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New York Jets 21st Century Wine Cellar Team: Running Back

Miami Dolphins V New York Jets Photo by Al Pereira/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Today I unveil the running backs on my 21st Century Jets Wine Cellar Team.

I am putting together a 53 man roster of Jets players since the year 2000. This isn’t an all-century roster. I am trying to put together a complete team that could actually win a game. All roles need to be filled.

I am also picking each player from a specific year of their career. Just like wine, players have their own vintages.

Yesterday I named my quarterbacks. Now let’s move onto the running backs.

Curtis Martin, 2004

This list couldn’t be legitimate if Curtis Martin was not the starting running back. He isn’t just the greatest running back in franchise history. He is one of the greatest rushers in the history of the game. The only question is which vintage of Martin to use.

I’m choosing the 2004 Martin. It was his last great season. He ran for a career high 1,697 yards and won his only rushing title. In doing so he became the oldest player to lead the NFL in rushing.

Martin won the rushing title by a single yard over Seattle’s Shaun Alexander. I always loved the circumstances. In Seattle’s final game of the 2004 season, the Seahawks did not give Alexander a carry on the one yard line, costing him a tie with Martin.

Despite Seattle winning the game and clinching a division title, Alexander was furious after the game and called out his coaches.

“This is the first time I’ve ever been back-stabbed in my life,” Alexander said in the Qwest Field locker room after the Seahawks won the NFC West title by outlasting the Atlanta Falcons 28-26.

I always found a degree of poetic justice to Martin winning the rushing title over Alexander. Curtis Martin was the ultimate team player. Never in a million years would you ever hear him complain about losing an individual accomplishment in a game where his team registered a critical win.

Curtis Martin wasn’t the biggest, the strongest, or the fastest back to ever play in the NFL. He might have been the toughest, though. The stories of him not just playing through but thriving with serious injuries are the stuff of legend. He always found a way to get the job done and help his team. He also did it with an understated grace. This choice is the ultimate no brainer.

Leon Washington, 2008

As time has passed, a narrative has arisen that Eric Mangini was a good coach who got fired because Brett Favre got injured in 2008. As time passes and memories fade, it’s a tempting story to believe.

When you start researching a 21st Century Jets Wine Cellar Team, the many awful decisions his coaching staff made begin to come back to you. One is how underutilized Washington was.

The explosive Florida State running back averaged 5.9 yards per carry in 2008. Yet as the season was falling apart, Washington got 10 total carries in four games from Week 13 through Week 16. Finally in Week 17, Washington got 10 carries and ripped off 60 yards. He added 29 receiving yards in that game.

I think Washington was maybe a decade ahead of his time. In the era he played, the perception was that somebody as small as him could only be a role player. In today’s NFL running backs who are electric and space and possess receiving skills are viewed as difference makers. I sometimes wonder how differently Leon’s career plays out if he comes along 10-15 years later.

On this team, Leon Washington is a homerun hitter and a threat the defense will always need to account for. He also was the AP First Team All Pro kickoff returner in 2008 so he’ll add some electricity to the return game as well.

Chris Ivory, 2015

I love Ivory for this team. He will be the hammer in late game situations when we are holding a lead and trying to run out the clock. Yards are tough to come by in those situations, and you need somebody who can run through tackles. Ivory’s violent running style makes him a perfect fit. And with Martin handling most of the workload, we can keep Ivory fresh.

He also makes sense as depth. Although Martin never misses time due to injury, in the unlikely event something happens, Ivory and Washington complement each other perfectly as a tandem.

Richie Anderson, 2000

Like Washington, Richie Anderson is another “ahead of his time” guy. A fullback with 88 receptions in a season today would be difficult to believe. In 2000 it was incomprehensible.

After trading number one receiver Keyshawn Johnson, the Jets didn’t use one specific player to replace his targets. They spread the workload around, giving pass catchers out of the backfield a striking number of opportunities. Anderson made the most of those opportunities with those 88 catches for 853 yards.

If he played today, I can’t help but feel like Richie Anderson would be one of those Kyle Juszczyk kind of guys everybody wants on their team whose versatility creates problems for the defense.

Toughest Omissions:

Thomas Jones surely merited consideration. He broke the 1,000 yard mark every year he was with the team. I strongly considered him, but I couldn’t shake the thought that his success was mainly about having a dominant offensive line. Why do I say that? In all three of his Jets seasons there was another running back on the team with a far better yards per carry average.

I really wanted to figure out a way to get a version of Bilal Powell onto the team, but the numbers just didn’t work. In the end I felt like Washington gives me everything I could get from Powell plus a lot more.

Lamont Jordan was an under the radar candidate. He had success in limited carries spelling Martin from 2001 through 2004 and then became a 1,000 yard rusher in his own right with the Raiders in 2005. He was a talented back who just had the misfortune of being behind an all-timer.

Some might argue for 2010 LaDainian Tomlinson, but if you look closely you’ll see a massive falloff in production after a great first quarter of the season.

The Jets have been blessed with a lot of quality at fullback this century. On most other teams Jerald Sowell and Tony Richardson would have been strong contenders, but Anderson’s receiving production put him over the top. (Sowell did put up some quality years as a pass catcher himself but nothing approaching Anderson’s 2000.)