With pressing needs at wide receiver, the New York Jets traded within the AFC East for running back Kalen Ballage on Thursday afternoon. A late-round conditional draft pick was the price paid by the Jets to the Miami Dolphins to add to a position where there wasn’t exactly a pressing need.
Running back seemed pretty set for the Jets, especially after the past couple of weeks when head coach Adam Gase heaped praise on Le’Veon Bell, the two-time All-Pro who showed up to training camp in tremendous shape. In addition, the Jets signed Frank Gore this offseason to back up Bell, adding a 37-year-old running back who is third all-time in NFL history in rushing. The Jets also selected La’Mical Perine in the fourth round of the NFL Draft, with the rookie having shown off his speed on Tuesday in an intra-squad scrimmage.
So adding Ballage, even for a conditional late-round pick, doesn’t necessarily jive with the perception that the Jets seem set at running back. And especially given how Ballage performed last year, albeit behind a terrible offensive line, the focus on adding a running back right here and now doesn’t add up.
In 12 games (six starts) Ballage had 135 rushing yards on 74 carries and three touchdowns. This comes after a rookie year in 2018 where the former fourth-round pick had 36 carries for 191 yards and one touchdown.
It should be noted that the head coach for his rookie season was Gase.
The move doesn’t make sense unless the Jets are planning to move a running back or feel like they need greater depth at the position. Bell is an elite running back when given an adequate offensive line, which he should have this year after the unit was completely revamped this offseason. Gore, despite this being his 16th season in the NFL, still has something to add in a backfield rotation.
And Perine was just praised on Tuesday by Gase for his speed.
So adding a running back coming off a down year, even at the price of a conditional pick late on Day 3, doesn’t add up. And it isn't a knock on Ballage, who has upside and was mildly productive as a rookie under Gase. Taking a flyer on a talented player with a late round pick isn't a bad thing.
But when that draft capital could potentially go to helping address the glaring need at wide receiver, that's where things get questionable for the Jets. Especially when it is adding depth to an area the Jets are already relatively well off.
The Jets desperately need depth at wide receiver, where they have been hit with injuries. Breshad Perriman (knee) is expected back this weekend but has missed the last few days with the injury. Lawrence Cager, an undrafted rookie free agent, also suffered a knee injury several days ago and did not practice on Wednesday.
Rookie Denzel Mims, a second-round pick, has battled a hamstring injury and missed most of training camp. Josh Doctson, signed this offseason, opted out of the season. The Jets are paper-thin at wide receiver right now.
That’s not to say that the late-round pick that the Jets sent to the Dolphins could magically be used in a trade to land a wide receiver who can contribute this year. But making a deal and using draft capital at a position where they don’t necessarily need to add depth at this moment is a curious move given the holes on this roster.