The New York Jets headline transaction at running back this offseason was signing Matt Forte, who should be a valuable addition to the offense. However, the decision to bring the perpetually underrated Bilal Powell back on a new contract may prove to be an equally or more important decision. Powell was one of the Jets most valuable players on offense last season, thanks to his versatility, vision and speed.
Powell’s value predominantly comes from how complete his game is. He is a three down back, who can function in all of the Jets various personnel packages. Despite being pegged as a third down back, Powell is an efficient north/south runner between the tackles on early downs. During the stretch run last season, it was Powell, not Chris Ivory who was more consistently finding a way to make something out of the nothing. Powell’s vision is an underrated element of his game and he runs with more power than most backs his size.
Part of the reason Powell can be used in any situation is because of how good in pass pro he is. This has long been a strength of his and basically since being drafted by the team, he has been their most consistent back when it comes to recognizing and executing these assignments. These aren’t flashy plays but Powell rarely makes a mental error that leaves his offensive line and quarterback exposed. With an offensive line that is likely to be filled with question marks, the value of this to the Jets offense cannot be understated.
On third downs and when the Jets are able to spread the formation, Powell has added an extra gear to his game. He flat out looks substantially faster than the player the Jets drafted back in 2011. Powell has also added the ability to split out as a wide receiver and create mismatches against linebackers and safeties. This will allow him to regularly share the field with Matt Forte this season. He only had three runs of longer than 20 yards last season but found ways to consistently get to the edge and turn 4-5 yard runs into 8-12 yard runs.
Powell has maintained a natural feel for the screen game and ability to run outside the tackles. He shows good patience and timing with his quarterback, along with knowing how to set up his blockers in space. Despite the addition of Forte, the Jets will still regularly use Powell for these plays. He has consistent hands and rarely, if ever, drops any passes.
Powell does not have the name recognition of Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker or Matt Forte but is an immensely critical piece of the Jets offense. Outside of those three, he should lead the Jets in touches, total yards and receptions, functioning as a critical option in both the running and passing game. If he is healthy for 16 games, Powell should top both 500 yards rushing and receiving, along adding somewhere between 45-55 receptions.
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