Thursday, April 18, 2024

Saquon Barkley: The Giants Savior

April 27th 8:00 PM EST, The NFL Draft was finally upon us. After months of patiently waiting, NFL fans huddled around TVs anxious to see where the top prospects would land. Ready to hear all the big names they knew, Baker Mayfield, Bradley Chubb, Sam Darnold, but there was one who had a little more fire than the rest.

Saquon Barkley.

This time was especially riveting for New York Giant fans. Countless mock drafts had Saquon Barkley going #2 to the Giants. The hype around Saquon to the Giants caught fire quickly among NYG fans. This was warranted though, who wouldn’t love to have Saquon, the most electrifying player in college football. Touted as a “can’t miss” prospect, he had the looks of a franchise player.

You can pretty much predict what happened next. The Giants selected Saquon with the 2nd pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. The number of texts I got from happy Giants fans was overwhelming. Giants fans were filled with joy, and rightfully so, their team just landed the #1 draft prospect in the draft.

But who is Saquon Barkley, really?

Saquon Barkley was born in the Bronx, NY. Saquon Barkley attended Whitehall High Scho-

Just kidding, you don’t care about any of that. What you will be interested is knowing how Saquon came to dominate college football.

Barkley stands big & tall at 6’0” 233 lbs. But don’t be fooled by the big frame into to thinking this guy can’t juke a tackle…or 11. Barkley is an absolute speed demon, has elite elusiveness, unreal footwork, and extraordinary vision. He’s the type of runner who makes his offensive line better with his ability to avoid tacklers in the backfield.

Let’s rewind to October 21st, 2017, when Penn State is going up against Big 10 rival, Michigan. Penn State ranked #8 in the country, this was considered the first real test for the Nittany Lions.

Take a look at what happens on Saquon Barkley’s first touch of the game.

What you see is a simple trap play to the right, where the guard #74 pulls and sets up for a pancake block against whoever may be in his way. Michigan’s elite defense stands tall and cuts off any running lanes for Saquon, or so they thought… Saquon’s elite vision and ridiculous cut back ability allowed him to make a great cut to the left, using his burner speed to outrun the entire Wolverines defense for a 69 yard TD. This is a play few running backs would be able to see, and even fewer would be able to make. Barkley’s big play ability is evident here.

Barkley went on to have 15 carries for 108 yards and 2 TDs, a 15-108-2 rushing stat line with a marvelous 7.2 YPC. In addition to the rushing, he also caught 3 receptions for 53 yards and 1 TD, a 3-53-1 receiving stat line. A whopping 161 total yards from scrimmage for the star RB. Let’s not forget this was against one of the best defenses in college football. Saquon led PSU to a 42-14 beatdown of the Wolverines, a result almost no one saw coming.

Saquon is more than just a highlight reel machine however, he is a legitimate 3 down back who can handle 20+ touches a night. He is able to get those 1-2 yards on short yard situations, plunge in near the goal line for the easy TD. He can do it all.

“Saquon’s a great runner, I already knew that,” fair enough. What the casual college fan doesn’t know about Saquon is ability as a receiver. Joe Moorhead, the offensive coordinator at PSU, split Barkley out to the slot quite often, or even to the outside WR position in an effort to create mismatches with safeties and linebackers. This tactic is similarly used by the Pittsburgh Steelers with all-world talent Le’veon Bell, one of the best receiving RBs in the league.

This led to some eye-popping lines as a receiver at PSU. Barkley dropped a jaw-dropping 4-142-1 receiving line on Georgia State. He then followed it up with a 12-94-0 line at Iowa. Saquon’s presence as a receiver elevated the PSU team as a whole. PSU often split Saquon on an island with a linebacker, drawing all the attention toward him. They then preceded to use Barkley as a decoy, hitting a big play to another player. All in all, Saquon ended up with a fantastic 54-632-3 line as a receiver.

The very next week, #8 Penn State was set for its biggest game of the season, up against another big 10 rival, #5 Ohio State. On the very first play of the game, check out what happens.

