As summer approaches, the New York Giants‘ RB depth chart is becoming more fascinating by the minute. Nothing is changing at the moment, but that’s the problem. They’re missing arguably the freakiest athlete ever to play the position because he and the team have been unable to come to an agreement on an extension.
While that’s usually not an issue because of the franchise tag, Saquon Barkley refuses to sign his tender. Very few players have gone down this road in the past, and the league-wide devaluation of his position creates even more intrigue.
New York Giants RB Depth Chart
Only Le’Veon Bell has ever sat a season out instead of playing on the franchise tag contract.
“I’m not sitting here saying I would change or if I had a time machine I’d go back and play,” Bell said. “I just think there’s different ways I would have went about it. At the end of the day, in 2018, everybody just wanted to see me play football. Everybody just wanted to see my play.”
Giants owner John Mara has already addressed the situation, saying that the team wants Barkley to remain a Giant until he retires.
“I told Saquon we want him to be a Giant for his entire career,” Mara said during the NFL annual league meeting. “He provides leadership, he’s a great player, and we’d like to be able to get something done with him at some point. The running back market is what it is right now, but I’m still hopeful at some point we will come to an agreement.”
Joe Schoen said he’d been in constant contact with Barkley’s agent, but the team had stepped back after deciding to use the franchise tag on him.
There is no denying that having Barkley on the field is a better option than not having him at all. But if Barkley decides to sit out the season, do the Giants have enough firepower behind him to field a competent rushing attack?
Is Eric Gray, Matt Breida, and Gary Brightwell Enough Firepower?
In 2022, the Giants finished seventh in rushing EPA and DVOA. They were 16th in rushing success rate. But the Giants’ success was not on the back of Barkley’s 295 attempts.
He earned them -14.11 EPA on the year and -0.05 EPA per attempt a season ago. Meanwhile, Daniel Jones posted a 30.34 EPA at 0.25 EPA per pop. It was Jones’ legs that gave the Giants a fighting chance on the ground.
Matt Breida and Gary Brightwell only combined for 85 carries a season ago. But Breida was decently efficient in his 54 touches, earning higher points earned and EPA per play marks than Barkley.
It doesn’t take much for the team to argue they shouldn’t pay Barkley a significant long-term deal. Between his injury concerns and on/off splits, it’s hard to argue that he should receive a huge deal, despite being the former second-overall pick.
Bruce Feldman once tweeted that “Saquon Barkley is reeee-diculous. He’s looking like a 230-pound Reggie Bush with those cuts and burst+plus rare power.”
But the Giants’ passing EPA was 0.08 with him on the field and -0.06 with him off the field. The rushing difference was 0.02 with him on the field vs. 0.01 off it.
At the end of the day, offensive line, play-calling, and having a mobile QB all mean more to a team’s rushing success than the talent at the position, and teams understand that.
But being talented is an added bonus. So can Breida, Brightwell, and Gray get the job done? Yes.
Not having Barkley would hurt the explosive capability of the rushing attack. However, back in 2020, Breida was convinced he was the fastest player in the league.
“Nobody has been able to beat me,” Breida said via ESPN’s Cameron Wolfe.
Next Gen Stats clocked him at 22.3 MPH in 2019. Only Tyreek Hill and Raheem Mostert, another 49ers-turned-Dolphins running back, have hit the 23 MPH mark in Next Gen history. So the big-play ability is still there.
Meanwhile, Gray possesses the vision and short-area agility to make defenders miss and get downhill for consistent positive runs, especially behind a solid Giants offensive line. And while New York fans might have a bit to worry about if Gray is unable to usurp Brightwell on the depth chart, in the end, the Giants’ success on the ground will revolve around the QB.
As long as Jones’ legs continue to work and add a gap for the defense to defend, the Giants’ rushing attack should be relatively successful, even without Barkley.