The New York Giants bolstered their backfield in the fifth round of the 2023 NFL Draft, selecting Eric Gray out of Oklahoma. New York has been attempting to negotiate a new contract with superstar RB Saquon Barkley this offseason but has found no success thus far. With uncertainty surrounding Barkley’s future in Big Blue, could the rookie be ready to assume a starting role in 2023?
Could Eric Gray play a starting role for the Giants in 2023?
While it is extremely unlikely that Gray would ever overtake Barkley’s role in the starting lineup, the Giants will need their rookie to be ready in case of a potential holdout from Barkley.
Barkley is still expected to play for the Giants this season despite refusing to sign the franchise tag to this point. However, he does have the option to hold out for a contract if he so desires. But, according to Ryan Dunleavy of The New York Post, “Those who know [Saquon] believe he cares too much about his teammates, winning and leaving a legacy to go that far.”
Even if Barkley does return for the regular season, Gray will likely need to serve as the team’s starter throughout training camp. This is a role Gray should be preparing to play, not just because of Barkley’s contract dispute with the team, but also because of his extensive injury history.
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Prior to the 2022 season, Barkley had missed 21 games in three seasons with injuries from 2019 to 2021. In case of emergency, Gray will need to be prepared to take on the load as the lead back in New York’s offense.
The Giants drafted Gray in the fifth round despite his fourth-round pre-draft projections from Lance Zierlein of NFL.com and Joe Marino of The Draft Network. Zierlein described Gray as a play who could immediately contribute as a “three-down backup” while also possessing “future starter potential.”
Both Zierlein and Marino listed Miles Sanders as their NFL player comparison for Gray. The Giants rookie rushed for 1,366 yards and 11 touchdowns at Oklahoma in 2022. According to Pro Football Focus, his 44 carries of 10+ yards last season ranked first among Big 12 running backs.
Barkley is and will continue to be the lead back in the Giants’ offense. Since entering the NFL in 2018, Barkley has been one of the league’s most elite playmakers. Despite this, Gray should prepare to play a big role in New York’s offense.
Whether he is shouldering a portion of the load to make Barkley’s life easier, or unexpectedly being thrust into the starting lineup, Gray needs to be ready for game time.