Saquon Barkley is, arguably, the best running back on the planet. Even Superman, though, sometimes needs backup — as the New York Giants found out all too well a season ago. Problem is, the Giants have not had a backup they seemed to truly feel comfortable with during Barkley’s two seasons.
Jonathan Stewart got hurt, and seemingly had nothing left in the tank, anyway. Wayne Gallman never really seemed to have the full confidence of the coaching staff. Jon Hilliman couldn’t capitalize on his opportunity. Buck Allen got signed too late and sat too much to have any real chance to help.
Can veteran Dion Lewis, signed to a one-year deal this offseason, caddy for Barkley in a reliable way no one has yet been able to? Let’s take a closer look.
Age: 30 in September
Position: Running back
Contract: One year, $1.55 million | Guaranteed: $225,000
How he got here
Lewis signed a one-year, $1.55 million ($225K guaranteed) free agent deal with the Giants after completing two seasons as the backup to Derrick Henry with the Tennessee Titans. The Giants will be Lewis’s fourth NFL team. He spent three seasons with the New England Patriots and began his career spending two seasons as a little-used member of the Philadelphia Eagles.
His three seasons in New England, where he was a backup running back and part time kickoff returner, obviously gave Giants coach Joe Judge, the former Patriots’ special teams coach, familiarity with Lewis’ skill set.
In need of a trustworthy backup for Saquon Barkley, the Giants turned to Lewis.
Being a Giant brings Lewis, an Albany, N.Y. native, home to the team he rooted for as a kid. Lewis, as we have written about before, attended training camp practices when the Giants used to hold them in Albany.
“I grew up a Giants fan, so it was always a dream of mine to play for them,” Lewis said during a conference call after his signing was announced. “I was a frequent visitor to training camp up in Albany. It was a great experience growing up being able to go watch those guys practice during training camp at a young age. I go back to the Tiki Barber days, Kurt Warner, Amani Toomer, Ike Hilliard, guys like that. It’s definitely a good situation to be in.”
Lewis’ usage has run the gamut during his seven seasons. He was lightly used by the Eagles, spent two seasons on IR or trying to make a roster, saw lots of opportunities — including a career-high 180 carries in 2018 — during three seasons in New England, had a career-most 214 touches with Tennessee in 2018 and then was an afterthought with only 79 touches a season ago.
He knows the deal when it comes to being a role player.
“You watch the game from a different perspective, but at the same time you always have to be ready,” Lewis said. “You have to be alert, you have to be in shape. You never know when your number is going to be called. It’s a unique situation and I have been dealing with it the past two years with Derrick (Henry). It definitely helped me come here and do whatever I can to help this group.”
Lewis will turn 30, the age when running backs are generally expected to fall off a cliff in terms of productivity, late in September. He gained only 373 yards from scrimmage in 2019, his lowest total since he collected only 93 yards for the Eagles in 2012. His yards per carry averages of 3.3 in 2018 and 3.9 in 2019 were the lowest of his career. With those things in mind, it’s fair to wonder how much gas he has left in the tank.
“My body feels pretty well. I didn’t take too much of a pounding last year. My body is relatively fresh,” Lewis said. “Whatever they need me to do. I keep myself in great shape, I pride myself on taking care of my body. I feel like I still can play, I can do the things I am accustomed to doing, I still can make guys miss. Whatever they need me to do, if my number is called, I’ll be ready. Whatever they need me to do or how much they need me to do it. I’ll be open to whatever they want me to do.”
Has Lewis lost a step? His longest run of 2019 was just 17 yards, and his 10.3 yards receiving per game was his lowest since 2012. On the flip side, he broke a tackle every 7.7 touches in 2019 after doing so every 9.7 touches in 2018. His Player Profiler ‘Juke Rate’ of 26.6 percent was relatively on par with his 29.0 percent rate in 2018.
The Giants need dependability out of a backup as much as they need production. The ability to pass protect, to protect the football and to make an occasional play. Lewis has only six fumbles in 710 career touches — one every 118.3 touches.
He may not be quite the player he was in New England when he had a career-best 1,680 all-purpose yards (896 rushing, 212 receiving, 570 returning kickoffs) but Lewis should be a good addition to the Giants’ backfield and should capably handle the No. 2 role behind Barkley.