WATCH: Le'Veon Bell's preseason sabbatical places spotlight on these two fringe Jets running backs
After losing starting linebacker Avery Williamson to a season-ending knee injury last week against the Falcons, Jets head coach Adam Gase won't risk exposing prized free agent Le'Veon Bell to the unnecessary rigors of preseason football.
On Sunday, the team announced that the All-Pro running back will be held out for the remainder of the preseason. Bell, who signed a four-year, $52.5 million deal over the offseason, will make his highly anticipated Jets debut on Sept. 8 in the season opener vs. the Bills.
With Bell on ice and primary backup Ty Montgomery expected to see limited volume over the next two games, the backfield will mostly belong to intriguing backups Trenton Cannon and Elijah McGuire.
A sixth-round pick a season ago, Cannon pieced together a productive first preseason, which ultimately warranted him a spot on the Jets' 53-man roster. The former Virginia State star appeared in all 16 games, contributing 38 carries for 113 yards and a touchdown on the ground and adding 17 catches for 144 yards through the air. Most of his playing time came on special teams, however. Cannon amassed 151 special teams snaps, which accounted for nearly 31 percent of the total. He proved to be a fixture on special teams coordinator Brant Boyer's coverage units, registering nine stops on the season.
At 5-foot-11, 185 pounds, Cannon possesses a skill set similar to Montgomery's: outstanding pass-catcher, fluid route-runner, electric with the ball in his hands. Though he hasn't exactly stood out in the teams first two preseason games as a runner and his slight build may cause some concern, he's demonstrated his value on special teams. Of all the running backs in contention for one of the final spots, Cannon is best equipped to evolve into the all-important third-down option.
McGuire, another former sixth-round pick, has done enough to stick around for the past two seasons. At 5-foot-10, 214 pounds, the former Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajun offers a vastly different skill set than Cannon. The 25-year-old has appeared in 24 games over the past two seasons, rushing 180 times for 591 yards and four scores on the ground and hauling in 36 catches for 370 yards and two touchdowns. While McGuire gives the team more as an actual runner, Cannon brings innate special teams prowess -- an essential quality for a fringe player.
While McGuire has had a fairly quiet preseason on the ground, he's come on as a pass-catcher as of late, bring in seven receptions for 48 yards and a score. With only two games left to leave an impression on the coaching staff, the talented tandem now find themselves in the spotlight.
In many ways, the 53-man roster is like a puzzle, and the key is finding out how each piece fits into the picture. Fourth in the pecking order a season ago, Cannon played just 185 offensive snaps, while McGuire tallied 318 as Isaiah Crowell's top backup. With a generational talent atop the depth chart this year -- and a former starter behind him -- there won't be enough carries to go around to justify keeping a pure runner.
When looking at roster spots 45-53 on an NFL roster, they all typically have one common theme: special teams. On cutdown day, Cannon's value to Boyer's unit will be too much for McGuire to overcome.