What's Going to Happen in the NY Jets Backfield? - Footballguys

The Footballguys staff offers thoughts on the Jets running back situation

New York has one of many backfields where the roles are not clearly defined. Since running back is one of the most important positions in fantasy football, it's wise to get as clear a picture as possible on every backfield.

Matt Forte has retired, but he was replaced by Isaiah Crowell. Will Crowell simply slide in Forte's old role? Bilal Powell seemed locked into the third-down job, but Elijah McGuire has a lot of ability. Is this a three-headed committee, or will one back take the lead?

Simpkins: I see Crowell taking Forte’s old role and being more effective with it. Bilal Powell has the talent to be the lead guy, but the coaching staff hasn’t shown the inclination to feature him, despite what you or I may wish. He’ll only be of interest if Crowell gets injured. As for Elijah McGuire, I don’t see what many others seem to see. I saw a back last year that struggled to block and identify running lanes. He’s fine as a third option, but I don’t see him supplanting Crowell or Powell.

Alexander: Assuming the role we're talking about is roughly 13 carries and slightly under two catches per game, plus most of the goal-line work, it's safe to say Crowell will slide into Forte's (2016) role. But we've seen Crowell in this same role -- two-down grinder on a team constantly playing from behind -- for the better part of three seasons with the Browns.

Crowell is about as unexciting as it gets in his new digs, but in today's diluted running back market, there is value in any player who touches the ball about 15 times per game. In fact, Crowell has proven as much in each of the last two seasons.

He managed to finish 14th and 32nd in PPR running back scoring in 2016 and 2017, respectively. Yet this year, Crowell is currently being drafted 38th at the position on average. Considering the parallels we can draw between this year's Jets and the 2016-2017 Browns, it's a clear indicator Crowell is currently being drafted below his floor, even in PPR leagues where he'll be a total zilch in the receptions category.

Taking nothing away from Crowell as a pass-catcher, Powell has done nothing to lose his grip on passing-down work. And Jets running backs coach Stump Mitchell recently broke the record for the most hyperbolic statement in NFL history by saying, "Elijah McGuire has the skill-set to be a LaDainian Tomlinson if he was given that opportunity." Powell and McGuire are likely to cannibalize each other's PPR value without impacting Crowell much on early downs.

Bitonti: I'm expecting a 60/40 split with Crowell and Powell both nominal "starters" by the coaching staff but Crowell getting slightly more touches and Powell getting the second most. Powell would have games where he took over, but he can't do it week-to-week. The backups (McGuire and others) cannot be relied upon to produce fantasy points unless these two get hurt. Powell often does get hurt.

Two names I haven't seen mentioned yet: Thomas Rawls (who looks jacked) but is clearly on the roster bubble and sixth-round pick Trenton Cannon seems confident, even by NFL standards. I'm not predicting Tarik Cohen here but he's a fast small school guy who going to win the kick returner job, probably the punt returner job. McGuire was also a sixth-round pick. The coaches might have to make some harsh choices at the RB3 and RB4 jobs when it's time for cuts. I'm not convinced McGuire's spot is completely safe. And if there is someone who cuts into that 50/50 above it could be Cannon, not McGuire.

Regarding the offensive line, they added Spencer Long and Travis Swanson to play center, both are starting quality players and upgrades over Wesley Johnson who was wildly mismatched as a starter last season. Both guards were playing injured last year. They are in the middle of the pack but could be much better than last year's version.

Parsons: I am in the minority for the Jets backfield as Elijah McGuire is my favorite value. Isaiah Crowell has more pass-catching ability than most give him credit. How many receptions was he supposed to have in Cleveland with receiving maven Duke Johnson Jr soaking up much of the third down and hurry-up work on a bad team? Bilal Powell could be on the cut line before the season depending on how the team feels about McGuire and their other ancillary backs. Powell has a top-10 running back salary for this season and the team would save $4 million by cutting Powell. McGuire showed promise in 2017 as a rookie for a fraction of the cost of Powell. Stay tuned as the most valuable Jets back will be the one receiving the most passing game work. Crowell is decent depth but the top-15 upside is not there for him, limiting his appeal outside of best ball formats.

