The New York Giants need to address the running game this offseason now that they have released Brandon Jacobs. Free agency is a place where New York may look to fill this void, while the NFL Draft is another option for Big Blue, and the Giants could use one of their selections in April to pick up another player to carry the ball.
There are currently four running backs on the roster, with Ahmad Bradshaw poised to reassume the starting role next year. But after Bradshaw, there is not much else on the depth chart. The only one of the other three backs that saw substantial playing time was D.J. Ware.
Ware saw action in all of the Giants' regular season and postseason games. The fifth year back averaged just 3.5 yards per carry, and did not find the end zone throughout the year. Many of the screens that were designed for Ware by offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride did not work well for the Giants. Ware saw a significant drop in his average receiving yards per catch, netting just 6.3 yards compared to 9.6 in 2010.
The only running back that Mel Kiper Jr. deems worthy of a first round pick is Alabama’s Trent Richardson, who he has being drafted fifth overall. Lamar Miller, Doug Martin, Lamichael James and David Wilson round out Kiper’s top-five backs. If Richardson is the only back taken in the opening round, New York should have a slew of running backs to choose from in the later rounds if they want to pick up a back.
There are more crucial needs to address than the running game, despite how consistently bad it was last season. The Giants need to draft a linebacker, especially now that Jonathan Goff has been allowed to test the free agency market. Another wide receiver could also be added if New York does not think they have any viable options for the third receiver.
However, Jerry Reese tends to take the best player available rather than addressing the biggest need. For instance, Reese selected Jason Pierre-Paul when the Giants already had Justin Tuck, Mathias Kiwanuka and Osi Umenyiora at defensive end. So, if any of the top-five backs are available when the Giants select 32nd, Reese may take him. Running back David Wilson out of Virginia Tech seems the most likely of the premier prospects to still be available that late in the first round, garnering a ranking of 47th best player from Kiper. Walterfootball.com even has the Giants selecting Miller in the first round. If New York waits until the later rounds to grab a back, here are three viable options for the Giants.
Tauren Poole, Tennessee
Poole was a 1000 yard rusher in his junior season for the Vols, but there was a steep decline in production last season, netting only 693 yards. He could be someone that slips underneath the radar, and a steal for the Giants in the fifth or sixth round. Of course, this pick would be based mostly on potential and the glimpses of the player that Poole showed in 2009. If the Giants select Poole this late in the draft, there would be a tremendous upside without much risk. New York has had success with drafting running backs very late in the draft, as they took Bradshaw in the seventh round.
Chris Rainey, Florida
If the Giants are looking for a back that they can flank out as a wide receiver and design screens for, then Rainey is their guy. He ran a blistering 4.37 40-yard-dash at the combine, and played multiple positions for the Gators last season. The Florida product rushed for 861 yards while also catching 31 passes for over 300 yards, totaling five touchdowns on the season. Rainey is also a viable punt returner, something New York is always on the lookout for. Big Blue ranked 29th in average punt return yards and 21st in average kick return yards in 2011. Mel Kiper Jr. has Rainey tabbed as the ninth best back in the draft.
Isaiah Pead, Cincinnati
Reese would have a hard time going against his tendency to choose the best available player if Isaiah Pead is still available in the third round. Scouts Inc. has him listed as the sixth best running back in the draft and for good reason. The Bearcat rushed for just under 1300 yards last year, and has a pension for getting into the end zone, finding the promise land 13 times on the ground. Pead could be utilized as a goal line back or third down back, similar to the way Jacobs was early on. New York will need to replace Jacobs’ presence in the red zone, in which they ranked ninth in scoring percentage in 2011.
Once April hits, New York will need to make a tough decision on which running back to take if they do not address the need in free agency. It will be hard for the Giants to repeat as Super Bowl champions if they rank last in rushing yards again next season.
Chester Baker is a student at Fordham University in Pennsylvania and an acting intern at Sports Media 101. The views and opinions expressed by Chester may not be those of Giants 101.
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