Stevan Ridley signed a 1-year deal with the New York Jets last week. He remains in the AFC East and is currently recovering from the torn ACL he suffered during Week 5 of the 2014 season. Ridley is a physical runner that is decisive and keeps his legs moving, but is very limited in the passing game. Let’s take a further look at how he fits with his new team.
The Jets sent a clear message by allowing speed back Chris Johnson to walk in free agency. Even though bruising runner Chris Ivory is still the lead back, the Jets chose to sign a downhill power runner like Ridley instead of a pass catcher or a speed back. This signals the Jets intend to play the “ground and pound” game and rely on their defense like the Jets teams that made back to back AFC Championship games.
Ridley is a decisive downhill runner who should be categorized as a power or “big” back. Don’t expect Ridley to outrun the secondary or make many defenders miss via jukes; he hits the hole hard and gains his yards after first contact by “running angry” and falling forward. His style isn’t flashy, but Geno Smith will appreciate when it’s 3rd and 4 instead of 3rd and 8:
Even when there is no clear hole, Ridley presses the line of scrimmage and “runs through smoke” to gain chunks of yardage:
Ridley is a physical back that can wear a defense down as a game progresses; he logged at least 15 carries 20 times over the past 3 seasons with the Patriots, albeit only playing in 6 games in 2014. (37 games) However, this doesn’t mean he is limited schematically. While Ridley lacks top end speed, he is a great zone scheme runner because of his decisiveness. (In addition to Power/Counter/Trap) He rarely loses yardage on runs due to these traits. Ridley also has good vision, as he sees the field well and makes cuts other backs can’t see. Below, Ridley combines his vision, decisiveness, and physicality on a stretch play:
These skills allow Ridley to have nose for the goal line in the red zone; below he makes a decisive cut in the backfield and keeps his legs moving and body going forward for the Touchdown:
Of course, with Ridley’s strengths, he was infamously benched by Bill Belichick for fumbling at various points in his Patriots career. However, this worry may be overblown; Ridley fumbled 3 times in 2013 with a 1.69% fumble rate, but had an unlucky 100% lost fumble rate. Ridley did not fumble in 2014 on 94 carries. It appears Ridley fixed his technique that lead to fumbles in 2013; he had trouble holding onto the football when it dropped below or away from his chest, like on the spin move below:
Ridley is also slightly limited because he serves as a 2 down back with very little to offer in the pass game. He only has a total of 23 catches in 4 seasons, and hasn’t exhibited reliable hands or the ability to get away from linebackers in coverage. With that, he is an excellent running back to close out a game if his team is in the lead, but can also be relegated to the bench for long periods of time if his team is down or time is a factor.
As for the Jets roster situation, Ridley’s skills do overlap with Chris Ivory. This could be an intentional move to have multiple bruising backs, or the Jets could have Ridley and Ivory compete for one roster spot. Given that Ridley is signed for just 1 year at a modest cap hit, he likely has enough upside for a roster spot, pending his health. The Jets could also address the running back position in the middle of the draft, especially a pass catching or speed back.