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Making the case: How should the Giants handle the running back position?

There are plenty of options

Florida State v Florida Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images

The New York Giants seem to have interest in the running back position just four years after investing the No. 2 overall selection in Saquon Barkley. The Giants have reportedly had several running backs in for top-30 visits. Iowa State’s Breece Hall, Alabama’s Brian Robinson, and Georgia’s James Cook were among the group, and they all figure to be selected somewhere on Day 2.

New York currently has Barkley playing on his fifth-year option, Matt Brieda, Antonio Williams, Gary Brightwell, and Sandro Platzgummer on the roster. The Giants interviewing Hall, Robinson, and Cook could be due diligence, but investing maybe the second third-round selection or a Day 3 pick in a running back makes a lot of sense if the Giants aren’t willing to commit to Barkley long-term.

It’s a deep overall draft class, and there are several interesting running back options. I am skeptical about the Giants selecting a running back at pick No. 36; there will be too much value at other positions. GM Joe Schoen was a part of the Bills’ front office which drafted both Devin Singletary and Zach Moss in the third round in 2019 and 2020.

New York currently owns the 67th and 81st selections in the draft’s third round. The Giants may look to invest in the position in that area of the draft.

Top running back options

In the draft, three of the top running backs may not be available for the Giants at 67, albeit anything can happen. Hall, Texas A&M’s Isaiah Spiller, and Michigan State’s Kenneth Walker III are talented backs with differing skill-sets.

Hall has solid play speed and tested very well with a 4.39 40-yard-dash. He’s a big play waiting to happen in a well-built frame (6’1, 220 pounds). He possesses solid overall contact balance, but doesn’t consistently break tackles. Hall ranked 28th in yards after contact, with 713 of his 1,460 yards falling in that category; he rushed for 20 touchdowns and was effective out of the backfield in the flat. He offers a three-down skill-set. Turn on his TCU, at Kansas State, and at Baylor film, and you should be impressed.

Like Hall, Spiller also has a three-down skill-set. His poor testing may drop him down boards, but he was productive for the Aggies. He rushed for 1,011 yards on 179 carries (5.6 YPC) with six touchdowns in 2021; he also had 25 catches for 189 yards and a touchdown. Spiller finished his three years at Texas A&M with 2,993-yards (5.5 YPC), 25 touchdowns, 74 catches for 585-yards, and that one touchdown. Spiller is a big-back with good patience and feel. He may lack elite burst and athletic ability, but he should make a solid overall professional.

Walker III transferred from Wake Forest and had a dominant 1,634-yard season with 18 rushing touchdowns. He averaged 6.2 yards per carry and had 1,168 yards after contact to lead the FBS. Walker also forced the most missed tackles in college football. For a thicker back - he’s 5’9, 210 pounds - he is quite nimble on his feet. He can make defenders easily whiff in a phone booth while running low to the ground and packing a punch. I like Walker III’s game, but he’s not as proven as a receiver; he only had 18 catches throughout his college career. He is also not as proven in pass protection as Spiller or Hall. Spiller might be the best of the three, whereas Hall gets in the defender’s way enough but isn’t efficient with his pass protection.

The price tags for these three backs may be too much for a desired Giants’ investment. Walker III is the player to select if you’re looking for a two-down runner; if he proves his lack of receiving production wasn’t a product of his faults, then that’s an excellent bonus. If you’re looking for someone with more receiving upside, I would select Hall.

Late Day 2

The running backs that appeal to me in this range are Alabama’s Brian Robinson, Georgia’s James Cook, and Arizona State’s Rachaad White. Robinson played behind some of the top backs currently in the NFL while at Alabama; he waited his turn and was the impact starter in 2021. He won the Cotton Bowl Classic MVP for Alabama’s 27-6 win over Cincinnati. Robinson had 26 carries for 204 yards in that game. He finished his senior season with 271 carries for 1,343-yards and 14 touchdowns. He didn’t put the ball on the ground one time, and he averaged 3.29 yards after contact.

Robinson finished his five years at Alabama with 2,702 rushing yards (5.0 YPC) with 29 touchdowns. He wasn’t used much as a receiving threat other than his final year, where he had 35 catches on 38 targets for 296-yards and two touchdowns. He is an ideal fit if the Giants are looking for a back who can run between the tackles, catch the football, and pass protect while possessing enough foot-speed to gain the edge in the NFL. Robinson ran a 4.53 40-yard dash at 225 pounds.

James Cook is the younger brother of Minnesota Vikings’ running back Dalvin Cook. He was a key member of a four-way running back room that helped the Georgia Bulldogs win the 2021 National Championship. Cook rushed for 738 yards on 113 attempts (6.4 YPC) along with seven touchdowns in his final season. That’s impressive, but he was also dangerous as a receiver; he caught 27 of 30 passes for 274 yards and four touchdowns.

Cook ended his four years at Georgia with 1,503 rushing yards on 230 carries (6.5 YPC) and 14 rushing touchdowns, with two fumbles. He caught 67 of 74 passes for 718 yards and 6 touchdowns. He doesn’t have the inside the tackle rushing upside and could do a better job playing through contact. However, get James Cook in space and watch him work magic. He has big-play and receiving upside.

White is a back that doesn’t receive the same media hype as other running backs, but he is a 6’2, 210 pounds, and ran a 4.48 40-yard-dash with a 38-inch vertical. He averaged 6.3 yards per carry in his two seasons at Arizona State. He only had 42 attempts in his junior year but had 420-yards on the ground - an average of 10.0-yards per carry. He was in a more full-time role in 2021, and he took advantage of the opportunity to impress. White recorded 182 carries for 1,000-yards and 15 touchdowns.

