(Editor's intro: Our immensely popular SCOUTLOOK series focuses on a specific player or a team's position group and depth chart battle to provide further Fantasy analysis and insight. When there is a difficult situation to wrap your head around, our goal is tackle that subject and break it down inside and out to offer you our Expert point of view.)
The New York Jets are expected to utilize the dreaded running back by committee (RBBC) in 2014. They signed big-name free agent Chris Johnson to add a spark to their dismal offense. Chris Ivory will continue to be the ground-and-pound, smash-mouth runner between the tackles. Bilal Powell is a versatile backup and will fill in as needed. With Geno Smith currently atop the Jets’ quarterback depth chart, head coach Rex Ryan will surely want to run the ball early and often. RBBC doesn’t always mean certain disaster for fantasy owners, so which one of these backs will be the top dog, and who will be a second fiddle?
CJ2K is by far the most versatile of the three backs. Johnson averages about 45 receptions per season and has more than 2,000 career receiving yards. On the other hand, Ivory has only five catches in his four-year career. Last season, Powell led the way in the Jets’ backfield with 36 receptions, but he does not possess the explosiveness or big-play ability that Johnson has.
Johnson has been one of the most effective pass-catching feature backs for the better part of a decade. In 2013, he averaged a solid 8.2 yards per catch with a long of 66 yards and four receiving touchdowns. Ryan is sure to use the long-time Titan as a safety valve for the abysmal Smith in the passing game. Johnson’s value is far greater in point-per-reception leagues than it is in standard leagues, and it’s far superior to Ivory’s nonexistent PPR value.
Ivory has dealt with an abundance of durability issues throughout his career. During his three years in New Orleans, he averaged only eight games per season, including six-game seasons in 2011 and 2012. During his first year with the Jets, he managed to play 15 games but struggled with quad, hamstring, knee and ankle issues that hindered his touches and production. He had six games with single-digit carries because of his injury woes. On the other end of the spectrum, Johnson hasn’t missed a game since his 2008 rookie season. The 203-pound speedster has been surprisingly durable through 2,014 career touches. Meanwhile, Ivory may be the second coming of Darren McFadden.
Power running is Ivory’s bread and butter. The 220-pound bruiser has a very respectable career average of 4.9 yards per carry. Last season, he finished fourth among 47 qualified RBs in average yards after contact. Johnson finished 45th. Ivory is widely expected to be the Jets’ goal-line back, but he is more than just a short-yardage player; he actually has 50 career carries of 10-plus yards. So, it’s a bit surprising that he scored only three times last season. Johnson actually broke the plane 10 times, six of which came on the ground. This could be due in part to the fact that the Titans finished 19th in total points while the Jets finished 29th. Or maybe the Titans scored 72 more points than the Jets because they had Johnson. Nonetheless, Ivory will most likely lead the Jets in rushing TDs this season. Johnson will probably have to break long runs to find the end zone.
New York Jets RB Bilal Powell (center) & QB Geno Smith (background)
Johnson has an ADP of 65.91, making him the 25th RB being drafted. This qualifies him as a mid-level RB3 or flex commodity. If you can get CJ2K as your flex, you’re in fantastic shape. Despite what our Overused Running Backs tool states, Johnson could peak this year. He has never failed to reach 1,000 rushing yards in any season of his impressive career. As we all know, there was one season in which he didn’t fail to reach 2,000 rushing yards. His lowest reception total is 36, and he’s never scored fewer than four TDs. If he even comes close to his career lows, he’s still a strong flex. With Ivory’s health concerns, there is a very good chance that Johnson ends up carrying another hefty workload, this time as a Jet. As the situation stands now, he should be a low-end RB2. If Ivory breaks down again, Johnson could end up as a high-end RB2.
Ivory is not being drafted as one of the top 50 RBs, according to FFToolbox. But he has enough upside that he deserves to be taken as a late-round flier. In the unlikely event that Johnson gets injured, Ivory could potentially be a very productive back. With the situation as is, he could still put up about 800 yards and six TDs. Ivory is a safer pick than a lot of the unproven rookies being drafted ahead of him in later rounds. He has much more value in standard and TD leagues than in PPRs, but don’t be afraid to stash Ivory on your bench. If things fall into place for him, he could put up solid fantasy numbers.
Powell is nothing more than an afterthought right now. His 36 receptions and 969 yards from scrimmage last season are sure to decrease significantly. The only way he sees enough playing time to make him worthwhile in fantasy is if Johnson gets injured. Leave Powell on your waiver wire until further notice.
The opportunity will be there for the running backs in New York. The Jets will have to run the ball often if they want to stay competitive. They need to control the clock and take the ball out of Smith’s hands. They will probably need well more than 100 yards per game from their RB corps if they expect to win. Johnson will be their top rusher and pass-catcher. Ivory will be effective in his own right and could be a decent bye-week fill-in if he can raise his touchdown total. Powell, unfortunately, is the back who really suffers from the signing of Johnson.
While there is no elite RB1 on this roster, there is still enough talent here to help your fantasy team gain much-needed victories. Both Johnson and Ivory come at a decent value and will outperform their current ADP.