Image: The Star-Ledger (NJ.com)They say, ‘two’s company; three’s a crowd.’ Not in the backfield of today’s NFL.
The League is long past the days of the do-it-all, feature-back commonality. It’s no longer necessary for running backs to shoulder the weight of the run game into their late 20’s, early 30’s.
Emmitt Smith, first All-Time in rushing, pounded the rock an astounding 4,409 times; Barry Sanders, third All-Time, slashed defenses on 3,026 attempts for an incredible five yards per carry.
Ladainian Tomlinson (2001-2011) and Steven Jackson (2004-Current) are the only two backs of the 2000’s to crack the Top-20 on the All-Time rushing list.
In fact, the Top-20 has eight rushers whose careers began in the 90’s, four in the 80’s, and four in the 70’s. The evolution of the RB position has taken on a ‘by-committee’ approach and it’s not a fad.
With more emphasis then ever in the passing game, teams are using multiple backs to attack on the ground and through the air, out of the backfield, with better efficiency. Well-rounded, power backs are joint with complimentary, change-of-pace and speed backs to supplement the unit.
We’ve even seen a rise in the use of utility-backs like Reggie Bush and Darren Sproles who give teams formation versatility and allow for greater speed and quickness when the scenerio beckons.
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The 2009 New Orleans Saints rostered a thriple threat. Mike Bell scored five touchdowns rushing; Peirre Thomas had six rushing and two receiving TDs; Reggie Bush had five rushing and three receiving TDs.
The 2011 New York Giants were another team with a running back group of complimentary skill sets. Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs were a balanced, duel-threat of a slash and smash. Bradshaw scored nine touchdowns on land and two through the air, racking up 926 all-purpose yards. Jacobs scored seven rushing and one receiving TD, with 699 all-purpose yards.
How about the rival New England Patriots of 2013?
Stevan Ridley, LaGarrette Blount, Brandon Bolden, and Shane Vereen ran for 773, 772, 271, and 208 yards, respectively. The group added 17 touchdowns to the stat sheet as well last season; they reached the AFC Championship game.
This is not to say elite, multi-faceted RB’s don’t come around from time to time. Adrian Peterson, Matt Forte, Chris Johnson, and LeSean McCoy have all brought great dynamic and continuity to the position in their careers. Only now, with the quickened tempo of offenses, ground success is further enriched by getting fresh legs on the field.
Flashback to 2009 and the Jets were in contention for the AFC Championship against the Peyton Manning led Indianapolis Colts. The Colts, who finished their season with a 14-2 record, would overcome the New York Jets 17-6 halftime lead; they’d go on to win 30-17.
That season was one of the more notable in New York Jets recent history. First year Head Coach, Rex Ryan, proved the success of his ‘ground and pound’ philosophy and led Gang Green to a 9-7 record and two playoff wins over Cincinnati and San Deigo.
Thomas Jones and Leon Washington provided Ryan a one-two punch of power and speed, but this ended prematurely when Washington went down with a nasty leg injury in week seven. The injury vacated the number two spot for rookie Shonn Greene, whom the Jets selected in the third round out of Iowa. Greene fit into the dual-back system seamlessly, and the Jones/Greene tandem would go on to lead the league in rushing by year’s end.
Moving ahead to 2010, and yet again, the Jets found themselves in the AFC Championship game. Ryan reaffirmed his coaching philosophy and knocked off two of the best quarterbacks in the history of the game with a suffocating defense and a wear-you-down ground attack.
The 2010 backfield consisted of second year Shonn Greene, a resurgent Ladainian Tomlinson, and a speed guy who never came to fruition, in Joe McKnight. Together, Greene and LT possessed a fearful skillset. Had the ball bouced a little differently, the duo may have played an intergral role in a Jets Super Bowl appearance.
Does the addition of Chris Johnson make this 2014 unit extraordinary?
Going into training camp, the Jets have a wealth of talent at the running back position. Chris Johnson was the Jets big pull to round out free agency, and in all likelihood, Johnson edges out Chris Ivory for touches this season.
Johnson has rushed for over 1,000 yards in each of his six campaigns, in a less than ideal situation; he even reached the 2,000 yard mark in 2009, and the alias CJ2K was born.
CJ is also talented at catching the ball out of the backfield and will give Geno and the Jets offense a dangerous check-down option. Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg will assuredly work him into space to see what kind of tread he has left — comforted by the reservation that the homerun is but one exchange away.
After Chris and Chris, the Jets have a sturdy, well-rounded third option in Bilal Powell, capable with both his hands and feet. Powell shared carries with Ivory last season, providing reliability, running for 697 yards and receiving for 272. The Louisville product is heading into his fourth season with the Jets and is in a contract year.
In other words, Bilal has something to prove and everything to play for.
The Jets also added Daryl Richardson, a 2012 fifth round selection of the St. Louis Rams, off of waivers back in March. Richardson showed promise in his 2012 rookie outting, racking up 475 yards for 4.8 per carry, but a less that impressive 2013 made him expendable in St. Louis. That doesn’t mean Rex won’t give him a look.
As we go down further down the depth chart, Mike Goodson, Alex Green and Chad Young — all longshot, able camp bodies — are expected to fall victim to cuts.
With training camp quickly approaching, the Jets depth chart stands at: Chris Johnson, Chris Ivory, Bilal Powell, Daryl Richardson.
This 2014 lineup may have be Ryan’s deepest and most talented yet in Green and White. But as Rex would say, “We get to go out there and prove it.”