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Giants 2021 draft: 5 Running backs who could be Day 3 targets

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 19 Louisiana at Georgia State Photo by Austin McAfee/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Losing Saquon Barkley in Week 2 of the 2020 season proved to be a devastating turn of events for the New York Giants, who finished with the NFL’s 31st-ranked offense in points scored and yards earned. The dynamic third-year back is expected to make a full recovery and be ready for the 2021 season while the Giants contemplate picking up his fifth-year-option in the beginning of May.

Wayne Gallman, a fourth-round selection by Jerry Reese in 2017, filled in valiantly for Barkley. Gallman, along with Devonta Freeman and Alfred Morris as a spell back, were able to help the Giants rushing attack crack the top 20 by averaging 110 rushing yards per game. New York really started to find its run blocking towards the middle of the season.

Gallman was in the final year of his deal and he didn’t have much special teams value, so the Giants, despite Gallman’s play, made it a priority to find a running back in free agency. On the first day of the free agent signing period, GM Dave Gettleman signed Devontae Booker, formerly a member of the Las Vegas Raiders.

Booker’s deal is a two-year, $5.5 million commitment which did, and does, make me scratch my head a bit. Why run out to sign a running back, a market that’s not in demand, on the first day of free agency to a deal this substantial? Plenty of running backs went at a cheaper price tag and they’re younger than 29 while being more proven as well.

Nevertheless, the deal didn’t hinder the Giants ability to go out and add big pieces to their team, as Gettleman continued on to have one of his more productive offseasons on paper. Outside of Barkley, who is coming off an injury, and Booker, the Giants have little depth at the running back position.

With only six selections in the 2021 draft, the Giants may look to add a player in undrafted free agency. But if the Giants are inclined to add youthful depth to their running back room on Day 3 here are five names who would fit what the Giants are looking for in the running back position.

Khalil Herbert, Virginia Tech

The 5-foot-8, 210-pound grad transfer from Kansas was productive for the Jayhawks; Herbert rushed for 1,735 yards on 320 carries (5.4 YPC) and 14 touchdowns, but was used sparingly as a pass catcher in their offense. He actually ended up having more receiving yards in his one season with the Hokies then he did in (mostly) four years at Kansas (only by a little bit, still only had 10 catches in 2020; they just went for a longer distance).

At Virginia Tech, he rushed 155 times for 1,183 yards, and 8 rushing touchdowns with an impressive 7.6 yards per carry average. His YPC was fourth in the FBS and his total rushing yards was fifth. His production led to an invite to the 2021 Reese’s Senior Bowl.

Herbert combines impressive contact balance (had 782 yards after contact, ranking 8th in the FBS) with shiftiness in space (ranked 14th in the FBS with missed tackles forced in 2020), good athletic ability on tape (didn’t test as favorably with his explosive drills, albeit he did run a 4.4), and excellent eye discipline to see blocks develop and explode through pending holes. Also had 19 carries of 15+ yards in 2020 which ranked sixth in the FBS.

I wish he had been used more as a pass catcher - he doesn’t seem too natural in that area, but he’s actually really adept in pass protection. Herbert’s an interesting name to bring into this Giants locker room, and he also has quality special teams experience; some of that experience is as a kick returner with the Hokies where he averaged 26.9 yards per return.

Jermar Jefferson, Oregon State

A 5-10, 206-pound running back who had 514 rushes for 2,923 rushing yards (5.7 yards per carry) with 27 rushing touchdowns. Jefferson added 43 receptions for 299 yards and 2 touchdowns during his three seasons with the Beavers. He’s dealt with some ankle injuries that led to him missing games and he missed a game in 2020 due to COVID-19 protocol.

Jefferson is a tough player who runs through contact - ranked 16th in the FBS with 664 yards after contact; had 4.47 yards after contact per rushing attempt. He combines this plays strength and balance with really good footwork and agility. His quick eyes, cutting ability, and competitive toughness make a very competent change of pace back who certainly has the upside to start in the future.

The running back class isn’t overly deep after Alabama’s Najee Hariss, Clemson’s Travis Etienne, and UNC’s Javonte Williams. I believe UNC’s Michael Carter is also a very fun player as well, but Jefferson is one of the more intriguing day three selections in this draft. A RB who has the physicality, short area quickness, and vision to stay around the league for years if he lands in the right system.

3). Elijah Mitchell, Louisiana

Mitchell is a 5-10, 201-pound running back who has the necessary speed, burst, and feet to be a solid change of pace player at the next level. He averaged 6.2 yards per carry in college, albeit it rarely played power five schools; rushed for 3,267 yards on 527 rushing attempts with 41 touchdowns.

Also had 49 receptions for 597 yards and 5 receiving touchdowns through his four seasons at Louisiana. Mitchell catches the football well and is a good runner of the football. He’s not the most physical back in the class, nor did he play a lot of talented defenses, but he could interest the Giants. Mitchell Showed off his athleticism at his pro day.

Rob Sale, former Ragin’ Cajuns offensive coordinator, is now the Giants’ offensive line coach. The team will have insight on Mitchell’s work ethic and possibly his NFL trajectory. The selection may make sense with one of the Giants sixth-round picks.

Rhamondre Stevenson, Oklahoma

A talented player out of Nevada who received a zero-star ranking that forced him to attend Cerritos Community College in California before transferring to Oklahoma for a productive two seasons. Stevenson rushed 165 times for 1,180 yards and 13 touchdowns with the Sooners, adding 28 catches for 298 yards receiving. Stevenson was in a time-share and only had over 100 carries in 2020, with 101, so there’s not a lot of miles on his wheels. Ended up averaging 7.2 yards per carry in college. His ability to extend runs and find holes in the defense was still a great sight to see.

He’s a 5-11, 230-pound back who does have the necessary contact balance to run through arm tackles and fall forward through contact. He is shifty for a bigger back, and he does have an impressive one-cut ability as well. Has solid vision and patience and may be a solid fit in a power/gap system where he can follow blocks, wait for them to develop, lower his shoulder, and fall forward in short yardage situations.

Chuba Hubbard, Oklahoma State

The 6-0, 210-pound back was considered one of the top backs heading into the 2020 season, but his play suffered and he’s now a day three selection.Finished his three years at Oklahoma State with 3459 rushing yards, 33 touchdowns, 53 catches for 479 yards, and 3 receiving touchdowns. Hubbard led the NCAA in rushing yards, all purpose yards, and was third in touchdowns during that epic 2019 season.

His 2020 wasn’t as desirable; rushed for 625 yards on 133 attempts for 5 touchdowns. Hubbard runs behind his pads well, but is susceptible to those frustrating ankle tackles at times. Hubbard has the desired athletic ability to be a solid back at the next level; his footwork, tempo to the line of scrimmage, change of direction, and improvisation skills at the line of scrimmage are all solid.

The issues with Hubbard stem from his inability to hold onto the football, as he has seven fumbles through the last two seasons. He’s not a dynamic catcher of the football either. Hubbard may be better suited for a stretch zone scheme, where he can use his reactionary quickness and one-cut ability to get past the line of scrimmage and into the second level. The Giants run a lot of power/gap concepts and he only ran those plays 22 times in 2020, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he can’t learn the nuances of running in that system.