The running back position for the New York Jets has been one of interest for years. Whether it was this year’s Hall of Fame inductee Curtis Martin hitting holes, Thomas Jones or Shonn Greene, everybody has kept their eyes on the Jets backfield.
Unfortunately for the backs who have been looking to get some slack this year, the spotlight may be even brighter. All of the talk surrounding the Jets offense recently has been regarding whether or not the group would be able to get back to the ground-and-pound running game fans and critics became accustomed to between 2009 and 2010.
2011 was an off-year for the ground-and-pound system as offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer was trying to expand the playbook and give quarterback Mark Sanchez more opportunities to throw the ball, which did not work out well. Then when the Jets actually ran the ball, they would hit a few road blocks, because Schottenheimer’s play-calling was so predictable and opponents knew exactly what to expect.
In order to try and get back to the Jets offense that took them to consecutive AFC Championship game’s in 2010 and 2011, the Jets brought in a new offensive coordinator in Tony Sparano, and aside from LaDainian Tomlinson retiring, there have not been any changes to the actual running backs themselves.
In 2012, the backs expected to do most of the work are going to be Shonn Greene and Joe McKnight. Greene is coming off of his first 1,000-yard rushing season, while McKnight is coming off of a surprisingly successful 2011 campaign where he flourished as a kick returner and elusive running back.
Based on how the current running backs have performed over the past few seasons, this year’s running duo of Greene and McKnight seems like it is going to resemble the 2007 duo of Thomas Jones and Leon Washington (pictured right).
2007 was the first year these two were paired together in the Jets backfield and they packed a nice one-two punch. Jones was the feature back who would pound the ball for nice chunks of yardage, while Leon Washington would bring a change of pace by speeding past defenders.
It seems as if Shonn Greene will be 2012’s Jones while McKnight will be like Washington.
In recent years, Shonn Greene has been an inconsistent player. In 2010 with the loss of Thomas Jones to the Kansas City Chiefs in the offseason, Shonn Greene was expected to take over as the feature back with LaDainian Tomlinson backing him up and being a mentor.
Luckily for the Jets, Tomlinson wanted to prove to his former team (San Diego Chargers) and the rest of the league that he still had the same fresh legs he did during his time in San Diego, which is exactly what he did. That season, Tomlinson rushed for 914 yards while taking over as the No. 1 back on the team while Greene ran for 766.
2011 was slightly different, as it seemed Shonn Greene was finally coming into his own. He remained the feature back, running for 1,054 yards and six touchdowns while Tomlinson only ran for 280 yards and one touchdown.
Now at this point, you’re probably saying that Greene is just progressing and not being inconsistent, but for those who watched the playoffs they’d know about the inconsistency. The reason the Jets let Thomas Jones go following the 2009 season was because of Shonn Greene’s incredible playoff performances against the Bengals and Chargers when he led the team in rushing, running for 304 yards on 54 attempts, scoring two touchdowns.
That postseason (as shown in the attached video), he was breaking tackles and showing bursts of speed that no one had seen in him during the regular season, earning himself the starting role in 2010. During the 2011 playoffs, Greene had a slightly less, yet still impressive stat line as he rushed for 198 yards on 45 attempts, scoring one touchdown.
The big question that remains is, where did that Shonn Greene go? In 2011, Greene was productive but was nowhere near as good as the playoff Greene that everybody was waiting for. With that, the Jets' patience with Greene is probably running out and this needs to be a good year for Greene. Unfortunately, it is hard to see Greene improving his regular-season numbers. In fact, I see him having a slight decline only because of how McKnight will come into play this season.
All in all, if you expect Shonn Greene to be a fantasy monster this year, don’t expect to much by wasting an early-round pick on him, he is better fitted as a mid-late kind of guy.
Meanwhile, Joe McKnight fans should expect a nice increase in his numbers. Coming in during the 2010 season, Joe McKnight needed to prove he belonged in the NFL and on the New York Jets. He was facing scrutiny because he was having trouble passing the conditioning test during rookie minicamp and was not performing like people expected.
Then at the end of the 2010 season against the Buffalo Bills, he showed great potential when the Jets benched some of their starters in preparation for the postseason. That cold afternoon at the Meadowlands, McKnight ran for 158 yards on 32 attempts and caught two passes for 15 yards.
In 2011, he kept up the good work by working his way onto the kick return team, making Mike Westhoff look like a genius. Last season, McKnight returned 34 kicks, running a total of 1,073 yards and scoring one touchdown. He also ran out of the backfield 43 times for 134 yards and caught 18 passes for 139 yards but no touchdowns.
Needless to say, McKnight has been an up-and-comer and 2012 may be his big breakout year. Midway through last season, I gave a review of McKnight’s play, after multiple impressive performances. Recently he has shown no reason to believe he is going to slow down his progression, so expect McKnight to have more impressive numbers in 2012.
Stat Predictions for 2012
247 Attempts, 980 Yards, 7 Touchdowns
20 Receptions, 170 Yards, 0 Touchdowns
80 Attempts, 405 Yards, 2 Touchdowns
40 Receptions, 320 Yards, 1 Touchdown