The Giants used one of their two sixth-round draft picks this offseason on Arizona running back Gary Brightwell. What could his role be?
It wasn’t a move many expected, but regardless, the Giants decided to address their depth at the running back position in this year’s NFL Draft. The team brought in University of Arizona’s Gary Brightwell via the No. 196 overall pick (sixth round).
Brightwell possesses a significant amount on his plate — impressions will need to be made during training camp and the preseason in order for him to even make the final roster ahead of the regular season.
If the noteworthy task is achieved, what role could he potentially assume for his 2021 rookie campaign?
Offensive role: The race for the second-string job
It’s clear when he’s healthy and ready to go (which will hopefully be Week 1 after he tore his ACL last September), Saquon Barkley is the team’s top back. He’s proven, when he’s at his best, his talent is immense and he can succeed in a number of different areas.
The second-string running back role, however, will possess a few competitors in the training camp and preseason periods — Brightwell being one of them.
The rookie will have a notable amount of ground to cover in order to earn this type of job though.
Devontae Booker is experienced, has been productive in this league (three seasons with over 30 receptions), and the Giants provided him with a two-year contract back in March. Given the investment made in him, Booker seems to be the favorite to win the second-string job behind Barkley.
Another main competitor for the spot happens to be free-agent pickup Corey Clement, who figures to be more of a special teams weapon and situational back (during his four-year tenure with Philly, Clement carried the ball over 70 times in a season just once). But given his experience, the Giants may feel more comfortable initially providing Clement with reps instead of Brightwell (the staff may wish to ease Brightwell into the system).
The 2021 sixth-rounder will somehow need to surpass the aforementioned pair of alternative options to earn the second-string job. Since locating a more significant role than either could be a daunting task, expect Brightwell to be the third or fourth back on the depth chart and to sparingly find time on the offensive side of the ball.
Special teams role: Punt and/or kickoff cover makes sense
Back in May following his draft selection, Brightwell spoke highly about the special teams facet of the game (he likely knows he’ll be spending time in this area if he makes the Giants’ final roster).
“[The Giants and I] didn’t really talk about special teams. We broke the film down and we mentioned special teams, but honestly special teams impacts me,” Brightwell told the media. “I like to be the guy that starts the game off like on kickoff at Arizona. Unfortunately, I couldn’t play it last year as much as I wanted to, but I feel like special teams starts the game. Without special teams, it could be a win or lose situation. It’s the hidden yards.”
Now, that’s not to say Brightwell will be a return specialist — he didn’t take on this type of role consistently at Arizona and only returned five kicks in four seasons.
There are alternative roles for him within special teams though.
There’s a chance you could see him on the punt cover team potentially as a gunner or upback. The kickoff team could additionally possess a role for the young player.
Head coach Joe Judge, who possesses a history as a special teams coordinator, seemingly feels Brightwell can bring legitimate value to that area of the game.
“[Assistant special teams coach] Tom Quinn, [special teams coordinator] Thomas McGaughey, and I were sitting in the staff room on a Saturday about 5:30 in the morning, and Tom brought [Brightwell’s] name up,” Judge told the media back in May. “We watched his kick game and this dude was flying down the field.
“He’s a guy that jumps out from his skill set. You are always looking for good versatility and depth at those positions, running back and the kicking game.”
Conclusion: Special teams will be the name of Brightwell’s game
As was previously mentioned, expect Brightwell to potentially slot in towards the bottom of the depth chart at the running back position. There’s no chance he’ll win the starting job if a healthy Saquon Barkley is present and it should initially be tough to surpass both Devontae Booker and Corey Clement given their experience in this league.
Brightwell’s calling, at least to commence his career, should be special teams. Portraying his talents in that area of the game will assist in him growing as an overall player. Special teams is where he’ll be able to show off that speed, athleticism, and versatility that could eventually enhance his offensive role later on in his career.
Regardless of the exact position, Brightwell could locate a true special teams niche if he achieves a spot on the final roster.