What are fair 2022 expectations for Saquon Barkley?
It’s probably not fair to expect the extraordinary Barkley we saw as a rookie in 2018, when he re-wrote the franchises’s rookie record book, posted 2,028 yards from scrimmage and won Offensive Rookie of the Year. It is, though, absolutely fair to expect better — maybe much better — performance from Barkley than he turned in a year ago.
Let’s talk about the player former GM Dave Gettleman selected No. 2 overall in the 2018 NFL Draft as we continue our player-by-player look at the 90-man roster the Giants will bring to training camp this summer.
By the numbers
Position: running back
Contract: Fifth-year option worth $7,217 million | 2021 cap hit: $7,217M
Career to date
In 2018, Barkley was everything Gettleman told us he would be. He was truly special, doing things we could only compare to the type of “how did he do that?” runs we saw from Barry Sanders once upon a time.
Flames that burn that brightly, though, don’t always stay hot for long periods of time. Injuries, and to an extent ineptitude around him, have made that 2018 version of Barkley little more than a pleasant, but distant, memory.
Barkley was good in 2019, but not great. He missed three games with a high ankle sprain and played half the season or more at less than 100 percent. He still ended up with 1,003 rushing yards and 1,441 but for the most part the special version of Barkley was non-existent.
He played only two games in 2020, tearing an ACL Week 2.
It perhaps wasn’t fair to expect the 2018 version of Barkley in 2021 as he came back from his serious injury, but we all hoped. We didn’t get that. We got a player who might not have been pedestrian, but he didn’t make players miss like SAQUON BARKLEY had as a rookie. Between that, a putrid offensive line, suffering through watching Mike Glennon and Jake Fromm play far too much football, and an ankle injury that cost him four games, 2021 was a forgettable year
Barkley should absolutely be better in 2022 than he was in 2021. Will he play like he was “touched by the hand of God,” as a certain former GM once described him? Hoping for that is fine. Expecting it is blatantly unfair. Like it or not, Barkley has had a series of leg injuries the past three years, and that can’t be good for a running back in any way.
Perhaps we should set the bar at Barkley’s 2019 performance. He averaged 110.8 yards per game from scrimmage that season. In 2021, the only running back who topped that per game average was Jonathan Taylor of the Indianapolis Colts (127.7). Barkley’s 2019 total would have been No. 2 behind Taylor.
Without a doubt, the Giants would gladly take nearly 111 total yards per game from Barkley.
There should be optimism.
Barkley said back in April that he had been able to spend the offseason training the way he wanted to rather than rehabbing his surgically-repaired knee.
“I definitely feel a lot different, a lot better. I feel like myself again,” Barkley said.
“I’m not rehabbing the knee. That’s one. I’m not out there thinking anymore. At the time, you’re like, ‘I’m not even thinking about it,’ but then when you replace yourself and look back a year later you’re like, ‘Oh my God, it’s two completely different things.’
“Getting stronger, getting back to how I like to train, my training resume. Also adding the new things to keep me healthy – mobility-wise, stability-wise, all those little things. It’s not just the now. I want to play this game for a long time. I don’t want to have a short career. That comes with taking care of your body. That’s really the biggest difference I’m doing, training hard and pushing my body, but also training smart.”
There are, of course, other changes. Joe Judge and Dave Gettleman are gone, and with them Jason Garrett and Freddie Kitchens. The offense, with Brian Daboll and Mike Kafka at the controls, should be more versatile. The offensive line should be better.
That means that Barkley, and the Giants other playmakers, should have a better chance of success.
The “what’s his future with the Giants?” question, of course, hangs over the 25-year-old Barkley.
Barkley is playing 2022 on his fifth-year option. Unless the Giants franchise tag him or sign him to a long-term deal, he can be a free agent at the end of the season. Could the Giants perhaps use Barkley as bait at the midseason NFL trade deadline?
That’s a question for another day. Step 1 is finding out if Barkley can get somewhere close to the player he once was,