The 2018 NFL Draft is upon us. In the vast seas of mock drafts, several running backs have been linked to the New York Giants. In the first round, Penn State running back Saquon Barkley has been compared to Gale Sayers or Adrian Peterson. There would be a bounty of players to choose from in the second round, such as Georgia’s Sony Michel and Nick Chubb, or Ronald Jones of USC.
Remember when the Giants were a run-first, physical football team? Any one of these running backs can basically be the catalyst for a return to that for several years.
And the Giants have the second overall selection and in all likelihood, Barkley will be sitting there ready to be cherry-picked. So, should they draft him? If not, should they take a running back in the second round? Are running backs selected in later rounds productive enough to take a flyer on?
Maybe some draft history on the Giants taking a running back can shed some light on this subject.
It is not that the Giants haven’t tried to ace a running back for the franchise. They have drafted a multitude of them in the first round over the history of the franchise. Some have become great players. Some serviceable. Others, well, complete busts.
Rodney Hampton came to the Giants in the 1990 draft in an unusual method. Always on the lookout to improve the defense, head coach Bill Parcells was adamant about selecting linebacker Darion Conner out of Jackson State with the team’s 24th pick. Conner had been a three-year All-American and MVP of the Senior Bowl. However, GM George Young drafted Hampton and his less than stellar 4.65 speed instead amidst a much-heated debate that spilled over into the season.
Hampton would go on to produce five consecutive 1,000-yard seasons with two Pro Bowl appearances while Conner was on to his second team after only four seasons. When he retired after the 1997 season, Hampton had scored 49 TDs, rushed for 6,897 yards with a 3.9-yard average.
Tucker Frederickson was the first overall pick in the 1965 draft out of Auburn. His time in New York was cut short with a devastating knee injury from which he never fully recovered. After six seasons, he retired.
Frank Gifford was the greatest Giants running back taken in the first round. He was selected 11th in the 1952 draft and was underutilized by then-head coach Steve Owen and played both offense and defense for his first two years. In fact, Gifford almost quit the game after the Giants 3-9-0 1953 season with an offer to be in movies with Warner Brothers.
Then the Giants hired Army coach Vince Lombardi to run the offense. Lombardi installed Gifford as his halfback as soon as he was hired in 1954 which allowed him to concentrate on one position. He was a graceful runner who had great hands and was an accurate passer. As the offense improved, so did Gifford’s play and outlook of the game. The next two seasons the Giants improved, and in 1956 won the NFL Championship - the franchise’s fourth title.
Gifford was named NFL MVP in 1956.
For his 12-year career, Gifford tossed 10 touchdown passes for 538 yards from his halfback position. He rushed for 3,609 yards and scored 34 TDs with an additional 43 receiving TDs and was an eight-time Pro Bowl selection. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1975 followed by the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1977. He is listed in the Giants Ring of Honor and has had his No. 16 retired by the club.
The Giants have drafted 18 running backs in the first-round since the draft was implemented in 1936. And while the club hit on several stars, they have also whiffed on countless players: 1971 Rocky Thompson (18th pick), 1947 Vic Schwall (10), 1955 Joe Heap (8), 1997 Tyrone Wheatley (17), 1944 Billy Hillenbrand (6), 1982 Butch Woolfolk (18), 1964 Joe Don Looney (12), 1945 Elmer Barbour (10), 2012 David Wilson (32), 1947 Vic Schwall (10), 1958 Phil King (12), 1949 Paul Page (4), 1985 George Adams (19), 1948 Skippy Minisi (2), 1991 Jarrod Bunch (27), and 1945 Steve Filipowicz (6).
Coming out of the 2000 college draft, there were several players who were can’t miss future Hall of Fame caliber types such as RB Jamal Lewis, LB Brian Urlacher, and DEs Courtney Brown and John Abraham. Dayne was a big dude at 249 lbs. and had power, he was relatively fast, considered a good blocker and a bruising runner. He lit up the college game and won the Heisman Trophy, the Maxwell Award and the Jim Brown Award for the nation’s best running back. He played for Wisconsin who was a member of the powerful Big 10. They played teams such as Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State, Iowa and Penn State on a regular basis which made Dayne all that more of an attraction. Dayne was named the Big 10’s Player of the Year and was a consensus All-American. He finished his college stanza with 6,397 yards on 1,220 carries with 71 TDs. Twice he rushed for over 2,000 yards in a 13-game season.
When the Giants took him with the 11th pick in the first-round, he was the third running back taken behind Lewis and Virginia’s Thomas Jones. He was expected to be the starter for the next 10 years. In his first season, he was paired with Tiki Barber and the duo was dubbed “Thunder and Lightning.” They appeared unstoppable with Barber’s speed and Dayne’s bulldozer style.
But Dayne had a weight problem and gave minimal effort to trim down when given ultimatums by head coach Jim Fassel. After Fassel was let go and Tom Coughlin was hired, Dayne did lose over 40 pounds but saw minimal playing time in 2004 as he gained only 179 yards on 52 carries. Jim Finn became the starter at the fullback position and took over most of the playing time from Dayne. The following season he wasn’t re-signed. He played a season with Denver and two with Houston before being released.
For all the hype and college adornments, with the Giants Dayne only gained 2,067 yards on 585 carries, 16 TDs, four fumbles and never got close to a 1,000-yard season.
Fabled second round?
The Giants have had good fortune with running backs taken in the second and third rounds. In Round 2, the club has selected Joe Montgomery (2009), Eddie Price (1950), Steve Thurlow (1964), Joe Scott (1949) and Bob Gaiters (1961).
But the greatest second-round picks were Joe Morris and Tiki Barber.
