For the first time since the summer of 2007, the Giants’ starting fullback job is not only up for grabs, it's also one that's simply too close to call.
Before I break down the pros and cons of the competitors, John Conner and Henry Hynoski, what's making this race difficult to project is that I'm not sure exactly how new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo plans to use the fullback.
There have been a few clues. Head coach Tom Coughlin, at the combine in February, told The Wall Street Journal (subscription or log-in required) that the new offense “will maintain a commitment to the run.”
He reiterated that sentiment in his press briefing with reporters after the conclusion of the 2014 draft, when asked about the team's fourth-round draft pick, Andre Williams, a running back out of Boston College.
“You wouldn’t take a guy like (Williams) unless you were committed to the run,” Coughlin said.
Just last week, Hynoski told Jordan Raanan of NJ.com that the Giants’ new offense is going to mix in a little bit of what the Packers have done in the past with what the Giants have done, which would suggest some power rushing is in the cards.
In scanning for clues by examining the Giants' personnel at the running back spot, there's a mix. Rashad Jennings is probably more of an outside-the-tackles kind of runner, while rookie Andre Williams appears to be mostly a between-the-tackles style.
Peyton Hillis is probably the receiver out of the backfield and possibly even the third-down back to start the year.
If the Giants can get David Wilson back, his ability to excel in space would bring yet another dimension to the table, perhaps incorporating some of how the Packers deployed their running backs in space.
There’s also Michael Cox, who probably has the best breakaway speed of the running backs, even though he also has the least amount of experience. Cox could fill that Wilson role until the 2012 first-round pick gets his medical clearance.
One other important thing to remember regarding the possible role of the fullback is that the offensive line is still unsettled, a factor that, if not resolved early into training camp, might require the fullback to do a little more blocking than usual.
So let's get back to the fullback.
Packers fullback John Kuhn’s touches have declined over the last three seasons. This is no doubt due to the emergence of running back Eddie Lacy last year, and in the year prior, a committee consisting of Alex Green, John Starks and Cedric Benson.
What does this mean for the Giants’ fullback battle?
In reading the clues, it doesn't appear that the fullback is going to be asked to carry the ball much in this offense, certainly not with the talent at running back.
However, it also doesn't sound as though every time the fullback is on the field that opposing defenses won't have to worry about covering him.
As I noted in a previous analysis, Hynoski (24 career receptions for 138 yards, 5.8 avg. with one touchdown) has more than twice as many career receptions as Conner (10 receptions for 49 yards, 4.9 avg. and no touchdowns).
In terms of drop rate (the number of dropped passes per pass targets), using data compiled from Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Conner (5'11", 245 lbs) has caught 55.5 percent of the balls thrown his way, with one credited drop every 18 pass attempts.
Hynoski has caught 68.5 percent of the passes thrown his way with two credited drops or an average of one drop per 17.5 pass targets.
Then there is a matter of each man’s physical condition.
Hynoski, listed as 6'1" and 266 pounds, is coming off one of his worst years health-wise, a season that saw him fight back from a significant knee injury suffered last spring only to have his season end when he fractured his left shoulder in Week 3.
Conner? He popped up on the Giants’ Week 12 injury report with a hip ailment but didn’t miss a beat and managed to stay off the Giants’ injury report the rest of the way.
Conner's prior injury history, per KFFL, shows that the most significant injuries were two years ago as a member of the New York Jets when he dealt with MCL and hamstring issues.
Now let's look at the perhaps the most important aspect of the fullback's role: blocking.
As blockers, PFF graded Conner with an overall 8.7 mark, the third-best mark of all fullbacks last year, while Hynoski, in 2012, finished with a 7.2 mark, ranking him fifth that season.
So how will this competition play out? About the only thing I feel comfortable predicting is that I don’t see the Giants keeping two fullbacks on the roster, not even given the uncertainty at tight end.
Other than that, this is going to be a wait-and-see battle that is going to be fun to watch unfold.