Oct 27, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Panthers running back James Conner (24) fires up his teammates before taking the field to play the Virginia Tech Hokies at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
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The New York Giants need to improve at the running back position. Could the 2017 NFL Draft hold the answer to the Giants’ issues?
The 2017 NFL Draft is shaping up to be a defining event for the future of the New York Giants. There are intriguing options who can provide immediate help at multiple positions, as well as upside players who could be developed for the future.
Though there are a number of priorities and for Jerry Reese and the Giants, one could easily argue that improving at running back should be near the top of the list.
New York is coming off of a season during which it ranked No. 29 in the NFL in rushing yards. New York was also No. 30 in rushing yards per carry and ranked dead last in rushing touchdowns with a disheartening six.
Paul Perkins has shown flashes of being the future at running back, but the Giants can’t afford to finish the draft without addressing this issue.
New York’s first-round draft pick will come at No. 23 overall, which will likely prevent it from selecting either Dalvin Cook or Leonard Fournette. There could still be a number of tantalizing prospects, however, and all are worth considering.
The question is: who are the most intriguing running back prospects that New York can find throughout the 2017 NFL Draft?
Oct 27, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Panthers running back James Conner (24) rushes the ball past Virginia Tech Hokies linebacker Terrell Edmunds (22) during the second half at Heinz Field. Virginia Tech won 39-36. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
James Conner had a strong freshman season in 2013 and became a college football superstar in 2014. He ran for 1,765 yards on an average of 5.9 yards per carry and found the end zone for 26 touchdowns en route to the 2014 ACC Player of the Year award.
It was in 2015 and 2016, however, that Conner proved just how sensational his work ethic and will power truly are.
Conner tore his MCL in 2015—an injury that may have saved his life. During the rehabilitation process, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and was forced to undergo cancer treatment that many felt would end his career.
Instead, Conner came back in 2016 to have what may have been the most complete season of his sensational career.
Conner ran for 1,062 yards and 16 touchdowns on an average of 5.1 yards per carry during the 2016 season. He also pulled down 21 receptions for 302 yards and four touchdowns after accumulating nine receptions, 110 yards, and no scores in his previous three seasons combined.
Conner has an incredible story, an impeccable work ethic, and a versatile approach to the game that could help the Giants both between the tackles and in the passing attack.
See: his leading Pittsburgh to an upset of the national champion Clemson Tigers.
Oct 3, 2015; Raleigh, NC, USA; North Carolina State Wolfpack running back Matthew Dayes (21) scores a touchdown during the second quarter against the Louisville Cardinals at Carter Finley Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Evan Pike-USA TODAY Sports
Matthew Dayes is one of the most underrated and under-appreciated running backs in the country. A versatile and dynamic playmaker who gave ACC defenses fits, Dayes has the tools to be a quality NFL running back.
Whether or not the New York Giants find Eli Manning’s heir apparent, Dayes could be the necessary playmaker to diversify the offense.
Dayes is a 5’9″ and 203-pound running back who had no trouble finding the end zone during his collegiate career. He ran for 22 touchdowns between his junior and senior seasons, as well as a combined 2,031 rushing yards.
Intriguing as that all may be, Dayes is most valuable due to his speed, agility, and ability to make plays and receptions in the open field.
Dayes finished his collegiate career with 98 receptions for 933 receiving yards and five receiving touchdowns. He’s been loosely compared to Darren Sproles and could be the asset the Giants need to improve offensive rhythm.
If Manning and the Giants need a check down option in the passing attack, then Dayes could be the third-round selection who fills that role.
Nov 14, 2015; Morgantown, WV, USA; Texas Longhorns running back D’Onta Foreman runs the ball during the third quarter against the West Virginia Mountaineers at Milan Puskar Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports
The Texas Longhorns may not have won many games in 2016, but D’Onta Foreman is the last player to blame for their struggles. Foreman put Texas on his back and did everything in his power to help the Longhorns win.
A big and bruising running back from Texas, Foreman could be the player who helps anchor the resurgence of the New York Giants’ ground game.
Foreman ran for 2,028 yards and 15 touchdowns during the 2016 college football season. He did so while missing a game, which makes the feat even more impressive, albeit with some questions about his health.
He played 10 consecutive games to end the season, however, and recorded at least 250 rushing yards in three of the Longhorns’ final five games.
Foreman is the type of player who will run hard, hit the gap, and take tacklers with him. He’s overpowering at the goal line, is far more explosive than he seems, and is tough to bring down in the open field.
The winner of the 2016 Doak Walker Award, no player was better in the country at picking up yards after contact than Foreman.
Sep 30, 2016; Seattle, WA, USA; Stanford Cardinal running back Christian McCaffrey (5) rushes the ball against the Washington Huskies during the second half at Husky Stadium. Washington won 44-6. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports
In the modern NFL, workhorse backs are losing their luster and versatility is becoming the most attractive strength. A running back who has the ability to catch passes out of the backfield is as valuable as one who can run between the tackles.
Though his 2016 season didn’t end with the Heisman Trophy award, McCaffrey solidified his status as the most versatile running back in the country.
McCaffrey ran for upwards of 1,600 yards and 13 touchdowns on 6.3 yards per carry—outstanding numbers. More importantly, he recorded 37 receptions for 310 yards and three touchdowns.
Over the past two seasons, McCaffrey has recorded 82 receptions, 955 receiving yards, and eight receiving touchdowns.
McCaffrey’s ability to run between the tackles is valuable, but it’s his proficiency in bouncing outside and catching passes that make him a target for the New York Giants. He’d join Odell Beckham Jr. as dynamic playmakers who can impact the game in any number of ways.
Coupled with McCaffrey’s explosiveness on special teams, it’d be hard to blame Jerry Reese for being intrigued.
Oct 8, 2016; Dallas, TX, USA; Oklahoma Sooners running back Samaje Perine (32) runs the ball against the Texas Longhorns in the second quarter at Cotton Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
During his time with the UCLA Bruins, and even his rookie NFL season, Paul Perkins proved to be a capable pass-catcher. That versatility is intriguing, but one could argue that the New York Giants need a player who can pick up gains in short-yardage situations.
There aren’t many players who better fit that description than Oklahoma Sooners powerhouse Samaje Perine.
Perine ran for at least 1,000 yards in each of his three seasons with the Sooners. He did so by putting his head down, fighting through contact, and displaying patience in the way he attacks running lanes.
If Perkins is going to provide the Giants with versatility, then Perine could be the power back who helps move the chains and push into the end zone.
Perine could be selected in the middle rounds, which adds to his appeal to the Giants. He has the tools to be a successful NFL running back, even if he doesn’t grade well during the 2017 NFL Draft Combine.
The question is: should the Giants pull the trigger on drafting any of the running backs listed?