Over the weekend, the Jets signed running back George Atkinson III as cover following an injury to Elijah McGuire. Now we're taking a look at what Atkinson brings to the table.
The 25-year old Atkinson is listed as 6'1" and 220 pounds and was undrafted out of Notre Dame in 2014. He has spent time with the Raiders, Browns and Chiefs but has only carried the ball seven times in his career so far.
Atkinson was a running back, wide receiver and defensive back in high school, in addition to being a solid track athlete.
Having been recruited to Notre Dame, Atkinson didn't play much on offense as a freshman but he scored two touchdowns on kickoff returns, averaging over 26 yards per return.
His role increased in 2012 as he rushed for 361 yards and a career high five touchdowns. However, his production as a return man dropped off to 20 yards per return.
As a junior, Atkinson had his most productive year, averaging six yards per carry for a career-best 555 yards. He added three touchdowns and a career high seven receptions, as well as a 25-yards per kick return average.
Having been suspended for his team's bowl game, Atkinson decided to enter the 2014 draft but went undrafted despite a good showing at the scouting combine. The Raiders picked him up but released him in final cuts. He spent most of the year on their practice squad but was activated late in the season for special teams duties.
In 2015, he was again released in final cuts, going on to have two stints on the practice squad during the year.
The following season, the Raiders once again released Atkinson in final cuts, but this time he was claimed by the Browns. He played in all 16 games with the Browns, albeit in a special teams role until the season finale where he finally saw some action on offense, rushing seven times for 34 yards and a touchdown.
In 2017, the Browns waived him at the start of camp and he was picked up once again by the Raiders, who would release him in final cuts for the fourth straight season. He was eventually signed to Kansas City's practice squad, where he spent the entire 2017 season and they brought him back on a futures deal but then released him in April.
After Elijah McGuire suffered a broken foot in camp, the Jets opted to sign Atkinson having also worked out veterans Alfred Morris, Tion Green and Orleans Darkwa.
Let's look in more detail at what Atkinson brings to the table, based on in-depth research and film study.
Atkinson has been employed as a conventional running back. He's occasionally been split out wide or in the slot and does have experience of playing as a wideout in high school.
As you can see, Atkinson posted good numbers at the scouting combine:
He also improved his short shuttle to 4.33 at his pro day, which is much closer to average.
Perhaps more importantly, Atkinson has excellent long speed due to his track background. He has run a 6.85 in the 60 meters and a 10.36 100 meters, which translate well to his ability to return kicks and his breakaway speed, which he showcases here:
Atkinson's best attribute is his burst. Most of his best highlights see him exploiting good blocking by bursting through a hole.
He doesn't break a lot of tackles, run with power or display much elusiveness in the open field but can be effective with his direct style.
Atkinson does show some toughness on this play, which was his only regular season touchdown:
Although Atkinson doesn't display power or move the pile very often, he can still be effective in short yardage because he is quick to hit the hole.
He goes low to get into the end zone on this play:
Despite having played some wide receiver in high school, Atkinson has never been a particularly productive pass catcher. In college, he caught just 10 passes for 65 yards in three years and in four years of NFL preseason action, he had 15 catches for 140 yards, mostly on dump-offs.
This is a rare example of Atkinson running a route and making a big play:
Atkinson had a few drops in preseason action, including this one on another rare downfield target:
Atkinson came from a program where fumbles were viewed as unacceptable, so had good ball security numbers in college. He has had a few fumbles in preseason or regular season action, but most of them have been on special teams. Here was an example of poor ball security though:
Like most young backs, Atkinson entered the league as a raw pass protector and hasn't had a lot of playing time in which to hone those skills. However, he hasn't given up a sack in preseason or regular season pass block reps.
He got blown up while picking up the blitz on this play though:
Atkinson had some good kick return numbers at Notre Dame and also had this touchdown in preseason action:
He does not, however, have any experience of returning punts and he occasionally has issues with fielding kickoffs cleanly, as he did on this play which led to him being stuffed at the 10-yard line:
In addition to his contributions as a return man, Atkinson has also produced in kick coverage and as a punt return gunner. He had nine tackles as a freshman at Notre Dame and four in NFL regular season action plus another six in preseason action. He can be susceptible to missed tackles though.
As a younger player, Atkinson had a tendency to always bounce runs to the outside in an effort to break long runs, but he matured as a runner in his junior year and has carried that more direct style into his NFL appearances.
Scouting reports suggest Atkinson has questionable instincts and vision, but his direct running style might be well-suited to a one-cut system like the one the Jets are expected to run.
He shows some good open field running instincts as a return man and on breakaway runs, scoring with a crafty cutback on this play:
Atkinson has had some concerns over his work ethic and coachability having been viewed as an underachiever at Notre Dame. However, the Raiders have had him in camp four times now, so they must see something in him otherwise they wouldn't have kept bringing him back.
A couple of incidents in college were viewed as red flags as he was entering the league. A teammate's broken ankle reportedly happened during an off-field disagreement with Atkinson. He was also suspended for the bowl game in his junior year, apparently for texting during a team meal. Atkinson admits that a coach told him to put down the phone, but he didn't immediately.
On the field, he's displayed good discipline with just one penalty in all of his preseason and regular season action, for an illegal block in the back on a return.
Atkinson doesn't seem to have dealt with many injuries over the years. He missed one game in college due to flu-like symptoms.
As noted above, Atkinson's burst and direct running style could make him effective as a one-cut runner in Rick Dennison's new system.
He has been teammates with Josh McCown, Xavier Cooper, Clive Walford, Isaiah Crowell and Terrelle Pryor during his career.
When the Jets opted to sign a journeyman back like Atkinson instead of someone like Morris or Darkwa that has produced as a starter in recent years, this was initially viewed as a good sign that the Jets expect McGuire not to miss much regular season action.
However, Atkinson also brings added value as a kick return option and someone who can contribute as a punt return gunner or in kick-off coverage, so he's not necessarily just a "camp body".
It seems unlikely he's ever going to become a feature back at the NFL level, but he performed well enough in his only NFL action 19 months ago and he is still only 25, so if there are any more opportunities for playing time, he'll be looking to make the most of them.