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Running Back Report Week Two -- NY Jets And Kansas City

New York Jets:

The Jets’ offense took a beating from the Patriots. Not all was lost for offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur, though. The Shanahan-tree wide zone running game showed serious signs of life as the unheralded trio of Michael Carter, Ty Johnson and Tevin Coleman combined for 28 carries and 137 yards. This production came as the backfield opportunity share shifted dramatically from week one to week two. Against Carolina in week one, Coleman led the way with 53% of the team’s carries, while Johnson and Carter each saw 23.5%. This week Johnson (39%) and Carter (35%) shared lead duties, with Coleman seeing just spot duty.

Even more exciting, though, was what Michael Carter did with his 11 carries and two receptions. The fourth-round rookie -- who fell in the draft due to poor size-speed metrics -- was “electric” in the words of Jets’ head coach Robert Saleh. Carter was my highest graded pure runner in the 2021 draft class due to a combination of advanced scheme awareness, vision, processing, and ridiculous footwork, balance, and pad usage. It did not take long for these qualities to show out Sunday.

Carter is the rare combination of efficient and elusive, able to make defenders miss with precise footwork and pad angles, rather than rely on lateral jump cuts that allow pursuit to catch up to the play. He added 3.0 yards to his carries on average, while forcing 0.36 missed tackles per tote, both excellent numbers. For context, Nick Chubb leads the NFL with 0.25 missed tackles forced per carry since 2017 per Pro Football Focus. Carter’s charted numbers don’t even include the spin cycle-missed tackles he forced in the open field as a receiver.

Carter showed traits at North Carolina that slotted him into the Dalvin Cook, Aaron Jones and Alvin Kamara style of runners – physically underwhelming players who win with advanced craft, subtle elusiveness and ruthless efficiency. So far, he’s a duck taking to NFL waters.

Ty Johnson was the other end of this complementary backfield, leading the Jets with 12 carries. He is faster than Carter and more aggressive running into contact. But he lacks Carter’s post-snap processing and elusiveness. In general Johnson will get what is expected, while occasionally missing opportunities due to sloppy footwork between the tackles. He can add value when able to use speed to stress tackling angles and run through defensive backs. With generally good run blocking, this approach was effective Sunday as Ty added a respectable 1.2 yards to his runs on average.

The Jets’ staff has insisted on a platoon, and despite Saleh’s praise of Carter, expect the timeshare to continue. Nevertheless, Carter is an obvious buy-now in keeper and dynasty formats, and likely will carve out more and more opportunity as the season progresses.

Kansas City Chiefs:

What is wrong with Clyde Edwards-Helaire? The popular narrative has become that he is just no good, no two ways around it. Is this really the case, though?

Sunday night’s film gives us great insight into why Clyde has yet to reach fantasy production expected of any running back taking 80%+ of the snaps in a high-octane offense like the Chiefs’.

A quick look at my charting stats shows a mediocre performance on 13 attempts – adding only 0.9 yards per rushing attempt. But a deeper dive shows an interesting scheme-fit trend. Seven of CEH’s carries were outside zone runs, the majority coming out of shotgun-RPO looks. On these carries Edwards-Helaire averaged 2.3 yards per carry with only 0.6 yards added. On six non-outside zone carries – including his final carry when he was hit in the backfield by an unblocked linebacker -- he fared much better with 5 yards per carry and 1.2 yards added.

This usage fits the most disturbing aspect of Clyde’s slow start to his career, specifically that the Chiefs have added him to their offense as-is, with no attempt to modify or adapt their attack to utilize his strengths as a prospect. At LSU, Clyde made a living attacking linebackers out of the backfield as a receiver and manipulating second-level defenders on vertical runs like Duo.

As a rookie, CEH flashed these same traits when given opportunity on vertical inside runs.

Clyde was never a prototype back for outside zone teams, where you are looking for one-cut slashers with elite burst. Outside zone from shotgun, specifically, is a very difficult play for running backs, as their hips turn to the sideline to take the carry. With hip alignment to the sideline, the running back must flip his hips 90-degrees to access the cutback lanes outside zone is designed to create. Compare the Chiefs’ outside zone to the Jets’ Shanahan-inspired outside zone from under center.

So why does Andy Reid run outside zone out of the gun? It gets back to what this offense is built around – stretching the field both vertically and horizontally to set up Patrick Mahomes and the passing game. By spreading the front-seven across the field, the Chiefs create defensive dilemmas while running Run-Pass Options to the backside.

Bottom-line, the Chiefs have chosen to build their attack around three Hall of Famers in the passing game, and have yet to synthesize Clyde’s skillset into the offense. Until they commit to CEH and his unique ability to run vertically between the tackles and attack linebackers as a receiver, expect his fantasy output to continue to disappoint.


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