On Monday the New York Giants (and Giants' fans) got the news they had been dreading since David Wilson went down with a neck burner in practice last week: The 23-year-old is being advised to end his football career.
The loss of Wilson not only robs the Giants of a fantastic and passionate young man, but also one of their most dynamic offensive weapons. David Wilson has truly rare athleticism, combining speed, acceleration, balance, and agility to be a threat to score from anywhere on the field, any time he got the ball in his hands.
That is the sort of talent you just don't replace, at least not on short notice.
The Giants do, however, have to move on.
The Giants have been preparing their roster as if David Wilson wasn't going to be available. Their foresight, unfortunately, turned out to be needed.
In Wilson's absence, the Giants running backs had a strong showing in the Hall of Fame game
One of their first moves in Free Agency was to sign Rashaad Jennings. Jennings is a remarkably low-mileage veteran who can do it all. While he hasn't seen the field much so far in his career, Jennings has produced whenever he got on. At 230 pounds, Jennings has the build that defensive backs hate to see coming at them. He also has shown surprising quickness and speed. And while most big backs are bruisers, who tote the rock into the teeth of the defense, Jennings has the soft hands of a capable receiver.
In the fourth round of the 2014 NFL Draft, the Giants selected Andre Williams out of Boston College. Williams carried the BC offense and lead the nation in rushing in 2013. In his first NFL game the bruising back showed off a surprising burst and speed to the edge in addition to his obvious power.
Also on the Giants roster is Peyton Hillis, who Eli Manning showed a quick rapport with when he joined the team in 2013. Despite having plenty of power, solid hands, and capable pass protection, Hillis is also decidedly NOT fleet of foot. They Giants also have young second year men Michael Cox and Kendall Gaskins.
Cox is an athletic, if raw, runner who is explosive in short areas but his long speed is only average.
Gaskins was a touchdown machine at Richmond, averaging a touchdown roughly every 13 carries for his career. He has been praised as a fluid runner, but not an exceptional athlete.
There are a couple other potential options on the Giants' roster. First is Henry Hynoski. The Giants used the fullback to carry the ball a couple times against the Bills, and Tom Coughlin pointed out that Hynoski can play running back.
The possible issue is that none of these guys can replace the explosive threat that David Wilson brought to the field. Jerrel Jernigan could serve as that replacement. He frequently lined up in the backfield in college, and could bring something like the threat that Wilson did.
No Tom Coughlin coached team would ever use Jernigan as a running back, however McAdoo could use Jernigan in the backfield for screen passes or shovel passes, and create the athletic mismatches out of the backfield the offense is currently lacking.
If the players behind Jennings and Williams don't pan out, or the Giants decide that they want an athletic mismatch running back that can catch, they might look to the waiver wire as the rosters are cut down. There will be far more players on the waiver wire than can be listed here, however there are couple who's roster spots could be in jeopardy that also bear enough similarities to David Wilson to warrant a look.
Chris Thompson - Thompson is currently on the Washington Redskins. He is a small (5-foot-8, 195) scat back out of Florida State with intriguing athleticism. He has low 4.4 to 4.3 speed, and shows good hands and quickness. He has dealt with a number of injuries, which is concerning, but they haven't been to different body parts (knee, back, and shoulder). He has caught new coach Jay Gruden's eye, but the depth of the Redskins' backfield plus the drafting of Lache Seastrunk could mean that Thompson won't make it to Washington's final roster
Kerwynn Williams - Currently on the San Diego Chargers. Williams is roughly the same size as Thompson, and a similar player. He doesn't have the same kind of athleticism as Thompson but he is a natural receiver, and was even used as one at Utah St. in five-receiver sets. Williams is dangerous with the ball in his hands and scored 20 combined touchdowns his senior season. The top three spots on the San Diego backfield are set, and Williams could find himself without a roster spot.
Henry Josey - Currently on the Philadelphia Eagles. Josey is a rookie out of Mizzou and was a top performer in the 40 yard dash, short shuttle, 3-cone drill, and bench press at the 2014 NFL scouting combine. Josey suffered a gruesome knee injury in 2011, but averaged a very strong 7.4 yards per carry over the 2012 and 2013 seasons. He also ran for over 1,000 yards without a fumble in 2013.
With Wilson walking away from the NFL, the Giants could look at the running back position at some point in the 2015 NFL draft.
Like the NFL, the college season hasn't started yet. However there are a couple names to keep an eye on.
Mike Davis (South Carolina) - Davis is Marcus Lattimore's successor at South Carolina, and is making a name for himself. In 2013 he averaged 5.8 yard per carry with 11 touch downs, and caught 34 passes for 352 yards. He runs with impressive power, vision, and speed. Davis is one of the candidates to be a first round pick. However with a season yet to play and the sliding value of running backs, it is possible that Davis could slide to the second day of the draft.
Duke Johnson (Miami) - Johnson is a smaller back, but one of the most dangerous big play threats in college football. He has averaged well over 6 yards per carry and is a threat to take it to the house every time he touches the ball. Johnson is a capable receiver as well as a dangerous kick returner, averaging 31 yards per return with two TDs for his career. Surprisingly, for a smaller back who's game depends on his speed and shiftyness, Johnson is a pretty capable pass protector. Also working in Johnson's favor is the Giants habit of drafting running backs (and players in general) from the ACC.
The Giants, and Giants' fans, shouldn't have to think about this. Wilson shouldn't have had his career cut short by a freak injury.
But here we are.
The Giants have to move on from this, and have put themselves in position to survive it. In all likelihood the Giants will stand pat with their roster as they have built it. They seem to want a powerful, punishing running game, all of their running backs are now 220 pounds or (much) bigger. However, as Coughlin and Jerry Reese so often say, they will be evaluating all possibilities.