Bleacher Report's Matt Miller released his rankings for the NFL's best backfield duos, ranking Saquon Barkley and Dion Lewis as the eighth-best duo in the league.
Miller's ranking system assigned numerical ratings to each individual running back and ranked the duos in order of the highest combined rating. Barkley was rated at 91 while Lewis was rated 75.
Barkley's 91 rating makes him the fifth-best running back on Miller's list behind Derrick Henry (92), Nick Chubb (94), Ezekiel Elliot (95), and Christian McCaffery (99). However, Miller’s expectation for the running backs’ production doesn’t necessarily equate to his evaluation of their talent, as he believes Barkley is the most talented of the group when healthy.
On pure talent, there is no better back than Barkley in the NFL, but he has to put it together in production. A 2,000-total-yard season should be the expectation for him.
Miller made the point that the expectation for Barkley is a 2,000-yard season. If he means all-purpose yards, that's not a farfetched goal considering Barkley has already eclipsed the 2,000-yard mark in all-purpose yards as a rookie in 2018 behind an inconsistent offensive line.
If the Giants’ offensive line can maintain a more consistent output in 2020 then it could translate to even better production for Barkley, whose high-end versatility within an offense as a receiver is also a unique trait that gives him the advantage over a more power-centric back rated above him like Henry, who only tallied 206 receiving yards.
Elliott, who was rated four points higher than Barkley, has value as a receiving back with 420 receiving yards for two touchdowns in 2019, but Barkley surpassed that total with 438 receiving yards and two touchdowns in three fewer games.
Elliot has been the more-productive back overall last season with 1,357 rushing yards for 12 touchdowns compared to Barkley’s 1,003 yards and six touchdowns, but Barkley’s injury played heavily into that disparity.
Elliot also played behind the NFL’s fourth-best offensive line, according to Pro Football Focus, a stark advantage compared to the Giants’ 17th-rated unit.
Jason Garrett, the coach responsible for the offensive schemes in which Elliot achieved those numbers, will now be coaching the Giants’ offense.
With offensive line improvements and a scheme in which multiple Dallas running backs beyond Elliot have thrived, Miller’s initial rating could see a reverse in 2020 to where Barkley may ascend as the best running back in the NFC East.
In general, if Barkley were to be granted the benefit of the doubt not to sustain an injury in 2020, then a 91 rating seems low given what he has produced thus far.
Meanwhile, Lewis' rating of 75 is the seventh-best among the RB2s in the top 10, with Baltimore’s J.K. Dobbins (78), New Orleans’ Latavius Murray (79), Frank Gore of the Jets (80), Phillip Lindsay of the Broncos (82), Kansas City’s Damien Williams (83), and Cleveland’s Kareem Hunt (89) all rated higher.
Lewis only had 318 yards from scrimmage with one touchdown in 2019; however, he made the most of the opportunities he had with the ball, averaging 3.9 yards per carry and 6.6 yards per reception.
Lewis provides a similar versatile spark to Barkley as a receiver out of the backfield, but that doesn’t mean he lacks some pop in between the tackles. Lewis averaged 2.4 yards after contact in 2019 with seven broken tackles.
Most of the duos on this list feature a pair of contrasting skill sets, one with power and one with third-down versatility. However, the Giants tandem appears to double-down on versatility as both are receiving backs that specialize in running outside the tackles and who boast power in between the tackles.
Miller’s eighth-place ranking may seem low to Giants fans considering the ceiling that Barkley’s presence puts on the offense. However, a dip in 2019 production and the transcendence of other talented running back duos in the league justify where the Giants stand in Miller’s ranking ahead of the season.
Overall it still attests to the Giants’ running back core as one of the best in the league, and is a strength that the offense is likely to lean heavily on in 2020.