The 1982 draft saw the franchise take Woolfolk in the first-round and Joe Morris in the second-round. How could a club be so wrong and so right in the same breath? Leading up to that draft the Giants had a revolving door of RBs including Doug Kotar, Billy Taylor, Leon Perry and Bobby Hammond. Woolfolk was supposed to end that discussion and provide some stability. Three seasons later, Morris would become that stabilization.
New head coach Bill Parcells loved Morris’ running style while Woolfolk was regulated to the dog house even after productive seasons with the Giants. In his first season as the starter, Morris gained 1,336 yards and a league-leading 21 TDs. The following 1985 season he topped his mark with a 1,516-yard season and another 21 TDs. He was a key component in the Giants Super Bowl 21 victory and was named to two Pro Bowls.
Barber was drafted in 1997 with the vision of being a third-down option and punt returner. After Rodney Hampton had sub-par seasons, Barber became the starter and gained 1,006 yards his first full season. From 2001 through 2006, Barber was one of the league’s best RBs and gained 7,643 yards during that span including 1,860 yards in 2005.
Barber holds 16 Giants team records including most 1,000-yard seasons (6) and most rushing yards-career (10,449). He was named to three Pro Bowls and is listed in the Giants Ring of Honor.
Another great running back selected by the Giants was taken in Round 3 of the 1959 draft. Joe Morrison was a gifted player and had excellent hands as evidenced by being listed third on the team’s All-Time receptions list. In any given game he would play running back, wide receiver or fullback and was labeled “Old Dependable.” His jersey number 40 was retired by the Giants and is in the Giants Ring of Honor.
Other notable third-round RBs selected include Gary Downs (1994) and Bobby Duhon (1968).
Mid-round cheers and jeers
The jury is still out on 2016 fifth-round pick Paul Perkins, but all indications are that he is designated as a backup to whomever the Giants draft this year. He was named the starting RB for the 2017 season, but ended up with only 41 carries.
In the 2007 draft, the Giants took Ahmad Bradshaw of Marshall in the seventh round. At the time he was viewed as a kick returner. In Super Bowl XLII, he was the leading rusher in the Giants 17-14 victory. He saw more playing time and was named the starting RB in 2010 and finished with 1,235 yards. The following season he was signed to an $18 million contract with a $5 million signing bonus. In Super Bowl XLVI, again he was the leading rusher.
Persistent foot injuries cut his playing time and he eventually was released.
In the 2005 draft the Giants had only four picks, and with those, they took DB Corey Webster, DE Justin Tuck, DE Eric Moore and RB Brandon Jacobs in the fourth-round. Three of the four became valued members of the club and key contributors. Jacobs was a bully of a running back and almost unstoppable inside the 10-yard line. He was part of the “Earth, Wind and Fire” running back tandem along with Derrick Ward and Bradshaw. Many injuries kept his playing time down, including a recurring knee issue in 2008. He was signed to a lucrative $25 million contract in 2009, but knee issues kept him sidelined and when healthy was never the same bruising back. He signed with the San Francisco 49ers in 2012, but was sidelined with the same knee injury and was later cut.
Other mid to late round successful RBs selected include 1978 Billy Taylor (round 4), 1989 Dave Meggett (5), 1965 Ernie Koy (11), 1989 Lewis Tillman (4), 1995 Charles Way (6), 1964 Matt Snell (4), 1955 Mel Triplett (5), and 1985 Lee Rouson (8). Snell never played for the Giants as he was a first-round pick of the crosstown New York Jets of the rival American Football League and would go on to have a sterling career. Meggett remains one of the greatest punt returners.
Since the merger year of 1970, several players did not see much action or were cut shortly after wearing a blue jersey: 2013 Michael Cox (round 7), 1976 Gordon Bell (4), 1981 Edward O’Neal (6), 1972 Ed Richardson (9), 1986 Jon Francis (7), 1978 Dan Doornink (7), 1999 Sean Bennett (4), 1987 Tim Richardson (6), 1975 Jim O’Conner (15), 1984 Frank Cephous (11), 1976 John Thomas (10), 2014 Andre Williams (4), 1970 Warren Muir (15), 1979 Bob Torrey (6), 1994 2011 Da’Rel Scott (7), 1974 Steven Crosby (17), 1980 Otis Wonsley (9), 1978 Greg Lawson (12), 1971 Charlie Evans (14), 2009 Andre Brown (4), 1987 Dana Wright (9), 1979 Eddie Hicks (6), 1977 Elmo Simmons (12), 1987 Chad Stark, 1974 Jim Rathje (9), 1983 John Tuggle (12), 1973 Clifton Davis (13), 1981 Cliff Chatman (4), 1975 Marsh White (12), 1981 Louis Jackson (7), 1980 Ken Harris (8), 1979 Ken Johnson (11), and 1972 Fritz Seyferth (17).
In 1969 the Giants drafted John “Frenchy” Fuqua in round 11 and was traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers the following season. He would go on to become a valued member of their backfield and won two Super Bowls.
USC’s Aaron Emanuel was taken in the seventh-round of the 1990 draft and held out. He insisted he was first-round talent and wanted a contract that illustrated that. Coming out of high school, he was the nation’s top running back and the hottest prospect in the nation. While at USC he was suspended after he was convicted of punching unconscious a member of the women’s track team. He had three other charges that did not stick. Emanuel also had bad relationships with coaches. The Giants gave him a shot at fullback, but he could not unseat Maurice Carthon and was later cut. He later played for the Montreal Machine of NFL Europe in 1992.
Ring of Honor
Currently, there are five running backs enshrined into the Giants Ring of Honor: Joe Morrison, Alex Webster, Tiki Barber, Ken Strong and Frank Gifford. Strong, Gifford and Morrison have all had their jersey numbers retired by the Giants.
Barry Shuck is a pro football historical writer and a member of the Professional Football Researcher’s Association