Three things jump at you when you watch film of new New York Giants running back David Wilson during his days at Virginia Tech:
1. He is explosively fast, both as a kick returner and a running back, possessing the type of speed that can turn a short gain into a long touchdown in the blink of an eye.
2. He is tough to bring down, even at a little less than 5-foot-10, and keeps his 206-pound frame driving until the whistle.
3. He wants to get to the outside. Wilson will run between the tackles from time to time -- and probably more so in the Giants' scheme -- but he does his best work, and appears to be more comfortable, when he can outrace defenders to the boundary.
A lot of the explanation behind that third point falls to Virginia Tech's offense, which in 2011 featured a lot of shotgun looks and almost as many read-option plays, with quarterback Logan Thomas deciding whether to hand off to Wilson or keep it himself. Almost always on those plays, Thomas' keeper lane was up the middle, while Wilson's primary route was a stretch wide.
But even when some lanes opened up for Wilson inside the tackle, he tried to bounce outside. To the (pictures of the) videotape!
Apologies for the unfortunately-placed goal post there, but what you're looking at is Wilson right after he took a handoff from Thomas on a read-option play -- Wilson started to Thomas' left, then shuttled in front of the Virginia Tech QB after the snap. Wilson has a guard pulling in front of him and a wall to his right, so heading that direction makes sense.
Of course, to do so, Wilson had to ignore the huge hole that had opened in front of him.
It worked out for him, though, as he sprinted to his right, followed his blockers, then turned upfield.
Wilson made the first man miss on that play and wound up with a nice gain. It's that type of vision and acceleration once he starts north-south running that made Wilson look like a fit for a zone-running scheme, such as you'd find in Washington or Houston -- attacks that are built around running backs initially utilizing a horizontal pattern, then making one move upfield once they find a hole.
The benefits of that type of approach for a guy with Wilson's speed are obvious:
The rush is always on to compare incoming NFL rookies to someone who's played in the league. But Wilson is not the next Brandon Jacobs -- as mentioned, while he will run between the tackles, he's not a big, bruising back like Jacobs is supposed to be (whether or not Jacobs actually lives up to that billing), and he's definitely not going to be the "thunder" to Ahmad Bradshaw's "lightning."
While we're on the subject, he's also not Tiki Barber. Wilson has more raw athleticism than the long-time Giants back ... and a lot less capability in the passing game at the moment. Barber caught 586 passes during his NFL career; Wilson, despite being a huge threat in space, had just 37 grabs during three years at Virginia Tech.
Wilson also fumbled seven times last year, which was a major concern for those scouting him heading into the draft and will stay a worry for the Giants, at least until Wilson proves he can hang onto the football.
What the Giants are getting in Wilson is that so-called "home-run threat" -- he is a guy who can turn just about any play into a huge gain and a score. (On the flip side, he has a little bit of what I like to refer to as "Barry Sanders Syndrome," where he'll take a few big losses here and there while trying to make something happen. Look no further than his 22-yard loss on a 1st-and-goal against Michigan in the Sugar Bowl.)
New York won't be running any read-options with Eli Manning in the near future, though the Giants will employ a hefty share of shotgun looks. Wilson did get plenty of carries out of traditional looks, like the I-formation, at Virginia Tech, but he'll have to show that he can turn the corner in the NFL without the help of his QB's running threat.
All in all, Wilson has the potential to be a huge pickup for the Giants. But what can they fairly expect from him?
Best-case scenario: Wilson's speed translates, without a hitch, to the NFL, and he secures the Giants' backup RB job from Week 1. He solves his fumbling problems, continues to develop as a pass-catcher, and gives New York an even better 1-2 punch than when the inconsistent Jacobs was around. While he still takes has some negative plays, Wilson more than makes up for them with several game-breaking moments. He even pitches in with a few impressive kick returns.
Worst-case scenario: Wilson has no success running between the tackles, limiting where and how the Giants can use him. He also cannot hang onto the football and proves to be just as mediocre a blocking back as he was in college, keeping him on the sideline for third downs. He doesn't display the vision necessary to adapt to NFL defenses, and his quick-cut approach leads him into trouble more often than not.
It's hard to watch tape of Wilson and not come away impressed, despite his occasional butterfingers and reluctance to pick up blitzers. The one thing Giants fans do not have to worry about -- and this should be a relief post-Jacobs -- is Wilson playing hard on every down. He will get his chances in 2012, and will come up with at least a few highlight-reel plays. Let's start Wilson at 120 carries for about 450 yards, 18 receptions, at least three plays of 50-plus yards and six touchdowns.