Why Rashad Jennings Makes Sense for the Giants
I hate when people spell Rashad Jennings’ first name “Rashard”. Hate it. The only Rashard running back out there is now retired, people. The Rashad runner that the Giants just signed? He’s older, sure, but he’s ready to do some work for Big Blue.
Just a day after I analytically destroyed David Wilson for his awful 44-carry 2013 campaign, the New York Giants went out and snagged former Oakland Raiders running back Rashad Jennings from free agency. Though it's not officially a done deal, Jennings tweeted that he was flying to New York to sign the new contract.
It will be Jennings’ third team, as the veteran has played five years in the league, mostly for the Jacksonville Jaguars behind Maurice Jones-Drew. However, Jennings hasn’t been a season-long feature back yet in his career, totaling just 387 attempts over his five (four if you don't count 2011 where he sat out the entire year) seasons.
While his role hasn’t been carved out yet, there’s reason to believe that this signing could yield success in terms of both real life and fantasy football. Just take a look at what the numbers say.
New York's Running Back Situation
The Giants offense ranked 31st in the NFL last year according to our Adjusted Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, only better than the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars (learn more about Net Expected Points). While most of that was Eli Manning-driven, finishing 31st in passing effectiveness, the team actually ranked 31st in rushing efficiency as well.
As I mentioned, David Wilson was horrible, putting up the worst Rushing Net Expected Points season total of any running back with no more than 50 carries since 2000 (1,139 instances). And after beasting in 2012, Andre Brown became one of the least-efficient runners in the NFL this past year, losing over 24 points - real points - for the Giants on the ground on his 140 carries. Only the Ravens running backs, Trent Richardson and Rashard Mendenhall were worse.
While you can certainly place blame on the Giants offensive line, keep in mind that Peyton Hillis and Brandon Jacobs had significantly better Rushing NEP per rush averages in comparison to Wilson and Brown – roughly the same situation, and the plodding free agent runners were able to outperform the more skillful running backs.
All of this is to say that the Giants needed someone – something – to improve their bad situation. And that someone was Rashad Jennings.
Rashad Jennings’ Underrated Numbers
As you’ve already seen, I’m not all that concerned with yards per carry averages and total touchdowns scored. Though I could certainly note that Rashad Jennings has two 5.0-plus yards per carry average seasons in his four healthy years in the NFL, I’d rather look at our advanced metrics to tell his story.
Jennings’ career has been interesting, going from backing up one of the best volume runners in the league to seeing production in a bad Oakland offense. It started in 2009, where the Jaguars runner saw 39 carries as more of a relief back for the 300-plus attempt runner, Maurice Jones-Drew. That year, Jennings was solid when called upon, ranking 29th of 83 30-plus attempt running backs in Rushing NEP per rush.
He saw more opportunity the next season, running the ball 84 times, an increase of 45 attempts from his rookie campaign. But he was better in Year 2, accumulating 17.33 Rushing Net Expected Points for the Jags, a number that ranked sixth among all running backs. Because of his low volume, Jennings actually ranked third in the NFL among 50-plus attempt runners in Rushing NEP on a per attempt basis.
Then the 2011 preseason came, and Jennings suffered a knee injury that took him out for the entire season. He returned in 2012 not looking the same, finishing 62nd of 72 relevant running backs in Rushing NEP and seventh-worst in Rushing NEP per rush. It was the first time he saw over 100 carries in a single NFL season, but it unfortunately came at a time where he clearly wasn’t 100 percent.
That season left a mark on most fans and fantasy owners. Rashad Jennings was no longer an effective runner when given an opportunity. Instead, he looked like a running back that had 50-pound weights strapped to his ankles.
But when you look at what he did last season with the Raiders, it’s clear that 2012 was a result of not being healthy. This past year, Jennings finished with the eighth-highest Rushing NEP total among running backs, ending the season sixth among the 35 runners who had 150 or more carries. He got the volume, and he didn’t disappoint.
Jennings’ 11.80 Rushing NEP total was the polar opposite of teammate Darren McFadden’s -17.49. While Jennings was adding 0.07 points to the Raiders output with each touch, DMC was losing 0.15. And of course the Raiders re-signed McFadden to a one-year deal today, letting Jennings walk. Of course.
Jennings can catch the ball out of the backfield, too, which was something the Giants lacked in 2013. In fact, Jennings’ 36 catches (mind you, he didn’t start the entire season) was only 22 off of the entire Giants’ running back group combined. And that includes fullbacks.
It’s very clear that this move for the Giants was a good one. Though today’s NFL inherently devalues running backs, the G-Men were lacking at the position – Rashad Jennings should be able to turn that misfortune around in a Giants uniform.