There’s no question that the New York Giants running backs group has talent. Coming back from a torn ACL that forced him to miss most of last season, Saquon Barkley is one of the NFL’s brightest young stars. However, the Giants have had trouble solidifying their running back core with depth pieces behind Barkley. Wayne Gallman’s free agency departure to the San Francisco 49ers this spring exacerbated that problem.
To fix the issue, the Giants signed veterans Devontae Booker and Corey Clement. They also drafted Arizona tailback Gary Brightwell. While all of these backs have a chance at earning critical snaps behind Barkley, it’s still possible that one might not make the 53-man roster. The Giants took four running backs on their final roster last year, so this doesn’t signify a lack of depth. Rather, it speaks to how crowded the position group is right now. With that in mind, which Giants running backs will produce in 2021?
Previewing the New York Giants Running Backs in 2021
Projected Starter: Saquon Barkley
There isn’t much to say about Saquon Barkley that hasn’t already been said. He’s a game-changing player who will be the focal point of the Giants offense once again. Barkley will be looking to rush for over 1,000 yards for the third time and earn his second Pro Bowl nod. He even has a shot at winning Comeback Player of the Year honors.
Barkley’s explosive production is vital to the offensive success of the Giants, but his role may be slightly different than in years past. Due to Barkley’s recent injury history, head coach Joe Judge and his staff might be reluctant to designate the star running back as a high-usage, “bell-cow” tailback.
That’s not to say that Barkley won’t be the undisputed starter. But it does mean that the Giants will need capable backups more than ever to keep their offensive play-calling unpredictable when Barkley rests on the sideline. Regardless of that, Barkley is still one of the most elite running backs in football. He alone makes the position one of New York’s strengths.
Projected Backups: Devontae Booker, Corey Clement
When Barkley tore his ACL in Week 2 of last season, it was clear that the Giants needed a solid backup running back. Wayne Gallman filled that role well in 2020, so it was crucial for general manager Dave Gettleman to invest in replacing Gallman after he signed with the 49ers.
Enter Devontae Booker. Backing up Josh Jacobs on the Las Vegas Raiders, Booker rushed for 423 yards and three touchdowns in 2020. His vision and physical style of play make him a solid power back. Because of that, offensive coordinator Jason Garrett may utilize Booker in goal-line situations. And if Barkley were to suffer another injury, the Giants would likely call upon Booker to take on most of the carries.
Corey Clement will also earn some snaps. The former Philadelphia Eagles running back signed with the Giants in May. He should mostly find playing time as a pass-catcher. Clement is faster and more dangerous as a receiver than Booker, so he could be a good safety net for Daniel Jones on third downs.
On the Bubble: Gary Brightwell, Taquan Mizzell, Elijhaa Penny
It appears that one of these three running backs will make the final roster. Elijhaa Penny might have the best chance. Penny’s prowess as a run-blocker helped him become the Giants de-facto starting fullback in 2018 — a role that he hasn’t lost. Penny’s only problem is that the fullback position is dying. Like most other teams, New York will prioritize the passing game by giving snaps to as many of their dynamic receivers as possible, which could make rostering a fullback meaningless. While the Giants have bucked the league-wide trend for years by keeping Penny, there’s a possibility that the team lets him go.
With an impressive preseason, Gary Brightwell could also make a run at a spot on the 53-man roster. The sixth-round pick’s physicality and strength somewhat resemble that of Booker. Brightwell has the potential to capitalize on those skills and develop into a solid pass-blocker. Since Barkley, Booker, and Clement have struggled in pass protection, Brightwell has an opportunity to bring a unique skillset to the table. If he can do that and make an impact on special teams, he’ll be in contention for a spot on the final roster.
Barring any injuries, it’s going to be difficult for Taquan Mizzell to find a spot on the Giants roster. Since entering the NFL as an undrafted free agent in 2017, Mizzell has bounced around numerous practice squads. Like Clement, he’s a pass-catching running back who can also play as a kick returner. Even though that versatility is valuable, Mizzell’s athleticism isn’t great. That will likely be the deciding factor for the Giants, though it’s possible Mizzell could make the practice squad.
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