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5 different master plans to rebuild Jets backfield

Connor Rogers



Jan 1, 2018; Orlando, FL, USA; LSU Tigers running back Derrius Guice (5) celebrates a touchdown with quarterback Danny Etling (16) against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the 2018 Citrus Bowl at Camping World Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Stamey-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Stamey-USA TODAY Sports

After a below-average year in terms of running the football, the New York Jets will put a priority on upgrading their 19th-ranked rushing attack this offseason.

After gutting out the 2017 season through injury, it’s safe to say 32-year-old Matt Forte will be cut for a cost of only $1 million in dead money. Bilal Powell, who will turn 30 next year, still has a year left on his deal at the low value of $4.8 million. If the Jets want to get younger, he’ll be an interesting trade chip.

A surprising find was Lawrence Thomas at fullback. He was the lead blocker when Le’Veon Bell had nearly 1,800 rushing yards for Michigan State in 2012, but was originally on the defensive side of the ball for the Jets. With the promotion of Jeremy Bates to offensive coordinator, he’ll should have a much bigger role.

Let’s break down three different blueprints the team can take to bring this unit to the next level, both through free agency and the draft.

Option A: The youth movement

Free agency: Jerick McKinnon from the Vikings (25 years old)

Draft: Derrius Guice, LSU (round two, 37th)

Trade: Bilal Powell for a 4th- or 5th-round pick

Keep: Elijah McGuire and Lawrence Thomas


McKinnon would instantly fill Powell’s role for a similar cap hit as an explosive pass catcher. The key in adding him is getting younger while also filling the void before Powell turns 30 years old.

All the rumors in the NFL Draft world around Derrius Guice are that he could slide into Day 2. If that happens, adding a back with his kind of power and overall physicality at 37 would bring a game-changing workhorse to the offense.

Getting value back for Powell before losing him for nothing could replace the asset lost in the Rashard Robinson trade. Elijah McGuire flashed a measure of quality as the third-string running back last year and Lawrence Thomas most likely solidified his role in the fullback spot.

Option B: The draft gem

Free agency: No additions

Draft: Saquon Barkley, PSU (sixth pick)

Trade: No one

Keep: Bilal Powell, Elijah McGuire and Lawrence Thomas


This completely derails the strategy of finding runners for value, especially in a year when starter-caliber talent will last until Day 3. On the flip side, Barkley is an explosive player with special playmaking talent as both a runner and pass catcher.

His ability as a true three-down back enables the team to make fewer additions elsewhere while significantly upgrading the run and pass game.

It’s hard to remember the last time the Jets’ offense had a multi-dimensional big-play threat with the talent of Barkley, making him an easy addition to root for no matter the cost. This scenario makes sense if the team signs Kirk Cousins and can’t move out of the sixth pick.

Option C: The youth movement 2.0

Free agency: Isaiah Crowell from the Browns (25 years old)

Draft: Sony Michel, Georgia (round two, 37th)

Trade: Bilal Powell for a 4th- or 5th-round pick

Keep: Elijah McGuire and Lawrence Thomas


Isaiah Crowell is a very average running back, but that should make him a good value signing out of Cleveland. Sony Michel is another true three-down back in this class who would carry the workload in this scenario. I’d bet on him being a much bigger factor as a pass catcher at the next level as well.

Rotating the trio of Crowell, Michel and McGuire would make a very effective and versatile run game, assuming the Jets can add the right quarterback (never safe to assume, I know).

Option D: Spend big to get big

Free agency: Le’Veon Bell from the Steelers (25 years old)

Draft: No additions

Keep: Bilal Powell, Elijah McGuire and Lawrence Thomas


This is the flashy, expensive option to upgrade the backfield but far from my recommended strategy. Bell is a tremendous player and the complete package at the position, but is it safe to pay him big money? Put aside the suspension and focus on the field: He has had 742 touches combined in the two seasons since tearing multiple ligaments in his knee.

He is a great player who is far from old, but history warns to be cautious on a big-money, long-term deal with that kind of workload.

Option E: The bargain bin

Free agency: Dion Lewis (27 years old)

Draft: Kerryon Johnson, Auburn and Nick Bawden, SDSU

Trade: Bilal Powell for a 4th- or 5th-round pick

Keep: Elijah McGuire


Let’s say the Jets don’t sign Kirk Cousins and have to use a lot of their premium draft capital to move up and land a quarterback. This is a realistic plan for that scenario and far from a disaster.

When featured in New England’s offense, Lewis has been a versatile, elusive threat. He shouldn’t command a big contract and would find a very solid role in Jeremy Bates’ offense.

Kerryon Johnson brings a little bit of everything to the table and was impressive when relied upon for the Auburn offense. He is projected to go in the third or fourth round.

Nick Bawden has been Rashaad Penny’s (a 2,000-yard rusher last year) lead blocker at San Diego State and wouldn’t cost more than a sixth- or seventh-round pick. Bringing in competition or insurance at the fullback position is a good idea, since the importance of the spot will grow next season.


Connor Rogers is an NFL Draft Analyst and video producer for Bleacher Report, an NFL writer for USA Today's The Jets Wire, and a NFL Draft and Jets writer for Today's Pigskin. He graduated from the University of Albany majoring in business while specializing in the marketing field. He is also a former USAPL competitor.