One of the most wide-open positional battles on the New York Jets roster heading into 2021 is at running back.
Two years ago it seemed like the Jets were going to ride the Le’Veon Bell train for the foreseeable future, but the wheels fell off sooner than expected.
The Jets initially signed the former Pro Bowler to a four-year $52.5 million deal during the 2019 free agency period. 19 months later on October 13, 2020, the green and white released Bell after failing to find a trade partner ahead of the deadline.
Heading into a new season there are a ton of bodies and even more question marks at the position.
One Man Has a Head Start on the Rest of the Competition
There’s an interesting mix of players from the old regime, free agency, and the 2021 NFL draft in the backfield. Although the player that has separated himself from the pack, based on his prior experience is veteran Tevin Coleman.
The former San Francisco 49ers stud has a “leg-up” on his competition by default. Unlike some of the other players in the backfield, Coleman has played and produced in this system throughout his career.
The veteran running back has been linked at the hip to coach Kyle Shanahan since he was selected in the third round (No. 73 overall) by the Atlanta Falcons in the 2015 NFL draft.
Shanahan was the offensive coordinator for Coleman’s first two seasons in Atlanta from 2015 through 2016. When he was hired as the head coach of the 49ers in 2017, Shanahan eventually persuaded the former Indiana star to join him on the west coast.
The Jets’ new offensive coordinator, Mike LaFleur, has also been with coach Shanahan for over six years. A lot of the principles and concepts he plans on unleashing with the Jets he learned from his mentor.
What Should Expectations Be in 2021 for Coleman?
While he’s got the inside track to be the No. 1 guy for the Jets, Coleman hasn’t proven capable of that role in the past.
In his six professional seasons in the NFL, he has never had a season with north of 167 carries. Coleman has always been involved in a running back by committee.
Although what he lacks in durability, has never started a full 16 game season in his career, he makes up for it in versatility.
Coleman is a dynamic threat that can attack opposing defense both on the ground and through the air (per Pro Football Reference):
- 2016: 941 yards from scrimmage, 11 total touchdowns, and a 77.5 percent catch rate.
- 2017: 927 yards from scrimmage, eight total touchdowns, and 27 first downs rushing.
- 2018: 1,076 yards from scrimmage, a career-high 800 yards rushing, and nine total touchdowns.
Coleman does and should have the inside track to becoming the starter at tailback for the Jets in 2021. Although with his injury history and success working with others, don’t be surprised if he proves to be a guy and not necessarily the guy for Gang Green.
Today’s NFL has really moved away from the three-down bell cows of the past. Most offenses, especially this new LaFleur offense, uses a variety of guys with different skill sets.
Last season the 49ers had six running backs with at least 17 carries. Part of that is due to injury and another piece of that is by design. Expect more of the same with the Jets in 2021.