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Running back alternatives if Giants pass on Saquon Barkley

Let’s look at backs who should be available in later rounds

NCAA Football: Auburn at Texas A&M
Kerryon Johnson
Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports

If the New York Giants pass on selecting a quarterback with the second overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, many in the fan base are hoping to hear the name Saquon Barkley called when it’s the Giants’ turn. In fact, there is a segment of the fan base that believes the Penn State running back should be the pick no matter what.

“He’s the best player in the draft,” is their refrain.

Those Barkley Believers might be right. Giants’ GM Dave Gettleman has certainly sounded like a Barkley fan.

“He’s big, he’s powerful, he can step on the gas, he’s got different levels of speed, he catches the heck out of the ball and he gets the blitz pickup stuff. He’s real.”

None of that, though, means the Giants will definitely draft Barkley.

The Giants could use a player like Barkley, and you can certainly make the case that they need to add to a running back group that includes Wayne Gallman, Paul Perkins and Jonathan Stewart.

If the Giants pass on Barkley, they will still have plenty of running back options throughout the draft. Scott Wright of Draft Countdown said on ‘Locked on Giants’ recently that there would be good running backs available in each round of the draft.

Let’s look at a few of the Day 2 and Day 3 possibilities.

Day 2

There are several second day options. Derrius Guice of LSU if he somehow falls out of Round 1 is an obvious choice. Ronald Jones II, Nick Chubb, Sony Michel are all in that category. Over and over in the mock draft simulations I do each Sunday I find myself choosing Rashaad Penny.

Let’s focus on a single Day 2 possibility we really haven’t spent much, if any, time discussing.

Kerryon Johnson

Full disclosure — Johnson is not a guy I have studied thoroughly throughout the draft process, or really hard targeted as a possibility for the Giants. I just don’t study each and every player in the depths that many do.

In his 5-round mock draft, though, ‘Invictus’ gave Johnson to the Giants in Round 4. He wrote:

Johnson has snuck by this star studded RB group, but he certainly could be among one of the biggest draft day steals.

He is explosive and bursts through the hole with a purpose. He also doesn’t go down on initial contact and will fight for every yard. Vision is also very good. Biggest issue is that he’s like Wayne Gallman in that he has a very upright running style. Makes him susceptible to ankle tackles. I liken him to Tevin Coleman or Karlos Williams. Would certainly be a factor in the NY Giants RB room.

Georgia v Auburn Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

That made me actually go back and look at Johnson. I watched him against Alabama in 2017. Truth be told, if I’m late to the party on a prospect and really have time to only look at one or two games I always watch how a player does against Alabama. I liked what I saw from Johnson — patience that reminds of Le’Veon Bell, burst in the hole, vision, good enough agility to make quick cuts, pass-catching ability, willingness and ability to pass block. The only thing I didn’t see? Home run speed.

Why is Johnson in the Day 2 category? Well, when I went to Dane Brugler’s 2018 NFL Draft Guide I discovered that he actually has a Round 1-2 grade on him, and ranks him above Chubb and Michel.

Brugler writes:

Based on first glance, Johnson doesn’t blow you away as a NFL prospect because of his tall pads and average speed, but he skillfully walks the fine line between being patient and quick-minded as a runner, making correct reads and maximizing the space available. While he was rarely 100% healthy at Auburn, he never gave less than 100% effort when on the field and his trademark toughness is exceptional. However, he didn’t have an injury-free season in college and sustained health is the largest concern for his NFL transition. Overall, Johnson displays the win-at-all-cost attitude, feel as a ballcarrier and multi-dimensional skills to be an impactful starter for a NFL offense – projects as a top-50 draft pick and leaner version of Jordan Howard.

Day 3

There are scads of running backs who could be selected on Day 3 and become contributors to their teams in some fashion during their rookie seasons. I am going to focus on two.

Nyheim Hines

A 5-foot-8, 198-pound multi-faceted back who draws comparisons to Darren Sproles? That’s good enough for me.

Pro Football Focus says:

Hines came along at exactly the right time, hot on the heels of the success of Alvin Kamara in New Orleans. He has that kind of potential but needs to become a more consistent receiver. He is a much smaller player than Kamara, but he runs hard, aggressively, and with excellent vision and feel for blocks, aspects that neutralize much of the size concerns, and he has the speed to be a home-run threat on any play.

Hines ran for more than 1,100 yards, caught 26 passes, averaged 11.3 yards on punt returns, and 22.3 on kickoff returns in 2017. Last season was his first as a full-time running back.

NFL Draft Report says:

Teams looking for a change-of-pace type of player with excellent receiving and kickoff return skills are certain to consider Hines on the third day of the draft. Blessed with excellent speed, but short in stature and lacking in ideal strength (11 reps in the bench press during Pro Day), Hines is not an every down player, but he has proven he can line up wide, in the slot or come out of the backfield to move the chains as a receiver.

In a league that is increasingly about matchups and sub packages, I would be intrigued to see how Pat Shurmur and Mike Shula would use a player like this. The return ability is a bonus.

NCAA Football: Arizona State at Texas Tech Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Kalen Ballage

Why Ballage? Well, this one is all about the David Johnson comparisons. I was a believer in Johnson when he entered the league in 2015. and thought he could help the Giants. He went 86th to the Arizona Cardinals, and was an All-Pro in 2016 when he had 2,118 yards from scrimmage and 20 touchdown. The Giants took Owamagbe Odighizuwa 74th.

Ballage draws those comparisons because his 6-foot-1, 288-pound frame is almost identical to Johnson’s, and he has the same ability to function as both a runner and receiver. Will he be Johnson? That’s a tall order. There are questions about his mediocre college production and just how good a running back he really is, but the physical traits and ability to be a receiver are tantalizing.

Pro Football Focus says:

Kalen Ballage is a player of intriguing potential and versatility, whose stock is likely to rise in the lead up to the draft. He is an impressive athlete in a big body, and has the ability to perform well on the ground, catching the ball in the pass game and returning kicks. He was extremely impressive as a receiver during the week of Senior Bowl practices ... teams will need to reconcile that with relatively pedestrian college production.