New York Jets: Ty Johnson has fought his way into a case for RB1 duties

Ty Johnson was a forgotten man of sorts in the New York Jets’ rushing competition, but he has been anything but silent this preseason.

The New York Jets’ 2020 season went so awry, that one could argue that the team failed to even lose the proper fashion.

There was never any use in whining about the Jets’ late victories over playoff squads from Los Angeles and Cleveland. Tanking is a tired exercise where those that do the deed never get to enjoy the rewards created by fans’ insistence they throw games. Besides, if Zach Wilson is the supposed consolation prize for missing out on Trevor Lawrence, early returns suggest that Jets fans are more than happy with that trade-off.



Once it became clear that Jets football had been swallowed up by the cesspool that was the year 2020 A.D…and, let’s face it, that happened pretty early on in the campaign…Gang Green had a macabre gift in the form of consequence-free football contests that would allow them to empty their bench and bestow game day reps to raw talent looking to prove their NFL mettle. Jobs could’ve won and a team with more question marks than an episode of Jeopardy! could’ve gained some clarity.

Alas, the Jets opted to spend their time working with relics of Sundays past in desperate attempts to avoid the immortality of imperfection. Gregg Williams probably should’ve been dismissed long before that ill-fated blitz gave Las Vegas a win. Sam Darnold spent his final year in green throwing to first-round washouts (i.e. Breshad Perriman) and antiques from championship squads (i.e. Chris Hogan). Of course, nothing more needs to be written about the bizarre Frank Gore farewell tour that accomplished nothing other than having Gore reach the 16,000-yard plateau in a Jets helmet (the football equivalent of Wade Boggs getting his 3,000th hit in the colorful duds of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays).

But in the midst of the carnage that was 2020, some Jets began to establish themselves, giving the franchise at least some breadcrumbs. Running back Ty Johnson might’ve been one of them if the Jets ever gave him a true opportunity.

Johnson’s New York arrival was met with little fanfare, unlike his predecessor. He joined the Jets on Oct. 2 on waivers. He came hours after the equally woebegone Detroit Lions bid him farewell after a year-plus and 11 days before the team unofficially waved the white flag on 2020 through the release of Le’Veon Bell. The Jets, to their credit, did try to give La’Mical Perine a chance but went back to Gore after the fourth-round choice was dealt nearly after kind of 2020 football calamity (including a training camp injury and placement on the COVID-19 list). Johnson wound up having only eight carries over his first six games as a Jet.

That was before history happened.

In the aforementioned heartbreaker against the Raiders, Johnson broke the Jets’ 38-game moratorium on triple-digit yardage games, tallying 104 on 22 carries. The accomplishment got lost in the chaos of Williams’ blunder but hinted at better days for the New York offense.

Alas, Johnson never received another extended opportunity to prove he could be a sustainable (and, more importantly after the Bell debacle, affordable) long-term option behind the Jets’ new quarterback. He received only 23 carries over the rest of the season. While that tally didn’t include some strong aerial performances (i.e. 6 receptions, 39 yards, and a score in the Jets’ first win over the Rams) it didn’t stop the Jets from addressing their rushing issues. Two-time Super Bowl participant Tevin Coleman was added on a one-year deal while another fourth-round selection, North Carolina’s Michael Carter, is viewed as a long-term asset).

 Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

With such accomplished resumes ahead of him on the depth chart, it’s easy, almost understandable that Johnson would get lost in the fold. Despite being one of the rare Jets who filled his job adequately in 2020 (team-best 4.7 average on 54 carries), Johnson has found himself fighting for his NFL livelihood once again. His time in Detroit, who chose him in the sixth round of the 2019 draft, ended in part because of Adrian Peterson’s arrival, as there was no place for him next to Kerryon Johnson and D’Andre Swift.

But, in other words, camp has been business as usual for Johnson who has never viewed himself as an essential roster lock in any stop of his football journey.

“I’m always practicing like I’ve got to make the team,” Johnson, a Maryland alum, told Kyle Bennett of the Cumberland Times-News in July. “At the end of the day, I don’t care what articles come out, I don’t care what articles say I’m gonna start, I don’t care about articles saying I’m going to get cut. My whole mentality is like, ‘I’m trying to make the team. I’m trying to put food on my plate, trying to put food on my family’s plate.’ And that’s just the mentality. So yeah, just making that team and securing my spot is definitely the goal, of course.”

“The goal is just to win,” he continued. “If I can contribute in any way, if that means me blocking on third down, if it means me, you know, cutting the leg on a D-end or something like that, or take on a three tech because the guard has to go down and block with the nose, then, by all means, that’s what I’m gonna do. The main goal overall is just to win as a team, really.”

Johnson has certainly been doing his part in that last regard, playing a big role in the Jets’ semi-perfect preseason (2-0-1). He’s currently third on the Jets’ rushing depth chart behind Coleman and Perine but has earned a majority of the summer carries, totaling 108 yards on 28 attempts behind an offensive that has been missing of its vital cogs (i.e. Alijah Vera-Tucker). Johnson went somewhat viral in Friday’s finale against Philadelphia. Not only did he provide a touchdown in the Jets’ comeback effort toward a 31-31 tie, but he also made the internet go crazy when he barreled over an Eagles defender en route to a first down on a Jets scoring drive. Johnson had 56 yards on 13 carries in the finale, giving him 108 on 28 tries in the trio.

“He converted a third-and-short, was moving piles, lowering his shoulder and getting tough, aggressive yards. That was a great plus for him,” head coach Robert Saleh said in video provided by the Jets after the game. “The thing about it is he still has so much more in the tank. That was a great step forward for him. He did a really nice job.”



There’s no arguing that Johnson may face an uphill battle in terms of making an impact with the 2021 Jets. Heck, one could argue that the best way he can immediately the Jets is trade to a rushing-hungry team like Jacksonville, who just lost rookie sensation Travis Etienne for the whole season.

But never mind the idea of RB1: for the time being, no other rusher on the Jets’ roster is defining the idea and intent of Saleh’s already-famous “All Gas, No Brake” mantra better than Johnson.

“(The Jets) been really challenging me to do all the things that (Saleh) has mentioned. That’s all I was really harping on over the summer,” Johnson said after Friday, per Al Iannazzone of Newsday. “Tight turns when I catch the ball. Violent cuts. It doesn’t have to be finding the right crease.”

“Be patient but violent. When I’m going downhill, be violent going downhill.”

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags