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90-Man Roster Preview: RB Orleans Darkwa Hopes For Bigger Role

He says he is finally healthy, but faces uphill climb for regular carries

NFL: New York Giants at Minnesota Vikings
Orleans Darkwa carries the ball.
Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

Orleans Darkwa has performed reasonably well in limited opportunities with the New York Giants the past two seasons, and has averaged 4.0 yards per carry with four touchdowns on 71 carries during his time with the Giants.

Darkwa’s opportunities have been limited, in part, by injuries that have limited his availability the past two years. Darkwa, though, has also been held back by another inescapable NFL reality — players in whom teams are most heavily-invested get the most opportunities.

Darkwa made it to the NFL with the Miami Dolphins in 2014 as an undrafted free agent. Late that season, the Giants plucked him off Miami’s practice squad.

During the entirety of Darkwa’s tenure with the Giants, Rashad Jennings — a handsomely-paid free-agent signee and the locker room leader of the running back group — was the primary back. The Giants drafted Andre Williams in 2014, and he was ahead of Darkwa before the Giants let him go. They drafted Paul Perkins a year ago and he is now the starter. Pass-catching back Shane Vereen has a Super Bowl ring and a nice free-agent contract.

Justifiably or not, Darkwa has taken a back seat to all of them. Let’s take a closer look at the 25-year-old Darkwa as we continue our player-by-player profiles of the Giants’ 90-man roster.

2016 Season in Review

Darkwa started the season behind Jennings and Vereen on the depth chart, and with Perkins breathing down his neck as he learned the NFL ropes. When Jennings and Vereen were injured, Darkwa got his chance. He ran 10 times for 53 yards and a touchdown in a Week 3 loss to Washington and 10 times for 48 in a Week 4 loss to Minnesota. After carrying seven times for just 11 yards in a Week 5 loss to the Packers, Darkwa never carried the ball again.

Darkwa ended the season on Injured Reserve, missing the final six games. Turns out, he had spent the entire season playing with a fractured tibia. In fact, Darkwa recently said that he actually played through the injury, which he thought was shin splints, for two seasons.

"People haven't really been able to see me at my best," Darkwa said. "I'm blessed to be in this situation right now after dealing with what I've dealt with for so long. To finally get the situation resolved and get back out on the field, I'm pretty excited about it. I'm champing at the bit. I think the best is yet to come."

2017 Season Outlook

During Thursday’s OTA, which was open to the media, Darkwa split some first-team reps with Perkins. Darkwa actually carried the ball on far more running plays than Perkins did during the workout, though reading anything into that at this point is silly.

Reality is, Darkwa is facing the same impediments to gaining a full role on offense with the Giants that he always has. Jennings is gone, but Perkins has already been anointed as the lead back. Vereen is healthy. The Giuants signed veteran Shaun Draughn for depth. There is also more young blood, fourth-round pick Wayne Gallman, for Darkwa to fend off.

Can he do it? We will have to wait and see. In my view, leg injury or not the Giants have under-utilized Darkwa in each of the past two seasons. Considering his competition, Darkwa is going to have to earn whatever playing time he does receive.