How Do the New York Jets' Backs Fit in Their New-Look Backfield?

Is Chris Ivory's roster spot safe now that Stevan Ridley is in town? Will Bilal Powell or Daryl Richardson be the change-of-pace back?

If you pay attention to movie culture and geek out any time a new sneak peek of something -- even if it’s just a 10-second clip pirated with a flip phone camera -- gets leaked online, then do I have news for you. The trailer for the new Batman v. Superman movie has just dropped online, and it’s absolute nerd porn. The video quality is terrible, the sound is worse, and, in all honesty, the movie doesn’t look like it will be that exceptionally written, but what self-respecting comic geek doesn’t want to watch the Dark Knight and Man of Steel walloping on each other for 90 to 120 minutes?

I think we might see another duel take over Gotham this fall, but this will be one whose battlefield won’t be skyscrapers. Rather, it will be the gridiron. It will be just as grainy, just as violent, and probably make you even sicker to your stomach than Ben Affleck growling through Batman’s lines in a feeble attempt to mimic Christian Bale.

By signing former Patriots running back Stevan Ridley, the New York Jets have introduced direct competition into their depth chart for incumbent Chris Ivory. Both of these players play with a similar style: power running, little pass game ability, and one-cut, straight-line speed.

Can both survive roster cuts while playing the same role? Will there be a similar duel between receiving speed backs Bilal Powell and Daryl Richardson? Who will answer the call in Gotham?

Breaking the Bat

It doesn’t take much outside of an eye test to see the similarities between Stevan Ridley and Chris Ivory’s rushing game: both like to initiate contact and truck defenders more than shake them. Both are around 5’11” and 225 pounds. The interesting differences lie in how they arrive at that game.

Ivory -- while having no draft pedigree compared to Ridley, who was a third-round selection in 2011 out of LSU -- blows Ridley out of the water in the speed measurables. Ivory ran a blazing 4.48 forty-yard-dash (1.54 10-yard split) at his Tiffin University pro day, while Ridley ran a just-fine 4.66 (1.66 split). Ridley levels Ivory in change-of-pace measurables, however. The former Patriot clocked a short shuttle of 4.17 seconds, with a 6.78 three-cone drill. Ivory brought in 4.60 and 7.20, respectively.

The two appear to have quite different skill sets, but the Jets have both under contract for what may be only one roster spot for a big-bodied, bruising rusher. So which of them does it better?

We can distinguish the two even more using numberFire’s signature metric, Net Expected Points (NEP). NEP helps us take the numbers we see in the box score and assign them contextual value as they relate to the game on the field. By adding down-and-distance value and other variables, we can see just how much each play and each player influence the outcome of the game. For more info on NEP, check out our glossary.

The table below displays the careers of both by Rushing NEP. Who is more well-suited for the Jets’ lead gig?

YearPlayerRush NEPRush NEP/PSuccess Rate
2010Chris Ivory11.380.0847.45%
2011Chris Ivory3.260.0449.37%
2012Chris Ivory6.160.1542.50%
2013Chris Ivory-1.90-0.0139.01%
2014Chris Ivory-8.51-0.0442.71%
2011Stevan Ridley2.370.0343.18%
2012Stevan Ridley11.250.0449.66%
2013Stevan Ridley-11.61-0.0746.63%
2014Stevan Ridley-1.98-0.0247.87%

It’s pretty clear that Ivory has reached higher highs in seasons on his per-attempt Rushing NEP, but that was strictly as a change-of-pace, lower volume speed back. It’s worth noting that in his two seasons thus far with the Jets, his raw and per-attempt Rushing NEP has plummeted from his Saints days. Along with that, his Success Rate (percentage of attempts that add positive NEP to his team) has been inconsistent at best and also pretty awful at worst. The Jets’ offensive line has done Ivory no favors.

Ridley’s per-attempt Rushing NEP has fluctuated much less than Ivory’s over the years, and the same is true of his Success Rate. Ridley himself has seen some poor performance of late, though, so there is no recency edge for him either. Ridley has a reputation for poor fumbling, which will hurt his NEP scores, so it’s possible he’s actually been a better runner than Ivory when holding onto the ball.

Faster than a Speeding Bullet

Let’s play the same game with the change-of-pace runners in the New York backfield. For all intents and purposes, Bilal Powell is entrenched as the scatback on the Jets’ roster due to his special teams prowess. Since Chris Johnson was let go from the team, however, could we see Daryl Richardson step in and pick up some valuable work?

Let’s start with the history. Daryl Richardson enjoyed a rookie season in 2012 with the St. Louis Rams that flashed promise as the electric changeup runner to team stalwart Steven Jackson. In 98 attempts that year, D-Rich accumulated 475 yards on the ground (4.1 yards per carry). He also flashed some receiving ability, bringing in an additional 163 yards receiving on 36 targets. Then in 2013, he was out of the lead job due to the emergence of Zac Stacy and eventually waived.

Bilal Powell himself has never had an exceptional season with the New York Jets, but his 2013 season saw him reach career-highs in attempts, rushing yardage, targets, and receiving yards. When Johnson was signed last year, Powell’s role dwindled. Now, though?

The table below shows the career NEP data for these two in terms of Rushing and Reception NEP. Which deserves the mantle of backfield second-in-command?

YearPlayerRush NEPRush NEP/PRec NEPRec NEP/Target
2011 Bilal Powell-5.12-0.39-0.42-0.42
2012 Bilal Powell2.160.02-7.000.19
2013 Bilal Powell-13.98-
2014 Bilal Powell-0.81-0.026.460.43
2012Daryl Richardson-1.94-0.021.520.04
2013Daryl Richardson-11.15-

Nothing looks outstanding here. Both are fairly inadequate in the running phase of the game, as evidenced by five out of six of these Rushing NEP scores being solidly negative. With the way Rushing NEP is calculated -- and the inefficient nature of running the ball itself -- it’s not uncommon to have a negative score every now and then or a lower score than Reception NEP; consistent negative score display an unfortunate pattern, however.

What can be said here is that Powell has been a consistently valuable receiving back since his second season in the league. I’d expect his receptions to go up sizably this season if he gets even a fraction of what they were offering to Chris Johnson in terms of targets. Richardson has been interesting at best as both a runner and receiver but showed no consistency nor impact when given the chance.

Dawn of Justice

In the end, the lead two-down job appears to be a toss-up. Both players have struggled with their ball handling and injuries in their careers, but with less money guaranteed to Ridley than Ivory, I’m going to assume Ivory has the edge on this position. However, the battle will likely stretch into training camp.

As far as the change-of-pace role goes, Powell has the receiving track record that Richardson does not, Powell plays well on special teams, and -- perhaps most importantly -- he has a higher cap hit and Richardson is eligible to be stashed on the practice squad. I expect Powell to be a solid second-string back, and Richardson to be no more than inactive depth once September rolls around.