This is a series covering position battles in training camp and projecting the roster and depth chart for the New York Jets this season. Today’s installment will cover the running backs.
For the first time since 1994, the New York Jets will enter the season without a 1,000 yard rusher on their roster. Shonn Greene left in free agency, and the team traded for Chris Ivory and signed Mike Goodson to replace him. The Jets also have several of their recent draft picks battling for roster spots in the backfield, and the competition is going to be fierce.
Here is a look at the backs the Jets will be studying over the next few weeks.
Players in Camp: Tommy Bohanon, Lex Hilliard, Chris Ivory, John Griffin, Mike Goodson, Joe McKnight, Bilal Powell, Chad Spann
Projected Running Back Opening Day Depth Chart: Chris Ivory, Mike Goodson, Bilal Powell, Joe McKnight
Projected Fullback Opening Day Depth Chart: Tommy Bohanon
I project the Jets will carry four running backs and one fullback, meaning there will be serious competition for the last couple roster spots. Ivory is the only player who is an absolute lock to make the team, as the Jets gave up a fourth round pick to bring in the former New Orleans Saint. Ivory was stuck at the bottom of a deep depth chart in New Orleans, but he showed flashes of ability when he was given the chance. For his career, Ivory has 256 carries for 1,307 yards and eight touchdowns. The Jets will be thrilled if he can match his career numbers this season. The Jets ranked sixth in the NFL in rushing attempts last season, and they figure to give Ivory plenty of work, especially around the goal line.
The Jets’ other big offseason acquisition was Goodson, who the team signed to a three-year, $6.9 million contract. Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg loves to get his running backs involved on screens, swing passes and check downs, and the speedy Goodson was expected to see a lot of work as the team’s third down back.
However, an arrest for drug and weapons charges in May has cast doubt over Goodson’s future with the team. The legal process is ongoing, and it remains to be seen if Goodson will be incarcerated. Even if he isn’t, there is a good chance he could be suspended by the league. The Jets would like to keep Goodson on their roster, but there is a chance that their hand could be forced by a jail sentence or a long suspension.
The questions around Goodson are what make the battle for the last two spots so interesting. Powell, McKnight, Griffin and Spann are fighting for two spots, and the winner could end up having a big role in the offense. Powell was reasonably effective in limited time last season, rushing for 437 yards and four scores on 110 carries. He is a safe bet to make the team and would likely be the player to step in should Ivory go down with an injury. However, Powell lacks the explosiveness to make him candidate for the third down role.
That is where McKnight comes in. McKnight is one of the most dynamic kick returners in the league, finishing third in the NFL in return average last season. His explosive return ability is what will separate him from Griffin and Spann, and that is why I believe McKnight will earn the final roster spot at running back. The Jets need McKnight to bring some of those abilities to the regular offense as well, and if Goodson is suspended or released, McKnight will have to step up as a receiver out of the backfield. This is a big year for the former fourth round pick, and he could be a breakout candidate.
At fullback, Bohanon and Hilliard are fighting for one spot. I wrote about Bohanon’s potential to be a playmaker for the team here, and that is why I believe he will win the starting job. He was the team’s 7th round pick this season, and his potential to catch the ball out of the backfield and be a safety valve for the quarterbacks is a huge asset in a West Coast offense. Hilliard may be a better blocker, but Bohanon has too much potential for the Jets to pass on him.
The running back position is one to watch in training camp, and with storylines and battles everywhere, there is sure to be intrigue right up to the start of the season.