Saquon Barkley already is proving to be a terrific NFL running back, and nothing about his first six games suggests selecting him high in the draft was a fool’s errand.
What is up for debate is why he ended up with the Giants.
A team that clearly was in need of a quarterback after warning signs emerged last year about Eli Manning’s capability as a big-time starter was so smitten with Barkley that it could not pass him up.
But as the first six games have shown, the Giants -- a team with problems at quarterback, on the offensive line and the defense -- are simply wasting Barkley’s talents. At 1-5, the Giants are a complete mess, with Barkley the only thing worth watching.
Right player, wrong team.
General manager Dave Gettleman was so convinced that Barkley would be the right pick at No. 2 overall that he didn’t give serious thought to drafting any of the four top quarterbacks available in the draft. He welcomed second-guessers who suggested the Giants would be better off drafting Manning’s heir apparent, never once thinking the worst-case scenario would emerge six weeks into the season.
It’s no longer a second-guess that he should have drafted a quarterback. It’s a no-brainer.
Baker Mayfield (Browns), Sam Darnold (Jets), Josh Rosen (Cardinals) and Josh Allen (Bills) are all showing promising signs of developing into capable starters now that they are all playing. And while it’s obviously too soon to anoint any of them as Hall of Fame-worthy, it isn’t too soon to see that the Giants already are paying the price for not taking care of the No. 1 priority for any NFL franchise: having the right quarterback.
Manning has produced the greatest career of any quarterback in Giants history, and his two Super Bowl MVP awards can never be forgotten or diminished. But at age 37 and playing behind a woefully built offensive line supplied by Gettleman, he’s a sitting duck out there.
The Eagles took the Giants’ offense apart in Thursday night’s 34-13 win, and Manning didn’t stand a chance. He was under duress for much of the game, unable to deal with the Eagles’ pass rush. Even when he did have time, he was off target on many of his throws – starting with his first-quarter interception that set up the Eagles’ first touchdown.
Manning is one of the fiercest competitors you’ll ever see, and his determination to keep playing at a high enough level to win certainly is admirable. But with a season that is virtually over just weeks after it began, this team will be all about finding the next quarterback.
The Giants certainly will get a look at Kyle Lauletta, their fourth-round pick out of Richmond, at some point this season. But unless Lauletta turns into the next Tom Brady, the Giants will have to find a long-term replacement for Manning through next year’s draft.
And that makes Barkley’s situation all the more problematic. NFL running backs – even the great ones – have a much shorter shelf life than players at other positions. And with the decreased reliance on the position in today’s NFL, investing longer term in running backs can be a risky proposition. Just look at the Steelers, who are unwilling to commit to Le’Veon Bell.
Barkley is the only thing working consistently on the Giants’ offense, but even that might not continue if defensive coordinators devote more resources to stop him without fear of Manning burning opponents.
Barkley has been electrifyingly good and was terrific in gaining more than 200 total yards against the Eagles. He scored the Giants’ only touchdown on a 50-yard run. He set up a field goal by turning a screen pass into a 55-yard gain. He accounted for 10 points on his own; the rest of the team produced three points. That’s certainly not a formula for success, and the Giants already are paying for it with a 1-5 record for the second consecutive season.
The Giants hope to get the most out of Barkley on his first NFL contract, but this almost certainly will be a wasted year unless there is a turnaround. And based on what we’ve seen, there is simply no evidence that a turnaround can or will take place.
If the Giants end up drafting a quarterback next year, that means there will be more growing pains on offense, even if Barkley continues to shine. By the time a young quarterback is ready to be a functional starter, it could be 2020 – the next-to-last year of Barkley’s rookie contract. The Giants have a fifth-year option on him, but the idea is to make the most out of him before he goes on the free-agent market and demands the kind of prohibitively expensive contract that Bell is seeking now.
Giants fans who go back to the post-Phil Simms era will recall the days of Dave Brown, Kent Graham and Danny Kanell, none of whom became a top-flight quarterback. Tailback Rodney Hampton was the best thing about that offense, but the Giants wasted his prime years and made the misguided decision to match the 49ers’ offer sheet in 1996 on a six-year, $16.5-million contract. Hampton played only 17 more games for the Giants on that deal before injuries forced his retirement.
The best-case scenario is that Barkley can stick around long enough for the next quarterback to flourish. Then again, the Giants might already have had their next quarterback by now had they made the more prudent decision on draft day.
Instead, it’s the Jets who found their quarterback.