The New York Giants are still negotiating a new contract with superstar running back Saquon Barkley. The two sides have until July 17th to strike a new deal; otherwise, Barkley must play on the tag or sit out the upcoming season.
With all the uncertainty surrounding Barkley’s future since he was tagged back in February, the Giants made the wise decision to invest in the running back position during the 2023 NFL Draft. New York selected Oklahoma RB Eric Gray in the fifth round. Entering his rookie season, Gray could see far more playing time than originally anticipated.
Could Eric Gray be the Giants’ starter in 2023?
Gray was drafted to serve as backup to Barkley, giving the team’s workhorse relief in tiring games. But Gray could fill a much bigger role in the offense this season depending on Barkley’s contract decision.
When asked about his contract negotiations, a frustrated Barkley did not rule out the possibility of sitting out for the regular season. “Like you said, that’s a card I could play,” Barkley told reporters. “That comes up in conversation if something don’t get done by July 17.”
If Barkley were to sit out this season, Gray would be given the opportunity to fill in as the team’s lead back. However, Barkley is ultimately expected to play on the tag this season, so Gray will not be the team’s lead rusher. However, he should still see plenty of playing time this season as the Giants look to give Barkley more rest.
The Giants need to give Saquon Barkley more breaks in 2023
In 2022, no running back played more snaps than Barkley. He was on the field for a league-high 856 snaps en route to his second Pro Bowl selection of his career. Barkley’s increased playing time did lead to increased productivity as he totaled a career-high 1,312 rushing yards. However, the increased time spent on the field did seem to catch up with Barkley by season’s end.
Barkley was shockingly caught from behind on a 39-yard rushing attempt against the Eagles in the postseason; had he gotten away from that final defender, the play could have been a game-changing 80-yard touchdown run. Considering it was his 375th touch of the season, fatigue was certainly a factor.
Gray will allow New York to provide relief to Barkley so he is not running on empty by the time the postseason rolls around.
Eric Gray is a big play threat
Gray is a 5-foot-9, 207-pound running back that has been compared to NFL rusher Miles Sanders. NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein describes Gray as a “decisive, creative runner with the size and skill set for three-down consideration on the pro level.”
As Oklahoma’s lead back in 2022, Gray rushed for 1,366 and 11 touchdowns on 213 carries. According to Pro Football Focus, Gray had 44 carries of 10+ yards last season, ranking first among Big 12 running backs. Gray’s ability to handle a high workload and hit big plays will allow the Giants to be comfortable giving Barkley a break and allowing their rookie rusher to get plenty of playing time in 2023.