Competition is the buzzword this summer in New York. Within the Jets organization competition is everywhere both on the field and off of it. While the most discussed competition will inevitably be the one at quarterback, the most intense and most intriguing one will be the one at running back.
After four years with the team, Shonn Greene has been allowed to leave and is now a Tennessee Titan. In his place are four starting quality running backs, each trying to break through in the NFL. Arguably all four of them are more skilled than Greene, yet none of them has a secure roster spot just yet.
Chris Ivory is perhaps the most fascinating of the bunch. While he has ridden under the radar so far in his career, he has shown flashes of brilliance that may imply that he has the highest ceiling of any of them. In college at Washington State, he demonstrated his high motor, running for 534 yards on 5.9 yards per carry.
Ivory spent the rest of his college career in Division II, causing him to go undrafted. However, even in his rookie season in the NFL he showed that he was ready to play. While injuries have been a frequent issue for him and his durability has been questioned, his raw ability and drive are what make him such a strong value and give him such high potential.
Ivory came over from the Saints in a trade this offseason and could easily be viewed as the overall favorite to win the starting job.
A former fourth-round pick in 2009, Mike Goodson was snagged by the Jets in free agency this spring. After stints with the Carolina Panthers and Oakland Raiders, it seemed that Goodson was perhaps going to get his opportunity to start. That was before Ivory was acquired. Now Goodson will have to compete with Ivory in addition to the rest of the running backs on the roster.
To makes things more complicated, he was recently arrested on charges related to drug possession and possession of a firearm. Goodson remains on the team at the moment, but release, suspension or jail time are all possible consequences that could keep him off the field.
As arguably the most durable and physically reliable back on the team, it had seemed exceedingly likely that Goodson would find a spot on this team and earn carries. However, the recent arrest could put a damper on the whole situation.
A backup with the Jets since he was drafted in 2010, Joe McKnight badly wants to be a starter now that he is entering his fourth season. McKnight emphasized this to Mark Cannizzaro of NYPost.com, saying, "Words can't even describe how badly I want to be that guy. I've got an edge, a fire to me... When I'm out there practicing it's like I'm [ticked] off. I've got to play the game [ticked] off."
McKnight is a quick back and has excelled in terms of yards per carry (6.0 in 2012) in his three previous years with the Jets. However, his carries have been few and far between with him sitting behind Shonn Greene and Bilal Powell on the depth chart.
His abilities as a special teams player, which earned him a spot on the All-Pro team in 2011, essentially guarantee him a roster spot barring unforeseen events. Still, if he finds himself at the No.3 or No. 4 spot on the running back depth chart, he will not see many carries.
One thing we do know is that McKnight will do whatever he can to keep his roster spot. He has been exceptionally vocal and fiery this offseason. As he said himself (via Connor Orr of the Star-Ledger), "They're going to have to kill me to take my spot. So, whoever they bring in, I don't care."
Since being drafted by the Jets in 2011, Powell has been fighting for reps in practice and for carries in games.
At the end of the 2012 season, it would have been very reasonable to view Powell as the incumbent favorite to finally start this year. Especially once Greene was officially allowed to leave via free agency, Powell seemed to be almost a sure thing to start, with him being more versatile and more reliable than McKnight.
With the arrivals of Ivory and Goodson, Powell's situation with the team is now a major question mark. If he falls to third or fourth on the depth chart, it is conceivable that he could lose his roster spot entirely, since he is not heavily used on special teams. However, one would hope that given the promise he has shown so far with the team that they will find a way to keep him on the roster.
Projected Winner: Chris Ivory
General manager John Idzik did his job by stacking this year's roster with competent running backs. Now head coach Rex Ryan and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg will need to figure out the best way to use their overabundance of backs.
There should not be one true winner of this competition, at least not by Week 1. The Jets have generally gone with a running back by committee approach during the Rex Ryan era. Still, someone will have to take most of the snaps in Week 1.
Given the evidence available right now, the clear favorite has to be Ivory. He is the most explosive back on the team and is arguably the most trustworthy in pass protection.
The game film on Ivory from the Saints, while limited, demonstrates a tremendous upside. As long as he can remain healthy (which is of course an uncertainty), he should be viewed as the favorite to win the competition this summer.