A trend has sprung in the springs of recent years, as rookie running backs have reaped bountiful returns. Todd Gurley, Ezekiel Elliott, Leonard Fournette… the proof is in the stats associated with these names. The value in these young players for the teams that they have assisted to championship contention is clear in the numbers that they have provided. The New York Giants’ second pick is a question that looms in the form of a special young man named Saquon Barkley–arguably, the prospect of the generation. All of the aforementioned players have become prized possessions as top-five selections. Although draft day is palpable, there is still a bounty of options for trades; not to mention the notoriously needy Cleveland Browns are in a rare position of power at pick one. That said, Barkley is the most infamous non-quarterbacking player in the draft and provided his availability, is well worth the investment for the Giants.
Saquon Barkley Can Re-Energize the New York Giants Run Game
The Giants have bred stars in just about every pass-catching role, but lack a franchise running back. They need a player who will be reliable for years to come, and who can create a legacy for the position while inspiring positive locker room morale. Orleans Darkwa and Wayne Gallman have both proven that they are worthy complimentary backs, but certainly are not solutions to the Giants’ run game. Newly acquired Jonathan Stewart from the Carolina Panthers has veteran experience, but this past season hit a career low with his average yards per carry, and is likely not the answer either.
Barkley played three record years at Penn State, setting several school records (most career touchdowns, most total yards in a single game, and the first player to score both a return and a passing touchdown in the same game), and earning honors such as Freshman All-American and second-team All-Big Ten honors, having played six of 11 games in his first year, missing two for an ankle injury. His next two years were similarly abundant with accomplishments. The great nephew of former boxing champion Iran Barkley was born in the Bronx, and is the most discussed prospect of the Giants’ number two draft pick–and sensibly so. In addition to his sportsmanship on the field, he has a complimentary reputation in the locker room: confident enough to not be compromised by critics, but not so cocky that high praise will affect his character and personality. He has historically expressed interest in playing for Big Blue, alongside players he has long been inspired by, and was even spotted at a barber shop this past Friday sporting a Giants sweatshirt. Some may call it coincidence–that is, those who are not well-versed in the art of dropping a hint.
Barkley is the definition of clutch for big plays. He has proven that he can catch the ball out of the backfield with ease. His frame is compact and muscular, and he runs with speed and urgency while pressing the line of scrimmage and servicing his offensive linemen with skillful footwork and the ability to reject permeation. He has proven ability to manipulate a run to best suit the defensive plays that are directly purposed to impede his course.
Of course, it’s not like the second-overall pick is the only opportunity that the Giants have to select a running back, and it’s not like they don’t have other very important needs. Many argue that the team’s struggling offensive line is the highest priority and that drafting a running back so high isn’t necessary. There are plenty of quality players who are projected picks in later rounds, and many long and prosperous NFL careers began as later draft picks. LSU’s Derrius Guice, USC’s Ronald Jones, and Georgia’s Sony Michel and Nick Chubb are all strong contenders in this year’s draft class as later selections. Not to mention, the Browns have open season with the first overall choice, and while it is pretty undeniably imperative that they select a quarterback, it is not unlike the Browns to mystify with season-shattering moves. They have the opportunity to snake Barkley out for themselves, leaving the Giants squandering at number two.
So if not Saquon, who? What’s the move, should Big Blue miss out on Barkley? Notre Dame’s Quenton Nelson would be the most comparably valuable alternative for the G-Men. But there is an abundance of other guards and tackles who would fit the role and fill the needs of the O-line with just as much skill, and they can be easily acquired with our later picks. Any team would benefit from stockpiling picks, trading away their stronger assets in exchange for a bounty of smaller gifts, and that would be the most reasonable move for the Giants to make should they miss out on the elite Nittany Lion. That said, it would be unwise for general manager Dave Gettleman to move any further back than pick than the 10th overall pick, and it would be shocking if he went even that far. While there is plenty of talent in this 2018 draft class, it is crucial that the Giants utilize the options at play in the projected top overall picks if they are to continue contributing to the rebuild of the organization that is occurring in this off-season.
The reality is that the NFL teams who have in previous years devalued running backs as worthy of early draft selections have also missed out on the opportunities to claim celebrated wunderkinds. Even in the past three years, we have seen young rookies of the position develop into game-changers for their franchises. Barkley and his spotless reputation both on and off the field have the potential to bring back the pride that the Giants franchise and fans lost last year, performing with the same consistently first-class aptitude and leading the restructured organization back to greatness.