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Position review: Can Paul Perkins be the featured running back?

Do the Giants need to find a lead back, or do they already have one?

NFL: New York Giants at Pittsburgh Steelers
Paul Perkins
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Giants did not run the ball well enough in 2016. They finished 29th in the NFL in rushing yards per game (88.2) and 30th in yards per carry (3.5). Is that because the backs weren’t good enough? Was the blocking of the line and the tight ends at fault? The play-calling? A combination?

Let’s look at the running back situation as we continue our position-by-position profiles of the Giants heading into the 2017 offseason.

2016 season

Rashad Jennings finished the 2015 season with a career high 863 yards, 432 over the final four games. That included 170 in the regular-season finale. Jennings, though, could not carry that success into 2016. He did lead the Giants with 563 yards rushing, but averaged only 3.3 yards per carry. As the season went on, he began to lose carries to rookie Paul Perkins.

Perkins, a fifth-round pick out of UCLA, gained 456 yards on 112 carries (4.1 per carry) and caught 15 passes. His vision and ability to make defenders miss with quick cuts excited the fan base.

Perkins had double-digit carries in all of the Giants’ final five games.

Shane Vereen’s pass-catching ability was missed by the Giants as he played in only five gsmes, twice landing on IR with a torn triceps. Orleans Darkwa carried 30 times for 111 yards (3.7 yards per carry) before landing on IR with a leg injury. Darkwa, even though he had some success, never seemed like a player destined to be a big part of the offense. Bobby Rainey was used mostly in pass-catching situations when Vereen was out and had 20 receptions.

2017 free agents

Bobby Rainey (Unrestricted)
Orleans Darkwa (Restricted)
George Winn (Restricted)

Offseason decisions to make

First and foremost, is Perkins their featured back entering 2017? How the Giants answer that question will go a long way toward determining what their stable of running backs looks like next season.

Will Jennings be back? He will be 32 next season, has never been a 1,000-yard rusher, isn’t explosive and can’t carry a running game as the No. 1 guy. He is, however, an adequate player and good locker room presence. Will the Giants bring him back at a salary of roughly $3.06 million next season, or cut him and save $2.5 million in cap space?

Is Darkwa, who has shown flashes of being a capable runner when given a chance, ever going to be looked at as more than a spare part who contributes on special teams? Is he even going to have a place on the team next season?

Would the Giants go so far as to cut Vereen? He carries a $4.9 million cap hit next season and the Giants could save roughly $3.7 million by releasing him.

Draft/FA priority level

Medium. This is strictly my view, but I don’t see it as an absolute necessity that the Giants spend a high pick on a running back in the 2017 NFL Draft. I believe that Perkins combined with Darkwa, Jennings or a low-cost veteran power back signed via free agency could handle the running chores. The real key to fixing the running game is upgrading the blocking.

Anyone who has been reading Big Blue View for a long time understands that I’m not a fan of using first-round picks on running backs, though I’m less inclined to hate the idea in the late stages of Round 1. In the case of the Giants and the upcoming draft, if the value is there I would much prefer to see a first-round pick used on an offensive lineman or tight end. If, however, the Giants believe a back like Christian McCaffrey of Stanford is the player who would be the most significant upgrade to the offense, so be it.