All is quiet in the NFL as players and fans enjoy summer beach trips and backyard barbeques. But training camp is just around the corner, with rookies reporting on July 19th and veterans a week later on July 26th. In a hectic offseason, the Jets signed nine outside free agents and selected seven players in the draft. New York could potentially have more than 30% of its roster of new faces.
This series of articles will look at the Jets’ position groups, how they compare to last season and what to expect in 2022. Review the first two articles here: tight ends, offensive line. Next, we will look at the running backs, another group that has the potential to be a top-of-the-league unit. A unit that shapes the Jets’ identity, a unit that can help Zach Wilson’s development, a unit that can make Jets’ football exciting the watch on Sundays.
The 2021 Jets’ Running Backs
The 2021 Jets finished as the 27th-ranked rushing team with just 1,667 rushing yards. They managed just 87 rushing first downs, 28th in the league, and scored just 14 rushing touchdowns, 20th in the NFL. New York did finish a respectable 14th overall with a 4.4 yards per carry average.
So what happened with the Jets’ rushing attack last season? One major issue in 2021 is that the Jets often played from behind. The Jets ran only 168 plays with a lead out of 1,036 total plays last year. The NFL average had teams running 388.7 plays with a lead.
A Jets rookie is a bright spot.
The Jets drafted running back Michael Carter in the fourth round of the 2021 NFL draft. The diminutive ball carrier from North Carolina endeared himself to the Jets’ fanbase with his on-field play and off-field personality. On the field was everything New York envisioned when drafting the 5-foot-8, 199-pound back. Carter finished fourth among rookies with 639 rushing yards, third in yards after contact per attempt (YCO/A) with a 3.37 average, and first in percentage of runs that went at least 15 yards. The rookie also finished 14th among all running backs in missed tackles forced with 39, 10th in yards after contact per attempt, and 12th in yards per route run.
The question with Carter is can he stand up to the riggers of a 17-game schedule? While being the Jets featured back last year, Carter missed three games prompting the general manager Joe Douglas to get aggressive in the draft.
Joe D gets aggressive.
While many did not see running back as a need for the Jets, this staff saw the value a running back can have for an offense and a young quarterback. Seven of the 14 teams that made the NFL playoffs last season finished in the top ten in total rushing yards.
On Day Two of the 2022 NFL Draft, Douglas moved up two spots and snagged top overall running back Breece Hall from Iowa State. The move set the analytics world on fire while widely drawing praise from the football world. The 5-foot-11, 217-pound back is a true all-around back. In his three seasons at Iowa State, he tallied 3.941 yards while reaching the endzone 50 times. Hall added 82 receptions for 734 yards and six touchdowns. In his three seasons at Iowa State, Hall accounted for 45%, 61%, and 68% of the Cyclone’s rushing attempts. He ranked seventh in the country in both missed tackles forced (74) and runs of over 15 yards (22).
What worked for Russ can work for Zach.
Giving a young quarterback weapons and protection is the best way to support his development. We have seen this with Russell Wilson. He started his NFL career with the Seattle Seahawks, going 36-12 and making the playoffs in 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. This fact is not lost on head coach Robert Saleh, who was Seattle’s defensive quality control coach for two of these three seasons.
What to expect in 2022
While it is unlikely the Jets will become a top-five rushing team, there should be a significant improvement, with top-ten not being out of the realm of possibility. New York now has excellent depth in the offensive backfield. In addition to Carter and Hall, Tevin Coleman adds experience while still having enough left in the tank to be a solid contributor when called into action. In 2021 Coleman’s 3.45 YCO/A was good for sixth best among running back that played at least 20% of team snaps.
With the Jets now having quality players like Hall and Carter taking up the majority of snaps, Wilson will have two excellent backs to help keep the chains moving as runners and receivers.