The Jets’ backfield is undergoing a makeover, and it’s not just within the quarterback ranks.
While journeyman signal caller Ryan Fitzpatrick tries to use whatever leverage he thinks he has into getting one last big-money deal to re-sign with Gang Green, it should be worth mentioning that the running back stable is also in the midst of a change.
Gone is workhorse Chris Ivory, who left for Jacksonville via free agency, and in stepped veterans Matt Forte and Khiry Robinson. The former was a perennial Pro Bowler while in Chicago, while the latter was a lightly-used player in New Orleans whose single-season career high is only 362 yards, and was mainly part of a committee. That won’t change here in New York, either, as head coach Todd Bowles will likely be inclined to use the entire corps throughout the season.
Forte and Robinson will be joined by holdover Bilal Powell, who is essentially a poor man’s Forte, able to beat teams on the ground and in the passing game. Powell’s 47 receptions, last season, were a career high.
The Jets held their first of 10 organized team activities (OTAs) on Tuesday, with Wednesday’s session the first of three opened to the media. And with no more Ivory, who led the conference in rushing last season, it’ll be interesting to see how offensive coordinator Chan Gailey begins to utilize the trio.
Ivory was the true lead back in 2015 for the first time in his career and he made the most of the opportunity, totaling 1,070 yards and seven touchdowns. He also ran for 50 first downs – a career high – and produced a career high in receiving productivity (30 receptions for 217 yards and one touchdown). Replacing that production won’t be relegated to just one man, in spite of Forte’s high aspirations.
The former Bears workhorse said he has his sights set on duplicating what former Jets running back and Hall of Famer Curtis Martin did once he surpassed the 30-year old threshold, lead the league in rushing.
Martin, at age 31, won the rushing title in 2004. It’ll be a tall task for Forte, who has never won a rushing title at any age. The closest he came was in 2013, when he finished second in the league with 1,339 rushing yards. The only other time his yardage total placed in the top 10 was his rookie season of 2008, when his 1,238 yards was seventh-best. Making things more daunting is that Forte rushed for a career-low 898 yards, last season, and the Bears deemed him expendable.
Running backs don’t usually get better with age once they surpass 30, so the Jets would be prudent to use the committee. That mentality may actually help Forte – to his chagrin – which in turn will help Gang Green finally get over the hump.
The Jets fell just short of a postseason berth in 2015, despite finishing with a 10-6 record. It was a successful season, even though they blew any playoff chance in Week 17. But to at least get back to that level of play, they’ll need to rely on the entirety of its revamped backfield and not try to make any one running back the linchpin.
Gang Green notes:
- The NFL’s Top-100 Players List of 2016 is underway, and two Jets – one former and one current – have already made the list. Ivory came in at number 78, after being unranked last season, while Forte is ranked number 90, well below his number 42 ranking following the 2014-15 season.
- Not all seems bleak for Forte, despite his career-low total last season. He has rushed for over 1,000 yards in five of his eight seasons in the NFL and isn’t too far removed from his 102-catch season in 2014. He’s also had at least 44 receptions in every season of his career as well.