What Andre Williams' Emergence Means for the Giants' Backfield Situation
I won't bury the lede: in five of the past six seasons, the Giants have had not one, but two top-33 fantasy running backs.
Before I entice you further into the discussion of Andre Williams' emergence and its effect on Rashad Jennings, I'll admit that our math projects the Giants to have the third-worst offense in the NFL this year. So, if you're skeptical about the new offense in New York, then the running back situation may be a one you'll want to avoid altogether. But with two running backs with top-20 potential, there is a lot to discuss.
So let's get to it.
Williams, who is 5' 11" and 230 pounds, made his mark immediately in this year's Hall of Fame Game when he rushed for 48 yards on 7 attempts, and got the call from 3 yards out, scoring a goal-line touchdown.
In the two games since then, Williams has tallied 54 yards on 15 carries (3.6 yards per carry), including a disappointing 8-rush, 19-yard (2.4 yards per carry) outing against the Colts in the team's third preseason game.
Meanwhile, at the top of the depth chart, Jennings has had his share of promising games and concerning ones. In the preseason opener, the veteran rushed seven times for 23 yards. He followed that up with a five-carry, 85-yard output including a 73-yard touchdown rush against the Steelers before a poor performance of 7 rushes and 17 yards against the Colts.
To summate, Williams stole the show in the first game, the second one belonged to Jennings, and neither was effective in game three.
Objectively, it's hard to discern too much. Let's take a look at the deeper analytics.
Can Jennings Carry the Load?
Positional battles in the backfield are almost always intriguing, especially when diverse players are involved. Jennings (6' 1"), is two inches taller than Williams, and both weigh roughly 230 pounds. However, Jennings has shown nothing in his NFL career that suggests he's able to be a feature back for a full 16-game season. He's never played in all 16 games in his four years in the league, and missed the entire 2011 season with an ACL tear. Further, his highest carry total is just 163, which he attained last season for the Oakland Raiders.
In fairness, he did add a career-high 36 receptions in 15 games last year.
Rushing volume isn't his forte, but he's shown the ability to be effective even on the Jaguars and Raiders, evidenced by his Net Expected Points (NEP), which quantifies a player's productivity in terms of points added to a team's total.
|Year||Rushes||Rush NEP||Rush NEP/P||Successes||Success Rate|
In 2010, Jennings ranked sixth in the NFL in Rushing NEP (17.33) and second among rushers with fewer than 100 carries. On a per-rush basis, Jennings added 0.21 points to the Jaguars each time he carried the ball, ranking third in the league among backs with at least 3.0 carries per game (48 total). In limited volume, Jennings converted for four touchdowns and some promising advanced numbers.
In 2013, Jennings repeated a solid season in terms of metrics. He ranked ninth in the NFL in Rushing NEP (11.80) and second among rushers with between 100 and 200 carries. Oakland, as a team, ranked 13th in Adjusted Rushing NEP Per Play (0.01) and were just slightly outside the top 10.
In case you're wondering, the Giants ranked last and had an Adjusted Rushing NEP Per Play of (-0.14) a season ago. When adjusted for schedule strength, they lost 0.14 points per rush.
What makes Jennings the more certain bet for the lead role, though, is his (perceived) receiving ability (and Williams' glaring lack of receiving skills). However, his receiving metrics are disappointing.
Jennings has caught 30 or more passes just once (he had 36 last season), and he's never totaled more than 300 receiving yards in a season or caught a single touchdown, despite tallying 97 career receptions.
Jennings did post his best receiving season by far in 2013, recording career highs in receptions (36), yards (292), and first downs (12). All of these help improve Reception NEP, but his best receiving season gave him a Reception NEP of just 10.71. That was 32nd among running backs last year.
To be clear, I'm not arguing that Jennings needs to worry about Williams taking over as the team's backfield receiving threat, but Jennings doesn't have a pedigree indicating that he can carry the ball efficiently at a high volume and that his receiving ability might be overstated.
Can Williams Steal the Show?
The biggest advantage Williams has over Jennings is a proven track record of elevated carries. Despite playing for a pretty modest squad (Boston College) in a power conference (the ACC), Williams emerged as the NCAA's leading rusher last year, racking up 2,177 yards in 13 games. He also compiled 355 rushes last year, the most in the nation.
