The life of a running back in the NFL is highly insecure. Despite two backs garnering picks in the top 12 in the NFL Draft, the free-agent market, the trade availability of several veteran backs with no takers, and Saquon Barkley’s current contract standoff with the New York Giants demonstrate the devaluation of the position. Teams prefer to constantly replenish their supply for the invariable injuries and rapid decline of their runners.
That brings us to Matt Breida, the Giants’ second running back on the depth chart. What will his role be in 2023 after the team drafted a promising player at the position?
By the numbers
Position: Running back
Contract: One-year, $1.4 million | $500,000 guaranteed at signing | 2023 cap hit: $1.4 million
Career to date
Breida entered the NFL in 2017 as an undrafted free agent signing of the San Francisco 49ers from Georgia Southern. He rushed for 465 yards and two touchdowns at 4.4 yards per carry in his rookie year, also hauling in 21 receptions for 180 yards but dropping six balls.
His most productive season came in his sophomore campaign when he had 153 carries for 814 yards (5.3 per carry) and three rushing touchdowns. He also caught 27 passes for 261 yards and another two touchdowns. His 1,075 yards from scrimmage were a career-high.
Breida finished up his 49ers career with another solid year. He averaged 5.1 yards per carry in 2019. He was limited to nine carries for 17 yards in the team’s first two playoff games, though, and did not play in the Super Bowl.
Breida was offered a restricted free-agent tender in 2020 but was traded to the Dolphins for a fifth-round pick. He had 59 carries for 254 yards (4.3 per carry) that season and did not score. He then moved on to the Bills in 2021, where he had just 26 rushes for 125 yards and a score.
The Giants signed Breida to a one-year deal last offseason. He played in all 17 games and started the season finale. He carried the ball 54 times for 220 yards (4.1 per carry) with a touchdown and caught 20 balls for 118 yards. In the two postseason games, he had seven carries for 31 yards with a score and added a 19-yard reception against Philadelphia. He re-signed with the team this offseason.
Breida came back to the team as a veteran back to spell Barkley. The selection of Eric Gray may have cut a dent into his playing time, though. Entering his age-28 season, Breida’s unofficial 4.38 speed and 9.43 Raw Athletic Score are likely not what they once were. He’s not yet at the ancient cutoff of 30 for running backs, but he’s hitting the decline phase.
Meanwhile, running back has the easiest learning curve of any position in the NFL, meaning that rookies can often enter the league and contribute immediately. Gray brings some yards-after-contact ability that Breida does not, something that’s important with the Giants’ continued shakiness on parts of the offensive line.
The one area in which rookie backs tend to struggle the most is pass protection. However, Breida had just 18 pass-blocking snaps in 2022. Despite his solid 67.4 Pro Football Focus in that limited action, it was Barkley who took most of the pass protection duties and put up a 75.5 grade.
Gray had his struggles in pass protection in 2022 at Oklahoma, recording a 27.5 PFF grade on 43 reps, but that’s not likely to affect him initially at the next level because of Barkley’s presence. Despite Gray’s nonathletic profile (6.56 and 4.62 speed), he figures to eat into some of Breida’s snaps this season. How much will depend on the pair’s performances.