New York Jets: 3 Mid-Round Running Back Targets In 2017 NFL Draft

The New York Jets need to improve their running back depth in the 2017 NFL Draft. Here are three mid-round prospects they should consider drafting.

The 2017 NFL Draft in Philadelphia is less than two weeks away now and excitement among fans is starting to build. This will be a crucial draft for the New York Jets as they rebuild a talent-depleted roster. One area that needs some quality depth is the running back position and this year’s draft class promises to provide excellent value in the middle rounds.

Let’s take a look at New York’s depth chart. Matt Forte is 31 years old now (which is ancient for a running back these days) and has not played a full season since 2014 with the Chicago Bears. Bilal Powell  enjoyed the best season of his six-year career with 722 rushing yards and 388 yards through the air on 58 receptions, but he is better suited as a superb third-down back with a sprinkling of 10-12 carries a game mixed in.

Gang Green would be well-served to seriously consider selecting any of these three running backs if they are available on Day 2 or 3 of the draft. Youth is vitally important at this position in the NFL and it would not be beyond comprehension to see any of these players earning significant playing time during the 2017 campaign.

Sep 17, 2016; Berkeley, CA, USA; Texas Longhorns running back D’Onta Foreman (33) runs the ball for a touchdown against the California Golden Bears in the fourth quarter at Memorial Stadium. Cal won 50-43. Mandatory Credit: John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

3. D’Onta Foreman, Texas

Height: 6-0
Weight: 233 pounds
Projected Round: 3

NFL scouts are already comparing Foreman to Carolina Panthers halfback Jonathan Stewart, so that is high praise indeed. The Texas City, TX native was a consensus All-American last year and the Doak Walker award winner as the nation’s premier back. Foreman paced the FBS with 184.4 rushing yards per game and scored 15 touchdowns for the 5-7 Longhorns as a junior in 2016.

Foreman is a big man, but is very light on his feet. He is known for his fine lateral movement and his ability to break tackles. Foreman is your prototypical north-south runner with the finesse needed to make sharp cuts from gap to gap. He excels in the red zone as well but there are definite areas where Foreman needs to improve before he can become a solid pro.

Fumbling the football is a huge issue at any level and Foreman coughed the ball up seven times last season, losing six of them. Ball security is paramount in the NFL. He also must do a better job on blitz pickup to protect the quarterback and although he is an outstanding athlete, his speed and burst is just average. Those are some reasons he is not projected to go in the earlier rounds of the draft.

With that being said, Foreman has a wealth of potential. Here is Pro Football Focus’ summation of his abilities:

Foreman is a bigger running back, but he runs with the finesse of a smaller back. Despite his size, he has very good lateral agility and can make defenders miss. He has good vision to find cutback lanes even if he’s not always patient. Foreman could improve on delivering contact to defenders instead of absorbing it so often, as well as moving piles better. He was an effective pass blocker in college but transitioning to NFL pass protection will be an adjustment.

Don’t be surprised if the Jets tab Foreman in the third round if he is available. They have two picks in that round (Nos. 70 and 107 overall), so they have some additional flexibility to work with.

Vikings

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2. Marlon Mack, South Florida

Height: 5-11
Weight: 213 pounds
Projected Round: 3-5

There is an old adage in sports that you can’t teach speed and Mack has that in abundance. The former Bulls halfback averaged 6.8 yards per carry last season and is a threat to take it to the house every time he touches the ball.

Mack is South Florida’s all-time leading rusher and was named to the All-American Athletic Conference first-team in each of his three years with the Bulls. He tallied 15 touchdowns in 2016 and six of those scores were from 43 yards or more out. He reminds you of a younger, slightly taller version of Darren Sproles — a dynamic game-breaking threat that can keep opposing defensive coordinators up at night. Mack is also an effective receiver, especially on screen passes where he can make defenders miss in space.

Much like Foreman, Mack has an issue with ball security. In his three seasons with the Bulls, Mack coughed the ball up a dozen times and he needs to take much better care of the football moving forward. He also has a tendency to bounce to the outside too often when inside running lanes aren’t clear which can lead to negative yards from scrimmage.

Pro Football Focus gave this scouting report on Mack:

Mack’s greatest asset is his athletic ability. His speed, acceleration, and quick change of direction always make him a threat to break off a big run. However, it is also a double-edged sword for Mack. He’s too quick to bounce runs outside and runs east-west too often. While those do lead to some of his biggest runs, there are more times where he gains nothing extra and may have actually gained more yards by just taking on a single defender in the hole or at the second level. He needs to create a better feel for when to bounce and when to stick inside.

Mack is far from a perfect running back but in the middle rounds he is well worth the gamble based on his ability to turn any play into a potential touchdown.

Nov 4, 2016; Boise, ID, USA; Boise State Broncos running back Jeremy McNichols (13) during second half action against the San Jose State Spartans at Albertsons Stadium. Boise State defeats San Jose State 45-31. Mandatory Credit: Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports

3. Jeremy McNichols, Boise St.

Height: 5-9
Weight: 214
Projected Round: 3-5

Mr. Versatility might be the best way to describe McNichols, an exciting player who is effective as a runner, pass receiver and returner. The Long Beach, CA native was named to the second-team All-Mountain West squad by averaging 138.6 rushing yards per game last season, which had him ranked in the Top 10 in the nation. His 2,255 all-purpose yards was also a Top 10 mark so even though he did not compete in the toughest conference in the country, his talent is unmistakable.

McNichols had five receptions of 25-plus yards for the Broncos in 2016 so he should fit right in with the pass-happy world of the NFL. He is known for elusiveness, quick acceleration and the ability to evade multiple defenders in tight spaces. McNichols is not afraid to challenge tacklers as well. His change of direction skills are very acute.

Like Foreman and Mack, McNichols fumbles the football too often — eight times in the last two years — so that issue must be addressed right away. He also has to become a better blocker in blitz pickup so his quarterback doesn’t get smashed.

Here is the synopsis that Pro Football Focus gave of McNichols overall:

McNichols has experience in both zone and gap blocking schemes, though the latter may be a better fit. He had a below-average line in 2016, and sometimes cut away from the intended point of attack before it was necessary as if he wasn’t trusting his blockers. McNichols has good balance through contact and plays bigger than his size at times. He may fit the definition of “jack of all trades, master of none” more than any other back in the draft class.

Although he is still somewhat raw at this point, McNichols would be a running back well worth investing in if available in the middle rounds of this year’s draft.

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