The New York Jets’ offense has been lacking explosive playmakers over the last few seasons, and although the receivers are usually blamed, the running backs have a part to play in those problems. This season, Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell formed a very solid 1-2 punch at running back, combining for 358 rushes for 1,530 yards and 4 TDs. Geno Smith actually led the Jets in rushing touchdowns with six, giving the Jets a strong run game. However, the Jets have been lacking big plays from their backfield.
The Jets only had 14 runs of 20 yards or more, and Powell led all running backs with just 36 receptions for 272 yards and no scores. The Jets are very solid as far as rushing the ball goes, but they need a speedy third down back who can catch the ball and create big plays. The free agent market has several good running backs available, but it lacks the third down specialist that the Jets are looking for. Specialists like Bernard Scott, Felix Jones and Leon Washington are available, but those players are not going to make a big impact for the Jets.
Luckily, there are several players in the draft who could pique the Jets’ interest. At the top of this list is Oregon speedster De’Anthony Thomas, who has been a star in one of college football’s most explosive offenses over the last few years. Thomas is very small, but his 4.3 speed and excellent receiving skills are exactly what the Jets need. Thomas had just 243 carries in college, but he gained 1,890 yards and scored 26 TDs with them. It was the same story in the passing game, where he used his 113 receptions to rack up 1,296 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Thomas is being projected as a second or third round pick, and the Jets would be a great fit. I think the Jets have other, more pressing needs that would prevent them from taking Thomas in the second round, but they have two third round picks (assuming the Tampa Bay Buccaneers don’t release Darrelle Revis before April) and they could take Thomas with one of those if he’s still available.
If things don’t work out with Thomas, there are a few other options the Jets could go after in the draft. Ka’Deem Carey was very productive at Arizona, and he has a good feel for the passing game. He is not quite as explosive as Thomas, but he is more well rounded. Carey could also slide a little further in the draft, allowing the Jets to fill more important needs first.
There is one more player who’s name Jets’ fans should learn, and that is Kent State running back Dri Archer. The diminutive Archer is simply a weapon, capable of creating big plays at running back, wide receiver and in the return game. He compares favorably with players like Dexter McCluster and Devin Hester, and he could be available in the fourth round. Archer would be a lower profile addition than Thomas, but he would fill the same role and could be just as good.
If the Jets decide to pass on the big names at running back, they could look at players such as Marion Grice, Ladarius Perkins and Timothy Flanders late in the draft. Luckily for the Jets, running backs tend to slid in the draft, making good talents available later. No matter how they decide to address the position, it is clear that the Jets need a third down back who can add an explosive element to their offense. The draft offers several very good options to fill these need, and the Jets would be well served to use one of their picks to add a big play running back.