The New York Jets run game has a huge opportunity ahead

michael carter, jets

As Zach Wilson struggles to find his NFL footing, the New York Jets’ run game could become a vital source of offensive stability.

Offensive salvation may have made its way to the New York Jets through the 2021 NFL Draft. But the Cleveland-based gift might’ve arrived not on Thursday of the proceedings…but Saturday.

To the surprise of no rational Jets fan, Zach Wilson’s arrival wasn’t a one-size-fits-all instant fix for New York’s green team. Calling for Wilson’s dismissal and closing the book on his Jets career after two games is asinine but there’s no denying that Gang Green needs to develop some sort of offensive momentum, even if the results don’t translate on the scoreboard.

As one rookie has faltered, it might be prudent to turn over further trust to another: It may be time to give the Michael Carter project a jumpstart…the running back, that is (though the similarly-named safety has likewise done his part on defense).

Yes, turning the offensive reigns over to a rushing attack seems archaic by 2021’s professional football standards. But, as we know by now, the Jets aren’t really in any position to turn any form of offensive assistance. The unit has pulled itself out of the cesspool that Adam Gase dragged them into, as their 336-yard output on Sunday against New England bested their tallies in all but two games from last season. But if the Jets want to look at a 2021 season that likely won’t end in the postseason with proud eyes, they need to push the offense in the right direction.

Nothing more needs to be written about the Jets’ perpetual search for a franchise quarterback but a leading rusher has proven equally elusive. No Jets rusher has reached four digits in yardage since Chris Ivory in 2015, three years after Shonn Greene became the most recent homegrown back to do so.

It’s incredibly easy to understand why the Jets would be reluctant to turn over major offensive responsibilities to the run game. The last time they tried that, they got burdened with Le’Veon Bell drama and $4 million in dead cap space. It’s going to be a long time before the Jets ever break the bank open for a rusher and they’re not exactly hiding their minimalist approach: whereas Bell’s four-year deal was worth $52 million, the contracts of the six rushers currently stationed on the Jets’ roster are worth just about a quarter of that.

But the bargain bin, as anyone who has spent ten minutes in their local Target can testify, can yield delightful prizes. The early returns on Carter, and some of his rushing compatriots, suggest he could become a buried cult classic, like a copy of Idiocracy with a $3.99 price sticker. The Meadowlands complex is well-known for hosting the game-changing antics of one North Carolina alum with the surname of Carter. A path is set for another to do the same.

Carter has the makings of a popular fantasy football waiver wire option as the season goes on. The former Tar Heel, subtly slid under the radar in the fourth round as April became May. He currently stands as the fourth-leading rusher in Chapel Hill history, ahead of tenured NFL veterans like Natrone Means and Gio Bernard.

michael carter, jets

The Jets’ rushing situation in the post-Bell era was in a state of flux upon his arrival: Ty Johnson, Josh Adams, and La’Mical Perine (the latter being a fourth-round choice in 2020’s virtual proceedings) were denied extended opportunities in a lost season thanks to the Frank Gore retirement tour while the team also added two-time Super Bowl participant Tevin Coleman to the fold on a cheap one-year deal. There was an unspoken understanding that a committee-like approach awaited once the season got underway.

Yet, there was something about Carter’s skillset, praised for his physicality, size, and off-tackle abilities, that convinced observers that he would break away from the pack sooner rather than later. Offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur might’ve seen it coming through training camp comments from team reporter Randy Lange.

“He’s got such a good feel for holes and space,” LaFleur said in August. “When you think he’s about to hit something, he’s so tight to the ground and under control that you never really know where he’s going, but it always seems like he makes the right decision.”

That takeover might’ve come earlier than even his most optimistic believers anticipated.

The Jets’ finest offensive outputs came when they turned to Carter on Sunday. He was responsible for a third of the Jets’ 18 first downs (earning the necessary yardage on six of his 13 touches), totaling 88 yards from scrimmage, the most by a Jets rookie running back since Elijah McGuire had 131 in an October 2017 tilt against Jacksonville. Making things all the more impressive was the fact that Carter broke loose on an afternoon where the Jets were without offensive line anchor Mekhi Becton.

It was a performance that head coach Robert Saleh defined as “electric” in the aftermath of the team’s 11th consecutive loss to the Patriots. Saleh praised the way that the run game performed in general, as Johnson put up 50 yards through a dozen carries while Coleman had 24 on five. But he hinted that Carter may be developing the anticipated separation amongst the speedy trio.

“He was running his tail off (on Monday),” Saleh said, per notes from the Jets. “All three backs I thought showed up to play, but hats off to Michael.”

In addition to Carter’s progress, the Jets also continued to be enthused by veteran Ty Johnson. The former Detroit Lion has become a valuable find on the in-season free agency market, averaging 4.6 yards an attempt since donning a green uniform for the first time in October 2020.

As Wilson continues to deal with the dangerous obstacles traditionally thrown toward a rookie NFL quarterback’s way, the Jets need to find some sort of offensive stability. Both Saleh and offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur know what it means to lean on a potent rushing attack in lieu of an established quarterback. LaFleur recalled just how important a ground attack led by Coleman, Raheem Mostert, and Matt Breida was in a Super Bowl bowl trek. Last year’s group, with Mostert joining Jeff Wilson, Jerick McKinnon, and Jamycal Hasty, helped partially alleviate an injury report that resembled a Pro Bowl roster.

“The run game, in general, is just critical, that’s what we all firmly believe,” LaFleur said in Lange’s aforementioned camp report. “If you can’t run the ball in this league, it gets really hard to throw the ball. There (are) only a few quarterbacks in the history of time that can just drop back and pick people apart and go up and down the field.”

Despite LaFleur’s insistence on having a good run game, the Jets rank in the bottom half of the league’s rushing attempts with 48 compared to 70 passes for Wilson, which currently ranks at the bottom of the top half. In addition to not wearing down Wilson (five of the top ten rookie quarterbacks with the most pass attempts since 2015 are no longer with the team that drafted them), both he and the team need to be as potent as possible, generate as much positive momentum as they can in a year that more than likely won’t end with the Jets’ among the 14 postseason squads.

A strong run game, mere inches away from him in the backfield, could be the perfect way to do that.

