Hey, rookie: Giants RB showcases power, burst in HOF game win

Andre Williams, a fourth-round pick, highlights New York's ground-and-pound running game in win against Bills.

Andre Williams was selected in the fourth round of the 2014 NFL Draft.

Kirby Lee / USA TODAY Sports

Excitement sprawled from coast to coast Sunday night as football officially returned. Capping the Hall of Fame festivities over the weekend, the Giants’ narrow 17-13 win over the Bills kicked off the first of 65 preseason games.  

While preseason football is filled with vanilla-flavored game plans and unwarranted expectations, it was enough for recently enshrined Hall of Famer Michael Strahan to get his former team fired up before the game.

The reality is in the preseason first-teamers typically get three series max and the rest of the action is reserved for players on the roster bubble. And in the Hall of Fame Game, the stars see even fewer snaps.

It’s not usually advised that you draw too many conclusions from exhibition-style play, but that isn’t any fun.

Giants rookie running back Andre Williams made some noise, finishing with seven carries for 48 yards and a visit to the opponent’s end zone.

Williams, a fourth-round pick from Boston College, isn’t a stranger to the spotlight.

The six-foot, 230-pound running back looked quick footed and dazzled the Canton, Ohio crowd with a 21-yard sweep up the sideline, setting up a three-yard score. The touchdown was capped with an extra point booted from the 15-yard line, which the NFL is trying out as a two-week preseason experiment.

Despite honing his violent running nature in the Atlantic Coast Conference, Williams finished 2013 as the NCAA’s leading rusher and a finalist for the Heisman Trophy. Williams’ four-year career numbers ranked for fifth most all-time.

That didn’t matter in May during the NFL Draft, though, as he was just the 10th running back selected.

“The reason he was selected so late was the lack of versatility,” one NFC scout wrote in a text message to FOXSports.com. “Notice he has no pass receptions at Boston College. Reason was because he had a difficult time catching the ball back then. He did improve at his pro day which leads to upside but going into his senior season not so much. Teams were looking more for versatile backs that can do more, rather than a one-trick pony.”

Williams displayed burst and power, running inside the tackles against the Bills’ second-team defense. While the Giants continue to replace recently retired offensive linemen Chris Snee and David Diehl, they kept the first-team unit on the field a series longer than their opponent. Williams, though, looks to be a nice complement to offseason acquisition Rashad Jennings, who had a seven-carry, 23-yard performance himself.

Without rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham and running back David Wilson, the Giants’ offense staged long drives and controlled the time of possession.

Eli Manning operated first-year offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo’s system with efficiency and ease, despite one hiccup: A sack-strip fumble caused by Bills defensive tackle Kyle Williams. Manning completed 6 of 7 passes for 43 yards. Screens and short passes to running backs were the lifeblood, equating to big gains and first downs. After three series, Manning was replaced for second-year quarterback Ryan Nassib, who was effective in his showing. It was a strong start for Big Blue.

Would you Bill-ieve it?

Sammy Watkins was selected No. 4 overall in the 2014 NFL Draft.

Andrew Weber / USA TODAY Sports

Ever since Bills general manager Doug Whaley made the blockbuster, draft-day trade to select wide receiver Sammy Watkins fourth overall, expectations have been heightened.

Reports from organized team activities and training camps have all been overwhelmingly positive. Matched up against Giants veteran cornerback Prince Amukamara, Watkins held his own, but was overthrown by quarterback EJ Manuel on a fade route in the third play of the game. Watkins, who was targeted three times, was unable to haul in a pass.

Another Bills’ pass catcher did have an impressive night, though.

Second-year wide receiver Robert Woods, who underwent offseason ankle surgery, showed no signs of discomfort, running precise timing routes and flashing terrific ball skills. The former USC standout got plenty of playing time, running with the second team, and finished with four receptions for 49 yards and a touchdown.

Manuel’s performance wasn’t as encouraging, though. Often criticized for not “seeing the field,” Manuel had a handful of passes swatted at the line of scrimmage. Playing without left tackle Cordy Glenn, who hasn’t reported to training camp because of a “mysterious illness,” offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett only had Manuel under center for two series.

A strong running game by way of Anthony Dixon and Bryce Brown and steady play from Jeff Tuel allowed Buffalo to hang in this one.

What’s the rush?

Drafting offensive linemen is a tricky game. The Bills spent a second-round pick on former Alabama offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio, who reportedly had questions stemming from an arthritic knee. Bills coaches didn’t need to check their tablets on the sideline twice to realize the rookie offensive tackle was struggling. Kouandjio was exposed on back-to-back pass rush moves by Giants defenders Damontre Moore and Kerry Wynn, which led to backup QB Thad Lewis getting sacked twice.

If that wasn’t unpredictable enough, seventh-round pick Seantrel Henderson held his own as he started at left tackle, stonewalling Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul on multiple occasions. Henderson, who was a highly touted recruit in high school, witnessed his draft stock capsize as he failed to finish his pro day workout and questions about his off-field issues including multiple failed drug tests in college emerged. Whaley and Co. may have caught lightning in a bottle with Henderson.

Giants’ stealthy signing

Bottom-line tickers were sent into overdrive when the Giants signed high-priced cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to a multi-year deal this offseason. When they inked former Bears cornerback Zack Bowman to a one-year deal, it was barely a blip on the radar.

Bowman, 29, offers the Giants great depth in the secondary. He showed off why he was such a steal on Sunday night as he deflected a pass, which safety Cooper Taylor intercepted. Bowman even picked off a pass of his own.

Looking to make the squad

Players on the bubble must show versatility and a knack for creating plays if they hope to make the 53-man squad.

Bills wide receiver Marcus Easley didn’t make any highlights on offense, but that didn’t matter. The 6-foot-2, 217-pounder used every inch of his frame to block a Steve Weatherford punt in the second quarter. Easley, who is in a battle with TJ Graham and Chris Hogan for the No. 5 wide receiver spot, definitely caught the eye of his head coach Doug Marrone.

Oftentimes, long-shot players are referred to as “camp bodies.” They are guys simply there to participate in training camp and then be sent on their way when the teams trim their rosters to 75. Giants wide receiver Corey Washington, who dons the No. 6, is the definition of a camp body.

The long-limbed, 6-foot-4 receiver made an impressive catch and run for 73 yards and a touchdown in the fourth quarter to put the Giants on top. Needing another big target, the Giants might have to give Washington a few more reps in training camp.

Ross Jones is an NFL editor and writer for FOXSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @RossJonesFOX.

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