Even with the regular season nearly four months away, it's not hard to envision New York Giants fourth-round pick Andre Williams carving out a role for himself in 2014.
The running back from Boston College joins a crowded yet largely unproven backfield that, if it gels, could play a major role in returning the Giants to the NFL playoffs. Rashad Jennings was signed as a free agent after spending 2013 with the Oakland Raiders, and he might be the presumptive starter. David Wilson, who was limited to five games in 2013 due to a neck injury, is expected to be cleared for training camp and could add a layer of explosiveness to the offense -- should he remain out of Tom Coughlin's doghouse. Peyton Hillis also remains in the fold after appearing in seven games last year. Additionally, Michael Cox and Kendall Gaskins could also make the team for depth.
Enter Williams, a 5-foot-11, 230-pound workhorse who won the 2013 Doak Walker Award as college football's top running back and also finished the season as a Heisman Trophy finalist. The Poughkeepsie native rushed for 3,739 yards and 28 touchdowns in four seasons at Boston College, averaging 5.3 yards per carry along the way. Clearly a strong power rusher, Williams also has impressive vision and pass-blocking skills that could get him onto the field early as a rookie.
"I think the opportunity is just to come in and compete and get better," Williams said. "Being around the guys in my circle, the running back group, and the whole offense as a whole, everybody’s really together, there’s a good feeling in the locker room about the offense. I think it’s just an opportunity to compete and get better.
"I’m just glad I ended up here because I think it’s the perfect fit for me."
Since signing his rookie contract last week, Williams said he's been focusing on fundamentals, particularly cleaning up those pass-protection skills. If Jennings is indeed the starter, Wilson remains a question mark between his health and ball-security issues, while Hills and the remaining running backs are unproven in New York.
Dating back to the days of Brandon Jacobs, Reuben Droughns and Derrick Ward in 2007 and the subsequent few years with Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw, the Giants have enjoyed a tandem attack with their running backs. That could very well be the ticket to Williams getting on the field.
"I can’t really say how they’re going to build that three-headed monster," Williams said. "I’m not really too sure yet, I’m just getting here and learning as much as I can, but I think that each running back brings a lot of different specialties to the table and I’m just excited to see what we’ll be able to do on the field."
Immediately after drafting Williams, the Giants touted him as a runner who was just too good to pass up. General manager Jerry Reese admitted New York actually had a second-round grade on Williams. Even if Wilson was progressing nicely through his rehab, the Giants were never going to pass up value at the running back position.
"He’s got a lot of carries under his belt and the thing about it, he comes through the line of scrimmage and 22 eyes are looking at him and he still rushes for 2,000 yards," Reese said of Williams. "We’re very impressed with that and, again, this is the kind of guy that if you want to pound the rock, this is the kind of guy you can pound the rock with. If you get up in a game and you’re trying to run the clock out in that four-minute drill at the end, this is the kind of guy that you can get the ball to over and over and over and he’ll get first downs for you."
Considering Williams' numbers and his proven smarts -- at BC, Williams was a teaching assistant, amateur poet and writer -- the Giants expect to give him, at the very least, a chance to pick up the offense and complement Jennings and some variation of Hillis and Wilson.
"You wouldn’t take a guy like that unless you were committed to the run," head coach Tom Coughlin said. "We’ve got to get going up front again and be the dominating force up front, which can move the defense."