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Rashad Jennings: Top 10 Fantasy Football RB?

By Jared Smola 11:54am EDT 3/12/14

Ben Tate, Darren McFadden, Maurice Jones-Drew and Knowshon Moreno were considered by most to be the top free-agent RBs. Not us. Rashad Jennings sat #2 in our free-agent RB rankings (behind only Tate). The Giants were clearly high on Jennings, too, signing him to a deal less than 90 minutes after the market opened. That portends a significant role in 2014.

A rough stretch from 2011 to 2012 has deflated the general opinion of Jennings. A preseason knee injury cost him the entire 2011 campaign. He returned in 2012 to average a hideous 2.8 yards per carry. Perhaps that knee still wasn’t right. Because Jennings has been impressive in his other 3 NFL seasons.

He opened his pro career as a backup behind Jones-Drew in Jacksonville. Jennings flashed by averaging 5.4 yards per carry and 7.7 yards per catch across 2009 and 2010. In 2 starts in place of MJD at the end of 2010, Jennings racked up 140 rushing yards, 63 receiving yards and 1 TD.

After those disappointing 2011 and 2012 seasons, Jennings headed to Oakland this past year. He once again found himself #2 on the depth chart, this time behind McFadden. Jennings topped 10 touches just once in Oakland’s first 7 games. But McFadden’s bum hamstring thrust Jennings into the lead role for the 2nd half of the season. In his final 8 outings, Jennings totaled 593 yards and 6 scores on the ground, plus another 195 yards on 24 catches. He was a top 11 RB across fantasy formats during that stretch.

Jennings’ 4.5 yards per carry last year looks even more impressive when you consider that McFadden managed just 3.3. Jennings also bested his more-heralded backfield mate in yards per catch, 8.1 to 6.4. Pro Football Focus ranked Jennings 21st overall among 55 RBs. He finished 25th in rushing and 13th in receiving. Only 5 RBs averaged more yards after contact per carry than Jennings’ 2.8.

Jennings might not knock your socks off with his long speed or open-field athleticism. But this is a big, hard-nosed runner who doesn’t waste steps. Jennings is also reliable in the passing game, both as a blocker and receiver. And he hangs on to the football. Jennings has lost just 1 fumble on 484 career touches.

That’ll all endear him to Tom Coughlin. Jennings’ new HC is old school. Ball security and pass protection are the top 2 priorities for Coughlin’s backs. Jennings’ reliability in those 2 facets should earn him a substantial role in the Big Apple.

Of course, Jennings’ playing time will largely hinge on David Wilson’s health and production. The 2012 1st-rounder is recovering from January surgery to repair a herniated disc in his neck. Reports on his recovery have been positive so far, but he’s still far from being medically cleared for the start of the 2014 campaign.

Even if Wilson is given the green light, he’ll need to perform much better in order to earn a significant role. He averaged just 3.3 yards per carry, caught 2 passes and lost 2 fumbles in 5 appearances last season. His ball-security and pass-protection woes had him in the doghouse even before that neck injury.

If all goes right with Wilson this year, we’re looking at a committee backfield. Coughlin’s Giants were at their best with a thunder-and-lightning backfield of Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw. Jennings and Wilson would give the G-Men a similar look. In that scenario, Jennings would be looking at 10-14 touches per game, including goal-line work. That’d be enough to make him a borderline RB2.

Jennings’ ceiling extends much higher. Let’s say Wilson isn’t cleared for the start of the season. Or he continues to struggle hanging on to the football and protecting Eli Manning. In that case, Jennings would be looking at a monster workload. Peyton Hillis sits behind Jennings and Wilson on the depth chart. He hasn’t topped 3.6 yards per carry since 2010 and should be viewed by the Giants only as an insurance policy. If Wilson isn’t ready, it’ll be the Rashad Jennings Show. With 3-down skills, he could see 20+ touches per game.

Jennings is an underrated talent who is closer than you might think to a true feature-back role. If the chips fall in his favor, he could be a top 10 fantasy RB this season. Is this conjecture at this point? Sure. But did anyone see Moreno finishing at #5 last year? Fred Jackson at #10 or Ryan Mathews at #11? Jennings could be 1 of the bigger fantasy football surprises in 2014.

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