The New York Giants have some strategy choices coming up after drafting Saquon Barkley. On one hand, the coaching staff should want him on the field as much as possible after the second pick was spent acquiring him. With Eli Manning aging, it’s also important that the Giants can run the ball often and take some of the pressure away from the quarterback position.
On the other hand, it may be smart to let Barkley split snaps with another back to preserve his value. Jonathan Stewart, who the Giants picked up this offseason from the Panthers, may be a useful player for short yardage situations if the Giants do decide to not use Barkley as a three down back.
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How did Stewart perform last season?
For those that are unfamiliar with him, let’s look at Stewart’s numbers last season. He played for Carolina from 2008 to 2017, and last year, he played in 15 games and rushed for 680 yards. His rushing yards have dropped in each of the past two years, but with the Giants, there will be much less pressure on him as the majority of the snaps will go to Barkley instead.
Stewart had an average of 3.4 yards per attempt, but if he’s used as a short yardage back, that’s not too bad. However, it’s important to consider the skill sets of both players. Stewart can pick up a few yards consistently, but Barkley is more explosive. If he runs off tackles and has a chance to shake off defenders in open space, he can turn a short yard situation into a big gain.
He did it at Penn State with an offensive line that was fairly average, and even bad at times. With better support from the revamped Giants line, Barkley should have a better chance at turning short yardage runs into larger gains past the first down marker.
Still, running backs are known for having shorter careers than other positions, and after spending the number two pick on Barkley, the Giants will want as many years from him as possible. Stewart doesn’t have the same big play potential and will only be an average back, even in short yardage scenarios, but giving him some snaps will wear Barkley out less.
The right strategy might be somewhere in the middle. If the Giants will be a playoff team, they need big contributions from Barkley, and using him as a three down back would be advisable. However, during easier games on the schedule it would be wise to give Stewart more snaps and allow Barkley some rest, even if his usage is still above average for a rookie running back.
The Giants drafted Barkley partially because he can be used in a number of ways. If they don’t use him whenever they can in important games, they’re losing out on some of the value they gained when they drafted him. However, despite his career trajectory trending down in the last couple of years, Jonathan Stewart should be a good option to fill in for Barkley a bit in games that are safe enough to give the Giants number one running back a bit of a rest.