With the NFL season, as of right now, scheduled to start on time despite the pandemic-stricken offseason, that would mean we are less than 100 days away from the New York Giants‘ week one Monday night matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Giants are expected by many to undergo yet another underwhelming season when you combine the shortened offseason with the fact that the Giants are entering year one with an almost entirely new coaching staff plus the difficult schedule they have.
However, if Big Blue is going to break out and surprise people, they will need a monster year from their best player: Saquon Barkley. The 2018 second overall pick has been nothing short of dynamic on the field despite having a poor offensive line blocking for him. His rookie season was phenomenal as he ran for 1307 yards and 11 touchdowns on 261 carries while adding 721 receiving yards and 4 touchdowns on 91 receptions. Saquon totaled over 2000 yards from scrimmage en route to winning Offensive Rookie of the Year and making the Pro Bowl.
Even last year, where he battled a high ankle sprain throughout the season that cost him three games and played in an offense lacking major weapons around him after the Odell Beckham trade, Saquon still was able to get over 1000 rushing yards, and six touchdowns on 217 carries with 438 receiving yards and 2 touchdowns on 52 receptions.
But if the Giants want to be competitive and even fight for a playoff spot, then year three is going to have to be a monster year for Saquon. Fortunately, there are a number of factors that could help his chances of doing just that.
First and most importantly, the Giants have significantly improved their offensive line. They drafted their left tackle of the present and future in Andrew Thomas, as he should step in and start clearing holes for Saquon immediately. Thomas will also hopefully make things easier for Will Hernandez, who will return as the left guard with Kevin Zeitler at right guard. They also drafted another tackle in Matt Peart two rounds later, who the Giants are hoping will be able to start on the right side for years to come once he develops a little more. As for right now, he can compete for the starting right tackle spot with Nate Solder and free-agent signing Cameron Fleming, who is a solid veteran tackle.
The center position is still a little iffy, but the Giants will have versatile third-year lineman Nick Gates and this year’s fifth-round pick Shane Lemieux compete for the starting job along with Spencer Pulley and maybe Jon Halapio depending on his health. They could also take a flier on an experienced free agent like Justin Britt. Regardless of who wins the center job, the Giants have a substantially better offensive line from top to bottom with better depth as well in case people get hurt. That is the most important thing that needed to happen in order for Saquon to have a big year, so it’s good to see the Giants finally address the unit seriously.
The offense Saquon will be playing in also bodes well for his chances of success. New offensive coordinator Jason Garrett had an “Air Coryell” type of offense in Dallas that used a power running scheme to complement a deep passing attack. Parts of this offense will most likely be incorporated into the Giants game plan, which means Saquon won’t see a loaded box from the defense as frequently as he did under Pat Shurmur.
Shurmur ran more of a West Coast-style offense, which focused less on the deep ball and more on short or intermediate throws. This made the offense more predictable and virtually eliminated any big-play opportunity that the defense had to worry about, which in turn allowed them to stack the line of scrimmage more frequently and be in an optimal position to contain Saquon.
Hopefully, the offense Garrett brings will be a more versatile one that will heighten the big-play opportunities in the passing game and keep opposing defenses guessing. This will give Saquon much more room to work with, which could allow him to shatter his previous production over the past two seasons.
Lastly, having a mobile quarterback is another huge boost for Saquon. When Eli Manning was under center, defenses knew right away that he wasn’t a threat to take off and use his legs, so they were able to focus more on Saquon (I still love you, Eli). Daniel Jones, on the other hand, is a big threat in the running game. Last season he ran the ball 45 times for 2 touchdowns and nearly 300 yards, and Garrett will definitely look to tap into that aspect of Jones’ game more. Having a quarterback like Jones who possesses good speed and mobility is essential in today’s NFL and adds another dimension to the Giants offense that could work in Saquon’s favor with read-option type plays.
So all in all, there are a lot of reasons to be excited about Saquon’s level of productivity this season and beyond. With an improved offensive line, a more favorable system, a mobile quarterback, and being fully recovered from his high ankle sprain, the sky is the limit. If all works out, Saquon could very well put up the kind of numbers that would place him firmly in the MVP discussion.