FOCUS ON…The New York Jets backfield
The New York Jets have had their share of struggles. Last year with the arrival of new head coach Robert Saleh, things started to look up. That same offseason, Michael Carter was drafted in the fourth round. He shared the backfield with two veterans, and all three will be back in 2022. Let’s take a look at how these running backs were utilised in 2021 and what it might mean for 2022.
The backfield suffered a number of injuries in 2021. Each of the three players missed time during the season. While Michael Carter had the biggest role, he wasn’t a workhorse. Johnson and Coleman limited him to a 52% opportunity share. Johnson played more of a receiving role, but Carter also was involved. However, we’ll need to look at games where all three were on the field to really understand their roles.
As expected, Michael Carter had the majority of the rush attempts. He just beat Ty Johnson for the most targets and receptions. Neither Johnson or Coleman had enough work with all 3 players on the field to be of any fantasy relevance. Particularly since they only had one touchdown between them.
Michael Carter’s opportunity share increased gradually at the start of the season. From week 3, his opportunity share was over 50%, aside from games where he got injured and returned from injury. This increased when he shared the backfield with only one other RB. Where all 3 RBs played together Carter had a 50% share with the remaining 50% split between Johnson and Coleman.
When healthy, Michael Carter had the majority of rush attempts. Tevin Coleman took over this role when Carter was injured. He also had more attempts than Johnson when all 3 RBs were on the field.
No single running back dominated the receiving work. A marked bump in RB targets occured in weeks 7-10 when Mike White filled in for an injured Zach Wilson.
Fantasy focus on Michael Carter
As a rookie drafted by a new regime, Michael Carter held promise for fantasy managers in 2021. He was drafted as the RB34 in 0.5 PPR leagues. He did have the lead role in the backfield but wasn’t a workhorse (as shown by the 50% opportunity share when everyone was healthy). How did this translate to weekly points and fantasy performance?
For the majority of games, Carter scored between 5-15 0.5 PPR points. He had an above average fantasy performance in five games (weeks 5, 8, 10, 16, 17). His biggest performances and fantasy points came in weeks 8 and 10 when he was highly targeted by Mike White. Unfortunately, he also had three games where he scored <5 points and wounded fantasy managers. (weeks 1,3, 15). Injury forced him to leave the field early in weeks 11 and 17, limiting his scoring potential.
Why you gotta bring me down?
As one of the worst teams in 2021, the New York Jets did not help their running backs. They were playing from behind 69% of the time. This resulted in a run pass ratio of 39:61. They had the fewest rush attempts and the sixth fewest rushing yards. The RBs didn’t have much receiving upside with Zach Wilson on the field either. He targeted the RBs just 16% of the time which was below the NFL average of 19% (in contrast Mike White targeted the RBs 31% of the time!).
What does this mean for the Jets RBs in 2022? With all three running backs returning, Michael Carter is unlikely to become the workhorse. The multiple injuries he suffered in 2021 also make this doubtful. He may have a slight opportunity increase but a share of more than 60% would be surprising. For the bump in volume fantasy managers are seeking, however, a large increase in opportunity might not be needed. With Saleh, his scheme and Wilson entering their second year, the Jets will likely see some improvement. This should mean playing from behind less allowing for more rush attempts (Carter’s share of the pie may be the same but the pie will be bigger).
Increased involvement in the receiving game is unlikely as Zach Wilson didn’t show a propensity for targeting RBs (unlike Mike White).
Final Fantasy Focus
Michael Carter is the only Jets running back you should draft in 2022. Ty Johnson and Tevin Coleman may take some work but not enough for any fantasy value. Carter will be the lead RB but he won’t become the workhorse. His role is unlikely to change BUT the Jets should improve (even if only slightly) meaning volume should increase. He will have some receiving work but Zach Wilson targets RBs less than the average QB. This means his value won’t increase in PPR leagues (unlike Aaron Jones, as discussed in my previous article). He’ll improve on his RB28 finish but he remains on a below average team so will likely become a low end RB2. He doesn’t have massive upside but he could be a solid RB2/flex on your team in 2022.
For Hannah’s first article in this series, see: Focus on…the Green Bay backfield