There are currently gaping holes at skill positions for the Jets. Brett Favre's retirement leaves the club without a proven quarterback. The restructuring/release of Laveranues Coles has unproven commodities Chansi Stuckey and David Clowney potentially in the starting lineup. Running back seems to be the one skill position where the team is set. Thomas Jones is the AFC's leading rusher, and Leon Washington averaged 5.8 per carry as a change of pace back. Even though both are cutback runners, they compliment each other well. TJ is difficult to bring down between the tackles, while Leon is a burner best utilized on the edge. It might seem like Gang Green would never even consider taking a back in the first round, but it should be part of the thought process.
Jones is coming off a great season, but he is 31 years old, well past the age many running backs hit the wall. He has been able to avoid decline because of conditioning and injuries early in his career limiting the number of carries and thus the pounding he took. However, there is no guarantee his success will continue. It tends to go quickly for aging backs. Shaun Alexander won the MVP in 2005 and never averaged over 3.6 yards per carry again. If Jones is rendered ineffective, it would leave the 5'8" 202 pound Washington to carry the load by himself with an inexperienced quarterback and possibly neutered passing game. It would be unfair to suggest Washington's size would automatically make him wear down as the season progressed, but the fact is he has not carried 20 times per game on a consistent basis. Doing so might limit his effectiveness and almost certainly force the Jets to pull him off the kickoff return team, where he is a unique weapon.
This year's Draft class is deep at running back. Chris "Beanie" Wells, Knowshon Moreno, and LeSean McCoy all rate as first round prospects. All three are well-rounded backs possessing above average vision, speed, and strength. If the Jets want insurance at the position, a rookie is the way to go. Every year rookies step right in and produce in the league. The learning curve is not as steep as at the quarterback position. Defenders may be faster, stronger, and better tacklers. Blocking schemes may be more complex. Responsibilities in pass protection are greater. However, the basic premise of the position, do not get tackled with the football, remains the same. Running back is a young man's position. The reason many backs regress and never regain their old form is the amount of hits take a toll through the years, robbing players on the burst on which they rely. This is why a rookie is the way to go at the position. Plenty of players have the tools to make it. It is important to find those with the least amount of miles on the odometer.
Even if Jones continues to produce, picking a running back early would not be a bad way to go. Considering the current quarterback situation, this team is likely going to have to rely heavily on the run. A rookie would take some of the load off Jones, which by keeping him fresher would prolong his career. The Giants built the best running game in the league by keeping three above average runners to pound away at and wear down defenses. The three backs brought something different to the table. Brandon Jacobs was the power guy, Derrick Ward the cutback runner, and Ahmad Bradshaw the burner. Jones is a cutback runner, and Washington is the speedster on the Jets. Wells is the only true power back among the three. Moreno and McCoy are cutback runners, who resemble Jones to a degree. However, the latter two still would allow the Jets to rotate runners and tire defenses with a trio of quality backs for four quarters.
Some might argue taking a running back early is a waste because many excellent backs have emerged from day 2. This may be true, but the Falcons did not shy away from Matt Ryan because Tom Brady was a sixth round pick. There is a decent chance a running back will be the best player available at 17. These three seem like good bets to have long and productive careers. The Jets should at least consider taking a back with the pick. Nothing would help a young quarterback like the dominant running game the Jets could build with their offensive line and another quality addition to the backfield. Throwing lanes tend to open up when defenses have to stick eight in the box because they cannot stop the run.