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90-Man Roster Preview: Can Paul Perkins Carry The Load?

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Giants counting on second-year man to be No. 1 back

Wild Card Round - New York Giants v Green Bay Packers Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The New York Giants did not run the football well last season, finishing 29th in the NFL in yards per rushing attempt at 3.6. That lack of rushing efficiency is not, however, unusual for the Giants. In recent years, inability to run the football with any consistency has been the norm for Big Blue.

In 2012, with Ahmad Bradshaw gaining 1,015 yards and Andre Brown averaging 5.3 yards per carry as his No. 2, the Giants were seventh in the league with an average of 4.6 yards per carry.

Since then?

  • 2013 — 30th (3.5)
  • 2014 — 30th (3.6)
  • 2015 — 18th (4.0)
  • 2016 — 29th (3.6)

In 2017, the Giants are turning to the young, elusive legs of second-year man Paul Perkins to see if he can inject some life into the going-nowhere running game, and take some of the pressure off quarterback Eli Manning.

Let’s take a closer look at the Giants’ 2016 fifth-round pick as we continue our player-by-player profiles of the team’s 90-man roster.

2016 Season In Review

Hindered by a league rule that prevented him from attending OTAs since his class at UCLA had not yet graduated, Perkins carried the ball only 10 times in the season’s first five weeks. The Giants began to give him more opportunities Week 6, however, and by the end of the season he had clearly surpassed Rashad Jennings as the No. 1 back. Perkins led the team in carries in three of the final four regular-season games, led in yards gained in three of those and tied with Jennings in the fourth.

For the season, Perkins carried 112 times for 456 yards, 4.1 yards per carry. Jennings averaged only 3.3 yards per carry. Perkins also caught 15 passes, showing the Giants he could be a receiver, and improved throughout the season in pass protection.

Why was Perkins, running the same plays behind the same blockers as Jennings, able to gain nearly a yard more per attempt? Perkins has the ability to put his foot in the ground and make sudden, spectacular cuts that force defenders to miss.

Perkins forced 16 missed tackles and averaged 2.24 yards after contact in 127 touches last season, a Pro Football Focus elusive rating of 28.2. Jennings forced 17 missed tackles in 216 touches and averaged 2.01 yards after contact, an elusive rating of 15.8.

“He really can cut sharp. He puts his foot in the ground and bursts through the hole. I like that,” running backs coach Craig Johnson said of Perkins this spring.

2017 Season Outlook

We know Perkins will open the season as the Giants’ No. 1 back. Head coach Ben McAdoo has already said as much.

“What he’s shown is that in our system, you need three phases. You have to be able to run the ball. He was an effective runner last year. You have to be able to catch the ball. He did a good job in that and you have to be able to block people because they’re going to try you out. I thought that he probably improved the most in that situation,” Johnson said. “Guys were testing him out to get to the quarterback and he held up very good in protection. He is continuing to do that. If you could do that, it allows you to be a possible back on all three downs.”

No NFL teams is this era expect a single running back to possess the ball 25 or 30 times per game week-in and week-out. Perkins will share the workload. In some respect, Shane Vereen, Orleans Darkwa and Wayne Gallman all seem likely to fit into the running back equation in some way. If things go according to plan, though, it will be Perkins who gets the most touches.

As Johnson indicated, Perkins has shown the Giants that he is capable in all three required phases. What is interesting about relying on the 22-year-old to be the lead back, though, is that entering the 2016 NFL Draft scouts didn’t seem sure the 5-foot-10, 208-pounder was an ideal No. 1 back.

In his 2016 NFL Draft Guide, Dane Brugler of CBS Sports said Perkins “lacks ideal body to take heavy NFL punishment ... has the light feet and quick-thinking moves to add another dimension to a NFL backfield.” Pro Football Focus said “Change-of-pace running back with the potential to grow into a larger role.” NFL.com said “If Perkins finds the right scheme and team fits for his talents, he could become a high-­end committee back early on.”

The Giants seem ready in 2017 to find out just how big of a role Perkins can handle. If he can be the lead guy the Giants have been looking for, perhaps for once the Giants won’t be at the bottom of the league in rushing efficiency.