The New York Giants are trying to rebound from a disappointing 2012 season, and as they do so, it will be with a new tailback taking the reins in the backfield for Big Blue.
Technically, the starting job for the Giants at running back has yet to be decided, but just about everyone expects that second-year pro David Wilson will be the first running back to tote the rock for the Giants when the team opens the season September 8th in Dallas.
Former Giants star Tiki Barber certainly does. In fact, the Giants' all-time leading rusher told ESPNNewYork.com's Ohm Youngmisuk that Wilson has a chance to be a real star in the National Football League:
He is as dynamic a player at that position that the Giants have ever had. So it is just a matter of him learning those little intricacies of what it takes to be great.
I didn't have breakaway speed like he does. I wasn't the athlete like he is. I worked hard to get where I was. As long as he doesn't take that for granted and works hard on top of it, he can be fantastic.
It's an assessment shared by Evan Silva of Rotoworld, who calls Wilson "vertically and laterally dangerous, possessing natural elusiveness, an outstanding ability to beat first contact, and breakaway long speed."
That speed was on display numerous times last year.
Wilson gained over 350 yards on only 71 carries last year, averaging a robust five yards a carry while scoring five touchdowns. He also racked up an eye-popping 1,533 yards on kick returns, averaging nearly 27 yards a return and taking one back 91 yards for a score against the New Orleans Saints.
That Week 14 game against the Saints served as Wilson's coming-out party as a rookie. Wilson scored three touchdowns, gained 100 yards on only 13 carries and set a franchise record with 327 all-purpose yards.
After that game, Youngmisuk reported that wide receiver Victor Cruz was effusive in his praise for Wilson:
Oh man, he made some huge plays when we needed them the most. We watch him in practice just do amazing things, whether it is breaking plays or making cuts, that we only see guys that are Hall of Famers make. He definitely is the most athletic [player] on the team.
Given all that, what could possibly be the problem? Could anything stand in Wilson's way and stop him from joining the NFL's elite running backs?
Well, actually there are a few things.
The first is ball security. Wilson carried the ball only two times in his NFL debut, and after losing a fumble, he found himself squarely in head coach Tom Coughlin's doghouse. In fact, Wilson had only 16 carries in the Giants' first 10 games of the season last year.
He also fumbled seven times during his last season at Virginia Tech, losing four of them.
However, to his credit, the youngster didn't fumble for the rest of his rookie year, so concerns about his ability to hang on to the ball may be a tad overblown.
The more pressing issue may be Wilson's skills—or lack thereof—in the passing game.
Wilson wasn't used much as a receiver in 2012, catching only four passes. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Wilson caught fewer than half of his targets and had two drops.
Those numbers are going to have to improve considerably if Wilson's going to be an every-down back.
As will his pass protection. Wilson's blitz pickups in 2012 were spotty at best and the Giants can't have a missed block getting Eli Manning hammered. Running backs coach Jerald Ingram was highly critical of Wilson's performance in this regard last year, but Ingram recently told Youngmisuk that's he's seen considerable improvement in the offseason:
There are some goals that he has to accomplish for us, He's definitely on a better track than he was a year ago in understanding our protections and doing those kinds of things. I think we'll take advantage of his natural ability as much as we can.
Wilson is going to have to stay on his toes in those regards, because the biggest threat to his ascension is his own teammate.
26-year-old Andre Brown has shown to be a capable NFL back in his own right, gaining 5.3 yards a carry and scoring eight touchdowns a season ago.
Brown isn't ready to cede the mantle of lead back to Wilson. In fact, he told Ebenezer Samuel of The New York Daily News that he thinks there's room for both he and Wilson to have big years in 2013:
It ain’t like they haven’t produced two 1,000-yard backs before in the same season. I believe that we’re capable of doing that.
As long as we go out there and compete, the sky is the limit for us.
Brown is the thunder to Wilson's lightning, much more a downhill runner than a home run threat. At the very least, he will likely see some short-yardage, goal-line and third-down work. At most, it wouldn't be at all surprising to see him receive the majority of touches should Wilson falter.
And that's the thing. With a back of Brown's caliber nipping at Wilson's heels, there isn't going to be much margin for error.
As jaw-dropping as Wilson can be with a football in his hands, Coughlin isn't going to be shy with the hook if Wilson puts that ball on the turf or keeps whiffing on blocks.
The talent's certainly there. Now all Wilson has to do is back it up on game day.