Backfield Battles: NY Jets

ty johnson

By Jacob Bourgeois; Twitter: @JacobBourgieFFB  

This is the fourth in a series on “Backfield Battles,” where I’m evaluating murky situations to see if “there be gold in them hills.”  I review the backfield narrative(s) leading up to this offseason, the offseason results & impacts, and then finish with projections/conclusions.  Check out the first three (linked): the Patriots, the Cardinals, and Buffalo.   

Normally I dig into the year by year progression of the backfield, but in the Jet’s case it makes more sense to break it up evaluating the RBs they have in tow and the coaching staff who will be dolling out snaps.  I was hesitant to write this piece as a lot of my thoughts on the Jets are captured in my overview of Michael Carter (here). 

Stats are from www.espn.com; www.fantasypros.com; and www.pro-football-reference.com.

The Backs

  • Michael Carter: 5’8 201 lbs., drafted at pick 107 in the 4th, ran a 4.50 40 yard dash; and posted 6.6 YPC on 514 carries in his college career, tacking on 28 TDs, 82 Rec across his 4 years of service at UNC.
  • ADP: 83 (RB 31)
  • Tevin Coleman: 28 years old entering his 7th NFL season, 6’1 210, former 3rd round pick of Falcons (73), was unable to get anything going in 2020 in SF with 1.9 YPC on only 28 carries and 4 receptions.  Prior to 2020 he’s maintained between 4.0 and 4.8 YPC across five seasons.
  • ADP: 1161 (RB 53)
  • La’Mical Perine: 5.0 YPC in 4 years at Florida, 4.62 40’, 5’11, 216 lbs; Drafted in the 4th last year (pick 120) put up 3.6 YPC as a rookie on 64 attempts, 2 TDs, and 2 targets in 10 games. All while playing with fiercely negative game scripts…
  • ADP: 260 (RB 65)
  • Ty Johnson: 7.6 YPC in 4 years at Maryland, ran a 4.4 40’, 5’11, 210 lbs; Drafted in the 6th by the Lions in 2019 (pick 186), has averaged 4.5 YPC (4.7 as a Jet in 2020); his usage in 2020 was all over the place, but demonstrated efficiency as a rusher and pass catcher.
  • ADP: 264 (RB 80)

The Coaches

  • Head Coach: Robert Saleh is a defensive minded coach coming from SF where he was a first time and very successful Defensive Coordinator.  He’s spent his entire career on the defensive side of the football in various roles, most notably with Seattle under Pete Carrol for the 2013 Super Bowl run.  As a first time head coach and defensive mind, he’ll likely defer to his coordinators on the offensive side of the ball, but should contribute to the coaching “philosophy” according to what he’s seen be successful: Kyle Shanahan’s outside zone blocking and Pete Carroll’s ball control systems.  
  • Offensive Coordinator: Mike LaFleur is only 33 years old, but has been married at the hip to Kyle Hanahan through his previous three spots (Cleveland, Atlanta, and most recently San Francisco).  We should expect something similar to what they have in SF in NY. 

One potential wrinkle is the influence of his older brother Matt LeFleur, head coach of the Green Bay packers.  LeFleur is also from the Shanahan tree, but was more recently under Sean McVay in LA.  Both McVay’s and Matt L.’s success will be hard for Mike to ignore as he sets up his program.  Zack Wilson certainly reminds us more of Aaron Rodgers than he does Jimmy G (except maybe the looks).

The Outlook

The bad news is that this is shaping up to be a committee backfield.  The good news is that I expect wild success even with the rag-tag group they’ll be throwing out there.  

Ty Johnson with his NFL productivity and size-speed combination figures to be involved in one way or another.  Based on the usage of guys like Mostert and Breida in SF, I don’t expect there to be any “lack of draft capital” hesitations from this coaching staff.  

Tevin Coleman with his knowledge of the offense/system and established relationship with the coaches having been with them in SF also will have a role despite his age and waning production.  There are two ways to look at his 2020 production dip: injury related and due for a bounce back in a fresh spot, or indicative that the wheels are coming off and he’ll likely continue his trend of injuries dating back to his time in Atlanta.  If he’s not active, the picture looks considerably clearer.

La’Mical Perine should start the season as a reserve for two reasons: La’Mical Perine and the other RBs on the team.  He was productive in Florida but was outshined by Ty Johnson in 2020.  Johnson had prior NFL experience to help him along and Perine only had Adam Gase so it’s possible that Perine has a post-Gase breakout. 

Michael Carter is the X-Factor (and his ADP reflects that). He was also only a 4th round pick but was considered a top 5 RB by most analysts in this year’s draft and is in an ideal landing spot.  He’s got great agility and a strong will to help him reach that extra yard. 

This is an offensive system that has seen success using guys like Matt Breida (5’10” 190lbs), Raheem Mostert (5’10” 197 lbs), and Aaron Jones (5’9” 207 lbs), who all boast game-breaking ability once they hit the hole.  Ty Johnson has the edge in that category. 

SUMMARY

Unlike the other backfields we’ve looked at (BUF, NEP, and ARI), Zach Wilson does not profile as an elite rushing QB (despite punching in 10 RuTDs in 2020 at BYU).  So, I do believe there will be fantasy value here.  It could be equally frustrating through the first 6 weeks as it is trying to pick a RB in SF.  The early reports are all favoring the rookie Michael Carter who (I believe) because of his work ethic is going to earn an early role on the team. 

The way I’d divide it up is Ty Johnson and Tevin Coleman split work in obvious rushing situations, and Michael Carter comes in on 3rd down or obvious passing situations.  Tevin Coleman, given the team’s experience with and trust in him, should be a leader in the RedZone.  If he goes down with injury both Ty Johnson and Michael Carter stand to gain, but it would also mean that La’Mical Perine gets worked in more.  

Given their ADPs you should roster Ty Johnson on every single one of your teams.  The one question mark with him, is given he’s been productive in Detroit and in a terrible Jets situation last year, why is his usage still so depressed.  Draft capital and new regime’s play a part, but I wonder what he’s like in the locker room to contribute to this.  On the other hand, a team that most said had a glaring need at RB and who want to implement the SF zone blocking run game, waited an awful long time to draft a RB. 

Or maybe, trading picks 68 and 88 to move up to get Vera-Tucker on the OL they had no choice but to wait and were fortunate to get one of their guys still on the board at 107.  I for one, am a huge fan of what the Jets have done this offseason: from a coaching (Saleh and LaFleur), acquisition (Sheldon Rankins, retaining Jamison Crowder, and Corey Davis), and drafting (Wilson, Vera-Tucker, Elijah Moore, & Carter) perspective.  I expect big things despite a lot of improvements within their division, maybe not this year but it should be a solid group for years to come.

Cover image credit: Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun – https://www.baltimoresun.com/sports/terps/bs-sp-ty-johnson-maryland-pro-day-0327-story.html