Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus released his rankings of the 25 best players who will be under 25 years old by the start of the 2021 NFL season. The list is filled with high profile players like Lamar Jackson (No. 3), Josh Allen (No. 2), Nick Bosa (No. 5), Chase Young (No. 8), and D.K. Metcalf (No. 11). It also includes lesser known players like Cincinnati safety Jessie Bates III (No. 12), Bears linebacker Roquan Smith (No. 17), and New England Patriots’ offensive linemen Michael Onwenu (No. 21) and Isaiah Wynn (No. 25).
The best player on the list isn’t Jackson, nor is it Josh Allen or Kyler Murray (No. 16), but it’s San Francisco linebacker Fred Warner who is an absolute stud that was selected one pick after B.J. Hill in 2018 (I do like Hill, but Warner is unique). The Jets even have two players on the list with Mekhi Becton (No. 23) and Quinnen Williams (No. 20).
There are a lot of young already proven stars on the list which does speak to the talent pool entering the league and how some players have better development arches, typically when they’re in better situations (but not always, there’s two Jets on the list). Jokes aside, despite the New York Giants, who haven’t been much better than the Jets in recent memory, having one of the youngest NFL rosters - there are no Giants on Monson’s list. Let’s go through all the impactful Giants’ players who will be under 25 by the start of the season, rookies excluded:
- Saquon Barkley (24)
- Daniel Jones (24)
- Matt Peart (24)
- Darius Slayton (24)
- Kaden Smith (24)
- Tae Crowder (24)
- Julian Love (23)
- Dexter Lawrence (23)
- Carter Coughlin (23)
- Cam Brown (23)
- Andrew Thomas (22)
- Xavier McKinney (22)
- Darnay Holmes (22)
Most of the players on this list aren’t going to be entertained for Monson’s list, which is understandable. However, Barkley being left off this list is a controversial move in my opinion. At first, I expected injured players from the previous year to be left off the list, but then I saw Nick Bosa at No. 5 .
Barkley is the only Giants player that has a legitimate shot at this subjective list. Daniel Jones has turned the football over far too often, Andrew Thomas had disastrous tape for the first half of the 2020 season, Dexter Lawrence has flashed but hasn’t consistently dominated, and everyone else I have listed are solid players, but not to the level of Monson’s list. But Barkley?
I’m sure he almost cracked the top-25 here, and arguments can be reasonably understood that he hasn’t had a healthy season in two years due to the high ankle sprain in 2019 and the torn ACL last year. He still went north of 1,000 yards on the ground in 2019 in what was a dismal 4-12 Giants record.
Barkley’s rookie season was something to remember, though, and it was an almost equally as depressing 5-11 campaign. When Barkley won Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2018, he was the third rookie running back to have more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage in the history of the NFL (Eric Dickerson and Edgerrin James were the other two). He added 11 touchdowns on the ground and 4 through the air. He also broke Dickerson’s rookie record of 100+ yard games - Barkley had 13 in 16 games.
Barkley had 8 plays of 40+ yards on 331 touches that season, which is high and it points to his home run type of ability. The offensive line was ranked 17th in run blocking back in 2018 which is solid, middle of the pack. According to Bleacher Report, Barkley joined Randy Moss as the only two rookies in NFL history to rack up 5 touchdowns of 50 yards or more in their debut season. It wasn’t just running, though; he tied Odell Beckham Jr.’s rookie reception total of 91.
Speaking a bit more specifically about the Giants, according to Kim Jones, Big Blue had just 3 rushing touchdowns of 50 yards or more from 2008-2017, and Barkley had 5 in that rookie season. Barkley was dynamic, explosive, and a game changer. The offensive line was stifled in 2019 and Daniel Jones, in his rookie season, couldn’t elevate the offense when defenses were keying on a hobbled Barkley.
There’s no doubt that Barkley is worthy of making the list, but so are the players on the list. However, Josh Jacobs (19) and Jonathan Taylor (22) making it over Barkley makes me a bit dubious. Jacobs had sub-four yards per carry last year; while he developed as a pass catcher, it is still nowhere near as dynamic as Barkley. Jacobs in general isn’t as physically dynamic as a healthy Barkley either (key word is healthy).
This is the excerpt for Josh Jacobs from the article:
“Jacobs has been the one first-round draft pick of the current Raiders regime that has actually been a clear success, and few players have been as efficient as he has been with the ball since coming into the league. The 23-year-old back now has 120 broken tackles across 515 carries and has averaged 3.1 yards after contact per carry in the NFL.”
That’s a ton of broken tackles through that timeframe. Barkley, in 2018, had a better yards after contact than Jacobs at 3.34, and Barkley had 872 yards after contact on 261 attempts. Jacobs, in 2020, had 2.82 yards after contact per carry and 770 yards after contact on 272 attempts. Barkley had 40 missed tackles forced in 2018 and Jacobs had 51 in 2020.
Through their careers, Jacobs has the 3.1 yards after contact and 1,612 yards after contact, while Barkley is at 3.25 and 1,614 - very comparable on similar attempts - Jacobs has 18 more rushing attempts. Barkley is much more involved as a pass catcher and seems to bring more of a versatile skill-set.
As for Taylor, he finished the season really strong and showed a lot of positive signs, but he struggled mid-season as well and was essentially the third wheel behind Jordan Wilkins and Nyheim Hines for a stretch of games. On 253 carries, Taylor had 2.95 yards after contact with a total of 747 yards. Similar to Barkley, his pass blocking wasn’t overly reliable, and his vision seemed to be an issue for much of the season. Taylor was very explosive in 2020 - had 35 runs of 10 yards or more - which was somewhat reminiscent of Barkley in 2018 who had 31.
In a perfect world, I question both of those selections over Barkley, but I must acknowledge that I am reviewing Barkley from a 2018 perspective. Monson could easily be looking at this and just may think that Barkley’s struggles with staying healthy are too much to earn him a spot on the list - that’s not unreasonable at all. Monson did specify that it’s looking forward, and into 2021, so maybe that’s the case. If it was analyzed in terms of healthy skill-sets then I believe the conversation should be much different. A healthy Barkley is special - he’s shown that on a much less desirable 2018 roster. Let’s see what he can do, if healthy, on this much improved 2021 offensive roster, with Jason Garrett calling the plays and Daniel Jones, hopefully, taking a third-year leap as well.