Nobody can predict NFL stardom, but the general recipe is when ability meets opportunity.
On Sunday, the Giants needed a running back, and rookie David Wilson obliged, finishing with 100 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries in what may have been his breakout performance.
Wilson was named the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week for his 227-yard, one-touchdown performance as a kick returner. However this Sunday against the Falcons, the pressure will be on Wilson to produce miracles as a featured running back now that starter Ahmad Bradshaw’s status is clouded by a sprained left knee.
“We’re looking forward to having him have his day,” coach Tom Coughlin said of Wilson, who set the team’s single-game record for all-purpose yards (327) against the Saints.
Coughlin wouldn’t speculate on Bradshaw’s knee, but it’s safe to say the injury is a major concern. Bradshaw is the Giants’ best pass protector in the backfield and without him in the lineup, Wilson is practically alone. Backups Kregg Lumpkin and Ryan Torain have only been on the team for two weeks, and the latter has yet to be active for the Giants.
Coughlin said he needs Lumpkin and Torain to contribute this week, and LG Kevin Boothe said the pair has been making progress.
“They’re vets,” Boothe said of the Lumpkin, 28, and Torain, 26. “They understand how the NFL works and I feel as though they’ve picked up the offense fairly quickly, you know, without having the time devoted to ‘install.’
“A good sign is when you don’t really know who’s in the backfield, you just kind of go and play, and those guys have blended in,” Boothe added.
Though Lumpkin agreed that he and Torain have made progress learning the offense, the bulk of the responsibility in the backfield will fall on Wilson, who was used sparingly before Sunday.
Wilson began the season with a fumble on his first series and failed to make any contribution on offense until he gained 79 yards and a touchdown on nine carries between Weeks 5 and 6.
But with Bradshaw and RB Andre Brown ahead of him on the depth chart, Wilson struggled to get carries. And when Brown suffered a broken fibula on Week 12, Wilson still struggled to find any consistency, rushing for 22 yards on 10 carries between Weeks 12 and 13.
And that’s why his first 100-yard performance is so significant.
“David needed a game like that just for the confidence level,” FB Henry Hynoski said. “Now, he can go out every week and, you know, believe in himself and know what he’s capable of and it was good to see that because we can’t purely rely on Ahmad. It’s got to be more than one person in the backfield.”
“I saw him in practices getting more comfortable with everything going on, obviously getting a lot of reps with Ahmad not practicing all the time and doing things correctly and more consistent and doing everything right,” QB Eli Manning said of Wilson’s progress. “So it was exciting that he got his opportunity and took advantage of it.”
Coughlin is obviously thrilled to have “more weapons” on offense, but he didn’t seem as enthusiastic about Wilson’s touchdown dance.
When asked if he liked the back flips, Coughlin stopped smiling, gently shook his head and replied, “next question.”
Wilson told reporters that general manager Jerry Reese threatened to “get in his grill” if he hurt himself by flipping and even DE Justin Tuck told the rookie to “stop doing them.”
He acknowledged said there’s a “possibility” of injury that comes with the celebration, but the effervescent Wilson doesn’t seem to be taking their advice.
“I’ve been doing them since I was 3 years old, so, it’s like easy,” he said. “It’s almost like running, for me to jump and turn backwards. I’ve been doing it for a while and I think people can relax a little.”
Not everyone is against the back flips. Cruz -- master of the post-touchdown salsa -- said they’re “impressive,” while Manning had a much more practical take on the stunt.
“That means he's scoring touchdowns so that's fine with me.”