The New York Jets are all in on winning Super Bowl 58 in the 2023-2024 NFL season. After trading for star quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the Jets continued to invest in Rodgers to help revamp an offense that already had tremendous young talent. That includes a deep backfield filled with explosive playmakers.
We dive into the Jets’ running back depth chart and project who will back up starter Breece Hall in 2023.
New York Jets RB Depth Chart
Injuries are never something to celebrate, but it’s especially devastating to see a promising rookie suffer a setback that can alter their career. Hall, the top running back in the 2022 NFL Draft class, landed in New York at the top of Round 2 and quickly showed why many evaluators loved his all-around game. And before tearing his ACL in Week 7, Hall was the front-runner for the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award.
Hall wasn’t named the team’s starter until Week 6, but he had begun to separate from Michael Carter before then. Hall averaged an absurd 5.8 yards per carry, a mark that would’ve led the league if he had enough carries. In total, he had 99 touches for 681 yards and five touchdowns despite playing with Zach Wilson and Joe Flacco as his quarterbacks.
It’s hard to overstate just how explosive Hall is. He was third in the NFL in combined broken tackle rate and first in explosive run rate. His juke rate ranked first in the league and was third in total yards per touch.
Hall’s recovery will be a crucial part of who starts the 2023 season in the backfield and who serves as the primary backup. Hall said he’s “about 80%” healthy with three months left before the season opener, and head coach Robert Saleh expects him to be ready for Week 1.
Will Michael Carter, Zonovan Knight, or Israel Abanikanda Be the Primary Backup?
The Jets have unique depth after investing a fourth-round pick in 2021 in Carter, a fifth-round pick in Israel Abanikanda in the 2023 NFL Draft, and adding Zonovan Knight and Travis Dye as undrafted free agents. Carter started 10 games last year but will be facing more competition this season.
Of the primary backups, it was Knight who was the most impressive player in 2022. Carter provided value on passing downs, contributing 288 yards on 41 catches, but his lack of explosiveness was exposed as more backs rotated in and produced better. Despite benefiting from a base or light front on 76% of carries, he averaged just 3.5 yards per carry.
While offensive line injuries certainly affected the offense, Knight had no such issue producing despite the lack of blocking. He led the NFL in broken tackle rate by 5.1%, whereas Carter was 33rd in the league with a woeful 6.1% explosive run rate and an above-average 22.8% broken tackle rate.
Though Knight also averaged 3.5 yards per carry, he produced more of his yards than Carter did. His first three games — before the entire offense broke down — included totals of 69 yards, 90 yards, and 71 yards.
Between the two, Knight would certainly appear to have the upper hand. In the passing game, Knight also averaged more yards per reception than Carter, so it’s hard to find the value in playing the latter as much.
Abanikanda’s presence is a wild card for the unit. An explosive pure-runner who totaled 1,431 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns at Pitt in 2022, Abanikanda’s film is filled with examples of jaw-dropping speed and acceleration through running lanes. It was shocking to see him drop to the fifth round based on how well he’d fit into zone-rushing schemes.
The rookie is “ready to show” his teammates that he’s ready for a Year 1 role. Besides Hall, Abanikanda’s the fastest back in the room, so he can provide a spark for the offense on early downs before the Jets possibly favor the bigger builds of Carter or Knight. But unless Hall suffers a setback, Abanikanda is likely more of a role player than an immediate backup since Rodgers has leaned on veterans more than rookies as his career has progressed.