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Was Josh Adams’ small-sample Jets success for real? (Film)

Josh Adams Jets
(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Josh Adams showcased a lot of intriguing potential over a very small sample of opportunities with the New York Jets in 2020.

It would usually be foolish to buy any stock in a player based on a season in which he stepped on the field for a measly 75 snaps – which is roughly two games’ worth for the typical starting NFL running back – but Josh Adams is a unique case. He was so good over his tiny sample of opportunities with the New York Jets that he has himself at the forefront of the team’s running back competition despite barely touching the football last year.

Adams carried the rock 29 times for the Jets in 2020 and made those chances count as he picked up 154 yards and 10 conversions (2 TDs, 8 first downs). His average of 5.4 yards per carry ranked sixth-best out of the league’s 96 running backs with at least 25 carries.

Notably, Adams blew the production of his teammates out of the water. He had the same number of touchdowns (2) and runs for 10+ yards (5) as La’Mical Perine on less than half as many carries (29 vs. 64). Adams had the same number of runs for 15+ yards (2) as Frank Gore on 158 fewer carries. Even compared to Ty Johnsonwho played great – Adams had a big edge. Johnson only had one more conversion (11; 1 TD and 10 firsts) than Adams (10) over 25 more carries.

There are two primary reasons that Adams’ production can be bought into despite the incredibly small sample: his consistency and his after-contact production.

Consistency is important when evaluating a running back. Yardage totals can easily be inflated by massive runs, hiding a running back’s true level of reliability, consistency, and impact. This is especially the case over a small sample. With Adams, we don’t have to worry about this issue. His outstanding production was not a mirage due to one or two plays. He was making positive things happen at an extremely efficient frequency. With 10 conversions over 29 carries, he posted a conversion rate of 34.5%, which ranked second-best among qualified running backs.

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Adams’ after-contact performance adds to the legitimacy of his performance. The majority of his production was self-created. He averaged 4.0 yards after contact per carry, ranking third-best among qualified running backs.

Let’s revisit some of Adams’ best moments in 2020. Did he show enough to beat someone out for a roster spot in 2021?

The Jets run split-zone with a jet motion. A huge B-gap opens as Mekhi Becton does a great job kicking out the defensive end, Pat Elflein executes his hook block on the 3-technique to pin him inside, and Breshad Perriman blocks down on the safety. The first level is gift-wrapped for Adams, but it is at the second level where he puts his stamp on the play. Adams shows good vision to locate the lane to the inside and then breaks a tackle to add 19 yards after contact.

Adams hits the edge as George Fant pins the defensive end inside with some help from Ryan Griffin. Denzel Mims makes a good block as well. Adams is presented with a one-on-one against a cornerback on the outside. He throws a very hard head fake to the inside that gets the CB to bite just enough to lose his angle on Adams and miss the tackle. Nice work by Adams keeping his feet and hips pointed outside while throwing the fake, allowing him to easily continue in his desired direction after throwing the fake.

Another split-zone with a jet motion. Adams faces immediate trouble as Perriman loses his block and allows penetration. Adams quickly identifies the threat and throws his outside foot down to cut off of it to the inside, dodging the tackle and running through the attempted grab from behind.

Adams puts his head down and shoots for the back side A-gap on an inside zone handoff from the 2-yard line. Ed Oliver grabs Adams around the hips at about the 3-yard line as he beats Fant inside, but Adams shows strong lower-body strength as he powers through and dives over the goal line for the touchdown.

On an outside zone play, Adams is immediately forced to extend to the outside as the 4i-technique defensive tackle beats Josh Andrews to the inside. The outside linebacker defeats Fant at right tackle to take the edge away, creating a phonebooth for Adams. He makes a well-timed cut upfield to squeeze through the hole and run through the diving tackle attempt by the OLB.

Adams takes the handoff into the C-gap and is met with an unblocked linebacker, who follows the pulling right guard (Conor McDermott). Adams knows he has room to the outside since the pulling McDermott gained outside leverage on the defensive end, so Adams stays patient to lure the LB into the C-gap. Once the LB commits, Adams makes his cut. He then avoids another potential tackle as he cuts upfield to evade the defensive back coming from the outside. Nice play as Adams turns a potential no-gainer on two occasions into a 4-yard gain.

You’ve probably picked up on Adams’ aggressive, downhill running style by now, and this play really encapsulates it. Adams trips over himself, but he is able to make something out of the play as he stays balanced and drives his head straight into the chest of a defender, plowing him back for a good four or five bonus yards after contact.

Those seven plays make up approximately one quarter of Adams’ 29 carries on the season. That’s a pretty lengthy highlight reel for such a small diet of opportunities.

I recently went over the ups and downs of La’Mical Perine’s rookie season, and when watching through his film to put the breakdown together, I saw a very comparable amount of impressive runs to Adams over a sample of carries that was more than twice as large.

Regarding Adams, it is also important to keep in mind that the 2020 season was not his first rodeo in the NFL. He put a lot of reps on tape as a rookie for the Eagles in 2018, and he played well. Adams averaged a solid 4.3 yards per carry over 120 attempts and ranked 37th out of 90 qualified running backs (60th percentile) with a Pro Football Focus rushing grade of 71.2.

Rookie fourth-rounder Michael Carter is likely a lock to make the roster. Tevin Coleman should have a great chance to make the team due to his experience with Mike LaFleur and how well his receiving talents fit into the offense. Ty Johnson is a great fit for the wide-zone rushing attack.

It would be mildly surprising to see any of those three players fail to make the team, so that leaves Adams and Perine. Do the Jets carry both? Or are they fighting for one roster spot? Perhaps they could unseat one of the aforementioned three players after all?

The running back battle is going to be an interesting one to watch. Adams is in a disadvantageous position due to some of the positives that other players in the group have going for them, whether it be the nepotistic edge that Carter and Perine have as Joe Douglas draft picks or the scheme fit edge that Coleman and Johnson present, but in terms of pure rushing skills, Adams is right there with everyone else in the bunch. Don’t count him out.

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