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Analyzing the NY Jets’ RB workload split: Who will be featured most?

Tevin Coleman, Michael Carter, La'Mical Perine, Ty Johnson NY Jets
Jet X Graphic, Getty Images

How will snaps, carries, and targets be distributed in the committee-style NY Jets backfield inspired by Mike LaFleur’s 49ers?

It has been well-documented throughout this offseason that the New York Jets are poised to utilize a committee approach at the running back position.

With no clear-cut No. 1 back and an offensive coordinator in Mike LaFleur, who is coming over from a 49ers team that used a committee backfield, it makes perfect sense to expect the Jets to spread the wealth.

The question is, “How exactly will playing time and touches be distributed?”

Let’s take a look back at how LaFleur’s 49ers utilized their running backs to get an idea of how the Jets might disperse opportunities at the position. We’ll use the 2019 season as our model since San Francisco’s running backs stayed fairly healthy that season while the position was ravaged by injuries in 2020.

Overall opportunity distribution

The chart below provides a look at how many opportunities the 49ers allocated to the running back position in each game of the 2019 season. Fullback Kyle Juszczyk (labeled “KJ” in the chart) is also included, as he had a massive role in the offense.

For each game, you can see the number of snaps (and the percentage of snaps played) given to Juszczyk and the team’s first, second, third, and fourth-most used running backs (however many are applicable). In addition, you can see the number of carries and targets given to each spot on the depth chart (based on snaps played in that game; i.e. RB1 is the RB with the most snaps in that particular game while RB2 is the RB with the second-most).

*Scroll right/swipe left for more:

RB1 SNAPS3730486731353735424429284039395539.8
RB2 SNAPS19132361623152915152527392510919.3
RB3 SNAPS613601515126012184214728.3
RB4 SNAPS05002000000206000.9
KJ SNAPS3629382222223727232331144439303529.5
RB1 SNAP%6049619248485650746240464946708358
RB2 SNAP%312129825322341262135444830181428
RB3 SNAP%102180232118901725721713312
RB4 SNAP%08003000000307001
KJ SNAP%5848483034305639403243235446545443
RB1 CARRIES15141414111717312181671416222014.4
RB2 CARRIES3812316912431291114106.8
RB3 CARRIES43204933013200202.3
RB4 CARRIES02000000000003000.3
KJC ARRIES10002040012212111.1
RB1 TARGETS52483224432544273.8
RB2 TARGETS52314311220130412.1
RB3 TARGETS21101100013002100.8
RB4 TARGETS00000000000000000
KJ TARGETS22121222112132321.8

*The data in graphic form:

49ers jets running backs 2020 2021 mike lafleur

This is how the 49ers deployed opportunities amongst their running backs in the average game:

  • No. 1 RB: 34.3 snaps (52%), 13.1 carries, 2.7 targets
  • No. 2 RB: 20.9 snaps (31%), 8.9 carries, 1.5 targets
  • No. 3 RB: 10.5 snaps (15%), 4.3 carries, 0.7 targets
  • No. 4 RB: 0.3 snaps (0%), 0.1 carries, 0.1 targets

On average, the 49ers employed a 50%-34%-16% carry split between their top three running backs. In terms of playing time, the split was 52%-32%-16%.

The team rarely utilized four running backs in a game. A fourth running back never appeared in any of the 12 games in which Kyle Juszczyk was healthy. Across the four games Juszczyk missed, an RB4 was deployed for five snaps.

These numbers present a solid guide of what San Francisco’s typical committee backfield looks like. Three players are utilized in most games, but it’s not as if they are used equally. There is a clear pecking order in most games.

However, while each game featured a defined hierarchy from No. 1 to No. 3, San Francisco slid players up and down the depth chart throughout the season (more on that later).

Player roles

The 49ers had a particular role for each of their primary three running backs in 2019: Tevin Coleman, Raheem Mostert, and Matt Breida. Identifying their roles can help us picture where Ty Johnson, Michael Carter, Tevin Coleman, La’Mical Perine, and Josh Adams might fit into LaFleur’s offense.

Is Johnson the Jets’ Raheem Mostert? Perhaps Carter is the Jets’ Matt Breida? Will Coleman maintain the same role he played in San Francisco?

Let’s dig into the specific responsibilities that the 49ers thrust upon their running backs.

First down

Here is a look at the percentage of each running back’s carries that came on first down:

  • Matt Breida: 62.6% (77 of 123)
  • Tevin Coleman: 59.1% (81 of 137)
  • Raheem Mostert: 57.7% (79 of 137)
  • 2019 NFL average: 56.4%
  • Jeff Wilson: 51.9% (14 of 27)

The 49ers liked to feature their running backs on first down, as all three of their top weapons received a higher portion of their carries on first down than the NFL average.

