David Wilson, who suffered a neck injury initially thought to be career-threatening, has been cleared for full contact. The New York Giants running back took to Instagram on Monday morning to announce doctors had given him the OK to return to the field.
"Just got cleared," Wilson wrote. "#cleared for everything now the story continues #pocketrocket."
Wilson, 23, was diagnosed with spinal stenosis after being injured in a Week 5 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. The Giants placed him on season-ending injured reserve soon afterward, as doctors warned of possible long-term damage if he returned to the field, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.
Since Wilson underwent surgery, he and the Giants have held out hope the injury would not end the 2012 first-round pick's career. He lightly participated in offseason team activities and minicamp but did not go through any drills that involved potential contact. As training camp drew near, indications coming out of the organization pointed to a full clearance.
"We expect him to be playing this year, but that is going to depend on what the doctors tell us," owner John Mara said Thursday, per Conor Orr of The Star-Ledger. "So far, all signs are that he's going to be ready to go."
Bringing Wilson back into the fold is a positive sign for an organization that could use it. ESPN's Dan Graziano reported Sunday that longtime Giants guard Chris Snee is planning to announce his retirement Monday due to lingering injuries. Snee, a four-time Pro Bowler who has spent all 10 of his NFL seasons in New York, is said to be struggling in his recovery from elbow surgery.
While Wilson won't be able to help fix the offensive line, he can bring a much-needed extra dimension to the offense. Working primarily as a backup, he has compiled 504 rushing yards and five touchdowns in 21 career games. Wilson was nearing full-time starter status before he went down in 2013.
New York's current running back rotation consists largely of castoffs from other teams. Rashad Jennings signed a four-year deal to serve as the likely starter, and the Giants also kept Peyton Hillis around after picking him up in free agency during last season.
"We brought in Rashad Jennings and he's definitely a bell cow type of a running back—he can run it, he can catch it, he can block, he can do everything with it," general manager Jerry Reese told WFAN in June. "David Wilson is an explosive player, but first and foremost we're concerned about his health."
The Giants also drafted Heisman finalist Andre Williams in the fourth round. New offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo should have a solid stable of backs at his disposal—even if none of them are likely to be above league average as a primary ball-carrier.
Jennings rushed for 733 yards last season in Oakland but is 29 years old and has never withstood a full workload. Before that, he spent four years as Maurice Jones-Drew's primary backup with the Jaguars. Hillis' career has been on a decline ever since his breakout 2010 season with the Browns. Williams is a rookie, and Graziano recently reported he still needs "a lot more work."
The key to the rotation will be Wilson, who undoubtedly has the highest potential. The Giants expected him to take over as a workhorse when they grabbed him with the No. 32 pick in 2012. He's ironically the last running back to have been taken in the NFL's first round as the league continues to splinter the position into niches.
Remember this about Wilson: Coughlin said at NFL Meetings unlikely to use DW as returner when first comes back. Focus will be as RB. #giants— Jordan Raanan (@JordanRaanan) July 21, 2014
Wilson is the rare back with the talent to do everything. It's now a matter of his body holding up and his mind getting comfortable playing again after such a scary injury. It will be interesting to see how Wilson and the Giants choose to manage his workload in training camp and the preseason.
Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.