Has Bilal Powell overtaken Joe McKnight?

Former USC Trojans star Joe McKnight was huge disappointment last season in his second year with the New York Jets. He averaged just 3.1 yards per carry, and the pressure is on him to perform at a high enough level to earn his place as the team’s third-down back and primary backup behind Shonn Greene.

Aug 10, 2012; Cincinnati, OH, USA; New York Jets running back Joe McKnight (25) runs with the ball in the third quarter against Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Dan Stuka (51) at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE

Jenny Vrentas of The New Jersey Star-Ledger (a good read, by the way) notes that running back Bilal Powell was on the field for every single third down that the New York Jets had in their preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals. She writes that McKnight may no longer be the second-string running back because of this, although Rex Ryan has praised McKnight throughout training camp and the preseason.

Even after a very disappointing 2011 season in which he averaged just 3.1 yards per carry (he averaged 4.6 in the preseason game), Joe McKnight is still the more talented back and should win the second-string job as well as the gig on third-downs. He’s a very good receiving running back and clearly has the advantage to Powell in that aspect.

There are a couple of directions one can take by looking at the distribution of carries in that preseason game:

1. Powell is ahead of McKnight on the depth chart and is the third-down RB

2. The third down carries only prove that McKnight has won the 3DRB job

3. It proves nothing, as the Jets are just giving the young Louisville product more reps to see what he has since he is more of an unknown.

The only real advantage that Powell has on McKnight is his ability in pass protection, because McKnight is faster, doesn’t fumble as much, and he is a superior pass-catcher. That last bit is big for a third-down back, but not quite as important as pass protection for some. A wait-and-see approach is best at this point, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Powell is the new third-down running back for the Jets. However, McKnight has more talent overall, so I’m hesitant on the notion that Rex Ryan has Powell leading for backup duties.

It’s certainly a big third year for McKnight, so the Jets are going to try to give him the chances, especially since he has been doing well this offseason. He needs the chances too, because another disappointing season with a low YPC average will likely mean that his chances to impress the Jets are done. He knows it, and he’s been working hard and has gotten stronger and more consistent. Those are two big things, but there is still work to do. Still, he showed great burst- something Powell doesn’t have- in the preseason game, and Powell only had five carries for 16 yards.

I just don’t see how Powell has jumped over him, except as a third-down back due to his better pass blocking. Everything will be announced after the preseason, so everything is up in the air. I know that Powell was amazing in training camp and was significantly better than McKnight, but Powell needs to do better in an actual game than getting 16 yards on five carries. Doing well in camp is one thing, but doing well in the preseason is more important.

What do you guys think about the running back situation that’s going on with the rivals? Who is the better back, in your eyes? Leave your thoughts in the comments section.

You can follow Joe Soriano on Twitter @SorianoJoe.

Topics: Bilal Powell, Cincinnati Bengals, Jenny Vrentas, Joe McKnight, New York Jets, Rex Ryan, Shonn Greene, USC

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