The Tampa Bay Buccaneers jumped ahead of the New York Giants in the draft to take running back Doug Martin, who ran for 251 yards two weeks ago against the Oakland Raiders. The Giants then picked running back David Wilson, who has rushed for 89 yards all season. The Giants said they had Wilson rated higher anyway, and whether that's actually true is immaterial. They have Wilson, the Bucs have Martin and the Giants are struggling to run the ball as their offense muddles through a midseason slump.
So what's the deal, people sometimes ask me. Is the kid Wilson a bust? Did the Giants mess up? Should they have moved up to take Martin?
The answer to each of those questions may turn out to be "yes," but it's way too insanely early to know for sure, and an examination of the question requires an understanding of the way the Giants view the draft. They consider it a means of building and maintaining a deep roster, and they trust their coaching staff and their veterans to help shepherd and develop younger players. They don't necessarily care about the pace of that development. Some players, like 2010 first-rounder Jason Pierre-Paul, come very quickly. Others, like 2009 second-rounder Will Beatty, take a bit longer to make their impact as starters. But the Giants aren't generally looking for instantaneous help in the draft -- even in the first round. They look at the big picture, and take players whose talent they believe in.
Jenny Vrentas looks specifically at the case of Wilson in this story for The Star-Ledger. In it, the Giants' coaches explain that Wilson still has much work to do on blocking, blitz pickup, catching the ball, etc. These were things Wilson was not asked to do in Virginia Tech's offense, where someone like Martin comes out of a pro-style offense at Boise State and may be more NFL-ready right away:
"Yes, he's explosive, but at what cost is explosive?" running backs coach Jerald Ingram said. "Is he explosive at the cost of not being able to play well, not being able to know his job well enough and being a pro? That all has to develop."
Ingram compared Wilson's trajectory to that of Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw as rookies in 2005 and 2007, respectively. Both were held to limited roles, but contributed -- Jacobs had seven touchdowns his rookie year and Bradshaw was a contributor in the Giants' Super Bowl run.
"When his opportunity comes, he's got to make do with it and he knows that so it's making him hungrier," Ingram said. "Just like it made Ahmad hungrier during that playoff stretch and then when we had that third guy come into the game, we had Earth, Wind and Fire, and all of sudden we started wearing people down and all of sudden the speed transition guy came in, it was a difference maker. When Ahmad was a rookie, for him to come out there especially in the second half of the season, you got a fresh guy.
"So we're still there. There's a lot of football left."
So there may yet be a plan for using Wilson more and more effectively than the Giants have to this point -- even this season. And in the meantime, he's clearly making a contribution as a kick returner. So questions about whether he was the right pick are quite premature.
I think it's also worth comparing Wilson's situation to that of 2011 first-rounder Prince Amukamara, who struggled (mainly with health) during his rookie season and was prompting the same kinds of "Is he a bust?" questions from Giants fans last November and December. Amukamara has been the best defensive back on the field for the Giants over the past month, and it appears all he needed to do was get healthy and pile up some experience.
Fans don't always understand the patience part of this, but the people who run the Giants do. That's why it's safe to assume there's still a plan, and likely a bright future, for Wilson in New York. Even if he hasn't shown many glimpses of it yet.