Breida was the primary tone-setter of the group, getting nearly 63% of his carries on first down.

Second down

Here is the percentage of each running back’s carries that came on second down:

  • Jeff Wilson: 37.0% (10 of 27)
  • Matt Breida: 35.0% (43 of 123)
  • 2019 NFL average: 31.9%
  • Tevin Coleman: 29.2% (40 of 137)
  • Raheem Mostert: 27.7% (38 of 137)

Breida had a sizable lead over Coleman and Mostert on second down just like he did on first down, establishing himself as the early-down force of the crew. He logged 97.6% of his carries on first or second down compared to Coleman’s 88.3% and Mostert’s 85.4%.

Third down

Here is the percentage of each running back’s carries that came on third down:

  • Raheem Mostert: 14.6% (20 of 137)
  • Jeff Wilson: 11.1% (3 of 27)
  • Tevin Coleman: 10.2% (14 of 137)
  • 2019 NFL average: 10.1%
  • Matt Breida: 2.4% (3 of 123)

In terms of carries, Mostert was the primary third-down option while Coleman was right around league-average and Breida was substantially below.

Receiving involvement

Here is each running back’s average number of targets per game and where it ranked among running backs in 2019:

  • Tevin Coleman: 2.1 – 30 in 14 games (46th)
  • Matt Breida: 1.7 – 22 in 13 games (58th)
  • Raheem Mostert: 1.4 – 22 in 16 games (70th)

San Francisco barely featured its running backs in the passing game in 2019. That didn’t change much in 2019 as their leading receiver at running back, Jerick McKinnon, averaged only 2.9 targets per game, ranking 35th at the position.

Coleman was the top target out of the backfield in 2019, although his edge over the other two players was not enormous.

Slot rate

Showcasing receiving versatility, here is the percentage of each running back’s passing-game snaps in which they lined up in the slot, and where that rate ranked out of 67 qualified running backs:

  • Tevin Coleman: 6.3% (26th)
  • Matt Breida: 3.4% (46th)
  • Raheem Mostert: 3.0% (49th)

None of these running backs aligned in the slot frequently, but Coleman was easily used out there the most, logging 14 slot snaps (exactly one per game) versus Breida and Mostert’s combined total of 10 slot snaps.

Pass blocking

Here is a look at the percentage of each running back’s offensive snaps in which they were asked to pass-protect:

  • Jeff Wilson: 15.0% (9 of 60)
  • Raheem Mostert: 11.1% (40 of 360)
  • Tevin Coleman: 11.0% (42 of 381)
  • 2019 RB average: 10.5%
  • Matt Breida: 6.3% (16 of 255)

Mostert and Coleman were asked to protect slightly more often than the average running back while Breida was mostly kept out of that role. Wilson blocked quite frequently during his limited time on the field.


Here is a look at the percentage of each running back’s carries that came in a situation with no more than 2 yards to go:

  • Jeff Wilson: 25.9% (7 of 27)
  • 2019 NFL average: 12.9%
  • Tevin Coleman: 10.9% (15 of 137)
  • Raheem Mostert: 9.7% (13 of 137)
  • Matt Breida: 7.3% (9 of 123)

None of the 49ers’ top three running backs were relied upon to handle short-yardage situations all that frequently. It aligns with the skill sets of the three players, as they are all undersized (Coleman is the biggest of the trio at 210 pounds) and are known for their game-breaking speed rather than their power.

Jeff Wilson largely handled short-yardage situations in his limited time on the field and did well in those scenarios as he converted 71.4% of the time. Here is how the four backs converted in short-yardage situations (2 or fewer yards to go):

  • Jeff Wilson: 71.4% (5 for 7)
  • 2019 NFL average: 68.5%
  • Matt Breida: 66.7% (6 for 9)
  • Raheem Mostert: 61.5% (8 for 13)
  • Tevin Coleman: 60.0% (9 for 15)

Clearly, short-yardage power was not a priority for the 49ers at the running back position. The team’s lack of proficiency in that area hardly hindered them as they were still 2019’s second-ranked rushing team according to yards per game (144.1) and seventh-ranked rushing team according to DVOA (+0.5%).

Yards after contact

Here is how many yards each running back gained after contact on their average carry, and where that rate ranked among 61 qualified running backs:

  • Raheem Mostert: 3.50 (7th)
  • Tevin Coleman: 2.69 (40th)
  • Matt Breida: 2.67 (43rd)

Mostert was an after-contact monster whereas Coleman and Breida were below-average in that area.

