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2018 NFL free agency: RB Jerick McKinnon a potential target for Giants

Let’s begin looking ahead to free agency

NFL: Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings
Jerick McKinnon
Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Giants finished 22nd in the league in yards per rushing attempt, 26th in rushing yards per game, 30th in rushing first down per game, and 25th in rushing attempts per game during the 2017 season.

Translation? No matter how you slice it, the Giants did not run the ball effectively last season.

The Giants’ leading rusher, Orleans Darkwa, is a free agent coming off a career-best 751-yard season during which he averaged 4.4 yards per carry. Pass-catching back Shane Vereen is also headed to free agency.

Promising second-year man Wayne Gallman will return, along with Paul Perkins, who had a disappointing 2017 season. The Giants could bring Darkwa, who will be 26, back. They could also, however, opt for a more versatile back who might bring more to the table as a pass receiver.

Enter Jerick McKinnon.

McKinnon is familiar to Giants’ coach Pat Shurmur. McKinnon is a four-year veteran from the Minnesota Vikings, and Shurmur spent the last two seasons in Minnesota before becoming Giants’ head coach.

Coming off a season that included career bests in rushing yards (570), receptions (51), touchdowns (5) and yards from scrimmage (991), the 26-year-old is hoping to find a team that will give him a bigger role than the part-time one he had with the Vikings.

“I want to be the guy,” McKinnon said. “I don’t put in all the work in the offseason to come back and be in this role. I appreciate the role. It worked out well, but I want bigger and better things for myself.”

Would the Giants give him that opportunity?

Why it would make sense: Because of the familiarity Shurmur and McKinnon have with each other. The Giants’ new head coach obviously knows what McKinnon can, and cannot, do. McKinnon offers speed the Giants could use, and his versatility as a runner and receiver is valuable.

Why it wouldn’t make sense: Because McKinnon might find himself right back in that same part-time role. He is 5-foot-9, 205 pounds and, while he has speed, has averaged only 3.6 yards on 309 carries the past two seasons. He has yet to really show he can be “the guy.” He is probably closer to Vereen, more of a third-down back than a guy you want to be handing the ball to consistently.

Spotrac estimates McKinnon’s market value at four years, $16.25 million

In its 2018 free agency guide, Pro Football Focus writes:

“McKinnon had flashed his potential at various points in his career, but he did a fine job maximizing what was given to him by his run blocking in 2017. The numbers weren’t great overall, but he posted a career-high with 2.6 yards after contact per rush, and he made defenders miss better than he had in previous seasons and added great value as a receiver. He may never escape the “change-of-pace” label, but McKinnon adds a versatile threat to any team’s backfield.”