The Jets return to action on Sunday afternoon on the road against the Denver Broncos (4:05 p.m. ET, CBS). 

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

New York Jets: 3 silver linings from another loss to New England

robert saleh, jets

The New York Jets’ 11th consecutive defeat at the hands of the New England Patriots saw several optimistic causes slip through the cracks.

The New England Patriots beat the New York Jets in front of a crowd of disgruntled metropolitan football fans…yes, folks, New York City is back.

New England’s Empire may be over…its destruction brought about by the loss of its superweapon Tom Brady…but it has retained control of the East Rutherford system through a perfect three-game slate over the last two seasons. That includes Sunday’s 25-6 triumph at MetLife Stadium, one that provided the rudest of introductions to whatever lingers of the Jets-Patriots rivalry to Zach Wilson, he of four interceptions in the defeat.

It’s often hard for the Jets to glean anything positive out of get-togethers with the Patriots, who have now won 11 in a row over Gang Green. Eight of those defeats have come by multiple possessions and the Jets (0-2) have yet to earn a regulation win over New England in their modern MetLife-sponsored home since the original staging in 2010. The 19-point loss provided more or less the same heartbreak New York has been accustomed to over the last decade.

Yet, Sunday’s defeat somehow featured several unique bastions of hope in the midst of another defeat…

Get Carter (More Touches)

The Jets’ run game enjoyed a significant boost on Sunday: not only did it triple its yardage output from opening weekend at Carolina (45 to 152, besting its total in all but one game from last season), it did so without the offensive line assistance of Mekhi Becton.

Jets running backs averaged nearly 4.8 yards per carry on Sunday, which could come up big for the developing offense as Wilson still seeks to solve the NFL game. Ty Johnson, for example, maintained his brand of New York consistency (50 yards on 12 carries) while Tevin Coleman burst up the middle for a 17-yard carry in the second quarter.

But Jets management is likely enthused by the progress Michael Carter made on Sunday. Carter, the team’s fourth-round pick from last spring, is expected to pull away from the Jets’ current committee set up and flourished in an expanded role against the Patriots. The 88 yards he tallied from scrimmage were most for a green rookie rusher since Elijah McGuire in 2017 (93).

With five interceptions over his first two games, Wilson could for looking for some non-aerial antics to assist him as he gets further absconsed into the Jets’ offense. The rise of Carter can help the Jets build some much-needed, sustainable offensive momentum.

Defensive Fine

For all the concerns about the Jets’ defense in the early going, the unit has held its own in the early going. The 19-point disadvantage seems ugly to the naked eye but the Jets have lingered in their defeats far longer than should’ve been possible thanks to some strong adaptation by the defense. Wilson’s turnovers should’ve buried the Jets but the defense kept the damage relatively in check, yielding 16 points from the four turnovers.

The Jets’ young secondary group limited attacks from New England’s receivers, as it was once again mostly running back assistance that sank their efforts. James White was a menace on both the ground and through the air, tallying 65 yards on 11 touches. Nothing more needs to be said about the 26-yard rushing touchdown from Damien Harris that dragged several Jets defenders in the end zone.

But the secondary assistance was very reliable, limiting opposing wideouts to only 69 yards on nine receptions, limiting rookie Mac Jones to mostly dink-and-dunk strategies. The pass rush also drastically improved, earning three sacks of Jones in the first half (Marcus Maye, John Franklin-Myers, and Sheldon Rankins being the lucky recipients). New England’s 260-yard output was Patriots’ worst tally against the Jets since 2014. New York could also take faith in a strong performance from C.J. Mosley, who earned 10 tackles in defeat and once against finished a Jets game without incident.

The former Raven was particularly enthused by a late defensive stand by the Jets on the Patriots’ final possession of the afternoon. New England was situated only 25 yards away from the end zone after a turnover on downs but earned only a Nick Folk field goal to create the final margin.

“I know it looks familiar to a lot of people, but I can assure you that this is not the same team. We’re always going to show resilience, we’re always going to battle,” Mosley said, per team reporter Randy Lange. “That’s the picture I try to paint. Even on that goal-line stand at the end, it was all heart for us. In the locker room, we told ourselves we had a great week of preparation, everybody came into this game confident. Now we’ve got to take it to the next level. It’s not on the coaches. It’s on the players wearing the uniform.”

BB’s Great

The Jets’ offense was mostly stuck in reverse thanks to Wilson’s turnovers, but has another reliable receiving threat emerged?

While Jamison Crowder continues to recover from a bout with COVID-19 and a little more uncertainty has emerged around Denzel Mims (a healthy scratch for Sunday’s defeat), Braxton Berrios has picked up the slack.

It would’ve been easy for Berrios to get lost in the receiving fold after the arrivals of Davis, Keelan Cole, and Elijah Moore (who hinted at his powers with 47 yards on a quartet of receptions), but the third-year is making a name for himself. Through two games, Berrios is the Jets’ leading receiver with 124 yards on 12 receptions. That includes a career-best 73-yard showing on Sunday while New England locked down Corey Davis. Berrios has also been a reliable prescience on special teams, as his 23.8-yard average kick return ranks 10th amongst players with at least two attempts. His 38-yard runback in the first half set up the Jets’ first of two field goals of the afternoon.

While both Cole and Moore seem poised to take over in the slot if/when Crowder departs next offseason, Berrios’ development is worth keeping an eye on. The former Patriots previously described himself as a “Swiss Army Knife” in a report from team writer Ethan Greenberg.

“I have everything to work on,” Berrios said in January. “I think there is no one harder on me than m, and I’d like to keep it that way. I truly have everything to work on as a receiver, as a football player in general. Truly, I’m looking forward to doing that and coming back an all-around better player.”

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

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 

New York Jets: A training camp battle at every position (Offense)

As the New York Jets inch closer to training camp, ESM looks at the offensive roster battles to watch at every position.

Competition has always been a staple at summer camp. But if you’re headed to Florham Park, leave the archery materials at home.

The New York Jets are eight days away from descending upon One Jets Drive for their training camp activities. Once camp commences, they’ll have several positional struggles to solve before Week 1 kicks off in Carolina. ESM takes a look at each spot on the depth chart, sizing up a major battle that should be solved over camp practices and the coming trio of preseason games.

