Giants: Who will take over in the backfield with Saquon Barkley injured?

Giants: Who will take over in the backfield with Saquon Barkley injured?
Jan 21, 2023; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; New York Giants running back Matt Breida (31) runs for a touchdown against the Philadelphia Eagles in the third quarter during an NFC divisional round game at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Giants will be without superstar RB Saquon Barkley for the next several weeks. Barkley, a crucial component of the Giants’ offense, will not be easily replaced in New York’s lineup. But with the star rusher sidelined with an ankle injury, Big Blue needs one of their backup running backs to step up and fill his spot.

Who will start at running back for the Giants in Week 3?

The Giants have a short week, following their game on Sunday with another matchup on Thursday night. Big Blue will travel to San Fransisco to face the 49ers’ dominant defense. Without Barkley in their backfield, the team will need to decide on a new lead back to plug into their lineup.

Matt Breida: A reliable veteran option

Matt Breida is the veteran option on the Giants’ roster. On the team’s unofficial depth chart this week, Breida is listed as the second-string running back behind Barkley. Breida is in his second season with New York after totaling 220 rushing yards and one touchdown on 55 carries for Big Blue last season. He also added 118 receiving yards on 20 receptions.

In the seventh season of his career, Breida is bringing plenty of experience to New York’s backfield. He has spent the last several years under the tutelage of head coach Brian Daboll, having played for the Bills in 2021 while Daboll was still the offensive coordinator in Buffalo. His familiarity with the system and experience in the league (20 career starts) make Breida the most dependable back available with Barkley absent.

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Can this rookie step up?

Fifth-round rookie RB Eric Gray has seen minimal playing time through the first two weeks of his young career. Primarily, Gray has been contributing on special teams as the Giants’ leading return specialist. He could receive his first snaps on offense this week, though, with New York thin in the backfield.

Gray amassed 36 rushing yards and one touchdown on 17 attempts in three preseason games last month. In 2022, Gray was the starting running back at Oklahoma and put together a stellar final collegiate season, totaling 1,366 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns for the Sooners. He has excellent traits as a developmental back and, with the Giants thin going into Week 3, Gray could see his first opportunity to carry the rock in the NFL this week.

Gary Brightwell could see an expanded role

Gray is listed as the team’s fourth-string running back behind Barkley, Breida, and third-year rusher Gary Brightwell. Like Gray, Brightwell is another back on the roster who contributes primarily on special teams. He made a crucial tackle on a punt in the fourth quarter of the Giants Week 2 win over the Arizona Cardinals.

Brightwell has taken just one handoff this season, rushing for five yards, but also totaled six receiving yards on two receptions in Week 1. Last season, Brightwell rushed for 141 yards and one touchdown on 31 carries. The touchdown was a game-winner against the Green Bay Packers in Week 5.

The Giants should bank on experience in the backfield

Like Gray, Brightwell is inexperienced, having taken just 33 carries so far in his three-year career. Breida stands out as the clear top option among Big Blue’s backup rushers. He has 20 starts under his belt and seven seasons of NFL experience, making him the most reliable back on the roster behind Barkley.

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Breida will lead as the starter on Thursday, but the Giants will likely rely on a rotation in the backfield. Gray and Brightwell should both receive playing time to ease the pressure off of Breida’s shoulders. Additionally, the Giants are likely to call for more quarterback-designed runs for Daniel Jones as he looks to lead the offense to their second straight win.