In 2013, it was almost comical the circus the New York Giants had to endure at the running back position; it was something straight out of the Ringling Brothers. It was something the Giants pinpointed as a problem that needed to be addressed, and they wasted little time, signing Rashad Jennings from the Oakland Raiders in the opening days of 2014 free agency.
Last season, they signed Brandon Jacobs and Peyton Hillis off the street and both ended up making starts at one point in the season. David Wilson had to have neck surgery, Da’Rel Scott was ineffective and Andre Brown was unable to fully recover from his second-consecutive season with a broken leg. Seventh-round rookie Michael Cox was not ready to assume any type of significant role, so the Giants made it a priority to find a running back.
In steps Jennings, who looks like he will be a feature back for the first time in his career. He was a seventh-round draft pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2009 and has flashed some talent through his first five seasons in the NFL. The biggest question heading into 2014 will be if he can handle lead back duties for the duration of the season.
Jennings has not exactly been a poster boy for clean health in his time in the NFL; twice with the Jaguars he was placed on the IR, missing the entire 2011 season after sustaining a concussion in the first preseason game and then injuring his knee two weeks later.
While his health track record is a little spotty, it could also be looked at as a positive for the Giants. Being used exclusively as a backup or in a timeshare thus far in his career, Jennings has very little wear and tear on him. He has only 387 rushes in the four seasons he has appeared in a game, producing solidly with the chances that he has been given.
Versatility in the passing game is something of a necessity for running backs in the Giants’ system, and Jennings will give them that. He has 97 receptions in 53 games played, proving to be a threat in the passing game out of the backfield. He is also a capable pass blocker, something you have to do well for Tom Coughlin and his staff or you will find yourself on the bench more often than not.
While Jennings will be atop the depth chart, he will have some challenges behind him. Their 2014 NFL Draft fourth-round pick, Andre Williams, figures to factor into the running game on early downs and in goal-line situations. If he can show the coaching staff enough improvement in pass protection, he will have no problem getting onto the field.
Also in the fold is Wilson, who once cleared could factor in as a change-of-pace back. Wilson and Jennings both operate more effectively on the perimeter in space than in-between the tackles, which could open up opportunities for early-down playing time for Wilson.
While it is still early, the Giants’ outlook at the running back position looks promising heading into mandatory camp this coming week and training camp just a few short weeks away. Jennings will have an opportunity to show that he is a capable lead back, and if all goes well, could be a driving force to the Giants’ offense getting back on track after struggling in 2013.