Is David Wilson, the Giants' 2012 first-round pick, ready to break out as the team's featured running back?
The New York Giants underwent enough roster turnover this offseason that the need for breakout players is critical to their chances of getting back into the playoffs. The departure of veterans like Ahmad Bradshaw, Osi Umenyiora and Michael Boley means that younger, unproven commodities such as David Wilson, Damontre Moore and Keith Rivers will be counted on to step up.
The following slides will detail five Giants who are in prime position to make a name for themselves in 2013. We are only looking at unheralded players, so in order to qualify, they can’t be a rookie drafted in the first or second round (sorry Justin Pugh and Johnathan Hankins) or a player who made an impact in 2012 at the position he is expected to break out at this season.
Furthermore, to provide some intrigue, the players are ranked in order of how likely they are to break out—from least to most probable. Now that the parameters have been set, let’s dig into the list.
Adewale Ojomo has not disappointed with his play in preseason games.
Before the start of preseason games, Adewale Ojomo’s chances of making the 53-man roster seemed slim. As the 24-year-old has proven in his young career, though, he shouldn’t be counted out prior to the beginning of the fake games.
Last August, the then-rookie racked up a team-leading four sacks in preseason contests. Through two games this year, he has arguably been even better. In only 39 snaps, he has nine tackles with five for a loss, three quarterback hurries and 1.5 sacks.
He had a fine outing last week...but his work here was even better, chiefly because of his work in the run game.
His four defensive stops were something else, but the pick of them came with 12:56 to go in the fourth. The Colts, as they had often, were running a draw on 3rd-and-5 and Ojomo drove Bradley Sowell back into the running back before shedding his block and making a tackle for a 6-yard loss. More than a one-trick pony, the speed at which he beat Joe Reitz with 8:02 to go showed the kind of explosion that has me wanting to see him go up against stronger competition. Intrigued I be.
Elsayed touches on one issue with Ojomo’s play—it is largely coming late in games against second-, third- and fourth-string players. He has been so good, however, that it stands to reason he would still be effective against starting-caliber competition.
Ojomo is the least likely to break out because of the competition he faces to get playing time. He still has to hold off the likes of Adrian Tracy, Matt Broha and Justin Trattou just to make the team. If he manages to do that, Ojomo would still only be the fifth defensive end.
Continued declining play from Justin Tuck, however, is possible. In addition, Damontre Moore is only a rookie, and Jason Pierre-Paul may be limited in the early going due to offseason back surgery.
It is conceivable, then, that Ojomo could carve out some playing time. If he does, the talent is there for him to make an impact—both by getting to the quarterback and performing well against the run.
While Ojomo has been strong in preseason action, Damontre Moore owns the best performance by a Giants defensive player in a single game so far.
The third-round draft pick out of Texas A&M didn’t have a sack against the Pittsburgh Steelers on August 10, but his play was dominant nonetheless. The four tackles, three quarterback hurries and one hit only tell half the story. Moore demonstrated an ability to disrupt all facets of the Steelers offense and special teams in that game and did it against better competition than Ojomo.
Unfortunately for Moore, he was unable to suit up against the Colts due to a shoulder injury. A spot on the roster is secure, however, and due to the uncertainty surrounding Tuck and Pierre-Paul, he’ll have a chance to play quite a bit right from Week 1.
Moore will likely have some setbacks due to his rookie status, but his college production (45 tackles for a loss, 26.5 sacks and eight forced fumbles against Big 12 and SEC competition in only three seasons) and his NFL first impression suggest he will be productive in 2013.
He has better breakout potential than Ojomo because he is ahead of him on the depth chart and is a lock to make the team.
Injuries have been Keith Rivers' biggest downfall in his five-year NFL career.
Keith Rivers is widely considered a bust, but that depiction of the outside linebacker, who was selected ninth overall in the 2008 draft, is not entirely accurate.
The 27-year-old has been injury-prone, missing 32 of a possible 80 games, including all of the 2011 season. When Rivers has played, though, he has certainly demonstrated an ability to be a good NFL player.
For instance, in 2009 and 2010 with the Cincinnati Bengals, Rivers achieved a 5.5 and 6.7 Pro Football Focus rating (subscription required), respectively, as an outside linebacker in each of those seasons. When healthy, he demonstrates excellent closing speed, and his size (6’2”, 235 lbs) allows him to be competitive in the trash.
He’ll have a chance this year to be a three-down linebacker, with Boley gone and no better option available to challenge him for a starting spot.
He’s never played more than 528 snaps in a single season, so whether he can handle 800-1,000 (the normal workload for a full-time linebacker) without getting hurt is questionable.
Unlike Ojomo and Moore, there are no obstacles to playing time, so his chances for a breakout season are automatically better. Staying healthy is the key, but Rivers at least admits he has a problem. He also put an emphasis on gaining flexibility this offseason, through yoga and cardio work, as a way to avoid injury. We’ll see if his realistic mindset and regimen change pay dividends.
Rueben Randle had a highlight-filled rookie season even though he only managed 19 receptions for 298 yards. He racked up 82 yards on six catches in his first career start against the Cleveland Browns, had 40-plus-yard grabs against the Dallas Cowboys and Atlanta Falcons, and capped off the year with a two-touchdown performance versus the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 17.
Randle looks like he is ready to go from showing bursts of potential to being a consistent performer in 2013. The 22-year-old earned strong reviews during offseason workouts from the likes of Tom Coughlin, Eli Manning and Kevin Gilbride. He also should hold down the third wide receiver slot with Domenik Hixon, who had 567 receiving yards primarily in that role, now with the Carolina Panthers.
A season with 700-plus receiving yards and six-plus touchdowns is realistic for the LSU product.
Randle is ahead of Rivers because, despite the lack of a starting spot, he will still get quite a bit of playing time. More importantly, he does not have health concerns like Rivers, so his chances of staying on the field are infinitely better. It’s hard to be a breakout player in street clothes.
David Wilson's rookie year can't be considered disappointing simply because he was so good on kickoff returns. Still, he was drafted 32nd overall in the 2012 draft by Big Blue to excel at running back, and his work there was spotty at best.
He did average five yards per carry, but most of his good performances came late in the season. Early in 2012, he was in Tom Coughlin’s doghouse due to the infamous fumble against the Cowboys on opening night. The few chances he received didn’t help him get out, as he averaged 2.3 yards per tote or less in seven of his first nine games where he received at least one carry.
The starting running back role looks to be Wilson’s in 2013 with Bradshaw gone. Andre Brown will certainly get his share of work, especially around the goal line, but Wilson should average around 15 carries and 18-20 offensive touches per game.
His game-breaking speed and elusiveness excite Giants fans, but he needs to refine his game apart from these strengths if he wants to become a Pro Bowl-caliber breakout player.
For starters, his blocking needs to improve, though it looks like he is making strides in this area. The better he handles blitz pick-up, the more likely he is to be on the field, given how much of a premium Coughlin puts on this attribute.
In addition, he must become effective grinding out more runs in the four-to-six-yard range. He only averaged 2.7 yards per carry after contact last year, proving that he was not great running consistently between the tackles.
Along those same lines, he was too often a feast-or-famine player. A good example of this trait is the fact that Wilson accumulated 137 of his 358 yards on four runs. That means for his other 67 carries, he only averaged 3.3 yards per carry.
Despite these flaws, Wilson’s breakout potential is the best on New York. He has the opportunity, health and talent. A 1,000-yard season, several long touchdown runs and a high yards per carry are all possible for the second-year player.