Ranking Giants’ 25 most important players: No. 25 is a RB that might need to fill in for Saquon Barkley in Week 1

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The Giants will report to training camp on July 27 to kick off the 2021 season, Joe Judge’s second year as coach. Expectations are high after Dave Gettleman’s offseason spending spree.

In the 25 days leading up to training camp, NJ Advance Media will be counting down the 25 most important players for the 2021 season.

That is: the players that will be the most important to the team’s success this upcoming season.

First up: A running back that might have to play a significant role to start the season.

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When free agency started in March, it was expected that the Giants would be aggressive in improving their offense. And they were.

But it started from a please that seemed confusing, at least at first.

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Right as free agency kicked off, the Giants didn’t sign a wide receiver, a tight end or an offensive lineman. No, they signed a running back — specifically, Devontae Booker.

It was an interesting choice — he signed for more than double what he earned on a minimum deal with the Raiders last year — considering how aggressive the Giants were in signing a nearly 30-year-old running back.

But the Giants clearly believe in him, and there’s a reason why he’s on this list.

Here’s a closer look at Booker, and why he’s checking in at No. 25 on this list.

Who: Devontae Booker

Position: Running Back

Age: 29

Year: Sixth (first with Giants)

How he did in 2020: Booker was the primary backup to Josh Jacobs with the Las Vegas Raiders last year, and he was relatively productive in that role. He just didn’t get a whole lot of opportunity. Booker only had 93 rushes — along with 17 catches — though he did manage 507 total yards and three touchdowns and averaged 4.5 yards per carry. Booker hasn’t had anything resembling a full-time workload at running back since he started six games with the Broncos in 2016, getting 174 carries.

Since, he’s combined for 208 carries in four years.

Why he’s important: Simply put, the Giants just don’t know yet what version of Saquon Barkley they’re going to get coming off an ACL injury that cost him all but two games last season. It’s still unclear when Barkley will even be ready, and his status for training camp is up in the air — as well as Week 1.

Right now, it wouldn’t be entirely surprising if Booker is the starter to open the season, though that’s entirely dependent on how much progress Barkley makes in his rehab. So far, things seem to be going smoothly, but the Giants have openly said they’re going to take it slow.

So, that leaves Booker, who took the bulk of first-team reps during minicamp and OTAs.

Even if Barkley is ready to go in Week 1, he’s missed games in each of the last two seasons and the Giants view Booker as an upgrade over Wayne Gallman as a backup for a couple of reasons.

First, Booker is a step up as both as pass catcher (99 catches for 815 yards his first three years) and in protection. In 2019, Booker ranked 25th in pass-blocking among running backs.

Second, Booker can contribute on special teams — he has 533 special teams snaps combined over the last four years.

The Giants have upgraded the running back room in general, adding veteran Corey Clement, rookie Gary Brightwell and Jaguars castoff Ryquell Armstead. But Booker will play more than all of them.

He said it: “Well, one of the reasons we prioritized Devontae is you can never have too many good players at any position, I don’t care what anybody says. One of the things that made Devontae so attractive was the fact that we felt he was a legitimate three-down running back. It’s always a group decision here, everything’s in the best interest of the Giants, so obviously he can be a good part of our solution at running back.” — Giants GM Dave Gettleman

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Zack Rosenblatt may be reached at [email protected]. Tell us your coronavirus story or send a tip here.

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