The NFL Draft will finally begin tomorrow and we can begin to put an end to the speculation that has been rampant for the last few months. The New York Giants, who will pick second tomorrow barring a trade, have been rumored to be in love with Saquon Barkley and almost every mock draft in recent weeks has them taking the Penn State running back. That could be a huge mistake.
This is nothing against Barkley. He is a great kid and an outstanding running back. He should have a bright future in the NFL. This is just a potentially foolish move by the Giants if they do decide to go this route.
There is a reason running backs don’t usually go high in the draft. Last year we saw Leonard Fournette get taken fourth overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars. He would help lead them to the playoffs, along with an outstanding defense that took years and several high draft picks to assemble, but he averaged just 3.9 YPC. Kareem Hunt, taken in the third round last year by the Kansas City Chiefs, led the NFL in rushing with 1,327 yards and averaged a full yard more per carry.
Todd Gurley finished second in the NFL in rushing yardage. Gurley, who was picked tenth overall in 2015 just after Ereck Flowers, had a bounce back year after the St Louis Rams overhauled their offensive line. Gurley averaged 4.7 YPC, up from 3.2 in 2016. He finished with 1,305 yards on 279 carries which was a drastic improvement over his 885 yards on 278 carries in 2016. Even great running backs need an offensive line to run behind.
Ezekiel Elliott was taken fourth overall by the Dallas Cowboys in 2016. He would lead the NFL in rushing as a rookie with 1,631 yards and scored an eye-opening 15 touchdowns. He also ran behind arguably the best offensive line in football, a line that took a step back due to injury and free agency in 2017. Elliott managed 983 yards and seven touchdowns on 242 carries. His YPC dropped from 5.1 to 4.1. It is worth noting that in 2015 Darren McFadden finished fourth in the NFL in rushing with 1089 yards and averaged 4.6 YPC. He has all but disappeared since then and has carried the football just 25 times for a total of 85 yards. It also should be noted that DeMarco Murray led the NFL in rushing in 2014 with 1,845 yards running behind the Dallas offensive line. What this proves is you need a good offensive line and Elliott can’t be used a measuring stick for the Giants and Barkley.
Something else to be considered is the price. If the Giants nab Barkley at second overall they are looking at a cap hit of around $5.7 million in the first year. That would make Barkley the eighth-highest paid running back in the NFL. Running backs just don’t get paid in the NFL these days for a number of reasons. Using that $5.7 million on a quarterback, for example, would make them around the 30th-highest paid QB in the NFL. The same would go for DE. Those two positions are premium positions along with left tackles. They get paid after their rookie contracts are up. Good cap management would dictate the Giants spend their money more wisely especially since all of the failed drafts by Jerry Reese have forced the Giants to use free agency as a way of staying in contention, a process that has seen the Giants make the playoffs once since 2011.
GM Dave Gettleman is kind of stuck between a rock and hard place. Eli Manning is 37. The Giants were 11-5 and made the playoffs in 2016. Drafting Barkley would give the Giants a dynamic weapon in the backfield that they have lacked for years, since Tiki Barber really. Barkley would help the Giants’ offense stay on the field, which in turn keeps the defense fresh. Last season, a huge issue for the Giants was sustaining drives. It often felt like if they didn’t go three-and-out it was a victory. The defense suffered and faded as games wore on. Barkley would certainly help that. However, so too would a number of running backs. An improved offensive line would help keep the Giants on the field as much as a running back would. Giving Manning time to throw and opening holes for Wayne Gallman or a second round pick like Sony Michel or Nick Chubb could have a similar impact for the Giants.
In today’s NFL you need to get the most bang for your buck. The salary cap drives this game. Money has to be spent wisely and teams depend on the draft more and more. Thanks to Reese, the Giants are behind the curve. They lack depth. They have some star talent but depth, especially along the defensive and offensive front, has been lacking terribly in recent years. There is a reason this team was 3-13 and is picking second. There is a reason the Giants’ draft classes disappear from the team after their rookie deals, and sometimes disappear from the NFL altogether. If the Giants chase the pipedream that they are a Super Bowl contender right now they might set the team back another few years and add to the misery. It is certainly a slippery slope.
There is no doubt that Barkley is a great talent. He would need to be given his position and the money he would be paid. He would need to be considering that if the Giants take him they would be passing up great talent, potentially Hall of Fame talent, in order to grab him. Maybe I’m wrong here. Maybe Barkley is the missing link for the Giants and changes the dynamic of this team. It is doubtful but possible. He would need to be great right off the bat. He would need to be a weapon on the ground and through the air. He would need give the Giants the most bang for their buck and in today’s NFL that might just be impossible.