With the 2022 NFL Draft in the books and Free Agency mostly wrapped up, we can turn our attention to the upcoming season. Throughout the off-season, I’ll be looking at some position groups that featured new additions and could have a new look come September. I’m kicking it off with the New York Jets backfield, a group that added Breece Hall in the draft. Hall has been going 1.01 in most rookie drafts, but is he worth the hype? Let’s look at the situation.
The 2021 Jets Backfield
As a team in 2021, the Jets rushed 380 times for 1,667 yards and 14 touchdowns. If you think that’s not incredible, you’d be right. The Jets ranked No. 32 in carries and No. 27 in rushing yardage. Clearly, it was an area the team wanted to improve as it seeks to compete in 2022. Offensive Coordinator Mike LaFleur was the passing game coordinator in San Francisco, but he comes from an offensive system built around the run. Working alongside Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco, Atlanta, and Cleveland, he knows what a good running game can mean to a young offense.
But last season, the Jets’ backfield was a work in progress. The team returned veteran Ty Johnson and signed veteran Tevin Coleman—who was with LaFleur in San Francisco—while drafting North Carolina’s Michael Carter in the Fourth Round. All three started games for the Jets in 2021 with varying degrees of success. Johnson started two games, rushing for 238 yards and two touchdowns on 61 carries, while Coleman started three games and carried 84 times for 356 yards.
The best performer was Carter, who started 11 games and seemed to seize the job by the middle of the season. He carried 147 times for 639 yards and four touchdowns, catching 36 passes for 325 yards on 55 targets. He finished as RB29 for the season after being a trendy early draft pick in rookie drafts. At times, he battled injuries and uneven performance, while Johnson also contributed as a pass-catcher. He finished with 34 receptions for 372 yards and two touchdowns on 55 targets.
With the fourth pick in the Second Round of the 2022 NFL Draft, the Jets snagged Hall. Largely regarded as the best running back available in the draft, Hall had a strong career at Iowa State. In three years, he rushed for 3,941 yards and 50 touchdowns. He had more than 250 carries, 1,400 yards, and 20 touchdowns each of the last two seasons at Iowa State. But he’s also a strong receiver, making him a dual-threat. He caught 82 passes for 734 yards and six touchdowns in college, including 36 for 302 in 2021. He instantly profiles as the best back on the Jets roster.
He figured to be the top pick in rookie drafts before the NFL Draft. While the Jets didn’t seem like the ideal landing spot, Hall has still been going in that spot in drafts. The hope is he can seize on an opportunity to start in a run-friendly, emerging young offense.
The 2022 Jets Backfield
Hall was the biggest addition this off-season, but the Jets also added rookie Zonovan Knight. In addition, the team returns second-year back Carter, former Fourth Round pick La’Mical Perine and veterans Coleman and Johnson. That’s a big crowd that figures to get smaller as we go through training camp. While Hall and Carter seem like locks to make the final roster, I suspect one of the veterans—likely Coleman—will end up a roster cut in a cap-saving move.
Based on the Jets’ performance last year, the team figures to have space for at least two fantasy-relevant backs. Johnson didn’t post incredible stats, but he finished as RB45, giving him some flex appeal in deep leagues. And that’s in a unit that finished near the bottom of the league in rushing stats.
Pass catching will be a big piece of the value in the Jets’ backfield. Between Carter and Johnson, there were 110 targets. That figures to be the floor for the Jets’ backfield in 2022. The team threw 603 times in 2021 and has also worked on the passing game. The Jets drafted Garrett Wilson at wide receiver and Jeremy Ruckert at tight end, signing free-agent TEs Tyler Conklin and C.J. Uzomah. The team also returns second-year receiver Elijah Moore and veterans Corey Davis and Braxton Berrios.
That’s a lot of mouths to feed in the passing game for a team that saw only 122 vacated targets from receivers Jamison Crowder and Keelan Cole. With plenty of talent in the receiving corps, it’s hard to expect an increase in targets to the backfield, but it is reasonable to believe the Jets will try to get to—or exceed—400 carries, a mark the 49ers hit in all four years LaFleur was on the offensive staff.
It seems reasonable to believe the group of Jets in the backfield will be sharing a pool of 400 carries and 110 targets. The breakdown of that work will greatly impact fantasy value throughout the season.
Hall wasn’t drafted at the top of the Second Round—as the first running back off the board—to sit on the bench. He’s a workhorse. I get the love of Carter—I, myself, was a big fan coming into the 2021 season. Carter won’t disappear, but Hall is the better back. I suspect he gets at least 200 carries and 60 targets. With that and his talent, he could get to 900 yards rushing and catch 35 passes, giving him RB2 value. That’s likely the return fantasy players hope to see when taking Hall at the top of rookie drafts. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him top 250 carries and 1,000 yards, either.
So, what about Carter? The hopes he could be a solid RB2 in 2022 and beyond were dashed on the second night of the NFL Draft. But many who watch and cover the Jets have praised Carter’s work ethic. I don’t think he’ll disappear. While I suspect Johnson will make the final roster, it will likely be Carter as the second half of the one-two punch with Hall. Based on last season’s production, I think he gets around 100 carries and 40 targets. That should be enough to keep him in the RB4 range throughout the season, giving him deep-league flex appeal and making him a great option should Hall miss time.
Matthew Fox is a member of the FSWA. He’s a die-hard NFL Fan and Broncos’ Homer. You can find more from him on Twitter @knighthawk7734 or as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast, a part of the Campus2Canton Network.