The belief surrounding running backs and the NFL Draft is that runners are a “dime a dozen,” and that teams can find effective runners later in the draft.
The New York Giants had already added a running back in free agency, but circled back to the position in the sixth round of the 2021 NFL Draft. There they selected Gary Brightwell out of Arizona with 196th pick.
Brightwell was far from heavily used at the collegiate level, carrying the ball just 245 times in 26 career games at Arizona. He didn’t even get a single carry in his lone game as a true freshman. He flashes upside picking his way through traffic and finding yards after contact, but doesn’t have the flashy highlight reel plays put on tape like other runners.
So what does Brightwell bring to the Giants as a running back?
Prospect: Gary Brightwell
Games Watched: vs. Colorado (2020), vs. Arizona State (2020), vs. USC (2020)
Games Played: 25
Yards (YPC): 1,305 (5.3 per carry)
Yards (YPC): 121 (6.4 per catch)
Total Touchdowns: 9 (8 rushing, 1 receiving)
Games Played: 5
Yards (YPC): 390 (4.4 per carry)
Yards (YPC): 53 (4.1 per catch)
Total Touchdowns: 1
Best: Vision, contact balance, play strength, short-area quickness
Worst: Athleticism, burst, long speed, agility, consistency
Projection: A practice squad running back with the potential to be a back-up or special teams player
Arizona running back Gary Brightwell is a compact runner with good vision and play strength.
Brightwell usually aligned next to the quarterback, running out of a shotgun alignment. Brightwell shows good patience behind the line of scrimmage, with very good vision to spot running lanes as they develop. He also shows very good short-area quickness, with a particularly good jump cut. Brightwell has the ability to make defenders who aren’t in perfect position miss, allowing him to pick up additional yardage. He also has solid play strength to go with good contact balance, allowing him to run through arm tackle attempts.
Brightwell is a very willing pass protector, routinely coming up and aggressively meeting defenders at the line of scrimmage. He makes good use of his play strength and the natural leverage provided by his compact build to stand up to bigger defenders and win those match-ups. He is also able to contribute as a check-down option in the passing game. He presents a good target for the quarterback and flashes soft hands catching the ball.
Brightwell is a limited athlete who lacks a great burst, agility, and long speed. He struggles to generate power in short-yardage situations and doesn’t really push piles. Likewise, while he is able to create yards after contact with his contact balance and play strength, Brightwell lacks the speed to take advantage when he finds space in the defense.
He can also have issues with inconsistency in receiving the ball — which shouldn’t be surprising, considering how little of it he’s done — as well as meeting defenders with good technique in pass protection.
Overall Grade: 3.7 - This prospect has intriguing flashes, but has a very limited athletic upside.
Gary Brightwell projects as a practice squad candidate with the potential to work his way onto the roster as a reserve running back and special teams player. He will probably be best in a zone blocking scheme which allows him to use his vision and contact balance to find holes and pick his way through traffic around the line of scrimmage.
Brightwell has the ability to be modestly productive at the NFL level thanks to his vision, contact balance, and play strength. However, he lacks the athletic ability to consistently take advantage of the opportunities he initially creates for himself. He is able to make defenders miss in a phone booth and run through poor tackle attempts, but is never able to get out of first gear once he finds open space. Brightwell should be able to contribute enough in the passing game to be on the field on third downs, but his contributions will likely be limited to pass protection or catching check-down passes.
Coaches will want to work with Brightwell in building greater consistency in his game. He flashes solid ball skills and pass protection ability, but he can have lapses which bely the high points of his flashes of good play.
Whether or not Brightwell has the athleticism to succeed facing an NFL defense remains to be seen, but his skill set should be intriguing enough to allow him to compete for the chance to find out.