The New York Giants will likely stick with a running back by committee for the remainder of the 2015 season. Running backs coach Craig Johnson confirmed as much on Monday.
“I think all of them have deserved to play,” Johnson said of his running backs, per Giants.com. “Rashad Jennings has done a lot of good things, Andre Williams probably had the best game of all the backs a week ago, Orleans has been consistent, so what I’m trying to do is give them all some opportunities and then the guys that really seem to be in a rhythm within each game, you try and give them a little bit more reps.”
Each back offers the Giants a different skill set for every down and distance. While Orleans Darkwa has arguably looked the most consistent between the tackles, he has not proved to be an asset in the passing game. If he can improve that aspect of his game, he is the best bet to emerge as a lead back over the final seven weeks.
The story didn't mention Shane Vereen who has excelled as the team's third down, pass catching RB. Even if Darkwa improves in his pass catching, he's not likely to replace Vereen in that role, but it could help Darkwa at least earn more time on the field ahead of Jennings and Williams. Other than Vereen in PPR leagues, it's probably a situation to avoid.
Giants quarterback Eli Manning spent an additional 30 minutes at the end of Thursday's practice throwing to running backs Shane Vereen and Rashad Jennings, who were lining up in wide receiver spots rather than in the backfield during the drill. With the Giants banged up at wide receiver -- Odell Beckham Jr. and Rueben Randle are nursing hamstring injuries, Victor Cruz is still out with a calf injury -- it's possible they could get creative in the ways they line up and use their backs.
Vereen's usage has been up and down this season. He had 12 catches in the first two games and then failed to register a catch (on just three targets) in Week 3 and Week 4. Then, against the 49ers, he caught eight balls for 86 yards and a touchdown in Week 5. Vereen should be a solid PPR start in Week 6, but he's not a consistent part of the passing game on a weekly basis. With Odell Beckham banged up, it sounds as if the Giants are preparing to use Vereen and Jennings at receiver.
He's worked hard to shore up the holes in his game, most specifically his ability to catch the ball, and his improvements have led to a significant number of first-team reps in training camp and in the preseason. It's not out of the question that Williams overtakes Rashad Jennings for the Giants' starting running back job at some point this season, possibly even at the start.
But Williams isn't thinking about that. He's focused on getting better. And if you watched him wait patiently for the blocks to develop on his 11-yard run in Saturday night's preseason game, you saw the fruits of another specific offseason focus.
"I'm just really working on staying patient this year," Williams said after Saturday's game. "Not just 'go-go-go' as soon as you see the first hole, but remembering what's supposed to happen and waiting to make sure it's time to go. That's not an easy thing when you're working at game speed, but it's important."
Williams has been watching tape of Steelers running back LeVeon Bell, who established himself last year as one of the most patient runners in the league. It was Jennings who worked out with Bell two seasons ago the story said. Jennings said several times last year that the biggest thing Williams had to learn was to slow down and be patient, trust his blockers and the play. It appears those lessons are starting to take hold. The author didn't rule out Williams taking over for Jennings at some point this season, which should peak fantasy owners' interests a bit.
It wasn’t only that RB Andre Williams did not possess the best hands, it was that he seemed to lose track of the football and displayed poor depth perception when asked to come out of the backfield to catch a pass.
The Giants are working on this with Williams, their muscular second-year running back and leading rusher from 2014. Williams figures to do the heavy lifting this season, with Rashad Jennings doing a little bit of everything and newly signed Shane Vereen used mostly as a pass-catcher and safety-valve option for Eli Manning after excelling in that role for Tom Brady and the Patriots.
Williams’ primary role will not be as a pass-catcher, but if he is not somewhat of a threat, opposing defense do not have to play him honestly. So Williams has made several changes to make himself more proficient.
In mid-March, he underwent Photorefractive Keratectomy laser eye surgery and now no longer needs contact lenses.
“I don’t have to worry about the strain from the lenses, and I also don’t have to worry about getting knocked in the eye and having my contact get loose or fall out,’’ Williams said. “If your contacts are cloudy or something, it’s a problem.
“It’s cool to wake up in the morning and see right away and not go to bed with the ‘I forgot to take my contacts out and my eyes hurt.’ It’s nice. Best money I ever spent so far.’’
