Giants’ Backup Deserves Award More Than Saquon Barkley

Saquon Barkley

Getty Saquon Barkley's nominated for an award, but a Giants' backup deserves it more.

Saquon Barkley enjoyed a brilliant season for the New York Giants and his return to form was a terrific story. Yet, Barkley’s the wrong choice for the 2022 AP Comeback Player of the Year award. Instead, that honor should belong to Barkley’s teammate, offensive lineman Nick Gates.

Barkley was nominated on Wednesday, January 25, along with Brian Daboll, who received the nomination to be named NFL Coach of the Year. The pair will learn if they’ve won or not on February 9 at the NFL Honors Ceremony.

Barkley was an obvious candidate based on his career-best performances this season. They included 295 carries for 1,312 yards.

Those numbers were impressive, but Barkley merely delivered on the talent many knew he already possessed. Gates overcame far more just to get back onto the field at all, with one writer comparing what he achieved to the comeback that won quarterback Alex Smith the same award two years ago.

Nick Gates Made Alex Smith-Level Recovery

Gates might have featured in only nine games, starting seven, but any appearance at all was a minor miracle after the leg injury he suffered in 2021. That injury is why NBC Sports’ Peter King named Gates ahead of Barkley in his own vote for comeback player: “In week two last year, Gates suffered a grotesque left leg injury, with multiple fractures to his tibia and fibula. He had seven surgeries but recovered to start the last seven games of the season for the playoff Giants.”

To say the recovery process was arduous would be an understatement. Gates went through seven separate surgeries to repair his fractured left leg, per Michael Eisen of, who noted how the player “had started 17 consecutive games at center” before fate struck against Washington on September 16, 2021.

Somebody going through so much and still not getting any acknowledgement from voters is why’s Art Stapleton is exasperated with the whole awards process. He compared Gates’ recovery to what Smith did to return to the game in 2020: “What Gates did this year is equal to Alex Smith, who was runaway winner.”

It’s a worthy comparison since Smith, then quarterback for Washington, broke his fibula and tibia against the Houston Texans in November 2018. Subsequent infection resulted in Smith needing skin grafts, but he returned to play eight games for the then-Washington Football Team two years later, helping the franchise win the NFC East and reach the playoffs.

Gates made his comeback against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 8 and sprang Barkely for a touchdown. The play led to Barkley endorsing Gates for the award, per ESPN’s Jordan Raanan:

There’s an irony about Barkley believing Gates should get the gong, but the latter not even being nominated. The absence of Gates’ name also reflects a cold, hard reality about how different players and positions are valued within and around the NFL.

A backup offensive lineman doesn’t have the same juice as a QB1 like Smith, nor a bluechip running back in Barkley’s class. Keeping Barkley in a Giants uniform for the long haul is one of the big challenges facing general manager Joe Schoen this offseason.

Saquon Barkley’s Future in Doubt

Schoen needs to find room for Barkley’s next contract, while also working out a new deal for quarterback Daniel Jones. It’s not an easy task considering Jones has proved himself a winner at football’s most important position, but Barkley is arguably the most dynamic back in the game.

His talent commands top dollar at the position, something Fox Sports’ Ralph Vacchiano reported Barkley is seeking: “I continue to hear he wants near Christian Mcaffrey’s $16M average.”

Vacchiano’s note of caution about the Giants not increasing their bye-week offer raises concern about the chances of keeping Barkley. Particularly on the heels of Schoen admitting the two sides “weren’t really that close” during previous negotiations, per’s Alex Smith.

Not retaining Barkley would mean being without the player most responsible for powering the Giants’ surprising return to prominence this season. Barkley was the catalyst, but what he did isn’t comeback award-worthy.

His production was hardly an outlier. Not after Barkley rushed for 11 touchdowns and caught 91 passes during an NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year campaign in 2018.

Injuries became a problem for Barkley the next few years, but he only missed four games in 2021. Staying on the field more often was Barkley’s priority, whereas playing at all was the challenge Gates faced and beat.

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