In 2017, the Jets' running game struggles probably had more to do with the offensive line being overmatched than the performance of the backs. Nevertheless, the team is expected to cut ties with Matt Forté, who had the worst year of his career statistically and some durability issues. Bilal Powell will probably return, as he has one year left on his contract, but he has always been better when platooned with another back.
The Jets drafted the promising Elijah McGuire on day three last year and he could be ideally suited to the zone blocking schemes new running game coordinator Rick Dennison is expected to implement. However, the Jets might look to the draft to find someone who can potentially complement McGuire in the years ahead.
Many draft experts don't believe running backs are worth drafting early in the first round these days. While Ezekiel Elliott's rookie year challenged that perception two years ago, the fact that two third-round picks were the outstanding rookies from last year's class reinforces it. Is it really worth using a top five pick on a guy like Leonard Fournette if you could have received superior production two rounds later from Alvin Kamara or Kareem Hunt?
However, if the Jets go on a spending spree in free agency and fill most of their needs, then perhaps they will covet the kind of dimension a difference-maker at the running back position could bring to the offense. The draft prospect that most readily meets that description is Penn State's Saquon Barkley.
What's so special about Barkley is that he's a complete player who is among the best options in this year's class in almost every category. In addition to being a dynamic runner, Barkley is a versatile weapon in the passing game; capable of running routes, making tough catches and handling pass protection assignments. He can also return kicks.
The only real concern about Barkley, other than the possibility that you might find a better back later on, even if he does well, is that his production fell off a bit over the second half of the year as teams started to key on him more.
Although the combine should shake up the rankings, LSU's Derrius Guice and USC's Ronald Jones are two other backs currently projected as possible first round picks as things stand. Guice runs tough but was overshadowed by Fournette at LSU and didn't really step up as hoped once Fournette left for the NFL. Jones was a big part of USC's success this year and, while he lacks size, is one of the only backs in this year's class apart from Barkley to show an ability to be a downfield receiving threat.
Who could be a candidate to get selected on day two - or later - and end up making the same impact as Kamara and Hunt? Georgia duo Sony Michel and Nick Chubb, Oregon's Royce Freeman, Auburn's Kerryon Johnson and San Diego State's Rashaad Penny will all be hoping to convince teams they could be that kind of player.
Chubb was Georgia's lead back with Michel as a change of pace, but then Michel took on more of a role when Chubb suffered a serious knee injury in 2015. When Chubb returned, he was back to something like his best but shared the workload. Michel, who averaged over seven yards per carry in 2017, is now considered the superior prospect by some experts.
Freeman is a bigger back, while Johnson came on strong over the second half of last year, although he had some injury issues down the stretch. Penny, the nation's leading rusher, is also a decent pass catcher and kick returner, but his pass protection needs work.
Kalen Ballage from Arizona State and Alabama's Bo Scarbrough have been considered potential high picks, but Ballage doesn't have good numbers for yards after contact and didn't break many big runs in 2017. Scarbrough surprised experts by coming out early because he never really lived up to his early potential and had disappointing production this year.
Akrum Wadley from Iowa, Mark Walton from Miami and Ito Smith from Missouri are three smaller backs that could be good value in the mid-rounds. Wadley in particular impresses with his patience and pass catching production, but struggles in pass protection.
Phillip Lindsay from Colorado was a combine snub, but his ability to pass protect could mean he sees the field earlier than some more-heralded prospects. Other later options include the versatile Dalyn Dawkins from Colorado State and Notre Dame's Josh Adams, who excels at creating yards after contract.
The Jets should look for value at this position in the draft. Adding a back who can contribute over the next few years should be a priority.