Most people don’t realize how important Saquon was in the return game. He absolutely torched the OSU squad on this 97 yard TD. You can see the incredible vision Barkley displays on this play. He finds the hole in the defense, he makes a subtle cut, then hits the hole hard. Barkley once again displays his game-breaking speed outrunning the entire OSU team.

Take a closer look and you see something even more riveting.

Saquon Barkley made this cut a full 2 seconds before the hole is apparent. Barkley see’s how the OSU defense has overloaded to his right and subsequently makes a smart decision to cut to his left. If you count the players, there are two OSU defenders with a chance to stop Barkley, meanwhile, PSU has 3 blockers set up ready to take them on. The result? Well you know…

Barkley blew everyone away at the NFL combine, confirming to scouts that Saquon should be the #1 prospect. His 4.40 40 yard dash was the 2nd fastest time for any RB, showing off his explosive speed. His 41.0 inch vertical was the 3rd highest amongst all players, and 1st among RBs. His ability to jump will only help him further as a receiver, and for those goal lines leaps…and maybe jumping over people. His 29 bench press reps were T-1st amongst all running backs, showcasing his elite upper body strength. His 4.24 20 yard shuttle was 5th amongst all running back. A drill that tests quickness, and change of direction, not bad for a guy who’s 230 lbs.

Take a quick look at Barkley’s game log. He ended the season with a masterful 18 rushing TDs, 1st in the Big Ten. Barkley ended up with 1271 rushing yards, all on a healthy 5.9 YPC. His 1903 yards from scrimmage was 2nd highest in the Big 10. You can see the explosive games from Barkley, on almost a weekly basis. He impacted the games in more ways than one. What’s most important to note is his 28.4 average on kickoff returns, easily #1 in the Big 10.

What’s most important to keep in mind is that PSU played in the Big 10. This was the toughest conference in college football this past season. Filled with teams that are driven by defense, it was tough sledding for Barkley & PSU every week. Going against mighty teams like Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, there was no tougher ask. Despite that, Barkley still went on to have a glorious season.

While Saquon’s weakness’ are few in number, they do still exist. Barkley needs to learn to use his body properly. Despite his 6’0” 230 lbs frame, Barkley shows an inability to break tackles someone at his size should. He has gotten away with that to this point because of his speed and elusiveness, but the NFL defenders won’t be so easy to run from. In the NFL defenders are much bigger, faster, and smarter. If Barkley can start shedding tackles, it will go a long way toward unmeasurable success.

Much like star running back for the Buffalo Bills, LeSean McCoy, Barkley has a tendency to always look for the big play, before the right play. This is something often seen in young players in college, as the “big play” is so often there. As Saquon settles into the environment of the NFL, I believe he will mature and understand how to be patient. He will learn not to always look to bounce it out for the big play. Of course, if the Giants are smart, they will not press the issue too hard, as to “coach the greatness out of Barkley.”

Now let’s take a look at how Saquon might fit in with the Giants. I heard many people tell me the Giants shouldn’t take Barkley because the Giants have no offensive line. That is absolute rubbish. You can sign offensive lineman, you can draft offensive lineman in any round, you do not get a prospect of Barkley’s caliber almost ever, especially at running back. Saquon was touted by some analysts as, “the best RB prospect ever.”

Point and case, Giants new GM Dave Gettleman has already drastically improved the offensive line. Saquon will not be running behind the same treacherous offensive line that terrorized NYG fans.

Gettleman signed new left tackle Nate Solder to a four-year $62 million contract, largest in the NFL (I know you just scoffed). While Solder may not be worth the money, he is exactly what the Giants need. He is a solid tackle, and will be a huge upgrade over mega-bust Ereck Flowers. The Giants got a steal in Will Hernandez at guard, drafted at 34th overall. A player predicted to go in the early 20s, Hernandez has the potential to be a future All-Pro.

