By MICHAEL FAIRLIE //
While it is true that Chris Ivory’s running style inevitably leads to a significant amount of wear and tear, which was quite apparent during the 2015 season, it is imperative that the Jets at least consider bringing him back for 2016 and beyond. I am not saying that they should break the bank or commit to him with a long-term deal, but to just dismiss what he brings to this team would be incredibly shortsighted.
Maybe you look into a 2 or 3 year, incentive-packed contract, while you groom the future backfield candidate(s), depending on what his market will be of course.
Coming off of his best season as a pro, Ivory compiled 247 carries for 1,070 yards (good for 5th in the NFL and 1st in the AFC) with 7 TD’s and 4.3 ypc average. He also added a career best 30 receptions for 217 yards and a TD.
He did all of this while playing at less than 100% for the majority of the season, which of course is always going to be a concern with a battering ram like Ivory. If they can somehow get him at a reasonable price, the reward of having him running wild far outweighs the risk.
Of course it would be an ideal situation to be able to keep him and Bilal Powell, who complemented Ivory and the Jets offensive attack well with 70 carries for 313 yards along with 47 catches for 388 yards, totaling 3 TD’s of his own. However, it might not be possible with the salary cap implications and it depends on what the free agent market is like for RB’s this offseason.
Although Powell had better rushing numbers in 2012 and 2013, this past season saw the 2011 4th round draft pick out of Louisville display a new accelerated gear, providing the team with a dynamic weapon out of the backfield. You also cannot discount his pass protection abilities on third downs.
If they lose one or both of them to free agency, it is not going to be as easy to replace them as many seem to think. The thought of the plodding Zac Stacy and the unproven Dominique Williams being the only Jets running backs under contract does not inspire much confidence among the members of Jet Nation. Bringing back Stevan Ridley, who had 90 yards on 36 carries for a 2.5 ypc average, is not likely to be the answer either.
There are some attractive options in free agency if the Jets choose not to make a valid effort to bring back Ivory and/or Powell or cannot come to terms with either, but none of them have proven that they can bring the intensity and wrecking ball style of Ivory.
The shifty Lamar Miller, coming off of two rather productive seasons at the age of 24, would be an interesting option, but his price tag is expected to be out of the Jets range.
The diverse skillset of Matt Forte would also fit nicely in Chan Gailey’s offense. He is one of the most versatile backs in the NFL and leads the league in all-purpose yards since 2008. Although he is already 30 years old, he has not shown any signs of slowing down. However, he will likely also be out of the Jets’ price range.
Comeback Player of the Year candidate Doug Martin, who rushed for 1,402 yards on 288 carries with a 4.9 ypc average and 6 TD’s, is another pending free agent who would surely be welcomed with open arms, but he too is likely to require more money than the Jets will be able to spend at the position.
Although 29 years old and a career back-up, James Starks had a breakout year in 2015 and he has not yet taken the beating of the average RB about to turn 30. Depending on the cost, Starks is someone that the Jets could consider if Ivory and Powell are sent packing.
No matter what the Jets decide to do at halfback in free agency, it goes without saying that they need an infusion of youth at the position. There are a number of compelling options at the position available in the upcoming 2016 NFL Draft.
Topping that list is Ohio State RB, Ezekiel Elliott, who is expected to be picked in the first round. He is an exceptional all-around back with great size for the position as well as phenomenal footwork and vision. He is certainly worth a look if the Jets decide to pick a HB on day one of the draft.
Expected to be available at somewhere between the late first and mid-second round, Derrick Henry of Alabama, who is 6’2 242 pounds, would also be a tempting choice for the Jets. He is an incredibly agile north-south runner who displays the ability and patience to squeeze through small holes and utilizes his remarkable instincts to carve up defenses. Despite his enormous size, Henry is deceptively quick on his feet and would be a nice eventual replacement for Chris Ivory.
Someone to consider in the middle rounds of the draft is Florida University’s Kelvin Taylor, son of former Jacksonville Jaguars’ all-time great RB, Fred Taylor. While he does not possess the level of skill demonstrated by his father, Kelvin plays larger than his 5’10, 205-pound frame with a hard-nosed attitude and displays a quick burst between the tackles as well as an ability to get to the outside.
Taylor should be there for the taking in the 4th or 5th round and would provide solid depth in the Gang Green backfield, with the potential to eventually take on a bigger role with the proper development.
Regardless of what direction they go in the draft, I still believe that it would be beneficial to try to find a way to keep Ivory and/or Powell in the fold. Continuity is something that is far too often overlooked by NFL teams as was evidenced by the Philadelphia Eagles falloff in production in the running game after sending LeSean McCoy to the Bills. The safer bet is to take a methodical approach in the transition to younger running backs while getting all that you can from the likes of Ivory and Powell.
Now that Dri Archer is aboard the Gang Green Express, at least for the time being, I can only imagine how dynamic of a combination that Chris Ivory, Bilal Powell, Derrick Henry and Dri Archer would make if everything works out that way. One can dream.
Although he has not figured into the Steelers’ offensive game plan much, since being drafted by Pittsburgh in the 3rd round of the 2014 draft, Archer is an incredibly speedy and versatile player who can help out in the backfield, in the slot, and of course, as a kick returner.