Is it time to draft Saquon Barkley as a top running back again?

Is it time to draft Saquon Barkley as a top running back again?

Fantasy football player analysis tips and advice

Is it time to draft Saquon Barkley as a top running back again?

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Back in 2018, New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley amassed 2,028 total yards and 15 touchdowns en route to being named the AP’s Offensive Rookie of the Year. That feels like an awfully long time ago now. A high-ankle sprain cost him three games during his sophomore campaign, but it was the torn ACL he suffered in Week 2 of 2020 that may have permanently altered his career trajectory.

Barkley managed to return for the season opener last year, but he averaged just 2.6 yards per carry in Week 1, which marked the first of six times in 2021 that he’d post fewer than 3.5 YPC in a game. He seemed to be running a bit more effectively as the calendar turned to October, but a sprained ankle on Oct. 10 put him on the shelf for more than a month.

Upon his return Barkley was used judiciously, topping 20 touches in a game just once — that came in Week 16 against the Chicago Bears when he ran for a season-best 102 yards (his lone outing of more than 65 yards), though it’s worth noting that came in 26-point loss where the team only allowed then-quarterback Mike Glennon to throw 11 times, so he was running against soft fronts.

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Much has changed since that miserable January afternoon, including the hiring of new head coach Brian Daboll, who spent the previous four seasons running the Buffalo Bills’ potent offense and oversaw the development of quarterback Josh Allen. On paper, he should be a marked improvement over outgoing offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, though despite coaching upgrades there are still myriad question marks on the field.

Chief among them are the development of Daniel Jones, who has done little in his first three seasons to suggest he’s a legit QB1 at this level, and the health of Barkley, the one-time explosive back that’ll be nearly two years removed from his knee injury when the 2022 season kicks off on Sept. 11.

At this stage, the level of concern with Barkley must be high. He’s battled injuries in three of his four NFL campaigns, and he barely even flashed his pre-injury form in 203 combined touches last season — to that end, the Penn State product didn’t have a run of more than 13 yards over the final five games, and on those rare instances where he’d break one off it wasn’t sustained (e.g., in Week 2 he had a 41-yard run against Washington and finished the day with 57 yards on 13 carries).

Fantasy football outlook

Daboll’s system may be best known most recently for passing success in Buffalo, but this same offensive design produced top-11 ground attacks six of eight seasons under his guidance. Five of those years resulted in no fewer than the sixth-most rushing attempts.

Arguably the biggest thing working in Barkley’s favor is the lack of depth behind him, meaning the ground game should sink or swim with No. 26. At a minimum, opportunity equals value. To his credit, he has been dynamic in the offseason and is finally healthy.

While he feels overvalued as a No. 1 with an ADP of RB12, Barkley should be given every chance to produce at that level. Whether he’s still capable is unclear, and that’s what makes him such a risky selection in the early rounds. Given the overall volatility at the position, his receiving skills, and a drastic upgrade in the coaching department, we can’t argue if you wish to take the plunge.

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