Although we still have the entire summer before NFL teams cut down their rosters, it is never too early to get an idea of what the final 53 man roster and depth chart will look like. The running back position is going to be a very complicated one for the New York Jets this summer, as they have a host of veteran backs that are going to be competing for playing time.
Starters: FB Tommy Bohanon, RB Chris Ivory
Reserves: Chris Johnson, Bilal Powell, Daryl Richardson
We’ll start with a quick note on the fullback Bohanon, who performed very well after being drafted in the seventh round last season. The Jets will be hoping he continues to improve as both a lead blocker and a receiver. Chad Young is his competition in camp, but the reality is Bohanon is a lock for the roster. One interesting thing to keep an eye on in preseason will be how many two tight end sets the Jets use, as those could cut into Bohanon’s playing time.
Things are much more interesting with the running backs. The Jets signed Johnson to a 2-year, $8 million contract despite the fact that he averaged just 3.9 yards per carry last season. Johnson will turn 29 in September, and with just over 2,000 combined NFL rushes and receptions on his legs, there are a lot of questions about what he has left in the tank. Many were quick to blame the Tennessee Titans’ offensive line, but the Jets’ line graded lower in run blocking than the Titans, according to Pro Football Outsiders.
In a perfect world, the Jets plan to pair Ivory and Johnson as a Thunder and Lightning backfield. Ivory was solid in his first season as a Jet, gaining 833 yards on just 182 carries as he dealt with some injuries. Ivory should continue to be the lead back, as he is younger, more effective, and a better fit for what the Jets are trying to do. The best scenario for the Jets will involve Ivory as the lead back and Johnson filling in as a change of pace. Johnson’s ability to stretch the field and catch the ball out of the backfield was something the Jets noticeably lacked last season, and he should be able to bring an explosive element to their rushing attack. Using Johnson in a limited role should keep him fresh as well, making him more effective.
Although we’re not yet sure exactly how things will break down, we do know that Ivory and Johnson will head the Jets rushing attack. The backup situation, however, is far more fluid. Powell and Richardson will compete with Mike Goodson and Alex Green for either one or two roster spots, and the margins will be very thin.
Powell was a solid reserve for the Jets last season, gaining 697 yards on 176 carries and providing some good pass protection as the third down back. Richardson showed a bit of promise as a rookie for the St. Louis Rams in 2012, but he fell out favor last season. Goodson was signed in 2013 to fill the role Johnson will now have, but legal troubles and a torn ACL kept him off the field. Finally, Green looks like the odd man out here, as he never made an impact last season.
Powell deserves to make the team, as he is reliable and has a history of solid production. It will be very interesting to see if the Jets carry three or four backs, and if they keep four whether they will pick Richardson or Goodson. The guess here is that Richardson will earn the final spot, as he is more similar to Ivory, who has been injury prone in his career. Also, Goodson could still easily end up going to prison for the drugs and weapons charges that got him suspended last year, and the Jets don’t need to be a part of that.
The running back rotation will probably be fluid throughout the season, but the most important thing for the Jets is that Ivory and Johnson can give them good production and a balanced attack. The Jets want to be a run first team and they have the talent to be effective, they simply must find the best way to use all of their backs.