Draft or Pass: Making The Case for Saquon Barkley to be First Pick on Draft Day

With an expanded role in 2020, New York Giants RB Saquon Barkley could unseat Christian McCaffrey's vise-like grip on the first overall pick during fantasy drafts
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It's never too early to start your fantasy football research, and we at SI Fantasy want to provide you with the best information possible heading into your drafts. Our "Draft or Pass" video series takes a closer look at a fantasy player that will be debated often leading up to fantasy drafts. Are our hosts targeting this player specifically? Are they avoiding him entirely?

Today's video focuses on New York Giants star RB Saquon Barkley.

Draft or Pass at current ADP (average draft position): 2 (RB2)

Christian McCaffrey enters the 2020 season as the consensus number one overall pick in a points-per-reception league. It seems like a no-brainer, right?

Especially after last year, taking anyone besides CMac might seem unfathomable after finishing third in rushing yards (1,387), second in rushing touchdowns (15), while racking up 116 receptions for 1,005 yards and four more touchdowns through the air. He molly-whopped the field in fantasy points per game 29.4 PPG, compared to Dalvin Cook's 20.9), as well as on the season total (471.2 total points ahead of Aaron Jones' 314.8)

Christian McCaffrey has played in every single game in his three seasons in Carolina, averaging 101 receptions per year while running for well over 1,000 yards in his last two. He’s a fantasy dynamo and should be treated with the respect he deserves. But did you know that we haven’t seen a RB in PPR finish number one overall in two consecutive years in a row since Priest Holmes back in 2002-2003?

Unless history repeats itself 18 seasons later, Saquon Barkley is the back who can knock McCaffrey off the top spot.

Going back to just two seasons ago, Barkley edged him out slightly in total points (385.8 to 385.5), while rushing 42 more times for an additional 209 yards. He also saw just three fewer targets than McCaffrey in the receiving game (121 compared to CMC's 124), but "only" caught 91 compared to McCaffrey's 107.

Barkley started off 2019 red-hot, rushing for 227 yards and a score in his first two games, but a high-ankle sprain in Week 3 kept him on the bench until Week 7 and wasn't completely healthy until Week 15. Despite a brutal stretch playing hurt, he still finished as the RB10 in PPR formats.

Both the Giants and Panthers are going through a new offensive change in philosophy. Despite his consistent mediocrity as a winning football coach, Jason Garrett still put Ezekiel Elliott in a phenomenal spot upon entering the league. Up until last season, Zeke led the NFL in rushing in 2016 and 2018 and would have likely led it again in 2017 if not for his six-game suspension (was on pace for 1,572.8 rushing yards). Zeke also saw a substantial spike in targets in the passing game in his last two seasons, further adding to the relief of Barkley owners about the impact Garrett will have on that side of the offense.

Jackson Thompson of GiantsCountry recently wrote up the fantasy outlook of Garrett’s offense with Barkley set as the lead back:

“Garrett's rushing offense was built around the skill set of the featured running back each time, as the 2014 offense with Murray saw a lot of zone runs and outside tosses, while the 2016 approach with Elliot saw more power iso runs in between the tackles.

Garrett's offense has traditionally leaned more on the run as it prioritizes picking up first down and maximizing the time of possession, which will emphasize Barkley's role even more in the new offense.”

But in Carolina, much has changed. Teddy Bridgewater was signed to a three-year deal, and Matt Rhule and Joe Brady have taken over as head coach and offensive coordinator, respectively.

While Bridgewater helped keep the Saints season alive, he wasn't much help to Alvin Kamara in the passing game. Except for their Week 3 win over Seattle where Kamara caught 9 passes for 92 yards, he only averaged 28 yards receiving in the other four games with Bridgewater under center.

As for the new guys calling the plays, Brady's offense at LSU made way for a record-setting season for Joe Burrow at QB, throwing 60 touchdown passes and paving the way for Clyde Edwards-Helaire to be a first-round back in 2020.

AllPanthers reporter Schuyler Callihan mentioned last week that the coaching staff recognizes the enormous workload that CMC has taken on, and may look to scale him back.

"I think Christian had 429 touches this past year and that's a lot obviously, but if there is one person that can take it and there's one person that takes care of his body the way that he does, it's Christian McCaffrey. I can't sit here and tell you guys, hey the number is 400, the number is 350, I just can't. I think every single game will be different. I think a lot of it will come down to the rest of the personnel on our team and figuring out how they're going to be utilized. But there is an expectation of Mike Davis, of Reggie Bonnafon, of Jordan Scarlett, of Rodney Smith to elevate their game. So depending on how that running back room and wide receiver room and tight end room goes will factor a lot into Christian McCaffrey's touches."

Both Barkley and McCaffrey can state an excellent case to be the top back and player chosen overall in 2020. I ultimately feel more secure in Barkley's role with this offense, along with the belief that his workload will increase compared to the worry of McCaffrey seeing fewer touches.