While quarterback is the position getting the most attention from the fans and the media, the tossup at the running back position is just as big for the New York Giants going into the 2018 season. There’s backs returning from last year, and options in both the early and later first round.
Once you throw in the possibility of the Giants drafting a sleeper outside of the first round, the position battle becomes even more of a puzzle.
So, who will lead the way in revitalizing the Giants’ running game? It makes sense to start with the players that are already on the team. Orleans Darkwa and Wayne Gallman had the majority of the rushes for the Giants last season, with 171 and 111 respectively, and Darkwa led in yards with 751. But if you go by the eye test, he wasn’t a particularly dominant back and leading in rushing last year doesn’t make him the starter this year, even if you only compare him to Gallman.
Darkwa had the higher usage at 11.4 attempts per game compared to 8.5 for his rival, but their yards per attempt was very similar. Darkwa gained 4.4 yards per attempt, Gallman gained 4.3. The statistical gap comes more from Darkwa having more usage than an actual gap in talent between the two players. Additionally, he appeared in two more games than Gallman and played in a total of 15.
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Both backs are serviceable, but they aren’t the kind of players that you want to rely upon entirely. Darkwa couldn’t reach a thousand yards and when it came to yardage, he was the 24th best back in the NFL. Again, not terrible, but not someone who you can rely on while contending for the division and the playoffs.
Besides, Darkwa is set to visit the New England Patriots and is a long-shot to rejoin the Giants.
It looks like the Giants will add an additional running back in the draft, but it’s unclear just how much they’ll spend to get a new back. If they decide that fixing the running game is the main goal, Penn States’ Saquon Barkley is the best answer on paper. Assuming he doesn’t go number one overall, of course.
Everyone is aware by now that scouts are predicting Barkley to be historically good, because of his fast gear changes and his combination of strength and balance. Barkley is the safest option here, but that’s not to say that his ceiling isn’t high.
His low floor and very high ceiling are exactly what makes him a safe pick in this scenario. The Giants will have to pay a premium to get him, and that means using the second pick and passing on a chance to get one of the top quarterbacks or improve the offensive line with another safe prospect, offensive guard Quenton Nelson. What happens if they decide to use the second pick to improve another position, and look for a running back elsewhere?
There’s other good prospects in this year’s draft, but none of them are as well-rounded and pro-ready as Barkley. Many consider Derrius Guice the second best back in the draft, and while he doesn’t have Barkley’s acceleration or agility, he has good power and is hard to bring down once he’s through the hole.
In college, he outplayed Leonard Fournette when the current NFL running back was out injured. After playing as LSU’s full-time starter last season, he rushed for more than a thousand yards and recorded 11 touchdowns.
Guice is on the radar of numerous teams and could very easily get drafted in the first round, however, the Giants should keep him in mind but shouldn’t assume that he’ll last until their second round pick. If Guice is off of the board, many fans think that Georgia’s Nick Chubb would be a good fit that can be drafted in round two. Chubb also played in the tough SEC and was always in the conversation as one of the premier running backs in the conference and the entire country. His four years in college gives him some extra experience going into the NFL.
Despite being a good prospect, however, there’s more polished players available and Chubb should be around in the second round. There’s a lot of ways that the Giants backfield could develop this season. Jonathan Stewart could start, with Chubb or Guice behind him on the depth chart for now. Or Barkley could start, and split time with Gallman and Stewart. Stewart was brought in as a seasoned veteran to help develop the younger backs on the team, and his familiarity with GM Dave Gettleman certainly helped his chances.
Bringing on Stewart and the emergence of Wayne Gallman in 2017 certainly puts former 6th round pick Paul Perkins on the back-burner.
Whatever happens, it looks like the backfield won’t stay the same. After all, fixing that area is one of the first steps to recovering from last season and getting back into a position to contend for the division.