The New York Giants are in the running back market for a few different reasons. Former second-overall selection Saquon Barkley is playing on the franchise tag with no long-term deal. Veteran back Matt Brieda and third-year player Gary Brightwell are behind him, with 2022 UDFA Jashaun Corbin still on the roster.
The lack of proven long-term depth - especially if the Giants and Barkley do not come to a contract extension - could be problematic for New York. Luckily for the Giants, the 2023 NFL Draft has a deep running back class with players of different styles, shapes, and sizes.
Even if the Giants decide to sign Barkley to an extension, another running back for Mike Kafka’s offense is necessary. The Giants found success late in the season with their PONY personnel package (21, two running backs on the field). Kafka employed the offensive approach in the Giants' 31-24 Wild-Card victory in Minnesota to great success.
Breida is back for the 2023 season and added an important element to the Giants' offense. However, the lack of certainty for both Barkley and Breida long-term may prompt GM Joe Schoen to add a back in this draft, so in what round would the Giants look to upgrade the position?
Ideally, in this draft class, I would say the Giants should explore a running back on Day 3. However, New York could add a true difference-maker on day two. After trading for tight end Darren Waller, the Giants only have two Day 2 picks at No. 57 and No. 89. However, the Giants could trade down at No. 25 or even No. 57 to pick up extra selections.
There are several backs in the draft class that the Giants can look to add. Here are the three who would make a significant difference for the Giants on Day 2.
Zach Charbonnet, UCLA
Zach Charbonnet is a RB prospect in the 2023 draft class. He scored a 8.62 RAS out of a possible 10.00. This ranked 228 out of 1647 RB from 1987 to 2023. https://t.co/ktTtUcaGqD #RAS pic.twitter.com/ZLjdET5nZD— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) March 19, 2023
Charbonnet displayed his entire skill set in his fantastic 2022 campaign, resulting in a First-Team All-American honor. He rushed for 1,359 yards with 14 touchdowns and added 37 catches for 321 yards through the air in Chip Kelly’s offense; he also rushed for 1,137 yards in 2021 - the first season on campus at UCLA.
He transferred from Michigan, where he rushed for 726 yards and 11 touchdowns in his freshman year. However, he wasn’t a bell-cow back, and he only received 19 carries through five games in 2020, which led to his transfer. He appeared in 18 games with 9 starts for the Wolverines. Charbonnet has a full skill set, and while he may lack breakaway speed, good luck corralling him in tight spaces. Here’s my synopsis of his play:
Zach Charbonnet is a physical back with more athletic ability than some suggest. While he lacks the breakaway speed and high-end burst to hit home runs, he’s a constant threat to hit doubles and triples due to his decision-making approach at the LOS, his ability to make defenders miss in the alley, and his balance through contact. Also, if you need one yard, he’ll get it through sheer toughness and power - he has no fear of lowering his shoulder.
I was impressed with Charbonnet’s elusiveness in cramped areas; one would think he’s claustrophobic because he does a damn good job freeing himself of constriction. His jump cut and vision for the rushing path allow him to find advantageous paths to daylight. He also adds value as a reliable check-down option with good hands, and he packs a punch in pass protection as a stable force in the pocket.
Charbonnet can get a bit upright if he’s not embracing contact, and his route tree wasn’t advanced at UCLA, but he has a three-down skill set and should make a team very happy somewhere on day two of the 2023 NFL Draft.
Jahmyr Gibbs, Alabama
Jahmyr Gibbs is a RB prospect in the 2023 draft class. He scored a 8.04 RAS out of a possible 10.00. This ranked 329 out of 1671 RB from 1987 to 2023. https://t.co/DsHJ2VVfaB #RAS pic.twitter.com/3pylEaXff2— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) March 27, 2023
Gibbs is a much different back than Charbonnet. The size component is different as is the running style, and effective play style. Gibbs is an ideal receiving threat out of the backfield who would thrive in an Alvin Kamara-type of role.
Gibbs was a dynamic dual-threat weapon for the Crimson Tide in 2022, but his college career started with Georgia Tech, where he rushed for 1,206 yards, 8 touchdowns, and an average 5.2 yards per carry through two seasons. He added 768 receiving yards on 59 receptions with five touchdowns as a receiver through those two seasons; also had a kick return for a touchdown in 2021. Gibbs was Second-Team All-American in 2021.
Alabama was lucky enough to land Gibbs through the transfer portal, and the dynamic running back rushed for 926 yards on 151 carries (6.1 YPC) with 44 catches for 444 yards and a collective 10 touchdowns. Gibbs was a finalist for the Paul Hornung Award and a semifinalist for the Maxwell Award. Here is my synopsis:
Jahmyr Gibbs is an electric slashing back who maintains control and speed while moving laterally, with the excellent ability to jump-cut and make defenders miss in space or while they’re in pursuit. Gibbs runs with authority but isn’t the biggest RB which will likely be his biggest weakness. Questions about a three-down skill set are fair, but he’ll immediately be a dynamic weapon out of the backfield on day one.
