New York’s offensive backfield will undergo a changing of the guard this season, as Ahmad Bradshaw—a contributor on the ground since 2007, the teams’ featured running back since 2010—is without a team after the Giants terminated his contract back in February.
Although Bradshaw missed a lot of time with injury, he was a tough runner that would push through pain when the team needed him most, as he proved in back-to-back wins against Cleveland in Week 4 (30 rushes, 200 yards, 1 TD) and San Francisco in Week 5 (27 rushes, 116 yards, 1 TD). Bradshaw finished the 2012 season with 1,015 yards and six touchdowns on 221 attempts.
The two running backs expected to shoulder the majority of the load Bradshaw leaves behind are David Wilson, an electrifying track star, and Andre Brown, a brittle bruiser.
As a former first-round selection, Wilson is the favorite to win the starting job. Head coach Tom Coughlin kept Wilson on a very short leash during his rookie season, but the speedster could enjoy some extra slack as the team’s top back.
In the last four games of his rookie season, when he saw the most action, Wilson maintained an average of 5.7 yards per carry while also scoring five total touchdowns (three rushing, one receiving, one kick return).
The second-year pro will get to showcase his playmaking ability more often in 2013, as his role is sure to expand beyond kick returns and change-of-pace carries.
While he may have explosive ability, Wilson will only reach his full potential if he can become a trusted every down back. His biggest improvement needs to be in pass protection, but he also needs to adjust to a heavier workload.
Wilson will surely see more than 20 carries in some games, which will drastically increase the amount of hits he absorbs. More attempts also means more chances to fumble and greater risk of injury. In addition to being flashy, Wilson will also have to be a savvy runner.
After spending the Super Bowl season on the Giants’ practice squad, Brown enjoyed a breakout season in 2012. The 227-pounder excelled in short yardage situations, especially on the goal line. Brown scored eight touchdowns last season, while also leading the team with a 5.3 yards per carry average.
Brown’s only downfall is his questionable durability. He spent his rookie season on the Giants’ injured reserve, recovering from a torn Achilles’ tendon.
Injuries prevented Brown from making an impact in 2010, regardless of the city or team he was suiting up for. Even during his breakout 2012 season, head and shoulder injuries—as well as a broken leg, which ended his season prematurely—hampered Brown’s production. Unless Brown shakes the injury bug, he won’t be a permanent fixture in the Giants’ offensive backfield.
Third-year running back, Da’Rel Scott, and several other members of the 2011 draft class will be in a make-or-break year this season. Scott has great straight-line speed, but he hasn’t had much of a chance to unleash it on Sundays.
The former seventh-rounder surrendered his kick return duties last season and spent the last 10 weeks of the season on injured reserve to make room for defensive tackle Chris Canty, who was returning from the physically unable to perform list. If Scott is equally expendable in 2013, the Giants will simply cut him.
Michael Cox, a rookie running back from the University of Massachusetts, poses interesting potential as a ball carrier. The seventh-round selection weighs in at 220 pounds, but his ability has gone almost untapped. After three quiet seasons with the Michigan Wolverines, Cox transferred to UMass and collected 710 yards on just 198 touches during his senior season. He may have the freshest legs of any running back in camp.
Former Washington Redskin Ryan Torain and undrafted free agent Jeremy Wright are long shots to make the 53-man roster at the end of camp.
Torain had one strong season with the ‘Skins in which he rushed for over 700 yards and four touchdowns. Wright led the Louisville Cardinals in rushing last season but waived his final year of collegiate eligibility.
The Giants’ running back situation is far from set in stone. Wilson’s offseason development is unknown, Brown’s durability is in question, and those beneath them on the depth chart are largely untested.
One of the underdog backs could work his way up the ranks through impressive play on special teams. The Giants have many options at running back, but none are particularly experienced. A veteran back could be added to the unit—possibly even Bradshaw—before camp ends.