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Gary Brightwell film study: Reasons for optimism with Giants’ new running back

Brightwell was a surprise selection in the sixth round

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 05 Colorado at Arizona Photo by Jacob Snow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The New York Giants added Arizona running back Gary Brightwell with their first pick in the sixth round (pick 196). Brightwell has 245 rushing attempts in college for 1,305 yards (5.3 YPC) with 9 rushing touchdowns. He was sparingly used as a receiver, but he had 28 career targets with 19 catches for 121 yards, and a touchdown.

Brightwell started all five games for the Wildcats in 2020 and earned All Pac-12 honors; he rushed for 390 yards and a touchdown on 88 rushing attempts. Through his four years in college, Brightwell never had more than 92 carries in a season. Brightwell was also quite accomplished on special teams - played in 384 career special teams snaps and recorded 7 tackles.

Brightwell only had the five games to showcase his talent in a full-time role. He split carries with J.J. Taylor, an undrafted 2020 player that ended up in New England. Brightwell showed some impressive traits in those five games. Let’s get into his running ability and see what he has to offer.

Athletic ability

He’s not the best athlete at the running back position, but he flashes some nimble feet at times. The agility testing is really concerning, but as you’ll see through this article, there are plenty of instances where Brightwell is light enough on his feet to make defenders look silly. He has also shown the ability to get to the edge in college and force poor angles from defensive players.

Here’s a double pulling, guard/tackle, power run from the backside where Brightwell instantly realizes he needs to run to space to have a successful play. He outruns the linebacker to the edge and then finishes the run well for the first down. There’s some speed here; I don’t believe Brightwell is a running back that can consistently win the edge in the NFL with the hashes being different, but it was nice to see him use quality acceleration to win in that area in college from time to time.

This is an excellent screen pass on a third-and-15 where Brightwell makes a few guys miss and allows his blocks to materialize. Then he accelerates through the second level, reads a downfield block, goes inside, and picks up the first down. Nimble feet, solid acceleration, good vision.

He also had a 94-yard touchdown run against Northern Arizona in week two of the 2019 season. He made a man miss on the edge and accelerated past defensive backs to get all the way to pay dirt.

Against Colorado

Brightwell had the most rushing attempts (22) and second-most offensive plays (26) against Colorado in Week 14 of the 2020 season. Brightwell was really feeling his game on this day as he rushed for 117 yards and a touchdown (5.3 YPC).

Brightwell runs in a power/gap concept to the boundary, two receiver side. He allows the center to kick out the shooting linebacker in the C-Gap; he uses solid tempo and patience as he approaches the line of scrimmage. The backside guard is uncovered and climbs to cut off the strong side linebacker. This forces the linebacker to avoid the guard and over pursue; Brightwell sees this and does a great job pressing the line of scrimmage and using that pursuit angle against the linebacker. He then makes the safety look silly with a shimmy in space, while finding a crease and running for a 25-yard touchdown. Brightwell showed some quick feet, and shake, ability while running low to the ground.

We see the same run out of the pistol formation to the two wide receiver side on the boundary; the center pulls to block the first man he sees as the tackle pins the end man on the line of scrimmage. The backside guard again forces that linebacker to take a wider, looping, type of angle to the C-Gap. Brightwell hits the hole, sees the linebacker, and jump cuts him to get through the second level.

Here’s a play that may have really endeared himself to this Giants regime - finish runs with authority! The zone read concept holds the linebacker in place just long enough to allow Brightwell to explode through the A-Gap - Brightwell does enough to make him miss and then he accelerates. I love seeing how he out paced the cornerback until the safety attempted to make the tackle. Brightwell lowers his shoulder, embraces for contact, and drives over the safety and is ultimately brought down. Strong, aggressive, with some acceleration.

Vision

We see a lot of quality vision in those Colorado plays as well. Here’s an RPO where the quarterback hands the ball off to Brightwell who presses laterally and gets three defenders heading towards the hash. A hole materializes, so he sticks his outside foot into the ground and explodes past the pursuit defenders. A strong first down run that shows good decision making and a decisive nature.

