A combination of talent, offensive scheme and opportunity are finally converging for New York Jets running back Chris Ivory, who should be considered one of the league's top breakout candidates for the 2013 season.
Despite flashing nearly every time he touched the football in New Orleans, Ivory routinely found himself buried on the Saints depth chart behind the likes of Pierre Thomas, Darren Sproles, Reggie Bush and Mark Ingram.
Sensing a chance to fix their running back position on the cheap, the Jets (who lost former starter Shonn Greene in free agency) sent a fourth-round pick to the Saints to acquire the underutilized Ivory before the 2013 NFL draft.
Now, Ivory has a chance to be a featured runner in an offense that is shifting towards his strengths.
According to Conor Orr of the Newark Star Ledger, the Jets are moving away from the "Ground-and-Pound" era in favor of a running game that features athletic offensive linemen and perimeter runs under new offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg.
Here's what head coach Rex Ryan had to say on the subject, per Orr:
We're putting in more perimeter runs, which has been Marty's thing, get some speed out there. We have some backs that can certainly do that, but yeah, we were working a lot of that today, especially in the individual part. We're pulling those guys, and I think we are more athletic, especially at that guard spot.
Such a change in philosophy is good news for the former Saints running back.
While Ivory (6'0", 222 pounds) is considered a physical runner who is capable of pounding away at defenses between the tackles, he's actually done a majority of his damage in the NFL as an outside runner.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Ivory carried outside the tackles 16 times for 113 yards in 2012, good for a hefty 7.1 yards per carry. He also caused 11 missed tackles, scored both of his touchdowns and produced nearly 75 percent of his yards after contact on designed runs to the outside.
His 24 other carries inside the tackles came to equal 104 yards, zero touchdowns and just one broken tackle.
Ivory had similar production outside during 2010, his most productive NFL season.
On 78 carries, running either directly behind or outside of the left or right tackle, Ivory gained 488 of his 718 total yards (6.3 yards per carry) and 298 of his 455 yards after contact. He also broke 13 tackles and scored three times on the perimeter.
The translation here is an easy one: Ivory, who had been wildly-successful running outside the tackles in New Orleans, is now entering an offense that is expected to implement more and more perimeter running plays.
Maybe the "put up some crazy numbers in New York" talk (per the Times Picayune) from Ivory after the trade wasn't so ridiculous after all.
But even if the Jets offense wasn't making an obvious shift towards attacking the perimeter, Ivory would still have an opportunity to break out as a runner next season.
Although he has rarely had the number of carries to qualify for the league leaders in PFF's "Elusiveness Rating" stat, Ivory has otherwise finished in the top five in two of the last three years. In 2010, his 74.6 rating was good for fourth. Last season, he finished fourth again at a whooping 146.2. (Note: both links need subscriptions).
Joe Caporoso @JCaporoso
From @PFF_Sam - "I think there is little to no doubt that Ivory is one of the most gifted natural runners in the league" - #Jets5/9/2013, 8:14:17 PM
To develop "Elusiveness Rating," PFF combines yards after contact from both carries and receptions to create a stat that better quantifies how talented an individual runner is without factoring in help from blocking.
For perspective, note that the top five qualified runners (50 percent of more of team's attempts) in the stat last season were C.J. Spiller, Adrian Peterson, Doug Martin, Marshawn Lynch and Alfred Morris, or four of the NFL's top five rushers. Spiller, the only back outside the top five in total yards, averaged six yards a carry.
Ivory should now have the opportunity to see the necessary carries in the New York offense.
Former starter Shonn Greene is now backing up Chris Johnson in Tennessee. Former Oakland Raiders running back Mike Goodson was likely brought in as nothing more than a change-of-pace option, and Bilal Powell has a career rushing average of just 3.7 yards.
This is Ivory's backfield to lose, and under Mornhinweg, that should equal production. As Orr points out in his previously linked story, Mornhinweg's offenses have finished in the top 10 of rushing average in eight of his 13 seasons as an offensive coordinator or head coach. In two of his last three seasons, Mornhinweg's offenses have finished in the top five for rushing yards.
Ivory is no stranger to high rushing averages; over his three seasons, he's never finished below 4.7 yards per carry, and his career average still sits at 5.1.
The aggregation of these positives give Ivory the potential to be one of next season's true surprises.
A talented runner who has lacked nothing but a real chance, Ivory is entering an offense without a true identity that is already being primed to fit his strengths. It's now on Ivory to make the most of his golden opportunity in 2013.