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Film study: What does RB Devontae Booker bring to the Giants?

Booker is making a surprising amount of money — will he be worth the price/

Denver Broncos v Las Vegas Raiders Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

The New York Giants didn’t make a splash on the first unofficial day of free agency. They re-signed Austin Johnson to a contract that doubled what he earned in 2020, which helped soften the inevitable departure of Dalvin Tomlinson. Then they added one new member to the team -- running back Devontae Booker.

The signing of Booker to a two-year, up to $6 million deal, is flat-out confounding. Why would the Giants allocate up to $6 million on a player who is going to be 29 at the start of the season, who was an average backup making pennies of what the Giants just offered - in a depressed market nonetheless?

Here are the reported full contract details.

I understand why the Giants want to find a capable backup for Saquon Barkley, that’s not what’s perplexing. What gives me pause is signing that backup to this type of contract on the first day of free agency when there’s plenty of other options on the market that could be had at a much cheaper cap hit.

It’s not a sound process. Deals like this, the Jonathan Stewart deal back in 2018, Levine Toilolo - these veteran players that GM Dave Gettleman apportions money towards ... I question if any other NFL teams would have come close to signing players like this to the contracts that Gettleman offered. The Giants are in no position to be overpaying a backup running back.

I do believe one reason the Giants prioritized Booker over someone like Wayne Gallman is due to his special teams’ ability. Adding a backup running back who can play specials essentially helps free up a roster spot. I’m a big proponent of bolstering the special teams unit, but the money and timing are still questionable.

I felt it necessary to propound those sentiments before reviewing Booker’s film. Booker finished the season with 106 snaps, 93 rushing attempts for 423 yards (4.5 ypc), and 3 rushing touchdowns, as well as 17 catches for 81 yards. We can cry over spilled milk, but let’s also attempt to view Booker in an objective manner and see what he CAN do for the Giants.

He’s physical

Booker is a 5-foot-11, 219-pound, running back with a compact frame who possesses pretty solid contact balance. He’ll run through arm tackles and plays with good functional strength. He’s not overly explosive, but he’s not a plodder either, and he has upside on special teams and as a receiver.

His best game last year was against the Denver Broncos Here’s one of his touchdowns from that game. It’s one of my favorite plays from Booker; it’s a split-zone run with Jason Witten (80) capping the end man on the line of scrimmage (EMOLOS). A hole in the A-Gap opens up and A.J. Johnson (45) fills quickly, but Booker is able to get skinny and shows impressive short-area quickness and agility to juke outside of Johnson’s immediate reach. Booker then finishes strong by running through the arm tackle attempt and finding pay-dirt. He had 16 carries for 81 yards and 2 touchdowns against Denver (more clips from that game will be shown).

Booker is a solid receiving threat out of the backfield. The video above isn’t exactly indicative of that; it’s just a quick dump-off on a third-and-19 and Booker gets 18. I just really like the physicality Booker shows. He has quick feet, plays behind his pads, and takes on contact well. He’s got the frame and some power to make defenders bounce off him once his momentum gets going.

Here we see good patience to let the combo pancake develop and then he has very good vision to explode into the right hole where he is met by a defensive back that gets punished. The blocking is good to his right side and he does a solid job finding the path and finishing strong.

The Raiders run power/gap with the back-side guard pulling to the five-hole to locate the scraping linebacker and Booker does a good job hitting the hole off the backside of the pulling guard and behind the combo block. He then finishes by lowering his shoulder and falling forward through contact - something he does well.

Vision

He showed good vision in several of the clips above, but here are some more to help substantiate his effectiveness with this trait.

The double team block and transition on the 2i-Technique put both defenders out of position and Booker does a good job noticing how crowded the interior gaps were, so he naturally felt the cut-back lane and took the run for six. He shows enough burst to not allow the defenders who are protecting the edge to restrict the gap and make a tackle.

Booker shows good feel on this run; the Browns read their keys on this stretch zone run and Booker senses the lateral flow. Oliver Vernon (54) crashes down the line of scrimmage really hard and Booker jukes outside Vernon to face up with a defensive back. Booker then shows the physicality by lowering his shoulder and picking up a few extra yards. A good combination of play strength and vision right here from Booker.

This Jets game wasn’t great for the Raiders rushing offense, but this run above was solid. Booker had players in his face almost all game. Here he shows very good reactionary quickness once Marcus Maye (20) shoots inside the C-Gap to almost force a tackle for loss. Booker reacts quickly and finds the cut-back lane to pick up 14 yards.

This play isn’t exactly representative of his vision, but he follows his blocks and earns a 43-yard gain - the longest of his career. The back-side guard pulls through the six-hole to pick up the secondary force defender and then it’s on Booker to make the alley man miss - he does with a solid jump cut outside. It’s good blocking, but Booker still has to do his job and make a man miss in the hole.

Pass Protection

There’s a reason why Booker failed to earn the full-time third-down role for the Raiders. Las Vegas utilized Jalen Richard, Booker, Theo Riddick (at times), and starter Josh Jacobs almost in a timeshare for the third-down back. Booker isn’t horrendous in pass protection, but he’s not exactly great, either. He doesn’t have the anchor and his positioning is sub-optimal.

Here he crosses Derek Carr’s face and locates the blitzing defensive back on the far side. Booker gets just enough of him to shove him up the arc and away from the pocket. The defender had a lot of forward momentum and Booker does a fine job locating and adjusting to eliminate the threat.

This is a similar blitz pick-up assignment where Booker’s strength is exposed. It takes Booker a split second to realize the ensuing blitz, but he gets himself in a good position to execute the block. He attempts to throw his inside shoulder into the defensive back, but falls off and barely affects the blitzer. Last year’s third-down back, Dion Lewis, was much smaller than Booker, but he is a better pass protector.

Again, strength issues at the point of attack in pass protection. Booker is strong as a runner, but he doesn’t have this part of his game fully figured out. He locates the little twist in the A-Gap to pick up the linebacker, but he gets pushed back despite having a pad-level advantage. There are worse pass protectors than Booker, but he’s not exactly someone to write home about either.

Final thoughts

From a contractual standpoint, I don’t understand the deal - I’ve already expressed that view. However, Booker is a physical running back who is compact with good contact balance. He possesses solid vision, burst, and can assist on special teams while being a capable receiver. He’s adequate as a pass protector, but there’s room for improvement in that area.