As this was the last week I could look at players from twenty teams I decided to treat myself to a player I wouldn’t get a chance to look at going forward and so I had a look at Saquon Barkley who would be the outright favourite for offensive rookie of the year if it were not for the value advantage that quarterbacks enjoy in such awards.
The interesting thing for me about this particular game was that the New York Giants were taking on the Dallas Cowboys in week seventeen, and so I got to see Barkley go up against the fifth best rush defence in the league by DVOA and to be fair that is pretty much how they looked in this game.
A cursory look at the stats would have you believe that Barkley was effective all game as he ran for one hundred and nine yards at over six yards per carry, but if you remove his one sixty-eight yard run that we shall discuss in a moment then his rest of his runs went for forty-one yards at an anaemic two-and-half yards a carry. No one has every questioned Barkley’s talent or athleticism, but there has been talk of him being boom or bust and looking to break the big run rather than taking what’s there. It’s hard to say if he has got over this from the evidence of this game because the reason his numbers looked so average for most of the game is that all to often when he had the ball in his hands, the Cowboys front seven or eight (they were often playing in single high safety looks) would be in their run fits and there was often nowhere for the running back to go. Still, Barkley worked hard to get what he can, and not all runs were stuffed for short gains, he made some decent runs using his agility and ability to cut and get what he can, but often he and his blockers would be met in the hole. The Giants had more success attacking the edges of the defence than running between the tackles but the difference was marginal.
The Giants rotated Barkley in and out with Wayne Gallman but there was no pass run split and Barkley was able to work on third down and ran plenty of routes, including down the field when he was flexed out as a receiver, which was not uncommon. On one play he also ran a route and willingly blocked to help make a big pickup. Still if he was no that effective in the passing game and gained most of his rushing yards on one play, what is the buzz about him? Well partly the answer is that anytime he has the ball in space he is dangerous and he can catch the ball and has done in other games, but in this game you would point to the play that went for nearly seventy yards.
On second and twenty, starting on their own seventeen-yard line the Giants lined up with 11 personnel in a shotgun formation facing the Cowboys in a nickel formation with two high safeties. On a draw play Barkley took the handoff and followed right guard Jamon Brown who blocked Sean Lee allowing Barkley to find a small crease and get behind the secondary to pick up sixty-eight yards. Eventually Jeff Heath was able to catch him and battle Barkley down, but the damage was done as flew past the defence and then was hard to bring down. That in essence is his game.
It is this threat of breaking a play that makes Saqoun Barkely so dangerous. He has been hindered this season by a Giants offensive line that couldn’t consistently open holes for him, or they certainly could in this game, and the fact that Eli Manning can’t throw the ball downfield consistently anymore. Manning did make some deep throws but he can’t do it often enough for this team to move the ball effectively and maintain drives. The Giants have some great skill position players but to unlock Barkley’s full potential they need to improve the offensive line and their quarterback play. The scary thing is that Barkley was still able to account for two thousand yards of offence this season even with these limitations so whilst I’m still not sure I would have made the same draft decision at number two, I can see why the Giants did.