Brett Jones, the undersized center, received the 5th highest pass blocking rate by PFF, but horrendous marks in the run game. If Jones can figure out the run blocking, it will be a huge upgrade for Saquon and the Giants offense alike. What could turn out to be the signing of the year, Gettleman signed Patrick Omameh to a multi-year deal. While Omameh did not play too well as the Jaguars starting LG, if he can excel in Pat Shurmur’s zone blocking scheme, then watch out.

Lastly, I know all Giants fans are sick of hearing Ereck Flowers, but hear me out. Flowers was a 1st rounder for a reason. The big, athletic frame is still there, the upside is still present for Flowers. The technique on the right tackle spot is different, and maybe, just maybe, Flowers can develop into a solid starting right tackle.

Dave Gettleman did a wonderful job in his first offseason rebuilding this offensive line. I’m not saying the Giants will come out and have a top 5 offensive line, but the rebuilt offensive had Pat Shurmur’s zone scheme in mind. This offensive line is most definitely an upgrade. Fortunately for the Giants, Saquon Barkley elevates the play of his offensive line, his adept footwork keeps the defense guessing on where he’s going.

Saquon Barkley will join a great group of skill players including uber talented Odell Beckham Jr, slot WR Sterling Shepard, and star in the making Evan Engram. Eli Manning couldn’t be happier right now. The play action game with Saquon Barkley should open up immense opportunities down the field to his talented receivers. It is a known fact that when the run game is working, the pass protection is better. Why might you ask? The linebackers are forced to wait on rushing the passer, rather they must wait to see if Saquon is actually be handed the ball. This in effect, will give Eli Manning that extra second to look for a receiver.

The presence of Barkley will help OBJ see less attention. With the scare of Saquon ripping off big rushes, teams will be forced to stack the box, in effect allowing Beckham to see significantly less double teams, and you bet he will capitalize. And it works both ways, the attention OBJ draws almost every game will have Barkley going up against softboxes. Again, you know Barkley will capitalize on those opportunities.

Pat Shurmur should not go unnoticed in this. Let me start off by saying how happy I was Shurmur got an HC gig. Shurmur did a marvelous job as the offensive coordinator for the Vikings. He led journeyman Case Keenum to have a career year with 3547 yards, and a 22:7 TD to INT ratio. Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen had career years. Rookie running back Dalvin Cook looked like OROY for a minute, before going down with a brutal torn ACL.

Despite the injury, Shurmur used Latavius Murray and Jerick Mckinnon to their highest potential, making it feel like Cook didn’t even get injured. Shurmur, despite having a below average offensive line, made it work. Shurmur led this offense to a top 10 finish.

Pat Shurmur had a new toy to work with Dalvin Cook, a legitimate 3 down back from FSU. Cook has a similar skill set as Barkley, but not nearly as explosive. Cook only played 4 games before going down but was well on his way to having a season to remember. Shurmur used Cook to his full potential, as a rusher and a receiver.

You can see explosive games from Cook below, the 127 rushing yards vs the Saints. The 72 receiving yards vs Tampa Bay. Despite running behind a below average line, he averaged a very good 4.8 YPC. He was on pace for 1416 rushing yards and 8 TDs on the season. If Shurmur can use Barkley the same way, the sky’s the limit.

Saquon Barkley is a stud, nothing is going to change that. While many think he’s in a bad situation, I respectfully disagree. Barkley is going to flourish because he is more than just a good runner. He will burn linebackers on wheel routes out of the backfield. He will split out wide & create mismatches. He will terrorize teams on kick off returns. Barkley may just lead the league the lead in all-purpose yards most of his career.

The thing I love most about Barkley is his attitude. Barkley is a competitor, a winner, but humble at the same time. Barkley is fine with splitting out wide 100% of his snaps and never touching the ball if that helps his team wins, he’ll do it. That does not, however, mean he doesn’t want every opportunity to help his team. Barkley will do whatever his team requires to win. For me Saquon Barkley should be Rookie of the Year, he is too good a talent and landed in a great situation, despite what people think

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