New York Giants: Is Paul Perkins over LeGarrette Blount the right choice?

Oct 3, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; New York Giants running back Paul Perkins (28) against the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium. The Vikings defeated the Giants 24-10. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 3, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; New York Giants running back Paul Perkins (28) against the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium. The Vikings defeated the Giants 24-10. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports /

The New York Giants elected to go with second-year running back Paul Perkins over veteran LeGarrette Blount, a small gamble that could pay off.

The New York Giants taking a flier on veteran running back LeGarrette Blount never made a lot of sense. For starters, the Giants are not necessarily swimming in available cap space, per Spotrac, that can be spent on a 30-year old back in the twilight of his career. Once head coach Ben McAdoo named second-year pro Paul Perkins the team’s starting back earlier this spring, the Giants acquiring Blount seemed unlikely, at best, despite rumors floating around on the matter.

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Those rumors proved to be inaccurate. As ESPN’s Jordan Raanan explained, the Giants made Blount a “minimum-salary offer” while probably knowing some other club would go higher to obtain his services. That’s exactly what occurred, as New York’s division rivals, the Philadelphia Eagles, gave Blount a contract that could be worth around $3 million when all is said and done. It’s now on Perkins to show that McAdoo and others within the organization made the right call.

Perkins experienced an interesting start to his NFL career during a rookie season filled with ups and downs. He failed to register double-digit carries in nine of his first 10 games, largely because of his low spot on the depth chart. He earned additional trust and touches during the holiday season, however, but he didn’t notch a single touchdown for the entire year.

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Perkins’ 456 rushing yards on 112 attempts (4.1 yards per carry) do not leap off a computer screen, nor do they, on their own, speak of a player worthy of being No. 1 in any starting backfield let alone in one belonging to a team expected to compete for more than a playoff berth starting in September. As Vinnie Iyer of the Sporting News explained this past February, Perkins’ overall numbers don’t tell the whole story:

"More than half of Perkins’ 127 touches for 618 scrimmage yards came in the final month. Leading up to his 21-carry, 102-yard effort against Washington in Week 17, he averaged 4.6 yards per carry over December and January. For young players, that typically leads to carryover success."

It’s worth noting, running backs, particularly those in their early 20s (Perkins turns 23 years old in November) often gain momentum and confidence once they earn consistent playing time and become active members of offenses. That never truly happened for Perkins, which is why it’s safe to say we cannot fully evaluate the fifth-round pick of the 2016 NFL Draft.

Expectations for Perkins should be kept realistic for multiple reasons. He was, after all, a value draft selection who remains more potential than finished product before training camp sessions begin. Perkins’ stock certainly rose during the final quarter of the 2016 regular season, but all within the club should be thrilled if he maintains his 4.1 yards-per-carry average throughout the 2017 campaign.

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Perhaps the biggest benefit to Perkins’ development as a pro will be that he shouldn’t be asked to ever carry the New York offense as a starting back. Along with Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepard, veteran quarterback Eli Manning will also have free-agent signing Brandon Marshall and first-round pick Evan Engram as weapons. Manning will, barring catastrophe, be surrounded by the greatest arsenal of talent he’s seen in roughly a decade.

Manning’s in-game workload has been higher than ever since McAdoo joined Tom Coughlin’s staff before the start of the 2014 season. Manning ended that year with a career-high 601 pass attempts. He threw the ball 618 times during 2015, and he accumulated 642 attempts across 16 regular season games and a single postseason contest last season. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Manning set a new record for pass attempts in 2017.

New York’s top concern on offense will again be the team’s line, one currently set to keep the often-criticized Ereck Flowers at left tackle. Perkins’ inability to locate holes up front cost him and the offense yardage too many times last season. That problem could return this fall if the line doesn’t routinely make life easy for a back who is still learning on the job. If anything, the line was one reason the Giants targeting a player such as Blount wasn’t a wild notion.

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What’s done is done. The Giants clearly believe Perkins can, at worst, provide what Blount would’ve offered, and do so at a fraction of the price. Anything less than that from Perkins would be a letdown for a team eyeing a return to the Super Bowl.