Our primer begins on offense…

 Mandatory Credit: Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

Backup QB: James Morgan vs. Mike White

Barring an epic disaster, the Jets will go into Week 1 with second overall pick Zach Wilson as their quarterback. Sitting the star rookie behind a veteran for a year has become a lost art in the modern NFL, even if Kansas City’s Alex Smith-to-Patrick Mahomes transition kept the concept alive for a few more years.

The Jets, though, are apparently planning to go in the completely opposite direction: no one in their quarterback cabinet has thrown a pass in an NFL regular season game. Immediately thrusting Wilson into the starter’s role is one thing, but backing him up with two veteran questions marks is another entirely. But head coach Robert Saleh apparently doesn’t see an issue.

“If you just bring in a veteran who doesn’t know anything about your scheme, he’s learning just like the rookie is,” Saleh told Max Goodman of Sports Illustrated. “There’s a match that has to happen. There’s a scheme familiarity that has to happen.”

That, of course, begs the question why the Jets didn’t go after someone like fellow former 49ers Nick Mullens, but it’s probably redundant at this point. Until further notice, the backup job comes to Morgan and White.

Morgan probably has the inside edge, if only due to his status as a Joe Douglas draft pick. Chosen in the fourth round of 2020’s virtual draft, the Florida International hasn’t even worn a game jersey yet due to the cancellation of last summer’s preseason. White entered the NFL as a fifth-round pick of the Cowboys in 2018 and has been on and off the Jets’ practice squad over the last three years. By going with someone inexperienced, it’s clear the Jets aren’t going with the “mentor” route for their backup quarterback. The winner will be judged on late summer showings and their performance in preseason games could be particularly intriguing.

 Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Spell RB: Ty Johnson vs. La’Mical Perine vs. Josh Adams

The primary rushing duties could become a battle as the season goes on. Veteran newcomer Tevin Coleman will probably at least start as the top option before giving way to rookie arrival Michael Carter. It’s fair to assume that Coleman, who worked with new offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur in San Francisco, has the early edge though Carter has reportedly impressed New York brass during his first spring sessions.

In training camp, however, there are more immediate, desperate matters to attend to, namely answering the question of who will be the third back.

Behind the Coleman and Carter tandem lies a trio of young projects that could’ve gained more clarity had Adam Gase not become obsessed with a Frank Gore farewell tour. Though injuries and a late placement on the COVID-19 list turned Perine’s rookie season into a wash but Johnson and Adams, spare parts from Detroit and Philadelphia respectively, impressed when called upon, uniting for 411 yards on 83 carries, good for an average of nearly five yards an attempt.

The battle between this trio isn’t a matter of playing time, but will determine roster spots. Even though he’s a Douglas draft pick (also chosen in the fourth round), Perine could be in the wrong place at the wrong time. His north/south style may not fit in  LaFleur’s preferred systems that value agility and athleticism, creating a wrong place at the wrong time situation. Meanwhile, the re-signed Adams has worked with Douglas before, sharing a single season with the Eagles.

Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Top Slot WR: Jamison Crowder vs. Elijah Moore

Over the past two seasons, Jamison Crowder has been far and away the Jets’ most consistent offensive weapon. Through that endeavor, he has become one of the NFL’s most reliable slot options. But does the fact he’s been a reliable weapon in woebegone New York say more about Crowder or just how dire the Jets’ situation has become?

Douglas and Co. spent the offseason upgrading their receiving corps and that included the slot depth chart. Drafting Moore with the second pick of the draft’s second day was seen as a steal by many and he seemingly arrived at the perfect time. The Jets were due some sizable cap savings upon Crowder’s release or trade and they could’ve easily had Moore take over. Instead, they restructured the final year of Crowder’s deal to focus on guaranteed money and will keep both of them in tow for Wilson’s first deal.

Crowder faces a bit of an uphill battle to get his snaps back, as he missed almost all spring activities during his contract dispute. There should still be an opportunity for him amongst the Jets’ revamped receiving corps but it’ll be tough to hold off the rise of a touted rookie.

. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Starting TE: Chris Herndon vs. Tyler Kroft 

Entering his fourth year in New York, Herndon is a rare relic in green. Nothing, however, has lived up to the production of his rookie season (502 yards on 39 receptions) as the more recent stages of his career have been beset by a suspension, injuries, and inconsistency.

Though Herndon somewhat began to resemble his rookie self in the latter stages of last season, the Jets sent him a message this offseason. While they avoided the pricier options on the free agent market (i.e. Jonnu Smith, Hunter Henry), they added goal line option Tyler Kroft from Buffalo and re-upped with Daniel Brown. During minicamp, Herndon saw his first team reps go to Kroft and Ryan Griffin. Connor Hughes of The Athletic claimed that Herndon “struggled” to adjust to the new offensive playbook, playing a role in his demotion.

It’s been a while since Kroft was the primary option at tight end, last doing so in Cincinnati during the 2017 campaign. The Rutgers alum re-established himself as a reliable short-yardage and red zone target last season in Buffalo. Time will tell if the Jets turn over the full-time tight end reins to Kroft, or even give Griffin, Brown, or undrafted rookie Kenny Yeboah (11 touchdowns over the last two seasons at Temple and Ole Miss). But If Kroft’s signing even merely lights a fire under Herndon, it will have been well worth it.

 Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Offensive Line: RG Greg Van Roten vs. Newcomers

A Long Island native (Rockville Centre, to be precise), Van Roten was destined to make a difference in New York. While he endured a bit of an up-and-down season in terms of production, he partook in literally every snap over the Jets’ first 11 games and emerged as a leader and voice of reason when the team’s 2020 affairs became particularly dire.

With the Jets’ left side fortified with Mekhi Becton and Alijah Vera-Tucker, the focus turns to the right. Morgan Moses is a reliable one-year solution on the outside, while Van Roten appears to have a good grip on the interior. But the Jets brought in some interesting depth options, including the New York Islanders’ most celebrated new fan, Dan Feeney. Incumbent top left guard Alex Lewis is also set to move over to the right side, while one also can’t forget Cameron Clark, a 2020 fourth-rounder who spent last season preparing to make the transition from tackle to guard.

