Saquon Barkley is a wondrous talent, even Dave Gettleman’s mom could tell us that. Fifteen or 20 years down the road he might even meet Gettleman’s “gold jacket” test, the Hall of Fame caliber player standard the New York Giants general manager says he is applying to the No. 2 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Barkley could be the centerpiece of the Giants’ revival, maybe even the new face of the NFL. Maybe he turns out to be the next Trent Richardson. Maybe he turns out to be really good, but not good enough to lift the Giants out of their malaise. Running backs don’t often do that.
All of that said it could — no, probably would — be a mistake for the Giants to select the Penn State running back at No. 2. Especially if one or more of the quarterbacks they pass on turns out to be a championship-caliber player.
Like the idea or not, you had better reconcile yourself with the possibility (probability?) that the Giants very well could select Barkley when their turn comes up on Thursday night. Gettleman has gushed ... and gushed ... and gushed about Barkley, and talked about not buying into the “devaluing” of the running back spot soooo much, you have to believe that he would actually select him with the Giants’ first pick.
But, would he really do it?
If Gettleman is embellishing his love for Barkley — I won’t say lying about it because Gettleman is adamant he hasn’t lied since he was 7 years old — he’s doing a heckuva job making it sound sincere.
Gettleman famously calls offensive linemen “hog mollies” and one of his favorite sayings in “big men allow you to compete.” We can, and have, argued incessantly over whether or not it is time for the Giants to assure that they have an heir to Eli Manning on the roster. It is inarguable, though, that the Giants need more hog mollies. On both sides of the ball.
Would Gettleman really pass on a QB and his choice of the best hog molly on both sides of the ball for a running back at No. 2 overall? He did take running back Christian McCaffrey No. 8 overall for the Carolina Panthers last year, He did that, though, in his fifth draft with the Panthers — after he had spent four years dotting the Carolina roster with hog mollies and big bodies virtually across the board.
Which brings me to one of my points.
Running backs, even ones out of central casting, can and should be the finishing piece to your offense, the final piece to the puzzle. Are the Giants at “final piece to the puzzle” stage? It depends on your answer to these questions:
Are they set at quarterback for the foreseeable future? Is their offensive line in place? Do they have enough pass rushers and cover corners? In other words, are they in position to fully take advantage of what a potential top-tier running back could offer?
The Giants have missed the playoffs five of six years. They went 3-13 last season and fired their head coach and general manager. They are badly in need of a reset. Maybe Barkley can be the new face of their franchise. Maybe Barkley, combined with Odell Beckham, Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram, can help Manning and the Giants’ offense get back on a productive path. But, how much better can Barkley make them? How much better can any running back make them?
SB Nation’s Bill Connelly did a fascinating study of the running back position and its value. One of the measures he used is marginal efficiency, which is “the difference between a player’s success rate* (passing, rushing, or receiving) or success rate allowed (for an individual defender) and the expected success rate of each play based on down, distance, and yard line.” It could be used to argue that there isn’t much difference in value from one running back to the next.
Among the 90 halfbacks who a) were drafted between 2010-17 and b) have been given at least 100 pro carries thus far, few have truly stood out.
Alvin Kamara, your 2017 offensive rookie of the year, is the only back to have produced a higher than plus-3 percent marginal efficiency rate, and only two others have been above even plus-1 percent: Montee Ball and Mike Gillislee. They were drafted in the third, second, and fifth rounds, respectively.
Of those draftees with at least 500 career carries, only two players have produced an even slightly positive marginal efficiency rate: DeMarco Murray (plus-0.8 percent) and Ezekiel Elliott (plus-0.3). The latter was selected around where Barkley will be; the former was a third-rounder who battled injury issues in college.
Connelly concludes in part that “Running the ball in general is a marginally inefficient exercise” and that “almost no backs finish with a positive marginal efficiency rate, and backs drafted virtually anywhere in the top five rounds produce similar marginal stats.”
If you buy what Connelly is selling it is hard to argue that a running back — any running back — improves your chances of success enough to be the second overall pick in the draft.
Let’s talk about quarterback.
Quarterback is the most valuable position on the football field. Period. Bar none. If you don’t believe that, you probably don’t believe the sky is blue or grass is green.
“I think the Giants must get a quarterback over any running back,” was the opinion expressed by Pro Football Focus draft analyst Steve Palazzolo during a recent appearance on ‘Locked on Giants.’
