Giants Sign Rashad Jennings
In a move that will not make David Wilson’s fantasy owners happy, the Giants acquired an underrated back with the ability to handle a full workload. That includes third down work, during which he led all Oakland running backs in rushes, rushing yards, receiving yards, and tied Marcel Reece with nine targets in 2013.
New York also inked Peyton Hillis to an affordable two-year, $1.8 million contract, and still have raw but talented holdover Michael Cox on their depth chart. Neither project to be major threats to take more than cursory nibbles out of Jennings’ workload. However, Wilson’s rehab from neck surgery is a situation to watch closely, as his potential presence would cause weekly lineup setting anguish. Jennings’ signing, along with the Hillis deal, probably put to rest speculation that Andre Brown will return to New York.
The Giants averaged a paltry 3.5 yards per carry average in 2013, good for 30th in the league. None of their running backs gained 500 yards, and old friend Brandon Jacobs led the team with four rushing touchdowns. The good news is they are attempting to revamp an decrepid offensive line that PFF gave a collective run blocking grade of -18.9. The departure of tight end and run blocking sieve Brandon Myers (-8.8) will do nothing but help in this area.
Speaking of blocking, new Giants’ offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo recently declared that pass blocking is his primary concern when it comes to how running backs fit his scheme. Jennings finished 2013 as PFF’s 13th best pass blocking running back (+4.1), and his grades have improved steadily each year of his career. Wilson, on the other hand, has struggled in this regard so far in his short career and must improve if he is to take appreciable playing time away from his talented new teammate.
Another area where Wilson has struggled, and cost himself playing time, is with ball security. On the other hand, although Jennings fumbled three times during the 2012 season, those were the only occasions he put the ball on the ground in his career.
While his overall 2013 snap percentage was just 56.7, Jennings logged seven games where he saw at least 75 percent of Oakland’s snaps. During those weeks, he was fantasy’s second highest scoring running back in both standard and PPR leagues, trailing only Jamaal Charles by roughly two points per contest. Overall, he was the 22nd ranked running back in standard and 24th in PPR leagues, although everyone ahead of him other than Danny Woodhead (182) had more total touches than Jennings (199).
Unlike many Raiders, Jennings did not pad those stats in garbage time against defenses mainly intent on avoiding big plays. Oakland spent the third most time trailing by more than two touchdowns in the second half of their games (16.9% of snaps), and led the league in garbage time touchdowns (9). Jennings scored none of those and only accrued 14.8 percent of his PPR fantasy points (25.8) while Oakland was getting blown out. He excelled on snaps where the defense knew he was getting the ball.
Prior to 2013, Jennings had fallen off the fantasy radar after injuries derailed a promising start to his career as Maurice Jones-Drew’s backup in Jacksonville. He missed 2011 due to knee and head ailments, and his 2012 was bookended by similar injuries. He did crack the 75 percent snaps barrier during two games that season and registered the fifth best running back fantasy points total during those weeks. It was a quick fall from grace for a fantasy running back who was drafted 43rd and 49th at his position in 2011 and 2012, respectively, despite being a backup to one of the NFL’s true workhorses. The disregarding also proved to be hasty as 2013 progressed.
Until the rest of the Giants’ running back room takes firmer shape, projecting Jennings’ workload with any certainty is a dicey proposition. However, it is exciting to think of what a back who has flashed serious potential at numerous points of his career can do with a heavy workload and the likelihood of goal line carries.
Jennings’ departure from Oakland signals an opportunity for Latavius Murray to take over a large chunk of the backfield work, despite the Raiders bringing back Darren McFadden on a one-year deal ($4 million). Forced to miss his rookie season due to an ankle injury suffered in training camp, the surprisingly agile Murray is a big back (6’3”, 230 lbs.) with outstanding speed for his size (sub 4.4 40-yard dash). The Raiders and fantasy owners alike are anxious to see what he can do, and despite the dearth of talent on Oakland’s roster, their backfield situation is another that warrants close monitoring.