When the conversation comes up of who the best running back in the NFL is today, most people will mention names like Derrick Henry, Christian McCaffrey, or Dalvin Cook, and for good reason. All of them are worthy of being considered as the top guy in the league. However, it’s easy to forget about a guy like New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley.
Barkley, the 2nd overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, has an undeniable set of skills. At 5-11, 233 pounds he has the prototypical build you want at the position; he was given the nickname “SaQuads” by former teammate Odell Beckham Jr for a reason. Furthermore, his agility, quickness, and elusiveness are arguably the best we’ve seen since Barry Sanders. He possesses incredible balance and core strength, which allows him to absorb contact and shed tackles at a high rate. Finally, he has the skillset to be used as a receiver all around the formation, like other versatile weapons such as McCaffrey, Alvin Kamara, Austin Ekeler, and Tarik Cohen. On pure talent alone, Barkley may very well be the best in the business.
That talent was on full display during his rookie season. In 16 games he amassed 1,307 rushing yards on 261 attempts (5.0 yards per attempt), 11 rushing touchdowns, 721 receiving yards on 91 receptions, and 4 receiving touchdowns. All these numbers were attained despite having a porous offensive line and little-to-no help around him. He ultimately won NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors that season over Cleveland Browns QB Baker Mayfield, who was taken right before him.
— Azeez Ojulari for DROY 5️⃣1️⃣ (@SauceMcGee__) July 4, 2021
As the past couple of years have shown, however, his talent alone hasn’t been enough to give him the crown as the NFL’s RB1. In Barkley’s case, durability has been his biggest obstacle, hampered with injuries in each of the past two seasons. He suffered a high ankle sprain in Week 3 of the 2019 season. Surprisingly, it only kept him out of 3 games (4 if you count the game he was injured in). Even when he returned in Week 7, it was evident he still wasn’t 100% though. Then in Week 2 of the 2020 season, he tore his ACL and was out for the remainder of the year.
Some have begun to wonder if Barkley will be able to return to true form from those injuries and if his body can remain relatively free of any more serious injuries moving forward. He is without a doubt a physical specimen, and his returning just four weeks after suffering a high ankle sprain is proof of the top-tier physical shape his body is in. However, it is completely fair to wonder how long he’ll be able to keep this up. Serious injuries will take their toll on anyone, even the most physically gifted athletes.
The other question mark surrounding Saquon Barkley, and it’s one that’s been with him since he entered the league, pertains to his vision and decision-making. Most draft scouts and talent evaluators didn’t see many weaknesses to his game, but the one they did see was his tendency to bounce too many runs to the outside instead of getting north-south. He’s also been criticized for trying to dance around defenders too often instead of lowering his shoulder and pushing forward with power, especially considering the size and muscle mass he possesses. He’s been more of a finesse runner in a power runner’s body, whereas many believe he should have the ability to be both.
How many of those issues are still present, and to what degree? Has he improved that area of his game, or do they still linger? Check out my film breakdown video below for my take.
Many are looking at 2021 to be a “do or die” season for QB Daniel Jones, but an argument can be made that it’s the same for Saquon Barkley as well. The New York Giants must decide soon whether to give him an extension, and if so, for how much. It’s difficult to imagine them not giving one to their former 2nd overall pick, but if Barkley proves to be unavailable for an extended period once again then it will be something they’ll have to think over thoroughly.
The good news is that for the first time in his career Barkley will have good supporting talent around him. The Giants signed former Detroit Lion Kenny Golladay to be their new WR1 and drafted a dynamic and exciting prospect in Kadarius Toney to add even more explosiveness to the offense. Add them to the returning talent of Darius Slayton, Sterling Shepard, and Evan Engram, and now opposing defenses will no longer be able to focus solely on Barkley alone. The offensive line may still be a huge question mark, but Barkley has shown in the past that he doesn’t need top-tier run blocking to produce huge numbers.
This is the best Saquon Barkley has looked in his rehab videos so far, I think. #Giants
(Via Saquon’s Instagram.) pic.twitter.com/Nl3K9vTkkw
— Zack Rosenblatt (@ZackBlatt) June 22, 2021
The narrative around Saquon Barkley seems to be divisive. He’s either painted as a huge mistake by the Giants’ front office for being taken that high, or he’s one of the early favorites to win Comeback Player of the Year. Whichever side you’re on, the spotlight will certainly be on Barkley this upcoming season. He’s the best player on their roster and the key to the Giants’ success in 2021. There was a tremendous amount of hype surrounding him when he was drafted, and it’s time for him to live up to that hype.