2nd-year RBs: David WilsonSunday, June 23, 2013
Leading up to 2013 training camp, I'm using NFL Game Rewind to take an extended look at each of the following second-year running backs: Lamar Miller, David Wilson, Vick Ballard, Bryce Brown, Bernard Pierce, Ronnie Hillman, Daryl Richardson, Robert Turbin, Isaiah Pead, and LaMichael James.
My Miller writeup can be found at this link. This is Part 2 in a 10-Part Series.
I couldn't get enough of David Wilson coming out of Virginia Tech. He was really fun to watch. When Wilson averaged 4.68 yards per carry and caught five passes for 61 yards in the 2012 preseason, his fantasy Average Draft Position soared out of control (early seventh round) for a raw backup. On the Giants' second offensive possession of the season, Wilson lost a fumble at Dallas' 29-yard line and earned a place deep in no-nonsense coach Tom Coughlin's doghouse. Wilson was used sparingly on offense until the final month, although he put his game-breaking talent to use on special teams, leading the NFL in kickoff return yards and 20-plus-yard returns.
Wilson wound up touching the football 75 times on offense as a rookie. I re-watched all of them over the weekend to strengthen my opinion on Wilson's 2013 outlook. Gone is 2012 feature back Ahmad Bradshaw, leaving Wilson to compete with more sluggish-moving Andre Brown for the Giants' starting job. These were my takeaways after charting Wilson's first-year touches:
I first reexamined the fumble that essentially got Wilson benched. It occurred at the 6:43 mark in the first quarter of the NFL opener. Cowboys ILB Sean Lee -- an All-Pro caliber defender -- took a sensational angle to launch himself into Wilson on a toss sweep off left tackle, popping the ball loose. Wilson even had the football in the correct hand, away from the oncoming defender. Put simply, I thought it was a great play by Lee. And Wilson never fumbled again during the season.
Of course, Wilson exacerbated his problems by dropping a pass on his very next opportunity for an offensive touch. Lined up at Z receiver, Wilson ran a short drag route over the middle in Week 2 against Tampa Bay. Eli Manning's perfectly-placed pass rifled through Wilson's hands. Targeted only nine times all year, Wilson had another drop in Week 4 on a shovel pass against the Eagles.
Fumbling is fixable -- and Wilson did so after Week 1 -- but another concern I had with his rookie-year tape was a raw, almost wild playing style with a lot of improvisation that made Wilson a boom-or-bust back. I charted all of 75 of Wilson's touches, and 32 of them gained two yards or worse (42.7 percent). He was prone to negative runs. Wilson totaled 392 yards from scrimmage in his first NFL season. 188 of them (48.0 percent) came on seven plays. Wilson showed a frequent tendency to attempt to make plays outside of the design of the offense, which I can't imagine helped him gain any more of conservative Coughlin's already fleeting trust.
Wilson ran poor pass routes. He tried to make cuts in the backfield that resulted in lost yards. Decision making is a term more often associated with quarterbacks, but it's also applicable to running back performance. And Wilson was a highly questionable decision maker as a rookie. He was an unpredictable play-to-play back.
As a receiver, Wilson is a drop-prone body catcher and lacks natural hands. The Giants obviously had little or no faith in him as a pass protector. Wilson touched the football on just five third-down plays all year.
It may seem like I'm piling on, but that's not the intent here. Wilson's rookie season deserves criticism. There were reasons he didn't earn a significant role until late in the year, and it wasn't just because of the Week 1 fumble. For the rest of this column, we'll focus on Wilson's positives.
And this is critical, because it was evident the more I watched: Wilson got better and better as his rookie year progressed. His confidence seemed to improve and he found a late-season rhythm as Coughlin entrusted him with heavier workloads. A maddeningly impatient runner early in the year -- he would regularly slam into the line without restraint -- Wilson became noticeably more composed down the stretch. There were still boom-or-bust elements to his game, but less and less. Wilson received at least 13 touches in three of the Giants' final four games. He averaged 6.07 yards per touch and 5.74 yards per carry over the final month with four touchdowns, not including a 97-yard kickoff return score in Week 14 against the Saints.
Purely in terms of running skill set, I believe David Wilson has the physical tools to develop into an elite NFL back. And I'm not using "elite" lightly. Wilson has a highly explosive first step, and runs with velocity both between the tackles and in high-traffic perimeter areas. He is vertically and laterally dangerous, possessing natural elusiveness, an outstanding ability to beat first contact, and breakaway long speed. Wilson measured only 5-foot-9 5/8 and 206 pounds at the Combine, but flashes genuine power. Wilson has a powerful lower body and can run with leg drive. He is capable of moving a pile. Wilson plays fast and physical and is an extremely competitive back.
I led off this series with a writeup on Lamar Miller, another sophomore running back positioned for a major year-two role increase. I think Miller vs. Wilson will be one of the most compelling debates of the 2013 fantasy football preseason. I came away from the two tape studies believing Wilson possesses superior talent and a higher ceiling. I think Miller will be a safer fantasy re-draft pick.