Running back David Wilson earned himself a reputation as an explosive runner in college, as he rushed for 1,709 yards in his final season at Virginia Tech. Come September, Wilson will try to make a similar reputation in the NFL.
The New York Giants drafted Wilson with the last pick of the first round (32nd overall) with hopes that the former Hokie would improve their ailing rushing attack. New York, a team that has historically stuck to the “ground and pound” offensive game plan, ranked dead last in the NFL in rushing yards per game with 89.2 in 2011, according to NFL.com.
Even without a strong rushing presence, the Giants were able to make an unlikely playoff run on the arm of quarterback Eli Manning to become Super Bowl XLVI champions.
However, as Manning said in an interview with Dan Patrick, the Giants do not see themselves as defending Super Bowl champions. Instead, they have treated their offseason as any other team would; by making the proper adjustments to improve last year’s 9-7 regular season record.
In order to improve on last year’s record—which was barely above a .500 winning percentage, yet just enough to earn New York a NFC East division title and a No. 4 seed in the playoffs—the Giants need to address their biggest weakness, which, offensively, was running the ball.
Because of this glaring deficiency on offense, Wilson was not a surprising pick. In fact, Tampa Bay even leapfrogged New York on draft day to ensure the Giants would not take the running back they wanted, Boise State’s Doug Martin.
Since the Giants spent their first-round draft pick on Wilson, it would be sensible to assume that they have the confidence to plug the rookie running back into the starting spot on day one, if need be. It would also be sensible to assume that the Giants coaching staff will not hand the starting spot to Wilson given that they have quite a few members of last year’s backfield returning for 2012.
The departure of veteran running back Brandon Jacobs leaves a wide-open opportunity for Wilson, but he will have to compete for that vacancy with D.J. Ware, Da'Rel Scott and Andre Brown.
Of the three running backs previously mentioned, Ware is the only back that saw extensive action in 2011 with 46 carries for 163 yards. Scott, who was last year’s seventh-round draft choice out of Maryland, touched the ball only five times for 16 yards while Brown, most famous for his “I Got a Ring” song, spent the entire 2011 season on the practice squad.
With limited experience in the field, Wilson’s electrifying potential should be enough to make him the front-runner to take over for Jacobs.
Even with Jacobs out of the mix, Wilson will have to battle with sixth-year running back Ahmad Bradshaw for touches. Although Bradshaw has been New York’s primary rushing threat for the past few seasons, the Giants have successfully utilized a backfield tandem or trio since the retirement of Tiki Barber, the franchise’s all-time leading rusher.
If the Giants plan on improving on last year’s 9-7 mark, they will need to take some of the load off of Manning and place it on the shoulders of their running backs. If New York can get its ground game going, they will be able to control the pace of the game and rely less on a fourth-quarter game-winning drive.
Bradshaw, when not battling foot/ankle injuries, combined with Wilson will make an effective one-two punch. However, what will set Wilson apart from the rest of the Giants running backs is his elusiveness and unparalleled athleticism.
A huge part of the Giants’ inability to run the ball effectively was the poor play and inconsistency of the offensive line.
After left tackle Will Beatty went down for the season with a detached retina, Dave Diehl was moved over from left guard to take his spot. Both Diehl and right tackle Kareem McKenzie—who the team has opted not to re-sign for the 2012 season—resembled revolving doors at times, as faster defensive ends came flying off the edges and into the Giants’ offensive backfield.
The interior line was just as ugly. Right guard Chris Snee battled through the season with a sore elbow while Kevin Boothe filled the left guard position left vacant by Diehl. When center David Baas was dealing with concussion symptoms, Boothe moved over to center and second-year player Mitch Petrus was plugged in at guard.
The constant shuffling on the offensive line did not allow enough time for the unit to gel. As a result, there were many communication breakdowns and plays that resulted in a loss of yards or no gain in 2011.
Wilson, unlike his San Francisco-bound predecessor, has the ability to shake off contact in the backfield and turn a broken play into a positive gain. At Virginia Tech, Wilson became notorious for finding an opening even if it was not where the original play was designed to go.
At the 2012 scouting combine, according to NFL.com, Wilson was clocked at 4.49 seconds for the 40-yard dash and 4.12 seconds for the 20-yard shuttle. That type of speed and agility gives Wilson the ability to reverse the field, like he did against Clemson on October 1.
If Bradshaw’s fragile feet do not hold up all season, New York will be in good hands with Wilson carrying the ball. His backfield dancing may provide a few early season headaches for head coach Tom Coughlin, but Wilson’s value will increase as he becomes more accustomed to running between the tackles as the season goes on.