FILM ROOM | The Good, the Great and the Ugly - Saquon Barkley Edition
Giants running back Saquon Barkley is without question the most athletically gifted player on the team and the best player on the team.
These two opinions, commonly held by many analysts and football enthusiasts, would lead one to believe there are no flaws in his game. Such, however, is not the situation, though in Barkley's case, his flaws are so few and far in between that it's almost too easy to overlook them given all he does well.
In this edition of The Good, The Great, and The Ugly, we take a look at some of the things that make you fall in love with Barkley as a football player. We then identify the biggest weakness in his game in which he still has room to grow.
(All video clips are via NFL Game Pass.)
The Good: Barkley is a legit receiver
Barkley has legitimate value as a WR1 in fantasy with the number of targets he has received and is expected to receive in 2020 under new offensive coordinator Jason Garrett.
In only two seasons and 29 games, Barkley has been targeted 194 times. What's more impressive is that he has 143 receptions which means he is not letting many of those throws slip away, regardless of who is throwing him the ball.
He has a career 8.1 yards per reception and has hauled in six touchdowns out of the backfield. He has the versatility to line up and catch balls out of the backfield or in the slot with ease.
He catches the ball with his hands and doesn't let it get into his body. And if that's not enough to convince you he's a legit receiver, any pass he catches has the potential to score because he's so deadly with the ball in his hands.
In the clip below, you will see two examples of Barkley's skill as a receiver.
The first play shows how comfortable Barkley is navigating through traffic. He avoids a defender and leaks out into the flats where a screen is set up. He catches the ball with ease, turns upfield, and patiently stalls to help set up blockers for a large gain.
The second play he goes on a seam route (up the hashes) from out of the backfield. He effortlessly glides down the field and past defenders into the endzone where quarterback Daniel Jones delivers him a pass that he's able to catch cleanly with his hands.
The Great: Barkley has excellent cut-back explosiveness
Some backs can find the hole, others can hit the hole, and a few explode through the hole like they're shot out of a cannon.
That last descriptor fits Barkley, who is as explosive of a runner as there is in the game today. It is not just his burst that makes him special; it's his ability to cut full speed.
Many times when he finds a running lane, he's able to cut into it so quickly that defenders don't have time to close in for a tackle. And many times they underestimate their pursuit angles and are left grabbing at air, or trying (often unsuccessfully) to make an arm tackle.
In his first two seasons, Barkley averaged 4.8 yards per carry, with 2.8% of the yards gained coming after the initial contact, according to Pro Football Reference. Simply put, he's a home run threat every time he touches the football.
In this clip, you will see a play from the side and from behind demonstrating his cut-back explosiveness. He is able to find a sliver of light through the line. He sticks his foot into the ground and explodes.
His momentum allowed him to break arm tackles and he is able to cut away from defenders which allows him to gain extra yardage. In the second play, he is coming downhill towards the line of scrimmage.
As he approaches the offensive line, he notices the defense losing gap integrity on the left side. He explodes off his right foot just and in an instant, he's in the defensive backfield. He uses his speed to outrun a safety who takes a poor angle to tackle him and it allows him to gain over 20 extra yards.
The Ugly: Barkley doesn't always trust his blockers
Many might argue, given the inconsistent play of the Giants offensive line in Barkley's first two seasons, that he's justified if he doesn't always trust the blocking in front of him.
While the offensive line did let him down more than anyone would have liked to have seen, Bakley's issues can't simply be attributed to poor line play.
At Penn State, Barkley would go against the blocking scheme and it would work many times because of his elite athleticism, but in the NFL, there's a bunch of elite athletes running around.
On occasion, when Barkley doesn't trust the scheme, you see him leave potential chunks of yards on the field, and that's likely because he has either predetermined his path regardless of the blocking before the play or he adjusts during the play because he doesn't feel a teammate is going to make a block.
The two clips shown above illustrate this point. The first play is designed to be an outside run play. From the I-formation, Barkley catches a toss and is supposed to use his speed to attack the outside.
There is a lead blocker in front of him and a receiver going to block. Both blockers seemed to be poised to make a block on the safety and outside linebacker. Instead, he tries to cut it back and is tackled in the backfield for a loss of yardage.
In the second play, Barkley is running a draw. He attacks the line of scrimmage straight down to give himself a three-way go. He can bounce it outside to the left, punch it inside to the left or cut it back right.
What he should have done was punched it inside the left. Instead, he cut back right which resulted in him being pushed to the sideline.
The things that make Barkley good and great are skill and explosiveness. The crazy thing is that at 22 years old he still has room to improve the things that he already does well.
If he can gain a little more of a comfort level and trust in his blocking, something that will hopefully come as his line improves, this will increase his decision making and ultimately help the Giants be a better team.