The New York Giants have an exciting rookie RB in Eric Gray who they drafted in the fifth round of this year’s draft. Gray is aiming to contribute as a backup running back this season but is currently in a position to start elsewhere on the field. Listed as the first-team kick returner on the unofficial depth chart, Gray has an opportunity to develop on special teams and position himself as the complementary runner in the backfield alongside Saquon Barkley.
Eric Gray opens the preseason as the Giants’ kick returner
While Gary Brightwell was listed as the starting kick returner on the team’s first unofficial depth chart, an injury is keeping the third-year rusher sidelined, paving the way for Gray to take over as the primary kick and punt return specialist.
Gray fielded three kicks in the Giants’ preseason opener against the Detroit Lions, totaling 62 return yards (20.7 average). He also fielded two punts for eight yards in the contest. While he may not have stuffed the stat sheet, Gray demonstrated his potential as a returner in the first quarter, making a 22-yard return with excellent ball-carrier vision to give the offense solid field positioning:
Special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey said the team wants to “ramp him up quickly” when asked about Gray being involved as a kick returner. New York intends on developing the rookie’s skills through the return game.
The offensive line did Gray no favors in preseason debut
Gray also received playing time in the backfield against the Lions. He took five carries, amassing just nine yards on the ground behind the Giants’ backup offensive line. The offensive line failed to open lanes for Gray and struggled all game long.
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Projecting Gray’s impact as a rookie
Big Blue has competition in the backfield behind superstar RB Saquon Barkley. Gray will be competing with the likes of Matt Breida and Brightwell (once healthy) for the complementary running back role.
According to Pro Football Focus, Gray had 44 carries of 10+ yards last season, ranking first among Big 12 running backs. While he may not be quite the home-run-hitter that Barkley is, Gray’s ability to create big plays will be valuable.
As a rookie in 2023, Gray’s role will be to provide relief for Barkley as a second rusher and as a third-down receiver. Gray has strong capabilities in the receiving game, making him the perfect backup for Barkley.