NFL Free Agency 2014: Why Rashad Jennings Will Improve the New York Giants

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NFL Free Agency 2014: Why Rashad Jennings Will Improve the New York Giants
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The New York Giants were a mess at running back last season, their stable washed away in a flood of injuries, poor blocking and decrepitude. 

Andre Brown and David Wilson were supposed to be "thunder and lightning" last season, but it wound up being tears and sadness after Brown broke his leg before the season and Wilson suffered a career-threatening neck injury.

As a result, Brandon Jacobs had one last hurrah—including a massive game against the Chicago Bears where his career might have expired—and Peyton Hillis found new life. Jacobs is retired, and Hillis re-signed for a modest $1.8 million.

Wilson might return, but the Giants needed to address the position regardless. For the limited success Brown had—he did rush for 492 yards and three touchdowns in eight games, in the end—he is not exactly Adrian Peterson back there.

Hence, New York scooped up Rashad Jennings, who plied his trade in Oakland last season.

The Giants signed the 28-year-old to a four-year, $14 million contract on the first day of free agency, per Connor Orr of the Star-Ledger, shoring up the position right out of the gate.

NFL Game Rewind

The Giants will likely make Jennings their top back, per Ralph Vacchiano NY Daily News:

He figures to take over as the No. 1 back — a role he’s never had for a full season in four years in the NFL — and will split time either with David Wilson, if he recovers enough from neck surgery, or Peyton Hillis, who agreed to re-sign with the Giants on Tuesday for two years and $1.8 million.

Of course, Jennings is no Peterson either. He has spent five years in the league and amassed just 1,677 yards and 13 touchdowns. So how will this be an upgrade for the Giants?

Jennings has had a relatively minimal history in the NFL to date. He spent the first four seasons of his career backing up Maurice Jones-Drew in Jacksonville, where he wasn't going to get much playing time behind the workhorse starter.

Still, Jennings did well in limited duty.

Rashad Jennings' Career Statistics
Season Team Snaps PFF Grade Att. Yards YPA YCo / Att. TD Elusive Rating
2013 OAK 567 6 163 733 4.5 2.8 6 33.7
2012* JAX 336 -3.5 101 283 2.8 1.9 2 19.3
2010 JAX 323 -0.1 84 459 5.5 3.5 4 45.2
2009 JAX 170 0.2 39 202 5.2 2.8 1 30.5

Pro Football Focus (subscription required) — YCo/Att. = Yards Per Contact Per Attempt — *Returned from injury

His numbers might not blow you away, but the fact Jennings has been a backup for most of his career certainly has something to do with it.

Jennings has been quite efficient in three of his four healthy seasons. His aberrant 2012 campaign came the year after he tore up his knee, and he was playing on an awful Jaguars offense.

Removing Jennings' down season increases his rushing average to nearly 4.9 yards per carry. The only active running backs with a higher average in equal or greater games and rushing attempts are Adrian Peterson, Darren Sproles, DeAngelo Williams, C.J. Spiller and Jamaal Charles, per Pro Football Reference.

To put things into perspective, LeSean McCoy led the league with 314 regular season carries last season, a year after Adrian Peterson led with 348. Jennings has 387 in his career. Jones-Drew is exactly one day older than Jennings, and he has 1,804 career carries.

NFL Game Rewind
Jennings was spry before heading to Oakland.

The low mileage on those legs counterbalances the fact Jennings is past the usual prime age for running backs.

Last season was a good baseline for Jennings. He signed with the Oakland Raiders to back up Darren McFadden. The latter was predictably knocked out for a few weeks in the middle of the season, giving Jennings an opportunity to shine once more.

From Week 9—when McFadden was injured against the Philadelphia Eagles—through the end of the season, Jennings amassed 593 of his 733 rushing yards and all of his touchdowns. Based on his averages, Jennings would have easily gotten past 1,000 rushing yards and hit double-digit touchdowns had he been starting the entire season.

McFadden vs. Jennings — 2013
Player Starts Att. Yards TD YPA Rec. Yards Fumbles
Jennings 8 163 733 6 4.5 36 292 0
McFadden 7 114 379 5 3.3 17 108 1

Pro Football Reference

McFadden and Jennings played in the same offense, behind an offensive line that ranked 25th at Football Outsiders and 28th in run blocking over at Pro Football Focus (subscription required). 

NFL Game Rewind
Jennings showcased surprising power and speed on this run.

Barring injuries—not a given in New York nowadays—the Giants got better at running back. Perhaps Wilson will return and give them a change-of-pace back to boot.

2014 Projection: 265 carries, 1,125 yards, 8 touchdowns—30 receptions, 275 yards, 1 touchdown

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