INDIANAPOLIS - It wasn't that long ago when the NFL seemed to believe that the value of running backs was diminishing. Taking them high in the draft was viewed as foolish with so many good ones available in later rounds. And the position wasn't nearly as important as quarterback, receiver, or offensive line.
The recent rise of Ezekiel Elliott and Todd Gurley seems to have changed that thinking. The availability of Penn State's Saquon Barkley in this draft might change that too.
And it certainly sounds like if the Giants don't take a quarterback, GM Dave Gettleman wouldn't hesitate to take a running back like Barkley at No. 2.
"The bottom line is: Is the guy a football player?" Gettleman said at the NFL scouting combine on Wednesday. "This whole myth of devaluing running backs, I find it kind of comical. At the end of the day, if he's a great player, he's a great player. It doesn't matter what position he is."
Barkley, whom the Giants will interview on Thursday night according to a source, is considered to be a potentially great player-- perhaps the best non-quarterback in the entire draft. And he certainly seems to be the kind of dual-threat weapon that new coach Pat Shurmur thinks his offense could use.
"I have a high opinion of what a running back brings to your offense," Shurmur said. "But I also have a very high opinion that that guy has to be able to run the ball, he has to be able to pass protect and he has to be able to catch. That's one of the things we have to get better at is catching the football. I think the running back is a huge weapon in the passing game, whether you just look down the field and check it down or you dedicate the throws to the runner."
The Giants, who had the 26th-ranked rushing attack in the NFL last year, haven't drafted a running back in the first round since they took David Wilson with the last pick of that round in 2012. But Gettleman was the Giants' personnel director when they took running back Ron Dayne 11th overall in 2000. And as GM of the Carolina Panthers he took running back Christian McCaffrey eighth overall last year.
The Giants did draft Wayne Gallman in the fourth round last year and they still have Paul Perkins, a 2016 fifth-round pick, on the roster. They also like Orleans Darkwa, who is an unrestricted free agent that could return if the price is right.
Would there still be room for Barkley in a Giants' rushing attack that has really struggled since the heyday of Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs? Well, Shurmur said "That's one of the position groups that takes a village"
In other words, the more the merrier as far as Shurmur is concerned.
"The best scenario at running back is when you kind of have a 1-1A deal," he said. "And as the play caller you can't be worried about what plays you call because 'Oh, this guy can catch' or 'Oh, this guy can only run the ball' because you know what? The defense knows all that, too. So you've got to have a guy in my opinion at running back that's a multi-dimensional guy."