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Searching 29 years of Coaching History to Gauge David Wilson’s Fantasy Football Prospects

New York Giants running back David Wilson
New York Giants running back David Wilson

December 23, 2012;Baltimore, MD,USA;New York Giants running back David Wilson (22) smiles at fans during the game against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium. Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

David Wilson doesn’t quite fit the classic definition of a polarizing fantasy football commodity because, well, you’re either tepid about the second year running back’s 2013 prospects, or you’ve abandoned all thought of drafting him at his current mid-third round average draft position.

To put it unkindly: No one loves David Wilson.

You won’t, however, find questions about Wilson’s physical bonafides, which include an extraordinarily high score on rotoViz’s Explosion Index – higher than Adrian Peterson’s coming out of Oklahoma.

Don’t make a practice of watching highlights to seek confirmation of your insidious biases, but watch a few minutes of Wilson’s rookie year runs and tell me he lacks anything on the physical side.

Wilson, the recipient of at least 13 touches in three of the Giants’ final four games, averaged 5.7 yards per tote and scored four touchdowns during that span. The sample size is miniscule, so take it for what it’s worth, which might not be a whole lot.

That matters not, you say so assuredly, because Wilson will be trapped this season in a timeshare with New York Giants’ backfield mate Andre Brown. Perhaps Brown will even seize the gig outright, and Wilson will be relegated to kickoff returns and occasional garbage time usage.

Usage is what causes us consternation here. Usage is what makes you hedge on Wilson at the end of the third round in every mock draft you’ve done this summer. Usage is what makes you certain that Brown – available in the mid-seventh round — represents a giant draft day Wilson discount.

For your convenience, and because I may or may not have lost sleep over the prospect of hitching my proverbial wagon (reputation) to Wilson this summer, I researched running back usage history for both Tom Coughlin and Giants’ longtime offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride.

First up, Coughlin’s head coaching career before he paired with Gilbride in New York:

Year/Team RBs/Carries
1995 Jacksonville Jaguars James Stewart 137  Vaughn Dunbar 110
1996 Jacksonville Jaguars James Stewart 190  Natrone Means 152
1997 Jacksonville Jaguars Natrone Means 244  James Stewart 136
1998 Jacksonville Jaguars Fred Taylor 264  James Stewart 53
1999 Jacksonville Jaguars James Stewart 249  Fred Taylor 159
2000 Jacksonville Jaguars Fred Taylor 292  Stacey Mack 54
2001 Jacksonville Jaguars Stacy Mack 213  Elvis Joseph 68
2002 Jacksonville Jaguars Fred Taylor 287  Stacey Mack 98

Stats courtesy of 

It’s all over the place, I know. I hoped against hope that Coughlin had imbedded some secret code in his running back usage – something that would’ve been readable with a secret decoder ring available in a cereal marketed to fantasy football degenerates.

No such luck.

Now for Gilbride’s running back usage during his pre-Coughlin forays as offensive coordinator for the Oilers, Steelers, and Bills, and two-year disastrous stint as Chargers’ head coach.

Year/Team RBs/Carries
1990 Houston Oilers Lorenzo White 168  Allen Pinkett 66
1991 Houston Oilers Allen Pinkett 171  Lorenzo White 110
1992 Houston Oilers Lorenzo White 256  Cody Carlson 27
1993 Houston Oilers Gary Brown 195  Lorenzo White 131
1994 Houston Oilers Lorenzo White 191  Gary Brown 169
1997 San Diego Chargers Gary Brown 253  Terell Fletcher 51
1998 San Diego Chargers Natrone Means 212  Terrell Fletcher 153
1999 Pittsburgh Steelers Jerome Bettis 299  Richard Huntley 93
1999 Pittsburgh Steelers Jerome Bettis 299  Richard Huntley 93
2000 Pittsburgh Steelers Jerome Bettis 355  Kordell Stewart 78
2002 Buffalo Bills Travis Henry 325  Drew Bledsoe 27
2003 Buffalo Bills Travis Henry 331  Joe Burns 39

Three of Gilbride’s five years as play caller in Houston offer some hope for those who fret that Wilson might not even make his way into a timeshare with Brown. The Oilers, as you can see, didn’t run the rock a whole lot in the early-90s, but for most of Gilbride’s time there, two backs were sharing the (limited) load.

The Oilers’ toothless running game in the era’s most spread out, up-tempo offense likely isn’t the best indicator of how Brown and Wilson will be deployed in 2013.

Gilbride presided over a one-man backfield in Pittsburgh and Buffalo, probably because there was no one worth sharing carries with Bettis and Henry.

Now comes the most important part of this sifting through coaching history, as we take a look at how Coughlin and Gilbride have used running backs during their nine seasons together in New York.

Year/Team RBs/Carries
2004 New York Giants Tiki Barber 322  Ron Dayne 52
2005 New York Giants Tiki Barber 357  Brandon Jacobs 38
2006 New York Giants Tiki Barber 327  Brandon Jacobs 96
2007 New York Giants Brandon Jacobs 202  Derrick Ward 125
2008 New York Giants Brandon Jacobs 219  Derrick Ward 182
2009 New York Giants Brandon Jacobs 224  Ahmad Bradshaw 163
2010 New York Giants Ahmad Bradshaw 276  Brandon Jacobs 147
2011 New York Giants Ahmad Bradshaw 171  Brandon Jacobs 152
2012 New York Giants Ahmad Bradshaw 221  Andre Brown 73  David Wilson 71

Running back timeshares were a foreign concept to Gilbride and Coughlin until four years into their time with the Giants, when Jacobs and Ward split the load in 2007 and 2008. That tradition continued with the emergence of Bradshaw and never changed during his career in New York.

We should remember that Bradshaw was headed for a full-blown timeshare with Brown in 2012 until another inglorious chapter was tacked on to the epic tome known as, “Andre Brown’s Injury History: Parts 1-8.”

In total, and for the record, five of the nine seasons in the Coughlin-Gilbride era could be considered timeshares to some extent. Those five years of backfield timeshares, of course, are the most recent five years. It’s not cherry-picking to say these two favor a two-back approach, despite their historical use of a one-back system in Jacksonville, Pittsburgh, and Buffalo.

Wilson’s mid-third round ADP likely won’t fluctuate all that much, barring a catastrophic preseason injury to Brown or some inexplicable announcement from Gilbride or Coughlin trumpeting Wilson as their unquestioned workhorse back.

The question that’ll determine whether you take the Wilson dive in drafts this summer: Can he justify his ADP with 180-200 carries? Perhaps a precursor to that question would ask whether Wilson will get even 100 carries, as so many drafters are convinced he’s something of a specialty, gimmicky offensive weapon.

(Somewhat) Similar Situations

Fantasy footballers faced a similar – though not identical – dilemma in the summer of 2010, when Jamaal Charles stared down the barrel of a timeshare with Thomas Jones. There was significant and persistent doubt among owners that Charles represented a draft deal value at his early-third round ADP. The mere presence of Jones, it was thought, would hamper any fantasy production of which Charles might’ve been capable.

Charles received 230 carries that season, Jones got 245, and Charles finished as fantasy football’s third highest scoring running back.

It’s admittedly not a perfect comparable, as Chiefs’ coaches had more trust in Charles headed into the 2010 season, and Brown is a marked upgrade to the lumbering corpse of late-career Jones.

Two years earlier, in the summer of 2008, fantasy owners let Chris Johnson drop to the eighth round of drafts as Titans’ coaches talked incessantly of a timeshare between Johnson and Lendale White, who went two rounds before his backfield mate. Johnson finished the year with more than 1,200 yards rushing on 251 attempt (4.9 YPC). He was fantasy’s 11th highest scoring running back. White was the 20th highest scoring back that year.

All of this is at least worth noting, and worth remembering, as your pores open and your heart races at the prospect of drafting Wilson in the third round this summer.

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