Five Potential Answers For The Jets At Running Back
Updated: Mar 8
(Photo Credit: Brian Spurlock)
It’s no secret that the New York Jets were one of the worst football teams in 2020.
Former head coach Adam Gase was hell-bent on riding the 36-year-old Frank Gore over 15 times per game, not allowing for the younger guys to see any action. While their chances were few and far between, Ty Johnson, Josh Adams and La’Mical Perine all looked like they could contribute to an NFL team.
However, none of them are legitimate starting running backs.
And yes I know, “the running back position is the least valuable in football blah blah blah.” Tell that to Derrick Henry, Christian McCaffrey and Dalvin Cook. These players are game changers and can take an offense to the next level.
That’s why the Jets need to address the RB position THE RIGHT WAY (I’m looking at you Le'Veon Bell) and fill that hole this offseason.
Let’s look at some of the best available options via free agency, a trade and the NFL Draft.
1. Aaron Jones
There is no doubt that Aaron Jones is the best available RB on the market this year. But with that high praise will also come a high price tag.
Currently sitting at $68 million in cap space, the Jets are more than capable at offering Jones a contract of his liking. But should they?
The Packers RB has been dominant over the last two seasons, lighting up opposing defenses for a total of 30 touchdowns. To go along with that, Jones has averaged 5.5 yards per carry over his career, and has proven he can thrive as either a workhorse or in a committee.
Why the Jets may be hesitant to sign Jones relates back to an earlier point I made.
The last thing General Manager Joe Douglas wants, or needs, is a repeat of the Le’Veon Bell contract from 2019. While Bell’s contract was the work of former Jets GM Mike Maccagnan, Douglas knew that overpaying at the RB position was not a wise move. Especially when the player is past his prime.
I might be convincing you that Aaron Jones is not the answer for the Jets, but believe me when I say I think he is on the top tier for star RBs in the league. His presence in the backfield would be a vast improvement as he certainly has a great deal of juice left in the tank.
2. Chris Carson
The rumor mill is hard at work as we are officially one month away from the opening of NFL free agency. With those rumors come the speculation that Seahawks RB Chris Carson has played his final game for Seattle.
If the former seventh-round pick is truly on the move, he would most likely find a starting job on quite a few teams, the Jets included.
Carson would not come at the same high price as Aaron Jones, but one could expect a contract similar to David Johnson or Joe Mixon, which is roughly $12 million per year.
Similar to the points made with Jones, signing Carson, 27 when the season starts, might not make the most sense for the Jets at the moment. Again, they do not want to make the same mistake as Le’Veon Bell.
However, Carson would be an instant upgrade with at least two productive years ahead of him. He would hold significant fantasy value if he joined Gang Green, but I’m not sure the stars will align.
3. Ronald Jones
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers did not need Ronald Jones to win the Super Bowl. They did, however, need the services of free agent RB Leonard Fournette.
Despite hitting the open market this offseason, Fournette’s return to the Bucs appears imminent. This baffles me, as Jones was clearly the better player all season long. He out-rushed, out-touched and out-scored Fournette, yet Tampa was hesitant to trust the third-year back come playoffs.
And in case anyone forgot, the Bucs also drafted Ke’Shawn Vaughn with a third-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.
What it comes down to is the simple fact that Ronald Jones is not the starting running back for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. There are too many competing factors working against him. But have no fear, this is where the Jets step in.
The main question is: how much would it cost to acquire Jones? Looking back at RB trades over the past few seasons, anything between a third-round pick to fifth-round pick seems like the reasonable guess. At 23 years old, Jay Ajayi was traded from the Miami Dolphins to the Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for a fourth rounder. The Jets certainly have the draft capital to make this move happen.
A fresh start in the Meadowlands could be exactly what Jones needs, especially if he’s given the reins to the backfield immediately. La’Mical Perine would be his only true competition, leaving Jones in an excellent spot to flourish, fantasy-wise.
4. Marlon Mack
Marlon Mack’s 2020 season ended as soon as it began. The Colts RB rushed the ball only four times Week 1 before tearing his ACL and abruptly ending his campaign. Have we seen the last of Mack in Indianapolis?
The Colts are looking towards the future, and while Mack is just 25 years old, Jonathan Taylor is the next man up. In the 2020 NFL Draft, Indianapolis selected Taylor with their second-round pick. His presence, along with the return of Jordan Wilkins and Nyheim Hines seemingly puts Mack out of a job.
After rushing for over 1,000 yards in 2019, Mack would have a real shot at becoming the Jets' first running back to accomplish that feat since Chris Ivory in 2015.
He’s a low-risk signing with high-reward potential, and has a chance at being a bounceback candidate in 2021. Depending on how he looks coming off the injury, the Jets could be the most ideal landing spot for Mack.
This move would certainly be great for fantasy managers, as Mack would most likely be drafted in the later single-digit rounds. He’s not a huge name, but his value could spike to a high-end RB2, especially if the Jets focus on improving the offensive line.
5. Najee Harris
I’m no draft expert.
However, after watching quite a few Alabama games this past season, I can confirm that Najee Harris appears to be the real deal and the second coming of Derrick Henry.
The Jets currently hold the second, 23rd and 34th overall picks in the upcoming NFL Draft, and there’s a good chance Harris is available at all of those slots. If not used for a quarterback, the second pick should be OT Penei Sewell. This would be tremendous help, not only for the QB under center, but also for whoever is the RB1.
The 23rd pick is the most likely scenario in which the Jets could take Harris. Letting him fall past that slot and taking the risk that he lasts until 34 might not be worth it as the Steelers, Bills and Buccaneers are all in the market for an RB.
If the Jets selected Harris, I still would not be convinced that he’s the team’s starter heading into Week 1. As we all know, free agency comes first. Even if the team does not bring in Marlon Mack or Aaron Jones, signing Gus Edwards or Jerick McKinnon is highly likely.
Similar to Jonathan Taylor’s situation last season, this would take away some of his immediate fantasy value, though I would still expect the job to be Harris’ in the second portion of the 2021 season.
Najee Harris could be one of those game changing backs and a staple in the Jets’ backfield for years to come.
Who do you think the Jets should get to be their starting RB in 2021? Should they gamble on the high-priced options, take a shot on someone in a trade or build through the draft? Let us know below!