As the 2023 offseason approaches, the Jets’ running backs will be crucial to the team’s 2023 success. There are key areas that the Jets need to improve at to compete next season. On top of the quarterback position, the team needs to improve the roster’s offensive line, linebackers, and safeties. These positions either need new starters or depth due to a lack of production or the starters hitting free agency.
Yet, one position needs more attention about next season. The running back position will be crucial to the team’s success in 2023, despite additions not necessarily being needed.
It all starts with the return of Breece Hall, who was arguably the engine of the Jets’ offense before he tore his ACL in Week 7. Hall had 463 yards and four touchdowns on the ground in his rookie year. He also added 218 receiving yards and one touchdown in the air. According to PFF, the rookie running back also graded out as a positive pass blocker in five games and allowed one sack in 21 opportunities.
As a result of Hall’s impact, the Jets were a different team with him on and off the field. With Hall, the team was 5-2 and on pace to break their extensive playoff drought. Hall had five games of averaging 4.0 yards per attempt or more on the ground; the only two games he did not were the Week 1 loss to Baltimore and the Week 4 win in Pittsburgh, where he averaged 3.9 yards per attempt.
Without Hall in the lineup, the Jets went 2-8 in their remaining games. However, the downslide was not solely based on Hall’s absence, as the Jets suffered through countless offensive line injuries, brutal quarterback play, and overall offensive inconsistencies.
The Jets’ Running Backs Will Be Crucial to the Team’s 2023 Success
Interestingly enough, though, the ineffectiveness of the run game was not immediate. From Weeks 8-14, the Jets had a runner go above 50 yards rushing four times and above 4.0 yards per attempt four times. In the Week 9 win against Buffalo, Michael Carter had 12 carries for 76 yards and a touchdown. Zonovan Knight had 69 yards rushing against Chicago in Week 12, 90 yards against the Vikings in Week 13, and 71 yards against Buffalo in Week 14.
But from Weeks 15 to 18, the Jets had no running back eclipse 50 yards and only had Ty Johnson average over 4.0 yards per attempt in Week 17. As the season progressed and the offensive line injuries piled up, the lack of Hall’s dynamic talent allowed defenses to have a better chance to shut down the Jets’ offense.
Even with the return of Hall for next season, the Jets cannot only depend on him to power the team’s rushing attack. As a result, the performance of the team’s other running backs will be crucial throughout the season.
One key factor is Zonovan Knight, the undrafted running back out of NC State. Knight showed an effective downhill running style that punished defenders as the game progressed. He also displayed an ability to create yards after the catch when targeted. If Knight can build upon his performances, he will serve as an effective complement to Hall
Michael Carter, who had a sophomore season filled with struggles, will need to bounce back next season. Carter seemingly lacked the same elusiveness and explosiveness shown in his rookie year. According to PFF’s elusive rating metric, Carter dropped from 99.4 to 54.0. He also declined in yards after contact, yards per attempt, and overall receiving and rushing yards. To have an impactful role in 2023, Carter must rediscover the form that made him a vital cog in the team’s offense in 2021.
Back in January, head coach Robert Saleh confirmed that the Jets would continue to emphasize the run game as the focal point of their offense.
“There are only two or three guys that you can put the entire game on their shoulders, and ask them to go win a football game, play in, and play out. At the end of the day, especially in the East where we can use the Cincinnati-Buffalo game as an example. Cincinnati ran for over 200 yards in the snow and bad weather, and that’s what it’s going to take to win in this part of the country. Especially, if we want to host playoff games, we’ve got to be built from the ground up, so just excited about again, the combination of guys and their proven history and their proven track record of being able to build and establish run games that I think complement who we are very well,” said Saleh.
At this current juncture, the quarterback position is still the most significant factor in how the Jets’ 2023 offense will be structured. Yet, the running game is just a little behind in importance for the Jets. With new offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett utilizing a West Coast offense, running the ball will be foundational for the offense to function at a high level. In this sense, the revamped offensive line will be essential. The unit will be called upon to open lanes in the run game and keep the yet-to-be-announced quarterback upright.
Even with a successful offensive line, the Jets still need their running backs to create yards and big plays. The combination of Hall, Carter, and Knight will be crucial to how far the Jets’ offense can go, as they each bring different skills to the table as a player. It remains to be seen how this trio will mesh together, but if they can replicate their best performances from last season, they will be a dangerous unit that helps the Jets achieve more success than in past seasons.