In today’s pass-happy league, nothing is more important than capitalizing in the ground game. If a team cannot run the football, then it puts extra pressure on the quarterback and receivers. That being said, the New York Jets once again will have one of the weaker receiving corps in the league for a young quarterback throwing to them, making the need for an effective run game essential. After being tied last in the league with 3.3 yards per carry in 2019, the Jets run game must improve in 2020. With an improved offensive line this season, the pressure is now on Le’Veon Bell and company to step up.
2020 New York Jets Preview: The Running Backs
The Starter: Le’Veon Bell
When at full strength and used correctly, Le’Veon Bell is one of the most dangerous running backs in the league. From 2014-2017, he made three Pro Bowls, two All-Pro teams, scored 34 touchdowns and accounted for 6,737 yards from scrimmage. His elusiveness and patience were on full display last season, although the poor blocking along the offensive line limited his ability. However, after mustering just 1,250 yards on 311 touches last season, many wonder what Bell has left in the tank.
General manager Joe Douglas made it a priority to build the Jets roster his way. He added depth everywhere, especially in the backfield. With veteran Frank Gore and rookie La’Mical Perine now in the fold, Bell’s workload will not be as heavy, allowing more rest and opportunistic usage. As Bell is now 28-years old, the Jets hope he returns to his elite form by keeping him fresh.
Nevertheless, there are concerns with Bell going forward. After sitting out the 2018 season over his contract dispute with the Pittsburgh Steelers, he seemed like a shell of his former self more often than not in 2019. As he approaches the dreaded age of 30 for running backs, he can only hope that the moves Douglas made to improve the offensive line work.
Additionally, it was clear that head coach Adam Gase struggled to capitalize on Bell’s touches last year. Maybe the committee approach changes that, but it is obvious he will not adjust his system to benefit Bell. Leaving it as either Bell returns to his old form in a smaller role, or he struggles and losses touches to Gore and Perine.
The Backup: Frank Gore and La’Mical Perine
During training camp last year, the Jets seemed primed to use Bilal Powell and Ty Montgomery often to complement Bell. Instead, Powell never saw more than five carries until Week 10, while Montgomery only saw 45 touches all season. The instability behind Bell was an issue for the Jets, one that Joe Douglas looked to fix in 2020.
First, he selected Florida running back La’Mical Perine in the fourth round in the draft. Perine is a versatile back with great body control, downhill running style, and receiving ability. With Perine, the Jets could incorporate him into a one-two punch with Bell as a physical inside runner. That was until they added the never-aging Frank Gore. Entering his 16th season at 37 years old, Gore has quality football left as he sits at third in the all-time rushing yards list. With his experience in Gase’s system from his time in Miami, the Jets have a great committee backfield on paper.
The Bubble: Josh Adams, Trenton Cannon, and Kenneth Dixon
After the primary trio, the Jets have three experienced backs looking to bounce back in 2020. Josh Adams signed to the Jets practice squad coming off of a 511-yard rookie campaign in 2018 with the Philadelphia Eagles. He only mustered 12 yards on eight carries through three games last season once signed to the roster. But the 6’2” and 225lbs back has flashed the ability to hold his own in a committee backfield in the past.
One of the remaining Mike Maccagnan picks on the Jets roster, Trenton Cannon needs a strong off-season showing to make the roster. Drafted for his elite speed and kick return ability Cannon was drafted for his elite speed and kick return ability. But once he was put on injured reserve with a foot/ankle injury, the Jets return game remained stable if not improved with Vyncint Smith. Cannon is the fastest of the Jets running backs and will need to show it. As a change-of-pace back, he will need to improve on his 113 yards on 38 carries through 20 games.
For the former Baltimore Ravens fourth-round pick in 2016, Kenneth Dixon looks to regain his footing after not playing in 2019. In 2016 and 2018, Dixon totaled 715 yards on 4.8 yards per carry before the Ravens let him go. Now with the Jets, Dixon looks to use some even-year magic to push himself onto the Jets roster.
Last Word on the 2020 New York Jets Running Backs
There is a ton of upside for the Jets backfield if the offensive line holds up. Le’Veon Bell may be getting older, although nobody can deny his talent with functional blocking. Frank Gore and La’Mical Perine will help take the pressure off of him, keeping the rotation fresh. And maybe Josh Adams, Trenton Cannon, or Kenneth Dixon add their names to the mix on Sundays.
Stay tuned for the next article in the 2020 New York Jets Preview series with wide receivers!
2020 New York Jets Preview Series: Quarterbacks
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