With the New York Giants reporting to camp in less than a month, BigBlueInteractive.com is breaking down each of the team’s positional groups from now until July 21. Our first article concentrated on the team’s quarterbacks. Now let’s take a look at the running backs and fullbacks.
POSITIONAL BREAKDOWN: Running Backs and Fullbacks
2013 YEAR IN REVIEW: Just a year ago, the New York Giants appeared to be “set” at running back with a 1-2 punch of Andre Brown and David Wilson. But the injury-prone Brown broke his leg in the preseason, causing him to miss half the season. He started the final eight games and finished with 139 carries for 492 yards (3.5 yards per carry) and three touchdowns. The Giants showed no interest in re-signing Brown in the offseason and he is now a Houston Texan. 2012 1st round draft pick David Wilson only played in five games before being placed on Injured Reserve with a career-threatening neck injury that required surgery in January. He started four games and finished 2013 with 146 yards on 44 carries (3.3 yards per carry) and one touchdown. He also fumbled the ball away twice. Da’Rel Scott made the team, was cut, then re-signed, and then placed on Injured Reserve with a hamstring injury. Scott played in five games with one start in 2013, finishing the season with 73 yards on 20 carries (3.7 yards per carry). The Giants chose not to bring him back. Michael Cox, the Giants 7th pick in the 2013 Draft, played in 14 games as a rookie with one start. But he only carried the football 22 times for 43 yards (2.0 yards per carry). With injuries to Brown, Wilson, and Scott, ex-Giant Brandon Jacobs and Peyton Hillis were mid-season roster additions. But Jacobs arrived as damaged goods, started only one game, and was placed on Injured Reserve with a knee condition that forced his retirement in January. Hillis ended up playing in seven games with one start. He finished the season with 73 carries for 247 yards (3.4 yards per carry) and two touchdowns.
At fullback, 2013 was a disaster for Henry Hynoski, who missed virtually all of the offseason work with a knee injury (MCL/chip fracture) suffered in an OTA, then fracturing his shoulder and being placed on Injured Reserve in September. John Conner was signed off of the street to replace Hynoski and he performed well as a physical lead blocker in 13 games with seven starts.
Overall, the New York Giants finished 29th in rushing, averaging a paltry 83.2 yards per game and 3.5 yards per rush.
ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: The Giants had no interest in bringing back Andre Brown and Da’Rel Scott, and Brandon Jacobs has retired. David Wilson, Michael Cox, Peyton Hillis, Henry Hynoski, and John Conner return. Kendall Gaskins, who spent time with the Bills and Titans as a rookie, was signed to the Practice Squad in December and returns in 2014. The Giants made a big push to sign ex-Jaguar and ex-Raider Rashad Jennings to a 4-year, $10 million contract. The team drafted the nation’s #1 rusher Andre Williams in the 4th round of the 2014 NFL Draft.
TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: The two main story lines are the health status of David Wilson and the Hynoski-Conner competition at fullback. Wilson is scheduled to undergo another exam on his next the day camp starts – July 21st – to determine if he can be cleared for football contact. If cleared, the explosive Wilson needs to prove he can stay healthy, hold onto the football, protect the QB, and become an instinctive play-maker. Many fans and media types believe Hynoski is the front runner for the fullback spot, but John Conner may be the better blocker, receiver, and yes, runner. The other main question is who will be the #2 back off of the bench behind Rashad Jennings. Will it be Wilson, Peyton Hillis, or Andre Williams?
ON THE BUBBLE: It would appear that Rashad Jennings and Andre Williams are locks to make the team. If he is cleared for contact, and barring a complete lack of development, the former #1 pick David Wilson is likely to make the squad. Peyton Hillis, Michael Cox, and Kendall Gaskins are fighting for one, possibly two roster spots. Don’t automatically write any of these guys off. Even Gaskins has caught the attention of the coaches.
FROM THE POSITIONAL COACH: Craig Johnson on Andre Williams: “A big fit (for our scheme). He’s a big, strong physical runner. He led the nation in rushing last year in college football. He is strong, he’s a very explosive runner. I hear that from the defense, they say, ‘Man, that guy has really got it going.’ I’m really excited to see what he’s all about and you can tell, he runs hard.”
Johnson on David Wilson: “He’s got tremendous talent. It’s obvious to see that that. Good hands. I can’t wait to watch him get out there when he gets cleared to show what he can do.”
Johnson on Michael Cox and Kendall Gaskins: “Two guys you probably haven’t heard much about, Michael Cox, a second-year back that was a late draft choice last year, big, strong, physical, can make plays. I’m looking forward to seeing him and Kendall Gaskins, both of them, in pads. They’re young guys, they want to prove it. They’re hungry and they want to go after it. All the backs are pretty good size and pretty physical so I’m excited about the position.”
Eric Kennedy – Rashad Jennings, Peyton Hillis, and Andre Williams make this a very big and physical backfield. Considered somewhat of a journeyman running back, I firmly believe that Jennings will blossom in New York not only as a physical, no-nonsense north-south runner, but an incredibly reliable and consistent receiver out of the backfield. He is a natural receiver. I also think he will become a team leader. Some expect Peyton Hillis to be cut, but I see him becoming a John Kuhn-type receiver/runner/pass protector in Ben McAdoo’s scheme. I could see him becoming the third-down back due to his pass pro and receiving skills. I love Henry Hynoski, but I think John Conner is the better blocker, receiver, and runner.
Connor Hughes - I like Andre Williams and Rashad Jennings, too. I believe both are upgrades over Andre Brown and Brandon Jacobs. With that being said, I truly believe the ‘X’ factor for the Giants in the backfield is David Wilson.
Wilson spent the offseason in the weight room packing on the muscle, is still lightning in the bottle and the only player at the position that has the ability to break off a touchdown on any carry. If he’s healthy, I see him as a player that can run for 1200-1400 yards annually. Last year, Wilson struggled, but as the season went it became more evident that that was more of a result of the team’s porous offensive line than the former first-round pick.
I love Wilson’s attitude, he never doesn’t have a smile on his face and is more motivated than ever to get back on the field. Once he does? Look out.
FINAL DEPTH CHART: Running Backs – Rashad Jennings (1), David Wilson (2), Peyton Hillis (3), Andre Williams (4), Michael Cox (cut), Kendall Gaskins (cut)
Fullbacks – John Conner (1), Henry Hynoski (cut)