Since the Jets signed Matt Forte, I have thought the move was as much about adding a number three option to the passing game as it was about adding a number one back. The proof might be in the production of the man the Jets re-signed as the number two back behind Forte, Bilal Powell.
Over a six game stretch near the end of the season, Powell came to life as a receiving option out of the backfield. He averaged over 5 catches and just shy of 50 yards per game. The Jets won five of the six games. Then Powell suffered an injury and missed the finale against Buffalo, a rough defeat. They could have used him that day.
When we look at the six game stretch where Powell came to life, it is notable how much more diverse the targets got in the passing game. Here are how the targets were distributed for the top options on the team outside that stretch by percentage.
With Powell as the third option in the passing game, the targets became much less centralized behind the top two receivers.
You might notice that it was Brandon Marshall's share of the targets that seemed to go down. You might think Powell's emergence came at Marshall's expense, but the Pro Bowl receiver was actually more productive once Powell became a weapon. He averaged 103.8 receiving yards per game during this stretch opposed to 87.9 outside of it.
For the sake of the passing game, having an outlet out of the backfield led the Jets to have an average per attempt of 7.2 for this six game stretch against 6.7 for the rest of the season.
I think this might partially explain the team's thinking in letting Chris Ivory go and bringing in Forte. They saw the impact Powell had. This made them bring back Powell, but they did not stop there. If a back like Powell could make such a difference, what can a pass catcher with Forte's resume mean for the offense?
Hopefully for the Jets, it will mean a lot.