How NY Giants are following Chiefs, Buccaneers’ lead by collecting RBs
The NY Giants have added four running backs since free agency began, but what is driving the organization’s strong commitment to the position with Saquon Barkley on the roster?
The NY Giants have collected running backs this offseason like they’re suddenly once again valuable trading cards, despite already boasting Saquon Barkley atop the depth chart.
Barkley, when healthy is among the most gifted players at his position in the NFL, and a matchup nightmare both in the ground game and aerial attack for opposing defenses. However, Barkley’s presence in the offense alone hasn’t stopped the NY Giants from investing significant resources into the running back position in recent months.
“A few years ago teams thought RB’s were expendable and not worthy of big money,” an AFC South executive tells FanSided. “Or high picks. Some teams have realized unless you have an elite quarterback, you will need a good running game to take pressure off your offensive line and quarterback to be more than they really are.”
Before free agency even began back in March, the NY Giants agreed to terms within hours of the NFL’s legal tampering period opening with former Las Vegas Raiders running back DeVontae Booker. Then, the NY Giants chose Gary Brightwell in the sixth-round of the NFL Draft earlier this month, and added former Philadelphia Eagles running back Corey Clement and claimed Ryquell Armstead off waivers from the Jacksonville Jaguars just this week.
While Barkley’s durability is a legitimate concern, after suffering a high-ankle sprain that cost him three games and limited him for much of the 2019 season before tearing his ACL in Week 2 of the 2020 campaign, the NY Giants’ sudden investment of resources into the running back position in a league that has increasingly moved towards emphasizing passing is puzzling.
What has driven this renewed commitment to running back depth in recent months, and what does it say about the NY Giants’ commitment to Barkley beyond his fifth-year option that the organization picked up this offseason? FanSided spoke to current and former executives and NFL coaches to find out.
Barkley produced 2,028 yards from scrimmage and 15 touchdowns as a rookie, after being chosen No. 2 overall in the 2018 NFL Draft.
However, as injuries have taken their toll the past two seasons, Barkley has accounted for only 1,535 yards and eight touchdowns in his last 15 games.
It would be easy, and perhaps overly simplistic to suggest that the NY Giants view Booker, Clement, Armstead, and Brightwell as long-term insurance policies on Barkley’s ability to stay on the field, and remain among the NFL’s most prolific yards from scrimmage weapons.
There is a very real possibility that the NY Giants have specific plans for each of their new backs, and aim to take the pressure not just off Barkley — to keep treads on his tires, but also quarterback Daniel Jones, as he enters a pivotal third season that just may define his future.
“I think there’s going to be an open-competition for the second running back spot,” an offensive coordinator tells FanSided. “Between Armstead and Booker.”
Booker arrives in East Rutherford after averaging four yards per carry through his first 77 games with nine career touchdowns. Like Barkley, Booker has a proven track-record as a receiver, catching 122 of 164 career targets while averaging 7.8 yards per reception and adding one touchdown.
It isn’t difficult to envision Barkley and Booker on the field together, either in the same backfield or with one lined up in the slot, to dictate mismatches to opposing defenses.
Meanwhile, Armstead and Clement are no-risk, high-reward signings that could wind up being meaningful contributors. Armstead, in particular, who has plenty of explosiveness and upside with limited carries thus far in his career.
Alvin Kamara and J.D. McKissick were both among the top-25 in receiving yards last season, and in 2019 Christian McCaffrey was second in the NFL in receptions while producing 1,005 receiving yards.
Last season, Jones and backup quarterback Colt McCoy targeted NY Giants running backs 86 times last season, and with a healthy Barkley, Clement, Booker, and Armstead, there’s a significant chance that number increases significantly in 2021.
“Teams need three good running backs in today’s NFL,” former NFL Executive of The Year Jeff Diamond tells FanSided. “And you need to have some backs on your roster who are better in the passing game.”
Fans, some analysts, and those outside the NFL view the running back position wildly differently than most teams do, and especially how NY Giants general manager Dave Gettleman has proven to since his arrival.
“Look at last year,” the scouting director says. “Tampa Bay and Kansas City both had multiple former first-round running backs on their roster. Good teams are starting to realize that the ‘PFF view’ of running backs not being important is wrong.”
The Buccaneers won a Super Bowl with a backfield that included Leonard Fournette, Ronald Jones, and LeSean McCoy, by the time they hoisted the Lombardi Trophy in their home stadium, as the Chiefs countered with former first-round pick Clyde Edwards-Helaire, former second-round pick Le’Veon Bell, and Damien Williams.
McCoy also won a ring the prior season with the Chiefs.
Viewed through one prism, the NY Giants this offseason are following the blueprint of the two most recent Super Bowl champions by building a backfield that eases the pressure on their quarterbacks and exploiting defenses that are more often than not built from the back frontwards to counteract the passing game.
However, the NY Giants roster is still several pieces away from legitimately competing for a Super Bowl, especially in a conference that includes the Buccaneers’ Tom Brady, Packers’ Aaron Rodgers, Seahawks’ Russell Wilson, and others, at the most important position in sports.
Some believe that the NY Giants recent signings, in addition to adding wide receiver Kenny Golladay and tight end Kyle Rudolph free agency before choosing Florida wide receiver Kadarius Toney with the No. 20 overall pick, are all tied back into evaluating and doing everything possible to facilitate Jones taking significant strides in his development.
“The Giants don’t have an elite quarterback,” the scouting director says. “And they need other playmakers to make him better, which is a big reason why you’re seeing them do what they’re doing at running back.”
In an era where teams are passing the ball at a prolific rate, it will be fascinating to see if the NY Giants’ stable of running backs is able to both help Jones develop and make inroads towards making the postseason for only the second time in the past 11 years.
Matt Lombardo is FanSided’s National NFL Insider and writes Between The Hash Marks each Wednesday. Email Matt: Matt.Lombardo@FanSided.com, Follow Matt on Twitter: @MattLombardoNFL