But Van Roten, who has shockingly tallied only a single accepted penalty in his NFL career, believes that the arrival of Saleh and LaFleur should help provide stability.

“They hire Saleh and it just feels like a weight has been lifted and hope has come back into the building,” Van Roten said, per team reporter Jack Bell. “All we ask for is a fresh start in this league and no one is happier than the Jets. Now we’re on page one, so let’s write this year’s chapter.”

Which offensive training camp battles will you keep an eye on? Follow @GeoffJMags on Twitter and continue the conversation.

New York Jets 2021 offseason recap: Running backs

jets, michael carter

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

New York Jets run game could be the long-sought offensive gamechanger

As Le’Veon Bell burns another bridge, the New York Jets’ current rushing attack could become one of their most impactful areas.

For Le’Veon Bell, it appears to be three teams down and 29 to go.

The former New York Jets running back has apparently torched another bridge for himself when it comes to NFL employment, as Bell said he would “retire first” before playing another season with Andy Reid’s Kansas City Chiefs. Bell’s declaration came, of all places, in an Instagram comment section, as fans bombarded him with questions on a post revealing someone spent over $700 at McDonald’s. Bell joined the eventual AFC champions mid-season after the Jets let him go after 17 games in green but was used sparingly (63 carries over nine games). He has since apologized for the arena in which he posted his comments, but reiterated his displeasure for his time in Kansas City. 

The Bell experiment, one that cost the Jets over $52 million, came at a curious time on the NFL timeline, one that has placed an increased reliance upon aerial antics. Since 2010, only two top-ten rushers (Marshawn Lynch, LeGarrette Blount) have hoisted the Lombardi Trophy. No leading rusher has triumphed since Terrell Davis in 1998. Thus, it was odd to see the Jets shell out so much for a dying art in the modern NFL, one that may have indirectly played a role in the recent offensive overhaul that ended the Sam Darnold era. With so much being dealt to Bell, other areas (i.e. receiving and blocking) were neglected.

Bell’s latest overpass arson allows his former employers to look back and realize just how much the situation behind the quarterback has improved. Interestingly, the Jets have gone for a more minimalist approach, adding two-time Super Bowl participant Tevin Coleman on a short deal worth $2 million, retaining a trio of young veteran projects in La’Mical Perine, Ty Johnson, Josh Adams, and a draft pick Michael Carter. Attention has centered on the Jets’ passing transactions, including a new quarterback (Zach Wilson) and several big-play threats (Elijah Moore, Corey Davis, Keelan Cole). The Jets have also been renovating the offensive line, adding extra first-round choice Alijah Vera-Tucker to work next to Mehi Becton. New York also reportedly remains in the Morgan Moses conversation.

But despite the obvious upgrades in the passing game, this new approach when it comes to the rushers, one more conventional in the lens of the modern NFL, could be what truly awakens a dormant offense.

The relatively ignorance of the Jets run game is understandable in a sense: the Jets haven’t had a game-changing receiver since the magic of the Brandon Marshall/Eric Decker tandem during the star-crossed 2015 campaign. Robby Anderson nearly became that guy, but the Jets let him walk to Carolina with relatively little resistance. But trying to reverse fortunes fully through the passing game didn’t work out the last time around. It’s simply not fair to place the responsibilities of a metropolitan resurrection on players like Wilson and Moore. A strong run game in this year of development could help lighten that burden.

Even with legitimate improvements that truly make the Jets a better team…and not only because last year’s two-win campaign really couldn’t have made things much worse…asking the Jets to make the playoffs is going to be a tall task until on-field results prove otherwise. This season provides the perfect opportunity to experiment and work through any lingering issues they have before they plan to reintroduce themselves to professional relevancy. If they pull off an upset or two along the way, even if it’s as simple as topping the mediocre Patriots to end a ten-game losing streak against the Flying Elvises, call it an added bonus.

The developmental group of rushers can help them work toward the modest, yet attainable, goal.

Jan 13, 2018; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Atlanta Falcons running back Tevin Coleman (26) runs the ball against Philadelphia Eagles outside linebacker Nigel Bradham (53) during the first quarter in the NFC Divisional playoff game at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Gold in a former 49er

Signing Coleman helps with the issues of youth and inexperience. The former Falcon and 49er has played an integral role in championship-contending squads and is a rare New York representative (though one of several veteran acquisitions) that brings playoff experience with him. Knee and shoulder ailments limited him to 87 total yards of offense over eight games last season in San Francisco. But, arriving on an affordable one-year deal and having proved serviceable in a lesser-heralded but nonetheless essential role, Coleman’s redemption story is one the Jets can afford to co-author (unlike that of Julio Jones).

New Jets head coach Robert Saleh knows about the impact Coleman can have on a team. One of his primary tasks in practice as the 49ers’ defensive coordinator was to find a way to stop Coleman, who spent the last two seasons in the Bay Area with Saleh. He believes Coleman personifies the “all gas, no brake” mantra

“His leadership, his on-the-field-demeanor, just all of it, his practice habits, he represents what we covet,” Saleh in a report from Dennis Waszak Jr. of the Associated Press. “When he gets the ball in his hand and he makes that one cut, it’s like he’s shot out of a cannon. He’s got tremendous speed, he’s got a tremendous mindset when the ball is in his hand, in terms of breaking tackles, falling forward, creating positive yardage.”

Though Coleman is by far the most accomplished name in the Jets’ current rushing room, it’s far from a guarantee that he’s going to be the primary ground option. The seventh-year veteran is faced with a goal of not only making an impact with his new employers but potentially extending his NFL career into his 30s.

“I’m a fast guy, I’m a strong guy, I’m big,” The 28-year-old said in Waszak’s report. “So I’ve definitely got a lot in my tank to prove myself.”

jets, michael carter
Jan 28, 2021; National running back Michael Carter of North Carolina (7) runs the ball during National practice at Hancock Whitney Stadium in Mobile, Alabama, USA; Mandatory Credit: Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

UNC You at the Top?

A lot of good vibes emerged from the Jets’ optional workouts earlier this month, if only because the sense of existential dread of the Adam Gase era has vanished along with the vanquished head coach. In fact, one can chalk any positive feeling the Jets have had since last holiday season on the Monkey’s Paw-style condition that last season was so unbearable that any offseason move would’ve felt like a step in the right direction.

