Let’s dive into Free Agency and look at the best options that can immediately upgrade the Jets’ talent level and assist Darnold in both the run and pass game: Running Backs. Here are my top five free agent targets at the running back position:
1. Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh
This ranking is truly Le’Veon Bell and everybody else. Bell is the best offensive weapon to hit the open market in recent memory. He would instantly become the Jets’ best feature back since Curtis Martin and be the versatile playmaker to complement Darnold’s game. A quick look at the stats: In Bell’s 62 career gams played, he has averaged 86 rushing yards, 43 receiving yards, 5 catches, and has scored a total 42 touchdowns. His 129 yards from scrimmage average rank first in NFL History with a minimum of fifty games played, only beating the likes of Jim Brown, Billy Sims and Barry Sanders. Looking at his three best seasons (2014, 2016, and 2017), he had over 1,260 rushing yards, 75 catches, and 9 TD’s… each year! He also was a two-time All Pro and three-time Pro Bowler. On the field, there is no weakness to his game. He is a patient, yet powerful runner. He is a great receiver who runs crisp routes, and an exceptional blocker in the passing game. The concerns with Bell are his mileage (he will be 27 this season and even with a year off has still had quite the work load in five seasons) and his off the field concerns (two suspensions for violating NFL’s substance abuse policy).
2. Tevin Coleman, Atlanta
Coleman would be a solid consolation prize if the Jets don’t happen to land Bell, but is a distant second to Bell, nonetheless. Coleman has been a solid complimentary back in Atlanta for the first four years of his career, with an increased workload in 2018 following a season-ending injury to Devonta Freeman. Coleman has shown that he can make an impact in the run and pass game, and will only be 26 when the season starts, with not as much mileage on him as a player like Bell. However, it is a significant concern that his production didn’t spike as much as one would expect after taking a feature role with Atlanta in 2018. Coleman only gained 172 more yards on the ground and had 5 more catches that he did in 2017, albeit starting eleven more games.
3. TJ Yeldon, Jacksonville
Yeldon’s pass catching ability and age (25) make him an intriguing option for the Jets. While he would be a tough sell as a traditional feature back, his versatility is his upside. Yeldon hauled in 50+ passes in 2016 and 2018 but hasn’t had the same success on the ground. He would be a nice addition but would need to be paired with a more traditional back to compliment his skill set.
4. LaTavius Murray, Minnesota
While I would normally be adamantly against signing a 29-year-old running back, Murray is an outlier. Although old for a back, his wear and tear in five seasons in minimal. He was a true feature back in Oakland for two years, where he made the Pro Bowl in 2015 by gaining over 1,000 yards and 41 catches. He is a big (6-3, 230) back with the ability to catch the ball and limited mileage on him. I think he could be a nice fit in the Jets’ offense.
5. Jay Ajayi, Philadelphia
Ajayi is an intriguing option for the Jets that I wouldn’t discount. He exploded in his second year with Miami for over 1,200 yards and eight touchdowns. He was surprisingly traded to Philadelphia mid-season in 2017 (by Adam Gase), where he was a contributor by committee in the Eagles Super Bowl Run. His age (25) and big-play ability make him a great candidate for the Jets but his lack of production in the passing game and ACL tear in 2018 are big questions.
This class, like so many other free agent classes we’ve seen, leaves something to be desired. Teams do not let their best players walk. Bell and Coleman would be instant upgrades for the Jets’ backfield. Beyond those two, the options wouldn’t offer a significant improvement over the current group.
Simply put, it’s Bell or bust for Mike Maccagnan and the Jets. Some would mention Bell’s desired price tag to be a deterrent, I would argue that with over $100M in cap space to spend, a monster deal for Bell would not prohibit the Jets from making any other desired moves this offseason. Players with Bell’s ability don’t come around often. If you have a chance to get him, you take it. Bell is the difference maker the Jets need and there is no justifiable reason they shouldn’t be all in on him this March.