However, as with most stats, Williams didn't accrue these yards evenly. His splits against ranked teams compared to non-ranked teams are vastly different. In fairness though, Boston College finished just 7-6 and were outscored 107-55 in three games against ranked opponents (Southern California, Florida State, and Clemson), according to CFBstats.com. Expecting spectacular stats in these circumstances is foolish, but you'll see that he did basically all of his damage against unranked opponents.
|vs. Ranked (AP)||3||69||257||3.72||0||85.67|
|vs. Unranked (AP)||10||286||1920||6.71||18||192.00|
This may mean nothing, or it may mean a lot if Williams is subject to poor offensive line play of the 2013 Giants again this season.
Regardless of line play, it's wrong assume he would be used in such a high-volume manner, which would place him in a different role than he played last season. Since Tom Coughlin's arrival in 2004, the Giants have had just three seasons with a 300-carry back. (All were from Tiki Barber.) In his 10 seasons with the team, Coughlin, in total, gave 200 or more carries to a back just eight times.
So if Williams' workload is suppressed to under 200 carries, then he'll need to rely on either goal-line touches or receiving. I'll dispel one of those right away.
Williams, in 4 seasons, collected just 10 catches for 60 yards and didn't catch a single pass in his last season at Boston College.
It's in the red zone, then, where Williams would need to make his mark. And that's a good thing, because Jennings isn't much for touchdowns. Since 2009, only six other running backs have scored 13 touchdowns or fewer on 387 or more carries, Jennings' career totals. It might stand to reason that Maurice Jones-Drew played a big factor in snagging all of Jacksonville's touchdowns, but that wasn't entirely true. In Jennings' final two seasons with the Jaguars, 2010 and 2012, he scored six times. Jones-Drew also scored six in those two years.
Jennings just doesn't seem to be the Giants' goal-line answer, but Williams has surely showed an affinity for getting to the end zone during his collegiate career.
Is the Big Apple Big Enough for the Two of Them?
Historically, having Giants running backs on your fantasy team can be, at times, very frustrating. Coughlin doesn't seem to mind letting a spell back get some run, and Brandon Jacobs used to be viable based on touchdown potential alone. With New York's serious struggles last season, it may be hard to remember a time when the team had not one but two useful fantasy backs, but there is some precedent under Coughlin.
|Season||Leading Fantasy Rusher||FP||RB Rank||Secondary Fantasy Rusher||FP||Rank|
|2013||Andre Brown||73.5||52||Brandon Jacobs||47.1||68|
|2012||Ahmad Bradshaw||156.0||18||Andre Brown||97.1||31|
|2011||Ahmad Bradshaw||159.6||20||Brandon Jacobs||116.9||33|
|2010||Ahmad Bradshaw||197.9||13||Brandon Jacobs||140.2||22|
|2009||Ahmad Bradshaw||137.5||28||Brandon Jacobs||135.9||29|
|2008||Brandon Jacobs||199.5||12||Derrick Ward||150.9||23|
|2007||Brandon Jacobs||149.3||21||Derrick Ward||100.1||37|
|2006||Tiki Barber||239.7||7||Brandon Jacobs||109.2||37|
|2005||Tiki Barber||306.0||4||Brandon Jacobs||50.9||60|
|2004||Tiki Barber||294.6||2||Mike Cloud||27.3||82|
After Barber dominated the fantasy production in New York's backfield for three years, things started to level out. In the five seasons from 2008-2012, the Giants provided just a pair of top-33 fantasy rushers. While getting production at this level won't carry you to a fantasy championship, there's reason to believe that both Jennings and Williams could be more-than-useful if Coughlin's Giants can create a top-24 back, which they've failed to do just twice in 10 years.
Jennings has enough shortcomings, mainly his modest carry totals and underwhelming receiving production, to warrant Coughlin's reliance on the type of shared backfield production that has frustrated fantasy managers for the past decade. Williams is capable of taking on a sizable amount of rushing attempts and goal line touches from Jennings, but his inability as a receiver will ensure that he doesn't become an every-down back this early in his career.
This is shaping up to be a Giant-sized timeshare to which fantasy footballers have grown accustomed in the past. If 2013 proves to be an anomaly for New York, then both of these guys could end up as top-30 fantasy backs.