Over the last half-decade, the New York Giants have repeatedly provided their ever-loyal fanbase with mind-boggling cases of déjà vu. Not much has changed in 2012, as the Giants turn towards two offensive rookies, running back David Wilson and wide receiver Rueben Randle while the squad makes a final push towards the playoffs.
Wilson, the team’s first-round pick (32 overall) in the 2012 NFL draft, and Randle, the team’s second-round pick (64 overall), both saw limited action in the early weeks of the season.
In the Giants' Week 1 matchup with the Dallas Cowboys, Wilson got his first crack at becoming an NFL superstar, but quickly watched it slip away, as Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee stripped him of the ball on only his second carry of the game.
Although the rookie runner has made a name for himself on kick returns in 2012, the early-season mistake has crippled Wilson’s offensive playing time. The former Virginia Tech Hokie has only recorded 24 attempts for just over 100 yards through the first 12 weeks of the season.
Randle, a proclaimed “NFL-ready” receiver coming out of college, could not distinguish himself from a New York wide receiver corps ripe with highly-talented pass-catchers early on. Randle’s teammates questioned his work ethic, as the LSU product plummeted to fifth on the depth chart.
Short-term injuries have allowed Randle to flash his brilliance in spot duty—like the Browns game when he caught six passes for 82 yards with both Hakeem Nicks and Ramses Barden out of the lineup—but there have only been two games this season in which he was targeted by quarterback Eli Manning more than twice.
Now, with five games left to go in the regular season, the Giants need their inexperienced playmakers to help push the team over the final hump. If Wilson and Randle can show off some fresh legs and mental toughness, New York will gallivant its way into the postseason, avoiding an epic late-season collapse à la 2010.
The Giants’ current situation regarding Wilson and Randle should draw comparisons to the 2007 season, which featured the first of the Giants’ two most recent Super Bowl runs.
In that season, established running backs Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward predominantly manned the Giants’ offensive backfield, and veteran wide receivers Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer saw the majority of Manning’s targets. It was not until late in the season that rookies Ahmad Bradshaw (RB) and Steve Smith (WR) got their true shot to shine.
Bradshaw, a little-known seventh-round draft pick out of Marshall, did not record a single carry through the first 10 games of the season. But against the Buffalo Bills in Week 15, Bradshaw blew up for 151 yards on 17 attempts, which included an 88-yard touchdown dash. The Giants ended up beating the Bills, 38-21, clinching a playoff berth in the process.
Throughout the postseason, New York kept feeding Bradshaw the ball. The rookie collected 48 carries (208 yards, one touchdown) during the ’07 playoffs, proving his reliability in even the most clutch situations. His performance down the stretch laid the groundwork for his role as the Giants’ featured back in seasons to come.
Smith, a second-round pick out of USC, caught four passes in the Giants’ two losses to open the 2007 season, but he was nonexistent due to injuries in Weeks 3 through 14. He finally emerged late in the regular season and carried his momentum into the playoffs.
During the ’07 postseason, Smith developed into a dependable third down target for Manning, which was essential to keep many drives alive. Smith caught 14 passes in the playoffs (152 yards), including five in the Super Bowl versus the New England Patriots. He would later develop a rhythm with Manning so precise that it resulted in a franchise-record 107 catches in 2009.
Coughlin’s usual reluctance to incorporate inexperienced players tends to wear off late in the season; even then-rookie tight end Kevin Boss effectively supplanted veteran Jeremy Shockey in 2007. Under Coughlin’s system, patience is a virtue for rookies hoping to make an impact, as development and trustworthiness are prerequisites for playing time.
Wilson and Randle should keep this in mind as they come to understand their role in the Giants offense over the course of the next five games. They don’t need to be superstars just yet—that will come in time. Instead, Wilson and Randle should focus on building a foundation of accountability in 2012, which will allow their careers to flourish in future seasons.