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Saquon Barkley replacement? Even N.Y.’s own history says the Giants should wait to draft a RB until Day 2 or later

Maybe the New York Giants should have learned their lesson 40 years ago.

New York selected Michigan running back Butch Woolfolk with the 18th overall pick of the 1982 draft. Woolfolk went on to play for seven years and three teams, racking up 1,923 yards and 8 touchdowns for his career.

The Giants’ second pick in ’82? “Little” Joe Morris, the No. 45 overall pick in the second round out of Syracuse. Morris still holds over a dozen team records and was a key member of the Giants team that won the Super Bowl in 1987. The two-time Pro Bowler also led the league in rushing in 1985 and finished his career with 5,585 yards and 50 touchdowns.

But Morris was just one of many running backs drafted after the first round by the Giants who went on to have a relatively successful career.

Overall, New York has drafted a running back in the first round eight times the past 40 years. The results have been a mixed bag.

There were a few misses: George Adams (1985) and David Wilson (2012) come to mind. One of the picks, Ron Dayne, showed early promise but never really lived up to his standing as the No. 11 overall pick of the 2000 draft. There was even a fullback, Jarrod Bunch, who went on to become an actor and the coach of Beverly Hills High School after the Giants took him in the first round of the 1991 draft at No. 27 overall.

And who could forget Tyrone Wheatley? Drafted with the No. 17 overall pick of the 1995 draft, the Michigan product never got his career untracked with the Giants and didn’t find success until he was traded to Miami, cut in training camp, then signed by the then-Oakland Raiders. Wheatley’s best season was in 2000, when he rushed for a career-high 1,046 yards and 9 TDs for the Raiders.

Only Rodney Hampton truly lived up to his first-round status. The No. 24 overall pick in 1990 out of Georgia, Hampton was a two-time Pro Bowler and helped the Giants win the 1991 Super Bowl. His 6,897 yards rushing ranks second in Giants history, while his 49 TDs are third.

In fact, Hampton is the only player among New York’s top five career rushing leaders who was drafted in the first round. Tiki Barber (second round, 1997), Morris, Brandon Jacobs (fourth round, 2005) and Alex Webster (11th round 1953) make up the rest of New York’s top-5 career rushing leaders.

None of this bodes well for Saquon Barkley.

There’s been whispers the past few seasons about the possibility of the team trading the No. 2 overall pick in 2018 out of Penn State. However, New York GM Joe Schoen said late last month that he hasn’t called any teams about a potential Barkley trade.

Say a Barkley trade happens anyway; the Giants are unlikely to net anything more than a fourth-round pick in return, at best, as reported by ESPN’s Jordan Raanan.

What about cutting Barkley and his $7.2 million salary? That wouldn’t save any cap space, either, as they’d need to trade him to get any salary cap relief in return.

Hence the reason why Schoen is hesitant to trade the 2018 Offensive Rookie of the Year.

When healthy, Barkley is a top-5 running back – the operative word being “healthy.” Barkley had 3,469 yards from scrimmage his first two seasons along with 23 touchdowns.

But things turned sour quickly.

Barkley has the fewest yards per rush – 3.46 – since 2020, according to CBS Sports.

He tore his ACL in 2020, then struggled the following year with an ankle sprain.

And now? It looks like the Giants are at least considering Barkley’s future replacement.

According to various media reports, New York held 30 visits with four running backs: Iowa State’s Breece Hall, Alabama’s Brian Robinson, Georgia’s James Cook and South Dakota State’s Pierre Strong. Another running back, Villanova’s Justin Covington, was among the players who were invited to the Giants’ local pro day.

Of the five, Hall (No. 50 in the Fanspeak-Jake Rigdon big board) is the highest-ranked, while Robinson (No. 124) and Cook (No. 132) are ranked in the third- to fourth-round range and Strong (No. 150) in the fourth- to fifth-round range. Covington is unranked.

With Barkley in the final year of his contract, the Giants could draft a RB, then use him as the backup to Barkley with the assumption that the rookie would start by Year 2.

So what round should New York take one?

Marcus Mosher of The Game Day says Day 2 is “the sweet spot” for running backs.

“We’ve seen a ton of recent hits in Round 2, including Johnathan Taylor, Derrick Henry, Nick Chubb, Dalvin Cook, etc.,” Mosher said in an interview with Fanspeak.com.

“In fact, of the top 10 players in rushing yards last year, seven were selected on Day 2, one on Day 3 (Elijah Mitchell) and two in Round 1 (Najee Harris and Ezekiel Elliott).  Harris and Elliott both averaged under 4.3 yards per carry, which is well below league average.

“Over the last decade, there is nothing to suggest that draft capital is tied to a player’s yards per carry or efficiency.”

Blame it on the evolution of the passing game. Or place the blame on defenders who are bigger, stronger and faster than ever.

Regardless of the reason, history says teams shouldn’t get too comfortable with their running backs – another reason to avoid taking one until later in the draft.

“Drafting a running back on Day 2 or Day 3 makes the most sense as you can use them for four years (rookie contract) and then move on,” Mosher said. “Smart teams will use a top-125 pick every few years on a running back and then move on when their contract is up.

“One thing that we know for sure is that a running back’s best seasons come between the ages of 21-25. After that, their efficiency drops in a huge way.”

Will New York wind up taking a running back – and if so, what round? Find out in Fanspeak’s latest Giants mock draft.

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