Giants: Promising rookie RB emerging as team’s leading punt returner

New York Giants rookie running back Eric Gray on the first day of training camp at Quest Diagnostics Training Facility
Danielle Parhizkaran-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Giants have a young running back in their arsenal that is quickly ascending as the team’s leading punt returner. Rookie running back Eric Gray, the team’s fifth-round draft pick out of Oklahoma, was recently listed as the first-team punt returner on New York’s first unofficial depth chart as training camp wraps up.

An exciting rookie talent in the backfield

Gray played a total of four seasons in college, the first two with Tennessee before transferring to Oklahoma. In 2022 as the Sooners’ primary running back, Gray rushed for 1,366 yards, averaging 6.4 yards per carry, and totaling 11 touchdowns.

His experience as a returner is very limited, as Gray only returned a total of nine punts and four kickoffs during his NCAA career. With Saquon Barkley returning to the Giants on a one-year deal, Gray will see limited playing time in the backfield. It will be crucial for the rookie to capitalize on the opportunity to serve as the team’s punt returner this preseason.

“I think he’s got good short space quickness, good balance, good vision. He’s got some good moves in the open field, he’s a one-cut guy. A young guy I think has some talent to work with and now we’ve got to try to develop it. We’ll give him ample opportunity in the preseason to return these balls.”

Head coach Brian Daboll

Addressing the Giants’ special teams woes:

The Giants’ return game was abysmal last season, as they averaged just 21.3 yards on kickoffs and 6.2 yards on punts, the fourth-worst rate in the NFL. The unit lacked a true punt returner all season, as WR Richie James struggled throughout the year and starting CB Adoree Jackson suffered an injury while returning a punt in Week 10.

Can Eric Gray revitalize the Giants’ return game?

With his proficiency as a running back, Gray has the potential to inject stability into the Giants’ return game. It will be interesting to see how they utilize the inexperienced Gray in the special teams role, but it should be exciting to watch nonetheless.

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