2015 Giants Salary Cap Series: Running Back

I want to start the Giants series with a position outside of what most people are discussing this offseason for the Giants and that is, the running back position. As you may have read, I’ve also really reexamined my own opinion on the running back position compared to a piece that I wrote before the season.

It’s not that Andre Williams and Rashad Jennings did a bad job for the Giants this year, they combined for 1360 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground, but if the Giants want to be great, they aren’t going to be enough. Many of us forget that the Giants went into 2014 with the idea that David Wilson would be a part of their rushing attack this year, but unfortunately he had to retire.

A backfield of Wilson, Williams and Jennings sure sounds a lot more dynamic, especially when you consider that Williams and Jennings averaged 3.3 and 3.8 yards per carry respectively and only 48 catches for 356 yards. As a team, the Giants rushed for 3.6 yards per carry, which has them ranked 30th, in front of only the Chargers and Cardinals. The Giants had 1603 yards as a team, which was 23rd in the league and 100 yards per game.

The Giants backfield only had 62 catches for 469 yards and zero touchdowns with Williams and Jennings having 48 and 356 of those. Le’Veon Bell, Matt Forte, Fred Jackson and Roy Helu all outgained the Giants RBs in the passing game.

The Packers don’t pass the ball to running backs a lot either, the Giants RBs actually had 10 more targets, but Eddie Lacy had 42 catches for 427 yards and four touchdowns himself this season, which makes him tied for 11th in catches among RBs and 6th in receiving yards. Eddie Lacy averaged 10.2 yards per catch, while Williams and Jennings averaged 7.5 or less and all season, I really thought the Giants offense missed having a threat to catch the ball out of the backfield, which hampered their ability to keep defenses on their heels.

In my opinion, Jennings and Williams would best serve the Giants as a supplement to one of the RBs in this class with superstar potential. I do think that Jennings could do well in the Eddie Lacy role for the Giants if he stays healthy, but I wouldn’t bet my season on it. Williams runs the ball with the same kind of power Lacy does, but he didn’t even catch passes in college, so I don’t expect him to take on that role as a pro.

Considering that Jennings will be 30 this season, Williams not being much of a pass catcher, and the depth of this year’s draft class at RB, I think the Giants should draft a running back in the third through fifth round depending on how they address their issues on the offensive and defensive line and who the best available player on the board is. I also want the Giants to have someone ready to replace most of Jennings’ production in 2016.

Due to signing Jennings, the Giants have a bit of a high 2015 cap number at the running back position at $8 million, but drafting a mid-round running back shouldn’t hurt them. Their cap number will also go down with David Wilson retired and most of his $2.1 million cap number coming off the books. I think that another million dollars will be freed up when the Giants release Peyton Hillis this offseason. If they drafted a runner in the third round, it’d cost them $608,484 against the salary cap, which is much less than the $945,000 they were set to owe Hillis in 2015.

Even though teams don’t have success signing RBs to multi-year contracts under the new CBA, I can’t fault the Giants for going out and getting Jennings because he’ll be the veteran leader of this group for the next couple years. I also know that the Giants had to go out and get someone last offseason with the uncertainty involved with Wilson’s injury.

Watching the Packers play against the Cowboys on Sunday, got me so excited for watching the 2015 Giants with another year to practice this offense.

I think that Aaron Rodgers is the best quarterback in the NFL, but with the weapons that the Giants could have around Manning in the fall, I think he could compete with Rodgers statistically and, in turn, lead the Giants to a championship with the addition of a few of the right pieces this offseason. The Giants skill position players they have signed for 2015 are very comparable to what the Packers had this year.

Beckham, Cruz, Randle, Jennings and Williams are a good base to build off of and with the right decisions this offseason; the Giants could have talent at the skill spots that exceeds the Packers.

Looking back at what worked during Super Bowl seasons, in 2007, the Giants had four quality running backs with Jacobs, Ward, Reuben Droughns, and Bradshaw. If I’m Jerry Reese, I try to replicate that in some way this year with the addition of a mid-round back and an UDFA type back. In 2011, Eli Manning threw for 1597 more yards than in 2007, while Jacobs and Bradshaw both battled injuries that season, getting healthy just in time for the Super Bowl run.

