The New York Giants have a good problem to unravel at the running back position. Former second overall pick Saquon Barkley is playing on his fifth-year option, and he’ll likely handle the majority of snaps. Coach Brian Daboll and GM Joe Schoen signed former Buffalo Bills Matt Breida and Antonio Williams to compete for snaps behind Barkley.
The former is rehabbing an injury, but played in Daboll’s offense last year; the latter has 12 non-preseason carries to his name. Breida is presumably the number two back behind Barkley, but the three running backs who played in Thursday’s 23-21 victory over the Patriots are in a closely contested battle for roster spots.
Williams, 2021 sixth-round pick Gary Brightwell, and rookie UDFA Jashaun Corbin all impressed on Thursday. All three players are competing for the running back three job, which will require an onus on special teams. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that any of these three backs could potentially steal snaps away from Brieda.
Williams had nine carries for 61 yards with a short yardage touchdown (one catch, -1 yards), Brightwell had seven carries for 40 yards (two catches, 19 yards), and Corbin had six carries for 23 yards (five catches, 28 yards). Williams had carries of 19 and 17 yards; Brightwell had a 16-yard carry. Both Williams and Brightwell had special teams’ tackles, and Corbin had three kick returns. Here are some more statistics from preseason Week 1:
Yards per carry
Yards after contact per attempt
Missed tackles forced
According to Pro Football Focus, Brightwell was the third-highest ranked running back (in terms of running the football) in preseason Week 1. He was the ninth-highest overall. Williams was the fifth-ranked overall running back, and the fifth-ranked by rushing grade. Corbin’s grades weren’t as favorable as the other two backs, but his involvement through the air - along with his three kick returns - are small signs of encouragement from a rookie UDFA. Let’s look at some key plays from Thursday that showcase the skillsets of these three players.
Antonio Williams (31)
Williams was the most impressive running back. His contact balance stood out, he was physical at the point of contact, and he made several nuanced decisions that maximized runs. Williams was a former four-star recruit out of North Stanley High School in North Carolina. He initially attended Ohio State before transferring to North Carolina for two seasons in a part-time role. Here are all of Williams touches from Thursday:
All 10 of Antonio Williams' touches from the Giants/Patriots game— Nick Falato (@nickfalato) August 14, 2022
Williams ran with physicality
Displayed good vision
Timed his cuts well ⏱
Did so outside, inside, pwr/gap, DUO, zone
The battle for RB3 is tight pic.twitter.com/WR3lQBFfME
Let’s go through some of these runs, and why they’re impressive.
On a first-and-10 to start an important late drive, Williams successfully weaved his way through defenders to pick up 19 yards. New York aligns Keelan Doss (5) tight to the H-Back to run a pin-pull concept to the field with Austin Allen (46) and the play side tackle Devery Hamilton (62) pull around Doss’ block. Davis Webb (5) goes into the mesh point on the zone read outside. Doss and Alex Bachman (81) do a great job holding their blocks as Williams reads the lead blockers. Williams does a great job angling his body inside near the numbers that forced the safety to set inside which allowed Hamilton to create a seal; he then pressed hard outside, and quickly cut through a narrow opening that left the contain defender in a precarious situation. Williams burst through the hole and made another defender miss in space before getting dragged down by two Patriots.
Here’s a weak side boundary run. Garrett McGhin (63) pins the 1-technique while center Ben Bredeson pulls into space to locate the linebacker. Hamilton does a great job assisting the end man on the LOS (EMOLOS) outside towards the numbers to widen the rushing path, but there’s a subtlety in how Williams presses the line of scrimmage that helps maximize this 17-yard run. As Williams presses the line behind Bredeson’s block, he stays square to Bredeson - with a slight shimmy to the inside - until linebacker Camron McGrone (45) commits to undercutting the block, rather than scraping over the top. Once McGrone commits, Williams bounces his run around Bredeson’s block, and now the MIKE linebacker is out of the play with the WILL eliminated by Bredeson’s block. So many aspects of this play went right for the Giants, but Williams’ ability to time and successfully win the cat and mouse game as he approached the LOS was an excellent display of rushing the football.
The Giants had a few successful weak side runs. This adjustment by Williams turned what could have been a tackle for a loss into something noteworthy. Will Holden (79) poorly framed the inside move by the Patriots’ defender to the play side, and Max Garcia (72) is still engaged in the double team, so Williams has a defensive player in his direct path right at the mesh point. Williams quickly adjusts, gets his eyes to the strong side, sees the flow of the defense, recognizes Hamilton’s climb to the second level, evades a defender, and picks up hard earned - well processed - yardage, while displaying an impressive quick jump cut.
Williams runs a shot-gun power/gap type of play where he follows the back side guard to the strength. New England keeps everything tight and narrow here, but Williams finds a quick crease, lowers his shoulder, and picks up a couple. Williams does a solid job lowering his shoulder and absorbing contact, which we also saw on the touchdown run.
Bredeson does a great job assisting the 1-technique out of the play, and Williams quickly sees the double team on the 3-technique. McGhin comes off the combo and positions himself to force McGrone to make a difficult tackle against a physical back like Williams. The linebacker does a solid job making contact, but Williams falls forward for a score.
Gary Brightwell (23)
Brightwell was a three-star recruit out of Maryland that attended Arizona and initially played behind Patriots’ current running back JJ Taylor. Brightwell never had over 90 carries in a season at Arizona, but it is important to note his final season - the one without Taylor - was a COVID-shortened season. His main contribution was as a special teams contributor (more so as a tackler). Brightwell was the second running back behind Saquon Barkley to enter the game. His 21-yard run to start the Giants fifth drive was negated by a Daniel Bellinger holding penalty. Here are all his touches from the game:
All of Gary Brightwell's carries and catches from Thursday's preseason game— Nick Falato (@nickfalato) August 14, 2022
Plus a solid special teams play pic.twitter.com/WygtSnvVCp
Here are some of the individual play breakdowns.
