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Allen vs. Davis: Who should be the New York Jets’ RB2 in 2024?

NY Jets RBs, Braelon Allen, Isaiah Davis, NFL Draft
Braelon Allen, Isaiah Davis, New York Jets, Getty Images, Jet X Graphic

The New York Jets have two RB2 options to choose from

Pick your flavor, New York Jets fans: should Braelon Allen or Isaiah Davis be the team’s No. 2 running back in 2024?

We’ve already discussed some reasons why the Jets may have selected both backs. They both gain yards after contact at an above-average rate, and they’re both good in short-yardage situations. They fit the gap scheme far better than Israel Abanikanda.

Joe Blewett put out his in-depth reviews of both Allen and Davis. There are noticeable similarities in both players’ games, but there are also tremendous differences. I don’t know if there’s one right answer to this question; it’s largely a matter of style preference.

Still, I have a clear favorite to be the Jets’ No. 2 back — and it’s due to what I think Breece Hall‘s main weakness in the NFL is.

Consistent or explosive?

Between Davis and Allen, Allen is the far more explosive player. Even at 235 pounds and lacking game-breaking speed, he’s the threat to churn out a 15+ yarder on any given down. Davis, meanwhile, ran a 4.57 40-yard dash; he’s not outrunning anyone and frequently gets caught from behind.

However, Blewett’s reviews demonstrated that Davis has far more consistent vision than Allen. He knows where his lanes are and how to set them up. He rarely misses a cutback lane or hits one hole when there’s a better option. Allen runs into clogged holes far more often and lacks the same level of patience.

NFL Next Gen Stats’ Rush Yards Over Expected (RYOE) statistic is meant to give a glimpse into this dichotomy. RYOE purports to measure the running back’s yardage compared to what the offensive line blocked up for him. On a play-by-play basis, it spits out some wonky results, but as an overall metric, it does a decent job capturing the running back’s impact compared to his blocking.

It takes a bit of digging into RYOE to fully understand its impact. NGS therefore provides metrics called RYOE 5+ and RYOE 10+, indicating the plays in which the back gained at least 5 and 10 RYOE. This makes it easier to contextualize whether the running back had a few big RYOE plays that skewed the metric positively as opposed to grinding out smaller RYOE gains.

While RYOE data is unavailable for college, based on Blewett’s reviews, we can extrapolate how Allen and Davis might have performed. Allen likely would have had decent RYOE metrics overall because of his explosive runs. However, he would have had a big dichotomy between those runs and the rest of his rush attempts. Davis, meanwhile, would rarely put up RYOE 5+ or 10+, but would grind out a few RYOE down-over-down to arrive at a positive overall number.

Breece Hall and RYOE

In 2023, Hall tied for fourth out of 39 qualified backs (min. 120 carries) with 0.7 RYOE per carry. However, he also tied for 11th with 22 plays of RYOE 5+ and 16th with 8 of RYOE 10+. That’s not an outrageous rate, but it does tend to demonstrate that Hall gained his RYOE in chunks rather than on a play-by-play basis. His -4 first downs over expected further display his inconsistency in this area.

Robert Saleh criticized Hall for seeking to bounce a big play rather than taking whatever yardage was available. That was a common theme in Blewett’s review of Allen, too — looking to bounce for the big play rather than picking up the dirty yards.

That’s why I think Davis is the ideal RB2 for the Jets. He’s the gritty downhill runner, the guy who won’t wow you but will take whatever is given to him. You put him in when you need the tough yards or you’re in a dogfight in the cold, rain, or snow. That’s likely the specific trait that made the Jets draft Davis even after they already had Allen.

Ideal third-down back

Nevertheless, it’s evident that Allen is the superior third-down option over Davis — if the Jets don’t just play Hall on third down. They seemed loath to do it in 2023, preferring to use Michael Carter and then Dalvin Cook. If so, Allen will take over that role in 2024.

A third-down back needs three critical skills: strong pass protection, receiving ability, and short-yardage prowess. While both Davis and Allen can hack short yardage, there’s a wide gap in their abilities in the other two areas. Allen got stronger as a pass protector as the 2023 season progressed (despite his poor Pro Football Focus grade in that area). He has shown both the willingness and the ability to stonewall blitzers. Though he wasn’t used a tremendous amount as a receiver (30 targets in 2023), his film shows some smooth hands and moves. Davis, meanwhile, is below average in both those areas.

Running back improvement

Many Jets fans will point to Allen’s tender age (20) as a reason to think he will improve at the NFL level. It’s always a possibility, but the running back learning curve is easy for a reason. Rookies tend to contribute immediately because they’re bringing whatever skills they had in college straight to the NFL. That’s not to say Allen won’t improve, but running back vision does not necessarily get better in the league as skills at other positions might.

(Pass protection, meanwhile, does improve at the NFL level — sometimes — because many backs are rarely asked to do it in college.)

How will the Jets divide the time?

My ideal split would be for Davis to take over the Dalvin Cook role and Allen the Michael Carter role. I doubt the Jets will split the time that way, though. For one thing, we don’t know how much Hall will play. He played 61% of the Jets’ offensive snaps in 2023, and if anything, that mark should increase in 2024 now that he’s not coming off an ACL tear.

Still, I suspect Allen will get the majority of the RB2 reps with Davis falling a distant third. Aaron Rodgers likes to throw the ball to running backs, which makes Allen more likely to serve the A.J. Dillon role in the Jets’ offense. Dillon had 37 and 39 targets in 2021-22 for the Packers.

From my angle as an analyst, though, give me Davis whenever Hall needs a breather. Keep grinding those yards and staying ahead of the sticks.

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