Gibbs has true difference-making ability because of his athletic profile, nuanced routes, and his natural ability to win as a receiver. He’ll also have success running the football, but he doesn’t profile as a twenty-carry-a-game type of running back. He’ll likely be selected somewhere on Day 2 of the upcoming draft.
Tyjae Spears, Tulane
Tyjae Spears is a RB prospect in the 2023 draft class. He scored a 7.43 RAS out of a possible 10.00. This ranked 429 out of 1664 RB from 1987 to 2023. https://t.co/oyiCvPOtFN #RAS pic.twitter.com/gthvpi9jWR— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) March 26, 2023
Spears would be an excellent option for the Giants on Day 2. He doesn’t have the size or pile-moving type of play style, but few players get north as quickly as Spears, with excellent peripheral vision and ability to control one’s body in tight spaces to force tough tackle attempts for defenders.
A home run-hitting back early in his career, he only had 105 snaps through his first two seasons at Tulane. He played sparingly in his freshman season and earned redshirt eligibility, but he suffered a torn ACL in 2020 that held him to only three games.
Spears bounced back after his ACL tear to rush for 863 yards and nine touchdowns, averaging 6.7 yards per carry in 2021. He then exploded for 1,581 yards and nineteen rushing touchdowns with 22 catches for 256 yards and two receiving touchdowns in 2022, averaging 69 yards per carry.
He finished his college career with 31 touchdowns and a 6.8 yards per carry average. Tulane operated both zone and gap schemes; in 2022, Spears ran 112 zone plays and 117 gap ones, according to Pro Football Focus, which would appeal to Brian Daboll, Mike Kafka, and Bobby Johnson’s diverse rushing approach.
Spears’ 2022 season earned him the AAC Offensive Player of the Year award and a First-Team All-AAC honor. He was also the Cotton Bowl MVP after he posted 205 yards and four rushing touchdowns in Tulane’s thrilling 46-45 victory over USC.
Tulane was 2-10 in 2021 and 12-2 in 2022. Spears was the offensive catalyst for the remarkable turnaround of the Green Wave. He attended the Reese’s Senior Bowl, where he was named the practice player of the week, and he attended the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine. Here’s my synopsis:
Tyjae Spears is an excellent athlete with all the necessary movement skills, speed, and ability to make defenders miss in tight spaces. He is a capable receiving threat who may have more to offer than we witnessed throughout his college career; he also competes his backside off when tasked to block. Still, his size is an issue that must be addressed.
Spears has plays where he notices holes right before or as they open, but there are also plays of indecision against more crowded areas, which isn’t surprising. He’s a better threat in space and does an exceptional job timing his unique agility to force missed tackles versus pursuit defenders. He will make for a very impressive change of pace back, who teams will love. He has starting upside, but he isn’t a pile mover, nor will he be a twenty-touch-a-game type of player, but one who will immediately add value to any running back room.
The discussion between these three running backs - as it pertains to the Giants - is fun. Gibbs is projected to be the second back selected behind Texas’ Bijan Robinson. If the Giants explore running back in the second round, it could mean they’ll let Barkley walk after his franchise tag. The Giants have expressed interest in bringing Barkley back on a long-term deal.
Regardless of Barkley’s standing with the Giants, I don’t believe they should invest a top-60 pick into the running back position. There are plenty of holes on the Giants' roster, and this is a very deep running back draft class. Gibbs will likely be selected in the top 60, but anything can happen.
The argument between Gibbs vs. Charbonnet is interesting. Charbonnet isn’t as sexy as Gibbs, nor does he have that type of twitch, but Charbonnet has true bell-cow three-down upside, whereas Gibbs is a bit lean, and I see his workload being managed at the NFL level. The addition of either of these players likely suggests a different role at the next level.
Gibbs could complement Barkley, and I can see them both operating in the same offense as two dynamic options out of the backfield. If the Giants were to draft Charbonnet, although he could complement Barkley, I feel his skill set likely suggests the Giants would allow him to walk. However, that’s just my theory.
Spears is similar to Gibbs, I think he would be an ideal change of pace back and the perfect option for the Giants PONY personnel package. Spears will likely be selected after Gibbs, and the Giants used a Top-30 visit on the Tulane back.
If the Giants did go running back on Day 2, I would like for them to select Spears in the third round if Barkley is in the plans, as Joe Schoen and John Mara suggested, since Gibbs would likely be gone. However, if Barkley and the Giants can’t make it work, then I like the idea of Charbonnet in the third round if he was still available.
But again, to reiterate, the Giants would be best suited to invest the 128th or 160th picks into a running back like TCU’s Kendre Miller, Oklahoma’s Eric Gray, Auburn’s Tank Bigsby, Texas’ Roschon Johnson, or Ole Miss’ Zach Evans.
If they want a home run hitting back, Texas A&M’s Devon Achane or Pitt’s Israel Abanikanda are options late in Round 3 or into Day 3. There are plenty of other names that could interest the Giants in a variety of roles who would help them as early as year one, which, again, is the reason New York should wait on running back in the 2023 NFL Draft.