This quick cut back was one of my favorite runs from Brightwell. It’s a split-zone run where the EMOLOS to the weak side is initially left unblocked for the capping H-Back who is tasked to cut the defender low. There is no man on the line of scrimmage inside the nose and the EMOLOS, so the weak side tackle has easy access to climb and locate the WILL, while the center and guard wash the nose down the line of scrimmage. Brightwell shows patience and approaches the LOS; he waits for Hamilton to eliminate McGrone before he cuts outside into space for a nice gain.
The Giants pull back side guard Jamil Douglas (77) on a skip-pull to fill the five hole between Bellinger (45) and Hamilton’s block. Carl Davis Jr. (98) lags in the back side A-Gap which gives Brightwell the easy decision to follow his blocks to the play side. The double team on the 3-technique gets some movement, and Douglas locates McGrone. Brightwell attempts to get between Douglas and Bellinger’s block to avoid Mack Wilson Sr. (30), but the outside linebacker works through the traffic and tackles Brightwell.
I appreciate how Brightwell gets direct on this run and takes the immediate yardage that presented itself. The backside guard pulls outside, but Brightwell reads Harvy Langi (52) who approached the LOS outside and tight to the double team block. Brightwell gets the ball at the mesh point and sees the opening in the A-Gap. He doesn’t dance or overthink; he decisively hits the hole and sheds the linebacker with a physical run. If Garcia was a step quicker to climb, Brightwell would have had a good angle to force McGrone’s hand laterally, with space to operate against the alley defender coming downhill.
Ben Bredeson (at center) does a good job fitting his hands inside against the 2T while getting his hips outside for better control— Nick Falato (@nickfalato) August 12, 2022
He then finishes his block with authority while losing his helmet pic.twitter.com/TVbAgFw6NI
Brightwell does a solid job recognizing the push from the defensive front, and adjusting his outside run to find an open cut back lane on this RPO run. The blocking to the outside wasn’t strong and Brightwell witnessed the path of the WILL, so he cut back inside of Douglas’ block, and put himself in a position to pick up extra yardage. He also flashed a solid jump cut, but was tripped up. New York was not shy to run on the weak side in this game.
Jashaun Corbin (25)
Like Williams, Corbin was a former four-star recruit who left one big program for another; the former Rockledge, Fla., standout initially attended Texas A&M where he played behind Isaiah Spiller. He then transferred to Florida State for his final two seasons, where he averaged 5.7 yards per carry behind a suspect offensive line. Corbin was a good kick returner for the Aggies early in his college career, and he displayed receiving ability in Tallahassee.
On Thursday, Corbin was the least efficient back of the bunch. He offered value as a special teams returner and he looked quick as a receiving threat, but couldn’t manage much in space. Here’s all of his touches from preseason week one:
Rookie UDFA RB Jashaun Corbin's touches from preseason week one. pic.twitter.com/FSUQm55DaV— Nick Falato (@nickfalato) August 15, 2022
Love to see Corbin make that first catch from Tyrod Taylor (2). The cornerback jumped the route in the flat, and a better player may have intercepted the pass, but Corbin held onto the ball and just missed a huge gain if he could have kept that knee up. Here are some individual breakdowns.
The Giants run Y-insert with Jordan Akins (88) leading into the B-Gap with Hamilton blocking the EMOLOS. That’s the best destination for the running back. Corbin realizes and jump cuts in that direction, albeit he presses the line hard in hopes that the 2-hole between the center and weak side guard remained open (it did not). Corbin eventually hits the hole but is hampered by contact from a defensive lineman; Corbin loses balance a bit before running into a safety and linebacker that executed their run fits. The slight delay in locating that hole also allowed the EMOLOS to shed Hamilton’s block to assist in the tackle. If McGhin (63) holds the block on the 3-technique, then Corbin’s initial read would have been wide open with the way the linebacker reacted towards the LOS to Akins’ insert.
New York abuses the A-Gap behind the ACE block by Bredeson and McGhin against the 1-technique. Both linebackers have to deal with blockers who climb quickly in Garcia and Bredeson, and the DEUCE block on the 4i-technique was very effective. Corbin shows the perfect amount of patience by allowing Garcia to fully climb before determining his path beyond the LOS. He does a solid job cutting it inside and running through some contact for a solid gain, but the play was called back for holding by Garcia. I wanted to highlight the patience, burst, and decision making used by Corbin on this play to ensure the blocks developed. The hold obviously helped, but Corbin positioned himself well here to gain some valuable yardage.
Corbin drew a face mask penalty with this nimble return. He jumped over a would-be tackler, leveraging his athleticism and ability to angle his body advantageously. Corbin then finds a crease away from pursuit defenders and shields his body enough, while sinking his center of gravity, to force Langi to grab his face mask. If Corbin makes this team, his best path to touches is as a kick returner.
The Giants have an opening for one of these three running backs to seize. Antonio Williams appears to be in the lead after a very impressive performance against the New England Patriots, but there’s still two preseason games to be played. Rosters cut down to 80 on Aug. 23, and finally down to 53 on Aug. 30. The opportunities to impress in live action are dwindling.
None of these players are locks to make the roster, but their value on special teams impetus to secure a coveted roster spot. All three have special teams upside - Corbin a bit more as a returner - but the rushing ability displayed by Williams on Thursday seemingly gives him a slight leg up; although it’s important to note that Brightwell was the first running back not named Barkley to be used on Thursday.