Saquon Barkley can do wondrous things with a football in his hands. The New York Giants star running back can jump over, run through, and dance around defenders like few others have ever been able to do.
He has been a highlight reel in his first two NFL seasons.
What he has not been able to do is change the fortunes of a down-trodden franchise that has made one player appearance since 2011 and has suffered six losing seasons in the last seven.
Among players, Barkley is the face of the franchise. He is already an acknowledged leader, having been voted a team captain prior to his second NFL season.
“I definitely embrace the leadership role. That’s something that I kind of tried to take on last year and still try to continue to learn and continue to grow and continue to be better in that area,” Barkley said during a recent videoconference. “Not just seeing myself as the key player, no, I don’t see myself as that because I know it’s going to take multiple key players to try to get everyone that we can to be on the right page, get the right mindset and buy into the message that Coach Judge and Coach Garrett and all those guys are telling us. When the opportunity does come, try to attack it at a high level and create our new standard.”
The real question about Barkley has nothing to do with his talent. Or, really with him. The real question is whether the Giants can get back to playing consistent, winning football on an annual basis or is Barkley headed for a Barry Sanders-esque career as a Hall of Fame highlight package for a string of poor teams?
Position: Running back
Contract status: Year 3 of four-year, $31.194. million rookie contract (UFA 2023)
How he got here
In 2018, Barkley (2,028 total yards) joined Eric Dickerson and Edgerrin James as the only rookies to surpass 2,000 total yards. He also set a rookie running back record with 91 catches. He also set a number of franchise rookie records.
A Week 3 high-ankle sprain forced him to miss three games and limited his effectiveness last season, but he still set a franchise record with 279 yards from scrimmage against the Washington Redskins in Week 16, and snuck over 1,000 yards rushing (1,003).
The question isn’t whether or not Barkley will produce. He will. At an insanely high level. Provided he is healthy. Barkley is 23, and nowhere near the point where his skills will begin to diminish.
The questions are about other things. How much help will he get from the once-again-restructured offensive line? From second-year quarterback Daniel Jones? Will the defense play well enough to make consistently handing the ball to Barkley practical? How will he be used in an offense designed by Jason Garrett?
Coach Joe Judge said recently that the offense is “going to be similarly based off what Jason’s (Garrett) done in Dallas over the last 10 or so years. There are going to be some similarities carried over from that, but it has to cater to our players we have on our roster currently.”
The one thing we can likely count on is that Barkley, as skilled in the receiving game as any running back in the NFL, is going to be getting the ball A LOT.
In his three full seasons, Ezekiel Elliott of the Dallas Cowboys was second in the league in touches in 2016 (354), first in 2018 (381), and and second in 2019 (355 touches). Barkley was second to Elliott in 2018 with 352 touches.
“I’ve just always believed and was always taught to believe in yourself. I feel like every year I’m going to try to improve and with the help of not just Jason Garrett’s offense but with my work ethic and my team that’s around me,” Barkley said. “Not only myself as an individual, I feel like we can be more productive on the offensive side of the ball and obviously all three phases of the game, playing complementary football.”