Thankfully for the Giants, last year was the year of the wide receiver and this year, it’s the running backs and boy, did they hit on their choice at receiver last year. Like I said previously, I think that the Giants should draft a back between the third and the sixth rounds. Some of the potential RBs that might be available in these rounds, that I could see fitting into the Giants offense, are:

  • TJ Yeldon, Alabama; (Projected Round: 1-3)
  • Duke Johnson, Miami; (1-3)
  • Jay Ajayi, Boise State; (2-3)
  • Javorius ‘Buck’ Allen, USC; (2-4)
  • Mike Davis, South Carolina; (2-3)
  • Josh Robinson, Mississippi State; (3-4)
  • David Johnson, Northern Iowa; (4-6)
  • Storm Woods, Oregon State (4-6)

In my opinion, I’d take whoever was available between TJ Yeldon, Jay Ajayi or Duke Johnson, in that order (but with Yeldon and Ajayi neck-and-neck), in the early third round. If they were not available, I’d look for Josh Robinson in the fifth or David Johnson in the 5th or 6th.

Those are the five running backs that I could envision doing really well in this Giants offense, but I also wanted to take note of the others in the list above because the Giants scouts might decide they like them better or they’ll find more value drafting them where they think they’re projected. When it comes down to it, the people involved in these organizations have much more information at their fingertips than we do, so who knows what they think.

For different reasons, Marshawn Lynch and Lacy are such unique runners that no one in the NFL comes close to their styles, but I’ve fallen in love with Ajayi’s tape over the last few weeks because of how much he reminds me of Lacy. So while I would take Yeldon over him, I don’t think Yeldon will be there in the third round, especially because I think Yeldon was the most talented runner in college this year. I know he had a down year statistically, but I’ve been in awe with the smoothness with which he runs since his freshman year and he has the attributes to make it in the NFL.

I do think that Ajayi could be available in the third round, so I hope that’s the direction the Giants go in, but his draft stock keeps rising. Considering the depth of this years class, I really couldn’t predict how the top running backs will end up being drafted.

If Ajayi isn’t there, Duke Johnson is definitely a viable option. With 2073 total yards from scrimmage, Johnson had a huge year for the Hurricanes. From a value standpoint, if Josh Robinson is there in the fifth round, he’d be a nice option.

Robinson is another guy whose running style is unlike anyone else’s, which is part of what makes guys like him Lynch and Lacy so hard to take down, they’re powerful backs and defenders aren’t used to playing anyone like them. As powerful as he is, and as low to the ground as he is at 5’9”, 215, along with the adversity he’s overcome to get to where he is today, I have a feeling that he’ll have a successful career.

The fifth draft option I see for them is David Johnson in the fifth or sixth round. During his four year career at Northern Iowa, he rushed for 4682 yards at 5.4 per rush and had 141 catches for 1734 with 63 offensive touchdowns. He returned 12 kickoffs this year and averaged 36.5 yards per and even got himself a touchdown.

At 6’3”, 225 he brings some versatility that the Giants could benefit from without depth at tight end. NFL Draft Scout even has his second position listed as FB/H-Back and that kind of versatility and the confusion that could be created by him just being in the huddle could bring another dimension to the Giants offense.

I also want to construct a backfield with the depth of what the Giants had in 2007, so I would pick up an undrafted free agent as well, much like they drafted Bradshaw in the 7th in 2007. With the amount of injuries at running back, you could end up starting a guy you picked up after the draft like the Chargers did this year with Brandon Oliver whose performance kept them in the playoff hunt when Ryan Mathews, Danny Woodhead and Donald Brown all went down.

I have two players from the Colonial Athletic Association who I think could be great investments for the Giants in Lyle McCombs from Rhode Island and Kevin Monangai from Villanova. (Having played in the CAA, I’ll admit that I’m a little biased as I have a huge affinity towards players from my conference because I know how much talent is in the CAA.)

As things are projected now, they’re both projected to be undrafted free agents, but neither of them are lacking in talent or ability. They also fit into the smaller, pass-catching pass role that Ahmad Bradshaw (5’11”, 195) had with the Giants in years past. McCombs is 5’8”, 175 and Monangai is 5’8”, 215.

McCombs was a freshman All-American at UConn before going to URI for his senior year. His season was broken up into two three game chunks by a broken hand suffered in practice, but he came back with a vengeance in November with an offensive line that had come together a little bit over the course of the season.

Against the #1 team in the country, New Hampshire, McCombs averaged 8.2 yards per carry while running for 115 and two touchdowns. He ran for over 180 in the first half against Stony Brook before they just stuffed the box and dared the Rams to pass in the second half, which they couldn’t. McCombs added a fantastic one handed grab on a swing pass that showed his natural pass catching skills as well. He’s currently 5’8”, 175 and will be a high-value running back option for whoever drafts him or signs him after the draft.

