The New York Jets didn’t have a great 2020 season, but even more daunting was the lack of depth and defined roles throughout the offensive skill positions. The team added to the wide receiver group in free agency and then grabbed Elijah Moore in the draft. The Jets also filled their hole at quarterback by snagged Zach Wilson out of BYU with the second overall pick.
But what about the running game? The Jets return an option, signed an option in free agency, and added a back in the draft. But out of those three options, which provides the best return on investment for fantasy players? Let’s weigh the evidence.
The Second Year Pro
During the 2020 draft, the Jets added La’Mical Perine out of Florida. The Jets had Le’Veon Bell returning and veteran Frank Gore as an option, but the team snagged Perine in the fourth round of the draft. Perine played four seasons for Florida, carrying the ball 493 times for 2,485 yards and 22 TDs. He caught 72 passes for 674 yards, and eight TDs, including 40 passes his final season. That made him a trendy late-round addition in rookie drafts, but it didn’t pay off in 2020.
Injuries and the Jets’ inefficient offense limited Perine’s production as a rookie. He appeared in 10 games but saw just 64 carries, turning that into 232 yards and two TDs. He did see 15 targets, catching 11 for 63 yards before ending 2020 on the Covid list. Still, his potential and the potential opportunities in New York made fantasy players bullish heading into the off-season.
The Experienced Veteran
The Jets moved swiftly to make changes to the coaching staff. Robert Saleh, who served as defensive coordinator with the 49ers, was hired as head coach. He moved to bring in Mike LaFleur, who spent time with the 49ers and Falcons working alongside Kyle Shanahan as the offensive coordinator. In turn, the team signed veteran running back Tevin Coleman during free agency.
Coleman comes with plenty of experience in the system, playing for Shanahan and LaFleur in Atlanta and San Francisco. Coleman spent his first four seasons in Atlanta, carrying the ball 528 times for 2,340 yards and 18 TDs. He was part of a one-two punch with Devonta Freeman, adding impact as a receiver, too. Coleman caught 92 passes for 1,010 yards and 11 TDs.
Before the 2019 season, as a free agent, Coleman signed a two-year deal with the 49ers. In his first season, Coleman started hot as part of the lead option at the position. He finished with 544 yards and six TDs on the ground, catching 21 passes for 180 yards and a TD. That included a monster Week 8 against Carolina where he rushed for 105 yards and three TDs, catching another TD. But as the season wore on, Raheem Mostert became more of a factor, including in the playoffs and Super Bowl run. In 2020, Coleman was relegated to more of an afterthought role, carrying the ball 28 times for 53 yards in eight games, catching just four passes for 34 yards.
But his experience in the system should give him an edge as he gets a much-needed change-of-scenery in 2021.
The New Rookie
But the Jets weren’t done. Many expected the team to take a running back in the 2021 NFL Draft, but the team was patient on the first two days. Then, at the top of the fourth round, the Jets snagged North Carolina back Michael Carter. Carter carried the ball 514 times in four seasons with the Tarheels, rushing for 3,404 yards and 22 TDs. That included 1,245 yards and nine TDs in 2020.
Carter also showed his skill in the passing game, giving him the same kind of versatility as Perine and Coleman in his background. In four seasons with North Carolina, Carter caught 82 passes for 656 yards and six TDs. That included 25 passes for 252 yards and two TDs as a senior. He was a talented and experienced product that came to the Jets at a great value, giving LaFleur a three-headed option in the backfield.
The Jets are a team in the midst of a re-build. With new coaches, a new scheme, and an infusion of talent, the team has plenty of potential. But which is the best option? All three are tightly bunched when it comes to ADP, with Carter going the highest at 47 in PPR, Coleman at 57, and Perine at 66. That speaks to the belief among many, including me, that all three will be involved in 2021.
That being said, I am a huge fan of Carter. I liked him coming into the draft, and I thought it was a great landing spot. I have him as the No. 4 back in this group and wouldn’t be surprised to see him lead the team in rushing in 2021. He’s the one I want most in dynasty. But I think Coleman could be a bigger player at the outset of the season. He has experience with the coaches and system and has the most NFL experience. I tend to view 2020 as an outlier having to do with the competition in the 49ers backfield. While not a great long-term bet, he could be serviceable in re-draft or those looking for a veteran to help fill a need.
The biggest question for me is Perine. I liked his potential, but we didn’t see much in 2020 despite some good opportunity. I like Carter better long-term and Coleman more for 2021, meaning Perine could end up on the short end of the committee spectrum.
Matthew Fox is a die-hard NFL fan and Broncos’ homer. He’s a member of the FSWA. You can get more from him on Twitter @knighthawk7734 or as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast.