During the summer when fantasy football drafts were in full swing, Bilal Powell was not seen as much more than a backup to oft-injured Chris Ivory. But after three weeks, it's clear that Powell is much more than a backup. He's a legitimate fantasy football running back who you should start every week.
The New York Jets don't have the most graceful and appealing offense in the NFL, led by rookie Geno Smith and lacking in big names at skill positions. It was thought that the violent running style of Ivory would be a perfect match for a team with a decent offensive line and an inexperienced quarterback.
But Ivory has a limited skill set and a laundry list of injury concerns, which is why I wrote for numberFire in the preseason that Powell was someone to keep an eye on.
Pardon me while I pat myself on the back.
But I'm not prepared to stop with a simple bit of advice to add Powell to your roster and call it a day. I believe that Powell is one of the 15 best running backs for the remainder of the season and someone you should target in your leagues—and start every week.
Powell is More Talented Than His Early Numbers Suggest
The New York Jets faced a very tough pair of games to start the season against the run-stopping Tampa Bay Buccaneers and division rival New England Patriots. Powell's numbers suffered accordingly, as he didn't get many carries and was otherwise unimpressive.
But having a pair of bad games is something that happens to a lot of very good running backs. Especially for Powell, who was playing on a lackluster offense while splitting time with a player who was acquired and paid to be "better" than him during the offseason.
Powell then had an excellent performance against the Buffalo Bills last Sunday, earning him some recognition after posting 27 carries for 149 yards. In fact, he was a yard away from helping his team reach an impressive milestone, as Chase Stuart explains in this tweet.
In 2010, 2011, and 2012, no QB/RB pair hit the 300 passing/150 rushing mark in the same game. Geno Smith/Bilal Powell were 1 yard shy vs BUF— Chase Stuart (@fbgchase) September 27, 2013
Looking at the advanced statistics, it gets even more impressive for Powell.
According to Pro Football Focus' statistics (subscription required), Powell is among the 10 best running backs in the NFL at getting yards after contact. That means Powell isn't just taking what his offensive line gives him, but that he's creating missed tackles and falling forward and driving hard for extra yards.
In fact, using the full "Elusiveness rating" from Pro Football Focus, we find that Powell's ability to generate missed tackles and yards after contact is better on a per-play basis than Doug Martin, Chris Johnson and Maurice Jones-Drew.
Powell is More Versatile Than Chris Ivory
Who will finish the season with more fantasy points?
Ivory has carried the ball almost 300 times in his NFL career and has somehow managed to only catch three passes.
On the other hand, Powell has nine multi-reception games in his career, and early indications this season are that he's the primary target out of the backfield for Geno Smith.
According to Pro Football Focus' charting statistics, Powell has run more than two times as many routes as any other New York running back—and almost 50 more than Chris Ivory.
That means that even when Ivory is healthy, Powell is going to be on the field more often. Ivory may be a more talented pure runner of the football, but his presence on the field makes the New York offense predictable. He's not going to catch the ball, so opposing defenses don't even have to consider him as a threat in that way and can focus on stopping the run.
That means Powell will continue to see the field—and continue to provide points for your fantasy team. Starting this week against the Tennessee Titans, Powell should be considered a "must-start" in every format.
With disappointing performances from David Wilson, Lamar Miller, Stevan Ridley and C.J. Spiller, it's likely that your team needs a reliable option at running back. And if you're in one of the fantasy leagues where Powell is still a free agent (he's owned in 82 percent of ESPN leagues), the answer to your problems is just a few clicks away.