T.J. Yeldon was the feature back in 2015 but will be joined by Pro Bowl running back Chris Ivory in 2016. How does it all shake out?
Running back committees and split time between backs have been popular in recent years at the NFL level. It helps keep the mileage low on the premiere backs, provides some change of pace, and helps rotate the most desirable situations for an offense.
At least that’s the theory.
Some running back committees are stronger than others and so are some one-two punches at running back. Chris Ivory and T.J. Yeldon will likely split carries (where does that leave Denard Robinson?) and have a one-two punch attack for the Jacksonville Jaguars, but they aren’t so different that it will really be a change of pace. Both are downhill runners with Ivory the bigger bruiser of the two.
Splitting carries may lean closer to 50-50 than Yeldon’s rookie season would first indicate. In his rookie season Yeldon proved he could be a three-down back, but with a Pro Bowl talent like Ivory on the roster, it makes no sense to waste the talent and only use him as a short yardage back (though he will be far more effective than Toby Gerhart was).
General manager Dave Caldwell was rightly concerned about the lack of production when T.J. Yeldon missed time in 2015. Ivory should ensure there is no drop off if injuries do occur. But what about when both of them are healthy?
Mark Inabinett at AL.com broke down the Ivory signing, quoting Caldwell as not being sure how it will work out at this point. In particular, it seems the Jags will rely on either Ivory or Yeldon depending on the game situation, putting in the bigger bruiser or the more shifty downhill runner depending on how the defense tends to defense. Whether that’s a primary change from game to game or a down and distance decision still doesn’t seem made up.
Either way, it looks like the time as a three-down back for Yeldon will be limited. It would be surprising to see the talented Ivory only enter the game for short yardage situations, even if that is what he’ll excel at with the team. Instead, we may see a constant shifting to keep fresh legs.
At this point, it’s all speculation. The real decisions will come with offseason workouts and build into the preseason and likely take a more solid shape during the early 2016 regular season. There are a lot of considerations that will go into deciding just how many carries each will get.
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No matter how it shakes out, however, the Jaguars now have more options with both T.J. Yeldon and Chris Ivory than they had before. The Jags running back stable is better stocked at the top than it has been since Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor were splitting carries almost a decade ago.