Possessing the ideal skill set and physical attributes, Ty Johnson has the makings of an important player in the New York Jets offense.
It does not matter if you are a New York Jets fan or not. If you watched a Jets game in 2020, you probably wondered why Frank Gore was the workhorse for a team trying to go young while having absolutely nothing to play for in a lost season.
Well, when one realizes that Gore was also not effective at all, owning the lowest YPC on the team (3.5), it gets clearer that the decision to tirelessly pound the respectable future Hall of Famer was another one of the countless stubborn acts by Adam Gase.
This is not a shot at Gore at all. The 17-year veteran is a future Hall of Famer that deserves all the nods, and I believe he could be a valuable piece for a contender, both as a situational runner and as an important voice in the locker room. Gore had immense value to La’Mical Perine and Ty Johnson, of that I’m sure.
But the fact that Adam Gase refused to give the ball to Josh Adams, La’Mical Perine or Ty Johnson just to pound Gore was and still is infuriating.
Johnson, especially, showed promise every time he hit the field.
The former sixth-round pick by the Detroit Lions in 2019 had the highest YPC among Jets running backs with over 30 carries, at roughly 4.7 YPC, while also being the most effective back out of the backfield as he snagged 16 of 20 targets for 99 yards and a touchdown.
While Johnson’s stats are not that impressive – nobody could have been impressive in that offense – his tape and his physical tools are. Ty Johnson’s tape is especially good for the Jets because his strengths marry well with the needs of the Jets’ new running scheme under Mike LaFleur: speed to get to the outside and the ability to reach the second level of the defense on quick cutbacks.
Johnson, a Maryland product, did not receive an invitation to the Combine in 2019. However, scouts that attended his pro-day clocked his 40 yd dash at the 4.4s mark, which would’ve given him the fastest 40-time in the 2019 Combine among running backs, tied with Oklahoma State Cowboys’ Justice Hill. Besides that, the guy also racked 27 reps at the bench press, which would also put him on top of the running backs group had he been at Indianapolis that year.
Johnson’s physique and his tape back up the thought that he is a great fit for the wide zone running scheme.
Quick introduction to the wide zone
The wide zone is a running scheme that is making the headlines of today’s NFL.
It is very similar to the outside zone, since you are stretching the defense horizontally and betting on speed, but, on the wide zone, offensive linemen have slightly different assignments that make all the difference come game time.
Simply put, the wide zone is “the run and shoot of the running game” because, pre-snap, there are only possibilities. The concretes only present themselves post-snap, when the offensive linemen react to the leverage of the defenders.
About as simple as it can be, I will explain what the assignments on a wide zone run play are.
As the play-side offensive linemen are shuffling towards the sideline, they are reading the defensive linemen’s leverage. If the defensive player has the edge set (over the OL outside shoulder), the O-lineman must run with him to the sideline. If not, the O-lineman must reach block the defender, meaning they need to work past him and block him to the back side.
On the other hand, all back side players are doing reach blocks, basically stacking “walls” against the back-side defense linemen, in order to protect the cutback lane for the running back.
You can see it perfectly in the video below: backside linemen forming a wall against the defensive players and play side blockers reading leverage, either running with the guy to the sideline or reach blocking.
The running back must be reading the leverage of the defense linemen on the fly, so he makes the right read and either stretches to the sideline or cuts back inside.
As you can see, the running back must possess a good mix of speed (get to the edge), change of direction ability and strength (cut back) and leverage understanding (reading blocks on the fly).
It’s not an easy task, and Mike McDaniel, the 49ers running game coordinator (recently promoted to OC), once said about the team’s running backs, that there are probably 10 of those guys in the league, and we have four of them.”
I am not saying that Ty Johnson will be the 2021 lead back, neither that the Jets should ignore the RB position in the offseason and just roll with what they have. No.
My point is this: Johnson has the physical tools to be effective in LaFleur’s running scheme, soon to be coached exhaustively by the Jets’ new OL coach, John Benton. Johnson’s tape backs it up. In 2020, he had explosive runs off cutbacks while also being effective on the edge and as a pass-catcher.
Johnson may not be known now, but who were Raheem Mostert, Jeff Wilson and Matt Breida before playing in the wide-zone system? There are players that need a perfect marriage, scheme-wise, to reach their max potential.
I will break down some 2020 plays by Johnson to show how an effective usage of his skills on the 2021 Jets will give the Maryland product the greatest opportunity of his career.
Great game vs. Raiders
In the first game he was featured on a heavy outside zone run game plan, Johnson showed the Jets he deserved more opportunities.
On the three plays below, you can see the Maryland product utilizes well his good understanding of leverage, choosing the right time to cut back or bounce to the outside. Johnson is extremely fast and possesses the rare ability to cut back at any time, no matter his speed.