When the New York Giants selected Saquon Barkley 2nd overall in the 2018 NFL draft, they expected him to be far more than just a running back. They anticipated him being a bonafide superstar, running the ball with prowess while also offering receiving skills out of the backfield. Let alone is qualities as a leader.
During his rookie season, Barkley lived up to expectations, amassing 2,028 yards from scrimmage, including 1,307 on the ground, 721 through the air, and 15 total touchdowns. However, over the last two seasons, Barkley has played in just 15 games and is currently rehabilitating from a torn ACL, MCL, and partially torn meniscus. The Giants are still extremely high on the 24-year-old Penn State product and believe he will elevate the offense this upcoming season after the injection of more wide receiver talent.
How will Barkley impact Daniel Jones, though, increasing his production and efficiency in the passing game?
Barkley brings one underrated factor to the offense, attention. Defenses are forced to allocate multiple eyes and players on Saquon, who can break to the second level and take the ball to the house at any given moment. With his breakaway speed and incredible strength at the point of attack, Barkley is considered one of the most dynamic runners in the NFL when healthy.
Last season, when the Giants faced off against the Cleveland Browns, Kareem Hunt demanding attention from Jabrill Peppers and Logan Ryan. In fact, multiple defensive plays were dismantled due to the attention Kareem commanded. When you have a singular player that has an influence on the game such as that, it opens up the field for the alternative playmakers, and the Giants have plenty of them after signing in Kenny Golladay to a four-year deal and drafting Kadarius Toney in the first round.
So how will Barkley help Jones elevate his game?
Well, he will force defensive linemen and linebackers to always have his whereabouts in mind, which will take blitzers out of the box and force linebackers to stay at the second level. In addition, strong safeties will have to mirror Barkley’s movements, following him into the flats and on legitimate routes in the secondary (similar to how Jabrill was forced to cover Hunt last season). This will open up the field for players like Evan Engram, who love to dominate the seams and attack mismatches in the secondary. It should allow Jones more time in a pocket and weaker coverage on his receivers, theoretically increasing his completion percentage and WR catch rate.
Barkley will also impact the game on the ground, not just for himself but for Jones as well. The Giants loved using DJ on read-option plays last season, as he totaled 423 yards over 14 games. Creating confusion for defenses will be a priority next year in Jason Garrett’s scheme, and it starts with forcing defensive backs to step forward and play the run, baiting them into making premature decisions post-snap. This will also open up the play-action pass, and vertical threats with speedsters like John Ross and Darius Slayton — commanding attention at the line of scrimmage should force defenses to play with liabilities in the secondary — one deep safety, Cover-1 (expose verticals), and Cover-3 looks (attack seams and flats).
Defenses that are looking to play Cover-2 man will have a handful in the shorter portions of the field with Saquon as a running back and receiver, but also shifty pass-catchers like Sterling Shepard and Toney.
There is little doubt the offense will take a step forward and 2021. It is simply a matter of how much, which is entirely dependent on the performance of the offensive line.