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NY Jets mid-round draft targets: Louisville RB Javian Hawkins (Film)

Javian Hawkins
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Louisville running back Javian Hawkins is experienced in the New York Jets’ running scheme and provides eye-popping explosiveness.

A pick that I’m sure would make Mekhi Becton happy, Louisville running back Javian Hawkins is an excellent match of player-to-scheme for the Jets. If selected by the team, Jets fans should be jumping for joy if he’s wearing the Green and White next season.

In 20 games as a starter throughout his three-year Louisville career, Hawkins ran for 2,347 yards and 16 touchdowns at 5.9 yards per carry. He had 1,525 yards over 13 games in 2019 (117.2 yards per game), and if his seven-game-season pace in 2020 (102.8 yards per game) was projected over a full 13 games, he would’ve finished with 1,335 yards. 

Since its infancy in Denver, the Shanahan system – created under Kyle’s father Mike – has prided itself on turning undervalued running backs into star players. The system calls for a very specific skill-set; it prioritizes speed, acceleration, and vision above all else. Outside Zone is the one play the entire playbook is built from, and if any team wants to run a version of that system, they need a back who can run Outside Zone effectively, and most importantly, get to the corner and turn upfield every time the defense leaves it open. 

Enter Javian Hawkins, who has spent the last two years running the exact same outside, weak and split-zone plays that the Jets will be running every Sunday this fall. He won’t need to learn how to read gaps on outside zone, he’s been doing it his whole career, and that natural feel and vision on Zone runs is exactly what a back in this system needs to make sure the play stays effective, even when defenses know it’s coming. 

It’s third-and-1 just past midfield and Louisville runs outside zone from a pistol set. The center executes a textbook reach-block on the 3-technique, while the right guard gets up to the MIKE linebacker and seals him off. The right tackle and tight end widen the lane just enough for Hawkins to cut behind them, and he crosses the first down marker at full-speed with a block out ahead.

Once clear, he turns the corner and sprints down the sideline for a gain of 32 yards. Hawkins had the vision to see the lane and the speed to exploit it.

Outside zone again, and this time the defense overpursues in fear of Hawkins getting the edge. Rather than try and keep going outside like other 5-foot-9, 195-pound backs might, Hawkins hits the cutback lane and gets north and south for a gain of 15 yards.

To top it off, he lowers his shoulder and drives for an extra five yards after contact. He may be small, but he isn’t afraid to put his head down and do the dirty work.

When the offensive line blocks perfectly, it’s up to the running back to get as much out of the play as possible. Here against Pittsburgh, Hawkins does just that. The Cardinals run weak zone, a great counter to outside zone that takes advantage of the defense over-pursuing and is designed to hit in the back-side B-gap, rather than get to the edge on the front-side.

The line gets a hat on a hat, and Hawkins has a canyon to run through in the back-side B-gap, just like they drew it up. Once he’s clear of the line, Hawkins out-runs the closing safety and goes untouched for a 75-yard touchdown. He goes from 0 to 60 in a flash and even has an extra gear to finish and get in the end zone.

Making the right reads and having the speed and burst to get to lanes before they close are essential traits for an outside zone runner. But it’s one thing to make a play when everything goes right; it’s another to make a play when everything goes wrong.

Louisville runs a counter play that looks like outside zone, with Hawkins giving a jab-step front-side before cutting back. Miami defensive end Quincy Roche makes a great read on the play and is the only defender still back-side, with Hawkins in his sights. Rather than panic, Hawkins sinks his hips and jump-cuts inside, putting a guard between himself and Roche.

Roche follows and side-steps the guard, but right as he does so Hawkins throws another jump-cut back outside and spins out of Roche’s grasp. Hawkins is so quick and twitchy that he’s able to out-run the pursuit of the coming linebacker while still regaining his balance for an 8-yard gain. Quincy Roche did everything right to stop the play cold, and Javian Hawkins beat him anyway.

Later in the Miami game – and at this point, I’m confident Quincy Roche has actual nightmares of tackling Hawkins in space. Standard Outside Zone from the Cards and the Canes’ defense plays it as well as you can hope to. The defensive end collapses the edge front-side, the linebackers stay in their gaps, and Roche is coming unblocked as the back-side cleanup.

Despite the four defenders within a yard of him, Hawkins slams on the brakes, spins on a dime, reverses field, and hits the afterburners, going all the way for a 22-yard touchdown. This kid is a thorn in the side of every defense he plays against because sometimes there’s just nothing you can do to stop him.  

Lightning strikes twice as Hawkins one-ups his 22-yard score against Miami earlier in the season with a 70-yard scamper against FSU. It’s the same play and the same situation where the defense bottles it up, and Hawkins makes them look foolish by reversing field. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good, and Javian Hawkins must have a warehouse full of four-leaf clovers and rabbit’s feet. 

Under Robert Saleh, the Jets will likely follow the same “running back by committee” approach the 49ers have deployed under Kyle Shanahan. With the only backs on the roster being La’Mical Perine, Ty Johnson, and Josh Adams, they need to add more players who can run this scheme to its full potential.

Spending premium assets on ball carriers is rarely a way to win in the modern NFL, and smart teams know the best place to find backs is in the middle rounds of the draft. Javian Hawkins is the perfect candidate to join the Shanahan fraternity of mid-round runners who out-played their draft position.

With his electric speed, fine-tuned vision, and ability to create for himself, Hawkins should enjoy a successful pro career as a change-of-pace back at the very worst, and in the right scheme, could be one of the league’s leading rushers early and often. If the Jets draft Hawkins, fans should hope to see an explosive rushing attack that rivals the days of Curtis Martin, with Hawkins constantly breaking off big gains and running literal circles around defenders. Expectations for Hawkins in New York would be sky-high, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he meets or exceeds them all. You never know – stranger things have happened.

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