This is another zone read where No. 2 on Arizona State does a great job stepping up to the line of scrimmage and placing himself in a great position to make a play on the third-and-short. However, his tackling attempt was not great because Brightwell used a hard inside jab foot to get the defender lunging and off balance. Brightwell leaves him in the dust and makes the corner miss with a nice vertical cut after straying laterally.

The Arizona State defense slants to stop Brightwell to the field on the possible zone read while bringing defenders down towards the boundary to halt the quarterback, if he kept the football. Brigthwell feels the slant, sees the tight end trying to handle the 7-Technique, and then bounces outside and picks up the third-and-short through two defenders, one dealing with a block. Brightwell has some quick processing traits and does a good job adapting his rushing path to maximize his runs, even in short areas.

Another play against Arizona State on a third-and-short; watch how Brightwell is patient enough to see the blocks develop and he doesn’t just “shoot out of a cannon.” He uses vision and sifts through the blocks to get the first down. There’s a lot of adjusting in that 3-yard span and it may seem easy or simple, but that’s not the case.

Blitz pickup

One of the most unheralded parts of playing running back is the ability to locate and execute blitz assignments. Running backs have to be aware of the protection, where their blitzing assignment may be coming from, and how to adjust their assignment if the defense throws a curveball.

This is a third-and-7 and Brightwell does a good job waiting to see the path of the blitzing MIKE before reacting or releasing into a route. He’s reading through the blocks and once the MIKE commits outside, Brightwell does a good job lowering his center of gravity and exploding low to high (something he doesn’t consistently do). His frame and aggressive nature suggest he could be solid in pass protection.

Arizona does a good job noticing the bluff blitz from the two linebackers sugaring the line of scrimmage; Brightwell knew the blitz was actually coming from the field side nickel, and Brightwell crossed the face of the quarterback to locate the blitz.

We see a similar blitz package here; only it gets home this time, but not because of Brightwell who identifies his responsibility and locates the unblocked defender, while riding him up the arc. The end result for Arizona wasn’t great, but Brightwell wasn’t the liability on this play in protection.

It appears that fault could be assigned to Brightwell in this pickup, but I don’t believe that to be the case. Protection slides to the right and USC brings two blitzers off the left side; Brightwell’s job, in this unfortunate situation, is to eliminate the most dangerous man. He does just that by hitting the defender and guiding him inside, forcing the other blitzing player to take a wider path which allows the quarterback to throw to his tight end. Pressure gets home here, but it’s not because of a Brighwell mistake. Brightwell also absorbed this contact well as he turned to possibly locate the other blitzer.

Pass protection flaws

He showed the ability in these earlier videos, but they’re not always consistent throughout his game.

Brightwell false starts here, doesn’t get called, and then he frames the protection poorly and this gives the linebacker the ability to press through Brightwell’s outside shoulder and collapse into the pocket. This isn’t great protection here; he allows his feet to get too close together in anticipation of contact and then opens his hips to allow a path into the pocket. Brightwell has to sink that center of gravity like we saw a bit before.

This isn’t technically a flaw. Brightwell identifies, steps up, and takes the contact which allows the quarterback to release the football, but he again goes into the contact with his feet entirely too close together which raises his usually low center of gravity, and allows the linebacker to shed through. Luckily, the quarterback didn’t take much time to release the football.

Fumbling

According to Pro Football Focus, Brightwell had only three career fumbles and they assigned only one to him against Arizona State in 2020 - but i saw three fumbles in that game.

Two of these are in the red area, one in the red zone and the other with their backs against their own goal line. The last one was towards the end of the game. This was a particularly bad game in terms of fumbles for Brightwell, but ball security is paramount for every NFL team, so this can’t happen.

Final thoughts

I can see why the Giants fell in love with Brightwell. To me, there were more dynamic backs that were on the board for the New York Giants to select: Virginia Tech’s Khalil Herbert, Mizzou’s Larry Rountree II, Oregon State’s Jermar Jefferson, and Michigan’s Chris Evans were all selected after Brightwell. But the 196th selection had to overcome a lot of adversity in his life and he’s reportedly an incredibly high character individual. His running style, physical nature, and ability on special teams certainly forced intrigue into this Giants organization. New York needed a running back; I thought it would be more of a change of pace, quicker receiving, type of back, but they went with more of a one-cut, low running, special teams player. He’ll look to earn a roster spot by thriving on special teams.