Hicks: The Jets are hopefully building a team the right away after years of futility at trying. It won’t come quickly or easily, but the running back position here is purely transient at the moment. Isaiah Crowell is not the long-term answer, nor are Bilal Powell, Elijah McGuire, Trenton Cannon or whoever else ends up on the final roster. They will, however, be serviceable for the 2018 season. Maybe Crowell can be useful for fantasy owners, but only as a bottom-end RB2. In four seasons with the Browns, he has been a reliable and solid player. Nothing more, nothing less. Powell will be entering his eighth year in the NFL and has exceeded expectations. With over 3000 career rushing yards and almost 200 receptions, he has developed into a bottom-end RB2 talent as well. Neither Powell nor Crowell has the upside to win you your league, but both will be more than useful.

Like most sixth-round running backs, Elijah McGuire is a long shot to become fantasy useful, but this will have to be the year where he makes his mark. He burst through for a 69-yard touchdown against the tough Jaguars defense last year but did not build further on that breakthrough, despite an additional 70 rushing attempts.

Howe: Crowell is still a talent I like, and he's part of the cream of the mid-round crop. He did post 4.81 yards a carry, catch 40 passes, and score 7 times just 2 years ago. I just don't see him as a workhorse; even in a best-case scenario, it's hard to project him beyond 200 touches. I'm also not sure how much volume or efficiency to expect even if he did run away with the featured role. This offense could be bad - it'll be helmed by a 21-year-old rookie for much of the year - and I don't foresee many touchdown opportunities coming. Crowell looks like a strong play as your RB4, but he doesn't boast quite the upside of ADP-mates Rex Burkhead, Nick Chubb, or D'Onta Foreman.

I'm still liking the value that Powell presents; he's falling firmly in RB5 territory now. I don't buy that he's being muscled out by Elijah McGuire. Powell is an impressive runner, racking up 4.77 yards per carry over the past three years, while McGuire, a sixth-round pick, looked like just a guy last year. Powell should, in a reasonable football universe, hold down the No. 2 job - which should be viewed more as a No. 1B spot in a bad offense.

It is definitely concerning that his receptions dropped so precipitously last year - from - and that McGuire is rumored to be taking that role from him. Powell no longer carries that PPR-sexy outlook that Duke Johnson Jr, Chris Thompson, and Tarik Cohen all do in the early-middle rounds. Rather, his value stems from the possibility of Crowell faceplanting, pushing him back into a 150-carry role. That would absolutely be worth a mid-round pick, so Powell's prospects even later are tempting.

Bitonti: "This offense could be bad - it'll be helmed by a 21-year-old rookie for much of the year - and I don't foresee many touchdown opportunities coming." I agree with this comment most of the time but want to add Teddy Bridgewater is probably the best quarterback on the roster right now and it's possible he wins the job. They are selling Bridgewater jerseys for $129 in the Jets store there's apparent demand for him in the market. McCown is the highest paid quarterback, but they could move him into a mentor role for Darnold. Bridgewater might just be better. Not predicting any sort of 9-7 playoffs or whatever, but if this offense outperforms it could be because of Bridgewater plus the new offensive coordinator, Jeremy Bates.

Wood: The Jets situation is challenging to forecast for many reasons, including an uncertain depth chart at every skill position. At quarterback, Josh McCown is the likely starter but the team wants Sam Darnold to challenge for the job soon. Teddy Bridgewater is also on the roster, and if he's 100% healthy would have a case as a better placeholder than McCown. At tight end, it's anyone's guess. At receiver, Robby Anderson is the most pedigreed, but he's also a technicality away from a lengthy suspension. The other receivers are nothing special, but one or two will default to larger target share. And at running back there is McGuire, Thomas Rawls, and Bilal Powell all fighting for roles alongside Isaiah Crowell. Crowell is the most appealing of the bunch, but you have to reconcile the lack of production in Cleveland as a "Browns thing" and not a "Crowell thing" in spite of Duke Johnson Jr's ability to do more with fewer touches. At current ADP, Crowell is the best pick in the tier because he has RB1 upside. It's vital not to reach though because counting on him as an every-week starter isn't sound risk management until we see evidence of the depth chart later in the preseason.

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