The New York Giants have one of the NFL’s most talented players on their roster. The second overall pick of the 2018 NFL Draft, Saquon Barkley, is one of the NFL’s up and coming stars and, in only two seasons, he is one of the top running backs in the league.
Barkley, nicknamed “Saquads” for his massive leg muscles, is a superhuman athlete. Saquon’s offseason workouts recently made waves on the internet:
— Alex Wilson (@AlexWilsonESM) June 27, 2020
Since the Giants drafted Saquon Barkley, they have found little success in the win-loss column. Barkley has been a human highlight reel but his incredible performances have rarely led to team victories.
An Injury-Riddled 2019
Saquon Barkley was nearly unstoppable as a rookie in 2018. In his first season, Barkley led the NFL with 2,028 total yards from scrimmage. He also racked up 15 total touchdowns. Saquon’s main job is to run the football, yet he still managed to break a Giants franchise record with 91 receptions in his rookie season.
Giants fans did not see that same version of Saquon Barkley in 2019. In the team’s Week 3 matchup with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Saquon suffered a high ankle sprain that would keep him sidelined for three games. Upon his return to the starting lineup, Saquon struggled to replicate his prior success.
Even though he missed three games in 2019, Saquon Barkley still managed to top 1,000 rushing yards on the season. But it was not hard to notice that Saquon was not at full health during the 2019 season. Saquon admitted this offseason that the injury nagged him and kept him from performing at his highest level.
“In the first game I came back I ran a rush to the right side of the field and I kinda got rolled up on it again,” Barkley said. “Luckily it was wet, it was a rainy game, so I didn’t get stuck on anything but it was just nagging. It happens.
“It was tough to deal with. Once we got to the offseason and I got some time to myself to work on it and be happy with it, it made me feel a lot better.” – Saquon Barkley on his 2019 injury
A New And Improved Scheme In 2020
Saquon Barkley was not only held back by his ankle injury in 2019. He was also held back by the Giants’ offensive scheme. Former head coach Pat Shurmur served as the team’s play-caller on offense. Considering Shurmur was fired after this past season, it is safe to say he was not doing the best possible job as the team’s play-caller.
Pat Shurmur’s rushing offense was bland. When a coach has a back like Saquon Barkley on his roster, it is the coach’s job to call plays that maximize the back’s talents. One way that some of the best NFL teams get the most out of their running backs is through the use of pre-snap motion. Teams with top rushing offenses, like the Ravens, Chargers, Rams, and 49ers, use pre-snap motion a high percentage of the time. All these teams rank in the top-ten team rates of motion at the snap for the 2019 season.
The New York Giants’ offense ranked on the opposite end of the spectrum. The Giants emplored pre-snap motion on 5% of their offensive snaps, ranking 27th in the NFL. While pre-snap motion does correlate to rushing success, the Dallas Cowboys’ offense did not feature pre-snap motion enough to rank them in the top-ten. However, they were not in the bottom ten either. Jason Garrett’s offense does feature more pre-snap motion than Pat Shurmur’s did, but he still does not use pre-snap motion at an extremely high rate.
One area wherein Jason Garrett will help the Giants’ rushing offense is the diversity of the rushing direction. The Giants ran the ball up the middle 63% of the time in 2019, one of the highest rates in the NFL. The Cowboys ran the ball up the middle 50% of the time, one of the lowest rates in the NFL. The Cowboys ran the ball off the left tackle at one of the highest rates. Compared to league averages, Dallas ran the ball off the right end, right tackle, and left tackle at a higher rate than average. They ran the ball up the middle and to the left end at a below-average rate.
The Giants ran the ball off the left tackle at one of the lowest rates in the NFL last season, another opposite to the Cowboys’ rushing scheme. The Giants ran the ball to the left end only 5% of the time. They ran the ball to the left tackle, left end, and right end at a below-average rate. They were well above average in their rushing percentage up the middle and also well above average in their run percentage off the right tackle.
Saquon Barkley is one of the hardest players to tackle in the NFL. Very rarely does a defender tackle Saquon Barkley in a one-on-one, open field situation. Barkley is a professional ankle-breaker. For this reason, the Giants would be wise to run the ball outside and get Saquon out in space. Shurmur preferred to shove Barkley down the middle of the defenses’ throats. In 2020, the Giants will run the ball outside more often. This will lead to a breakout season from Saquon Barkley.