There may not be a lot of optimism amongst Jets fans when it comes to the team’s offense heading into the 2013 season, but if there’s one area where there should be, it is in the new and improved running game headlined by Chris Ivory. Many fans may not be very familiar with the Saints former backup running back, but it won’t take long for him to become a fan favorite once the pads come on and we get to see the violence with which he runs on a regular basis. Much has been written about Ivory around these parts about why there are such high hopes for him, so this article won’t tell you things you should already know. Instead, I’m going to take a look at other running backs since 2000 that have walked the same path that Ivory is about to embark on to get an idea of what we could be looking at in 2013 and beyond. By that, I mean other little used backup running backs on one team who were acquired by another to be the starter.
But first, a little background on Mr. Ivory and how he performed in New Orleans as a point of reference. Over a three year period as a backup, Ivory played in 24 games, had 256 carries for 1,307 yards (a 5.1 average), and scored 8 touchdowns. Those are very solid stats, but not everyone is able to make the transition from productive backup into productive starter as the touches total goes higher and higher. There are two recent examples of players which strikingly similar stats to Ivory before moving on to their new team. One worked out great, and the other… not so much.
Michael Turner – Ok, in case you didn’t know, this would be the “good” example and if Ivory is able to duplicate the success Turner has had in Atlanta, then the Jets will be in great shape going forward. Turner was a backup in San Diego for four seasons behind Ladainian Tomlinson and racked up the following stat line: 228 carries for 1,257 yards (a 5.5 average), and 6 TD’s. Like Ivory, Turner also offered little in the passing game, racking up just 11 catches over those four seasons.
When Turner moved on to Atlanta, he was expected to carry the running load, and he did not disappoint. In his first season, Turner played all 16 games, carried the ball 376 times, and piled up 1699 yards (4.5 avg) with 17 TD’s. That’s an extreme amount of carries, and I doubt the Jets are going to force-feed Ivory quite as much, but if Ivory can even come close to those numbers, that would obviously be huge. Turner followed that season up with three more highly productive ones where he ran for an average of 83.3 yards per game and scored 33 TD’s. Turner has a similar style to Ivory, and this is the comparison Jets fans should be most excited for, not just for 2013, but for the next few years, as he was able to sustain success for a few seasons. The flip side would be…
Lamont Jordan – Ah yes, Lamont Jordan, the “not so much” example. I’m sure most Jets fans remember the Curtis Martin backup for four seasons who ran with violence and broke off his fair share of big plays. In fact, while many fans won’t admit this today, there was lots of talk back in those days that Jordan should get more carries and help lighten Martin’s workload. It may sound like blasphemy now, but it’s true. And the thing is, it wasn’t all that crazy, because in small doses, Lamont Jordan was very good. Like Michael Turner, he also racked up incredibly similar stats to Chris Ivory as a backup. Over 4 seasons, Lamont ran 262 times for 1,277 yards (4.9 avg) and 10 TD’s. He did, however, contribute much more in the passing game, as he added 50 catches for 417 yards as well. After his four years in green, Jordan opted to sign with the Raiders, where things started to go down hill.
Jordan had a pretty successful first year in Oakland, where he ran 272 times for 1,025 yards (3.8 avg) with 9 TD’s, and also contributed 563 receiving yards on 70 catches. Those are not eye-popping stats, but on a poor Raiders team where he was the main offensive threat, he performed well. It was after that season where things really started to go down hill as Jordan battled injuries, weight issues, and was unable to overcome the disaster of a team that surrounded him, so he never quite met expectations. He never cracked 4.0 yards per carry in three years as a Raider, and some would say Ivory is facing a similar uphill climb as Jordan did in Oakland. It’s fair to say that if Ivory duplicates Lamont Jordan’s tenure as a starter, then the Jets may be looking for a new running back in a year or two, and that would hurt a team that already has enough holes.
Turner and Jordan are definitely the two players that have the most comparable histories to Chris Ivory in terms of carries and productiveness as a backup, but there are several other prominent examples of backups going on to become very good starters with their new teams. Most ended up having three or four highly productive years, while one only had one before fizzling out. It will be up to Ivory and the Jets to see which player he most resembles when all is said and done. Here are those four players:
Thomas Jones – Jones was a highly-touted 1st round draft choice in Arizona, where he fizzled out for three seasons before moving on to Tampa Bay for one year. He was mostly a backup for those four seasons as he ran 499 times for 1,891 yards total (3.8 avg) and 12 TD’s. In year 5, he moved on to the Chicago Bears where he started 14 games and ran for 948 yards on 240 carries (4.0 avg). In year 2 in Chicago, Jones ran 314 times for 1335 yards (4.3 avg) and 9 TD’s. From there, Jones became one of the most productive RB’s in the league as that was the first of his five straight 1,000 yard seasons, including 3 with the Jets. I don’t think anybody would be too upset if Ivory had a string of success like Jones did. In fact, maybe the MetLife Stadium PA guys should get “Lose Yourself” ready for Ivory’s pregame introductions like TJ did, so Ivory can follow Jones’s lead rather than, say, this guy…
Peyton Hillis – Another big back, with a similar body type to Chris Ivory is Hillis, the former fullback who shifted to running back when he was traded to Cleveland after two years barely touching the ball in Denver. Over those two seasons, he ran just 81 times for 397 yards and 6 TD’s. When he moved on to Cleveland, he became the starting RB and ran 270 times for 1177 yards (4.4 avg), and 11 TD’s. Just as importantly, he had 61 catches for 477 yards and gives some hope that just because Ivory isn’t known for catching passes, it doesn’t mean he can’t develop that part of his game. Unfortunately for Hillis, after that one breakthrough season, he battled some injuries, became less effective, and is currently out of the league. Yikes.
Ahman Green – Green spent two years mostly returning kicks in Seattle and only managed 61 carries total. Green Bay saw something out of him in those 61 carries though, because he became their starter the following season and racked up the first of his five straight 1,000 yard seasons. In his first year as a starter, he carried the ball 304 times for 1,387 yards (4.6 avg), and found the end zone 9 times. He also contributed 62 catches.
Priest Holmes – Holmes is a much different kind of player than Ivory is, but he fits the backup-to-starter mold, despite starting much of the season for Baltimore in 1998. After that season he was relegated to backup and in those two years he carried the ball 226 times for 1,094 yards (4.8 avg), and 3 TD’s. He moved on to Kansas City, became the starter, and was one of the most productive players in the NFL. During his first year in KC, he started all 16 games, had 327 carries for 1,555 yards (4.8 avg), and 8 TD’s. He followed that up with two and a half more insanely awesome seasons before injuries got the best of him and he was never the same.
Every player is different and uniquely talented in their own ways, so it’s hard to make a direct comparison between Chris Ivory and any of these other players on this list, but there is certainly reason to be optimistic when it comes to Ivory. Most times, teams don’t see enough out of other teams’ backups to warrant them getting a starting job, but the ones that do usually produce well, even if it’s only for a short time. I’m sure Jets fans would be thrilled to have Ivory turn into the next Michael Turner, but it’s far from a guarantee. If the Jets get two or three productive years out of Ivory, that would make trading for him well-worth it, even if he doesn’t reach superstar status. That being said, Ivory is extremely talented and Jets fans have every right to be highly excited to see him in action. 1,200 yards and 10 TD’s is well within reach for “The Kraken”, and that will go a long way towards the Jets having a good season.