Yards before contact

A running back’s ability to produce yardage before contact can be a strong indicator of his vision. Here is each running back’s yards-before-contact average and rank among 61 qualifiers:

  • Matt Breida: 2.39 (2nd)
  • Raheem Mostert: 2.14 (6th)
  • Tevin Coleman: 1.28 (31st)

Breida and Mostert showcased phenomenal vision in the wide-zone offense, consistently finding the correct hole to churn through the line of scrimmage untouched on the way to a big gain. Coleman was fairly average in this area.

Who’s who?

Matt Breida = Ty Johnson

  • Similarities: Before-contact yardage (vision), early-down frequency, low blocking and receiving usage

An early-down enforcer who makes his money with vision over elusiveness, Ty Johnson definitely looks like this offense’s Matt Breida.

Like Breida, Johnson did most of his damage on first and second down. Johnson gained 91.7% of his rushing yards on first or second down in 2020, eerily similar to Breida’s 92.5%. While Johnson was not used too often on first down (50% of carries versus Breida’s 63%), Johnson was a second-down machine (39% to Breida’s 35%).

Johnson ranked third among qualified running backs with 2.44 yards before contact per carry in 2020, highly reminiscent of Breida’s second-ranked mark of 2.39 in 2019.

Both backs are also similarly uninvolved as receivers and pass blockers. Johnson averaged 1.8 targets per game and pass blocked on 7.5% of his snaps in 2020, right in line with Breida’s 2019 marks of 1.7 and 6.3%. This is for good reason as both Breida and Johnson are poor pass blockers – explaining why their teams primarily use them on first and second down.

I previously compared Johnson to Raheem Mostert, who also has great vision and a high before-contact average like Breida. While there are similarities between Johnson and Mostert, Breida is a much closer match for Johnson. The two have a similar set of strengths and weaknesses and have been utilized by their teams in a similar fashion.

Raheem Mostert = Michael Carter

  • Similarities: After-contact production (elusiveness), big-play propensity, third-down potential through pass blocking and receiving efficiency

Carter doesn’t have the speed that Mostert does, running a 4.54 in the forty-yard dash to Mostert’s 4.32, but he has the talent to serve as the Jets’ elusiveness wizard, home-run hitter, and third-down back just as Mostert was for the 49ers in 2019.

In 2020, Carter averaged 4.5 yards after contact per carry, ranking second-best among Power 5 running backs – just as Mostert ranked second among NFL running backs with 3.5 yards after contact per carry in 2019.

Like Mostert, Carter makes most of his money with big plays rather than chunk gains.

Carter gained 62.7% of his rushing yards on runs for 15+ yards this past season, the highest rate among FBS running backs with at least 100 carries.

In 2019, Mostert ranked sixth in the same category among NFL running backs (min. 100 carries) with 37.7% of his yards coming on rushes for 15-plus.

The 2020 NFL running back average in that category was only 24.4%, so don’t expect Carter to remain even remotely close to his absurd 62.7% rate, but he could still be elite by NFL standards.

Mostert was the 49ers’ primary third-down ball-carrier largely thanks to his pass blocking ability, which allowed him to get on the field in passing situations. He has allowed pressure on just 4.7% of his career pass-blocking snaps, well below the 2020 NFL average for running backs (10.4%). Carter allowed a similarly excellent 5.4% rate in his collegiate career.

Both Carter and Mostert are efficient pass-catchers even if they are not involved in that facet too often. Over the past two seasons, Mostert averaged 8.2 yards per target, which is significantly better than the 2020 league average for the position (5.7). Carter averaged 8.9 yards per target in his senior season with the Tar Heels. The two players have been featured similarly – Mostert averaged 2.4 targets in 2020 while Carter averaged 2.9.

Look for Carter to fulfill the Mostert role. This would entail leading the team in third-down rush attempts and pass blocks. Carter would also contribute efficient receiving production on a low volume. As a rusher, he would focus on hitting home runs and producing extra yards after contact.

Tevin Coleman = Tevin Coleman

If Johnson handles the Breida role and Carter handles the Mostert role, Coleman should be able to reprise his 2019 Niners role in the 2021 Jets offense.

In this role, Coleman will be asked to pass block fairly often and will be utilized as a receiver more frequently and more creatively than any other back.

On the ground, he will have the most balanced carry distribution of the trio. While Breida (Johnson) focused on early downs and Mostert (Carter) focused on third downs, Coleman’s carry distribution across the three downs was close to league-average.

Thanks to his advantage in three-down versatility over Breida and Mostert, Coleman was the 49ers’ most-used running back in 2019. He led the unit with 27.2 snaps per game. Mostert followed at 22.6 while Breida ranked third at 19.6.

