David Wilson, Brandon Jacobs, Da'Rel Scott, Andre Brown and Peyton Hillis all have started games at running back for the New York Giants this year. The first two are on injured reserve, the third has been released and the other two are being treated for concussions. It's entirely possible that none of them will be available for the season finale Sunday against the Redskins at MetLife Stadium.
Which would leave the Giants' running game in the hands of rookie Michael Cox, who was the next-to-last pick in this year's draft and has seen significant work as a kick returner but has carried the ball only 22 times (for 43 yards) on offense.
The Giants have a running back named Kendall Gaskins on their practice squad and could conceivably elevate him to give themselves an extra body. And tight end Bear Pascoe lined up at running back and got a carry on the Giants' game-winning drive in overtime Sunday in Detroit. But if neither Hillis nor Brown is cleared to play, Cox is next in line to see the bulk of the carries. And with quarterback Eli Manning's protection already a big issue, that could be a big problem.
"He's had games where he's shared the role on first and second down," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said of Cox. "And he certainly will have to again."
Cox was a very late-round flier who wasn't supposed to play this year. The Giants used him on kick returns in the preseason to give Wilson a break from that duty as they anticipated Wilson being their starting running back, and Cox earned the right to keep the kick-return job based on performance. So he has talent and explosiveness, and if given room to run he could conceivably contribute with a big play.
But the Giants require their running backs to contribute in pass protection, by picking up blitzes and helping in the effort to keep Manning clean and upright. Lack of consistency in that regard from the running back position has been a significant part of this year's problem, and Cox isn't all the way up to speed yet on the blocking schemes. If he's pressed into duty as the every-down back Sunday, it's going to be even tougher to keep Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan out of Manning's grill.
Of course, it's also possible that Brown and/or Hillis could practice Wednesday and be cleared to play Sunday. With concussions, there's no way to know. But it says everything about what's happened with the Giants' run game this year that Cox might end up starting and playing the bulk of their 16th game.