Keep ‘em or Dump ‘em: Running Backs / Fullback

We continue taking a look at our “Keep ‘em, Dump ‘em” poll results. Today’s analysis is the running backs.

2015 in Review: The Giants stuck with a four-man committee for the first 12 games of the season. The upside to this strategy? It kept all four running backs—Rashad Jennings, Andre Williams, Shane Vereen and Orleans Darkwa—healthy.

The downside? The running game struggled as none of the backs could ever get into a groove. As a result, the Giants finished 18th in the league in rushing, their per game average of 100.6 helped by the last four weeks of the season when the committee was finally ditched.

jenningsLet’s start with Rashad Jennings, who finally made it through a 16-game season, again due to the four-man rotation.

We disagree with the reader who suggested that Jennings “has been a massive bust, and has clearly lost the starting role to Shane Vereen.”

First, when it comes to pass protection, Jennings is as good as it gets, having allowed just two quarterback pressures in 41 pass block snaps, per Pro Football Focus.

Second, of Jennings’ 863 yards, 544 of them came after contact, which means he’s not going down to the ground as easily as some other backs do.

Jennings isn’t an ideal outside runner, but when it comes to getting the tough yards, he does a pretty good job with it. So as far as the suggestion that he “should be cut to save cap room and acquire a higher-impact free agent at another position,” we’d be surprised if that happens.

williamsAndre Williams is an interesting player. In the right setup, we still think he can be effective. The problem with him, though, stems back to the preseason when he barely got any touches, this because the coaching staff likely wanted to see what they had in some of the younger players.

As a result, anything Williams started at the end of his rookie season when he recorded two 100-yard rushing performances in his last four games, showing patience in letting his blocks develop fell to the wayside over the summer and into his second season, where, at times, he looked like the impatient rookie just starting out.

vereenWe were disappointed with the use, or shall we say lack of use of Shane Vereen. We initially thought that Vereen would be the missing piece of the backfield puzzle, a threat out on space the way that David Wilson was meant to be.

The problem with Vereen was that he fell into that vortex known as the four-man running back committee.

When it was all said and done, Vereen was in the game for the Giants on just 38.7 percent of the offensive snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. That’s way down from the 52.9 percent he saw in 2014 and the 47.3 percent he saw in 2013, both seasons with the Patriots.

As a receiver out of the backfield, Vereen proved to be everything he was built up to be coming in. Again, the problem is the Giants didn’t use him as much as they probably should have.

In the first 13 games, Vereen was targeted in the passing game eight or more times in just three contests.

When the Giants finally ditched the four-man rotation, guess what? Vereen’s targets and production went up. He was targeted 20 times in the final three games, catching 16 passes for 136 yards (8.5 yards per catch).

The bottom line is that Vereen needs to be more involved in the offense and not just strictly as a blocker.

darkwaOrleans Darkwa, who received a game-day suit for his special teams, was the fourth man in the rotation, his snaps limited by the number of special teams snaps he had to play (he was on all the special teams).

When Darkwa did touch the ball, he looked to be the most comfortable carrying the rock, which is perhaps why one reader championed for Darkwa to “be my feature back.”

So long as the Giants go into 2016 with the same personnel at running back, which is a likely possibility, it might be best to keep Darkwa on special teams until an injury strikes down one of the guys in front of him. Yes, the four-man rotation kept everyone healthy, but in the end, it’s all about production, and the production just isn’t going to be there if they don’t get the snaps necessary to be effective.

whitlockNikita Whitlock, in his first extensive season at fullback, finished with 133 snaps at that position, ranking him 20th out of 22 NFL fullbacks who took at least 25 percent of their team’s offensive snaps.

We agree with the poll participant’s observation that, Whitlock “is not able to block as well as the last three Giants’ fullbacks and just added to the running offense’s woes,” though to be fair, since this was Whitlock’s first season playing the position, we think he should be graded on a curve.

We like Whitlock for his versatility, but to be honest, given the amount of snaps the fullback gets in this offense, we’d just as soon see a pure fullback eliminated from the mix and use a tight end instead.

That wouldn’t surprise us if one of the young tight ends really steps up with his blocking. Tight ends out of the backfield provide so much more versatility and options. We do like Whitlock for his special teams contributions, but it might be hard to justify keeping him on the roster for that role alone (we don’t think he has a full-time future at defensive tackle either, by the way).

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