As the second week of voluntary OTAs marches on for the New York Giants, it appears that Saquon Barkley and the Giants’ front office haven’t found any common ground in reaching a long-term deal for one of the best running backs in the NFL (and on your fantasy football rosters). Barkley has said he won’t sign the franchise tag, as he feels disrespected by the lack of guaranteed money, and as the deadline to either sign the tag or get a deal done creeps closer and closer, a long-term holdout could be on the horizon. The main crux of the two sides’ disagreement seems to be the guaranteed money, but how long is Barkley willing to squabble over a couple million dollars?
Le’Veon Bell cost himself millions during his infamous hold out, and Melvin Gordon held out for the first four games of the 2019 season with the Chargers in hopes of a new contract before finally caving and taking the initial deal of 10 million dollars. While history isn’t on Barkley’s side in the event he does decide to hold out, that doesn’t mean he won’t stand his ground and sit out at least a few games. If he remains absent through training camp and into the regular season, could Matt Breida or rookie Eric Gray be a viable fill-in for your fantasy rosters? There would be around 57% of the team’s total carries vacated, but what would the production look like if these two were thrust into that role. The answer may actually surprise you. Let’s dive in and see if either of these two backs could provide you with weekly value on your best ball or redraft rosters in 2023.
Can Matt Breida Take Over as the Giants RB1?
In this day and age of the NFL, running backs age out fairly quickly, but Breida has remained in the league at 28 years old largely due to very little usage in his backup role. The last three seasons, he hasn’t seen more than 59 carries in a year, but his efficiency hasn’t been great, seeing an average yards per carry high of just 4.8 on 26 attempts in 2021. However, Breida’s average in San Francisco was significantly better, finishing 2019 and 2018 with a 5.1 and 5.3 yards per carry average, respectively. So what caused the decline? A lot of it can be blamed on the offensive line and/or his usage as a change of pace back.
In 2019, San Francisco had the fourth-best run-blocking grade according to PFF; compare that to the Buffalo Bills’ run-blocking grade that ranked 26th in 2021, and you can give Breida the benefit of the doubt. The Giants fortunately improved their offensive line in 2022, and after the addition of rookie center John Michael Schmitz and the continued improvement of second-year player Evan Neal and tackle Andrew Thomas, they will look to continue to improve in 2023. Breida won’t have the same explosiveness as Barkley and will likely cede snaps in a committee situation, but he will have some fantasy value. His Underdog ADP is currently at 215, and if Barkley holds out, even for a few weeks, Breida could provide extreme value for the draft capital.
Will Eric Gray Be This Year’s Tyler Allgeier?
While it’s currently Matt Breida as second in line on the Giants’ depth chart, don’t count out fifth-round rookie running back Eric Gray to jump him. In the preseason process, it’s easy to turn our noses up at a player due to draft capital and age, but Tyler Allgeier had a similar situation last year, and he finished the year as the RB31. In best ball formats, we don’t have to worry about whether or not a running back is going to last or be a bell-cow. We only have to worry if they’re going to produce spike weeks, and if Barkley holds out, that is exactly what Gray will do.
In his final year at Oklahoma at 23 years old, Gray truly had a breakout season, finishing with almost 1,600 scrimmage yards and 11 touchdowns in 12 games. He’s not the fastest running back in this class, but he makes up for it with pure power and athleticism, with the ability to shake defenders and find the end zone. He was also highly efficient when he touched the ball, finishing 2022 with a yards per carry average of 6.4. Like Breida, Gray is a free square at his current ADP who could smash value in the event of a Barkley hold out.
If Barkley Signs a Deal, Can Matt Breida or Eric Gray Still be a Viable Fantasy Option?
Now for the elephant in the room; historically, it has not worked out well for running backs who have held out waiting on a bigger and better contract. That’s just not the NFL that we live in these days, and the average professional career of a running back is too short to turn down money when it’s staring you in the face. However, part of the reason Barkley is so adamant about holding out is because of the risk of injury ending his career early, so that begs another question. Even if Barkley signs the deal, Breida and/or Gray could both have fantasy value in the event of injury. According to DraftSharks.com, Barkley’s risk of reinjury is fairly high, currently sitting at 82%. He’s not expected to miss many games, at only 2.4, but with the value you get with either one of these running backs in the last round, Breida or Gray could end up providing you with a couple of weeks of high-end production. They’re not the kind of back you should go for in redraft formats, but if you’re looking for some insurance, you’re not going to find many backs out there with a higher chance to fill in a huge role.
Keep an eye on all the latest news on Saquon Barkley and more of your favorite NFL players throughout the summer right here at FantasyAlarm.com and follow me on Twitter @Britt_Flinn for more content!