With the final NFL roster cuts nearing,we continue our projection of the New York Jets’ depth chart by evaluating the running back situation. There has been a lot of debate about this position in the preseason, so let’s look at the projected depth chart.
Starters: RB Chris Ivory, FB Tommy Bohanon
Reserves: Chris Johnson, Bilal Powell, Daryl Richardson
It’s a toss up for who will be the first running back to step on the field against the Oakland Raiders in Week 1, but the guess here is that it will be Ivory. No matter who technically starts, this is going to be close to a 50-50 timeshare. Both Ivory and Johnson have looked good in the preseason, and the Jets have to feel great about their running game as the season nears. Ivory has carried 13 times for 67 yards in his two preseason games, and he was excellent against the New York Giants in the third preseason game.
Ivory is younger than Johnson and doesn’t have nearly as many NFL touches on his legs (less than 500 compared to over 2,000), and he makes more sense as the team’s lead back. Ivory is the kind of physical, grind it out runner that Rex Ryan likes, and he was productive for the Jets last season. The question with Ivory is the same as it has always been: health. Ivory has a tendency to miss a game or two here and there with various injuries, and the Jets can’t count on him playing all 16 games.
Johnson has looked great this preseason, carrying 23 times for 107 yards and 1 touchdown, good for an impressive 7.7 YPC. Johnson has shown that he still has the speed to turn the corner, and he will bring a big play element the Jets lacked last season. The Jets have also looked to use Johnson as a receiver, and he has 6 catches for 52 yards in the preseason. Johnson has caught at least 35 passes every season of his career, and he should easily reach that figure this season.
Johnson will be a major part of the Jets’ offense, even if Ivory is technically the starter. This looks like a pairing that could be extremely successful for the Jets this season, and it seems unlikely that either Ivory or Johnson will feel underused.
Behind Ivory and Johnson is Powell, who has been solid in the limited work he has received, with 7 carries for 49 yards and a touchdown. Powell is a well rounded back and probably the Jets’ best blocker at the position, and he will find his way onto the field this season. There is nothing special about Powell, but he is a solid professional and the type of player every coach would love to have as a reserve.
The last interesting competition for the Jets at running back is Richardson and Alex Green, who are still fighting to be the fourth back. Richardson has 20 carries for 66 yards and fumble along with 1 reception for 26 yards, as compared to 15 carries for 40 yards and 3 catches for 10 yards for Green. There is obviously nothing impressive about those numbers, but Richardson has looked good in practice and should beat out Green without much trouble.
However, the reality is Richardson is not competing with just Green, but also with offensive linemen, linebackers and cornerbacks as the Jets try to determine the exact construction of their roster. Given Ivory’s injury history it makes sense to carry four running backs, but the Jets could opt for another player, particularly an impact special teamer, over Richardson.
Finally, there was absolutely zero surprise as the Jets cut Chad Young, leaving Bohanon as the only fullback on the roster. Bohanon had a solid rookie season, and Young never had any chance of unseating him. It will be interesting to see if Bohanon becomes more impactful as a ball carrier and receiver this season, particularly the latter.
Running back is the one offensive position group where the Jets feel really good right now, and they should have another strong rushing attack this season. Ivory’s health is the only question mark, but for now the Jets appear to be in great shape in the backfield.