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Giants choose Andre Williams, nation's leading rusher

Boston College running back Andre Williams (44) is

Boston College running back Andre Williams (44) is tackled for a loss by Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o during the first half. (Nov. 19, 2011) Credit: AP

A few years ago, a player who led the nation in rushing yards and was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy would have been a first-round pick for sure.

But the running back position has been devalued when it comes to the NFL draft, with teams believing they can find treasures at the position in later rounds and not feeling the need to spend so much on players whose shelf lives are limited at best.

So it's not surprising that Boston College's Andre Williams was available with the 113th overall pick in this year's draft. And given his production, personality and pedigree from one of their favorite picking grounds, it's also not surprising that the Giants made him their fourth-round selection.

"The trend might be for [running backs] to go later on in the draft, but I think they're just as valuable to an offense," Williams said. "There's no other position that is called upon to protect the quarterback, convert downs in hard situations and control the clock. I think the running back is just as valuable as it was back in the day."

The Giants have had mixed results picking running backs in the fourth round in recent years. Brandon Jacobs was a fourth-round pick and had one of the top careers in Giants history. Andre Brown also was a fourth-rounder. He had some fine moments with the Giants, but his career will always be marked by his injuries, not his carries.

Now here comes Williams, listed at 5-11 and 230 pounds, a thundering bruiser of a back who will complement recently signed Rashad Jennings and, if he's available to them, David Wilson.

"We're still hoping that David Wilson comes back," general manager Jerry Reese said of the 2012 first-rounder -- at this point the last running back taken in the first round -- who underwent neck surgery this offseason. "But we said out of the gate that we weren't going to count on that until the doctors say he can practice full contact. We think he's going to be there, but we couldn't pass up a value like this."

Williams ran for 2,177 yards in 2013, the first FBS player to reach 2,000 yards since 2007. During a three-game stretch in November, he scored six touchdowns and ran 104 times for 897 yards. He carried the ball a staggering 355 times in 2013, something Tom Coughlin said was discussed as a possible detriment.

"It was good for me to get that many carries," Williams said. "My body is built for it. I'm 230 pounds, so it doesn't really faze me to take that many carries. It was a lot of fun doing it."

Notes & quotes: The Giants made three other picks on Saturday, all on defense. They used fifth-rounders on San Diego State safety Nat Berhe and USC linebacker Devon Kennard and a sixth-rounder on Notre Dame cornerback Bennett Jackson. Berhe projects to play the third safety role for the Giants as a hybrid linebacker. Reese called him a "tackling machine" and Berhe downplayed his perceived lack of size (he is 5-10, 200 pounds). "I try to be the biggest and the baddest dude out there every time," he said. "I play with a lot of emotion and a lot of anger and I try to take peoples' heads off." . . . Jackson, a native of Hazlet, N.J., said he didn't necessarily have a favorite NFL team growing up. "I always liked the Giants," he said. "I hated the Jets, so I guess it worked out in my favor." . . . Coughlin said Eli Manning is progressing from ankle surgery and might be able to participate in spring OTAs and minicamp on a limited basis. "As long as he's feeling good and there is no setback,'' Coughlin said, "then, in moderation, he's allowed to practice."


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