White also improved his receiving ability in his senior year. After having only eight catches in his junior season for 151 yards, he added 43 receptions for 456 yards in 2021. He finished his college career with 22 touchdowns in two seasons. He’s big, explosive, falls through contact, and he has good patience.

If I had to choose one of these three backs, I would lean toward Cook with the caveat that he’ has been in a timeshare - something that Giants’ head coach Brian Daboll used extensively while in Buffalo. If the Giants want more of a bell-cow, Robinson is the option.

Day 3

There are many running backs to name, but I will focus on four: Michigan’s Hassan Haskins, Georgia’s Zamir White, Missouri’s Tyler Badie, Florida’s Dameon Pierce.

Haskins isn’t discussed much, but realistically could be a late-Day 2 selection. Haskins had a breakout senior season in 2021 and helped lead Michigan to the college football playoff. He’s 6’1, 220 pounds with a unique blend of physicality and patience. Haskins rushed for 1,288-yards (pre-playoff) with 20-rushing touchdowns. He averaged 4.9 yards per carry, while also adding 16 catches for 188 yards. Haskins’ five rushing touchdowns against Ohio State helped secure Jim Harbaugh’s first victory over the Buckeyes. He is a hard-nosed, short-yardage back who is tough as nails.

White was a consensus five-star recruit who suffered two ACL injuries early in his college career. He has good size at 6’0, 214-pounds and he ran a 4.40 in the 40-yard-dash. White was a key component of Georgia’s National Championship run despite the setbacks. White doesn’t seem slowed by the injuries; he’s still very explosive with good acceleration and change of direction, and he puts a ton of force into his juke moves to manipulate defenders. He’s also physical and punishes defenders in his way. White knows how to set blocks up, utilize patience, and fine open creases to consistently move the chains. He is worth the risk on Day 3; if he can stay healthy, he can start as a change of pace back with the upside of being a 1a in a timeshare.

Badie is built differently than these other backs. He is only 5’7, 199 pounds, but he is an explosive athlete who caught 52 passes for 333-yards and four touchdowns while rushing for 1,604-yards and 14 touchdowns for Missouri. Badie ranked eighth in the FBS with yards after contact, with 916 of his yards being off broken tackles. I wouldn’t describe him as a physical back, but one who does a good job setting up advantageous angles and avoiding well-framed contact from defenders. If a team is in love with Cook but misses him on Day 2, they should select Badie on Day 3.

Pierce is a thick-built 5’10, 218-pound back. He was underutilized in Dan Mullins’ offense at Florida. There are a lot of miles left on his legs. He had 13 rushing touchdowns on 100 total carries, with three receiving touchdowns on 19 catches for 216 yards. He was wildly efficient with the football; the touchdowns weren’t just goal line carries. Pierce showed some intermediate receiving chops on seam passes while also running hitches on the boundary. He averaged 6.6 yards per touch and 5.7 yards per carry.

Pierce showed his skills at the Reese’s Senior Bowl where he looked solid in pass protecting skills. He played in the bowl game against UCF. He was asked why he didn’t sit the bowl game out like many other seniors who were attending the Senior Bowl; his response: “Why? Because I’m a Gator, Bro.” Pierce went on to the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine. He’s not a burner, and his elusiveness in space is only modest, but he’s physical, has excellent contact balance, and did a great job pressing the line of scrimmage and forcing second-level defenders into precarious situations. If the Giants are looking for a Day 3 running back option with a three-down skill-set, Pierce fits the criteria.

There are several running backs I haven’t seen extensively yet. They include BYU’s Tyler Allgeier, Ole Miss’ Jerrion Ealy, North Carolina’s Ty Chandler, Cincinnati’s Jerome Ford, and South Dakota State’s Pierre Strong Jr.

Final thoughts

If the Giants are going to select a running back in the third round and Hall or Walker are available, I think those players must be considered but possibly not selected. It will all depend on what players from other positions are still around in the draft. New York shouldn’t feet forced into selecting a running back. There is value on Day 3.

The conversation about running back styles is interesting. Suppose they want a receiving back to complement Barkley and eventually just become a dynamic third-down back like a Theo Reddick, James White, or Chase Edmonds. In that case, James Cook from Georgia makes sense on Day 2, and Tyler Badie from Missouri on Day 3.

I look at Round 4 and see the Giants currently possess the 112th pick with two selections in the fifth round at 147 and 173. It would be great if Haskins or Pierce were to fall to that range. However, the Giants won’t know if that’s the case when they select in the fourth round at 112; they can monitor how other teams value the position in the first three rounds.

Without knowing the value still on the board - and for this exercise - I’m going to take a risk and choose one player. This is a player who could realistically fall to the fifth round because of medical concerns, and that is Zamir White from Georgia. He is a talented, athletic, physical, all-around back who will be tagged medically. I think he’s worth the risk in Round 5.

If the Giants are going with a running back by committee, then the lesser work load would benefit a player like White, who was in a significant timeshare with several running backs, including Cook, while at Georgia.

I wouldn’t be upset with a Dameon Pierce selection at 112 or if a Hall, Cook, or Walker III falls to 81. However, White could be my favorite overall value, albeit he carries risk. I’m not saying that White is these two players, but Willis McGahee and Frank Gore were two Miami running backs who had extensive injury histories coming into the draft. They were both wildly successful at the NFL level.