New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley's career hasn't quite gone according to script thanks to two straight years of lower-body injuries, the most recent a torn ACL.
But Barkley, whose relentless work ethic got him into the NFL as the second overall pick of the 2018 draft, has spared no expense in trying to get his story back on schedule.
He has been posting regular updates from his training, which has inspired hope that he will return better than ever before.
At the same time, Giants head coach Joe Judge has declined to offer any update regarding when Barkley might return, be it for the start of training camp, the season, or later.
Making assumptions about a player's recovery from a severe injury like a torn ACL is always a tricky proposition because it can go one of two ways, so let's try to break it down and hope for the best.
The Giants have had their share of lightning rod draft picks over the years, and yes, that included Barkley, universally rated as one of the best players in the 2018 draft and a top-5 pick.
While the Giants fan base should have universally celebrated Barkley's selection, there was a significant portion--and a growing one at that--who believe the Giants should have traded down or selected offensive lineman Quenton Nelson, who eventually went to the Colts at No. 6.
However, Giants general manager Dave Gettleman made no secret of his love for Barkley, stopping short of taking out a billboard in Times Square to confirm the team's intention to draft the Penn State star in the second round.
But the questions lingered. For one, some questioned the wisdom in adding a running back to an offense that was still trying to fix its offensive line. Second, there were questions about skipping over the quarterback position considering the Giants had an aging Eli Manning who was fast approaching the end of his storied career.
But Gettleman had his mind made up, and for the first year at least, Barkley justified his life with a Pro Bowl (and Offensive Rookie of the Year) award-winning season that saw him rack up 2,028 all-purpose yards.
That yardage included 1,307 rushing yards on 261 carries with 11 touchdowns and 721 receiving yards on 91 receptions (out of 121 pass targets) with four additional touchdowns.
In Year 2, the Giants quickly learned how unwise it was to make one player the offense's centerpiece. Barkley would miss three games with a high ankle sprain suffered in Week 4. Although he returned and once again topped the 1,000-yard rushing mark (1,003), it took several more weeks before he looked like his old self.
Along the way, questions popped up. For one, the previous coaching staff seemed reluctant to use Barkley in space except for check-down passes.
There were also questions about Barkley's pass blocking. In three seasons, he's been charged with allowing seven sacks, according to Pro Football Focus.
Barkley also led the Giants' running backs in most quarterback pressures (13) over the 2018-19 seasons.
Now comes the biggest question of all for Barkley: Which way will his comeback--career--go?
Will he follow the path set by Adrian Peterson, who came back better than ever from a torn ACL, or will his career follow that of Todd Gurley, who is still trying to regain that extra gear?
What He Brings
Before his injury, Barkley was more than just running back. His open-field vision and elusiveness made him a nightmare for linebackers and defensive backs to cover in space.
Unfortunately, the Giants coaching staff hasn't fully tapped into that aspect of his game just yet.
Then there is the matter of Barkley's game being a "boom or bust" type.
In his first 31 games as a Giant, he has averaged 4.0 yards per carry or less 14 times, eight of which he's averaged less than 3.0 yards per carry. While some of that is on his inconsistent run blocking, some is also on Barkley and his occasional lack of patience.
Barkley's two highest single-game rushing marks both came against Washington, a 189-yard affair in 2019 and a 170-yard performance in 2018.
Barkley had a 67-yard touchdown score and a 32 yard rush in the 189-yard showing in his career-high rushing performance. The rest of his carries saw him rush for 90 yards on 20 carries, a 4.5 average, a far cry from the 8.6 average listed in his stat totals.
And in the 170-yard showing during his rookie campaign, it was the same situation--130 of his yards came on two runs, including a 78-yard touchdown rush in the second quarter.
Take away those two rushes, and Barkley's 12.14 rushing average drops down to a more human 3.3 per carry average.
This is a big reason why the coming season--and perhaps the one after that--will be key in terms of the organization's decision to extend Barkley to a monster-sized contract. The home run ball is nice, but consistency is even nicer.
Barkley will give a team a full effort--that much is not a question. But the results have to align with that effort, and thus far, that can't be said due to the peaks and (mostly) valleys that have shown up in Barkley's game.
Barkley is currently on the final year of his rookie deal, which will carry a $10,025,602 cap hit, or 5.4% of the Giants' total salary cap. In any other situation, that cap hit would be way too much for the Giants to carry, especially with a player coming off a torn ACL.
Since Barkley's contract is locked in, there's nothing the Giants can do about that number short of negotiating a lower cap number (but one which must include his $4,733,829 guaranteed money) in the renegotiated year.
Negotiating a contract extension is out of the question right now for Barkley, who still needs to get on the field and show the results of his months-long rehab.
The Giants have also picked up the option year on Barkley's deal, one that will see him count for $7.217 million against the 2022 cap, a welcomed cost reduction.
Barring a setback, Barkley will be on the 53-man roster. But what isn't known just yet--and won't be for several months--is how much he'll be able to do.
The likelihood of Barkley playing every down beginning in Week 1 would be surprising, as the Giants will probably want to monitor and adjust the pounding he stands to take, at least early in the season since he will have missed nearly a year of football.
That's a big reason why the Giants brought in Devontae Booker, whom they view as an every-down back. Booker will almost certainly take on the third-down duties, handling the pass blocking role that, before the injury, was Barkley's Achilles heel.
Ultimately, though, the goal is to get Barkley back to playing upwards of 80% of the snaps on offense, as he did in his rookie season while not necessarily being the sole focal point of the offense to where he has a bull's eye on his back.