Throughout their long, storied history, the New York Giants never had the NFL’s leading kick returner.
That is, until David Wilson started returning kickoffs for New York last season.
The Giants’ 2012 first-round draft pick emerged not only as a versatile running back last year, but also, as a dangerous, game-changing, scoring threat any time he dropped back to return kicks..
This offseason, however, the Giants are looking to diminish Wilson’s role as kick returner, while focusing solely on making him the feature back of their offense.
With New York moving on from Ahmad Bradshaw, the starting running back job is Wilson’s to lose. However, journeyman Andre Brown proved last season that he might be able to serve as the Giants’ main running back, despite breaking his fibula against the Green Bay Packers last November.
Brown averaged 5.3 yards per carry last year, scored eight touchdowns, and showcased the innate ability to find the open hole and gain meaningful yards as a bruising back. He also excelled at pass protection, picking up extra rushers when defenses sent more than the offensive line could handle, something Wilson struggled with in his rookie campaign.
Helping both Wilson and Brown, the Giants also have veterans Ryan Torain and Da’Rel Scott, as well as their 2013 seventh-round draft pick Michael Cox, for depth at the running back position. So, it’s reasonable that Brown could carry the load in 2013 in the backfield and allow Wilson to continue to thrive as a kickoff returner.
Special teams play is often overshadowed by the offense and defense. But in a game of inches, a touchdown off of a punt or kickoff return can completely shift the momentum of a game. Just ask Giants fans how much DeSean Jackson’s game-winning punt return in 2010, at MetLife Stadium, changed New York’s season.
Wilson led the NFL in kickoff return yards with 1,533, racking up 293 more yards than the next closest kick returner, Tennessee Titans’ Darius Reynaud (who was one of the many Giants who failed as a returner before Wilson shined in the same role).
After a slow start to the season, Wilson’s breakout game came in a Week 14 win over the New Orleans Saints, during which the speedster totaled a team-record 327 all-purpose yards, scored on a 97-yard kickoff return, and rushed for 100 yards.
His 207 return yards came against the Saints’ 30th-ranked special teams defense, but there’s no denying the value in having a kickoff returner as dynamic as Wilson.
Perhaps the best strategy for New York is if Brown were to receive the bulk of the carries for the Giants next season as their bruiser, while Wilson functions as a the change-of-pace-back once Brown opens up holes in the offensive line for him. If there’s any evidence that Wilson should be employed as the primarily kick returner in 2013, consider that before last year, the last time New York had a player return a kickoff for touchdown was in 2007, when Domenik Hixon ran one back 74 yards in the team’s regular season finale against the New England Patriots.
The Giants went on to an unlikely upset win over the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI that year — not because of their kick return game, but having one this year, certainly couldn’t hurt.
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