Was Drafting Barkley at #2 a Mistake? Early Findings
Make no mistake, Saquon Barkley has been very good in his first NFL season. The Giants may be 1-3, last in the NFC East, and 27th in rushing DVOA, but that is not an indictment of the rookie.
Barkley is ninth in the league in all-purpose yardage and has gained at least 100 yards of total offense in each of his first four games:
- Week 1: 128 yards vs Jacksonville;
- Week 2: 128 yards at Dallas;
- Week 3: 117 yards at Houston.
- Week 4: 100 vs New Orleans
His strong start has kept him among the favorites to win Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Barkley isn’t gaining consistent chunks, but he is busting huge plays when he has even an iota of space. Case in point …
If the Giants were still relying on Orleans Darkwa or Wayne Gallman or Paul Perkins as their lead back, their 27th-ranked rushing attack might be dead-last.
But that doesn’t mean Barkley was the right pick at #2 in the draft.
Leaving alone the question of whether the G-Men should have taken a QB at #2, it’s clear that Barkley needs a better run-game infrastructure to reach his full potential. His offensive line ranks second-last in the NFL in run blocking by Football Outsiders’ calculations. Barkley is being met in the backfield with regularity, decreasing the impact he can feasibly have on the game.
It’s also much easier to get a good running back in later rounds (or even free agency) than it is to find quality players at the Giants’ other positions of weakness, specifically offensive tackle.
Lions’ rookie RB Kerryon Johnson (drafted 43rd overall) is ahead of Barkley in PFF’s running back ratings (72.6 vs 71.5). The Broncos’ Royce Freeman (drafted 71st overall) and Phillip Lindsay (undrafted) aren’t far behind at 68.5 and 65.1, respectively. And Lindsay actually has a better rating as a pure runner (70.9 vs 67.5).
The Giants could have used their first-round pick elsewhere and still drafted any RB other than Barkley, Rashaad Penny, and Sony Michel with their second pick (34th overall).
Based on what we have seen so far this year (and last), they could really use help at tackle.
Through three weeks, the G-Men were 23rd in pass blocking according to Pro Football Focus, had given up 15 sacks, and had just the 17th-ranked passing offense, overall.
This is a team that has Odell Beckham, Evan Engram, and Sterling Shepard. It should be averaging more than 232.3 yards per game and 7.0 yards per attempt.
The play at tackle has ranged from mediocre (Nate Solder, 66.0 PFF rating) to terrible (Ereck Flowers, 53.8 PFF rating) to horrendous (Chad Wheeler, 40.4 PFF rating).
Contrast those performances with that of San Francisco’s Mike McGlinchey, the first OT off the board. The 9th-overall pick is already a top-25 tackle (68.1 PFF rating). Swap out Flowers/Wheeler for McGlinchey and you get a huge upgrade, much bigger than the upgrade from, say, Kerryon Johnson to Barkley.
If the Giants had committed to taking a tackle with their first-round pick, they also could have traded down and acquired more draft capital in the process. McGlinchey was a great prospect, but not a threat to go in the top-five.
Again, without even considering the argument that the Giants should have selected a QB in the first round, it’s highly debatable that Barkley is a more valuable addition than an OT upgrade would have been. Given the short shelf-life of running backs in the modern NFL, wasting a year of Barkley’s prime is a big loss.