One of the more subtle moves of that endeavor was the drafting of Michael Carter…namely the running back Michael Carter, though the Jets also have hopes for his fellow Michael Carter, this one being an untreated cornerback out of Duke.

The offensive Carter is a rusher from North Carolina, chosen in the early stages of the draft’s third day. Saturday at the draft is often a test of one’s football will, a day where you’re more likely to find Star Wars characters and orangutans than immediate starters. The Force, however, appears to be strong with Carter.

The former Tar Hell earned rave reviews during the voluntary portions of OTAs and instantly became a favorite target of fellow rookie Zach Wilson. A common theme in praise for Carter appears to be that he personifies the outside zone tendencies new offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur would love to implement. It was one of the first things Carter noticed when the Jets made him the 107th overall pick of the draft earlier this spring.

“I think my change of direction and my stop-start ability, I think it compliments this system well,” Carter said in a report from DJ Bien-Aime of the New York Daily News. “I’ve been running pretty much wide zone since I was born. So it’s something that really comes naturally to me. We read a lot of it in college, even in high school I did, even in youth football I did. So I’m very familiar with it. I’m just excited to get in the system.”

Nov 22, 2020; Inglewood, California, USA; New York Jets running back La’Mical Perine (22) is congratulated after scoring a touchdown against the Los Angeles Chargers in the first quarter at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Left Behind

The Jets have engaged in a de facto purge of the Gase era, one that has left little, if any, reminder of the former New York boss on its 2021 masthead.

Perine, Johnson, and Adams (the lattermost earning a new one-year deal for next season) are three of the rare leftovers from Gase’s cursed watch, namely the truly garish latter of his two campaigns. Conventional wisdom seemed to hint at a great opportunity for the group when Bell was let go, as the Jets’ instant removal from the playoff picture gave them plenty of opportunities to hold auditions for future roles. Gase, however, instead opted to give the 38-year-old Frank Gore a de facto retirement tour, almost writing his application to the 16,000-yard club for (Gore did reach that number, sitting third all-time behind Emmitt Smith and Walter Payton).

To the casual observer, Perine seems destined to become an unfortunate casualty, even if his status as a Jets seems defined by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. This time last season, he was in Carter’s position as a fourth-round pick that could make a difference but any hopes of impressing during the spring/summer practice traditions were undone by factors far beyond his or anyone remotely associated with football’s control: the COVID-19 pandemic. Perine himself carved out an opportunity (232 yards on 64 carries) but his season was plagued by both an ankle injury and placement on the COVID/reserve list.

Perine’s propensity for north/south style rushing as compared to speed and agility cherished by LaFleur has led some to label him the odd man out, ending his green career before it can truly get started. The return of preseason football should offer the Florida alum and 2019 Orange Bowl MVP an interesting, new opportunity as he embarks on one of the more intriguing battles of training camp.

Meanwhile, Johnson and Adams account for what passes as the closest thing the Jets have had to consistency in their run game since the underrated days of Chris Ivory. With Gore and Perine both missing a December tilt against Las Vegas, the pair provided the most lucrative rushing game the Jets had had in several seasons. It was forgotten in the wake of Gregg Williams’ doomed final blitz, but the two united for 178 yards. Johnson even reached triple digits, the first in New York since Isaiah Crowell’s one shining green moment in 2018.

Denied a full showcase by Gase’s Gore gambit last fall, Johnson and Adams face a bit of an uphill battle in carrying on their metropolitan careers. But the pair is mostly used to it, as they’ve built sizable tenures considering where they began. Johnson was drafted by Detroit in 2019’s sixth round but made the most of his limited opportunity by earning a 4.7 average on his 54 carries. Adams was undrafted out of Notre Dame but wound up joining current Jets general manager Joe Douglas’ former stomping ground in Philadelphia. He played his way into the Eagles’ roster when injuries ate at the veteran rushers. Competing in summer showdowns should be nothing new, but if they make it, they’ll provide an invaluable service to a long-sought hopeful chapter of the Jets’ perpetual rebuild.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: The best point to draft each offensive position

The New York Jets will definitely take a quarterback second overall, but where could they take some other offensive roles? 

The New York Jets know what they have to do when it comes to the NFL Draft, which begins on Thursday night (8 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN/NFL Network). Questions, however, still linger. Who will they pick? When will they address each position and need?

ESM attempts to answer the latter question, starting with the offensive end…

Quarterback

It’s more or less a foregone conclusion that the Jets are taking a quarterback with the second overall pick, and John Beck has all but confirmed that it’s going to be his pupil and fellow BYU legend Zach Wilson. Whether it’s Wilson or a non-Provo surprise, the Jets have no other choice. The Deshaun Watson sweepstakes are over and their current options are James Morgan and Mike White, they of a combined zero NFL passes. Everything they’ve done this offseason has led to this: it’s quarterback or bust with their highest choice since 1996.

The Jets are in desperate need of a backup, but the draft is definitely not the place to get that, a la the Washington draft in 2012 (Robert Griffin III at No. 2, Kirk Cousins in the fourth round). Besides, they’re already burdened with one unnecessary quarterback, inexplicably draft Morgan in the fourth round before instant contributors like Gabriel Davis and DeeJay Dallas. There’s no need to add another after Wilson.

The Perfect Spot: No. 2 pick

Running Back

No matter who the Jets draft at second overall, his job can be made a whole lot easier if they have a serviceable run game to help him out. They had a trio of young projects (La’Mical Perine, Ty Johnson, Josh Adams) but enjoyed a sizable veteran upgrade capable of making an impact through the addition of Tevin Coleman. While Coleman is only in town on a one-year deal, the addition allows the Jets to bide their time in finding a long-term solution at running back. Adding another young rusher to the mix sounds fair, but Coleman and a deep rushing class allow the Jets to address other needs with their early picks.

The Perfect Spots: Day 3

Wide Receiver

The receiver spot was one of the most drastically upgraded areas on the Jets’ roster through free agency. While the Jets might still lack a true No. 1 target, they now have four guys who can realistically fill and compete for that role (newcomers Corey Davis and Keelan Cole join incumbents Denzel Mims and Jamison Crowder). Much like Coleman, the free agency haul allows them to be patient, though they could still be inspired to take a receiver after they fulfill their early needs.