If Gettleman and the Giants pass on a quarterback at No. 2 because they truly have judged the available players not worthy of the selection, fine. If the Giants pass on a quarterback simply because they are afraid to make a mistake, shame on them. I always tell the kids I coach in CYO basketball to shoot their shot, you don’t score if you don’t try. Being afraid to try is actually worse, in my view, than taking a swing and getting it wrong.
There is also this. I have great respect for Manning. Say whatever you want, he’s got two Super Bowl rings and was fully deserving of being MVP in both games. I truly believe that, while he isn’t perfect, the Giants as an organization have let him down more than he has let his team down in recent years. If, however, the Giants are kicking the quarterback can down the road out of some sort of loyalty or gratitude to Manning, shame on them again.
Gettleman says “hogwash” to the idea that he has no choice but to take a quarterback because of Manning’s age and where the Giants are picking in the first round. The Giants can’t be short-sighted here, they can’t make a decision out of a desire not to hurt Manning’s feelings or risk an ugly ending to his time as a Giant. The long-term good of the organization has to trump the Manning/Giants relationship.
A word about Davis Webb.
Davis Webb does everything right. He didn’t complain about his lack of opportunity last season, instead saying he was just excited to get some first-team reps at the end of the year. He has worked hard to try and get better. In Gettleman’s words, Webb has “been following Eli (Manning) around like a little puppy dog since he walked in the door.”
We don’t know what Webb looks like as an NFL quarterback. The way the Giants dealt with him last year was mystifying, but what’s done is done. Fact is, I have never had an evaluator I have spoken to go to bat for Webb and espouse the belief that can be a viable starting quarterback in the NFL.
Palazzolo said PFF had Webb graded as a fourth- or fifth-round pick in the 2017 draft.
“Davis Webb, whether he pans out or not, he’s certainly not going to keep me from grabbing one of these top quarterbacks. I think all of these quarterbacks all appear to be better players than Davis Webb,” Palazzolo said.
Running back vs. other positions.
Gettleman, as mentioned above, will call the devaluing of the running back position a “myth.” Does he really believe that? It’s fair to wonder since by all accounts one of Gettleman’s mentors, former Giants GM Ernie Accorsi, believed that running back was near the bottom of the list in terms of position-by-position importance.
It’s not a perfect measure, but let me ask a question. If you are drafting a player No. 2 overall, don’t you want a player who is going to be on the field nearly all of the time?
Le’Veon Bell was on the field for 85.3 percent of the offensive plays for the Pittsburgh Steelers last season. No other running back was on the field for even 80 percent of snaps, and only five played at least 70 percent.
Starting quarterbacks play virtually every snap. The same with starting offensive linemen. Twenty-five defensive linemen played at least 70 percent of their team’s snaps, led by Cameron Jordan (93.3 percent) and Jason Pierre-Paul (91.5 percent). Fifty-two defensive backs played at least 90 percent of their team’s snaps.
Aren’t players who are on the field, with more potential chances to impact a game, more valuable than those who play fewer snaps?
If you want to argue specifically about the Giants, wouldn’t that mean they could potentially get more on-field value from someone like N.C. State defensive end Bradley Chubb or even Alabama defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick?
You can even argue that the Giants, with many areas on the roster that still need upgrading, are best served by trading down, acquiring some additional picks in the first two days of the draft, and trying to add some solid talent. Gettleman even admitted during his pre-draft presser that “if you get a chance to accumulate quality, you put yourself in a position to potentially accumulate picks and have a lot of very solid players, there is nothing wrong with that.”
I have used a lot of words here to express an opinion that, if you have been reading BBV for a while, you already knew that I held. If I was Dave Gettleman I would not pick Saquon Barkley at No. 2 overall. I’m not Gettleman, though. He knows more football than I ever will, certainly doesn’t care what any of us think, and he just might decide Barkley is his best option.
It’s just not, in my view, what I believe to be the best use of the pick. If they take Barkley the move would undoubtedly tell us the Giants are committed to, and believe they can win, with Manning. He better prove them right. As for Barkley, he will need to prove the Giants right that he is the rare running back who can be a franchise-changer.
Am I right? Maybe. Am I wrong? Maybe. Does my opinion matter? Not in the slightest, other than to give you guys something to think about and argue about.
So, have at it.