Jets 2021 Position Breakdown: Who will earn the starting running back role?

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Jets' Michael Carter, Tevin Coleman and Ty Johnson treated image
Jets' Michael Carter, Tevin Coleman and Ty Johnson treated image

Heading into the 2021 season, the Jets have made a series of moves to improve the state of their roster and overall depth, but are they ready to compete for a playoff spot?

In this series, we’ll break down the depth chart for every Jets position group. This time, we’ll go in depth on the running backs…

Projected Depth Chart

Running back: Tevin Coleman, Ty Johnson, Michael Carter, La’Mical Perine
Fullback: Trevon Wesco
Depth: Josh Adams, Austin Walter

Key additions/losses: Signed Coleman, drafted Carter in the fourth round, did not re-sign UFA Frank Gore.

Top Performer in 2020: Ty Johnson - 54 carries, 254 yards (4.7 yards per carry), one touchdown and 16 receptions.

2020 end of season rank (via PFF): 32nd

What the Jets RBs have going for them

Having signed the veteran Coleman and drafted Carter during the offseason, the Jets have several potential contributors and could opt to go with a committee-based approach or feed the “hot hand.” Coleman had a rough year last season as he averaged under two yards per carry and struggled to get on the field, but he rushed for 800 yards a few years ago, so he’ll hope to get back to that level. Carter is a promising athlete who should fit the system well.

Gore saw most of the work last season, but fans were clamoring for Johnson and Adams to get more touches. Johnson had a 100-yard game against the Raiders and Adams led all Jets running backs with a 5.4 yards per carry average. Perine also saw plenty of work but had an underwhelming rookie year. Walter is a recent addition who could contribute on special teams.

The Jets don’t currently have a fullback on the roster, but it was an important position for the same offense in San Francisco, so they may look to address this. For now, they’d have to use a tight end like Wesco or Tyler Kroft in that role.

Key concern: Pass protection

Part of the reason why Gore saw so many snaps last year was that the Jets perhaps didn’t trust their younger backs in pass protection. They all lack experience in that area and need to make improvements here to justify a bigger role.

Adding Coleman should help in this regard because he has more experience of staying in to pass protect, so he could mentor the youngsters as they learn to handle these responsibilities.

Player who must step up: La'Mical Perine

The Jets were hoping to see some flashes from their fourth round rookie in 2020, but Perine was disappointing. He averaged just 3.6 yards per carry, didn’t have any plays that went for more than 20 yards, and gave up a couple of sacks in pass protection.

While Perine did score two touchdowns, his overall performance was uninspiring, and he’ll have to show improvements in 2021 to avoid losing his spot to someone like Adams or Walter. The Jets will hope that Perine follows in the footsteps of Bilal Powell, another recent Jets fourth round back who had an underwhelming rookie year but made big strides in his second season.

Biggest camp battle: Tevin Coleman vs. Michael Carter vs. Ty Johnson

The former 49ers coaches who are now on the Jets' staff saw a scenario unfold where they were able to obtain good production from a variety of backs, including those without big salaries or reputations. They didn’t prioritize the position this year, presumably in the hope that they’ll see similar success with a next-man-up philosophy in 2021.

As for who will begin the year as the No. 1 back, that should be an interesting contest. As noted, Coleman had disappointing production last year, but he’s hopefully healthy again, and can perform well in a system he contributed to during the 49ers’ 2019 NFC champion run.

Johnson will be looking to build on the success he saw down the stretch last year, while Carter put up monster numbers at North Carolina, so he'll hopefully be productive at the NFL level if the blocking ahead of him is good.

2021 Outlook

The Jets are expected to lean on their running game this year and have made moves to improve their offensive line depth as they introduce offensive line coach John Benton’s new scheme.

While some felt this made the running back position a key need, the team seems confident they can get productive contributions and good value for money from the group they’ve put together at a relatively low cost.

Aside from the running game, it will be vital for the backs to contribute to the passing game, whether by staying in to block or by catching passes. The resulting competition should be fun to watch.