Last season, RB Le'Veon Bell, in his first campaign with the Jets, averaged a career-low 3.2 yards per carry and was held to 789 yards on the ground. His 3 rush TDs and 789 yards were his lowest output since he played six games with the Steelers in 2015 and finished with 3 rush TDs and 556 yards after serving a suspension and then having his season cut short because of a torn MCL. Entering Year 2 with the Green & White, there is reason to think, though, it would not be wise to sleep on the dynamic back.
While fortifying the line in front of QB Sam Darnold was critical this offseason, Joe Douglas' alterations are bound to create room for the 28-year-old Bell as well. After running behind 11 different OL starters and nine line combinations and watching four different quarterbacks take snaps in 2019, Bell had the opportunity to rest up this spring and let Douglas go to work.
In free agency, the Jets landed interior offensive linemen Connor McGovern, Greg Van Roten and Josh Andews and they re-signed Alex Lewis. Then after inking versatile swing tackle George Fant to a deal, Douglas selected Mekhi Becton with his first draft pick and came back in the fourth round with the selection of Charlotte OL Cameron Clark. Becton, a potential pillar up front, was a dominating run blocker on the collegiate level and is a rare athlete for his size.
"The first time I had a chance to watch him, it's like a giant among boys out there on the field. Then his sheer size just jumps out," Douglas said of the 6'7", 364-pound Becton. "And then you see him move and how easy he can slide and mirror defenders, and then his heavy hands, his ability to lift people off their feet and just move people with ease. There's a lot of unusual traits to this young man's game."
See the Jets Running Backs in Images Leading Up to the 2020 Season
Head coach Adam Gase said Becton, who helped Louisville rush for 212.1 yards per game last season, moves defenders off the ball in the run game and will bring a nastiness to the line. While Becton has the ability to place opponents in the front row of the stands, the 6'4", 306-pound McGovern knows Bell has the ability to make up for a lineman's mistake.
"He's a special player," McGovern said. "He's one of the greats and will go down as one of the greats, and I'm excited to have someone like that [in the backfield]. If you don't make the perfect block, he'll still make you look good and make something special happen. If you block for three yards and the play is supposed to get three yards, he'll get seven or eight yards."
McGovern appeared in every snap for the Broncos last season without committing a penalty, helping RB Phillip Lindsay become the first undrafted player in NFL history to begin his career with consecutive 1,000-yard years.
"I'm not a 350-pound offensive lineman that does really well in the power scheme, the heavy downhill scheme. I'm much better when I have a nose guard who's 380 pounds across from me, I can get around him and seal him off and open that front side A-gap," he said of the Jets' zone-blocking system. "It fits me personally as a player a lot better, so I'm excited about it."
Van Roten, who many considered the Carolina Panthers most consistent linemen, knows the group must quickly develop a rapport with Bell when they return to the field.
"Thankfully this is not my first year playing football and not my first year playing in the NFL, so I kind of know what to expect as far as a lineman and running back's chemistry are concerned," said Van Roten, a 6'3", 308-pound Long Island native who helped Christian McCaffrey rush for 1,387 yards and 15 TDs while averaging 4.8 YPC last season. "As a lineman, you just want to make sure you see things the same way that he seems them, so that when you're pulling through the hole and you see the 'backer, you know where the running back is trying to set up his cut, so you can help him be as successful as possible."
Bell, who had 66 receptions last season and led the Green & White with 1,250 yards from scrimmage, is a patient runner who has an instinctive knack for finding a hole. He didn't have many in 2019 and was forced to create a lot after contact, but that could change in 2020. After a virtual program, the key will be developing cohesion throughout training camp between a revamped line and an immensely talented back.
"It's definitely difficult to develop a chemistry when you're not together," Van Roten said. "It's going to put more stress whenever we get back."