Will the 2016 New York Jets running backs be better, worse or the about the same as the 2015 Jets?
The 2015 Jets featured Chris Ivory, Bilal Powell, Stevan Ridley, Zac Stacy and Tommy Bohanon at the running back position. That group managed to rack up 1868 yards rushing, good for 10th in the NFL and a 4.2 yards per carry average, good for 14th in the NFL. They also caught a combined 94 passes for 724 yards.
Ivory was the workhorse of the group, carrying the ball a career high 247 times for a career high 1070 yards and 7 touchdowns. Ivory ended up the 6th leading rusher in the NFL. He also caught a career high 30 passes for 217 yards. The heavy workload took its toll on Ivory as the season wore on. After amassing 90+ rushing yards in three of his first four games in 2015, Ivory surpassed that mark only twice more the rest of the way, and fell below 50 yards rushing in 7 of his last 11 games. As Ivory faded, Bilal Powell came into his own. Powell finished the 2015 season with a career high 47 receptions for 388 yards and two touchdowns, and tacked on another 313 yards on the ground with a career high 4.5 yards per carry average. Of Powell's 701 yards from scrimmage in 2015, 483, or 69%, came in his last 6 games. Powell, not Ivory, was the team's most effective back down the stretch in 2015.
Powell and Ivory were pretty much the beginning and the end of effective running back play for the 2015 Jets. Stevan Ridley was awful, averaging a pitiful 2.5 yards per carry in his 36 rushing attempts, while managing negative 2 yards receiving in 4 receptions. Stacy was nearly as bad, with 2.9 yards per carry in 31 rushing attempts and 65 yards on 9 receptions. Bohanon was his usual invisible self on offense, accumulating just two rushing yards on two carries, and adding 56 yards receiving on four receptions. None of the Jets backs particularly distinguished themselves in pass blocking. Ivory was bad in pass protection, as usual. Powell and Bohanon were better, but nothing to write home about. Stacy and Ridley were hardly on the field enough in pass blocking situations to matter.
The 2016 Jets will likely feature some combination of Matt Forte, Bilal Powell, Khiry Robinson, Zac Stacy, and Tommy Bohanon. Dominique Williams, Romar Morris and Julian Howsare are long shots to join the 2016 Jets' backfield.
At this comparatively late stage of his career Forte represents a step down in running ability from Ivory. However, Forte's history suggests he will likely be more durable, and he is a major upgrade over Ivory in the passing game, both in terms of Forte's pass catching abilities and his pass blocking abilities. In addition, Forte is better suited to what offensive coordinator Chan Gailey likes to do on offense, which often involves a large volume of passes to the backs. Overall Forte should represent an upgrade over Ivory, barring the real possibility of Forte's abilities suddenly succumbing to age related decline.
Powell is at his peak. He is unlikely to better his career best six game stretch at the end of last season, but he is not at risk for age related decline quite yet, and he offers the possibility of duplicating last year's burst of excellent play over a full season. I'm going to mark Powell down for a slight improvement over 2015.
Khiry Robinson is a largely untested back whose style is reminiscent of a younger Chris Ivory, with significantly better pass catching abilities. Robinson also represents an upgrade in pass blocking abilities. With Forte and Powell both likely ahead of him on the depth chart, it is unclear how much playing time Robinson will get. Whatever time he gets is likely to produce an upgrade over the terrible 2015 production of the Ridley/Stacy duo. Put Robinson down in the better column.
If Stacy is still with the team in 2016 he is unlikely to see the field much. He will most likely just be an insurance policy in the event multiple backs ahead of him go down. In that role Stacy, if he makes the team, is unlikely to produce much better than his 2015 production. But with Stacy's 2015 production being so abysmal, he is also unlikely to do much worse. Put Stacy down as the same.
That leaves Tommy Bohanon and a trio of long shots. At this point in his career Bohanon is what he is. Too young to decline and too experienced to improve much, Tommy Bohanon will likely continue along his plodding, mediocre course. Put Bohanon down as the same. The trio of long shots are so unlikely to make any real impact that we can safely ignore them.
Putting it all together, the two lead backs, Forte and Powell, are likely to be better than the 2015 duo of Ivory and Powell. Better suited to what Gailey wants to do on offense, better in pass protection, better in pass catching, the top of the backfield depth chart should see improved production. In addition, Khiry Robinson, if he is given the opportunity, should represent a significant upgrade over the abysmal Ridley/Stacy combination of a year ago. The back of the depth chart should be no worse than last year, and in any event is unlikely to make much impact barring a slew of injuries to those higher up in the food chain. Overall the 2016 backfield looks to be better than its 2015 counterpart. This team should go three deep in quality running back talent, as opposed to 2015's two deep depth chart. This year's backfield should be significantly improved in both pass protection and pass catching, and should better fit Chan Gailey's offensive scheme. I'm predicting the Jets running backs in 2016 will be better than the 2015 group.
What about you? How do you see this year's running backs group compared to the 2015 Jets? Will the 2016 group be better, worse, or the same? Let us know in your comments, and give us your reasons why.