Williams also has been working on his hand-eye coordination by catching tennis balls. Before games, Williams takes part in a blind-ball drill. With his back to running backs coach Craig Johnson, Williams has to turn and quickly locate the ball in the air as Johnson flips it to him. Like the story said, Jennings and Vereen are likely to see a bulk of the passes at the RB position, but Williams will only help himself if he can at least make defense aware. His main role looks like a change of pace back who could see short yardage and goal line situations.
Rashad Jennings took the initial running back reps with the first-team offense. That's not a surprise considering he was listed atop the depth chart and is likely to the team's top ball carrier as long as he's healthy.
But it doesn't mean he'll receive the most playing time. The more versatile Shane Vereen logged the most snaps during Tuesday's practice. It's been that way most of the summer.
Jennings did look good. On one play during 11-on-11 drills, he burst through the hole from around the 20-yard line (showing good explosion) and cut outside at the second level for what might have been a touchdown.
The article said that Vereen out-snapped Jennings 13-to-9, with Andre Williams checking in with three first team snaps. We rank Vereen significantly ahead of Jennings in PPR formats, but Jennings is slightly ahead of Vereen in our standard rankings. It appears that Vereen's role will go beyond what's typical for a third-down back.
Giants beat writer Dan Graziano on Rashad Jennings' rumored demotion: I did not see Rashad Jennings on the field with Eli Manning or the first-team offensive line either of the past two days. He did take a lot of reps with the second team, while Andre Williams and Shane Vereen got a bunch of the first-team work.
Now, I know the coaches really like Williams and the work he's done to improve this offseason. And there's a specific role for Vereen, especially on passing downs. I also know there is concern among the coaches about Jennings' health, as he's 30, missed five games last season and has never played 16 in a season. So it's possible they're just limiting his reps. However, if health were the concern with Jennings, I don't think we'd be seeing him take as many special teams reps as he's taking right now. That as much as anything might indicate a bit of a slide down the depth chart.
Friday Update: Jennings was practicing with the first team on Friday, while Williams was running with the second team.
Rashad Jennings is no longer the man in the Giants' backfield. Jennings, who looked like a bell cow running back early last season, has been seeing a great many second-team reps and special teams reps in camp. Shane Vereen, this year's free agent acquisition, has been drawing more first-team reps, as has second-year man Andre Williams. At the least, this looks like a backfield-by-committee.
Saturday, August 1, 2015, 6:48pm
“I think we have some talented guys on offense,” Manning said. “Talented running backs, guys that are very multiple at running back, catch the ball out of the backfield, move them around.”
Jennings and Vereen aren’t sure yet how the roles will shake out in Ben McAdoo’s offense. On Saturday, Williams saw some reps with the first team.
“I guess we’ll see,” Vereen said when asked what his role might be with his new team. “It’s still a waiting game. … I guess the role is kind of going to play itself out. The more we get on the field, the more practice we get, the more repetitions, I think it’ll kind of speak for itself, and the role will be cut out in some shape or form.”
Jennings wants all the running backs to prepare as if they will start and get the majority of the workload.
Most seem to think Jennings will get a bulk of the early down work with Vereen a pass-catching, third down back. Williams could see goal line and short yardage situations but did serve as the team's RB1 when Jennings was hurt last year.
JOHN SCHMEELK: Regardless of Jennings’ injury history, the Giants are going to split carries because they have three very talented running backs that all deserve to touch the ball. I expect Jennings to be the bell cow with help from Williams, Vereen to be the third down back, and for Williams to get a lot of goal line and short yardage carries.
DAN SALOMONE: Regardless of any injuries, I think the running backs are all going to see a fair share of carries this season because they all bring something a little different to the table. Jennings is an all-around back, Andre Williams is a bruiser, and newly-signed Shane Vereen is a third-down threat out of the backfield.
LANCE MEDOW: The Giants will likely split carries at running back a little more this season but I think it has more to do with the depth in the backfield than Rashad Jennings’ injury issues in 2014. With Andre Williams coming off a productive rookie campaign and Shane Vereen adding some versatility and veteran experience, those two will take away some carries from Jennings just like Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw spread the wealth in 2008.
All three writers seem to feel the same way: Jennings should get a bulk of the early down work with Williams a change of pace and short yardage guy, and, Vereen seeing a lot of time on third down. We have Jennings ranked 26th which puts him in the flex/RB3 zone. Vereen is 38th overall but will likely be rated higher in PPR rankings. Both Jennings and Vereen present middle-of-the-draft value, but will come with risks week-to-week depending on matchups.
