New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley teased his tremendous ability on his first touch in preseason Week 1. The rookie made a shifty move behind the line of scrimmage before bursting upfield for a 39-yard gain.
Of course, that’s nothing compared to his outstanding body of work during his time at Penn State, where he ran for 3,843 rushing yards and 43 rushing touchdowns with 1,195 receiving years and eight touchdowns.
College production doesn’t always translate into the NFL, but in Barkley’s case, it will. There’s little doubt on if he’ll succeed in the NFL. That’s why the New York Giants picked him with the No. 2 overall pick, and passed on a quarterback of the future like USC’s Sam Darnold, who landed with the other New York team.
Just like Barkley was a consideration for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, he should be a consideration for your fantasy football draft.
The first point of anxiety is that he’s a rookie, and that rookie production is more variable than that of a veteran. But consider the context of where Barkley was drafted. The last three running backs taken in the top five picks of the draft have gone on to average 325 touches in their rookie season. That’s the kind of workload fantasy owners can get behind.
- Leonard Fournette in 2017: 304 touches, 1,342 yards, 10 touchdowns in 13 games.
- Ezekiel Elliot in 2016: 354 touches, 1,994 yards, 16 touchdowns in 15 games.
- Trent Richardson in 2012: 318 touches, 1,317 yards, 12 touchdowns in 15 games.
I can hear the groans: Trent Richardson?
Yes, he was bad. But there have been so many more rookie running backs who have been good — very good. Look the rookie seasons of Doug Martin (262.6 fantasy points), Matt Forte (242.5), Kareem Hunt (242.2), Alfred Morris (241), Adrian Peterson (234.9) and Alvin Kamara (233.4).
Barry Sanders, who is a lofty but somehow fair NFL comparison for Barkley, finished his rookie season with 249.2 fantasy points.
The tricky thing with top-five rookies is that their team can be an abomination, which is why that team was picking so high in the NFL draft. However, Barkley is inheriting a surprisingly good setup.
The Giants weren’t that bad at running the ball last year, even though their passing offense was horrendous. Orleans Darkwa averaged 4.4 yards per carry. Wayne Gallman averaged 4.3. Barkley can surely do better than both players — and so can this year’s offensive line.
New York signed left tackle Nate Solder in free agency and drafted guard Will Hernandez in the second round. They should both help with Barkley’s efficiency to go with what will likely be an enormous workload. What’s more, Barkley may not see eight-man boxes all the time (like Fournette, Elliot and Richardson did in their rookie season). Eli Manning can throw to receivers Odell Beckham and Sterling Shepard and tight end Evan Engram.
Even though Barkley has competition for touches in the offense, he won’t have competition at his position. Darkwa, the Giants running back with the most rushes in 2017, and Shane Vereen, the Giants’ back with the most receptions in 2017, are both gone.
Barkley should be an offensive focal point on an offense on the mend. His outrageous skill and projected workload make him a solid contender to go first overall in fantasy football drafts for 2018.