but even after bringing back Bilal Powell on a one-year deal and signing Daryl Richardson to a reserve/futures contract, did Maccagnan do enough to help his team's run game?
Chris Ivory is set to lead the backfield following the departure of "I don't even be in the game" Chris Johnson after Maccagnan decided to decline Johnson's contract option. Should the Jets feel comfortable entering 2015 with this current backfield arrangement?
Ivory has now been with New York for two years after leaving the New Orleans Saints but has yet to be featured in a prominent role. After playing in a timeshare with both Chris Johnson and Bilal Powell the past two years, can Ivory take the leap and breakout in 2015 as a feature back?
Unearthing a Gem
Undrafted out of small-school Tiffin University in 2010 -- partly due to a knee injury -- Chris Ivory was quickly picked up by the New Orleans Saints following the draft.
Even among a crowded backfield, Ivory stood out for his brash, tough running style and was able to showcase that talent when injuries affected others ahead of him on the depth chart. In his rookie season, Ivory tied for the third highest yards per carry in the league at 5.2 yards per carry. As for advanced measures, his Rushing Net Expected Points (NEP) of 11.38 placed him sixth out of the 45 running backs that eclipsed 100 carries that year.
NEP contextualizes on-field production and factors in score, down-and-distance, and other variables to look deeper than simple yardage or touchdowns. You can read more about NEP in our glossary here.
In fact, out of all rookie running backs dating back to 2000 that had at least the same amount of carries as Ivory in his rookie season (137 carries), Ivory's impressive 5.2 yards per carry trailed only Maurice Jones-Drew, Adrian Peterson, Clinton Portis, DeMarco Murray, and Ben Tate. Pretty impressive company.
While the beginning of his career was undoubtedly off to a good start, depth chart battles and injuries prevented Ivory from seeing significant playing time during the rest of his tenure as a Saint. The New Orleans offense often showcased a mix of running backs, subsequently preventing Ivory from getting consistent carries. Ivory was unable to get the lion's share of carries that he -- and many other running backs -- need in order to get into a grove dictating the rushing attack, which may have played a determining factor in his relocation after his rookie contract.
When Ivory became a restricted free agent in 2012, he found the New York Jets interested in his services. After being traded in exchange for a fourth round pick, Ivory left for New York to start the next chapter of his career.
Were the Lights too Bright in New York?
While Ivory did bring his same style of running to New York, he found less success running, and his efficiency plummeted. Out of the running backs to eclipse 100 or more carries the past two years, the numbers haven't exactly been in Ivory's favor.
|Year||Carries||Rushing NEP||Rushing NEP / Carry||Total NEP|
|Chris Ivory||2014||199||-8.51 (26th/43)||-0.04 (23rd/43)||-2.03 (26th/43)|
|Chris Johnson||2014||155||-7.4 (22nd/43)||-0.05 (26th/43)||0.42 (23rd/43)|
|Chris Ivory||2013||182||-1.90 (19th/47)||-0.01 (19th/47)||-2.38 (28th/47)|
|Bilal Powell||2013||176||-13.98 (35th/47)||-0.08 (34th/47)||-3.35 (29th/47)|
As evidenced in the table above, Chris Ivory hasn't set the world on fire since moving to the Big Apple. Falling in the middle of the pack or worse during his time as Jet isn't necessarily a ringing endorsement for new head coach Todd Bowles and Maccagnan as they continue evaluating the roster they've adopted and players that aren't one of "their guys."
Ivory's lack of production from a receiving standpoint also limits their starter's potential output. Ivory had a career high 18 receptions in 2014, but prior to that he boasted a mere five career receptions over four years. New offensive coordinator Chan Gailey's spread-style offense will likely need a more capable receiving back. Ivory's lack of career receptions is certainly a red flag projecting into 2015.
Another Option on the Depth Chart?
Enter Bilal Powell into the equation -- a former fourth-round pick from Louisville -- who accumulated more receptions (36) in 2013 than Ivory has had in his entire career (23). Is Powell capable of filling in for third-down capabilities or another timeshare similar to what the Jets used in 2013?
To put it bluntly -- the Jets could do much better. When Powell was utilized in that role in 2013, he posted some of the lowest scores based on our various NEP metrics. Out of the 32 running backs who posted 30 or more receptions in 2013, Powell fell towards the bottom of the rankings.
|Year||Receptions||Reception NEP||Target NEP||Catch Rate||Total NEP|
|Bilal Powell||2013||36||8.18 (27th/32)||-7.32 (29th/32)||63.16% (31st/32)||-3.35 (26th/32)|
The outlook for 2015 with using Powell as New York's primary receiving back should makes fans uneasy.
