The Ballad of David Wilson

Posted by Jack Tumen

Robert Sabo/New York Daily News

Robert Sabo/New York Daily News

With the final pick in the first round of the 2012 NFL draft, the New York Giants selected running back, David Wilson – fresh off a monster season at Virginia Tech where he rushed for 1,709 yards and 9 touchdowns. For all we know with the way the NFL is changing, he could be the last first-round running back we ever see. Two years later, his career ends like a firework that was shot off but never exploded.

Blessed with remarkable talent, Wilson was about to be the next big thing. When he stepped on the football field, he was the most athletic player out there. When he touched the ball, he had a chance to go all-the-way. The only thing standing between Wilson and greatness was his head coach, Tom Coughlin.

It’s no secret that Tom Coughlin is a wonderful head coach; he’s led the Giants to two Super Bowl titles and even brought the expansion Jacksonville Jaguars to the AFC Championship Game way back when – It’s also no secret that Tom Coughlin is a strict head coach that doesn’t always get along with his players, most notably newly enshrined hall-of-famer, Michael Strahan. But if there’s one head coach that David Wilson should not have been paired with, it was Tom Coughlin.

Geoff Burke/Getty Images

Geoff Burke/Getty Images

First-round rookies usually contribute right away – but Wilson was forced to earn his stripes; so off to special teams it was. The Giants slapped the rook with kick return duties as he simultaneously tried to push for carries behind Ahmad Bradshaw and Andre Brown. Returning kickoffs was nothing new to Wilson – he returned two kickoffs for touchdowns in college.

But returning kickoffs wasn’t the long-term plan the Giants had in mind for their first-round pick – he was to be groomed into their back-of-the-future. As a rookie, Wilson was third on the team with 71 carries for 358 yards and 4 touchdowns; he also had a receiving touchdown and fumbled once – not bad for a rookie in a committee backfield. But the only way a player can improve is by playing, making mistakes, learning from those mistakes and fixing them by playing some more.

While he slowly toiled his way for more playing time, two other first-round running backs were bursting onto the scene as the focal-points of their respective offenses. Doug Martin, taken one spot ahead of Wilson, exploded for 1,454 yards on 319 attempts and 11 touchdowns as a rookie for the Buccaneers while Trent Richardson finished his rookie season with 950 yards on 267 attempts and 11 touchdowns while fumbling 3 times; the total number of fumbles that Wilson would ultimately finish his career with.

So in 2013, Wilson opened the season as the Giants’ number one back. Andre Brown broke his leg during the preseason, leaving the door wide open for Wilson to take the job by the horns and never look back. But in the opening game, he fumbled twice on seven attempts – and if Tom Coughlin’s angry face is Crimson, this time is was Burgundy.

To the dog house Wilson went; never amassing more than 13 carries in a game from then on out. With his reps scaled back, Wilson was never able to find a rhythm to his game. When given touches, he squeezed the pigskin so tightly it nearly popped; he was more afraid of fumbling again and feeling his coach’s wrath than simply being a running back and making plays – and in the NFL, if you’re playing afraid, you’re going to get hurt –

– And hurt he got, suffering a season-ending neck injury in a week 5 loss to Philly. It was the beginning of the end for Wilson, whose future was in doubt after going under the knife for spinal fusion surgery to fix a herniated disk – but not all hope was lost. In fact, Wilson looked like he had made a remarkable recovery from a dangerous injury and was on pace to return in time for the season (although, in a committee once again.) But just days before the Giants’ first preseason game, Wilson suffered what coaches referred to as a “neck burner” in practice. After being looked at by team specialists, Wilson was advised not to play football again.

And that was it. His career was officially over. No more big play breakaways, no more comeback hopes. The book had been closed on Wilson’s playing days. In the wake of the news, Wilson released a statement to the media; the most important part which read:

“I don’t want anybody to feel sorry for me, or pity me…I lived my dream. A lot of people only get to dream their dream. I lived that dream. Now I have a chance to dream another dream and live that, too.”

Wise words from a bright young man. O.K., David, I won’t feel sorry for you – I’ll feel sorry for the rest of the football world that will never get to witness the full potential of what you could’ve become.

Al Bello/Getty Images

Al Bello/Getty Images

Wilson ends his career with 115 carries for 504 yards and 5 touchdowns and 6 receptions for 42 yards and 1 touchdown.

So, reader, to answer the question I know you’re wondering – yes, I blame Tom Coughlin for Wilson’s downfall. With a young running back as talented as Wilson, you put that kid back on the field, let him learn from his mistakes and give him the opportunity to make plays for your team (and I promise I’m not saying that because I owned him in fantasy last year.) Holding him back not only killed the Giants’ season and ruined Wilson’s career, but perhaps even changed the course of the franchise. The sky was the limit for this kid and he was hindered by a coach who, more-so than any other head coach, embraces a strict disciplinary approach when it comes to mistakes. On a different team, in another offense and under a different head coach, Wilson could be one of the top-5 running backs in the NFL today. Instead, he hangs up the cleats at age 23, leaving us all wondering just what could’ve been for the once-promising career of David Wilson.

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