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A Deep Look at the Giants' Running Backs Ahead of Training Camp

The top question for the Giants ahead of training camp is the status of running back Saquon Barkley's health.

The arrival of running back Saquon Barkley in 2018 was supposed to make the New York Giants running game better. When Barkley was lost for the season last year in the first quarter of the Week 2 game, the Giants were thought to be doomed.

The stats suggested otherwise. The Giants running game racked up 91 first downs and 1,768 net yards rushing in 2020 by using a committee approach after Barkley went down for the year, the best figures since 2018.

But this isn't to say the Giants are better off without Barkley, who, if they can get into space instead of deploying strictly on dump-off passes, can be a significant asset in the open field.

The problem with the Giants in 2018 and 2019 is that they attempted to center their offense around Barkley (yet it's debatable as to whether they fully tapped into what he brought to the table). 

While it's understandable that they would want him to touch the ball as many times as possible, by returning to that well time and again, they made it too easy for opponents to draw up plans to stop the offense.

Under head coach Joe Judge and offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, the good news is that the Giants are more committed to playing matchup football than force-feeding the ball through a specific vein.

The ironic thing is that if the Giants stick to that practice, they might find themselves with more opportunities for Barkley to impact the game the way the team has always envisioned since spending the No. 2 overall pick on him in the 2018 draft.

The Personnel

Saquon Barkley, Devontae Booker, Corey Clement, Gary Brightwell, Eli Penny,  Taquan Mizzell, Cullen Gillaspia, Sandro Platzgummer

The Finances

The Giants have $15.3 million invested in their running back/fullback group (8.4% of their total cap), the third-highest total behind Tennessee ($18.5 million), and Dallas ($18.3 million).

Barkley accounts for the lion's share of that cap hit at $10,025,602 or 5.4%.

Devontae Booker at $2.5 million (1.35%) is the Giants' second-biggest cap hit at this position. After Booker, everyone else falls below the $2.6 million league average at the position.


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Position Questions

1. When will Saquon Barkley be 100%?

This is the billion-dollar question--yes, it's that important. The problem is no one--not Barkley, not head coach Joe Judge, not anyone with the Giants--has an answer.

And even if they do have an idea, by not announcing it to the world, they're trying to keep the pressure off Barkley to push himself too hard to where he puts himself at risk for a potential setback, which is probably a smart approach.

"I'm going to take it one day at a time, come in with my head down and ready to work," Barkley said when asked if he had a timetable to return for a real football game.

"It's going to be whenever my body tells me I'm ready and it will show when I'm ready to go, that's when I'll be able to go out there and be hopefully as good as I was before or even better."

This is the first time Barkley is going through an injury of this magnitude. He revealed that his rehab process has had its peaks and valleys, as most rehabs do, and that he's been trying to keep a positive attitude.

"There’s some things that happen that you know you've got to do a little more work and that's part of the rehab process. You have your ups and your downs physically and mentally," he said.

2. Will there be room for Gary Brightwell on the 53-man roster?

Gary Brightwell's ticket to the Giants' 53-man roster is special teams. There are only so many players a team can carry whose only role is special teams. 

If the Giants are potentially looking at one of Eli Penny or Cullen Gillaspia for special teams, could they afford to carry another core special teamer at the running back spot?

It doesn't make sense to carry two core special teamers at the same position, which is probably why Brightwell might have a better chance at the practice squad to start his NFL career.

What Would Surprise Me

Saquon Barkley is ready for Week 1. The Giants have said they need to be smart with bringing Barkley back from his injury, and part of being smart is allowing him the maximum amount of time to make sure he is fully recovered.

If Barkley starts training camp on a limited pitch count (the expectation) or the active/PUP list (worst case scenario), I don't see any way he's going to be ready for Week 1, especially since I highly doubt there are plans for him to play this pre-season.

The Giants, remember, aspire to go to the playoffs. They're going to need Barkley for the mid to latter part of the season when things heat up, so don't be surprised if that's when he makes his triumphant return.

What Wouldn't Surprise Me

Eli Penny wins the fullback battle. For the first time since he was anointed the full-time Giants fullback in 2018, Eli Penny will have some competition for his job in the form of Cullen Gillaspia, an unrestricted free agent acquisition from Houston.

Gillaspia has played a total of 31 snaps on offense in two seasons with the Texans, while last season alone, Penny played in 73 snaps last year.

Both have been core special teams players for their respective teams, with Penny being slightly more productive from a statistical perspective. Penny should prevail unless the Giants are contemplating having Gillaspia take some of the H-back snaps in the offense.


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