Rashad Jennings emerged as the Giants’ go-to running back in the last few weeks of the 2015 season, but heading into 2016 there is no way of knowing how the large group of players will stack up.
And the reality is that one or two of the veterans who are competing for a starting job this summer actually could wind up not even making the roster.
Just how bloated is the running backs room?
Well, besides Jennings there is Shane Vereen and Andre Williams, the two other main players in last year’s running back-by-committee situation that never seemed to function. Vereen gives the Giants an added dimension as a pass-catcher who can even line up in the slot, while a slimmed-down Williams seems determined to prove that last year’s poor production was just a blip. Head coach Ben McAdoo has warned the media and fans numerous times this offseason: “Don’t count out Andre Williams.”
Then there is Orleans Darkwa, who, when healthy, was probably the best all-around running back on the Giants’ roster last year even though he was predominantly fourth on the depth chart. Darkwa is coming back from a leg injury that kept him out of most of the spring workouts, but he is expected to be ready for the start of training camp later this month.
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They signed veteran Bobby Rainey this offseason, and while he will be seen mostly as a special teams option and kickoff returner, he, like Vereen, can be used as a speedy pass-catcher out of the backfield. The Giants also have undrafted rookie Marshaun Coprich out of Illinois State, but he’d have to really dazzle this summer to even get a sniff at the roster.
Complicating matters further is the addition of Paul Perkins, the Giants’ fifth-round pick out of UCLA. Perkins has enough promise to be the best running back on the team, and there are some who project he will be the starter by mid-season. But the team doesn’t really know what he’s capable of because he missed the bulk of the offseason while finishing his degree.
“That four-headed monster [last season] didn’t scare too many people, I don’t think,” Williams said this spring. “I think this year, things will be a little clearer and we’ll be more effective.”
It’s just a matter of figuring out who makes it so.
The Giants also have a battle at fullback. Last year’s starter, Nikita Whitlock, proved his worth with versatility as a defensive pass-rusher, but even he admitted his primary job needed improvement. The Giants added veteran Will Johnson from the Steelers, and unlike Whitlock, his versatility remains on the offensive side of the ball. Johnson can line up at fullback, H-back, even tight end. And he is a proven special teams player.