In a Jets backfield where he has more than twice as many career carries (697) as every other running back on the roster combined (339), it makes sense to expect Coleman to be the unit’s most-used player just as he was for San Francisco two years ago. Perhaps he starts the season in the driver’s seat and is gradually phased out as the younger backs begin to acclimate and prove themselves.

Jeff Wilson = La’Mical Perine

  • Similarities: Power game, pass blocking

Josh Adams could compete with Perine for Wilson’s No. 4 spot, but I think Perine’s pass blocking puts him over Adams in terms of how the two players compare to Wilson.

Wilson pass blocked on 15.0% of his offensive snaps for the 49ers in 2019, which is a very high rate for the position. The 49ers trusted him for good reason. He has allowed pressure on only 4.8% of his career snaps in protection (2020 RB average: 10.4%).

Perine had a decent season in pass protection as a rookie, allowing an 8.8% pressure rate. He showcased a lot of potential as a pass blocker in college, allowing zero pressures on 66 protection snaps in his final season at Florida.

Adams cannot pass-block. He has a career Pro Football Focus pass-blocking grade of 40.4 and has allowed a pressure rate of 11.5%. Over just 26 snaps in protection, he yielded two sacks.

Two more key aspects of Wilson’s game over his small sample size in 2019 were his second-down usage and short-yardage usage. Perine matches up well in both areas.

In 2020, Perine got a whopping 45.3% of his carries on second down, even higher than Wilson’s unit-high 37.0% in 2019.

Perine was also trusted heavily in short-yardage situations just like Wilson was. Wilson more than doubled the 2019 league average (12.9%) with a 25.9% portion of his carries coming with two or fewer yards to go. Perine posted a rate of 20.3% in 2020.

It is worth noting that Adams was trusted for a similarly high short-yardage rate of 20.7% in 2020. However, Adams has predominantly been a first-down rusher throughout his career, getting 61.8% of his carries on first down, and that contrasts with Wilson, who was the only one of San Francisco’s four running backs to have a below-average first down usage rate in 2019.

I think Adams is a better player than Perine (Adams’ film in 2020 was far more impressive than Perine’s film). However, considering Perine’s status as a fourth-round pick of Joe Douglas‘ and the fact that his skill set seems to perfectly match the RB4 mold that Wilson set in San Francisco a couple of years ago, it seems likely he will beat Adams out.

Week-to-week fluctuation

Early in this piece, we laid this model as the 49ers’ average running back deployment in 2019:

  • No. 1 RB: 34.3 snaps (52%), 13.1 carries, 2.7 targets
  • No. 2 RB: 20.9 snaps (31%), 8.9 carries, 1.5 targets
  • No. 3 RB: 10.5 snaps (15%), 4.3 carries, 0.7 targets
  • No. 4 RB: 0.3 snaps (0%), 0.1 carries, 0.1 targets

The numbers above reveal that San Francisco had an established one-two-three depth chart in most games. Despite this, the 49ers managed to distribute touches amongst their backs at an extremely balanced level throughout the season. Coleman and Mostert tied for the team lead with 137 carries while Breida was right behind them with 127.

This phenomenon occurred because there was so much fluctuation in who was playing which role on a week-to-week basis. The 49ers never established a firm one-two-three lineup that they stuck with for an extended period.

Here is a look at each player’s numbers in their top three and bottom three games of the 2019 season according to total snaps, displaying just how much their roles changed throughout the year.

  • Matt Breida’s top-3: 30.0 snaps, 14.7 carries, 2.0 targets
  • Matt Breida’s bottom-3: 6.7 snaps, 2.7 carries, 1.0 target
  • Tevin Coleman’s top-3: 42.0 snaps, 15.7 carries, 2.7 targets
  • Tevin Coleman’s bottom-3: 11.7 snaps, 3.3 carries, 1.0 target
  • Raheem Mostert’s top-3: 38.3 snaps, 11.7 carries, 2.0 targets
  • Raheem Mostert’s bottom-3: 3.0 snaps, 1.7 carries, 0.0 targets

It was all over the place. Each running back had his stretch as the top dog and each one had his stretch in the doghouse.

In fact, Breida and Mostert each had one game in which they played on special teams but played zero offensive snaps – this occurring in the same season in which both players had eight games with double-digit carries. San Francisco changed things up that much.

This tells us that, although the Jets may open the season with a defined depth chart, it could change drastically at any point – and that is the beauty of having a committee backfield. It offers the flexibility to switch things up on a week-to-week basis.

Whether the team wants to build a lineup that is best fit for that week’s opponent, give some rest to an overworked or banged-up player, or simply try something new if a lead player is struggling, employing a committee backfield creates a litany of options.

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