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Saquon Barkley: A Running Back Story

Saquon Barkley has had an interesing several year span since entering the NFL. Is he due to bounce back finally?

Saquon Barkley has been one of the most electrifying running backs in the NFL and is still only 25 years old. He ran for three straight 1,000+ yard seasons at Penn State and was an elite prospect going into the draft. Barkley was selected second overall in the 2018 draft (highest RB drafted since Reggie Bush in 2006) and is now in the last year of his rookie contract with the Giants. His previous two seasons have been riddled with injuries, and many question his value and reliability going forward.

NFL Career

2018 (Rookie Year)

Barkley had high expectations after having such high draft capital and a stellar college resume. Expectations were so high that his average draft position (PPR scoring) was RB6 before even stepping onto an NFL field. Being a generational talent, Barkley shattered all the expectations and finished as the overall RB1 in fantasy football. He had the second-most PPR points of any rookie RB in history (385.8), only behind Eric Dickerson (392.2 in 1983 as per ESPN). He rushed for 1,307 yards and 11 touchdowns. Barkley added 91 receptions, 721 yards, and four touchdowns through the air. His 91 receptions are tied for fourth-highest among all rookies in history. Not just rookie RBs – ALL rookies. That is a tremendous feat and shows Barkleys’ power in PPR formats.

NFL records & accolades from rookie season:

  • Most receptions by a rookie running back (91)
  • Tied for most catches in a game by a rookie (14)
  • Most 100+ yards from scrimmage games by a rookie (12)
  • First rookie in Giants’ history to surpass 1,000 rushing yards
  • Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Year
  • FedEx Ground NFL Player of the Year
  • AP NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year

2019 (First season with Daniel Jones at QB)

Not surprisingly, after his historic rookie fantasy season, he had the RB1 ADP going into 2019. Barkley missed three games due to an ankle sprain but finished the season with 1,003 rushing yards, 52 receptions, 438 receiving yards, and eight total touchdowns. The Giants’ offense was in an adjustment period as in Week 3, rookie Daniel Jones became the new starting QB. Barkley was still able to finish as the RB10 overall and RB7 in fantasy points per game. Many thought that losing Eli Manning would affect Barkleys’ role in the passing game as there would be fewer check-downs. The Giants kept him heavily involved as he was seventh highest in targets per game among RBs (5.6).

2020 (ACL Tear in Week 2) / 2021 (out four games due to ankle sprain)

Also known as the Joe Judge era. This period was a bit of a rough patch not only for Barkley but the Giants as an organization. New York was ranked 31st in points per game in 2020 and 2021, which was not the answer the team hoped for. In Week 2 of 2020 against the Bears, Barkley tore his ACL and was out for the remainder of the season. In 2021, after an offseason of rehabbing, Barkley rushed for 593 yards and two touchdowns, adding 41 receptions for 263 receiving yards and two touchdowns. The Giants eased Barkley in Week 1, having him play in less than half the offensive snaps. In Weeks 2-4, he averaged 19.9 PPR points per game before suffering a fluke ankle sprain against the Cowboys in Week 5. After coming back in Week 11, it was clear that Barkley was not his usual self. This was easily the worst season of Barkley’s career, but it can’t be all put on him. Coming off an offseason of rehab instead of proper extensive training and going into a disastrous offense led by Joe Judgewasn’tt the greatest situation to be in.

2022 and Beyond

The Giants made considerable changes to their staff this offseason and should be in for a vast transformation. Joe Schoen has come in as the new GM and has already made some great moves. They drafted two absolute studs in the draft’s first round – Kayvon Thibodeaux (Edge) and Evan Neal (Offensive Tackle), which was a total dream draft for the Giants. Both these players will be starters right away. Neal will be the new leader of the revamped offensive line, including free-agent additions Jon Feliciano and Mark Glowinski. The Giants have had a sub-par offensive line for years, and the whole offense will now get a considerable boost. In 2018 theGiants” O-line gave up the second-most tackles for loss and ninth-most in 2019. Nevertheless, Barkley averaged five yards per attempt in 2018 and 4.6 yards in 2019. With an excellent run-blocking unit, the skies are the limit for Barkley going forward.

Now for the new coach, Brian Daboll. Daboll (like Schoen) is coming from the very successful Buffalo Bills team. He was the Offensive Coordinator for the Bills, and it will benefit the Giants to have an offensive-minded HC as opposed to Judge, who came from Special Teams. In the past two years, the Bills ranked Top-5 in points per game and first in red zone attempts. Daboll will be able to vastly improve this Giants offense, which ranked 31st in red zone attempts over the last two years.

The new coaching change might be able to unlock Daniel Jones finally. Jones was a surprise pick in 2019 and has not had a great career thus far. But he does have some of the same attributes that a young Josh Allen had, and hopefully, Daboll can make the best of it. I’m not saying Jones can be or even be close to Allen, but he’s a young mobile QB who loves to throw the deep ball and scramble. Daboll should be able to make the most of his talents.

Injury Concerns

Barkley has been unable to stay healthy over his career, but it’s hard to predict future injuries in fantasy. Ankle sprains can happen to any football player. ACL tears used to be career-ending, but sports medicine has evolved so much that they’ve become a mere one or two-year setback. Barkley looked healthy and as good as ever in the first few weeks of 2021 before his fluke ankle sprain. He will now be two years removed from his ACL tear, but the biggest difference will be the new offensive line. With a good O-line, the Giants can protect him and play to his strengths. New York has been very vocal about using him more in the receiving game, which will also help with his longevity. Barkley looks in peak shape inOTA’ss, and his previous history shouldn’t be a huge concern in the future.

Redraft Outlook

Barkley currently has an average draft position of RB14 in PPR formats, which is a massive value. He has the potential to be THE RB1 and is currently being drafted near the back half of the second round. If Barkley can stay healthy, he could be a PPR cheat code. He’s a workhorse RB that is not game script dependent as he can be elite as both a rusher AND a receiver. The only other notable RB on the roster is Matt Breida, who had 85 total rushing attempts over the past two years. This backfield will likely not be a committee, and Barkley should be in store for a massive workload this year.

Dynasty Outlook

Barkley is just 25 years old. The Giants will finally have a good offensive line, HC, and GM. Barkley’s value has completely plummeted over the past two years. In 2020, some had him as the overall RB1, and now he’s hovering around the RB12 mark. He’s slowly starting to creep back up the rankings, but he is still a solid buy right now. For a contending team, trading a younger RB for Barkley would be a definite recommendation. The only instance I would say to sell Barkley would be for a team in a complete rebuild – but it might make more sense to hold for now. After the season begins and Saquon starts doing Saquon things, his value will slowly get higher. You will be able to capitalize on that increased value instead of selling now.

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