Paul Perkins Can Thrive as the Lead Back for the Giants

Coming off limited action in his rookie season, Perkins can emerge as the lead back for the Giants.

New York Giants running back Paul Perkins finds himself in a unique position entering the 2017 season.

After the release of veteran running back Rashad Jennings, Perkins becomes the obvious candidate (for now) to fill the void as the primary back for the G-Men.

Perkins is entering his second year with the team and has shown flashes of greatness during his minimal playing time in his rookie season. The Giants will welcome this change with open arms.

What to Expect

Per Pro Football Focus, the G-Men had the 20th ranked offensive line this past season.

With this less than mediocre line, they were unable to get consistent production on the ground, rushing for only 87.2 yards per game, ranking them 29th in the league. By our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, the Giants ranked 27th in rushing efficiency on a per-play basis after adjusting for opponent strength.

This lack of running production has become a trend of late. Over the past four years, the highest ranking they’ve held in this category is 18th.

Year Adjusted Rushing NEP Per Play Rank
2016 -0.05 27th
2015 -0.0423rd
2014 -0.03 18th
2013 -0.14 32nd

Refreshing Change

On 112 carries this past season, Perkins made the most of his opportunities.

Perkins earned a Rushing NEP per carry of -0.02 this season, which was in line with the league average (also -0.02). That ranked him 23rd among 42 backs with at least 100 carries. By contrast, though, Jennings racked up a Rushing NEP per carry of -0.12, ranking 36th.

In terms of Rushing Success Rate, the percentage of carries that led to positive expected points, Perkins also outperformed Jennings.

This season, 40.28% of running back carries were deemed successful by this measure. Perkins (40.18%) was in line with that, while Jennings (32.60%) struggled in the same offense.

It won't take much to contribute more to the running game than what Jennings accomplished during his tenure with the Giants. In his best season, Jennings accumulated 863 rushing yards and never surpassed 4 total touchdowns.

The coaches gave equal playing time between Jennings and Perkins down the stretch, and the results showed just how productive the rookie running back could be.

During the last five games, including the playoffs, Perkins showed his dominance and outperformed Jennings in many statistical categories.

New York Giants' Backfield Jennings Perkins
Rushing Yards Per Game 41.6 60.2
Yards Per Carry 3.2 4.2
Scrimmage Yards Per Game 47.2 67.4
Touches Per Game 14.6 15.4

Perkins was trusted down the stretch and was given (slightly) more touches per game than his counterpart. Perkins proved his worth as he was able to average 20 more rushing yards and one full yard more per carry than Jennings.

Perkins also added more points through the air (with an 8.73 Reception NEP) than Jennings (7.43) despite catching just 15 passes compared to Jennings' 35 receptions.

If Perkins, who caught just 62.5% of his 24 targets, is able to haul in catches on a more consistent basis, he'll be a serious double-threat for the offense moving forward.

Playing Time

Throughout much of the season Perkins was second in line behind Jennings in terms of overall playing time, but not many people understood why. The talent was there, so why not play the rookie who was showing flashes of brilliance? The main reason for this was due to the fact that Jennings was an absolute stud in run blocking.

As Brandon Marianne Lee reports, Jennings ended the season ranked third-highest in run blocking by PFF grades. This was crucial for the Giants as they ranked 10th in terms of passing play percentage. If their offensive line troubles weren't already enough, the Giants had to ensure that their running back they kept in the backfield wasn't an additional liability.

Perkins improved his run blocking as the year went on, and as a result, he gave his quarterback more time for big time plays down the field.

Shotgun Running Scheme

Perkins shined the most out of the shotgun formation, and the Giants would be wise to continue utilizing his skill set this way. In this scheme he can pick up his blockers more effectively while also being able to explode out of the backfield.

Defenses are primarily going to be focusing on the Giants' receiving weapons in Odell Beckham and Sterling Shepard, so being able to run out of the shotgun formation will continue to be successful -- or at least necessary. Perkins has showed his ability once in the open field and the Giants should be confident in him moving forward.

Opponents will have to stay honest when Perkins is lined up beside Eli Manning as opposed to behind him out of the I-formation, and Perkins can be utilized on swing and option type patterns out of the backfield, making him an ideal threat in the red zone.

Perkins' Upside Could Be Limited

One player in particular that could limit the upside of Perkins is Shane Vereen, who is primarily used as a change-of-pace back and often comes in on third down. While Perkins has the ability to be productive in the offense, a healthy Vereen will undoubtedly limit the total upside of being a three-down back next season.

In 2015, Vereen was second on the team in receptions and set career highs in receptions (59), receiving yards (494), and receiving touchdowns (4). Vereen is entering his seventh season and, at the age of 28, is considered "older", especially at the running back position. The Giants may opt to continue with Perkins into distant future.

Perkins' upside could also be limited through the Giants signing a big-name running back in free agency. The likes of Adrian Peterson, Jamaal Charles and LeGarrette Blount remain unsigned, and Perkins isn't in the clear yet. ESPN’s Jordan Raanan reports that general manager Jerry Reese wants to add a power running back prior to training camp.

Whether or not this materializes is yet to be seen. Perkins' production will take a significant hit if a high-profile running back signs, and Perkins will still be the favorite to have the bulk of the carries if the Giants do decide to add depth through the draft.