As part of the release of the 2014 Football Outsiders Almanac, which can be purchased as a PDF or at Amazon, Scott Kacsmar of Football Outsiders recently answered several questions about the New York Giants. Some of those answers have already appeared here, and you can find them in our StoryStream.
Today we look at the last of the five questions Kacsmar answered for us. This one has to do with what the Giants can expect from running back Rashad Jennings.
Ed: Rashad Jennings, now 29, has never been a ‘bellcow' running back. Can he be one, and can you point to other examples of players who became featured backs this far into their careers?
Kacsmar:: Jennings was "old" for a rookie at 24, and he sat behind Maurice Jones-Drew in Jacksonville when he was still a great back. That explains a lot of the lack of wear and tear, and he performed admirably in Oakland last year with a musical chairs offensive line. After all the running back injuries the Giants have had the last two seasons, I think Jennings will be a welcome addition and he'll take on a considerable workload.
Jennings is 29 this season, which is when many backs start to decline, but can still be productive for a few years. He has 387 career carries for 1,677 yards. Stardom is not a likely projection here, but could he run for 1,200 yards each of the next two years? I don't see why not, unless Andre Williams is better than we think.
I tried to find some guys who had a large percentage of their career rushing yards come after age 28. MacArthur Lane got a late start in 1968. He rushed for 3,512 yards after 29, but his best season was a year before at age 28. He wasn't a workhorse. Christian Okoye was the man in Kansas City, but he too had his breakout year (1989) at age 28. Priest Holmes rushed for 55.2 percent of his career yards after 28, but he's yet another back with a breakout season at age 28. Technically, Jennings had a breakout year at 28 too, but we're obviously expecting a bigger impact this season.
The best example may be John Henry Johnson, who is in the Hall of Fame. Before 29, he had 357 carries for 1,672 yards, which is nearly identical to Jennings. Johnson didn't break out until he went to Pittsburgh and rushed for 4,370 yards at ages 31-35. That makes Johnson one of the best "old backs" in NFL history, but that was an example from 50 years ago.
On the bright side, Giants fans have watched the best of Tiki Barber late in his career, and Ottis Anderson revived his career in 1989-1990 at ages 32-33. This is one position where guys can be late bloomers. Opportunity just has to knock.