Don't dismiss Brandon Marshall's comments about Chris Ivory
Earlier this week, Jets wide receiver Brandon Marshall called teammate Chris Ivory “the best running back in the league right now.” That’s certainly high praise for a player who has yet to eclipse the 1,000-yard rushing mark in a season, much less win rushing titles or All-Pro votes. However, we shouldn’t completely dismiss Marshall’s claim.
Currently, Ivory ranks as PFF’s third-highest graded running back, and has been a key factor in the Jets’ early season success.
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Ivory may not possess the skill-set of a do-it-all back like Le’Veon Bell or Eddie Lacy, who are also threats in the receiving game, and Ivory often concedes third down snaps to Bilal Powell because of this. What the Jets do have in Ivory, however, is a fierce and tenacious talent that is elevating a run game by consistently gaining several yards after contact. Ivory is currently second in the NFL in that aspect, averaging 3.27 yards after contact—he rank fourth in PFF’s elusive rating metric, with a score of 74.3.
John Idzik is unwelcome in New York, understandably, but few can deny the coup he made when acquiring Ivory from the Saints in 2013 for a fourth-round pick. The Jets’ feature back has quietly been one of the more efficient running backs in the league for the last several seasons. Ivory led the league in yards-after-contact per carry in 2013, and has finished in the top five in elusive rating the past two years as well. Even going as far back as his 2010 rookie season in New Orleans, Ivory’s 3.32 yards-after-contact per snap was amongst the best in the league. Far from an early season flash-in-the-pan, Ivory is better described as a sleeping giant that has at last been awoken by New York’s new coaching staff.
While his punishing running style has a tendency to get Ivory dinged up (he’s already missed a game this season), it has been utilization more so than anything that has held Ivory back from already being a household name. Perhaps being too cautious due to said injury history, Ivory has always been part of a timeshare in the backfield, going back to his first years in New Orleans. He split carries on a near 50-50 basis with Bilal Powell in 2013, and then Chris Johnson in 2014, despite being a significantly better runner. Under new head coach Todd Bowles and offensive coordinator Chan Gailey, however, Ivory is finally getting the game plan attention he deserves. Ivory averaged just 12.25 carries a game over his first two seasons in New York, but at present leads, the league in carries-per-game, with 21. New York’s offense has benefitted hugely from Ivory’s ability to consistently churn out positive yardage, and it is no coincidence that the only game Ivory has missed thus far also saw the Jets fail to move the ball consistently, and lose the turnover battle.
Is he the best running back in the league, as Marshall said? Proving he can consistently handle a higher volume of carries must count for something, as the very best contribute in multiple facets. Should Ivory stay healthy—and the Jets continue to feed him—he’ll not only receive the plaudits he deserves, he could run the Jets into the postseason.