Having just selected David Wilson in the first round of the 2012 draft, running back was one of the few areas the New York Giants weren't going to have to address this offseason. But after news broke this week that Wilson is undergoing surgery on a potentially career-threatening neck injury, the position is suddenly shrouded in uncertainty.
Giants owner John Mara said Thursday he is optimistic that Wilson will be able to return from an injury that cost him the majority of 2013, but admitted he doesn't expect Wilson to be the No. 1 back next season. The team finished 29th in the league in rushing using a makeshift committee of Andre Brown, Peyton Hillis, Brandon Jacobs and Michael Cox and will need to make contingency plans for a top back next year.
The first question for the Giants is whether they keep Brown, a 27-year-old free-agent-to-be. He led the team in rushing (not much of a feat considering the Giants' 2013 backfield) but has had his own share of injury issues. Brown missed the first half of the season after breaking his left leg for the second time in two years and also dealt with concussion problems.
The fifth-year back had big performances against the Oakland Raiders and Dallas Cowboys, but did little outside of those contests. Brown rushed for 242 yards and a touchdown in those two games -- he had 250 yards and two touchdowns in his other six.
Despite the injuries and lack of production, Brown is still a strong candidate to get re-signed as a No. 2 back based solely on necessity. Jacobs retired last week and Hillis was a one-year stop-gap who won't be back. Cox, a 2013 seventh-round draft pick, had just 22 carries all season.
That still leaves Big Blue searching for a reliable No. 1 rusher, something they'll likely turn to in free agency or the draft.
The top candidate on the market will be Ben Tate, who is looking to escape the shadow of Arian Foster in Houston. He failed to impress during his brief audition as a feature back with Foster on injured reserve in the latter half of the season, but has all the tools and is only 25.
Maurice Jones-Drew and Darren McFadden are also scheduled to hit the free market, though they no longer hold the allure they once did. Jones-Drew was a shell of his former self in 2013, averaging a career-low 3.4 yards per carry. McFadden is notoriously injury prone and has yet to play more than 13 games in a season.
Chris Johnson, who hinted this week he wanted to be cut by the Tennessee Titans, could be another option. His production has never lived up to the massive contract he signed in 2011 and the Titans could be more than happy to oblige his wishes.
The 2014 draft class is light on running backs at the top, but with more pressing needs on the offensive line, the Giants likely wouldn't spend a first-round pick on a rusher anyway. There are several quality pickups projected to go in the second and third rounds, including Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey, Auburn's Tre Mason, Baylor's Lache Seastrunk and West Virginia's Charles Sims.