Closer Look at Rashad Jennings and the Giants' backfield
Rashad Jennings was expected to stay put in Oakland following his three-year stint in Jacksonville backing up Maurice Jones-Drew. He was easily acquired by the New York Giants this offseason after Oakland failed to secure his contract. New York seemingly got a steal, securing Jennings for four years at a base value of $10 million. He will receive $2.98 million guaranteed, plus a $2.25 million signing bonus (this is below what most teams would call top tier RB1 money). With this move, several questions come to light: Can Jennings provide the Giants the running game they so desperately lacked last year? If so, why and what would his productivity mean for the offense (including the other backs on the roster)?
Last season the two-punch combination of Andre Brown and David Wilson was expected to be potent, yet both suffered injuries that made their fantasy values plummet. Wilson never lived up to expectations and Brown was only healthy for eight games.
In replacing Brown in the offense, Jennings is expected to meet all the demands of a workhorse running back. New York General Manager Jerry Reese was quoted calling Jennings "bellcow type" following mini-camp. Even with the re-signing of Peyton Hillis and the anticipated return of a healthy Wilson, Jennings appears to be the featured back in the minds of team leadership. Wilson's vertebrae fusion is not something to be taken lightly, but he could still produce if he is given a clean bill of health.
In 2013, Jennings rushed for a career-best 733 yards on 163 carries with six scores and added 292 yards on 36 receptions. He started eight games in place of Darren McFadden and played in 15 total. The fact that Jennings has primarily assumed backup duties in his NFL career and is 29 years old poses some questions about his potential. Given the Giants' commitment to him and their lack of proven replacements, Jennings is a safe fantasy addition. If you consider that his most productive season thus far originated with Oakland's poor offense, this season should be exciting for Jennings, New York, and fantasy owners. Jennings' upside hinges upon how the Giants opt to rotate their stable of running backs. Wilson, Hillis and rookie Andre Williams will all be a factor at some point; however, Jennings' slice of the pie is supposed to be more than the majority. Jennings can be a powerful back similar to Brandon Jacobs (whom the New York offense is familiar with). In this sense, he should have solid value as a rusher at the goal-line and key short-yardage situations.
Jennings is the answer to New York's rushing woes because he now has the ability to operate as a primary back with rushing support. Through his career, Jennings averages 4.3 yards per carry. The Giants are going to use their backups to spell Jennings when necessary. The age-old adage that it takes an army comes into play in New York this season. Jennings will be surrounded by Hillis, Williams and (hopefully) a medically cleared Wilson. The most advantageous scenario is a shared backfield with Jennings and Wilson splitting carries. Jennings should be the workhorse, but the explosiveness of Wilson would be welcomed if it is available. Williams will need to gain experience, but is an intelligent rusher with power and balance. Collectively, this committee of backs could be extremely potent. If Jennings has less pressure to produce every down, then he might just have better output when he does receive touches.
As stated, the Giants' other backs each have their own strengths and weaknesses. Hillis can be a volume grinder who can be used to wear down defenses. Wilson would be more of a lightning compliment to Jennings' thunder. Williams is another volume worker, as he lacks the speed to bust runs wide open. Jennings' ADP (RB27, 80.25) indicates there is a ton of room for improvement from his draft position. The Giants' offensive line isn't what it was a few years ago; however, they are young and on track to show some improvement from last season's issues. If Jennings is productive, the offense opens up in ways it could not last season. Most experts are saying that Jennings will be a RB2 in terms of fantasy scoring, but can be drafted as a RB3.
Jennings' productivity means more open passing lanes for Eli Manning and his receivers. Jennings will also capitalize on passing opportunities. Jennings caught 77-percent of his targets. He isn't Darren Sproles, but he can contribute a few receptions per game to keep defenses honest out in the flats.
The bottom line is that New York should benefit and enjoy an offensive turnaround from the addition of Jennings. He will spearhead a new effort to move the chains on the ground. He has the ability to carry the workload of a primary running back as well as pick up blocking, which was lacking last season. Jennings is untested as a lead rusher, but has plenty of experience in back-up duties and was productive in this role. If you factor out Jennings' injury-plagued 2012 season (where he injured his knee), he has averaged an impressive 4.9 yards per carry. If you consider the back-up roles Jennings has played and his age at 29 years, he is actually poised for an incredible leading role season. In 2013, the Giants' 381 carries were the sixth-fewest and their 3.5 yards per carry team average ranked third-worst. Jennings was brought in to change that. Jennings will see around 280 touches this season for nearly 1,400 total yards with the possibility for double-digit scores.