New Jets running back Chistopher Ivory is one of the best-known “sleepers” for the 2013 season, but do you really know him? He only has 256 career carries in his 24 career games with the New Orleans Saints, yet, he’s one of the most highly regarded running backs in fantasy football this season. Before you tell me I’m crazy for ranking Ivory in the top 10 (number eight, to be exact) in my post-draft rankings, I want you to watch some cutups of the future star. If he doesn’t remind you of Marshawn Lynch waiting to burst onto the scene, I’m not sure who does. He lowers his head and gets a couple of yards before he goes down on every run.
Durability is one of a couple of concerns for the bulldozer. However, talent usually wins out in bad situations (unless the bad situation is carrying illegal guns, hollow-point bullets and possessing marijuana). Is it another “talent is forever” situation, despite injury, a horrid offense and only a snapshot of production? In my mind, it is that type of situation. It’s time for Ivory to burst onto the scene after a reserve role in his first three seasons in the NFL.
When we look at the Jets backfield, Ivory has become the clear starter, at least for now. After free agent acquisition Mike Goodson shot his chances to start dead with his little (actually, rather big) incident in New Jersey, Ivory has a clear path to the starting job. Goodson is currently pleading not guilty, and he was even present the the Jets’ organized team activities (OTAs), but he didn’t participate. Expect punishment to come one way or another, including the possibility of being cut before the season. Regardless, as of now, Goodson appears buried on the depth chart and does not pose a threat to Ivory. Without Goodson, Ivory has little competition in Bilal Powell and Joe McKnight, both of whom were unable to overtake Shonn Greene – who lacks just about every tool a running back needs to be successful — in 2012.
Let’s just assume that Ivory will get the workload that Greene received as a Jet. In 2012, although he touched the ball in a very limited workload, Ivory averaged 5.4 yards per carry, which took his career average to 5.1 yards per carry. In a full season in 2012, Greene rushed for 1,063 yards on 276 carries, and in 2011 rushed for 1,054 yards on 253 carries. Take Ivory’s yards per carry of 5.1 over his career and you get a number around 2,700 yards over 2011/2012, provided the carries that Ivory got. That’s about 1,360 per season, which would have put him at eighth in the NFL in rushing in 2012. I know, this isn’t an accurate depiction for many reasons (lesser offense, major injury risk, etc.), but it gives you an idea of what kind of numbers we’re looking at for Ivory as he becomes the workhorse in New York.
It’s also important to look at the offensive line that Ivory will be running behind in New York in comparison to New Orleans. The Saints offensive line was impressive in Ivory’s years in the big easy. In 2012, the core was: left tackle Jermon Bushrod (graded out a 2.0 in run blocking by ProFootballFocus.com), left guard Ben Grubbs (6.2), center Brian De La Puente (13.6), right guard Jahri Evans (1.2), and right tackle Zach Strief (0.3). For the Jets in 2013, it will be: left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson (graded out a 0.1 in run blocking by ProFootballFocus.com), left guard Willie Colon (6.0 with Steelers), center Nick Mangold (15.8), rookie right guard Brian Winters, and right tackle Austin Howard (9.6). So what does this all mean? A lot is going to depend on the rookie on the inside for Ivory’s offensive line to take a substantial upgrade. Ivory runs better to his right, but ultimately, if Winters is an upgrade to Evans in run-blocking (which is likely if the rookie is anything like NFL draftniks are expecting), then Ivory will have taken an upgrade in his offensive line, especially with Mangold manning the interior line.
It’s also well-known that the Jets will run the ball when they get down to the goal-line, unlike the Saints. New Orleans rushed the ball 17 times inside their opponent’s five-yard line with their running backs in 2012 according to ESPN. Greene, with the Jets, had 19 rushes alone, within the same distance. Bilal Powell and Joe McKnight combined for seven more, and Tim Tebow (now a free agent) wasted three goal-line carries. Do the math (I know, it’s hard), and that’s 29 goal-line carries in all for the Jets in comparison to the Saints’ 17. We’re not sure exactly of what Ivory will do at the goal-line because of a lack of use in that area of the field (zero carries inside the five yard-line in 2012), but if his running style and the Jets clear goal to run in that area of the field are any indication, he should.
Next up: more stats. Although it was a limited workload in the high-riding Saints offense, Ivory’s elusive rating in comparison to running backs with double digit carries was tops in the NFL in 2012 according ProFootballFocus.com. He also was second in the NFL in yards after contact per carry with 4.73, which is quite obviously a strength in the highlights linked to above. It’s also worth noting that while he wasn’t used as a pass-catching back in New Orleans, he’s ready to prove doubters who say he can’t be a receiver out of the backfield wrong.
However, it’s not all pretty for Ivory. In his 2012 camp, it was well noted that Ivory put the ball on the ground a lot. Of course, the Saints didn’t cut him before the season for this reason, the only reason being his immense talent in things other than holding onto the football. Despite fumbling four times in his rookie season (and losing two), he hasn’t put the ball on the ground in a regular season game in his last two seasons.
An obvious concern is the new offense for Ivory; one that is going to, without a doubt, struggle immensely this season. However, if 2012′s run-to-pass ratio is anything like what the Jets want to do this year, the run will be much more significant than it was in New Orleans, which means more opportunity for Ivory. New Orleans ran on just 35.5% of their offensive snaps, while the Jets ran on 50% of their snaps. On a Jets team that has a losing record (14-18) over the last two seasons, the coaching staff has been committed to a run-first offense, even with struggles at running back. When combining the 2011 and 2012 team rushing stats, the Jets are the eighth team on the list. However, in 2012, the Jets averaged only 3.8 yards per carry, which was tied four other teams for sixth worst in the NFL. This is a team that loves to run the ball even when they weren’t successful at it. If Greene fulfilled their need, they will worship Ivory. Ivory is relatable to Greene in the fact that both are run-between-the-tackles guys. However, Ivory has burst, vision, and the extra effort that Greene does not have. There’s a noticeable difference. Ivory is colossal upgrade from Greene, and in this offense that favors the run, possibilities are endless.
Injury is the only concern that will keep Ivory from being drafted as a RB1 this year. A Lisfranc injury at the end of his rookie year landed him on the PUP list at the beginning of the following year, where he was active in only 6 games. Besides missing games on the PUP in 2011, Ivory also battled a hamstring injury in the 2011 season. However, Ivory frequently was not included in the Saints group of three active running backs unless one of the top three — Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas, or Darren Sproles — went down with an injury. Many games in 2012 specifically, Ivory was inactive not because of injury but because of his situation.
While Ivory proposes a risk that some players do not with injury and a whole new offense to adjust to, he’s a great pick for your team, especially when he’s currently going as the 24th running back off the board at 4.06 in a 12-team league. So how much of a risk are you really taking with a fourth- or fifth-round pick? Considering that the pieces are all in place for Ivory to have a stellar (maybe even elite) season, it’s not much risk for a guy that’s going to be your third running back. To summarize Ivory: explosive, gives 100% on every run, has a solid offensive line in front of him, is a perfect run blocker (according to ProFootballFocus.com), appears to be the sure workhorse for the Jets, and has top 10 upside at a currently low price, has some injury risk, but a well rested body. With no more running backs in front of him all signs point to a breakout year for Ivory if he can stay on the field. Be sure he’s on your fantasy team this year.