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First Down: Disrespecting Rashad Jennings doesn't make sense

Brad Evans
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Jennings has generated strong opinions from fantasy 'experts'

Jennings has generated strong opinions from fantasy 'experts'

There are many things in this world I truly don’t understand. Dudes in flip-flops who lift weights at the gym, the popularity of Chihuahuas, why people find listening to Rush enjoyable and satellite TV commercials that insinuate humans copulate with marionettes top the list.

So does the baseless hatred toward Giants RB Rashad Jennings.

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The running back’s projected value and where he should be drafted has created a great schism in the ‘expert’ community. Just read my Twitter timeline. Supporters believe Jennings’ fourth-to-fifth round ADP in standard or 12-team PPR leagues is a bargain. He’s a legitimate top-15 candidate who could turn a massive profit. Doubters, meanwhile, are convinced he’s an overpriced, generally unproven dinosaur on a mediocre team that has no business being drafted as an RB2 even in the deepest of leagues.

In the sharp words of Shawshank’s Andy Dufresne, I ask the latter, “How can you be so obtuse?”

Below are popular stereotypes about Jennings that simply don’t hold water:

Belief 1: Because he’s far from his peak at 29-years-old and playing at an age-sensitive position, he poses an injury risk and no longer possesses the physicality needed to succeed.  

The old adage “Age is nothing but a number” applies to Jennings. Ignore his date of birth folks. Primarily deployed as a backup in his five-year NFL career, he’s amassed a mere 484 touches. In other words, the tread on his tires is thick.

Thumbing through the annals of NFL history several running backs could be classified as “late-bloomers.” Charles White, Christian Okoye, Priest Holmes, Thomas Jones, James Stewart and, most recently, Fred Jackson, all contributed appreciable fantasy stats in their Age 28 or Age 29 seasons. And most in the bunch were lightly used prior to their stellar campaigns.

It may sound like a broken record, but opportunity outweighs everything. And Jennings is certainly in a prime position to work heavily.

Belief 2: His highest carries yield in a single season is 163. There’s no way a player largely in a career complementary role can suddenly handle 300-plus touches.

Among the above mentioned rushers who captured the spotlight at an uncharacteristic age none is a better example of what Jennings could achieve than White.

From 1980-1986, the USC product was largely employed as a crutch. Suiting up for Cleveland and Los Angeles, he logged just 24 starts and 75.5 touches per year in his first 81 games, often splitting time with the likes of Mike Pruitt and some ‘stiff’ named Eric Dickerson. However, when Dickerson was traded to Indy during the strike-impacted 1987 season, White, who battled through cocaine addiction early in his career, was gifted a second chance to showcase his wares.

He seized the moment.

In 12 starts, the then 29-year-old totaled 1,495 combined yards and 11 touchdowns in a Pro Bowl campaign that earned him NFL Comeback Play of the Year honors.  His rise from the shadows is one of many examples how guys, no matter how old or how experienced as a starter, can take advantage of a situation.

Jennings proved last season he’s more than capable of shouldering the load. As the starter in eight contests with Oakland, he totaled 17.4 touches per game, 4.36 yards per carry, 81.6 combined yards per game and scored five touchdowns. A second-half stallion, he finished No. 4 among fantasy RBs in per game average from Weeks 9-16. Overall, his 62.2 yards after contact percentage ranked top-five at the position. Critics who contend he can’t be an every-down back are simply cherry-picking stats to mask their ignorance.

Belief 3: History tells us Tom Coughlin isn’t a fan of a single-back system, thus it limits Jennings’ chances of being a workhorse.

The veteran is the prototype Coughlin RB. He’s an excellent pass blocker (No. 17 in pass-blocking efficiency in ’13 per Pro Football Focus), tough between the tackles, owns soft hands (36-for-36 in catchable balls last year) and, most importantly, is completely trustworthy with the ball in his hands. Over 484 career touches he fumbled three times or the same number of rock drops David Wilson totaled on 121 career grips. Unlike his main competition, Jennings is the Michael ... err ... Derek Jeter of RBs, a player that rarely commits an error.

Belief 4: David Wilson and Andre Williams are serious threats.

According to insiders, Wilson, off a frightening neck injury that nearly ended his career, is on the verge of earning medical clearance. Without question, he is the most explosive back currently on the Giants roster, but his inefficiencies in pass protection and as a receiver will almost assuredly relegate him to a secondary role. His history of coughing up the pill, which you know is still fresh in Coughlin’s mind, also doesn’t help. He will eat into Jennings’ workload somewhat, but probably only 8-10 carries per game.

As for Williams, he’s a rookie who has a mountain to climb to gain the trust of Coughlin. He was a dynamic bruiser in his senior year at Boston College (355 atts, 2,177 yards, 18 TDs), but his questionable pass pro and mannequin hands as a receiver – he caught only 10 passes in 44 career collegiate games – do him no favors. It’s entirely possible rusted-out pickup truck Peyton Hillis could earn a roster spot over him. 

Belief 5: Ben McAdoo’s offense never incorporates running backs in the pass game.

The offensive brands that influenced McAdoo during his time in Green Bay didn’t exactly parallel the New Orleans Saints or New England Patriots in deployment of RBs as pass catchers. However, Aaron Rodgers never had a Pierre Thomas or Shane Vereen to dump off to either. Still, Cedric Benson tallied four catches in a game in three of five starts two years ago and last fall Eddie Lacy caught two passes or more in 10 games finishing with a respectable 35 receptions. It’s ludicrous to think Jennings does his best Alfred Morris impersonation in the catches department. At worst, he’ll grab 30-40 passes in '14. 

Bottom Line: Jennings is not the imminent bust many are making him out to be. He’s a top-shelf RB2 destined to register roughly 17-20 touches per game running behind an offensive line that, despite its struggles keeping Eli Manning off the Bunsen burner, ranked top-10 in run-blocking last year according to PFF. On sheer volume, the journeyman has a great shot of flirting with RB1 numbers in 12-team leagues. That’s GIANT upside for a RB going around pick No. 67 (RB20) in early Yahoo drafts.

Enough with the unwarranted disdain. Those who believe in Jennings will soon laugh all the way to the fantasy playoffs. 

Fearless Forecast: 268 carries, 1,157 rushing yards, 36 receptions, 244 receiving yards, 11 total touchdowns 

Want to bull rush Brad? Follow him on Twitter @YahooNoise. Also, check out "The Noise' along with colleagues Andy Behrens and Brandon Funston for another season of 'Fantasy Football Live' Tuesday-Thursday at 6:30 PM ET starting July 29 on NBC Sports Network.  

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