Do you remember when the New York Jets were a “Ground and Pound” powerhouse? It truly feels like yesterday. When the team struggled to throw the ball, which was often, the Jets looked to the run.
If you can’t recall, no worries. Let’s take you back:
The Jets were somewhat of an unexpected threat back in 2009, 2010 and even 2011. Sure, there was some explicit talent with players such as Nick Mangold, Damien Woody, Alan Faneca, and even Mark Sanchez. But the team exceeded expectations by heading to back-to-back AFC Championship games in 2009 and 2010, and outplaying the rival Patriots.
A lot of their success fell on the run game and dominant offensive line. Running backs of that time included Ladainian Tomlinson, Shonn Green and Thomas Jones, who all played lights out and dominated in different ways. The culture of a strong running game complimented the talented defense, who also excelled and made the Jets a threat.
But the run game was the heart and soul of the offense. The Jets proved that they could revitalize the veteran backs they brought in and make them into dominant forces again. It was quite the sight. To put it in even more perspective, the Jets had back-to-back 300 yard rushing games in 2009, which is unheard of today. They were also the first team to do that since 1956 – now that’s crazy!
Ground and Pound not Found
Fast forward to the past few years, and the Jets just haven’t used the same approach. Their rushing yards per season have declined despite the offensive line holding up (until this season), and it’s a massive mystery as to why.
Many thought the Jets had found a diamond-in-the-rough with running back Bilal Powell, who was grabbed in the fourth round of the 2011 NFL Draft. He was, and still is, a hard runner who also poses as a threat in the passing game. However, the Jets have continuously failed to utilize him correctly.
Year after year, the Jets continued to put Powell in a backup type position. Gang Green kept turning to veteran backs who they thought could carry the team further. Some include Chris Johnson, Chris Ivory, and most recently, Matt Forte.
While at times, that game-plan proved worthwhile, it was always a looming question as to why Powell wouldn’t see the field more. He had proved himself nearly every time he entered the game, but the Jets continued, and still continue, to turn a blind eye.
It made more sense in 2013-15, when Chris Ivory was working to reignite the Jets Ground and Pound mindset. In 2013 and ’14, Ivory totaled over 800 yards. In 2015 he finally amassed 1,000, but the Jets lost him to free agency soon after.
Powell remained a Jet through and through however. Now at 29 years old, he backs-up veteran Matt Forte, who the Jets continue to turn to despite less-than-stellar play. That being said, the Jets “diamond-in-the-rough” is getting up there in age, and his best years will soon be behind him.
So Where Do They Turn?
With a developing receiving core in Robby Anderson, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Quincy Enunwa, and a handful of others, it will be important for the Jets to solidify a running game. Forte isn’t likely to be a Jet, or even in the NFL, for much longer due to his age and injury proneness. Powell is climbing in age as well, and rookie Elijah McGuire will need to continue to develop.
So how can the Jets bring back to life a position that was once the heart and soul of their team? It will be tough. The Jets likely don’t have their sights set on their backfield quite yet. Other positions are lacking talent, such as quarterback, offensive line, and corner. But the Jets should keep their eyes open.
Free Agent Options
A handful of options will be available in free agency this offseason. The highlight of them all, Le’Veon Bell. The versatile pass-catching back is slated to be an unrestricted free agent, and the Jets could tempt him with their absurd amount of cap space. But such high fortune may be unlikely. Other free agent running backs include Darren Sproles, Isaiah Crowell, Rex Burkhead, Alfred Morris, LeGarette Blount, and many others. The Jets will have to examine their options closely.
There is also some potential in the draft if the Jets decide to look there. Saquon Barkley out of Penn State is the big name. He will likely be a top ten pick, and if the Jets think a quarterback could be available later, he would make sense for their offense. Others include Bryce Love, Nick Chubb, and Kerryon Johnson.
It’s safe to say the Jets will have an open field of choice when it comes to grabbing a running back in 2018. It may be the reason why it isn’t necessarily their number one focus. They’ll also have Powell and McGuire back, so any worries may be simmered. But whether or not to revive the ‘Ground and Pound’ should be a question of absense. It’s brought them so much success in the past, and with the load of potential for 2018, it only makes sense to force it back into the system.