For the first time in Saquon Barkley’s career, the consensus around the NFL is that the New York Giants running back is not an elite player.
Barkley, who missed 21 games over the past two seasons with an ACL tear and a low-ankle injury, is entering his contract year with a lot to prove. His 3.46 rushing yards per attempt since the start of 2020 are the worst among all players with at least 150 attempts. He was recently left off of ESPN’s list of the league’s top 10 running backs, a list he placed No. 1 on two years ago.
“The last two years not going how I wanted, I kind of have been reflecting on that,” Barkley said following practice on Thursday. “Everything happens for a reason; So, the adversity, the injuries that were put in my way these last two years, God has a bigger plan and it’s all going to work out. I just want to show the (New York) Giants that the guy that they drafted is still here. I can still go out there and make the plays and help my team be successful.”
But in many ways, Barkley is with the organization that drafted him in name only. New general manager Joe Schoen has no ties to the former No. 2 overall pick, and the New York Giants’ strained salary cap means Schoen will have a tough decision to make following this season. Barkley, playing on the fifth-year option of his rookie deal, will be a free agent barring a contract extension before then.
“Obviously, that stuff is up in the air,” Barkley said. “I know that coming into year five, coming into my option year, my thing is just, like I keep saying if I take care of the little things and God blesses me, and nothing crazy happens, the rest will take care of itself. I know where I am at mentally, I know where I’m at physically. I know what I am capable of doing.”
So, what exactly would a bounce-back year from Barkley look like? Some of the issues from recent seasons are gone. Barkley is healthy, and the offensive line projects to be an improvement over last year’s. Still, Barkley has arguably not looked like a top-tier running back since 2019, when he had 1,441 yards from scrimmage in 13 games. He was on the field for only 6.6 and 46.6 percent of the Giants’ offensive plays over the past two years.
There is reason to be optimistic about a resurgence from Barkley, and not just because of his good health. The Giants’ new offense, led by Brian Daboll and Mike Kafka, seems to be designed to give Barkley more opportunities in the passing game. Barkley caught 91 passes in 2018 (a rookie running back record), but they were mostly on short throws. Barkley has been targeted on deeper routes more frequently during the first two days of training camp.
Saquon Barkley showing off his hands— Mojo (@mojo) July 28, 2022
Barkley still has an elite skillset and may have the right play-caller to utilize it
“This is probably the first-time you guys have ever witnessed me working out with the wide receivers, but that’s my offseason training,” Barkley said. “I do running back drills, a lot of running back drills, so I can expand my game and be more versatile when we do offensive trips or [Daniel Jones] DJ, needs some to throw, if he calls the wide receivers I try to make sure I’m there, and just try to learn because I want to do whatever I can to help this team win and expand my game. So, whatever coach needs me to do or asks me to do, I just go over there and try my best.”
According to Daboll, there isn’t currently any grand plan to up Barkley’s usage in the passing game. He said he is still “experimenting” with how to utilize all of his players, including Barkley, but envisioned trying out new routes with Barkley before camp started.
“I mean, you saw him [Barkley] coming out of Penn State. You see him running around here; he’s a pretty skilled player,” Daboll said. “So, our job is to figure out ways to use him, whether he did it last year or the year before, two years, in college. When you’re developing in a system, you kind of figure out what these guys do best, and you challenge them to do more. And if it doesn’t look great, then you see if you want to keep pursuing it. And if you want to keep pursuing it, then you’ve got to get them better. And if not, then you just throw it away and do something else.”