New York Giants fans should be very happy that after dalliances with the Miami Dolphins and Washington Redskins, free-agent running back Ahmad Bradshaw agreed to terms on a new four-year, $10 million deal that looks like a ridiculous bargain once you go through a few games of tape and watch Bradshaw's skill set very specifically.
I recently did just that and came away with this impression: Used correctly, Bradshaw could be one of the top 15 backs in the league from a production standpoint. At 5-foot-9 and about 200 pounds, he's got the ability to do just about everything you'd need from a marquee running back.
Bradshaw was one of Giants general manager Jerry Reese's best examples of his ability to find gems in the late rounds of the draft, and he'll continue to provide great value for Reese's team.
Drafted: Seventh round, 250th overall, 2007 NFL draft (New York Giants)
Career Stats: 529 carries, 2,558 yards, 4.8 yards per carry, 17 TDs; 75 catches, 575 yards, 7.7 yards per reception, one touchdown.
2010 Stats: 276 carries, 1,235 yards, 4.5 yards per carry, eight touchdowns.
Inside running: For a "shifty" back, Bradshaw is surprisingly willing to stand up to contact, bounce off defenders, and fight for extra yardage. Outstanding and constantly opportunistic cutback runner who will make the most of the smallest opening — he'll turn quickly to gain extra yards against the grain. Patient in letting his blocks develop and he's quick to top speed in a straight line. Very tough to tackle at linebacker depth and beyond, especially between the hashmarks, because he's constantly angling for space and his quick feet allow him to cut on a dime and maintain functional downfield speed. Very mean and aggressive after contact, which is good and bad — he'll punish defenders, but is also prone to fumble more than you'd like.
Outside running: Great at bouncing off his blocks, or slipping off to find another gap outside if one closes up. When following blocks outside or heading off-tackle on a designed play, Bradshaw is smooth but not blazingly fast — it takes him a bit of time to hit optimal speed and he'll lose ground to outside linebackers and ends when quicker backs will hit the edge and go. Good at fighting linebacker and defensive backs downfield; he doesn't have to slow down to deliver a blow.
Blocking: Bradshaw frequently headed out to routes out of I-formation while the fullback stays into block. He's a willing blocker, but doesn't really have the upper-body strength to bull a linebacker back; he's more a pesky blocker who can slow defenders down on the way to the quarterback.
Receiving: Quick to the flat or out of a block release, Bradshaw looks like a receiver when he hits the open field. He gets up to speed nicely, has great cuts, and turns on the jets when he can. Good quick turn with the catch to get upfield. In the right kind of offense, he has legitimate 70-80-catch potential, and flaring him outside to increase his total touches while keeping his carries under control would be an ideal way to integrate him into a balanced offense.
Conclusion: In the end, I think that Bradshaw is miscast as a speed back; there's that perception of him based on his role opposite the 270-pound Brandon Jacobs. He projects best as the ideal hybrid back (think Ronnie Brown) who can hit the hole inside, cut back, catch passes, and do it all with aplomb. Not quite a three-down feature back, Bradshaw still has the versatility to become the point man in a varied system where power is mixed with an efficient aerial attack. He's more than the lightning to someone else's thunder, and I think he'll be a prime mover in New York's offense through the life of his new deal.