With 145 rushing yards, 2 touchdowns (including the overtime game winner) and an average of 5 yards per carry, New York Jets running back Bilal Powell picked up the FedEx Ground Player of the week award for week 14. His 179 yards of total offense in the New York’s victory against the 49ers was the nineth best performance of any Jets running back since the year 2000 and was a key factor in securing a win which looked unlikely early on.
Powell was drafted in the fourth round of the 2011 draft and has been re-signed twice by the Jets, ensuring he has never hit the free market. The current management are the third regime to see the value in retaining the back. Powell’s value comes from his ability as an outstanding third-down back and particularly as a pass catcher. Since his appointment in 2015, head coach Todd Bowles has frequently raved about the versatility Powell brings to the offense.
However, despite the clear interest the team have in him, Powell is chronically underused. Prior to week 14, he had not handled the ball more than eight times in any game this season. Last week, in the Jet’ prime time loss to the Colts, he had less touches than CJ Spiller, who has since been released. Considering his clear ability and the love the team have for him, these statistics seem somewhat surprising. So why do the Jets not make more of him?
One reason might be Powell’s injury record, which has kept him out of games in each season of his six year career. His fragility may be indicate why the team don’t feel confident with him in the feature back role but still doesn’t explain the virtual ‘all or nothing’ approach to his involvement in the offense on a week to week basis. He may not be a big name back such as Matt Forte, Chris Ivory or Chris Johnson, all players has has sat below on the depth chart, but he clearly seems to have the ability to contribute more.
Following their victory on Sunday, Jets head coach Todd Bowles told the media that “you know what you are going to get,” with Powell, and suggested that he will see more playing time going forward. However, his greater involvement against the 49ers only came when Matt Forte was ruled out of the game with injury. Similarly, Powell saw increased action in 2015 when Chris Ivory missed games. It’s hard to pinpoint why it seems to take injury to give him the opportunity to play more, especially as when he was resigned in March 2016, the New York media predicted a powerful backfield tandem of Forte and Powell. In reality the running game has been heavily biased towards Forte as the feature back. In fact the revolving door at the deep end of the Jets’ running back depth chart has been turning quickly, with a number of moves including the addition, release and re-signing of Khiry Robinson. Powell has never been in danger of falling off the chart this year, but Jets fans are screaming out to see him on take on a more consistent role, particularly following this weeks’ performance. With inexperienced Bryce Petty under centre for the rest of the year and a very uncertain quarterback situation moving forward, the run game is going to be key for the Jets and it seems common sense for Bilal Powell to play a key role in it.
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