Giants’ forgotten 2nd-year running back should not be slept on

New York Giants Eric Gray (20) celebrates after scoring touchdown in the second quarter
Michael Karas / USA TODAY NETWORK

The New York Giants overhauled their backfield this offseason following the departure of superstar running back Saquon Barkley in free agency. The Giants responded by signing veteran running back Devin Singletary as Barkley’s replacement. They also added an exciting talent in the fifth round of this year’s draft, but these moves seem to overshadow one made last offseason which could have an impact in 2024.

In the 2023 NFL Draft, the Giants selected Oklahoma running back Eric Gray in the fifth round. He didn’t see the field in excess as a rookie, but Gray’s talent cannot be underestimated. Giants fans should be careful not to sleep on the second-year rusher.

Eric Gray was a productive running back in college

Oklahoma's Eric Gray (0) gets by Oklahoma State's Jason Taylor II (25) in the first half during the Bedlam college football game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and the Oklahoma State University Cowboys (OSU) at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Nov., 19, 2022.  Credit:SARAH PHIPPS/THE OKLAHOMAN / USA TODAY NETWORK
Oklahoma’s Eric Gray (0) gets by Oklahoma State’s Jason Taylor II (25) in the first half during the Bedlam college football game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and the Oklahoma State University Cowboys (OSU) at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Nov., 19, 2022. Credit:SARAH PHIPPS/THE OKLAHOMAN / USA TODAY NETWORK

Despite being drafted in the fifth round, Gray was an exciting prospect coming out of last year’s draft. He had a productive collegiate career which he split across two teams. He played for Tennessee in the 2019 and 2020 seasons before transferring to Oklahoma for the 2021 and 2022 seasons.

Gray totaled over 1,000 yards from scrimmage twice in his collegiate career — once at Tennessee as a sophomore (1,026 yards from scrimmage) and then once again at Oklahoma as a senior (1,595 yards from scrimmage). His senior season was his breakout, as Gray totaled 1,366 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns on 213 carries (6.4 yards/attempt).

NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein gave Gray a Round 4 draft projection, comparing him to NFL running back Miles Sanders. Zierlein described Gray as a “decisive, creative runner with the size and skill set for three-down consideration on the pro level.”

Although the Giants’ backfield has gotten pretty crowded since Gray was drafted, he still has that three-down potential and could become a valuable asset in New York’s offense.

The Giants will value depth in their backfield

New York Giants running back Eric Gray (20) carries the ball as Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Bradley Roby (33) and linebacker Shaquille Leonard (53) pursue during the second half at MetLife Stadium
Jan 7, 2024; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; New York Giants running back Eric Gray (20) carries the ball as Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Bradley Roby (33) and linebacker Shaquille Leonard (53) pursue during the second half at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Over the past several years, Big Blue has struggled to maintain its consistency on the ground game in large part due to injuries suffered by Barkley. He missed plenty of time with injuries and the Giants rarely had sufficient depth in the backfield to supplement his absence.

Lessons learned for Big Blue. They added Singletary and fifth-round rookie Tyrone Tracy this offseason despite already having Gray and veteran Gary Brightwell on the roster. New York now finally has some depth in its backfield, providing them with insurance in case of any injuries.

Another plus for Gray: special teams usage. Despite barely playing on special teams in college, the Giants utilized Gray as a return man last season. He returned seven punts for 28 yards (4.0 average) and four kickoffs for 58 yards (14.5 average). Perhaps not the most impressive numbers, although, with the implementation of the NFL’s new kickoff format in 2024, Gray’s abilities as a running back could become more effective as a kick returner this season.

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