Paul Perkins. Andre Williams. Orleans Darkwa. Maybe even undrafted free agent Marshaun Coprich. Who will be the New York Giants' running back of the future? Shoot, everybody seems to be in a hurry to figure out who the team's next featured back will be. Yet the featured back of the present, Rashad Jennings, is still around, still productive and still working to prove wrong those who have doubted him throughout his career.
Let's take a look at Jennings as we continue our series of player-by-player profiles of the 90-man roster the Giants will bring to training camp.
2015 Season in Review
Statistically, 2015 was the best year of Jennings' seven-year NFL career. He established career highs in rushing attempts (195), rushing yards (863), yards receiving (296), yards per reception (10.2) and total yards from scrimmage (1,159). He averaged a solid 4.4 yards per carry, and played in all 16 regular-season games for the first time in his career.
Yet, at the same time it was a confounding, frustrating year for Jennings and the Giants' running game.
Handcuffed by a committee approach that saw the Giants split carries between four running backs for the majority of the season, Jennings never carried more than 13 times or gained more than 63 rushing yards in the team's first 12 games. Asked regularly about that committee approach, former coach Tom Coughlin always lauded the fact that the backs were healthy and that should one step forward he would get the bulk of the carries. Thing is, a system that rarely saw a back stay on the field for more than couple of series at a time did not really allow that to happen.
Finally given a full chance to be the featured back over the final four games, when it was too late to rescue another season that had gone down the drain, Jennings gained 432 yards, half his season total, in that stretch. He twice surpassed 100 yards, including a 27-carry, 170-yard game in the season finale. Overall, he averaged 19.75 carries and 108 yards per game down the stretch, 5.46 yards per carry.
The Giants ended up 18th in the league in both rushing yards per game and rushing yards per play.
2016 Season Outlook
So, now we get back to the idea that the fan base seems ready to put Jennings out to pasture like a race horse who is too old to run. Perhaps some in the media are also on that bandwagon. Even here, the case has been made that perhaps the best back on the roster last season was the under-utilized Darkwa.
A year ago, we often called for the Giants to downsize the committee and settle on a featured back. Despite the anxiousness to see Perkins, the Giants' insistence that Williams can still be a quality player and the idea that given a full opportunity Darkwa could prove to be just as good, Jennings has earned the right to have first crack at being that featured back While never an explosive runner, he remains a good runner, capable pass receiver and willing and effective pass blocker.
Jennings' time with the Giants is likely running out. He is in the third year of his four-year, $10 million contract. The guaranteed portion ($2.98 million) has been paid. Father Time comes for all running backs eventually, and Jennings is 31. Young players like Perkins, Williams, Darkwa and maybe even undrafted free agent Marshaun Coprich are lining up as potential successors.
If Jennings is ineffective early in the season, suffers an injury, or one of the young runners simply proves to be more productive then it will be time for a changing of the guard. Until he proves he can't do the job, though, Jennings should remain No.1 on the running back depth chart.