Saquon Barkley injury: Who replaces star RB while he’s out with an ankle sprain? Examining the Giants’ options

The New York Giants offense took a hit during their incredible comeback victory over the Arizona Cardinals in Week 2, as star running back Saquon Barkley exited the matchup early with an ankle injury

A Monday MRI showed that Barkley suffered an “ordinary” ankle sprain, per ESPN. This is good news in some ways, but the Giants’ best offensive player is going to miss some time. ESPN reports Barkley will miss three weeks, while NFL Media reports he’s more week-to-week. 

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Barkley racked up 1,650 scrimmage yards and 10 touchdowns last year for the Giants. He was responsible for 27.7% of New York’s offense, which was the fifth-highest mark of any player in the NFL last year. On Sunday against Arizona, Barkley rushed for 63 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries. He also caught six passes for 29 yards and another touchdown as the Giants rallied from a 20-0 deficit to win, 31-28. 

Head coach Brian Daboll will have to adjust the offensive game plan with Barkley sidelined, but he will still want to utilize his backs. Below, we will break down the running backs who still step up in Barkley’s place in the coming weeks.

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The 28-year-old Breida is the veteran of the group, and it’s interesting that the Giants face the San Francisco 49ers this Thursday night, because it’s Breida’s former team. The Georgia Southern product found his way to San Francisco after going undrafted in 2017, and he recorded 2,463 yards from scrimmage and 10 touchdowns while averaging 5.0 yards per rushing attempt in 43 games played for the 49ers. Breida’s best season came back in 2018, when he rushed for a career-high 814 yards and three touchdowns in 14 games played. In all, Breida had five 100-yard rushing games during his time with San Francisco.

The veteran back had short stints with the Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills as well before joining the Giants ahead of the 2022 season. Breida recorded 338 yards from scrimmage and one touchdown in 17 games played.

Breida could be the most popular waiver-wire addition this week in fantasy because he’s expected to be the lead back in Week 3. To put it simply, Breida is probably the best option for the Giants right now, and likely the most well-rounded option when it comes to toting the rock, catching the ball and pass blocking. Expect the Giants to rotate their backs a bit, but Breida should be the main guy Thursday night at the very least.

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Brightwell is listed as the No. 2 running back on the Giants’ official depth chart, but if he’s utilized as such remains to be seen. Out of the three backs we will discuss here, Brightwell is the biggest at 6-foot-1 and 220 pounds. He was a sixth-round pick of New York in 2021 out of Arizona.

Brightwell is a special teams contributor, and he made a very nice tackle this past Sunday in the fourth quarter. Offensively, he’s rushed for 150 yards and a touchdown on 33 carries and caught eight passes for 51 yards in three seasons. Brightwell has played 13 offensive snaps this year in two games, per Pro Football Reference.

Given his role on special teams, Brightwell is an aggressive player — which is something likely appreciated by Daboll. Also, he was targeted twice in the passing game in the blowout loss vs. the Dallas Cowboys in Week 1, so maybe Brightwell could see some action as a receiver as well.

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Gray may be the wild card of the group, and being the unknown rookie draft pick likely makes him the most attractive option to many fans. However, he hasn’t played an offensive snap yet. 

Gray was selected in the fifth round out of Oklahoma back in April, and he has returned two punts for 21 yards in two games played. He’s not the fastest running back, but Gray does have an element of slipperiness to him. In three preseason games, Gray rushed 17 times for 36 yards and one touchdown while catching six passes for 58 yards. 

In his final season with the Sooners, Gray rushed for 1,366 yards, caught 33 passes for 229 yards and scored 11 touchdowns. CBS Sports NFL Draft expert Chris Trapasso gave the Giants’ selection of Gray at No. 172 overall a “B+” grade:

“Versatile weapon at RB. Deceptive elusiveness. Quickness is more impressive than his speed. Hard-to-disrupt equilibrium. Nice time to get depth behind Saquon Barkley.”