After Saquon Barkley, what will Giants’ backfield look like in 2021?
Nothing about the New York Giants’ running game, or the players employed at the running back position, went according to plan in 2020.
- The run-blocking was atrocious in the first few weeks as a newly-formed and inexperienced offensive line tried to find its footing without a spring or a preseason.
- Star running back Saquon Barkley suffered a season-ending torn ACL in Week 2, long before that offensive line found its way.
- Veteran Devonta Freeman was signed to be the lead back after Barkley’s injury. He lasted five only moderately successful games before himself landing on injured reserve.
- Wayne Gallman finally took over as the Giants’ lead back when Freeman went down. He got help over the second half of the season from Alfred Morris to form an effective, albeit not spectacular or explosive, running back duo.
Starter: Wayne Gallman
Backups: Alfred Morris, Dion Lewis, Devonta Freeman
Fullback: Elijhaa Penny
IR: Saquon Barkley
Practice squad: Sandro Platzgummer (International exemption), Jordan Chunn
We never really got to see the Giants’ offense hit its stride with Barkley involved. He averaged just 1.8 yards (34 yards, 18 carries) before being dragged off the field in Chicago in Week 2 with his season-ending torn ACL.
The offensive line eventually settled down for the most part, the Giants found things they could block in the running game, Wayne Gallman, Alfred Morris and Daniel Jones (when healthy enough) gave the Giants a competent running game.
The Giants finished 25th in the league in explosive play rate, and Barkley’s specialty is making plays human beings aren’t supposed to make. What the Giants missed, and actually missed for much of 2019 after he suffered a high-ankle sprain, was Barkley’s ability to turn nothing into something and something into something extraordinary. In 2019, Barkley had only nine ‘explosive runs’ of 15 yards or more, but gained 331 yards and averaged 36.8 yards on those nine runs.
Around the holidays, reports surfaced that Barkley had been seen walking without crutches. The Giants can only hope to have Barkley, the real Barkley, healthy in 2021.
When he finally got his chance to be the focal point of the Giants’ rushing attack, Gallman did an outstanding job. He averaged an excellent 4.6 yards per carry. He scored six touchdowns. He averaged 2.5 yards after contact, consistently pushing piles for as much yardage as he could get out of every play.
Gallman had 7 runs of 15 yards or more, 24th among 59 qualifying backs. He got 177 yards on those explosive runs, an average 25.3 yards on those plays. Sixty of those yards came on one play.
The real question with Gallman is whether or not he will be back with the Giants, as he is a free agent. He will turn 27 next season, and it’s going to be interesting to see if any team out there is willing to show him the money and make him their featured back. The Giants likely can’t pay him starter money to caddy for Barkley.
Morris carried the ball only one time in 2019 and didn’t have an NFL job when the 2020 season started. After the injury to Barkley, the Giants pulled him off the NFL scrap heap, most likely because of his familiarity with Jason Garrett as he was with the Dallas Cowboys in 2016 and 2017. The Giants took advantage of adjusted practice squad rules to stash Morris there. When Devonta Freeman went down midseason, they added the veteran running back to the active roster.
Morris played well in limited time. He averaged 4.3 yards per carry, right on the nine-year veteran’s career average. Morris had 238 yards on 55 carries with a touchdown rushing and the only receiving touchdown of his career.
It wouldn’t be a surprise if the Giants move on from Morris. Under the circumstances of 2020, though, the Giants got everything they could have hoped to get from him.
The 30-year-old Albany, N.Y. native fulfilled a dream by playing for the Giants, a team he used to watch during training camps at UAlbany. Thing is, he didn’t give the Giants a whole lot.
Lewis carried the ball just 29 times for 115 yards and 2 touchdowns, averaging 4.0 yards per carry. He caught only 19 passes. Lewis also averaged a pedestrian 22.4 yards while returning kickoffs.
Freeman was settling in as the Giants’ primary running back when an ankle injury sidelined him. He also suffered a hamstring injury, landed on IR, then the Reserve/COVID-19 list and has already been waived/injured. Freeman carried 54 times for 172 yards 93.2 yards per carry). He can still play, things just didn’t work out for him with the Giants.
The Giants didn’t use a fullback often in their offensive sets, and on a few occasions when they did it was offensive lineman Shane Lemieux performing that role. Penny ended up playing just 73 snaps, or 7 percent of the Giants’ offensive snaps. He carried the ball six times for 15 yards (2.5 yards per carry) and caught two passes for 20 yards. He played mostly when the Giants backed up against their own goal line or near the opponents’ end zone.