The Perfect Spots: Round 3 and beyond

Tight End

The last survivor from their ill-fated fashion show, Chris Herndon is perhaps the most prominent face left over from the Todd Bowles era. Though he has struggled to maintain his rookie year production thanks to a suspension and injuries, last season ended on a promising note (11 receptions, 97 yards, 2 touchdowns over the last couple of games). That might be enough for them to wait a little bit before they add a potential replacement.

Beyond the brief Herndon resurgence, there’s a drastic talent drop in this position class after the highly coveted Kyle Pitts, who will likely be long gone by the time the Jets make their second pick in the 23rd slot. The addition of Tyler Kroft and re-signing of Daniel Brown also ensures that the Jets can wait to add another tight end. It’s not an elite group on the current roster by any stretch, but there’s enough solid personnel here that the Jets can worry about more desperate areas come Thursday and Friday.

The Perfect Spots: Day 3

Offensive Line

When it comes to their blocking, the Jets should draft early and draft often.

Had the Jets kept Sam Darnold, the second overall pick could’ve well been used on a blocker (i.e. Penei Sewell). While the Jets made some improvements throughout the roster, the blocking went mostly unaddressed as they added only Dan Feeney and Corey Levin, who likely won’t provide the blocking revolution the Jets need when making the transition to a new franchise quarterback. They have the capital to make up for lost time in the draft to put some heat on the incumbent blocking group and give the thrower, Wilson or otherwise, a solid foundation to work with.

Drafting Mekhi Becton and passing on elite receiving talent with the 11th overall pick was last season was a necessary move that paid big dividends. But more work is needed. Any pick used on a blocker after the inevitable quarterback at No. 2 can be a wise investment that continues Joe Douglas’ quest to make amends for the blocking negligence of the Mike Maccagnan era.

The Perfect Spots: Any pick beyond No. 2

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Buffalo Bills offseason preview 2021: Running backs

Just because the Buffalo Bills have figure out their passing game doesn’t mean their offense should fully rely on it.

The Position: Running Back
On the Roster: Devin Singletary, Zack Moss
Free Agents: T.J. Yeldon, Taiwan Jones
Reserve/Future: Antonio Williams, Christian Wade

The Buffalo Bills have solved their long-lingering passing problems through Josh Allen, Stefon Diggs, and other aerial talents. That doesn’t mean they should solely rely on such talents to win games.

It was rare to find disappointments on the Bills’ roster, particularly on the offensive front, but the run game’s decline. The team seemed to be set for the future with day two gem Devin Singletary (775 rushing yards, fourth-best amongst rookies despite missing four games) entering his sophomore season and using another third-round choice on Zack Moss last spring. Moss replaced the Florham Park-bound Frank Gore, who united with Singletary to create the eighth-best rushing attack in football in 2019.

But despite some brief flashes of brilliance…Moss had two touchdowns in a November win over New England…their run tally was mostly anchored by Allen. As a whole, the Bills dropped to 20th in rushing yards per game…right behind the Saquon Barkley-free New York Giants. No Bills rusher reached triple digits in yardage last season. The mistrust in the run game was apparent in the playoffs. During the Divisional victory over Baltimore, one that Moss missed with an injury sustained in the Wild Card tilt with Indianapolis, Buffalo running backs earned only nine carries, with Allen forced to carry the load with 46 touches (37 passes, 9 carries).

“We’re gonna do what we think we need to do to win, whether it’s run it or pass it,” offensive coordinator Brian Daboll said of his unit, per Sal Maiorana of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. “You try to do both of them well. How that sorts itself out and how the game’s going or the direction we want to take it, that’ll all be played out.”

Free Agents-to-be

T.J. Yeldon

Yeldon, struggling to live up to the promise he displayed during his first years in Jacksonville, has spent the last two seasons playing sparingly with the Bills. He did take some more snaps once Moss was lost for the postseason.

Taiwan Jones

Working through his second stint with the Bills, Jones is far more well known for his work on special teams, notably recovering a Mecole Hardman fumble during the AFC title game.

Will They Draft?

There’s probably no use in drafting a running back so early on, especially with needs on the pass rush far more pressing. Considering their top two current options are consecutive third-round picks, it’s hard to see them picking another rusher on day two. Options in the third round and beyond could include Chuba Hubbard. The Oklahoma State star’s relatively small size and struggles with blocking could well push him to day three, but small school options in the draft’s latter stages could include Trey Ragas (Louisiana-Lafayette) and Spencer Brown (FCS Northern Iowa).

Veteran Possibilities 

Mike Davis, Carolina

Singletary and Moss can be labeled as bruising, smashmouth options. Their young, workhorse ethic can be complimented and honed with an experienced speedster like Davis, who is well known for running a 4.38 in the 40-yard-dash, a highlight that will probably be played often with no combine this season.

Marlon Mack, Indianapolis

If the Bills want to go the three-headed monster route at running back, Mack would work well with a similar skillset to the incumbent Moss and Singletary. He’ll likely be searching for a new home after Jonathan Taylor’s breakout and is come off a torn Achilles. If the Bills can ink him to an affordable short-term deal, it could be worth giving him a chance to earn the permanent rushing job.

Nick Bellore, Seattle

The fullback is a dying art in today’s NFL, but the idea of Allen working with a fullback could be most intriguing. A man of many talents, the linebacker-turned-fullback Bellore earned his first Pro Bowl nomination through some strong blocking and performance on special teams. Bellore ranked third in the NFL last season with 14 tackles on kickoffs and punts.

Outlook

Overall, the Bills appear to be satisfied with their rushing corps despite their struggles. General manager Brandon Beane exonerated Singletary and Moss during his season-ending statements.

“I think it’s unfair to look at the running backs to point blame on the running game,” Beane said, per Matt Bove of WKBW-Buffalo. “Running the football is very complex. It’s the offensive line, it’s the tight ends, it’s the receivers. If one guy doesn’t make his block, the play is probably dead.”

