Yes, Adam Gase was the New York Jets head coach. Yes, the Jets did not even field an average offensive line. Without a doubt, the passing offense did not help take the load off of the run game. However, no matter what excuse is used, the fact of the matter is the Le’Veon Bell deal did not work out. If it had, the team may not be looking to add multiple running backs this off-season. Currently, the Jets have 2020 fourth-round pick La’Mical Perine leading Ty Johnson and Pete Guerriero as the team’s running backs under contract for 2021. Chances are Frank Gore will not be returning and Josh Adams is a restricted free agent. Clearly, the team needs some upgrades.
Right off the bat, the Jets are unlikely to overpay for a premiere back given how the Bell signing did not work out. Plus, the team has many other needs to allocate funds towards. Taking a look at the San Francisco 49ers system new offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur comes from, the Jets are likely to take on a committee backfield approach. That being said, do not be surprised when they both sign and draft a running back. But what the Jets should not do is draft a first round running back with the 23rd overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
New York Jets Should Avoid Drafting a First Round Running Back
No Knock to the Prospects
To clear up a matter first, this article is not a knock at Alabama’s Najee Harris or Clemson’s Travis Etienne. Harris is a 6’2″ and 230 pound back who can play every down. Etienne is a natural pass catcher and is a complete back with blazing speed. Both are fantastic prospects worth taking at 23rd, as they are exactly the type of playmaker the Jets need in the backfield.
At the same time, who knows where the Jets will be come draft time. The team’s quarterback situation is unknown. They need to make moves at every single offensive position and revamp the defense as they switch to Robert Saleh’s 4-3 scheme. While New York has $79 million in cap space, they have bigger needs that must be tackled with the 23rd overall pick.
Bigger Needs Elsewhere
With the first-round pick from the Seattle Seahawks, the Jets must draft a player at a premium position. In other words, the Jets need to spend it on a wide receiver, pass rusher, cornerback, or offensive lineman. After all, those are their biggest needs this off-season as a whole and each could receive multiple additions.
Already, plenty of mock drafts have followed this pattern. At wide receiver, Florida’s Kadarius Toney, Rashod Bateman from Minnesota, and Terrace Marshall Jr. of LSU have been often matched with the Jets. The edge rusher class has many high-upside prospects who fit the 4-3 system such as Azeez Ojulari from Georgia. Maybe the Jets look to USC’s guard Alijah Vera-Tucker or a cornerback like Jaycee Horn of South Carolina. All could make for an immediate day one starter at positions that are much harder to find starting-level talent for cheap.
Great Mid-Round Options
Now, it is not out of the question that either Harris or Etienne may fall to the second round, which could lead the Jets to take either at 34th overall. Of course, that is not guaranteed though, and the team will need fallback options. Luckily, they will have a handful of them.
While the 2021 NFL Draft does not feature a loaded running back class, there are some great mid-round prospects. Already, the Jets have reportedly met with Demetric Felton (UCLA), Jaret Patterson (Buffalo), and Javian Hawkins (Louisville) in addition to Harris. Felton is an extremely elusive player who doubles as a receiver and had a strong Senior Bowl week. Meanwhile, Patterson and Hawkins make for solid day three choices who can contribute to a committee backfield.
Over the next few weeks, expect the Jets to talk to additional prospects. Either member of the North Carolina duo would be phenomenal day two selections. Kenneth Gainwell of Memphis has quietly maintained his third-round range as a do-it-all back. New York could also add a powerful lead back in Trey Sermon (Ohio State), Rhamondre Stevenson (Oklahoma), or Chuba Hubbard (Oklahoma State). All three may be available come day three for the Jets.
There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that the Jets must address their backfield issues in multiple ways this off-season. In free agency, there will be plenty of great options available, stemming from the ridiculous 2017 NFL Draft running back class. The Jets will also have a handful of backs to pick from in the middle rounds should they not select Harris or Etienne at 23rd. The Jets may be wise to use the 23rd addressing one of their many other needs. The bottom line, as tempting as it may be, the smart decision for the Jets is to wait to draft a running back in the 2021 NFL Draft.