It is no secret that the New York Jets need to upgrade their offense as they head into the 2022 season. An offense that ranked 26th in total yards (5,208) and 24th in yards per play (5.0) last season. The Jets have tried to add a veteran wide receiver for second-year quarterback Zach Wilson as a way to speed up the development of their young signal-caller. Something I fully endorse. They were close to acquiring Tyreek Hill and were in discussions about Amari Cooper and Calvin Ridley but ultimately fell short. General manager Joe Douglas is still aggressively trying to pursue a pass catcher but the options are drying up.
If Douglas fails in his attempt to add Wilson and the Jets’ offense a veteran receiver via trade, he will undoubtedly use one of his four top 40 picks to acquire one. But how else can the Jets help their young signal-caller develop in 2022? The answer is simple(ish), develop one of the league’s top rushing attacks. Yes, yes I know it’s a passing league now and the Jets were the 27th ranked rushing team last year. Of the 14 teams that made the playoffs in 2022, half of them ranked in the top 10 in total rushing yards. Now I’m not suggesting the Jets run a Wing-T or anything like that but taking some pressure off Wilson with a strong running game can go a long way.
Copy the career arc of Wilson, Russell that is
Russell Wilson started his NFL career with the Seattle Seahawks going 36-12 and making the playoffs in each of his first three seasons while never attempting more than 28.3 passes per game. He made the Pro-Bowl in each of those seasons and won the Super Bowl in his second season while attempting just 25.4 passes per game. His 407 total passing attempts were 22nd in the league in 2013. Wilson didn’t attempt more than 30 passes per game until his fourth season in the NFL.
During this three-year run, the Seahawks ranked in the top four in rushing offense all three seasons and first in points allowed on defense in all three seasons. These facts will not be lost on head coach Robert Saleh, who was the defensive quality control coach in Seattle for two of these three seasons. While the Jets are unlikely to be the NFL’s top-ranked defense in 2022, they certainly can become one of the better rushing teams.
How do the Jets improve their rushing attack?
The improvement has begun as the Jets signed left guard Laken Tomlison. Tomlison was the eight ranked zone-blocking guard according to Pro Football Focus (PFF) in 2021. The Jets also get tackle Mekhi Becton back from injury. Becton was PFF’s 23rd ranked run blocking tackle as a rookie in 2020. Last year left tackle George Fant was ranked 67th among tackles in terms of run blocking according to PFF’s metrics. These two additions to the Jets’ offensive line should help improve the run game.
Last year the Jets selected running back Michael Carter in the fourth round of the draft. And Carter was excellent as a rookie. He ranked 10th in yards after contact per attempt and as a receiver was 12th in yards per route run. The major issue long term with Carter is can he stand up to the riggers of a 17 game season at 5-foot-8 and 201 pounds? The Jets need to create a 1-2 punch with a bigger back to compliment what Carter does.
We’ve seen in the past these “Thunder and Lighting” type backfields that sound great but don’t often bring the results coaches and GMs dream about when putting these players together. The reason more often than not, is that the running backs are too different. When the “thunder” back hits the field defenses realize there is a portion of the playbook that just can not be used and the offense quickly can become too predictable. The running back that the Jets select needs to have an overlapping skill set with Carter in order to keep defenses on their toes when either back is on the field.
A Texas running back could be the perfect fit
Texas A&M junior running back Isaiah Spiller could be the ideal complement to Carter. Spiller, an electric runner, is 6-foot and 217 pounds. He has rushed for over 1,000 yards in each of his past two seasons. Spiller has 56 missed tackles forced in 2021, eighth in this year’s running back class. The former Aggie had 18 runs of more than 15 yards.
As a receiver out of the backfield, Spiller hauled in 25 passes for 189 yards. While Texas A&M did not use Spiller a ton as a receiver, he was effective. He did most of his work on wheels or screens, lining up in the slot or out wide just 14 times in 2021. He was not charged with a single drop and of his 25 receptions 13 of them resulted in a first down. Spiller is scheme diverse having run in both zone and gap schemes in college. While he lacks elite speed, he is a long strider with good short-area quickness.
Carter and Spiller have enough overlapping skills that the Jets and offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur would be able to run the same plays regardless of who is the running back.
When will Spiller come off the board?
At Grinding the Mocks Benjamin Robinson looks at the results of mock drafts from experts, media, and fan sources to get an idea of how the draft will play out. Currently, the expected draft position for Spiller is 79.2, which would put him in play for the Jets at pick number 69 in the third round. Adding Spiller to the Jets’ backfield, the signing of Tomlinson, and the return of Becton, New York could easily see a massive improvement in their rushing attack.