The Jets are essentially entering 2015 with the same backfield they had two years ago after a disastrous one-year trial run at revitalizing Chris Johnson's career. By the looks of things, 2015 is a disaster in the making.
While the Jets are installing a new offense and could have a new signal caller under center in Ryan Fitzpatrick that could open up running lanes, adding a running back in one of the most efficient classes in years would undoubtedly benefit the franchise in the immediate future and beyond.
With Ivory, Powell, and Daryl Richardson's contracts all set to expire next year, investing a Day 2 draft pick on a rookie running back could help put the Jets' rushing woes at ease.
This draft has immense quality and depth for pass rushers, and the Jets are in a prime position to land one of the top prospects that hits both value and need with the sixth overall pick.
While they've also been rumored to be in the mix for Marcus Mariota -- not to mention the fact that they have brought in both Mariota and Jameis Winston for team visits -- it will be interesting to see how the new staff values incumbent Geno Smith and newcomer Fitzpatrick compared to the two rookies.
After an active start to free agency and building a revamped secondary, Mike Maccagnan has mitigated the need for any draft "reaches." Staying put at the sixth spot, the Jets could likely pick up one of this class's premiere pass rushers in either Clemson's Vic Beasley or Florida's Dante Fowler, depending on how the board shakes out, or find themselves with a new face of the franchise in a young quarterback.
Using their second round pick on an offensive linemen could certainly aid their running game -- the Jets have already had three linemen in to visit to date -- but there could also be some quality value at that juncture before a run on running backs inevitably occurs later in the second round. Below are some talented running backs that could likely be available in either the second or third rounds that bring a receiving element to their game that the Jets desperately need.
Projected 2nd-Round Running Backs
Jay Ajayi 6’0”, 221 Pounds (Draft Age: 21) | Boise State
Our own Joseph Juan took an in-depth look at Boise State's Jay Ajayi and broke down every aspect of Ajayi's game, concluding his stock is on the rise and will likely have his name called before the end of the second round. Bringing 50 receptions and 347 carries to the table after a blockbuster junior year where he had 43.2% market share of his team's offensive touches, Ajayi has shown he's a versatile weapon that can attack defenses in a plethora of ways.
Ameer Abdullah 5'9", 205 Pounds (Draft Age: 21) | Nebraska
Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah has all the tools that you look for in a running back. He is one of the more impressive running backs in the draft, according to Mock Draftable, posting exceptional agility and explosion scores. After an incredible senior year where he scored a combined 22 touchdowns and had rushed for more than 200 yards on four separate occasions -- trailing only Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon -- Abduallah would be an outstanding addition to any team.
Projected 3rd-Round Running Backs
Duke Johnson 5'9”, 207 Pounds (Draft Age: 21) | Miami (FL)
If the Jets decide to fill other needs earlier in the draft, Miami's Duke Johnson could be a tremendous pickup if still available in the third round. While he may not be as much of a "complete" back as the two previously mentioned rookies, his receiving prowess would make him an extraordinary addition to Gailey's offense. Johnson displayed he could seamlessly adjust to passes even in traffic and has the quickness to be a mismatch against linebackers at the next level. Johnson also has a knack for finding creases and exploiting them in productive runs and could help the Jets immediately in 2015.
Mike Davis 5'9", 217 Pounds (Draft Age: 22) | South Carolina
While there are injury concerns around South Carolina's Mike Davis that may cause him to slide in the draft, one team will get very lucky if Davis can make a full recovery and get back to his 2013 elite-playing self. Davis has shown soft hands out of the backfield when adjusting for screen passes and sees the field well to pick up real estate in a hurry. He has the potential to develop into an NFL-caliber starter but injury and conditioning concerns may cause some teams to hesitate on draft day.
The Jets could still take a look through the free agent pile to see if there's anything left over. It seems Maccagnan was poking around there earlier last week as the Jets reportedly had former Patriots running back Stevan Ridley in for a visit. While Stevan Ridley may be a short-term complementary weapon to add to offensive coordinator Chan Gailey's arsenal, picking up one of the better receiving running backs may help the team more in the long term.
We've already seen that Maccagnan is not afraid to mix it up with the signings and roster moves he's made to date. Adding a long term solution with a rookie running back would be a wise investment to help his team in 2015 and beyond.