- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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The players on a New York Giants defense that had been keeping some very good running backs in check were all surprised and impressed by the game Oakland's Rashad Jennings had against them in Week 10 last year. Jennings ran for 88 yards on 20 carries and caught two passes for 19 yards in the Giants' victory over the Raiders that day, and the players weren't the only ones impressed. The front office was, as well.
So you could kind of see this one coming. The Giants have reached agreement on a contract with Jennings, who became a free agent at 4 p.m. ET Tuesday and will be in New Jersey on Wednesday to sign his new deal. They will add him to a backfield that already includes 2012 first-round pick David Wilson (who's recovering from neck surgery), veteran Peyton Hillis (who re-signed Tuesday) and 2013 seventh-rounder Michael Cox.
Flying to the Big Apple tonight! Looking forward to signing the dotted lines with @Giants
— Rashad Jennings (@RashadJennings) March 11, 2014
Now, what the Giants like about Jennings is that he's versatile. He's a strong runner who's had limited chances to show what he can do as a starter, as he played behind Maurice Jones-Drew in Jacksonville and Darren McFadden in Oakland. He can catch the ball out of the backfield, which is a skill the Giants hope to use from their running backs more under new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo. He didn't grade out well as a blocker in 2013, but he'll be expected to be able to pick up the blitz if he wants to be the lead back in New York.
The Giants' running back situation is a weird one right now because they don't know what they can expect from Wilson. Even if Wilson fully recovers from neck surgery, as it's expected he will, he hasn't yet shown he can handle a starter's workload. He offers big-play ability out of the backfield, and the Giants like that a lot. But adding Jennings gives them a guy they can use as a starter in case Wilson can't answer the bell, or who can complement Wilson if both are healthy, the way they'd hoped Andre Brown would last year.
As I wrote earlier in the day when they signed Hillis for that reserve running back role, running back is an eye-of-the-beholder thing. You may have wanted someone such as Jones-Drew or Knowshon Moreno because they're bigger names, but the Giants looked at the entire free-agent running back landscape and picked Jennings as the guy they liked the best, considering his abilities, cost and everything else. I think he's a fine choice, because I think he's a 29-year-old who hasn't been overworked and could offer a lot if used correctly. But he will have to show he can contribute as a blocker in the passing game, and that's the lingering question mark for me.
11hDan Graziano and Adam Caplan