Orleans Darkwa making most of opportunity with Giants

From afterthought to centerpiece of the Giants’ running game, this has been one unpredictable journey for Orleans Darkwa.

Overlooked entirely in the 2014 draft, Darkwa has emerged as the Giants’ No. 1 back after a series of unforeseen events — even if he looked as if he could have been the answer all along.

Darkwa was signed by the Giants after Michael Cox went down with a broken leg during the 2014 season, and while he had a fluid running style that made him look like the team’s best option at the position, it still took until a few weeks ago before the Giants made him the No. 1 running back.

He was an understudy to Rashad Jennings for the rest of the 2014 season through the end of last season, and there was some question whether Darkwa would even be on the roster this season. The Giants had moved on from Jennings but anointed second-year running back Paul Perkins as this year’s starter. But with Perkins ineffective and then injured, Darkwa made the most of his opportunity and seized the starter’s role.

“Orleans is a tough competitor,” offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan said. “He’s done a good job of breaking some of those arm tackles and some of those tackles where the defender is coming off a block or in the process of being blocked. He’s been able to be very strong through the hole and he presses the hole well, so we’re excited about the things he’s been doing and hopefully he can keep it up for us.”

Darkwa, 25, entered Thursday night’s game against the Redskins with 101 carries for 489 yards and two touchdowns. In his previous three seasons, he had only 75 carries for 287 yards and four TDs. The Giants were attempting to go over 100 rushing yards for the fourth straight game, something that hasn’t happened since the 2012 season.

Darkwa was coming off another solid performance in Sunday’s 12-9 overtime win over the Chiefs, rushing 20 times for 74 yards and a touchdown.

“Everybody is pretty positive right now,” he said earlier in the week. “Nobody has given us a chance. We were confident in ourselves and we had a great game plan that we put together that we were able to execute. At the end of the day, it’s just one win. We want to make sure we can stack these wins together and make the best situation possible for this team.”

But even the best situation possible isn’t what the Giants had anticipated coming into the season. A team that was expected to contend for a playoff spot — and even make a Super Bowl run — instead fell flat in an 0-5 start and essentially is out of the postseason race with the 2-8 record they took into Thursday night’s game.

At this point, about the best the Giants can hope for is to act the role of spoiler for teams in contention, although Darkwa said that’s not necessarily their mindset.

“I think we just want to go out there and win,” he said. “At the end of the day, we play to win games. I’m not looking towards what happens in the future. We’re just trying to go one game at a time and the next game right now is Washington and it’s a big division game. They’re always going to be riled up for a division game, especially on Thanksgiving. So it’s going to be a tough task and it’s going to be a challenge, but we’re definitely up for it.”

It’s too soon to know if Darkwa will remain an integral part of the Giants’ offense beyond this season. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent in 2018, although he may not command top dollar on the open market. There’s every reason to think he can be an affordable alternative for the Giants, even if they choose to draft a running back high or dip into the free-agent market.

Whatever the case, Darkwa has taken advantage of an opportunity that finally came his way. Even if it took longer than he might have hoped.