The New York Jets haven’t had a flashy off-season but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been productive. There has been measured progress at a variety of positions but the most notable infusion of talent has occurred at running back. Plodding Shonn Greene was wisely allowed to leave in free agency and in his place the Jets added a duo of backs with immensely high potential, Chris Ivory and Mike Goodson. We’ve sung the praises of both here at TOJ but we wanted to dig a little deeper into the reasons for our excitement, so we sought out Pro Football Focus and a handful of writers who previously covered Ivory and Goodson. Let’s take a closer look…
Ivory projects to be the starting back so we’ll begin with him. In his rookie year (2010), Ivory climbed to the top of a New Orleans Saints depth chart ravaged by injuries and burst on the scene with 137 carries for 716 yards, at a whopping 5.2 yards per carry. Unfortunately, he ended the season on the injured reserve with a foot problem which carried through into the following year as he started the season on the PUP list. After being activated, Ivory had 79 carries for 374 yards at 4.7 yards per carry. Last year, his role diminished further as he only had 40 carries but still managed to rack up 217 yards at 5.4 yards per carry.
A violent, physical runner with the ability and speed to rip off big plays (6 career runs of 25 yards or more), Ivory has shown starter’s talent since entering the league but was perpetually in a crowded backfield in New Orleans. The negatives with Ivory are his lack of experience in the passing game (he only has 3 career NFL receptions and was rarely used on passing downs by the Saints) and his durability. He was banged up throughout his college year and had struggled with injuries throughout his 1st and 2nd season in New Orleans. Yet, if Ivory can stay on the field there is no reason he shouldn’t be highly productive behind a good run blocking Jets offensive line.
Chris Ivory has always been at or near the top of our Elusive Rating, which combines missed tackles forced per touch and yards per carry after contact, but he rarely if ever makes the threshold in terms of touches to be included in the final study lists.
I think there is little to no doubt that Ivory is one of the most gifted natural runners in the league. The question mark with him is can he be on the field for passing downs. The Saints either didn’t think so or weren’t willing to give him the snaps over guys like Sproles, Thomas and Ingram, because almost all of his snaps were running snaps. So as a featured runner the Jets need to find out if he can pass block and if he can be a viable receiver out of the backfield if they intend to use him as a complete back, but even if they just expand the role he had on the Saints he should be a HUGE upgrade over Greene.
If you were thinking of rolling your eyes at the “one of the most gifted natural runners in the league” comment, watch the run starting at 31 seconds in this video package from last season.
I also briefly spoke with Chris Roling, the managing editor of Who Dat Dish which covers the New Orleans Saints. When asked if Ivory had the traits of a lead back and how Saints fans felt about trading him, Roling said –
He has everything you look for in a workhorse back, especially as a tough runner. His only issue is he has battled with injuries throughout his career. It’s hard to tell how his body will hold up as the featured back thanks to his physical running style
Ivory wasn’t that productive with the team because he was the 4th on the depth chart. He also isn’t very good at catching passes, which is a big no-no in the Saints offense. His lack of productivity is part of the reason the team was willing to part with him. The fan base is a bit split on the trade, but most realize it was a smart move to get another pick to put toward rebuilding the defense.
Ivory does still need to prove himself as a lead back in the NFL but he will be given that opportunity in New York and provides a substantially higher ceiling and more running talent than Shonn Greene. He won’t be asked to carry the load alone though and may not need to have a large role on passing downs thanks to the Jets signing of Mike Goodson.
We broke down tape on Goodson here. Similar to Ivory, he has been stuck in crowded backfields his whole career. After minimal use during his rookie season in Carolina, Goodson received extended work in 2010 due to injuries on the Panthers and finished with 452 yards on 103 carries, for 4.4 yards per carry. He also racked up 40 receptions for 310 yards that season. After barely being used in 2011 behind DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, he was traded to Oakland. Last year for the Raiders, he had 35 carries for 221 yards (6.3 yards per carry) and 16 receptions for 195 yards, including this 64 yard touchdown against the Miami Dolphins.
Despite only having 51 touches last season in Oakland, Goodson had four plays over forty yards. In 2010, there were two games he received 20 carries or more and in both games he went over 100 yards. Goodson did have some fumbling issues in Carolina and many question whether he has the size to handle extended work over the course of a season. Yet, with Ivory in the fold, Goodson won’t need to be a workhorse back in New York. When discussing Goodson with Monson from PFF, he commented
Mike Goodson has a wonderful ability to make people miss, but it can come at the expense of just ‘hitting it up in there’ and getting three yards. Think of him as a very poor man’s Barry Sanders in that regard. (Behind Ivory) expect Goodson to act as more of a 3rd down back, taking the passing plays, the draw runs on passing downs and playing pass protector.
He was very good when he played, as evidenced by his 6.3 yards per carry average. He started out slow because of a big hit he took in camp that had him taken to the hospital in an ambulance. Once he got his confidence back, he was great. He was known for having fumbling problems when he came to the Raiders but he seemed to have fixed that issue. Raiders fans were a bit frustrated to see him go, yes. He was a great change up scat back for Darren McFadden. The one thing is, he is a great fit for the zone blocking scheme which the Raiders ran last season, but the team has switched back to power blocking so the Raiders not making a push to bring him back may have had something to do with them thinking he wasn’t a fit for their new offense.
He has the skill set and talent (to be a 3rd down back and 1B option) but he may not have the durability. He is very small both in stature and in bulk which limits the punishment he can take. I see him as always having a complementary role in an offense much like Darren Sproles has had his entire career. He will offer a burst of speed an energy off the bench or in a two back set.
Included for further reference on the two backs is a table sent over by Ben Stockwell from Pro Football Focus, breaking down the reps they took on the field and their elusive rating. (For further information on the elusive rating click here)
As you can see, the potential of a Ivory/Goodson duo likely has new offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg ecstatic. If healthy, Ivory should be a bell-cow back taking the bulk of carries on early downs, while Goodson is the third down back and contributes on passing downs and for certain outside handoffs or stretch plays. In terms of talent, both exceed Bilal Powell substantially who should fall into the role of a swing backup. Monson believed that Powell “probably would spell Ivory rather than Goodson when he needs a rest on early downs” which is likely true, although Powell did get third down back experience last year and could fill in for Goodson if needed. As for Joe McKnight, it wouldn’t be shocking to see him not make the final 53 man roster especially with the Jets now kicking the tires on Josh Cribbs, who would bump him out of his kick return role.
With the additions of Ivory and Goodson and a quality run blocking offensive line in place, the Jets could very well have their best rushing attack since 2009. A strong running game coupled with a standard Rex Ryan defense could allow the Jets to be more competitive than many expect them to in 2012.