New York Giants rookie running back Javon Leake, an undrafted free agent out of Maryland, made the most of his touches during the team's first training camp scrimmage.
Leake, who recorded 1,144 rushing yards on 145 carries with 17 touchdowns in three seasons with the Terps, has dazzled Giants coaches with his vision, his change of direction ability, and his toughness in fighting through the tiniest of creases.
In the Giants' first scrimmage of training camp, all of this was on full display. On his first carry of the day, he wasted no time, taking the ball in between the tackles and wading his way through the traffic to burst well beyond the second level, making some zig-zag moves along the way to fool would-be "tacklers."
Leake also showed impressive explosion with the ball in his hands and decisiveness that resulted in minimal wasted motion--and some positive yardage as a reward.
“He’s a guy that’s really coming on right now,” head coach Joe Judge said after the scrimmage. “He’s feeling more comfortable within the system and the scheme. He’s doing a good job taking the coaching points from (running backs coach) Burton (Burns) to the field.
"Today’s a day where he had an opportunity to go out there and just play. He went out there and just played some ball and made some plays for us.”
The Giants running backs room is rather deep this year. Starter Saquon Barkley and backup Dion Lewis are both locked in for roles. Fullback Eli Penny also appears to be well on his way to earning one of the available spots. International Pathway candidate Sandro Pkatzummer, who also had an impressive showing in camp, appears to be a lock for the team's practice squad at minimum.
That likely leaves Leake and Wayne Gallman locked in a competition for the remaining spot on the roster. And for Leake, an advantage he potentially has over Gallman, but one that he hasn't had a chance to show off in camp, is his kickoff return ability.
At Maryland, Leake tied the program record for most career kick-return touchdowns with three. In 2019, he was named First Team All-Big Ten Return Specialist, his 26.8 kickoff return average leading the conference and ranking 13th nationally.
"The thing that is so impressive about him is his top-end speed and how quick he can get to his top-end," said former Maryland special teams coach John Papuchis.
"That's the key to being a good returner. Holes are going to open up and they're not going to open up for very long. You've got to hit it and get vertical as quick as you can and [Leake] does as good a job as anyone I've been around. That ability to accelerate in so short a period is a unique quality. A lot of guys can get up to top-end speed like from 0-60, and he just has the ability to go from 0-60 faster than most guys can."
If Leake does find a place on special teams, he will benefit from one of the better surrounding casts in the league.
The Giants finished in the top 10 in kick return yard average in 2019 under special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey, a carryover from the previous coaching staff.
With a special teams unit that is already among the top in the league but which has struggled to return kickoffs and, for that matter, punts for touchdowns, Leake could be the spark to help get things going.
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