‘Don’t Count Out’ New York Jets Taking a RB Early in NFL Draft

Najee Harris Alabama

Getty Najee Harris of Alabama shaking free from Ohio States Shaun Wade.

The New York Jets have a ton of needs heading into the 2021 NFL Draft. Although the one creating the most buzz is the running back position.

With 10 selections the green and white are dealing with a first-world problem. With so many picks they can do whatever they’d like this weekend.

One thing you shouldn’t rule out is the Jets investing one of those early picks in the backfield.

NFL insider Tony Pauline said as much in his latest NFL Draft buzz column for the Pro Football Network:

“Don’t count out the Jets taking a running back with either the 23rd or 34th pick. While I’ve dismissed this possibility in the past, despite previously reporting the team has a high grade on Najee Harris, I’m told the Jets feel there is a big drop off after Harris, Travis Etienne, and Javonte Williams. The Jets see all three of those running backs as plug-and-play type ball carriers.”

The Jets have a high grade on Alabama running back Najee Harris

Najee Harris Alabama

GettyAlabama running back Najee Harris sprinting down the field.

In that same report by Pauline, he mentioned that the Jets believe there’s a massive dropoff after the top three running backs in the 2021 NFL Draft. If that’s true, they wouldn’t be alone in that camp.

The consensus in the draft community is to take a running back early or don’t take one at all. The three top names seem to be the only plug-and-play starters in this class. The rest of the lot are destined for roles in a committee at the next level.

This leads us to one of the great debates this offseason at 1 Jets Drive: go get one of the best tailbacks available. Or just hope the system can churn out decent production with the players they already have.

VideoVideo related to ‘don’t count out’ new york jets taking a rb early in nfl draft2021-04-27T15:46:57-04:00

If the Jets opted to take a running back early in this class (either at 23 or 34 as the report mentioned), this would be historic.

The last time the Jets selected a running back in the first round was ironically enough the last time the team held the second overall pick. Back in 1990, Gang Green picked Blair Thomas out of Penn State.

Not only do the Jets rarely invest this highly in running backs, they rarely invest in them in general.

In the 21st century, the New York Jets have taken 10 running backs in the NFL Draft (info collected via Pro Football Reference):

  1. La’Mical Perine, fourth round (2020)
  2. Trenton Cannon, sixth round (2018)
  3. Elijah McGuire, sixth round (2017)
  4. Terrance Ganaway, sixth round (2012)
  5. Bilal Powell, fourth round (2011)
  6. Joe McKnight, fourth round (2010)
  7. Shonn Greene, third round (2009)
  8. Leon Washington, fourth round (2006)
  9. Cedric Houston, sixth round (2005)
  10. LaMont Jordan, second round (2001)

Most of these selections came on Day 3 of the draft as late-round fliers. This potential move would flip the narrative on recent Jets drafting history.

The argument for taking a running back this high would likely center on building around your young franchise quarterback (which is presumed to be Zach Wilson of BYU).

To give the Jets a star that can run and catch the ball out of the backfield could in theory take a ton of pressure off of a young passer.

While on the other side of the coin, you could make a very compelling case that running back is barely if even among the top five positions of need for the team heading into draft weekend.

Perhaps a juicy asset like 23 or 34 could be better utilized on one of the top offensive line prospects. Or maybe cornerback? EDGE rusher potentially? Maybe anything else besides running back?

Would it be irresponsible to take a running back that high considering those other needs? Without a shadow of a doubt.

Would it be an exciting splashy pick that would excite the fan base? Unequivocally.

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