As the New York Jets gear up for the 2023 off-season, it is time to preview where each position stands. Whether there is talent already under contract, or New York acquires players through free agency and the draft, General Manager Joe Douglas looks to build a contender out of the franchise. That being said, let’s take a look at the Jets running back preview for the 2023 off-season.
New York Jets 2023 Off-season Previews: Quarterbacks
New York Jets 2023 Off-Season Preview: Running Back
Jets Under Contract for 2023
One of the few positions on the team that are not amongst dire or secondary team needs, the Jets running back corps for 2023 is already stacked. For starters, the team will be getting 2022 second-round pick Breece Hall back from a torn ACL suffered in Week 7. With Hall healthy, New York was 5-2, on a four-game winning streak paired with every game he scored a rushing touchdown. His injury was a massive blow to the Jets offense, which faltered week in and week out with a lackluster rushing attack following his injury. In seven games (two starts), Hall posted 463 yards rushing and another 218 receiving, scoring five touchdowns from scrimmage on just 99 touches. If the Iowa State product can come back and produce anywhere near his 5.8 rushing yards per carry, the Jets run game will be among the best in the league in 2023.
From there, the Jets enter their third year of the Michael Carter experience. The former fourth-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft has seen different results in either of his first two seasons. As a rookie, Carter was the sparkplug of a horrid 2021 Jets offense. This past year, his yards per carry were down nearly a yard, as he struggled to capitalize on yards after contact and breaking tackles. If Carter can resort back to his rookie-year self and grow as a player, the Jets have a dangerous one-two backfield punch already under contract.
Lastly, one cannot discredit Zonovan Knight for his emergence after being undrafted in 2022. From Weeks 12-18, Knight had 400 yards from scrimmage on 98 touches and provided stability late in the season. The N.C. State product remains under contract until being an exclusive rights free agent in 2024.
2023 NFL Free Agency Running Back Options
With Breece Hall hurt, the Jets acquired James Robinson via trade from the Jacksonville Jaguars. The restricted free agent went on to rush for 85 yards on just 29 carries, before becoming a healthy scratch on a weekly basis. Once Knight jumped the former 1,000-yard rusher on the depth chart, Robinson’s fate to walk this off-season became clear. As for Ty Johnson, he has added speed and a receiving element to the backfield while contributing to special teams. However, as his rookie deal is now expired, unless Offensive Coordinator Nathaniel Hackett wants him back, Johnson’s given little outside-of-playbook knowledge to prove he deserves another shot.
In reality, if the Jets are to sign a running back in free agency, it will be for injury insurance. Their running backs, all of whom are entering their second or third year, need a proven mentor. A player such as Latavius Murray would be intriguing because of his knowledge of Hackett’s offense, having played for him this past season in Denver.
Other names to look out for include Samaje Perine, Kenyan Drake, Benny Snell Jr., and D’Ernest Johnson. All are experienced backs who when given the opportunity, have proven they can be a spot starter in a committee approach or effective in a smaller role. If the team hopes to add a special team presence, Justice Hill or Boston Scott could be an option. Scott is a 5’6” and 203-pound chance-of-pace rusher who is shifty in space. Whereas Hill has excelled in a minor offensive role, is due for a larger snap count, and can hold his own as a special team’s ace.
2023 NFL Draft Running Back Options
If Douglas wants to spend money on higher-priority positions, New York could draft another running back. After all, it is more cost-effective to take one on day three. In terms of two-down backs, Kendre Miller (TCU), Chris Rodriguez Jr. (Kentucky), and Mohamed Ibrahim (Minnesota) are named to watch. All three offer size, and the strength needed to work between the tackles.
For a chance of pace back, Devon Achane (should he slide in the draft) and Deuce Vaughn could be options. Achane can line up virtually anywhere on offense with elite speed and elusiveness, giving an offense a modern gadget-type player. As for Deuce Vaughn, the 5’6” and 172-pound Kansas State back is the 2023 Darren Sproles. He is a compact runner with surprising ‘pop’ and speed, capable of doing damage as a rusher or receiver.
Jets Running Back Roster Construction Prediction
Going into training camp this July, the New York Jets will have at least five running backs on the roster. Breece Hall will receive all the attention, and rightfully so. A healthy Hall is a Pro Bowl-caliber player and would have won Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2022. Michael Carter will be the second stringer with a bounce-back season on deck. Leaving Zonovan Knight, a veteran free agent addition, and rookie draft pick/undrafted signing competing not only for the third committee spot but also the fourth and final roster slot at running back.
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