Honorable Mention: While the Jets are considered famous for their quarterback woes, they've had a great deal of success at running back. Emerson Boozer ran for over 5000 yards and 52 TDs in 10 seasons, Freeman McNeil ran for over 8000 yards and had 4.5 yards per carry in his career. And from 2007 to 2009 Thomas Jones ran for 3800 yards, setting Jets single season records for TDs in 2008 and 2009. But of all the talented running backs to wear the green and white, one stands apart as the best ever...
The Number Three New York Jet of All-Time:
From 1996 to 2005, Curtis Martin was perhaps the most consistently excellent running back not named Emmitt Smith or Barry Sanders. This 5-time Pro Bowler and 3-Time All-Pro selection joined the Jets as a Free agent in 1998, and added to an already stellar resume he started building in New England.
Curtis Martin is the Jets all-time leader in yards from scrimmage, rushing yards, touches, rushing touchdowns, and total yards per game - a mark he achieved in only 8 seasons with the team. Martin holds 6 of the top 10 rushing seasons in team history, including the top 3. He is the only Jet to average over 100 yards from scrimmage per game for a career. And perhaps most impressive at all, he holds the record as the oldest player to ever lead the league in rushing.
What do you look for in a running back? Speed? Power? Elusiveness? Versatility in the passing game? The ability to get over 1000 yards every season? Curtis Martin had all of that and more. If you were designing the ideal running back with all of those traits and the ability to think on his feet, you would generate Martin.
Martin's versatility is unmatched by any Jet to play offense. In 2000 he became only the 2nd running back in NFL history to throw a game-winning touchdown pass against Tampa Bay - his first career pass attempt. One year later he threw his 2nd of only 2 pass attempts in his career - another TD to Wayne Chrebet against the Steelers. Martin is the only player in team history to achieve a feat like that.
In 2004, at the age of 31, Martin had his best season - 1697 rushing yards (a Jets franchise record), 14 total TDs, and 106.1 yards per game. He beat Shaun Alexander for the NFL rushing title by only a single yard - and became the 1st player over 30 to lead the league in rushing yards. Nowadays it's hard enough for any RB to maintain a spot on the roster after age 30, much less lead the league.
If you look on Youtube you're not likely to find many "Curtis Martin highlight videos." Martin didn't do any one thing that made him Hall of Fame worthy. In fact, nearly all of the analysts talking about Martin at his induction failed to identify the one thing that made Martin unique. That's because he didn't do one thing better than everyone else: he simply did everything well enough to get his team the yards.
Martin had a little bit of everything from the great Hall of Fame running backs: some Payton power, some Smith initial burst, some Sanders' elusiveness, some Dickerson speed, some Faulk catching ability, and even some passing ability. Here's another interesting fact about Martin that really speaks to how hard he had to work: He is the only player among the top 13 leading rushers of all-time to have been drafted outside the 1st round.
In many ways Martin exemplifies not just what you want from a great player, but what you want from a great person - someone who uses his talents to brighten the lives of everyone important to them. Charity work, wise investments, and an overall positive outlook have made the post-NFL Curtis Martin just as successful now, if not more.
Martin worked hard, played the game harder and often with very little praise or accolades. He was in the top 10 of all major rushing categories nearly every year with the Jets. Considering he frequently ran against legends such as Emmitt Smith, Barry Sanders, Terrell Davis and Edgerrin James it's not hard to see why his rankings weren't higher.
Martin was one of the inaugural members of the Jets Ring of Honor in 2010 and was named the running back of the Jets All-Time team. After being snubbed for the Hall of Fame in 2011, Martin was inducted in 2012. The following season his jersey #28 was officially retired by the Jets at the 2012 season opener.
This is a list of All-Time Great Jet players, and Martin rightfully belongs at Number Three. However, if this were a list of All-Time Great People to wear a Jets uniform, Martin would easily be right at the top (Tebow not excluded).
Next: The most versatile lineman in NFL history...isn't in the Hall of Fame?