Rashad Jennings ran primarily with the first-team offense. Free-agent acquisition Shane Vereen was mixed in constantly, especially on passing downs. Where does that leave Williams, the second-year back out of Boston College, after a strong rookie season? Williams might have trouble finding a role if the other two stay healthy. Jennings may even be a better, more effective short-yardage and/or goal-line back.
Williams averaged 3.3 YPC as a rookie (Jennings averaged 3.8 YPC), so the team probably isn't making it a priority to get the second-year back on the field. It appears that Williams will serve as Jennings' backup, so as long as Jennings stays healthy, he should see the bulk of the carries on 1st and 2nd down.
Get ready for a lot of Shane Vereen, the versatile running back signed as a free agent this offseason. Vereen seemed to find his way onto the field constantly, and was catching pass after pass. He's not just going to be a third-down back.
"He can be a quarterback's best friend in a way in the passing game," McAdoo said.
Remember, the Giants like to pass on first, second and third down these days.
Vereen’s arrival in New York puts a dent in the fantasy value of both Rashad Jennings and Andre Williams. Vereen has always been a factor in PPR formats, and the Giants have shown a willingness to utilize their running backs in the passing game (e.g. Tiki Barber) under HC Tom Coughlin. Vereen should post solid RB3 numbers in PPR formats, provided he stays healthy.
Tiki Barber racked up 164 catches in three seasons under HC Tom Coughlin. Coughlin is a defensive mind, but that's proof that he's willing to let his offense utilize the running backs out of the backfield. Vereen could push for RB2 numbers in PPR formats, but with Rashad Jennings and Andre Williams, the team's RB corps is pretty crowded.
Wednesday, April 8, 2015, 8:22pm
The emergence of Odell Beckham Jr. as a No. 1 wide receiver in his 2014 rookie season after Cruz went down is one of those reasons. The severity of the injury (torn patellar tendon) from which Cruz is recovering is another. And this recent study by NumberFire, which shows that Cruz's production was already in decline in the two years prior to 2014, offers yet another.
The story goes on to say a lot could still depend on what happens in 2015 - whether or when Cruz recovers, how productive he is in the second year of Ben McAdoo's offense, how he meshes with Beckham and Rueben Randle and Shane Vereen and Larry Donnell and Rashad Jennings and Andre Williams, all of the varied weapons available to the Giants on offense. This decision could be an easy one in either direction next February. But the potential is there for it to remain a tricky one, because of a lot of things that weren't yet factors when he signed that contract just two years ago. The Giants would save only $2.45 million against this year's cap if they cut Cruz now, and they have no reason to do so. But the cap savings jumps to $6.1 million if they cut him next offseason, the story adds.
Wednesday, April 8, 2015, 11:45am
Williams was partly victimized by an offensive line that lost way too many battles at the line of scrimmage, failing to open up holes long enough for Williams to exploit. Only one starting offensive lineman had a positive run blocking grade last season, per Pro Football Focus (left tackle Will Beatty at +6.1).
Williams also displayed poor vision in finding those holes and cutback lanes. At 5-11, 230 pounds, Williams is a bruising north-south runner with some giddy-up when he gets to the second level, but he had trouble grasping the patience aspect of being an every-down back. Instead of waiting a split-second after he was handed the ball for his blocks to materialize, Williams would often run straight ahead, knocking into the backside of his offensive linemen countless times.
That's not to say that Williams' rookie year was a complete lost cause, the story went on to say. He finally broke the 100-yard mark in Week 14 against the woeful Tennessee Titans, busting out for 131 yards on 24 carries and a touchdown. Two weeks later against a much better St. Louis Rams defense, Williams gashed them for 110 yards on 26 carries. Those performances give reason for optimism that Williams can develop into a nice complementary back in his sophomore season. But with Shane Vereen now in the fold as the likely third down running back behind Jennings, that leaves Williams' role this year up for question.
Vereen will serve as the team's passing down back, putting a sizable dent in the upside of Rashad Jennings, who averaged 3.2 catches (and 23 receiving yards) in the nine games in which he played significant snaps. With Andre Williams also in the mix for early down work, this situation appears to be devolving into a true committee.
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