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New York Jets offseason preview Part II: Running Backs

Michael Carter, NY Jets, Jaguars
Michael Carter, New York Jets, Getty Images

Michael Carter is the future but the New York Jets could add depth behind him

New York Jets running backs:

  • Players under contract: Michael Carter, Ty Johnson, Austin Walter, La’Mical Perine
  • Free agents: Tevin Coleman (UFA), Nick Bawden (UFA)
  • Reserve/future: N/A

The Position on the Position

After the Le’Veon Bell blockbuster bombed, it’s going to be a long, long time before the Jets spend big bucks on a running back. But a relatively minimalist approach helped the run game stabilize fairly quickly.

The Jets appeared to have discovered a diamond in 2021’s fourth-round rough in Michael Carter, a multi-talented back capable of contributing both on the ground (639 yards, fourth-best among all rookies and runner-up among day three picks) and through the air (325 receiving yards, second among rookie running backs). It makes him one of the most dangerous, if not unsung, young weapons on the NFL landscape and he has already developed a strong rapport with planned franchise quarterback Zach Wilson.

It’s clear that Carter is meant to be the future of New York rushing and that he has brought stability to the post-Bell era. But caution can be raised upon the concerningly lengthy injury history he amassed in his rookie season. A high ankle sprain in November cost him three games and he was forced to leave the Jets’ January thriller against the defending champion Buccaneers with a concussion. Keeping the rushing momentum alive is a task the Jets can’t ignore.

They could be well equipped for the task as is. Ty Johnson proved to be a serviceable dual-threat, leading all NFL running backs with a 10.9 average reception tally (min. 30 catches). Upcoming free agent Tevin Coleman (356 yards on 84 carries) got his NFL career rolling again after missing nearly all of 2020 with an injury while Austin Walter (101 yards on 26 carries) made the most out of an unexpected opportunity.

A make-or-break training camp could linger for 2020 fourth-rounder La’Mical Perine, who may be one of the more egregious cases of “wrong place at the wrong time” in recent Jets history. His rushing style didn’t fit in with what offensive coordinator Mike La Fleur was trying to build, and prior to that, Adam Gase opted to give Frank Gore a retirement tour in the immediate post-Bell aftermath. The Jets would save just over $300,000 in cap space if they release Perine outright.

Free Agents

Nick Bawden

The Jets finally gained some traction in trying to foster a fullback role, moving on from converted tight end Trevon Wesco in favor of former Detroit draft pick Nick Bawden. He became a formidable backfield blocker in the snaps he was afforded, carrying on a role he played in college at San Diego State (where he notably paved the way for consecutive 2,000-yard campaigns for Rashaad Penny and Donnel Pumphrey).

Tevin Coleman

Injuries once again prevented Coleman from making a true impact (keeping him out of six games, including four of the first eight) but he was effective after a sprained knee derailed his final San Francisco season.

Coleman was originally projected be the Jets’ primary rusher but those duties were quickly transferred to Carter. Nonetheless, he managed to shine in the latter stages of the season, notably earning 232 on 49 carries in a four-game stretch from November to December.

Armed with familiarity of LaFleur’s San Francisco sets and championship experience (Coleman has appeared in two of the past six Super Bowls), he could prove to be a reliable, affordable returnee. His original one-year New York contract, signed last spring, was burdened with only a $1.1 million cap hit.

Coleman also proved to be a serviceable kick return man, averaging over 28 yards on 11 runbacks. That’s an admittedly small sample size, but could come big if Braxton Berrios leaves.

Will They Draft?

Unlikely, and if they do, it won’t be until day three. The Jets have already used consecutive drafts addressing the run game in Perine and Carter. They also haven’t spent a pre-Saturday pick on a running back since 2009 (when they chose Shonn Greene in the third round).

With so many other needs to fill, drafting another running back would seem like a waste. Sure, there could a camp competition to serve as the primary spell option to Carter, but it’d be wiser to use free agency to find such candidates. With Carter and Wilson leading the way, it’s inadvisable for the  Jets to use their draft surplus to address the backfield.

It’s perhaps worth keeping an eye on Wisconsin’s John Chenal, one of the few pure fullbacks left in college football, if the Jets want to put some heat on Bawden, but he’ll probably linger on the undrafted free agency front.


Veteran Names to Watch

Raheem Mostert, San Francisco

For better or worse, anyone left over from the 49ers’ run to Super Bowl LIV is going to be linked to the Jets until LaFleur and/or Robert Saleh leave.

At first glance, Raheem Mostert (best known for his demolition of the Green Bay Packers in the 2019-20 NFC title game) feels like a slight home run acquisition, but his career is at a crossroads after multiple injuries have limited him to only nine games over the past two seasons (he couldn’t even get through last season’s opener).

It’s eerily similar to Coleman’s situation last year: a Bay Area postseason hero who can be welcomed into LaFleur-based familiarity at an affordable rate in an attempt to reclaim his professional narrative.

Cordarrelle Patterson, Atlanta

After his Bay Area breakout produced an unexpected NFC title game appearance, the new trend this offseason will likely consist of teams looking for “their own Deebo Samuel”.

Cordarrelle Patterson will likely be one of the most popular names picked to fill the respective void on those teams, having fulfilled the role on several teams before Samuel’s recent rise. The Jets need several offensive weapons to press forward as a competitive offense but Patterson can check off several boxes in a single swing thanks to his shared prowess in the rushing, receiving, and returning genres.

At 31, Patterson might be looking to move on to a contender, but the Jets and their developing offense should at the very least inquire.

Jeff Wilson, San Francisco

Mostert’s injury issues allowed for the rise of Jeff Wilson, another red-and-gold LaFleur disciple, during the 2020 season, becoming a dual-threat wizard over the final six games of the 49ers’ ultimately futile NFC title defense. In that span, Wilson tallied 495 yards from scrimmage and was responsible for five touchdowns.

Wilson’s own injury issues (which kept him on the PUP list until November) prevented him from generating further momentum, but he still managed to put in some strong late showings, notably earning a 110-yard, two-touchdown game in a December win over Atlanta. The 49ers quickly pounced on the chance to re-up with Wilson last season, but the emergence of Elijah Mitchell could give him an opportunity to find a new suitor.


The Jets undoubtedly intend to press on with Carter behind Zach Wilson but there needs to be depth behind him to avoid his potential injury issues becoming a liability.

Though teams have distanced themselves from big investments into a run game, there’s no better safety blanket for a maturing franchise thrower than a solid run game. The problem there, however, is the fact that the Jets haven’t had their run game rank in the league’s upper half since 2016 (12th with the unit topped by Matt Forte and Bilal Powell).

Though they’ll likely search for some depth, especially if Coleman walks, the respective rises of Johnson and Walter make the need to address the position a bit less dire.

Offseason preview series:

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

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2 years ago

If there’s a big bruising back available on day 3 I’m interested.