Saquon Barkley suffered an ankle injury toward the end of the New York Giants’ 31-28 victory over the Arizona Cardinals in Week 2. However, Giants head coach Brian Daboll refrained from definitively excluding the star running back from future games.

Daboll offered a glimmer of hope by stating that Barkley has been making significant strides in his recovery. He is leaving the door open for the star running back to play in Week 3’s Thursday night matchup against the San Francisco 49ers.

A recent MRI conducted the day after the injury confirmed that Barkley suffered a minor ankle sprain, per ESPN. While this diagnosis brings some relief, it also means that the Giants will have to manage without their star offensive player for a period. Barkley is expected to be sidelined for three weeks, although NFL Media suggests his return may be based on a week-to-week evaluation.

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Last year, Barkley had a remarkable impact, accumulating 1,650 scrimmage yards and notching 10 touchdowns for the Giants. His contributions were a significant chunk of New York’s offensive production (27.7%), ranking him fifth among all NFL players. The usage has remained high in 2023, with Barkley playing the fourth-most snaps among all RBs before sustaining the injury.

The Giants now face a temporary setback. However, with their unique strengths and attributes, running backs Matt Breida, Gary Brightwell, and Eric Gray offer some potential to fill the large void left by Barkley. As fans eagerly await Barkley’s return, these running backs can make their mark on the team’s journey this season while showcasing the depth of the Giants’ roster.

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Matt Breida

While Saquon Barkley is temporarily out of action, the New York Giants have an obvious in-house solution: Matt Breida. The 28-year-old is poised to take the reins of the Giants’ backfield. Head coach Brian Daboll recently expressed his confidence in the veteran running back, commending his exceptional work ethic and deep understanding of the team’s system.

While Breida’s offensive usage has been relatively limited over the past three-plus years, never exceeding 59 carries in a campaign, his earlier years in San Francisco from 2017 to 2019 showcased his ability to handle a larger workload.

During that period, he accumulated 381 carries, amassing 1,902 yards at an impressive five yards per carry. His experience and his 4.3 speed combined with Daboll’s endorsement positions him as the front-runner to shoulder the team’s running duties during Barkley’s recovery.

Gary Brightwell

Brightwell occupies the No. 2 slot on the official Giants’ running back depth chart right now, although how he’ll be deployed in that role remains uncertain. Among New York’s running backs, Brightwell stands out as the most imposing figure, coming in at 6-foot-1 and a hefty 220 pounds. The Giants acquired him as a sixth-round pick out of Arizona in the 2021 draft.

The running back has carved out a niche as a special teams contributor, showcasing his skills with some impressive plays so far in 2023. On the offensive front, he has accumulated 150 rushing yards and one touchdown on 33 carries, in addition to catching eight catches for 51 yards over the course of three seasons. Through the first two weeks of the 2023 campaign, Brightwell logged just 13 offensive snaps.

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Brightwell is an aggressive player, especially in his special teams role, which is likely something Daboll would appreciate. Also, Brightwell saw two passing targets during the Week 1 blowout loss to the Dallas Cowboys, raising the possibility of him contributing as a receiver in upcoming games. His size and strength should also give him the inside track on New York’s short-yardage and goal line work while Barkley is out.

Eric Gray

The Giants’ fifth-round pick in the 2023 draft, Gray showcased his potential as a punt returner in Week 2, zipping for 14 yards on a fourth-quarter return that significantly contributed to setting up the offense with a favorable field position for a touchdown-scoring drive.

While Gray has yet to see extensive action in the backfield since the summer, his role may evolve if the Giants opt for a change of pace. The young running back exhibits agility and elusiveness in the open field, potentially offering value as a receiving threat.

However, one limitation would be his lack of proficiency in pass protection, which might impact the number of snaps he receives. Gray emerges as the wildcard within this group, with his status as an untested rookie with speed and quickness to spare making him an enticing option.

All statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference and all contract information courtesy of Spotrac unless stated otherwise.

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