If they’re willing to let both Yeldon and Jones walk, and neither of them is going to top the offseason priority list, they could go after a veteran rushing name. But it’s more likely that Beane will try to replenish the blocking corps before he tinkers with the Singletary-Moss duology.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

 

New York Jets positional preview 2021: Running backs

How will the New York Jets move on in their rushing situation after Le’Veon Bell? ESM investigates in Part II of its offseason preview.

The Position: Running Back
On the Roster: La’Mical Perine, Ty Johnson
Free Agents: Frank Gore, Josh Adams
Reserve/Future: Pete Guerriero

If you told New York Jets fans this time last year that Le’Veon Bell would be getting ready to play in Super Bowl LV, they would be ecstatic and likely booking their flights and hotels to/in the Tampa area. Alas for the wearers of green, we’re enduring a socially distanced Super Bowl this year that will limit attendance. If Bell plays, he will not represent the Jets, but the Kansas City Chiefs, having been mercifully granted his New York release after 17 games over the last two seasons.

Upon his departure, Bell left behind an aura of uncertainty with the Jets rushing situation…and that can’t be pinned entirely on his release. The Jets had an opportunity to clear up their rushing future with several viable candidates. Fourth-round rookie La’mical Perine was emerging from an early stretch of injuries while the Jets added former Detroit draft pick Ty Johnson off waivers. Joe Douglas’ former Philadelphia disciple Josh Adams was also called up from the practice squad. Alas, New York opted to give most of its rushing opportunities to an aging Frank Gore, who put up a career-low 3.5 yards a carry and never reached the 75-yard plateau.

While Perine (64 carries, 232 yards, 2 scores) struggled to gain traction, missing six games due to injuries and a late positive test for COVID-19, Johnson and Adams took advantage of the little opportunities left. The pair united for 178 yards in a December contest against Las Vegas, with Johnson accounting for the first triple-digit rushing game for a Jets back in over two calendar years.

Free Agents-to-be 

Frank Gore

One can easily respect the brilliant, resilient NFL career of Gore while acknowledging that it’s probably not the best idea to make him your feature back at age 37. But that’s exactly what the Jets tried to do last season, and it didn’t end well. Again, one can’t entirely pin the disaster on Gore, who had a purpose upon his signing. No one was going to quarrel with the veteran Gore coming to New York and serving as a spell option, mentor, and veteran leader, but making him the top back after Bell’s release was ill-advised, especially when the macabre gift of consequence-free football games would’ve allowed the Jets to try something new.

Gore hinted at retirement during the season but left the door open to a 17th season earlier this winter, telling team reporter Jack Bell “I haven’t made a decision yet”. He ended the 2020 campaign as the third-leading rusher in NFL history at exactly 16,000 yards, behind only Emmitt Smith (18,355) and Walter Payton (16,726). Whether he’ll add to that tally remains to be seen, it’s possible additional yardage could be earned in a Jets jersey. Several of Gore’s younger teammates often cited the value of his veteran leadership and the Jets could be getting even younger at some of their most vital positions…i.e. quarterback. Then again, Gore may be better off “ring-chasing” as the Jets seek to make their own luck moving forward.

Josh Adams

After all the drama, someone with the name “J. Adams” actually contributed something positive for the Jets in 2020. Adams previously worked with Douglas as an undrafted rookie during the Eagles’ failed Super Bowl defense in 2018, picking up a team-best 511 yards. One of Douglas’ first moves upon taking the Jets’ GM spot was to pick up Adams after he was a part of Philadelphia’s final camp cuts the following year. Adams played sparingly in his New York debut but led Jets running backs with a 5.4 average carry (albeit on 29 attempts) last season.

Adams’ familiarity with Douglas could potentially work in his favor if he’s interested in a reunion, but he may seek a new destination with more consistent opportunities to avoid getting lost in the fold.

Will They Draft?

Unlikely. The Jets just used a fourth-round choice on Perine last spring. They will likely turn to free agency to find a more established primary option, whether it’s in preparation for someone like Perine or Johnson to take on the role full-time or a longer-term option. It has been a long time since the Jets drafted a running back during the draft’s early portions, their last selection over the first two days coming in 2009 (Shonn Greene), but there are far too many holes to fill to “waste” an early pick on a rusher.

Veteran Possibilities 

Leonard Fournette, Tampa Bay

Another future Super Bowl participant, Fournette could work in the same capacity Gore did: serve as a calming veteran prescience that knows how to win. In addition to his upcoming trip to the Big Game, Fournette was also involved in Jacksonville’s surprising trip to the AFC title game in 2018. The true difference from the Gore era would be that Fournette, 26, has proven he can still handle the workload of a top rusher. He has come up particularly big for the Buccaneers during their title run, putting up 313 total yards and scoring a touchdown in each of the three games. 

Malcolm Brown, LA Rams

It’s possible the Jets could go with a rusher-by-committee approach, though they could use an experienced option to head up the group. Brown will likely seek a new opportunity after sharing duties with Cam Akers and Darrell Henderson in Los Angeles. He and Henderson led the Rams in rushing scores with five each.

Kyle Juszcsyk, San Francisco

It has been a while since the Jets experimented with a fullback, their last legitimate project perhaps being Lex Hilliard in 2012. They briefly toyed with tight end Trevon Wesco in the spot but more or less abandoned it when the sophomore dealt with injuries this season. Adding Juszczyk, who would be familiar with Robert Saleh and Mike LaFleur from his San Francisco days, would give the Jets not only a player with winning experience but a goal-line option to go along with his traditional blocking duties. Juszczy, a five-time Pro Bowler, scored a career-best six touchdowns this season, including two in his first multi-score game against Arizona in December.

Outlook

There is certainly plenty of room to get better when it comes to the Jets’ run game, but, for a team that has so many holes, bolstering the unit may take a backseat while they settle some other affairs. Combine that with a relatively weak free agent class (the top overall options may be Fournette, Kenyan Drake, and Todd Gurley) and the Jets’ still recovering from the Bell debacle, it’s difficult to imagine them making too drastic of a movie. There’s certainly potential from the names on the roster right now, but the Jets’ failure to perform extensive research once Bell left could come back to hurt the team in the near future. An opportunity presented itself to check something off the offseason checklist, but they opted to give that opportunity to a potential Gore retirement tour.

 Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: Running game rises amidst disaster

Lost in the New York Jets’ most heartbreaking defeat in recent memory was the rise of a rushing tandem that united for 178 yards.