Kevin Monangai has been a three-year starter at a great Villanova program, but has flown under the radar a little bit because of the Walter Payton Award winning quarterback he plays with, John Robertson. Since his sophomore year, Monangai has rushed for 2991 yards on 564 carries for a 5.3 per carry average and 28 rushing touchdowns. While Monangai’s only had 33 catches for 250 yards over the past three years, the Villanova offense has never been big on passing to the running back as they always have a quarterbacks who can take off and run shown by Robertson gaining 1272 yards this season and 1562 in 2013. Due to the archaic way that college football counts sacks against a quarterback’s rushing total, Robertson’s net rushing yards the last two seasons is 2483 with an insane 31 touchdowns.

I know that whichever team gets Monangai will be getting a steal whose perception has been hampered by the success of his quarterback running the ball, which takes nothing away from him. With two 1000 yard rushers in the backfield this season, Monangai and Robertson combined for one of the best zone read pairings in all of college football, so much so that Robertson is ranked as a top-10 quarterback in next year’s class.

Monangai is benching 400 pounds, squatting 700 pounds and running in the 4.5s, at a squat 5’8”, 215, he’s able to get lower than the defender and power through him, but also fast enough to beat him outside. He reminds me of another Villanova graduate: Brian Westbrook.

MY TAKE: 

I want the Giants backfield to resemble a bit of what they had in 2007 when they won the Super Bowl. Remember, Ahmad Bradshaw came on late in the season with a 151 yard game against the Bills in Week 15, then contributed in the playoffs with 52 yards per game in their Super Bowl run. Remember, Derrick Ward got injured and didn’t play again after Week 12 in Chicago, so the Giants needed him to carry some of the load and he did it very well.

Many of the best organizations in the NFL have taken to the strategy of drafting their two current or future lead running backs in consecutive years, like the Seahawks have prepared for the likely departure of Marshawn Lynch with Robert Turbin and Christine Michael. The Bengals have a balanced backfield with two long-term solutions in Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard.

I also feel that this strategy mitigates risk, if one of your RBs gets a career altering injury or is a bust, you have another young back to fall back on. The Dolphins are glad they drafted Lamar Miller out of The U in the 4th round the year after they took Daniel Thomas out of Kansas State in the 2nd round of 2011.

I think the Giants should draft Jay Ajayi in the 3rd round, I don’t think Yeldon will be available there, but Ajayi’s similarities to Lacy get me excited about the possibilities for him in this offense. The Giants should sign another back after the draft and being FCS level guys, McCombs and Monangai will probably be available and will prove to be very valuable assets. I do think that the Giants keep Orleans Darkwa as I’ve heard a lot of positive things about him, but I think Michael Cox could be moving on.

2015 Giants RB Cap Hit

At around $6.8 million when you add in another million to resign Henry Hynoski, that will probably put the Giants below the league average spending at the RB position for 2015. With the amount of production I think they’ll get out of this group, they’d be getting major bang for their buck and their running game could help balance the offense and give them a bit of what they need to win another Super Bowl. And the Giants are due, they win Super Bowls every 4 years. 2007…2011…2015?

Agree? Disagree? Let me know what you think! Tweet me @ZackMooreNFL

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  • McGeorge

    Zack,
    I think a large part of a RBs success is the Oline. Upgrade at Oline and the running game will improve.
    I’m not saying the Giants wouldn’t benefit from a better RB, just that that alone won’t make the difference.
    Look at the Jets, with Chris Ivory. A lot of his yards come after contact. The Jets run blocking isn’t especially good, and with good run blocking Ivory would have better numbers.

    • BITW44

      I agree. The interior of the offensive line was dreadful last year, and consistently got 0 push in the run game. I think a late addition of a running back (rounds 5-7) makes sense, as with an upgraded line Jennings should have no trouble putting up solid numbers.

      • I agree with both of you, but I wanted to address running back first because the offensive line issues the Giants have are going to be a little more difficult to write about. I just got so excited about how Jay Ajayi would look in this offense that I wanted to write about it first too! Many of the Giants issues on the offensive line last year stem from injuries, I think a lot of their problems can be solved with just health AND drafting a big time, All-Pro caliber lineman in the first round. Thanks for the input guys, check out my next article as that one will be on their OL.

      • I also think you make a valid point with the later round running back, I just think Ajayi is the guy. If they do go later round, I like the kid from Northern Iowa and with the depth in this year’s class, some guys could fall further. There are like ten RBs that could start next year in the right place.