The New York Jets are in need of a running back to fill the void left by Shonn Greene and to upgrade the offense for the 2013 season. Chris Ivory, an underrated back acquired from the New Orleans Saints, should be the man to win the starting role.
With three years of experience as a backup, Ivory is ready to begin carrying the load for an NFL team. His past seasons have been limited by injuries, yet for now at least, Ivory is healthy and looking promising.
Circumstances kept Ivory hidden from national awareness in New Orleans. However, that is going to change now that he is in New York and in position to become the primary back. It remains a four-man competition for the starting job, but I will give you five reasons Ivory will be the back we all care about this fall.
While Ivory's durability will be questioned all summer, one thing that should not be questioned is his ability and potential. Ivory has starter-level talent, if not starter-level experience. His most engaging quality is his explosiveness and ability to break big plays, something that Shonn Greene was below-average at in recent years.
In his limited playing time, Ivory already has six runs for 25 yards or more. On top of that, he has all of the basic abilities needed to excel in the passing game as a slot receiver or backfield receiving option. He has been targeted with passes very few times so far in his career, but that was due to the obvious circumstances of having skilled receivers higher than him on the depth chart in New Orleans.
Assuming Ivory is healthy this fall, it should only be a matter of using him correctly. He has more ability and a higher ceiling than his competition on the roster.
Chris Ivory is known for his ability to break tackles. This is something that Shonn Greene and Bilal Powell did not do much of in 2012 for the Jets. With their offensive line anchored at center by Nick Mangold, the Jets should always be able to get push up the middle. But long runs often require broken tackles.
More so than Joe McKnight, Bilal Powell, Mike Goodson or any other back on the current roster, Ivory has the physical ability needed to break through tackles and the quickness to immediately turn that into game-altering plays.
Even with his limited carries in New Orleans, that much was obvious. He has always had a high motor, good agility and a high intensity level.
Shonn Greene up the middle in 2012.
Red-zone offense is crucial for any team, and the Jets' red-zone offense needs to improve this year. The Jets have traditionally relied on their running game, especially near the end zone. Last season, the Jets ran the ball 29 times from inside their opponents' 5-yard line. The Saints (Ivory's former team) ran it only 17 times, despite having a more potent offense.
What this means is that the Jets need a running back whom they can trust to run the ball near the goal line. Ivory has the power to do this, and just as important, he can catch the ball out of the backfield. This will allow the Jets to be less predictable in the red zone, which was a legitimate problem for them last season.
In 2012, it was too easy to know what the Jets would do. If Tim Tebow or Bilal Powell was in the game, it looked like a run. Passing plays often appeared too obvious as well. With Ivory in, the play can be disguised and can be more effective in either scenario.
Mike Goodson should have been the top challenger to Ivory, more so than Joe McKnight or Bilal Powell. His recent arrest on drug and weapons charges might get in the way of that.
Whether or not Goodson, recently acquired in free agency, turns out to be guilty or legally affected, this circumstance creates a gap between him and Ivory. Even before Goodson's arrest, I viewed Ivory as the front-runner in this competition. Nonetheless, the arrest goes a non-trivial way toward solidifying Ivory's position as the favorite.
Goodson remains a member of the Jets, and it is entirely possible that he will be an active player this season. It all depends on many unknown variables off the field. However, if there were ever a tiebreaker needed to help the Jets decide with whom to take a risk, this could certainly be it.
The presence of Marty Mornhinweg, the Jets' new offensive coordinator, should turn out to be an advantage for Ivory. Ivory's dominant characteristic in the passing game should be his speed and ability to make plays out in the open.
With all of the short, quick passes that are customarily present in a Mornhinweg-style West Coast offense, that attribute makes Ivory more valuable than the other backs on the roster (excepting perhaps Joe McKnight).
Ivory is the best runner on the Jets roster. In this type of offense, he could also be one of the most valuable receivers. That makes his importance to the team even greater and makes the job even more so his to lose.