There's a pretty strong chance that newly signed Rashad Jennings is going to be a bell-cow-type running back for the New York Giants in 2014. They don't tend to operate that way, and they're still holding out hope that David Wilson can recover from his neck surgery in time to be a significant factor, but if you were betting on it at this point you'd bet on Jennings to lead the Giants in carries, if only by process of elimination.
Now, the Giants rushed out and signed Jennings on the first day of free agency, which is a weird way for them or any team to act when it comes to running backs. The running back market these days tends to lag, and most teams seem content to let it play out and allow bargains to come to them. So the fact that the Giants locked up Jennings as soon as they were able to do so indicates that they saw something in him, specifically, that they liked better than other running backs they might have been able to get.
What might that be? Tough to tell. The Giants haven't offered anything in the way of media availability since free agency started, so while you can nose around behind the scenes a bit and ask, the people responsible for actually making the decisions aren't offering public explanations. Which means we must speculate. Which is fine, because we love to speculate.
What I know is that the Giants do employ advanced analytics in their player-evaluation process. And while I can't be certain they did so in targeting Jennings, there's nothing wrong with putting two and two together and landing on the belief that there are some underlying numbers that made them fall in love. The folks at NumberFire.com offered a pretty in-depth look last week at what some of those numbers might be and why they think Jennings was a good pickup for the Giants.
NumberFire uses a metric called "Net Expected Points" to evaluate player (and team) performance. Basically, they look at every possible situation on the field and assign it a point value based on what they expect the average team to score in that situation. A player's NEP score is the number of points they add to or subtract from that situation. In 2013, the Giants ranked 31st in rushing efficiency as a team in this metric. Jennings himself ranked sixth among players who carried the ball at least 150 times:
He got the volume, and he didn't disappoint.
Jennings' 11.80 Rushing NEP total was the polar opposite of teammate Darren McFadden's -17.49. While Jennings was adding 0.07 points to the Raiders output with each touch, DMC was losing 0.15. And of course the Raiders re-signed McFadden to a one-year deal today, letting Jennings walk. Of course.
Jennings can catch the ball out of the backfield, too, which was something the Giants lacked in 2013. In fact, Jennings' 36 catches (mind you, he didn't start the entire season) was only 22 off of the entire Giants' running back group combined. And that includes fullbacks.
It's very clear that this move for the Giants was a good one. Though today's NFL inherently devalues running backs, the G-Men were lacking at the position -- Rashad Jennings should be able to turn that misfortune around in a Giants uniform.
So there you have it. Again, I don't know what specific numbers, stats or eyeballed results the Giants used to determine that Jennings was their guy at running back. But these are the kinds of things they look at. And even if this isn't what they saw, it offers Giants fans a reason to feel optimistic about what Jennings might be able to do for them if he does end up as the Giants' primary ballcarrier.
It's true that a big part of the Giants' problem last year was poor blocking by the offensive line and the tight ends, but the key thing to remember here is that Jennings' score is his alone, and represents what he himself adds to the play, independent of other factors. So while, yes, the Giants have to do a better job of run-blocking if any back is going to succeed, the addition of Jennings could work to make the overall run game better regardless.