Every New York Jets roster spot will be earned in 2023 and one bubble candidate appears to be flying way under the radar among fans — fullback Nick Bawden.
After appearing in nine games for Gang Green in 2021, the 27-year-old spent the entire 2022 campaign on the injured reserve. Having said that, Jets X-Factor media member Robby Sabo believes he’s a near-lock to make the Week 1 roster based on how often he’s been utilized at practice throughout the start of training camp.
“Bawden is heavily involved in this offense,” Sabo reported on July 22, “and I’d be stunned if [offensive coordinator Nathaniel] Hackett doesn’t carry a [fullback].” He added definitively that “Bawden’s going to be on this squad.”
Associated Press reporter Dennis Waszak Jr. also relayed that Bawden has been “seeing some snaps in the starting offense.” The fullback has impressed thus far after returning from injury, and Waszak noted that he “could add another dimension to Hackett’s offense.”
Jets Film Expert Breaks Down Nick Bawden’s Impact in 2021
After hearing what Sabo had to say, Jets X-Factor colleague Michael Nania decided to work on a deep dive into Bawden’s impact, which he published on July 26.
“Bawden was a key special teams player for the Jets, logging 166 special teams snaps,” Nania began, “but he also carved out a small role on offense, playing 57 offensive snaps in nine games (6.3 per game).”
“While it was a minuscule sample size, the Jets enjoyed great results when the 6-foot-2, 245-pound mauler was on the field,” he went on, listing some statistics with Bawden as a part of the offense.
Over those 57 snaps, the Jets averaged 7.4 yards per play on passes and 5.0 yards per play on runs — which Nania referred to as “stellar numbers.”
“For reference, 7.4 yards per pass play would have ranked second-best in 2022 (behind the [Kansas City] Chiefs’ 7.5) while 5.0 yards per rush attempt would have ranked fourth-best,” he explained. “On film, you can see that Bawden’s blocking in both phases directly contributed to many of those yards… Not only did he win his battles consistently, but when he won, he won handily; often creating a substantial amount of movement.”
After breaking down several plays, Nania wrote another subsection on Hackett.
“Jets offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett has a mixed history with the fullback position,” he scouted. “His teams have valued it in some years and ignored it in others.”
Continuing: “As the [Denver] Broncos’ head coach in 2022, Hackett did utilize a fullback often. Denver rostered Andrew Beck and gave him 198 offensive snaps, ranking as the sixth-most among fullbacks. Beck averaged 15.2 offensive snaps per game across his 13 appearances.”
The same couldn’t always be said about Hackett’s tenure with the Green Bay Packers — but that could stem more from GB head coach Matt LaFleur, who still calls plays to this day.
After all, Hackett did employ a fullback as a play-caller in Jacksonville, and he seems to every time he’s in full command of an offense. That definitely gives Bawden a leg up heading into four preseason games.
Jets’ Run Game Could Use an Extra Blocker
The Jets offensive line has not had a strong start during camp, especially in the run-blocking department.
“The defensive line has been even more dominant in the run game,” The Athletic’s Zack Rosenblatt outlined on July 26. “[Quinnen] Williams and Al Woods routinely blow-up running plays. Defensive tackle Tanzel Smart and linebacker Quincy Williams both had tackles for loss [on the day].”
Based on that assessment, one could argue that the Jets need all the extra blockers they can get, and as Nania detailed, Bawden has historically increased the yardage per play when he’s on the field.
Everything is trending toward the NYJ fullback making this 53-man roster in 2023 — or at the very least, an initial elevation role on the practice squad.