2014 was a major transition year for the New York Giants at the running back position. The two backs most-associated with the team’s recent Super Bowl seasons – Brandon Jacobs (2005-11, 2013) and Ahmad Bradshaw (2007-12) – were both completely out of the picture. Heading into training camp, it was anticipated that free agent acquisition Rashad Jennings, 2012 first-round draft pick David Wilson, and 2014 fourth-round draft pick Andre Williams would form the core of the new running attack. However, Wilson’s NFL career prematurely ended when he re-aggravated a neck injury he originally suffered in the 2013 season. He was forced to retire from the NFL in training camp. It was a major blow for the Giants as not only was Wilson particularly well-suited for Ben McAdoo’s West Coast Offense, but he was one of the few home-run hitters on the team and a dynamic kickoff returner.
Without Wilson, the Giants were largely a between-the-tackles and off-tackle team that was unable to consistently threaten the perimeter of the defense. With a re-vamped offensive line that was not very physical and often struggled to move defenders off of the line of scrimmage, the running backs did not have much room to operate. Exacerbating the situation was the fact that Jennings was limited to nine starts due to knee and ankle injuries. Reserves Peyton Hillis and Michael Cox also ended up on Injured Reserve in November.
At fullback, Henry Hynoski beat out John Conner in training camp and the preseason. However, the fullback position was de-emphasized in McAdoo’s system in favor of multiple tight end sets.
In the end, the Giants were tied for 28th in the NFL with only 3.6 yards per rushing attempt and 23rd in the NFL with 100.2 rushing yards per game. The team was tied for 12th in rushing touchdowns with 13. For a team that was 10th in the NFL in rushing attempts, these figures simply were not good enough.
The Giants signed Rashad Jennings as an unrestricted free agent from the Oakland Raiders in March 2014. Anointed the starting running back, Jennings was limited to 11 games with nine starts due to knee and ankle injuries. He finished the season with 639 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 167 carries (3.8 yards per carry) and 226 receiving yards on 30 receptions (7.5 yards per catch). Jennings was originally drafted in the 7th round of the 2009 NFL Draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars. He signed with the Raiders in 2013. Jennings is a big, physical, no-nonsense, north-south runner who does his best work between-the-tackles or off tackle. He is solid pass blocker and has good hands as a receiver. Jennings only has lost two fumbles in his career. He is a hard worker and a good presence in the locker room.
The Giants drafted Andre Williams in the 4th round of the 2014 NFL Draft. Williams began the season as the #2 back behind Rashad Jennings, playing in all 16 games with seven starts. He finished the season with 721 yards and seven touchdowns on 217 carries (3.3 yards per carry). He also caught 18 passes for 130 yards (7.2 yards per catch). Williams is a big, powerful, north-south runner with decent speed. He is not terribly quick or elusive, and does not present much of a threat as an outside runner. Williams seemed less instinctive running the ball at the pro level his rookie season than he did in college. Smart. Williams improved as a pass protector as the season progressed. He’s not a natural pass receiver, but he works at it.
Peyton Hillis was placed on Injured Reserve in November 2014 with a concussion, his second in two seasons. Hillis played in nine games in 2014 as the #3 back and finished the season with 26 carries for 115 yards and 10 receptions for 87 yards. Hillis was originally drafted in the 7th round of the 2008 NFL Draft by the Denver Broncos. He has since played with the Browns (2010-11), Chiefs (2012), and Buccaneers (2013). Tampa Bay waived him in September 2013 and the Giants signed him the following month. With the Giants in 2013, Hillis carried the ball 73 times for 247 yards and caught 13 passes for 96 yards. Hillis’ best season was in 2010 when he rushed for 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns for the Browns and caught 61 passes for 477 yards and two touchdowns. Hillis is a big back and a decent athlete for his size. He’s a tough, physical runner between the tackles and has very good hands in the passing game. He is not quick, elusive, or fast and thus does not present an outside running threat. Ball security (15 career fumbles) and durability have been issues.
Michael Cox was placed on Injured Reserve in November 2014 with a fractured lower leg. He was on the Practice Squad of the team until October. Cox played in four games and finished the season with four carries, two catches, and 11 kickoff returns. Cox was originally drafted in the 7th round of the 2013 NFL Draft by the Giants. In 2013, he 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) and caught the ball three times for 12 yards. Most of his work came on special teams where he returned 20 kickoffs for a 21.8 yards-per-return average. Cox is a big, strong back with decent speed and elusiveness. He catches the ball well, but needs to work on his pass protection.
The Giants signed Orleans Darkwa off of the Practice Squad of the Miami Dolphins in November 2014. He played in seven games with the Giants, mostly on special teams, but he did carry the ball five times for 21 yards and one touchdown as well as catching two passes for 17 yards. Darkwa was originally signed by the Dolphins as a rookie free agent after the 2014 NFL Draft. He played in four games in September before being waived in October and signed to the team’s Practice Squad. Darkwa has average size and overall athletic ability, but he is a steady, hard-working football player with good intangibles.
Chris Ogbonnaya was signed to the 53-man roster in December 2014. Ogbonnaya was originally drafted in the 7th round of the 2009 NFL Draft by the St. Louis Rams. Since then he has played for the Rams (2009), Texans (2011), Browns (2011-13), and Panthers (2014). Ogbonnaya has played in 51 games with 12 starts and has carried the ball 158 times for 710 yards and two touchdowns. He also has 96 catches for 714 yards and two touchdowns. Ogbonnaya is a big back with good speed. He has good hands catching the ball.
Henry Hynoski played in all 16 games in 2014, with four starts. Although he saw his playing time reduced in the new West Coast system, Hynoski actually had a career-high seven carries for 13 yards as the Giants used him more as a short-yardage runner. However, 2014 was the first season he did not catch a pass. That all said, the strength of Hynoski’s game is still his run blocking. Hynoski originally signed with the Giants as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2011 NFL Draft. Hynoski missed virtually all of 2013 with knee and shoulder injuries. A bit of a throwback, Hynoski is a big, physical player. He is not overly athletic as he lacks speed and agility.
The Giants signed Nikita Whitlock to the Practice Squad in December 2014. Whitlock, who played defensive tackle in college, was originally signed by the Cincinnati Bengals as a rookie free agent after the 2014 NFL Draft. He was cut by the Bengals in their final round of cuts and then signed by the Dallas Cowboys to their Practice Squad. The NFL suspended Whitlock in November for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) and the Cowboys terminated his Practice Squad contract. Whitlock was converted to fullback by the Bengals and he flashed in the preseason as a lead blocker with good size.