New York Jets 2021 offseason recap: Running backs

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The New York Jets’ rushing room officially moved on from the Le’Veon Bell era, opting for a more minimalist future.

Following the conclusion of minicamp activities, the NFL offseason is officially over. The next time the New York Jets convene in Florham Park, they’ll be getting ready for preseason and regular season action for the 2021 campaign. 

With the offseason in the rearview mirror, ESM looks back on the green offseason that was, position-by-position. Our lookback continues with the running backs…

Sep 27, 2020; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; New York Jets running back Frank Gore (21) runs the ball in the first half against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

How It Started

The 2021 game plan for the Jets’ run game technically began on October 13, when they released Bell after 17 uneventful contests, or at least it should’ve. With the Jets at 0-5 and armed with three young rushing projects (La’Mical Perine, Ty Johnson, Josh Adams), a macabre silver lining loomed: the playoffs were fathoms away from reach but the Jets had 11 opportunities of consequence-free, game day football that could be used as blank canvases, research and development for an uncertain future. They were de facto preseason games granted after the cancellation of the summer exhibitions. Jobs and/or New York longevity could’ve been won or lost.



Instead, Adam Gase opted to give Frank Gore, likely Canton-bound as is, a de facto retirement tour.

The 37-year-old Gore wound carrying the ball 187 times…40 more carries than Perine, Johnson, and Adam combined. Gore did manage did join Emmitt Smith and Walter Payton in the 16,000-yard club but his performance did nothing to keep him out of the future “NFL Legends in Wrong Jerseys” compilations.

Part of the reason for the focus on Gore was ridiculously poor luck on Perine’s end. In addition to Gase’s negligence, the fourth-round pick from 2020’s virtual draft also dealt with an ankle injury (sustained after running for 33 yards and a touchdown on eight carries in November against the Chargers) and even placement on the COVID-19 list during the final week of the season. Perine never really got into a rookie-year rhythm as a result of the instability, earning only 232 yards on 64 carries.

To their credit, Johnson and Adams capitalized on whatever opportunities they were offered. The pair averaged nearly five yards a carry (uniting for 411 yards on 83 attempts) with their magnum opus against Las Vegas in December overshadowed by Gregg Williams’ ill-fated final blitz. Lost in the chaos was the Jets’ most lucrative rushing performance in recent memory (178 yards between the two). Johnson even managed to earn the Jets’ first triple-digit yardage game in over two calendar years. Even with Johnson and Adams maintaining the workload well, Gase’s gift to Gore forced them into a small sample size conundrum, one where the Jets couldn’t be truly sure that any part of their young trio was primary rusher material.

Oct 22, 2018; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons running back Tevin Coleman (26) runs the ball against the New York Giants in the first quarter at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

How It’s Going

With the free agent Gore unretained, the Jets have opted for a relatively minimalist approach at running back for the immediate future, and rightfully so. Granting Bell a $52.5 million deal in an era where Super Bowl champions have won with frugal run games was one of the final mistakes of the Mike Maccagnan era, so it’s probably going to be a long time before the Jets spend big on a rusher again.

The incoming backs reflect that inconspicuousness. Tevin Coleman was brought in on a single-year deal worth $2 million, while the Jets used their first day three pick to take Michael Carter out of North Carolina.

Coleman is an interesting case. While the redemption-seeking Jets can’t afford to co-author big-budget/high-profile comeback stories…which made the decisions of trading Sam Darnold and passing on Julio Jones look all the wiser…Coleman is a player with big game knowledge and talent that slips under the radar. He’s a rare Jet with Super Bowl experience (partaking in the game’s 51st and 54th editions with Atlanta and San Francisco respectively) and knows the vision LaFleur will look to implement after their collaborations in the Bay Area.

On a personal level, the multi-talented Coleman can prove to both the Jets and the rest of the NFL that he has recovered from knee and shoulder injuries on a New York team that has very little to lose this season. At 28, Coleman perhaps has one more long-term deal in him, so it might be now or never.

Meanwhile, Carter arrived through the 107th slot on the NFL Draft board, though Joe Douglas reportedly would’ve been happy to take him in the third round (the Jets’ third-round choice had been traded to Minnesota to pick Alijah Vera-Tucker). Carter was one of the most pleasant surprises in minicamp and could well be at the top of the depth come September.

That leaves the aforementioned trio of returning young projects, at least one of whom is unlikely to be retained. The battle should be one of the most interesting debates of training camp and the Jets seem rather intrigued as well. One of their first moves this offseason was to retain Adams on a one-year deal ($1.18 million).

Dec 6, 2020; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold (14) hands off to running back Ty Johnson (25) against the Las Vegas Raiders in the second half of an NFL game at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Are They Better Off?

The Jets’ minimalist rushing attack works in the modern NFL. Since 2010, only two top-ten rushers (Marshawn Lynch in Seattle and LeGarrette Blount in New England) have earned a Super Bowl ring at the end of their lucrative season. After drastically overpaying Bell (2019’s third-highest paid rusher behind only David Johnson and Todd Gurley), New York curbed their rushing budget. On paper, it looks like the move has paid off. Coleman’s championship experience and familiarity with LaFleur’s system can only help, while many view Carter as a day three steal.

That only leaves the puzzling situation regarding the returnees. At first glance, the odd man out appears to be Perine, whose north/south style of rushing conflicts with what LaFleur has preferred in the past. The sad part of the matter is that the Jets could’ve had some clarity on the group now, but the failure to take advantage remains one of the more underrated stains of the Gase era.

But there’s no use crying about the past at this point. The present has produced some solid finds in the rushing bargain bin that could well pave the way to an offensively upbeat New York future.



Final Offseason Grade: B+

What do you think of the Jets’ new rushing outlook? Continue the conversation on Twitter @GeoffJMags

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