Gators’ Touchdown-Machine Looks to Rebound in Jets’ New System

La'Mical Perine

Getty New York Jets running back La'Mical Perine dives at the pylon for a touchdown on October 25, 2020.

New York Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur comes from the Kyle Shanahan school of thought.

That means he runs a variation of the west coast offense but it also means he likes to utilize a full stable of running backs. One of those horses this year should be the 2020 fourth-round pick, La’Mical Perine.

During his inaugural press conference on May 27, 2021, LaFleur explained that there’s no specific style of runner that excels in his system.

“Honestly my answer to that Rich [Cimini] is they come in so many shapes and sizes,” replied the OC, “there’s definitely an element of being able to put your foot in the ground and go north and south.”

Right now the running back room consists of veteran Tevin Coleman, rookie Michael Carter, restoration project Ty Johnson, undrafted grinder Josh Adams, ex-Niners pickup Austin Walter and Perine himself.

A crowded group, but also one that’s wide open for the taking.

LaFleur told the Jets media personnel that the thing that “pops out” about this group of players is how sharp they are mentally.

He also spoke on their physical attributes: “All of them have a unique skillset… but I do believe they can all be productive backs in this system.”

That includes Perine, who finds himself in the doghouse with most fans after an uninspiring rookie season under Adam Gase. The Florida product ran for a sub-par 3.6 yards per carry in 2020, which was the second-lowest rate on the roster besides Frank Gore’s 3.5 average.

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Perine Was a Touchdown-Machine in College

The former Florida Gator didn’t mess around in the red zone. Some running backs just seem to have a nose for the end zone, while others struggle to make the most of their opportunities.

Perine was a bloodhound in college.

Perine totaled 22 rushing touchdowns over his four-year span with eight additional receiving scores. Out of those 30 with the Gators, the back had 28 of those TDs in his final three seasons.

That’s an average of 9.33 touchdowns per season from his sophomore year on and 0.76 scores per game during that span.

Despite the low productivity, Perine did find the end zone twice during his rookie campaign. For comparison, Johnson has one NFL TD over his two years in the league and Coleman has 36 scores over the course of his six-year tenure (six per season) — and he’s another guy that has a knack for this sort of thing.

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Perine Drafted for Different Scheme

There’s a widespread belief amongst Jets fans that Perine doesn’t fit the wide-zone run scheme that LaFleur likes to employ.

Carter and Johnson are probably the two runners that naturally fit it best, although there’s no question that Coleman knows it best from his time in Atlanta and San Francisco.

Unfortunately for Perine, he was drafted for a different offense. The Florida-back is more of a between-the-tackles type of runner that is able to hit a hole hard and fast.

That doesn’t mean he cannot find a role with LaFleur.

Perine has very good hands as a receiver and rarely dropped passes at Florida. That held true his rookie season as he caught 11 of 15 targets at a reliable 73.3% catch rate. LaFleur will expect his backs to be active in the passing game, just like Coleman has been throughout his career.

His above-average physicality also makes him an option as an I-formation mauler and a pass-blocker in the pocket.

Lastly, the former Gator is an obvious red-zone candidate, with the proof outlined above.

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Second Chance After 15 Minutes of Fame

When the Jets sent Le’Veon Bell packing in 2020, it was Perine’s time to shine, only he didn’t capitalize on the opportunity.

A mix of Gore and Johnson were stealing snaps away from the rookie before a high-ankle sprain robbed him of the rest. In the end, Perine played 10 games and only amounted to 295 scrimmage yards.

To make matters worse, general manager Joe Douglas drafted his possible replacement in 2021 with the elusive North Carolina playmaker, Carter.

The 15 minutes of fame came and went for Perine, but his real chance to prove himself begins right now.

LaFleur should be this team’s offensive coordinator for an extended period of time unless things go so well that he gets offered a head coaching position. Robert Saleh should be this team’s head coach for a while.

Stability has entered the scene in Florham Park and everyone has a clean slate under this new regime. That should get a smile out of Perine, who seems to be adjusting well.

After minicamp, The Athletic‘s Jets beat reporter Connor Hughes called this a “four-headed rushing attack,” claiming that Adams and Walter have fallen behind in the snap share. He expects Carter to get the “lion’s share of reps” when all is said and done, but Perine seems to remain very much involved at this stage.

The Florida graduate doesn’t have to lead this team in rush yards in 2021 but he does have to carve out a role in this offense. Perine bears similarities to 49ers’ back Jeff Wilson Jr., who has become a versatile cog in Shanahan’s system out west.

If he can man a similar post for LaFleur, he should be able to stick with the green and white for years to come.

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