It’s not his running. It’s not his pass catching. It’s not his blocking.
Of all the things Giants running back Saquon Barkley has done so well in his rookie season, it’s not the physical requirements of his position he prides himself on the most. It’s something far more important.
“I would say leadership,” Barkley said Wednesday, a day after learning he’d been voted to the Pro Bowl in his first NFL season. “I’m proud of [that] the most. I felt more comfortable speaking and leading at this point than the beginning of the year.”
By any statistical measure, Barkley has produced a remarkable debut season. He’s third in the NFL with 1,155 rushing yards (the first Giants rookie to rush for over 1,000 yards) and has nine rushing touchdowns. His 82 catches are second among running backs, and he has 654 receiving yards and four touchdown catches.
But Barkley also has come through on the intangibles front, something scouts raved about in the pre-draft process and what the Giants also loved about him. While they didn’t come away with a franchise quarterback as a potential replacement for Eli Manning, they did land a big-time running back with Hall of Fame potential.
The fact that he already has become an unquestioned team leader so early in his career is a bonus. But Barkley acknowledged that he first had to show he belonged before demonstrating he was worth listening to in the huddle.
“You have to prove yourself, prove to my teammates that I’m a guy that’s willing to lead,” he said. “Don’t come in here with a cocky attitude, you’re the second pick, you’re this, you’re that. That earns nothing. You’re just like everybody else. You have to work and prove yourself. That’s the mindset I had and that’s the mindset that I’ll continue to have.”
Not surprisingly, Barkley will take that kind of can-do attitude into the final two games of the season – even though the Giants were officially eliminated from playoff contention after last week’s 17-0 home loss to the Titans. There is no shutting things down the rest of the season to save the wear and tear on future years.
“Obviously, I don’t want my workload to decrease,” he said. “I know people probably think that, because we’re eliminated from the playoffs, but I don’t see if that way at all. We have two games left in our season. The guys on the team, the guys you work your tails off with all year to get to this point, you have to go out there and continue to fight for yourself and your teammates.”
That said, Barkley conceded he doesn’t “feel 100 percent. No one feels 100 percent at this point. That’s the nature of the game and the position I play. Any position in football at this stage of the season, you’re going to feel a little banged up. But you have to grind it out and continue to stick with your routine and try to come out Sunday and be the best you can be.”
As Barkley prepares to face a vastly improved Colts team, one that has been buoyed by the play of rookie middle linebacker Darius Leonard, he does so with the Giants’ best interests in mind.
“If that’s 10 carries, or if that’s 40 touches,” he said.
No hitting that proverbial rookie wall for Barkley, who has crashed through it. If it was even there at all.
“I feel like I never got to that wall,” he said. “Or maybe I did. I can see why, the wear and tear on your body, you’re just not used to playing 17 weeks, as opposed to playing 12-13 weeks in college.”
The bigger adjustment has nothing to do with the physical challenges of playing in the NFL.
“Just understanding the game as a whole, seeing the game differently,” he said. “The game is slowing down a lot more in the run game and the pass game. Hopefully I can continue to get better with that the last two weeks.”
There’s no reason to believe that won’t happen. And not just for the next two weeks.
More like the next 10 years.