With an injured hamstring hindering Chris Ivory’s ability to practice with the New York Jets, coupled with Mike Goodson’s disappearing act (seriously, would anyone be surprised if Mike Goodson turned up with the 14 seconds missing from the Watergate Tapes?) and Joe McKnight’s overall ineffectiveness. It is becoming clear the Jets may need to bring in some reinforcements at running back. Here is a look at five realistic options they can/should target at RB, either via free agency or trade, ranked in order from most likely to least likely. Let’s get to it.
1. Roy Helu, RB, Washington Redskins
Helu, a former fourth round pick in 2011, flashed great cutback ability, elusiveness, and good hands out of the backfield in 2011. He racked up 151 carries for 640 yards and two touchdowns, while adding on 49 catches for 379 yards. Helu was also a solid pass blocker and is still very young as he did not see much playing time behind Alfred Morris last year.
I think this is who Idzik targets after the first preseason game. A trio of Powell, Ivory, and Helu is solid to work with for Marty, Rex, and the Jets offense, and Helu can step in and start if Ivory is down for a prolonged period of time. A 6th round pick should get it done, since Helu is currently behind both Morris and Evan Royster.
2. Willis McGahee, RB, Free Agent
McGahee, while in Denver, continued his post-20 resurgence by putting up 731 yards on 167 carries (a 4.4 average), with 4 TDs in 2012. He also caught 26 passes for 221 yards before being lost in Week 10 to an injury. McGahee displayed very good burst, solid hands, and provided veteran leadership to a young RB unit.
Arguably the best of the free agent running backs, McGahee would not be a terrible option as insurance for Ivory and/or Goodson. If both were lost, he could fill in and start, while Powell assumes the 3rd down RB role. The issue with McGahee is that he will be 32 by Week 7, and we all know that most RBs are in the twilight of their careers at that point.
3. Michael Turner, RB, Free Agent
Back to back 300+ carry seasons for Turner (in 2010 and 2011) caused the former Falcon to lose whatever speed he had left as he posted his worst season since becoming a starter, with 222 carries and 800 yards, although he did post 10 TDs. Turner produced fairly consistently as a starter, and is a veteran presence. However, he struggles catching the ball.
While McGahee would be a better fit, and Turner would make Jets fans think Shonn Greene was Usain Bolt. I could see Idzik rolling the dice on Michael Turner if he lost Ivory for an extended period of time. I can’t see Idzik signing Turner to spell Ivory though, as Turner would be woefully inept as a 3rd down back.
4. Kendall Hunter, RB, 49ers
Hunter played 16 games his rookie year and, as the primary backup to Frank Gore, had 112 carries for 473 yards and 2 TDs. He followed that up by gaining 371 yards on only 72 carries (a 5.2 YPC) before being injured after Week 11. Hunter is versatile, has game breaking potential, and is a willing blocker. However, he did struggle with blitz recognition during his first two seasons, and that’s something that he needs to improve upon.
Even before the injury, Jim Harbaugh seemed to begin to lean more towards LaMichael James in the Pistol next to Colin Kaepernick. It is possible that Kendall Hunter becomes expendable, especially by the trade deadline. A 5th round pick for a good, young running back that will be buried on another team’s depth chart would be a great investment.
5. Bryce Brown, RB, Eagles
In spot duty for the Eagles last year, Bryce Brown was able to run for 564 yards and four TDs with a 4.9 yards per carry average. Brown was explosive with the ball and out of the backfield as a receiver, and showed good vision out of both I-formation and single back packages. He flashed big play potential and elusiveness.
While his familiarity with Marty Mornhinweg’s system would help him fit right in, plus both his physical and playmaking similarities to Ivory would endear him to Jets fans, I can’t see the Eagles trading their best back up to LeSean McCoy. It seems like Chip Kelly’s “7 Seconds or Less” offense will require as many quality bodies as possible, which is why Brown is so low on our list. If Brown becomes available, a 3rd or 4th rounder wouldn’t be a bad investment on a younger Chris Ivory.
I think Idzik targets Roy Helu if the situation with Goodson, as well as Ivory’s health, don’t improve heading into the 2nd preseason game. Three guys on this list are back up running backs buried behind more talented running backs, but it doesn’t mean that they couldn’t help the Jets. Idzik has preached competition all offseason and giving up a late round draft choice in a year where you may have as many as 14 draft picks is a worthwhile investment. Running Back is one of the few positions that the Jets don’t have much depth at. If Mark Sanchez struggles, Geno’s there and vice versa. No Holmes? Ok, you have Kerley, Braylon, and Hill. Without Ivory, and to a lesser extent Goodson, the Jets offense may be in trouble this year. I see Idzik taking a chance on one of the five RBs mentioned above, and adding depth to the New York Jets running back core.