The life of a running back is a curious thing in the NFL. Generally speaking, the bulk of a running back's production will happen on his rookie contract. By the end of that deal, at the age of 26-28, their team is usually forced to either sign them to an extension or let them go in free agency.
This writer believes that you should not sign a running back to a large second contract, nor should you take them in the first round of the draft. It's the most expendable position on the team save for punter or kicker. The New York Giants are now making that decision with their 27-year-old running back, Saquon Barkley.
His is complicated because he has not even been completely healthy for the duration of his rookie deal. His injury history, his age, and how he projects going forward will ultimately lead to him not being on the Giants next season. After the Giants answer the question about what to do with Barkley, they then have to answer the question of how to replace him.
It would not make sense to replace him in free agency, because if a running back is available in free agency, he's either old, or there's a problem with him. The Giants therefore will look to replace him in the 2024 NFL draft. The problem is, that there is no Saquon Barkley in this draft. In his last 2 years at Penn State, he amassed 2800 yards rushing and 36 touchdowns and caught 82 passes. He was a Heisman finalist, and the second overall pick in the draft.
For any running back to have success that comes out of this draft, they would have to be a sleeper pick that surprises people. So here are three sleepers who could be Barkley's replacement for the Giants in 2024.
3. Trey Benson, Florida State
Trey Benson has the size needed to be a workhorse back in the NFL. He's 6-foot-1 and 223 pounds. He also has great speed, running the 40 between 4.35 and 4.40 seconds. Pro Football Focus has Benson listed as the third-best running back in the draft, the 82nd-ranked prospect, and an average draft position in their mocks of 84.1, putting him in the third round.
In 2022 for the Seminoles, Benson carried the ball 154 times for 875 yards and nine touchdowns. Last season he had 156 carries for 1,013 yards and 14 touchdowns. He also saw his receptions increase from 13 to 20 catches. He is one of the few running backs in this draft whose numbers increased across the board from 2022 to 2023.
Benson has no shortage of extra gears, consistently finding ways to fly past defenders. He's shown improvement in vision as a runner over the last couple of seasons. He needs to avoid contact and not seek it if he's going to last at the next level. While he has natural receiver instincts, he does not have great hands, and his pass-blocking needs work.