It may seem as if Orleans Darkwa burst on to the scene Sunday night the way he burst through the line of scrimmage for his 47-yard run. There is no doubt that his 117-yard rushing performance in a prime-time game garnered him a measure of improved recognition, not to mention a snazzy pre-painted game ball from the broadcasting crew and a postgame interview on national television.
But Darkwa’s arrival was far less sudden than any of that.
And that’s what makes it so significant.
In a league in which rookie running backs routinely make life in the NFL look easy and teams shuffle their backfields in search of the next — typically younger — best option, Darkwa has taken a less direct path to become the Giants’ starter and main contributor at the position.
“It’s been a long time coming for me,” Darkwa said.
It’s a path that began three years ago. He was waived by the Dolphins after initially making the 2014 team as an undrafted rookie, signed with the Giants’ practice squad and was promoted to their active roster in mid-November. That was Ben McAdoo’s first season as the Giants’ offensive coordinator.
“I think when you go back to 2014 and he emerged on to the scene, he did some nice things for us in the run game,” McAdoo said. “I remember back to St. Louis, he popped a nice run.”
That was a 12-yarder for his first NFL touchdown.
There seemed to always be something stopping Darkwa from fully grabbing hold of a prominent role with the Giants, though. In 2015, he was the fourth man in a three-man committee that included Rashad Jennings, Andre Williams and Shane Vereen. He got only 36 carries that season.
“We tried to get him going a little bit in 2015. It was just a challenge to get it going there,” McAdoo said.
Last year, he was on track to take over for an injured Jennings and got two starts for the Giants. He got 19 carries with that job title, though, and didn’t get a single handoff after Week 5. Relegated to special teams, he eventually landed on injured reserve in late November with a leg injury.
Then this offseason, it seemed as if the Giants were giving up on him. They did not tender him an offer as a restricted free agent, which would have paid him around $1.8 million for 2017. Instead, they let him become an unrestricted free agent and re-signed him on a one-year, $1-million deal. Then, before anyone had touched a football in preparation for this season, they named Paul Perkins their starting running back.
Even as recently as Week 5 this season, with Perkins sidelined by a back injury, Darkwa seemed ready to finally put his stamp on the Giants’ running game. He had eight carries that included a 23-yard touchdown. But he tweaked a muscle in his leg, McAdoo said, and Darkwa was a non-factor in the second half of the game. Exciting rookie Wayne Gallman stepped in and played well, and there was a chance that Darkwa again would be pushed aside while on the precipice of prominence.
The Giants have always seemed to like Darkwa — “I feel he’s a very natural runner and he’s been taking advantage of his opportunities this year,” McAdoo said — but have never really been able to figure out how to use him.
Sunday was Darkwa’s first big game, his first time with more than 100 rushing yards and the first time the Giants actually stuck with him. And he seems to have secured another opportunity to start this week, even if Perkins returns.
Said Darkwa: “To have that opportunity to, I wouldn’t say put the team on my back, but when it’s time to close it out and they look to me, that’s a blessing in itself.”
It had been a long time since that happened, probably going all the way back to his college days at Tulane, he said. The 21 carries took a bit of a toll on his body.
“I woke up the next morning and I was like, ‘I’m a little sore, but I like it,’ ” he said. “You wake up a little sore but you wake up with a smile on your face.”
And if he needs to do it again on Sunday against the Seahawks, he’s prepared.
“No matter how many times my number will be called,” he said, “I’ll be ready for it.”
Just as he’s been for the last few years.
Orleans Darkwa’s performance last Sunday at Denver virtually equalled the output of his five previous games combined:
Game 6Games 1-5
21 Carries 21
117 Yards 121
5.5 Yards/Carry 5.8
0 TDs 1