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Tuesday, April 17, 2012
Jets draft preview: Running back

By Rich Cimini

This is part two in a nine-part, position-by-position analysis, breaking down needs and draft possibilities.

Position: Running back

Depth Chart: Shonn Greene, John Conner (FB), Joe McKnight, Bilal Powell, Josh Baker (FB/TE), John Griffin.

Not Under Contract: LaDainian Tomlinson (UFA)

Scouting Report: The Jets want to be an elite running team, but they don't have a running back that anybody fears. They need a runner that can threaten the edges with the ability to take it to the house. Greene (1,054 yards, 4.2 average) came on a little late in the year, but he's strictly a between-the-tackles runner who needs a hole to get to the second level. His longest run was only 31 yards.

Tomlinson isn't coming back, leaving two jobs open -- backup RB and third-down back. McKnight can fill the latter role, if he can improve his pass blocking, but he's too undisciplined to be an every-down runner. The big question is Powell. The Jets thought enough of him to pick him in the fourth round, but he didn't show anything in limited opportunities that made you think he can be special. New offensive coordinator Tony Sparano likes to use a two-back system -- see Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams in Miami -- and, right now, he's shy one horse.

The Last Time: You can't say they've ignored the running-back position. They've pick four in the last three drafts -- Powell (fourth round, 2011), McKnight (fourth, 2010), Conner (fifth, 2010) and Greene (third, 2009).

Potential Targets: The Jets' dream scenario is that Trent Richardson (Alabama) falls into their lap with the 16th pick. If that happens, Rex Ryan probably would chest-bump Mike Tannenbaum in the war room. Richardson is dynamic, the kind of talent that would add a new dimension to the offense, but he's unlikely to slip out of the top six. If he does, the Jets will think hard about trading up for him.

The more realistic option is taking a back in the later rounds, especially if Doug Martin (Boise State) still is on the board in the second (47th overall). He's undersized at 5-foot-9, 223 pounds, but he has quick acceleration and has that low-center-of-gravity thing going on. Lamar Miller (Miami) has created a buzz because of outstanding workouts, but "he's a run-of-the-mill back," one NFL scout said. "He's big and fast, but didn't do a hell of a lot." The Jets have expressed some interest in Robert Turbin (Utah State), projected in the fourth/fifth-round area. A late-round sleeper is Jonas Gray (Notre Dame).

Need Rating (on a scale of 1 to 10): 8.

Next: Wide receiver