Saquon Barkley is one of the NFL’s best running backs, but the New York Giants’ star is not a unique talent. Big Blue can find another version of Barkley in the 2023 draft.
Barkley has been named by one prominent evaluator as the best pro comparison for the draft’s “do-it-all back.” The comparison is made at an interesting time, with Barkley a pending free agent whose future presents a dilemma for Giants’ general manager Joe Schoen.
Barkley Mark II is in Next Draft
There are no shortage of similarities between Barkley and Texas star Bijan Robinson, according to ESPN’s Todd McShay: “Both are 6-foot and 220-plus pounds. Both take tremendous care of their bodies. Both excel at forcing missed tackles with an elite combination of shake and power. Both are outstanding pass catchers and very reliable in pass pro. And both bring energy on game day.”
That’s a healthy checklist of reasons why Robinson has a good chance to emulate what Barkley has achieved in the pros. The second-overall pick by the Giants in 2018 has compiled three 1,000-yard rushing seasons in five years, as well as being named NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Injuries hampered Barkley through 2020 and ’21, but he’s back to his best this season as the engine that drives the Giants’ offense. He’s posting an impressive average yardage tally per game on the ground, per Giants Videos:
Barkley’s 4.4-yards per carry average is also the second-highest such mark of his career. Numbers like those compare favorably to what Robinson produced for the Longhorns in 2022.
Robinson rumbled for 1,580 yards as a runner, averaging 6.1 yards a rush, per Sports Reference. Tellingly, the 20-year-old also averaged 16.5 yards on 19 catches.
Numbers like those are why McShay’s colleague Matt Miller dubbed Robinson a “do-it-all back who would’ve been a top-10 pick a decade ago.” The description is an apt one for the winner of the Doak Walker Award, given to the best college running back in the nation:
Like Robinson, Barkley can be an explosive receiver, evidenced by the 91 grabs he made as a rookie. The Giants planned to involve Barkley more in the passing game this season, but offensive coordinator Mike Kafka has failed to translate the strategy into positive results.
That failure could lead the Giants to think twice about handing Barkley a lucrative and lengthy new contract. Instead, Schoen and head coach Brian Daboll might look to find the next Barkley in the draft.
Giants Need Barkley Alternative Plan
Barkley’s status for next season will have to be managed alongside sorting out the future of his fellow free agent, quarterback Daniel Jones. It’s going to be a difficult balancing act for Schoen, who must decide between putting the right value on a solid but limited starter like Jones, who plays a more important position than Barkley, but is not close to as productive.
The Giants may want to avoid paying Barkley a deal on a par with the $16 million given annually to San Francisco 49ers’ All-Pro Christian McCaffrey. Or the $12 million per season due Nick Chubb of the Cleveland Browns.
Barkley wants a deal in the same bracket, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport and Mike Garafolo. Yet, Arjun Menon of Pro Football Focus believes the decline in production for running backs rewarded on this level should serve as a note of caution for the Giants:
A smarter option might be to use the franchise tag, projected by OverTheCap.com to be $12,632,000 for running backs next year. Better still, the transition tag, and its estimated cost of $10,197,000, would not only leave the Giants with more room under the salary cap. It would also allow Schoen to match any offers made to Barkley on the veteran market.
The dream scenario would involve the non-exclusive tag. It lets a team “match or refuse the new team’s offer or refuse it and be rewarded two first-round picks,” per USA Today’s Orlando Mayorquin.
The non-exclusive strategy would work on a number of levels, not least by allowing the Giants to keep their options open. Gaining some extra first-round picks would soften the blow of losing Barkley and increase the Giants’ chances of being in place to select Robinson.
Doing so would either give the Giants two premier playmakers in the backfield, at least for a season. Drafting to a strength worked wonders for this franchise in the past, like when Carl Banks was taken in the first round back in 1984, despite the presence of elite linebackers Lawrence Taylor and Harry Carson.
It also worked six years later when the Giants used a first-round pick to put running back Rodney Hampton alongside Ottis Anderson and Dave Meggett. Then there was the decision to select Jason Pierre-Paul 15th overall in 2010 and add him to an already stellar defensive line featuring Osi Umenyiora, Mathias Kiwanuka and Chris Canty.
Even if the Giants shunned an approach based on stacking talent and replaced Barkley with Robinson directly, Daboll would get a younger, healthier workhorse to continue to power his run-first offense.