Saquon Barkley is coming back from ACL and meniscus surgery. Wayne Gallman has moved on to the 49ers. What can the Giants expect from this year’s running backs? Will Saquon be ready to go when the season starts?
The Giants entered the 2021 offseason with significant questions at running back. And they began addressing these questions immediately as the free agency period opened up. Within hours of the FA window opening, the Giants signed Devontae Booker, a former Raiders and Broncos RB that has shown he can carry the load if necessary. The team then drafted Arizona RB Gary Brightwell and signed veteran RB Corey Clement after a rookie camp tryout. Add second-year RB Sandro Platzgummer from the European league (roster exemption) and journeyman RB Taquan Mizzell for practice depth. The Giants also just released RB Ryquell Armstead this week after signing him in May. Armstead played for Jacksonville before contracting and battling COVID in 2020 which required him to be hospitalized. Needless to say, the Giants have been busy this offseason making adjustments within their running backs room and planning for the eventual return of Saquon.
Barkley appears to be progressing well in his rehabilitation from the knee surgery. He is working daily with the Giants’ trainers and medical staff. But in recent interviews, he has been reluctant to declare himself fully recovered and ready to go. The Giants aren’t pushing him either. There has been no timetable set for Saquon to resume football activity. This week, however, Saquon posted a video of his most recent workouts which clearly showed he has made great strides to get back to football agility. Saquon has said his body will let him know when he’s ready for football.
So, with Barkley’s return timetable unknown, the Giants needed to find RBs that can carry the load as starters or as a committee for the 2021 season. Booker came into the NFL with the Broncos in 2016 and was part of a running back tandem (with C.J. Anderson) that was middle-of-the-pack in production (ranked #18 in rushing). Booker led the team in rushing yards (642) that year. He also has proven to be a reliable receiver out of the backfield. His playing time dwindled over the next three years as Anderson became the featured back, then Phillip Lindsay burst onto the Broncos scene. Last year, Booker played a supporting role to the Raiders’ Josh Jacobs, averaging a respectable 4.5 yards per carry.
That leaves Corey Clement and Gary Brightwell battling for roster spots when camp starts. Clement has the edge with regular season and playoff experience (including a 51-yard Super Bowl TD). Yet, Brightwell, as a surprise draft pick, could stick with the club as a special teams player. Brightwell opened the Giants’ staff eyes before the draft. Brightwell is known as a hard runner that hits the tackler as hard as he can. Clement is the more polished receiver with Brightwell lacking experience in that department. Both have plenty of tread on the tires after light usage the previous seasons.
Looking at this group of running backs, we hope Saquon makes his return early in the season. When you’ve run for more than 1,000 yards in each of your first two seasons, and can produce nearly the same in receiving yards, you are missed in any offense. The Giants need Saquon to be healthy and confident in his ability to carry the load. But, if he’s not ready, the Giants have prepared themselves with very capable stand-ins until his return.