New York Giants: Running back pool drying up in free agency

Jan 1, 2017; Landover, MD, USA; New York Giants running back Paul Perkins (28) rushes the ball as Washington Redskins linebacker Preston Smith (94) looks on during the first half at FedEx Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Giants have passed on several running back options this offseason, but now the free agent pool is drying up fast.

Once a target of the New York Giants, LeGarrette Blount joined the Philadelphia Eagles backfield on Wednesday, signing a one-year deal. Blount is coming off of the best season of his career, with a league-leading 18 touchdowns and 1,161 yards rushing. He’s now joining an average running corps that was ranked just outside the top 10 in yardage in 2016.

The move dashed the hopes of Giants fans who were optimistic that the team would add a veteran presence at running back. To all of the fans who fall into that category — take a deep breathe and relax. The Giants will be fine. With or without a veteran running back, the Giants offense will still be an absolute beast.

But for argument sake, let’s take a look at two remaining veteran free agent running backs: Christine Michael and DeAngelo Williams. Should the Giants still be in the market for a veteran back, would either fit the bill? Could Williams or Michael fill that on-field role that Blount would have brought to Big Blue?

Christine Michael

When Thomas Rawls went down Week 2 of the 2016 season with a broken fibula, Michael exploded out of the gates as the Seahawks primary back. But that is all he did — explode out of the gate for a two-touchdown, 106 rushing yard game against the 49ers in Week 3. Then, in notorious Christine-Michael fashion, he began to fizzle as his production slipped week-after-week until he was dropped from the team in November for Thomas Rawls’ return.

Michael did not remain a free agent for long, as Green Bay picked him up just one day after his release in an attempt to spark their ever-sputtering running game. Packers head coach Mike McCarthy was a huge fan of the move, stating (per ESPN.com):

“He’s productive, his ability to get in and out of breaks, I think the one thing I know best about him is just the way he’s able to change direction and explode on the second and third cuts. I think he’s a good fit for us.”

Yet Michael struggled from the moment he hit the turf at Lambeau, failing to record a game with more than 50 rushing yards and one touchdown. Needless to say, Green Bay sent him packing after this year’s draft.

Giants fans may all be saying: Why are we even talking about Christine Michael if his performance was that terrible last year?

First off, he is still a young player. Yes, he has been in the league long enough to have grown as a back, but he is still only 26. Think of all of the 26-year olds you know and try to tell me that they did not still have growing up to do.

Second, the guy has size and one heck of a physical running style.  No, he’s not 6-4 and 260 pounds as Brandon Jacobs was. But the Giants have felt the loss of a big, physical back since Jacobs’ departure from the team. Michael and Paul Perkins would serve as a nasty, dual-threat tandem coming out of the backfield. And if the Giants ever learn to use Shane Vereen correctly, the team could even have a triple threat at running back.

Lastly, the Patriots just recently brought him in for a workout. Was he really being considered? Nobody will truly know, but the Pats don’t just look at anybody. So that’s another indication that the guy hasn’t lost it yet.

Would the Giants go after Christine Michael to add a hard-hitting veteran to the running back squad? More than likely not, but it would not be a terrible choice because of the potential talent, speed and physicality of his play.

DeAngelo Williams

DeAngelo Williams may be 34 years old, but he proved in 2016 that he could still go toe-to-toe with some of the best in the league. Filling in for Le’Veon Bell during yet another drug suspension, Williams rushed for 258 yards and two touchdowns, notching an additional touchdown as a receiver. Unfortunately, the remainder of the year was mostly spent injured, missing seven games as a result of knee surgery.

Back in his heyday, Williams was half of one of the most dynamic and dangerous running back duos in the league with Jonathan Stewart by his side in Carolina. Williams and Stewart rank No. 1 and 2, respectively among the Panthers all-time leaders in rushing yards and touchdowns. Heyday is the key word here, however, as he is far from the days of the 2009 Panthers.

If Williams was ever a thought in the back of Jerry Reese’s mind, it would more than likely be regarding an idea similar to that of Christine Michael: to bring in a physical, veteran back. The main difference here? Age. Williams has had a much more successful career than Michael, but I’m not sure he has what it takes to live up to that type of role in a running game.

Can Williams still be a useful back in the league? I believe so. Would his presence lead the Giants to another Super Bowl? No. Again, if this addition ever were to happen, it would be strictly based on veteran presence at an affordable price.

Word on the street is that Williams will re-sign with the Steelers anyway, despite the recent addition of Knile Davis. There is definitely still gas in Williams’ tank, so I can see his love for the game outweighing his love for the Steelers organization. Or at least that’s what makes sense. Decisions that make sense and NFL stars do not always mesh though. He may be contemplating hanging up the cleats in the first place — who knows.

One thing is for sure: Based on Jerry Reese’s patterns over the years, it can be safely said that the Giants will stick with the running game they currently have for the 2017 season. If he were to pick up Michael or Williams at a minimum contract in an attempt to bolster the backfield and bring some veteran presence in, it would not be frowned upon one bit. But until that actually occurs, Giants fans should further learn to know and love Paul Perkins, Shane Vereen and Orleans Darkwa.

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