Despite being the New York Jets best running back down the stretch last season, Bilal Powell is frequently the forgotten man when it comes to discussing the running back position in 2013. He isn’t a flashy player and is never going to turn heads with his natural ability but there will be a role for Powell on the 2013 Jets because of his steadiness and versatility.
Last summer, it seemed to be a foregone conclusion that Joe McKnight would be the team’s third down back. LaDainian Tomlinson was retired and McKnight had the apparent skill-set to step into his role. Powell had a quiet rookie season, where his most notable contribution was fumbling into the end-zone when given an opportunity in a regular season game. However, it was Powell who came out of nowhere with an impressive training camp and beat out McKnight for the third down job, thanks to his ability to pass protect and quickly pick up the offense.
The numbers were never spectacular, as Powell finished with 437 yards on 110 carries with a 4.0 yards per carry. He had 4 rushing touchdowns along with 17 receptions for 140 yards. Yet, there was a steady improvement from Powell in the Jets final stretch of games as he was given a larger opportunity. When given 12 carries against Arizona in week 13, he averaged 4.8 yards per carry for 58 total yards. The following week, with 19 carries against Jacksonville, he averaged 4.1 yards per carry for 78 yards. Then against Tennessee he averaged 4.7 yards per carry on 6 attempts and also had 2 receptions for 15 yards. Despite limited work against San Diego in week 16, he still had 4 receptions for 37 yards and then closed the season against Buffalo with 12 carries for 56 yards at 4.7 yards per carry.
Powell lacks speed and big play ability. He didn’t break a play over 20 yards last year despite receiving 127 touches. Despite that, he has good vision and is a tough north/south runner who can handle inside handoffs. He runs bigger than his 5’10, 204 pound frame. Along with his inside running ability, Powell is a good enough pass protector and receiver out of the backfield to handle a 3rd down role. He isn’t an ideal fit in there because of his lack of speed but he is capable of handling it at a competent level. Powell can also protect the football. He had zero fumbles last season in his 127 touches.
The value of having Powell on the roster is that he can backup both Chris Ivory and Mike Goodson. Powell can spell Ivory for a series and handle the interior runs, or step in for Goodson on 3rd downs, handle check down passes and protecting the quarterback.
Yes, Joe McKnight has more speed and natural ability than Powell but McKnight hasn’t shown that he can stay healthy, pass protect and run the football inside. McKnight’s best role might be as a flex/situational player who is used in a certain package of plays as hybrid running back or slot receiver. Powell provides more stability and versatility as a pure backup running back. Considering the injury history of both Chris Ivory and Mike Goodson, it is likely the team will keep four running backs anyway and Powell makes the most sense as the primary backup.