EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants are fairly forward-thinking as NFL franchises go, but there's an old-school vein that runs through their decision-making hierarchy. And the fact that the running back who led the NCAA in rushing yards in 2013 was still available for them Saturday in the fourth round of the draft was too much to pass up. They had a second-round grade on Boston College's Andre Williams and were happy to get him with the draft's 113th pick.
"We're still hoping that [2012 first-round pick] David Wilson comes back and is able to go, but we said out of the gate that we weren't going to count on that until the doctors say he can practice full-contact, and he hasn't been released to do that," Giants general manager Jerry Reese said. "We think he's going to be there, but we couldn't pass up the value of a running back of this caliber at this point in the draft."
Wilson is coming off neck surgery and by all accounts is doing well, but as Reese points out there remains a chance they don't have him at all. They signed Rashad Jennings and Peyton Hillis in free agency and still have 2013 seventh-rounder Michael Cox, but the Giants found out first-hand last year that there's no such thing as too much running back depth. And besides, Williams does things they're not likely to ask Wilson to do coming off of neck surgery.
"This is a big, powerful guy -- basically a first- and second-down runner, can run the zone scheme," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "Boston College this year, they would come out sometimes with two or three tight ends, which would bring the entire defense down and have the offensive formation contained almost hash-mark to hash-mark. And yet this kid still rushed for 2,100-plus yards."
That's what the Giants see in Williams: a back who can gain yards even when everybody in the stadium knows they're going to run the ball and the defense is geared to stop it. The Giants believe in the value of a power run game as a means of setting up the pass and helping the effectiveness of Eli Manning's play-action. Williams showed in college that he could get the tough yards.
"He comes through the line of scrimmage and 22 eyes are looking at him and he still rushes for 2,000 yards," Reese said. "If you get up in a game and you're trying to run the clock out in that four-minute drill at the end, this is the kind of guy that you can give the ball to over and over and over and he'll get first downs for you."
It's important to remember what team officials are talking about when they discuss Day 3 draft picks. You hear Reese say this and you're thinking about this year. He's not, necessarily. Sure, it's possible that Williams could fill a role like that on this year's Giants team, but they do have Jennings and Hillis and maybe even Wilson ahead of him on the depth chart still. The Giants are thinking big-picture with Williams and won't force-feed him more in his rookie year than he can handle.
They don't know yet whether Williams will be an asset or a detriment in pass protection. They know he didn't catch the ball out of the backfield in college. As Coughlin said, he projects as a first-down and second-down back. But he'll still have to show at least some mastery of the protection schemes if he wants to see significant playing time. That could take a while, but unless the running back corps falls apart due to injury for a second year in a row, they'll have the time to get Williams up to speed.
He claims to be a fast learner, having changed roles several times amid coaching changes during his time at Boston College. For example, his 355 carries in 2013 seem like a ton, but he only had 349 total in the three years prior to that.
"I've been through about five different offensive coordinators, and in different offenses I was called upon to do different things," Williams said. "This year, I was just called upon to run the ball, and we had a lot of success with that. I think I'm solid in pass protection."
He plays running back, he has track record and his new team likes to give opportunities to those who work hard and earn it. So if Williams has the goods, he'll get a real chance to succeed in the NFL with the Giants.