Last season, the NFC East boasted two of the top three rushers in the entire league with the Philadelphia Eagles’ LeSean McCoy (1,319 yards) and the Dallas Cowboys’ DeMarco Murray (1,845 yards). Fast forward to the 2015 offseason and both players have changed teams, with McCoy being out of the division entirely.
Meanwhile, the New York Giants’ leading rusher, rookie running back Andre Williams, registered 721 yards on the ground which was good for the league’s 21st mark. The team’s starter, Rashad Jennings, checked in at the league’s 27th slot with 639 yards. So what makes it possible that Jennings could top Murray’s (now with the Eagles) output after the former Cowboy more than doubled Jennings rushing total last season?
For starters, injuries have always been a problem for Murray. This past season being his first in which he played all 16 games. That injury bug could come back to haunt Murray as he will be playing behind a far worse offensive line in Philadelphia than he enjoyed in Dallas. The lesser talented linemen could expose both Murray’s knack for getting hurt as well as the sure to come mistakes made by any player in a new system.
Jennings has already experienced and overcome the difficulties of learning his new team’s playbook as a starter during his first campaign as a Giant. He also played in just 11 of the Giants games last season and registered a total of 13 rushing attempts in the final four games. Murray on the other hand, played in all 16 games and recorded no few than 19 carries in any given game.
Murray’s new quarterback situation in Philadelphia will not be doing him any favors either. New Eagle’s quarterback, Sam Bradford, shares Murray’s knack for contracting injuries as he missed the majority of last season with a torn ACL in week seven. Should Bradford go down his backups, Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow, they will not do much to keep opposing defenders on their heels.
Jennings showed tons of promise for the Giants last season, but injuries and poor run blocking prevented him from ever really finding his groove with the team. After slowly improving through weeks one (16 carries, 46 yards, one touchdown) and two (18 carries for 64 yards), Jennings went on to explode against the Texans rushing for 176 yards on a 5.2 yards per carry average and one touchdown.
He followed that up with strong performances in the next two weeks, taking a combined 23 carries for 110 yards, before going down with an injury.
Many predict the Giants to feature a “running game by committee” in 2015, with Andre Williams, Orelans Darkwa, and Shane Vereen all contributing. When push comes to shove though, and the Giants need to spark their running game, it will be Jennings whose number will be called.
Vereen will be used primarily during passing downs, while Williams will handle the short yardage carries and Darkwa will find his way into the mix every now and then for a change of pace look. The team’s workhorse will undoubtedly be Jennings, their best all around runner. Expect to see him receive far more carries than he did last year as he builds off the good showings he exhibited last season and rebound for a stellar next season.
New faces to the division, Darren McFadden and Ryan Matthews, should not be able to even come close to Jennings’ numbers if he has the kind of season he is capable of. Washington Redskin, Alfred Morris, seems doomed to another quarterback carousel season in D.C. where no defense will stay true to the passing games of Kirk Cousins, Robert Griffen III, or Colt McCoy.
If Jennings stays injury free, he has the talent and opportunity next season to out perform his fellow NFC East counterparts and maybe even find a place amongst the league’s top five leaders in rushing.