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Giants’ running back question is “Who backs up Saquon Barkley?”

The team’s star back can’t shoulder the entire load

NFL: New York Giants-Minicamp Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

The addition of Saquon Barkley to the team last year was a bittersweet pill for New York Giants fans.

Forget about the on-going debate as to whether the Giants should have drafted a quarterback at No. 2 overall over Barkley.

The problem with drafting Barkley, a generational talent, is that the revamped running game, which has been missing from the Giants offense since the days of Ahmad Bradshaw, was only half effective thanks to the incomplete and inconsistent showing by the offensive line which often made it difficult for any Giants running back to function.

According to Pro Football Focus, of the nine running backs last year who finished the season with 1,000 yards rushing (of which Barkley was second with 1,307, behind league leader Ezekiel Elliott of Dallas), Barkley had the third-highest average yards after contact average (3.34) after Derrick Henry of the Titans and Chris Carson of the Seahawks.

This is worth mentioning because it would suggest that Barkley often had to get extra yards on his own doing, which means more wear and tear on his body.

Simply put, the better the run blocking upfront, the easier Barkley should have it. While he’ll probably be the first to embrace any challenge put in front of him, the danger of having your star running back take a repeated pounding and having to consistently push his way forward for additional yards behind an offensive line that’s getting no movement could put that running back at risk of having a shorter career.

We’ll cover offensive line in a separate review, but with the Giants having addressed that issue this off-season, at least on paper, presumably, the running game will be able to be even more potent this year.

The Projected Depth Chart

Starter: Saquon Barkley
Backups: Wayne Gallman, Rod Smith, Paul Perkins, Jonathan Hilliman, Eli Penny (fullback)

Barkley turned out to be everything the Giants thought he’d be and then some. But if there was one area that was disappointing (through no fault of Barkley’s) is his use in the passing game.

After dazzling the media last spring with his ability to burn linebackers on wheel routes, when it came time to run it during the regular season, the Giants coaching staff stuck more with passes to the flats and with check downs.

Barkley finished with an average of 7.92 yards per reception, which isn’t bad, but imagine what that number could have been had the coaches used more of Barkley’s receiving skills to mix things up.

After being forgotten about, Paul Perkins, who last year spent the entire season on the Non-football injury list, had a strong spring showing as both a runner and receiver.

Perkins, who’s had an uphill battle ever since he started his NFL career in 2016—he missed the OTAs in his rookie season due to his class schedule running late; he was thrust into the starting job a year later despite not being ready for it; and then the injury last year—is finally back on track.

He’s healthy, he’s had the entire off-season to go through the OTA workouts and classroom sessions, and he has a legitimate and healthy competition in front of him—all factors that should enable the Giants to get the best out of him.

The rest of the competition includes third-year player Wayne Gallman, who will be challenged by newcomer Rod Smith, and rookie Jon Hilliman out of Rutgers.

Gallman has had some flashes that have been encouraging, but it there is one glaring deficiency in his game, it’s been his ball security. He led the Giants running backs in total fumbles (rushing and receiving) with four, and per Pro Football Focus, he had two dropped passes in 21 pass targets.

The Biggest Question

Who will back up Barkley?

If you’re thinking, “Who cares? Barkley should never come off the field!” then just ask the Los Angeles Rams about the importance of having a solid 1-2 punch at running back.

Yes, Barkley has shown himself capable of being a workhorse, and yes, he should get the lion’s share of the carries. But he’s also human, and although he’s still a young man, he’s susceptible to overuse.

The Giants backup options aren’t quite in Barkley’s class as far as being the entire package, but certainly, there has to be one among them capable of taking on some of the workload.

The Giants just need to find the identity of that backup and should probably spend most of the summer giving the candidates on the roster behind him as much work as possible.