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2020 NFL Draft: Five running back prospects for the Giants

Could the Giants look for a new backup to Saquon Barkley?

NCAA Football: Oklahoma at Kansas Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Giants won’t be drafting a running back highly in the upcoming draft. The presence of Saquon Barkley makes the very notion laughable, and even if Barkley weren’t a Giant it seldom makes sense to draft a running back in the first round.

But that doesn’t mean the Giants won’t be drafting a running back at all. The team needs to give Barkley a break now and again — he has already missed time due to injury and over-use will only make that more likely to happen again in the future.

The Giants could probably get away with Wayne Gallman, Javorius Allen, Elijhaa Penny or George Aston (if the next coaching staff even wants a fullback). But while Gallman, Allen, and perhaps Jon Hilliman might be adequate to fill in, the next coaching staff should have a second running back with whom it feels confident.

In looking for a backup running back for Barkley, the Giants should either look for a player who fills a niche exceedingly well, or a player who they can feel comfortable putting on the field for extended snaps without having to change their play calling.

Here are five players in the 2020 NFL Draft class who could interest the Giants.

Eno Benjamin (Arizona State)

If the Giants are going to invest in a backup running back, he might as well be a playmaker, and Eno Benjamin is one of the best under-the-radar playmakers in the upcoming draft. Benjamin has a compact, stocky build at 5-foot-10, 210 pounds, good vision and balance, and great short-area quickness and stop/start agility. Like Barkley he specializes in freezing defenders then making them miss with sudden acceleration. He also looks to finish his runs and isn’t afraid to lay hits on defenders. He’s a well-rounded back who is also a capable pass protector and receiver out of the backfield.

Lamical Perine (Florida)

Another well-rounded back who coaches should be comfortable leaving on the field for an entire drive. Perine has the size to run with power and is much more of a one-cut back than a hyper-creative scatback like Barkley. Perine has good vision to see a hole, the acceleration to hit it, and the contact balance to run through arm tackles. He also has experience playing a supporting role in multiple back sets, which would give the Giants options for looks they haven’t explored in recent years.

A.J. Dillon (Boston College)

If there are any weaknesses to Barkley’s game it would be somewhat spotty pass protection and his running between the tackles. Pass protection has been an area of emphasis for Barkley since coming out of Penn State, but it is still a work in progress. Likewise, while he is physically capable of lowering his pads and running between the tackles, it really takes away from what he does best.

A.J. Dillon, on the other hand, is a beast between the tackles. At a fullback-like 6-foot, 250 pounds, he is an absolute load when going downhill. He runs low, with a definite forward lean and surprising acceleration for such a big back. He has the contact balance to ignore arm tackles and needs to be gang-tackled to be brought down without racking up too many yards after contact. Dillon is a good pass protector, using that mass and leverage to match up against just about any extra rusher a defense will bring, and a capable check-down receiver.

The natural comparison for Giants’ fans will be Andre Williams, and there are some similarities in that Dillon isn’t effective when defenses force his feet to stop or force him to run laterally. His value is as a short-yardage back (like LeGarrette Blount), being used as a pass protector off of play-action, or in two-back sets to give defenses multiple styles to try and defend.

J.J. Taylor (Arizona)

At the opposite end of the spectrum from Dillon is J.J. Taylor out of Arizona. Taylor is technically “undersized” compared to the NFL standards, but looking at him it is difficult to really call the 5-foot-6, 190-pound running back “small.

Taylor’s game is built around maximizing what his compact frame allows him to do. His size allows him to hide behind offensive lineman and his quickness lets him exploit quickly developing gaps He uses his natural leverage and low center of gravity to make quick, twitchy cuts and change angles quicker than larger defenders can completely match. Taylor is a competitive player who isn’t afraid to match up in pass protection or finish behind his pads, but he is at a size disadvantage and is better used in space.

Trey Sermon (Oklahoma)

One last “complete” back, Sermon doesn’t have the kind of dynamic explosiveness that teams gravitate toward early, and that could cause him to drop in April’s draft. That being said, he is a functional athlete with a very flexible lower body which helps him evade defenders in tight quarters. Sermon is an aggressive runner who can be hard for would-be tacklers to bring down easily, and along with his balance, vision, patience and flexibility makes him a natural “chain mover”. He doesn’t have the speed to be a big play threat, but he should be a consistent threat to pick up good yardage with consistency.

Coaches will love that he brings that aggressiveness with him to pass protection. He squares up to defenders, plays with good leverage, looks for work, and isn’t afraid to take the fight to them. Sermon is also a capable receiver who can be dangerous in space as a receiving weapon, on screens, or as a check-down option.