Saquon Barkley is officially done for the season after tearing his ACL, so what does that mean for the New York Giants running game?
The biggest fear for New York Giants fans all throughout unfortunately came true on Sunday. In the midst of what was a 17-13 loss for Big Blue at the hands of the Chicago Bears, Saquon Barkley went down with a devastating injury in the second quarter after suffering a hit from safety Eddie Jackson. Barkley didn’t rise to his feet, instead taking off his helmet and slamming the ground in frustration.
The star running back eventually was carted into the locker room, with confirmation coming a day later that the 23-year-old had torn his ACL, a health-related setback that will keep him sidelined for the remainder of the season.
In a Monday press conference, rookie head coach Joe Judge spoke on the unfortunate situation but reassured reporters that the Giants would be pushing through in the third-year back’s absence.
“We go back to work. That’s where we go,” he said, per Ralph Vacchiano of SNY. “Go back to work on Wednesday and start plugging ahead. That’s where we go. Our vision has to be forward.”
Moving forward without your top workhorse is easier said than done, but it is indeed something that must be accomplished. Thus, who will exactly be a part of that whole process?
In regard to in-house options, many believe Wayne Gallman will become the top guy, and it’s reasonable to think that. Despite the fact that he was a healthy scratch on Sunday, he’s always been the No. 2 man behind Barkley and was slated to compete for a starting spot in 2018 prior to the drafting of Saquon out of Penn State. He’s been talented in his own right, having impressed in a number of preseason games throughout his career (of course, that wasn’t the case this year amid the COVID-19 pandemic).
Nonetheless, I wouldn’t throw Gallman to the top of the depth chart all that quickly. Considering the Giants didn’t activate him for the Bears matchup, it’s appropriate to believe the organization possesses more confidence in veteran free-agent acquisition Dion Lewis.
And why shouldn’t they? Lewis actually carries legitimate experience as a starter, having taken the initial reps in 27 of his 88 career appearances. He additionally provides that versatility Judge adores, sporting a pass-catching ability that he portrayed on Sunday — four catches for 36 yards.
If the Giants want to keep utilizing Lewis in the kick-return game though, which they did in the first pair of regular-season matchups, then they could start Gallman in order to limit Dion’s workload and responsibility.
Regardless, if the Giants don’t bring anyone noteworthy in via free agency, expect them to utilize a committee-based approach. With Barkley sidelined, they no longer employ a healthy superstar back who can do it all, forcing them to make use of numerous individuals and their respective strengths.
Two other backs the Giants employ are Elijhaa Penny and Rod Smith, the latter of which is currently on the practice squad. Penny is more of a fullback though, so there’s a possibility they could just keep him in that role regardless of the fact that Barkley won’t be active for the final 14 contests. Smith, on the other hand, sports a larger frame than any other Big Blue running back, so he’d be more of a short-yardage back if the Giants promoted him to the active roster.
There’s also the possibility the team could sign someone, and according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, New York may be in the process of doing so. Rapoport reported Monday the Giants were bringing former Falcons running back and two-time Pro Bowler Devonta Freeman in for a visit. He underwent the mandatory COVID-19 testing on Monday and will take a point of contact test on Tuesday prior to his workout.
It’s unclear what Freeman would wish for from a money standpoint, but don’t expect it to be the veteran minimum. My guess is the Giants will want to provide him with a short-term, incentive-based deal, but again, Freeman will likely desire some chunk of change.
If Freeman becomes a Giant, he’ll certainly receive the bulk of the carries, considering he’d already be the most talented and versatile back on the roster. He would fit well in Jason Garrett’s offense and additionally help spread the field for Daniel Jones. Proving to be a decent pass-catching back, Freeman caught 59 balls for 410 yards and four scores with Atlanta last year.
But regardless of what occurs, don’t expect the ground game to be a notable aspect of this team’s offense until the line improves. That’s the key to this area of the game. This offensive-line group, which hasn’t had a whole lot of time to gel and build chemistry, needs to consistently come together in order for the running backs — and overall offensive unit — to find any sort of success.
Whether the Giants utilize a committee-based approach with Gallman, Lewis, and potentially Penny and Smith, or bring in someone like Freeman, this group of “hog mollies” must develop while the season progresses.