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Of course Saquon Barkley and Sam Darnold have to be compared

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The two franchise-changing rookies are linked for a number of reasons

NFL: Cleveland Browns at New York Giants
Saquon Barkley
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Saquon Barkley said this week that any comparison to New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold “doesn’t cross my mind.” Nor should it. All that should be on Barkley’s mind is being the best player he can be for the New York Giants.

‘Locked on Giants’ podcast co-host and Big Blue View contributor Patricia Traina is bugged by comparisons between the Giants rookie running back and the Jets rookie quarterback. She told me the other day that it’s an apples to oranges comparison because of the different positions they play.

Her point is valid. Direct statistical comparisons can’t be made. Still, in my view it is inevitable that the two will be compared. In fact, they HAVE TO BE compared.

How can they not be?

How the two got where they are, the two franchises they play for, the fact that they went back-to-back in the draft, that many thought the Giants would and should select Darnold, that both down-trodden teams are basing large chunks of their futures on these two young men. All bind the two.

Like it or not, there is no way not to compare them.

And, ultimately, debate which team will be proven right. Not this year. Not next year. Not five years from now. Not 10 or 15 years from now.

This was the perfect storm. Two teams sharing a stadium, and the biggest media market on the planet. Both down on their luck and, after some wheeling and dealing by the Jets, picking second and third in the 2018 NFL Draft. Both looking for difference-makers who could be central figures in their success for the next decade.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at New York Jets
Sam Darnold
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Maybe both teams will be right.

Maybe both players will be stars. Maybe both will help lead their teams to championships. Or, at least to the point where making the playoffs and having a chance to contend for titles becomes the norm rather than the exception.

There is no doubt both sides are happy right now with the choices they made.

Barkley looks like a star. He is an amazing weapon as a pass receiver. He is a big-play threat as a running back. He works incredibly hard. He says the right things in the right way. He looks and acts like what the Giants hoped he might become — the future face of the franchise.

Darnold, incredibly talented but at barely 21 years of age thought by some to still need time before he was ready to lead an NFL team, looks more and more like the Jets Week 1 starter. He has gone 21-of-29 (72.4 percent) for 158 yards with a touchdown and an interception in two preseason games. It’s too early to make a definitive judgment, but Darnold thus far looks like what the Jets hoped they were drafting — a franchise quarterback.

The Jets have the easier path to being right.

Darnold doesn’t have to be better than Barkley. He was selected after the Giants’ rookie. The Jets were never taking Barkley, anyway. They were always taking a franchise quarterback, they made that intention perfectly clear when they traded up from No. 6 in the draft to No. 3 to guarantee they would be in position to get their guy.

Darnold only has to be better than Josh Rosen, Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson — the quarterbacks taken after him. The last time the Jets had any real stability at quarterback was when Chad Pennington was the starter in five of six seasons from 2002 to 2007. Darnold needs to give them that stability. If the third overall pick can do those things, the Jets will have been right.

The Giants’ path is more complicated.

All of what I’m about to say comes with the acknowledgment that while I was in favor of selecting Darnold at No. 2, I ultimately really like what they did. They have Eli Manning under contract this season and next, believe he can still get the job done, and committed wholeheartedly to doing everything possible to win with Manning in the short term.

The Giants didn’t love Darnold, or any of their other quarterback options at No. 2. If he turns out to be a bust, or never more than a middling quarterback who functions as a placeholder while his team searches for the “real” guy, they will be right.

If Darnold is a star, or at least a very capable quarterback with the ability to excel in big games and win titles, the Giants’ path to being right is more difficult.

Barkley has to be good. That much is obvious. There’s no reason to believe he won’t be good. Really good. Maybe some day Hall of Fame good. It doesn’t, however, end there.

The Giants have to be right about Manning. They have to win. Maybe not Super Bowl titles, but they have to get to the playoffs and contend in the short term. That is the path they chose, the intention they announced by selecting Barkley and committing to Manning. They have to avoid what GM Dave Gettleman calls “quarterback hell” once Manning’s time is up.

Can they do all of those things? Sure. It’s just not as straightforward as “Barkley’s really good, so the Giants made the right choice.” As much as we would like it to be.

As for the Barkley-Darnold comparison, that simply can’t be helped. And, it’s not going away any time soon.