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New York Giants position battles: Who will win the RB3 job?

Which player will earn the running back three spot behind Saquon Barkley and Dion Lewis?

Washington Redskins v New York Giants Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

The New York Giants have one of the most dynamic running backs in modern history currently on their roster. If healthy, Saquon Barkley can designate the sky as his limit of success, especially if the offensive line upgrade evinces to improve. New York also added a veteran presence to the running back room; Dion Lewis, who used to work with Joe Judge in New England, will more than likely be the primary back-up to Barkley.

Lewis figures to spell Barkley when he needs a break or in pass protection situations if Barkley doesn’t improve in that area. However, the Giants mustn’t establish any predictable trends with their personnel. This leads me to the running back 3 position. Who on the roster can do enough to earn their keep as the third running back?

Front runner: Wayne Gallman

Being a front runner is typically encouraging, but Gallman’s case isn’t as anchored. The former 2017 fourth-round selection was drafted by the previous Ben McAdoo/Jerry Reese regime. It’s not an indictment of Gallman, but general managers tend to favor their selections and “carry-overs” don’t always get the same type of leash as other players.

Gallman, however, has shown flashes of a very capable running back in the past. He averaged 4.3 yards per carry in his rookie season while adding 34 catches for 193 yards. For a young running back, he’s always been solid in pass protection too. Sadly for Gallman, it was all downhill after his rookie year.

After the selection of Barkley in 2018, Gallman struggled to see the field, yet Barkley’s 2019 injury rendered Gallman the de facto starter in Week 4 against Washington, and he played well. Gsllman rushed 18 times for 63 yards (3.5 yards per carry) with 6 catches for 55 yards and 2 total touchdowns. It was an encouraging sign from Gallman. But after two carries the following week, he was injured and relegated to bench duties once he returned.

Another issue has been Gallman’s inability to hold onto the football. In his professional career, Gallman has fumbled 6 times on 191 rushing attempts — a fumble every 31.8 carries. That is a sure-fire way to ensure that you won’t see the field, yet three of those fumbles were in his rookie season. He had 51 carries in his sophomore campaign and fumbled the football twice and last year he had 29 carries and fumbled the ball once. Gallman has also fumbled the football twice in his career 59 receptions, both in 2018.

It doesn’t sound like a positive display from Gallman, and one may ask ... how is he the front runner? That’s simple. The competition is scarce, and it enhances the chance for Gallman to advance off circumstance. Gallman may have to prove his worth on special teams coverage, too, something he did adequately in his rookie season. Gallman has talent, and he deserves a spot in the NFL, but the Giants added an older Lewis for a reason; now Gallman must win that third job.

Potential candidate: Jon Hilliman

Remember after Barkley’s injury when the Giants promoted Hillijman, an undrafted rookie from Rutgers, from the practice squad and most of us just said … who? Well, he’s still on the roster after an uninspiring, three-game stint with New York that led to him being put back on the practice squad after the team signed Javorius Buck Allen.

I don’t want to be hard on Hilliman who was granted an opportunity when Gallman’s led to him starting in Foxborough on Thursday Night Football. In the three games that he played (WAS, MIN, NE), Hilliman recorded 90 yards on 30 carries (3.0 YPC) and fumbled the football thrice. He also added 3 catches for a net total of 1 yard.

It’s easy to knock a player who didn’t have a lot of success, but the perspective that surrounds the player should be taken into context. He was an undrafted rookie free agent who had both of the starters go down in front of him. He played against two of the top defenses in the NFL, plus Washington who has a stout front seven. Not to mention his offensive line was one of the poorest in terms of run blocking. Can he prove his worth to the new coaching staff and hopefully find greener pastures? Sure, anything is possible, but his collegiate statistics at Boston College, Rutgers, and his rookie season in the NFL don’t reflect that it’s likely.

Underdog: Javon Leake

Leake’s potential to make this team surpasses Hilliman’s in my opinion, but this piece is predicated on the third running back position. Leake should make this roster regardless due to his game-breaking ability as a kick returner. He was the All-BIG 10 kick returner in 2019 and took two back for touchdowns. He’ll have to prove to be reliable with ball security, but the duties should end up being his over players like Corey Ballentine and Darius Slayton. In his career at Maryland, he has three kickoff return touchdowns, but he was never used as a punt returner, which does pose questions about his status with the team if he can’t make other significant impacts.

As for the third running back job, Leake offers upside as a one-cut running back who has electric playmaking speed in space. He was never a true bell-cow type back, and only received more than 100 carries in his last season, but he made the most of it. Leake averaged 7.2 yards per carry in 2019 on 102 carries, 9.1 yards per carry on 34 carries in 2018, and 11 yards per carry in 2017 on only nine carries. His ability to find a crease, whether that’s on pure cut-back lanes against heavily pursuing defenders or on stretch zone plays, is a fine quality.

Leake must prove that his ball security issues are a thing of a past. He had four fumbles in 2019, three against Nebraska. That may have just been an off day, but undrafted rookies who fumble the football tend to not stick around as long as other running backs (see Hilliman last year). Leake offers a lot of things that Hilliman doesn’t possess. Leake has a lot more burst, better vision, and has a ton of upside as a kick returner. I don’t think the Giants want Leake to go through waivers, so he may be the one that gets the roster spot over Hilliman, but camp needs to play out and who knows how that is going to materialize in 2020.

Final thoughts

The Giants lack a true kick returner, and haven’t had one for years. I believe Leake will be on the Giants roster in some capacity for 2020, but to earn the third running back job may be hard for the undrafted rookie in a curtailed off-season. I think it’ll come down to one true roster spot for Gallman and Hilliman which should be one of the more competitive battles in camp. Gallman has more to offer, is a better overall running back, and should win the battle. Hopefully, Gallman can recapture his rookie form in the limited touches (hopefully) that he’ll receive, while also contributing in special coverages. As for Hilliman, he isn’t an automatic loser to Gallman, but he has to do significantly more to prove his keep after a bland start to his NFL career.