Not since the 2002, when the New York Giants drafted tight end Jeremy Shockey in the first round, has a rookie draft pick generated this kind of electricity among the fan base.
But is running back Saquon Barkley, the draft pick that has Giants fans dreaming of explosive plays, scores of touchdowns and a likely role as the face of the franchise really worth all the pre-draft hype that has followed him from Happy Valley to East Rutherford?
Position: Running Back
2017 season in review
Barkley was, in Giants general manager Dave Gettleman’s words, “the best player in the draft.”
Gettleman, who gushed about Barkley nearly every time the topic came up before, during and after the draft, noted that the team’s new face of the franchise is unique in so many ways.
“He has the ability to string together multiple moves. He has the ability to step on the gas. He can do what we call cross the formation. There are a lot of good backs in this league, but they don’t have the speed to go across the formation,” he said.
“We all know he can catch the heck out of the rock. He is smart in blitz pickup — that is probably the biggest issue with all these young rushers now. He is powerful, he runs through tackles and he runs through hits.”
Barkley capped his three-year stint at Penn State with three straight 1,000-yard rushing seasons (671 rushes for 3,843 yards total for an eye-popping 5.7 yards per carry and 43 touchdowns.)
He also added 102 receptions for 1,195 yards and eight touchdowns and contributed some as a kickoff returner, where he logged 18 returns for 500 yards and two touchdowns.
Gettleman believes that Barkley, who barring a disaster will be a Day 1 starter, is the type of player who is going to make everyone around him better — including the quarterbacks, receivers, offensive line and the defense.
How so? Eli Manning hasn’t had a decent and consistent running game since 2012, the last time the Giants had a 1,000-yard rusher (Ahmad Bradshaw).
Since then, Manning’s age hasn’t been the only number increasing — his pass attempts have exponentially risen as well. In the last four seasons, Manning has averaged 597 pass attempts, with two of those seasons (2014 and 2015) seeing him attempt more than 600 passes.
His career average, in case you were wondering is 528.2 pass attempts per season, and his average from 2004-2013 was 499.8 passes per season.
And how will the receivers benefit from the Barkley effect? Remember the recent days when defenses would sit on the crossing and slant patterns everyone knew were coming? Or the days when Odell Beckham Jr. was double-teamed all the way down the field?
Those days should become a thing of the past every time Barkley is in the backfield because now opponents will have to respect the Giants running game.
Along those lines, having a running game will allow the Giants offense to return to balance. While the passing attempts will almost always exceed the rushing attempts in any given season, since 2014 (the arrival of Beckham), the scale has vastly tipped toward the passing game with the number of rushing attempts decreasing every season between 2014 and 2017.
With a functional running game, the Giants just might be able to rise in the time of possession rankings league-wide, which would translate to less time spent on the field by their defense and, hopefully, more points scored.