Size is not a skillset, and few prospects in the 2024 NFL Draft exemplify that better than Oregon running back Bucky Irving.
There’s been a trend among teams to favor more dense, powerfully built runners like Bijan Robinson or the New York Giants own Saquon Barkley. Runners who manage to be athletic and around 6-foot, 220 pounds certainly have value as offenses look to spread out defenses and force them into smaller personnel packages. But runners like Irving, who stands just 5-foot-9, 190 pounds, can be very valuable as well — just look at Devon Achane or Kyren Williams.
Like Achane and Williams, Irving is a firecracker of a running back, with the ability to turn a glimmer of space into a big play.
Could the Giants turn to Irving as another weapon for their offense?
Weight: 190 pounds
- Contact balance
- Competitive toughness
Irving is an undersized but explosively athletic and surprisingly tough runner.
Irving primarily ran out of the shotgun in Oregon’s offense, but was asked to execute all manner of runs. He was used on inside and outside zones, counter runs, man-gap power runs, and even on sweeps from a receiver position. Irving proved to be a dangerous runner out of any blocking scheme, and should be able to run out of a varied rushing attack at the NFL level.
Irving uses his stature to his advantage. He has natural leverage and a low center of gravity, which enables him to string together violent cuts. He also does a great job of finding and following his blockers, hiding behind bigger offensive linemen only to dart out at the right moment.
Irving has remarkable movement skills with a springy, flexible lower body. He’s able to drop his hips, lower his center of gravity, and explode in an entirely new direction multiple times in a single run. There are moments where it seems his upper and lower body are disconnected and he shouldn’t be able to make the cuts he does.
Irving is a capable receiver out of the backfield, executing his assignments as a check-down option or receiver on screen, wheel, and angle routes well. He has reliable hands and
The most impressive part of Irving’s game is intangible. He has excellent vision, with the ability to spot quickly flashing holes, as well as anticipate defenders at the second and third levels. He runs with good tempo, rhythm, and patience behind the line of scrimmage, which also gives him great cut-back ability.
He also shows great situational and spatial awareness with the ball in his hands. He simply understands where he and defenders are on the field with relation to each other, and uses his agility to subtly break angles or maintain separation and prolong runs. Irving is also an impressively tenacious runner. While he has the skills to be a jitterbug out of the backfield, Irving runs like an angry big man when it’s time to get his hands dirty. He’s unafraid of contact and consistently fights through contact for every inch, even if it means dragging multiple defenders.
- Pass protection
The biggest question regarding Irving is with his play in the passing game, specifically with his pass protection.
Irving is unafraid of contact as a runner, and seems willing as a blocker. However, he was rarely asked to block in pass protection. He was able to do just enough to slow the defender down the few times he was asked to pass protect. However, his technique and ability to identify pressure are unknowns at the NFL level.
And while Irving is a well-rounded runner and dangerous, he does have some limitations. His size means that while he’s a willing interior runner who can pick up yardage before defenders can react, he will only rarely run over opposing defenders and win through main strength. He also lacks truly elite speed in the open field. Irving’s explosiveness lets him hit his top speed very quickly and his awareness allows him to maintain separation, but he won’t run away from elite athletes at the NFL level.
Irving projects as an important, high volume runner in a backfield rotation at the NFL level.
He should be able to become an every-down back at the NFL level, but will need to show that he’s a competent pass protector first. Irving’s competitive toughness and willingness to take on contact bode well there, but his technique as a blocker might need work. He was mostly used in scat protection as a check-down option, so routinely taking on (much) bigger defenders as a blocker is a bit of a foreign concept.
That said, Irving is a chunk play waiting to happen when given a glint of daylight as a runner or receiver, while also having the ability to pick up tough yardage when necessary.
Teams committed to a power run game might look elsewhere – or view him simply as a “change of pace” back. However, he could be a dangerous weapon in a system that uses spacing and designed separation similar to those used by the San Francisco 49ers, Los Angeles Rams, or Miami Dolphins.
Does he fit the Giants?
Final Word: A solid second-round talent, though he may slip due to size concerns and positional value.