The Jets still have questions at running back.
Last year, Gang Green averaged 105.2 yards per game, which was 22nd in the NFL. The only running back with a wealth of experience on the Jets 2021 roster is Tevin Coleman, 28, who spent the last six years between the Atlanta Falcons and San Francisco 49ers.
Coleman has a total of 78 games worth of knowledge at running back and except for his rookie year and last season — when he played just eight games after spraining his knee in Week 2 — has put up regular 500+ rushing yard seasons.
The Jets returning running backs rushed for a combined total of 643 yards last season — La’Mical Perine had 232 yards, Ty Johnson had 254 yards, and Josh Adams had 157 yards.
The Jets could go into next season with this same group and with the belief that improvements should occur with a new offensive scheme and an improved offensive line.
But that’s too risky.
The objective should center around making Zach Wilson’s job as easy as possible. Adding talent to the running back spot makes sense.
The real question is how early?
Don’t let people fool you into believing running backs don’t matter because they are easy to find. The dilemma is how long should the Jets wait. If the team isn’t going to use the No. 23 overall pick on a running back then the best time to strike is day two of the draft.
Since the 2017 draft, there’s been 16 running backs picked after the first round who’ve rushed for over 700 yards in a single season. Those second round products include Jonathan Taylor, J.K. Dobbins, Miles Sanders, Nick Chubb, Ronald Jones, Dalvin Cook, and Joe Mixon. This group has stars in Cook and Chubb have made two pro bowls apiece. Taylor ran for 1,168 and 11 touchdowns. And the rest are still highly productive.
Even though Cam Akers and D’Andre Swift didn’t reach 700 yards, they showed promise in their rookie seasons. Akers rushed for 625 yards with three total touchdowns and Swift rushed for 582 yards with 10 total touchdowns.
The third round doesn’t feature as many studs but has Alvin Kamara, Antonio Gibson, David Montgomery, Devin Singletary, Kareem Hunt and James Conner. Kamara has made four pro bowls. Conner and Hunt have each made a Pro Bowl. Montgomery ran for 1,070 yards and scored 10 total touchdowns in 2020. Gibson had 795 yards and 11 touchdowns in his rookie year.
After day two of the draft, the options have somewhat historically dwindled.
Only Marlon Mack (fourth), Aaron Jones (fifth) and Chris Carson (seventh) have rushed for over 700 yards as products of the past four drafts. All three have rushed for over 1,000 yards in a single season since being drafted. And even though Tarik Cohen hasn’t rushed for that number over one season yet, Cohen has been a weapon as a pass catcher and return specialist.
It’s clear the longer teams wait, the harder it is to find a viable running back in the draft.
The other option could be to wait to sign out of the undrafted free agent pool, which has produced the likes of James Robinson, Phillip Lindsay and Austin Ekeler, who all made impacts after not being selected in their respective drafts.
But the odds of finding instant impact after the third round or after the draft altogether are extremely low. For the Jets to improve the running game they’ll have to snag a running back on day two. Clemson’s Travis Etienne, North Carolina’s Javonte Williams, North Carolina’s Michael Carter, Memphis Kenneth Gainwell and Oklahoma State Chuba Hubbard are options that should be available that day.
If the Jets wait until day three, there should still be some viable options in Ohio State’s Trey Sermon, Buffalo’s Jaret Patterson and Louisville’s Javian Hawkins.
Their best bet is to draft a running back on day two with either their No.34, No. 66 or No. 86 pick. They might even be able to snag an impact player at No. 104. But the longer they wait, the riskier finding a stud becomes.