The Jets’ tailback position began the 2016 season crisply with Matt Forté and concluded it on a high note with Bilal Powell.
Forté, the highly productive rusher and receiver for the Bears for eight seasons, signed last March as an unrestricted free agent as Chris Ivory was departing as a UFA. He churned out 155 scrimmage yards in the opener against the Bengals, had 100 rushing yards and three touchdowns the next week at the Bills, and was key in the win over the Ravens with 154 YFS as the ground game rose to ninth in the NFL at midseason. He’s now 585 rush yards shy of 10,000 for his career.
But a knee injury that he’d been playing through all season began to take its toll. As his workload decreased, Powell’s snaps and yards increased. Bilal used his dynamic, quick-cut running and sure hands to almost single-handedly pull out the comeback win at San Francisco with 145 rushing yards and two TDs, including the OT game-winner. He added 162 YFS against the Dolphins and 122 rush yards in the finale vs. the Bills. And despite his supporting role for much of the year, he easily led the offense in first downs and third-down conversions.
Practice-squad promotions Brandon Wilds (four games) and Brandon Burks (one game) saw action, as did Khiry Robinson at New England, but Robinson’s recurring leg injury kept him from any extended time. Romar Morris spent the season on IR.
Jets Free Agents
The Green & White have six running backs and two fullbacks on the roster. None is set to become a free agent in March.
Le’veon Bell is listed as a potential UFA but the Steelers figure to retain him and make him possibly the NFL’s highest-paid RB. LeGarrette Blount has sounded as if he wants to say with New England. Other than that, the RB free agency pool could have Eddie Lacy and a lot of 30-somethings — DeAngelo Williams (33), James Starks (30), Rashad Jennings (31, just released by the Giants), one-time Jet Danny Woodhead (32), Tim Hightower (30) and Reggie Bush (31).
Stump Mitchell brings a wealth of knowledge and experience as Todd Bowles’ new RBs coach. He was a versatile back and returner with the Cardinals for nine years, and everywhere he’s coached, he’s polished top backs — Ricky Watters and Shaun Alexander with Seattle, Clinton Portis with Washington, and most recently David Johnson with the Cardinals.
It will be interesting to see the new balance in ’17 between Powell and Forté, who turned 31 in December. But however the reps shake out and regardless of whoever is added in free agency and the draft, the position appears to be in good hands.