Running Backs Preview: Giants Needs to Work Saquon Barkley Smarter, Not Harder

Patricia Traina

Running Backs

WHO THEY HAVE: Saquon Barkley (D1/18); Dion Lewis (UFA/20); Wayne Gallman (D4/17); Jon Hilliman (FA/19); Javon Leake (UDFA/20); FB Eli Penny (FA/18); FB George Aston (UFA/20) Sandro Platzgummer (INT'L PATHWAY PROGRAM)


KEY LOSS: Buck Allen (UFA/unsigned)

WHERE THINGS STAND: In his two-year career, Saquon Barkley has rushed 478 times for 2,310 yards and 17 rushing touchdowns.

Those numbers aren't bad, but what is bad--and this isn't necessarily Barkley's fault--is that in both 2018 and 2019, the Giants rushing game finished in the bottom half of the league (24th in 2018 and 19th in 2019).

Again, that's not Barkley's fault that he's had to scratch and claw for every rushing yard earned.

But as those two seasons have shown, Barkley isn't made of steel. Without putting a better offensive line in front of him (and reducing some of the wear and tear that results from his heavy workload), the Giants had Barkley on a path toward burnout before he reached his 25th birthday.

WHERE WE GO FROM HERE: When it comes to the running game, the Giants need to ensure they're working smarter, not harder.

The problem is that the Giants, who love Saquon Barkley's skill set, have seen him as their bell cow.

While it's not like Barkley can't handle it, the Giants repeated a mistake from their past; when they had receiver Odell Beckham Jr on the roster, everyone and their uncle knew that Beckham was, more times than not, going to get the ball.

Not only did the spectators know, but so too did opposing defenses, who used to key in on stopping Beckham, who couldn't do it all by himself. 

Getting back to Barkley, in two seasons, the Giants have deployed him on 79.2% of their offensive snaps, a total that likely would have been higher had Barkley not missed time last year with a high ankle sprain that he recently admitted wasn't fully healed.

While the Giants did (presumably) fix the offensive line, it's hard to forget that they supposedly fixed the line in each of the last two off-seasons only for the unit to regress. There is promise in this year's edition, but there has to be some early signs of results to where Barkley isn't taking a pounding when trying to gain yardage.

Meanwhile, the addition of Dion Lewis could prove to be one of the most underrated free-agent signings by the team. Lewis, once a bell cow himself, has settled into more of a spot reliever type of role, a guy who can potentially take on the pass pro and short-yardage duties that contributed to the pounding Barkley has taken so far. 

The coaches would be smart to consider reducing some of Barkley's workload if they're to ensure he has a long, healthy career in New York.

But then what about Barkley's upcoming contract negotiations, which he's eligible to commence after this season? Would a reduced workload irk him to the point where he might want to play out his contract?

It shouldn't, and here's why. Barkley might be young and full of energy and wanting to get his hands on the ball every chance he can to make his case to top the four-year $64 million contract extension Christian McCaffery of the Panthers received earlier this off-season.

But he has to be smart and see the big picture as well.

The good news is Barkley has always been about doing what's best for the team. If the coaches are wise, they'll realize that they can't put the entire offense's production on the back of their uber-talented running back, not if their long-term goal is to optimize Barkley's production.