In 2011, the New York Giants squeaked into the playoffs at 9-7 despite having the worst rushing attack in the league.
Traditionally a powerhouse rushing team, Giants fans were disconcerted with the all-out passing attack forced on their team by failures in the ground game.
With Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs both showing signs of their bodies breaking down, New York GM Jerry Reese selected speedster David Wilson out of Virginia Tech in the first round of the 2012 Draft to take over running back duties.
Wilson split backfield time his first two years in college, but came out after a junior season that saw him lead the ACC in carries (290) and yards (1,709) while averaging a robust 5.9 yards-per-carry.
Wilson also returned kicks in college and between returns, rushing and receiving scored double-digit touchdowns in both 2010 and 2011.
Understandably, Giants fans were anxious to see what Wilson could do on the field in 2012, while at the same time apprehensive that notorious rookie-bencher Tom Coughlin wouldn’t let the kid tote the rock.
And lo, it came to pass – in the Giants' first game of the season, Wilson coughed up the rock on the team’s promising first drive and was promptly glued to the bench.
Never a team to waste assets, though, the Giants found a way to get some use from Wilson – as arguably the best kick returner in the NFL last year. Wilson led the league in return yards and scored a big touchdown against the Saints (Week 14).
In that Saints game, Wilson had the kind of breakout performance that will be talked about for years, tallying 100 yards rushing on only 13 carries, scoring three times and setting the Giants franchise all-time single-game record for all-purpose yards (327).
Now, word out of Giants camp is that Wilson will be the No. 1 back. There are concerns about his pass protection, ball security and receiving ability.
Despite that, Wilson showed vision, decisiveness, quickness, agility and the wheels to stay broken away last year. He seems to have all the equipment to be the ultimate space player. His 5.04 yards per carry average, spread over lead back carries (say 250), would easily net a 1,000+ rushing season.
Most backs see their average decline when they get more carries, but Wilson went the other way in college, boosting his average by 0.5 yards per carry from his sophomore to junior seasons.
Another big mark in Wilson’s favor is that the Giants score a lot of points, having been in the top 10 of the NFL in six of Eli Manning’s eight years at quarterback, including each of the last five seasons.
The points don’t all come from Manning’s arm, either – the Giants notch lots of rushing scores (18 in 2012).
Even in that 2011 season, the Giants scored 17 rushing touchdowns (sixth in the NFL), so there is definitely some scoring potential for Wilson.
The flipside, though, is that Andre Brown (eight TDs in 2012) might end up vulturing some easy scores – definitely a concern, but Wilson will definitely get the bulk of the chances.
Also easing any concern about Brown cutting into Wilson’s carries is the Giants’ recent history – in 2008, Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward both rushed for over 1,000 yards, with “lead back” Jacobs tallying 15 scores.
Of course, it will be a concern to owners in leagues that don’t count a players return yards that Wilson could get worn out or injured returning kicks, but the Giants are likely to reduce his burden there, possibly using him as a “last ditch” weapon – like the Eagles with DeSean Jackson on punt returns.
All things considered, Wilson seems primed to have a monster breakout season. As we saw in week 14 last year, he doesn’t do breakouts small.
Fearless Forecast: 1,300 rushing yards, 8 TDs, 30 receptions, 250 yards, 3 TDs