The New York Giants signed Maryland running back Javon Leake as an undrafted free agent, and he could impact the team in a number of ways.
It’s amazing the type of players you could discover in the later rounds of the NFL Draft. Just this year, the New York Giants were able to pick up Carter Coughlin, an edge rusher who twice earned second-team All-Big Ten honors, in the seventh round. Think about that. A guy who was one of the top individuals at his position in a top-tier college football conference was still available at No. 218 overall.
But even going past that, it’s stunning to find out what some of the guys who weren’t selected at all could bring to the table.
For the Giants, that’s Javon Leake, a running back from Maryland who the team signed as an undrafted free agent last month. Not only would you be blown away by his resume, but you’d additionally figure out that he could instantly make an impact on this team in a number of ways.
The feature that stands out is his ability to return kicks, an area of play the Giants haven’t been dreadful in over the past few years, but nowhere near fantastic. The team’s top guy in those regards hasn’t surpassed 600 kick-return yards in a season nor scored a touchdown since former Giants receiver Dwayne Harris did both in 2015 — 631 yards, one score.
Leake will immediately compete at the kick returner spot, as that’s the area he greatly succeeded in during his collegiate career. He ultimately racked up 804 yards on 30 returns with a pair of scores for Maryland last year, having averaged 26.8 yards per return. His efforts earned him a spot on the All-Big Ten first team as well as the Rodgers-Dwight Return Specialist of the Year Award for the conference’s top returner.
The aforementioned facts make his non-selection that much more surprising.
The upcoming position battle at that spot between Leake, Corey Coleman (who returned kicks for the Giants in 2018), and potentially Corey Ballentine could be one that’s exceptionally interesting. Both Ballentine and Coleman possess NFL experience in this department. Nonetheless, Leake has proven his talent and could ultimately win out the job.
But when discussing Leake’s past success (and what he could potentially do at the next level), it doesn’t just stop at special teams. The 6-foot, 215-pound athlete proved to be effective on the offensive side of the ball last year, having racked up 736 yards and eight scores on a whopping 7.2 yards per carry through 12 games. He led the Maryland squad in rushing yards but not attempts, which is an intriguing tidbit.
The Giants will have another fascinating position battle amid the training camp and preseason periods when it comes to the backup running back spot. I’m not saying Leake will ultimately win the job just because of what he was able to do at the collegiate level, but he’ll definitely bring a level of competitiveness to the battle.
This specific contest is slated to include Leake and five additional individuals.
I’m not expecting Dion Lewis to be cut, considering the Giants just signed him and he could contribute to the passing game. The veteran caught 59 balls for 400 yards as a Tennessee Titan in 2018. Elijhaa Penny is an unlikely cut as well. He’s more of a fullback and will, in all likelihood, be used in short-yardage situations.
On the other hand, it may be a longshot for Sandro Platzgummer to make the active roster. Platzgummer was recently allocated to the organization as part of the NFL International Player Pathway Program.
With that said, there are two individuals who Leake may have to directly compete against — Jon Hilliman and Wayne Gallman. Hilliman spent most of last year on the team’s practice squad. In just three games, he notched 33 touches and fumbled twice. Gallman’s future with the team is also unclear, considering he played in just 10 games last year (career-low) and only conjured up 110 rushing yards. Thus, he may be very replaceable.
There’s a chance Leake could impress this mostly new coaching staff this summer and garner more attention than both Hilliman and Gallman, which would be beneficial to his chances of making the active roster.
Leake doesn’t exactly have a clear-cut path to beating anyone out for any job, we know that. But if he puts the work in, the undrafted rookie could climb Big Blue’s depth charts at both the kick returner and backup running back spots.
Don’t be surprised if the 21-year-old raises eyebrows prior to the upcoming regular season.