The number 100 holds a special place in the athletic realm. Olympic events are often contested in 100-meter durations. One of the most iconic photos in basketball history depicts Wilt Chamberlain holding a piece of paper with the numerals crudely scribbled on after he broke famously broke the century mark in scoring during a 1962 game in Hershey. The National Football League plastered it all over its fields, equipment, and merchandise as it turned the big one-double zero last season.

A 100-yard game from an NFL running back used to be a jaw-dropper, but the happening has become more commonplace as the league enters its second century. Entering Sunday’s Week 13 action, 60 such games had been recorded across the leagues. That follows the tally of 110 recorded during the last regular season.

None of those games, however, were recorded by New York Jets representatives. Ever since Isaiah Crowell turned himself into one of the most prominent one-hit wonders in New York Jets history with a franchise-best 219 yards in an October 2018 win over Denver, the Jets failed to reach the elusive mark. Le’Veon Bell was expected to prevent such a drought, but he never put up more than 87 yards in his season-plus in a New York uniform. Their failure to procure even the most basic tenet of offensive success has only added to the brutality of a losing streak that reached a dozen on Sunday afternoon, when the Jets fell to the Las Vegas Raiders by a 31-28 final in the most heartbreaking of fashions.

A late defensive lapse prevented the Jets (0-12) from breaking their losing streak, but one of their rushers was finally able to get back to the century-mark on the ground. Over two years after Crowell’s moment in the green spotlight, Ty Johnson got the Jets’ ground antics going with a 104-yard showing on 22 carries. Assisting Johnson was an equally strong effort from Josh Adams, who need only eight opportunities to reach 74 yards.

The unlikely tandem rose to the occasion when Frank Gore was forced to leave the game for a concussion evaluation. Rookie La’Micael Perine also missed Sunday’s proceedings after leaving last week’s visit to Los Angeles with an ankle ailment. With 28 more yards coming from Gore and quarterback Sam Darnold, the Jets earned 208 rushing yards on the afternoon, by far their best effort of the season.

“I think they did a great job, considering we were looking to rotate all three of those guys,” head coach Adam Gase said of Johnson, Adams, and Gore, per Randy Lange of NewYorkJets.com. “(Johnson and Adams) did a really good job of going in there and being ready to go. We gave them some good holes and they hit ’em. It was good to have a guy get 100 yards rushing and to get 200 yards on the night. It wasn’t enough.”

With a rising number of injuries and a de facto sense of freedom to experiment with the postseason no longer a concern, the Jets have seen several reserves make significant contributions in their valiant efforts to earn a win. Prepped for Sunday work against Las Vegas with Perine out, Johnson and Adams took advantage of their newfound opportunities.

Johnson, 23 is in the midst of his second NFL season, joining the league as Detroit’s sixth-round draft pick out of Maryland. The Jets claimed him less than 24 hours after he was released by the Lions in October. While used sparingly, he notable earned a 34-yard gain in the Jets’ Week 6 visit to Miami, one of their rare positive outputs in a 24-0 defeat.

The rusher earned 28 vital yards on one of the Jets’ final drives, one that set up Darnold’s four-yard scoring run and the subsequent two-point tally earned by Denzel Mims. Johnson himself would help the Jets complete their comeback from a 24-13 deficit in the final quarter and score what probably should’ve been the game-winning touchdown, a one-yard punch partially set up by Javelin Guidry’s forced fumble.

“It was just waiting on the moment,” Johnson said in Lange’s report. “It’s just putting in the work and whenever the opportunity shows, just run with it. The coaches gave me an opportunity and that’s what I did with it.”

Alas for Johnson, his shining moment came in one of the more painful chapters in Jets history, lost in a defeat that pushed the Jets closer to imperfect infamy. Johnson’s disappointment was evident during his postgame statements.

“(100 yards is) cool and all. My family’s happy and a lot of people were messaging me this and that. But at the end of the day, we didn’t get the win. I wanted to get the win, that’s point-blank. It’s a blessing. I appreciate the guys giving me the opportunity, the guys on the line, out on the perimeter. I appreciate the hell out of them. I just wish at the end of that we came out with that W.”

Adams’ New York resume was slightly more accomplished in the lead-up to Sunday. The Notre Dame alum had previously worked with general manager Joe Douglas during the pair’s shared time with the Eagles in 2018. Philadelphia added Adams as an undrafted free agent and he wound up tallying 511 yards in his abbreviated season, 10th-best amongst rookie rushers.

The Jets brought Adams in during the 2019 season and he has been on and off the Jets’ active roster ever since. He too was struggled to gain a spot in the New York rotation but notably scored a touchdown in the Jets’ 2020 opener in Buffalo.

Adams earned several chunk yardage plays during Sunday’s proceedings, his longest carry going for 38 yards late in the first half. Alas, his efforts were likewise wasted, as the Jets were forced into a turnover on the very next play, run in a first-and-goal situation. New York would later cash in on Adams’ efforts at the onset of the fourth quarter, when he went 18 yards on the first play from scrimmage en route to Darnold’s score (his second of the season, tying him for the team lead with Perine).

The theme of free research and development may continue to be the one thing the Jets have left to play four as they mercifully enter the final quarter of this cursed slate. Such a stretch begins next Sunday in Seattle (4:05 p.m. ET, CBS).

Even as the Jets seem destined to choose passing sensations Trevor Lawrence or Justin Fields with the top overall pick come April, the first dozen games have shown that the team is far from a quick quarterback fix to return to NFL relevancy. Their post-Bell rushing game will no doubt be scrutinized, especially with Perine potentially returning at some point in this stretch. While the Jets may be reluctant to spend a part of their sizable offseason budget (currently at just over $82 million in cap space) on another running back after the Bell departure, they’ll possibly look to upgrade with a veteran like Mike Davis or Phillip Lindsay to move forward.

Thus, Johnson and Adams could potentially have a shot to show the Jets that their rushing solutions may lie within and that they might be able to trim their offseason shopping list. The situation could wind up falling from their control…the current coaching staff has shown an uncanny loyalty to a 37-year old Gore…but their ongoing antics should give fans a reason to keep an eye on whatever remains in this season long-forsaken by football deities.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags