The New York Jets have somewhat of a surprise in Bilal Powell atop their running back depth chart. However, the 2011 fourth-round pick's skill set translates well to the team's new scheme under offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg.
Rex says Bilal Powell "earned the right to start" ahead of Chris Ivory. #nyj— Manish Mehta (@MMehtaNYDN) September 4, 2013
A hamstring injury limited Ivory during training camp and at the beginning of the preseason, but it appears even his health wasn't enough to dissuade the team from placing their faith in Powell as the No. 1 guy.
It makes sense in the context of Mornhinweg's West Coast style of offense. Powell has proven to be at least a competent receiver out of the backfield, catching 17 passes for 140 yards in 2012.
The craftily designed screen plays the offense carried out, orchestrated by Mornhinweg and current Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid in Philadelphia,likely mean Powell will be targeted more frequently.
Eagles running back LeSean McCoy caught 78 passes in 2010 and averaged 51 receptions in the two seasons after that under the watch of Mornhinweg and Reid.
Another reason to believe Powell will be a bigger contributor as a receiver is due to the fact that the Jets are starting second-round rookie Geno Smith at quarterback.
There aren't many better ways to build a young, raw signal-caller's confidence than by giving him the opportunity for easy completions and checkdowns.
Ryan said recently that Smith has a good understanding of the system and that he is a very accurate passer, per NewYorkJets.com's Eric Allen:
Learning Marty's system, [Smith] really did a tremendous job, as did all the quarterbacks...I think he really fits the system. He's a guy who is very accurate with the football, he has good mobility in the pocket and he's adjusting to the speed of the game.
Making that adjustment can be helped by a solid running game and a safety valve for Smith to find underneath to keep him in a rhythm. Powell helps the young QB in those ways.
To be clear, Powell likely isn't going to be a reliable fantasy option. Running backs coach Anthony Lynn recently stated that Ivory would take the carries near the goal line, according to the New York Daily News' Seth Walder.
But fantasy points don't ultimately matter in the NFL, obviously. Flat-out production does, and the Jets have had a top-flight rushing attack when they've been successful under Ryan.
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Quarterbacks coach David Lee will reportedly have influence on the offensive game plan, where he can introduce elements of the Wildcat, read-option and pistol formation to opposing defenses that have taken the NFL by storm recently.
The mere threat of Smith being able to run should free up running lanes for Powell.
It all starts with Powell, though, and at 5'10" and 204 pounds, he packs a physical wallop with a lower center of gravity and finishes runs well. All of those characteristics should allow him to be a serviceable starter.
With the increased opportunity for catching the ball due to Smith's infantry stages of development and the sheer demands of the West Coast system, Powell may even become one of the more underrated backs in football in 2013.