Seeing Saquon Barkley try to prevent defenders on every little whip of open field is like watching someone try to weave a Lamborghini through Jersey Shore traffic on a particularly beautiful Saturday in July. Every ounce of free sidewalk is a beautiful display, but unfortunately there is almost no room to legitimize breaking the case out of the garage in the first place.
The player that the Giants took No. 2 overall in 2018 has been caught like this in the better part of two seasons; a superstar shrouded in reality by a list chart that takes way too long. There have been moments of brilliance, for sure. Rare moments where their staff can overwhelm an opponent to give Barkley the ounce of space he needs to wreak havoc. But the fact remains after a Giants season-opening loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers at MetLife: Barkley is a valuable asset, but it is unnecessarily written off in a place that may not ease his best right now.
Let’s call this a pre-overreaction. An overreaction designed to cook slowly during the early season. But if the first few weeks of 2020 continue to unfold in a similar way, the Giants need to start considering a world where Barkley moves and maximizes his return, while another club may be willing to make a choice in first round, is not a completely outrageous concept.
Fifteen carrying six yards against one of the best defensive lines in football is not a catastrophic moment in itself, but this is not an isolated issue. Eight carries 10 yards against the Buccaneers last season. Thirteen bears for a yard against the Jets. Games where Barkley was brilliant and statistically dominant – 189 yards against Washington last year, 112 yards against the Dolphins, 170 yards against Washington during his rookie season – are nice for fantasy football players, but are otherwise meaningless. If the Giants have to wait for games where they can outcompete their opponents up front to take advantage of Barkley as they please, then we’ll see more of the same wild vacillations in performance with little to show for it. Monday night, according to the Pro Football Focus, anyone driving football for the Giants was first hit an average of one and a half yards in the backfield.
Acting on both Odell Beckham and Saquon Barkley would be a damning accusation for the Dave Gettleman era and the time his master rebuilding has taken. But would it be worse to have kept both of these players as mere museum attractions in the middle of an otherwise impact-free stretch for the offense?
If Barkley is smart, he insists on a new deal before the start of next season, last year with no option in his rookie contract. The fighters will find themselves in a similar position as they did with Beckham – weighing the benefits of a long-term pact against the still current disadvantages. In the former case, their radical determination created an incredibly strange series of events in which the giants signed Beckham, treated him, and digested an unimaginable amount of dead pay ceiling.
In this case, they will weigh the prospect of keeping Barkley long-term and hope that, unlike most running backs, they will be able to legitimize another giant contract for a player who is physically abused 15-25 times a week. during a 16-game season with an evolving quarterback and offensive line next to him.
Joe Judge has come from a couple of programs that have won with a cadre of running backs filling different roles. Of the three Super Bowl rosters, Gettleman has been a part of most recently (2007 and 11 Giants and 2015 Panthers), only one had a 1000-yard rusher that was something of a unique focus for the offense. Brandon Jacobs, a fourth-round pick out of Southern Illinois, overshadowed the mark by nine yards in 2007.
Perhaps the further away we get from the 2018 draft, Gettleman will feel less angry about taking a run back at No. 2 overall, especially if the left tackle and quarterback he got in the ensuing years proves to be a success. But rejecting this talent and having nothing to show for it can focus all this negativity again, especially when a proactive decision could have offered him an opportunity to dig out of the hole.