Between now and preseason, we’re breaking down the Jets’ undrafted rookies, continuing today with former Oregon and USC running back Travis Dye.
The 23-year old Dye was a second-team all-Pac 12 selection in 2022, having rushed for over 1,200 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2021. He rushed for 3,995 yards at an average of six yards per carry during his college career with 104 catches and 38 total touchdowns.
Dye, whose older brothers Tony and Troy have both played in the NFL, was a four-star recruit out of high school and enrolled at Oregon in 2018.
As a freshman, Dye’s impact was immediate as he rushed for over 700 yards, caught 12 passes and scored five touchdowns with three 100-yard games.
Over the next two seasons, his workload reduced but his yards per carry average increased from 5.3 yards per carry to over six yards per carry in each season. Although he only had one 100-yard game and one rushing touchdown, he showed some playmaking ability as a receiver with five touchdown catches across the two seasons. He averaged an impressive 26.6 yards per catch on nine receptions in 2020 and was named as an all-Pac 12 honorable mention.
He was an honorable mention again in 2021 as he became the Ducks’ lead back and exploded for over 1,200 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns. He also posted career best numbers as a receiver with 46 catches and 402 yards.
In 2022, he transferred to USC and was on his way to another thousand yard season until he suffered a season-ending injury. He ended up with 884 rushing yards and nine touchdown runs, adding 21 receptions.
Dye wasn’t completely healthy for the pre-draft process, which may have contributed towards his going undrafted. The New York Jets signed him as an undrafted free agent with $55,000 in guaranteed salary and a $7,500 signing bonus and he already suited up for them in the Hall of Fame game, although he only had 12 yards on nine carries.
Now let’s take a look at what Dye brings to the table, divided into categories.
Dye was only 170 when he graduated high school and has since bulked up to just over 201 but still lacks ideal size. He has short arms and his hand size is below average too.
While he shows good burst and agility on the field, Dye wasn’t healthy enough to work out at the scouting combine and his partial pro day workout was disappointing as he ran 4.8 in the 40-yard dash and only posted a 27-inch vertical, 107-inch broad jump and 16 bench press reps. This presumably doesn’t represent his athletic abilities accurately.
Dye has primarily played as a conventional running back, only motioning out into the slot or out wide from time to time and used more as a decoy when he has. He threw one pass, which was incomplete, during his college career.
He did play as a defensive back at times in high school, often covering the opposing team’s top threat.
Although Dye is obviously faster than his slow pro day 40-time, it’s fair to say he doesn’t really possess breakaway speed. He only had one 50-yard run in his college career and was caught from behind at times.
Nevertheless, he has good burst and can make sharp cuts once he gets out into open space, setting up tacklers well.
His running style is direct, as he will get his pads square and turn upfield at the earliest opportunity. However, he has a determined style with the ability to get skinny, and to slip out of tackles by preventing the defensive player from getting a clean hit on him.
While obviously not a power back, he will not shy from contact, finishing runs aggressively at times and showing an ability to stiff arm defensive players to get them off him.
He has shown an ability to carry a heavy workload with 20 or more carries six times in his college career, including 33 in one game. However, ball security is a concern as he fumbled 10 times in his five seasons at the NCAA level.
Dye wasn’t a goal line back during his first three seasons which saw him rush for just eight scores. However, he showed a real nose for the end zone in 2021 with 16 rushing touchdowns and had another nine in 2022 before his season ended prematurely.
Rather than relying on using his power, Dye is most adept at finding running lanes to slip through in these situations.
Dye has had some good pass catching production in his college career, with plenty of big plays. He doesn’t just contribute on dump-offs and screen passes either, although he will no doubt still want to improve his route running skills and prove he can run a full route tree.
Since the start of the 2020 season, he’s had plenty of downfield catches and has even established himself as a potential deep threat on wheel routes.
He’s had a handful of drops in his career with an 81 percent catch rate so his focus can let him down at times.
Nevertheless, he shows natural pass catching ability and can hang onto the ball in tight coverage.
Dye struggled in pass protection for most of his Oregon career as he gave up four sacks and a quite high pressure rate.
However, he’s made a real effort to improve in this area and did a much better job at USC, where they increased his pass protection responsibilities.
Dye hasn’t played much on special teams in recent years but covered kicks early on in his college career, although he only had one tackle.
He did also see some action as a return man, but averaged less than 21 yards per kickoff return. He did return five punts for 52 yards though.
Dye has good vision, finding good running lanes at the line of scrimmage and anticipating cutback lanes at the second level and down the field well.
He also shows an ability to leak into space as a check down option. His awareness could perhaps have been better on this play, though.
He had one pre-snap penalty in his college career, for a false start.
Coaches and teammates talk glowingly about Dye’s character. He apparently has a magnetic personality and really became a leader at USC despite the fact that he and some other key players had arrived from other schools. His competitiveness has also been praised.
Dye’s on-field discipline has also been good, with just one penalty in his college career.
As noted, he comes from a family with an NFL history. His older brother Tony briefly played in the NFL 10 years ago and Troy still plays with the Vikings for whom he has started six games in three seasons.
Dye didn’t have any injury issues at Oregon where he played in every game over his four seasons. However, his time at USC was cut short by a season-ending ankle fracture.
He obviously wasn’t completely healthy in time for his pro day workout but has been practicing with the Jets and played in the preseason opener so he is healthy again now.
Dye’s film suggests he could fit well into the Jets’ running game. Oregon mostly uses zone blocking but USC actually has more gap/power schemes so he has good experience of both.
It’s Dye’s potential as a pass catcher that gives him a shot at establishing himself as a viable third down back option, though.
Even though the Jets don’t look like they’re going to sign Dalvin Cook, they do have plenty of players ahead of Dye so his chances of making the opening day roster are slim.
Averaging less than two yards per carry in his first preseason game doesn’t help, although he probably couldn’t have been expected to do much more than he did given the quality of the blocking ahead of him.
Longer term, Dye has some potential and could be developed on the practice squad. It’s not rare for teams to have to dig deep into their running back rotation as the season progresses so Dye getting some regular season action is far from impossible.