Less than an hour after Penn State running back Saquon Barkley was drafted by the Giants and USC quarterback Sam Darnold was selected by the Jets, the two ran into one another at AT&T Stadium.
“I was taking a picture with my family, and as I was walking over here to do radio and media, we walked right by each other,” Barkley said. “I said, ‘Congratulations. See you in New York.’ And we said we look forward to playing each other.”
It was a symbolic moment that wasn’t lost on the two young players, who will be counted on heavily to resurrect their teams’ offenses and bring them back to respectability.
Barkley and Darnold will be inextricably linked, and their careers will be scrutinized like few others. With both teams in the rare position of having top-five picks the same year, the comparisons are sure to continue.
Though they play different positions, their places in Giants and Jets history will be important markers of where the teams will be in the not too distant future.
The Giants hope Barkley can immediately revive the running game and take some of the pressure off 37-year-old Eli Manning, who might be the biggest beneficiary of Dave Gettleman’s first pick as the Giants’ general manager. Manning not only gets a big-time running back but doesn’t have to worry about competing for his job with a rookie quarterback.
Gettleman clearly considered Barkley a safer bet than any of this year’s quarterbacks, a clear indication that he didn’t view the class as worthy of a gold Hall of Fame jacket.
That decision turned out to be important for the Jets, because with the Giants passing on a quarterback, it gave general manager Mike Maccagnan a shot at a passer who was considered the safest prospect at his position this year.
Maccagnan made a brilliant move last month by trading up from No. 6 to No. 3, and he was rewarded by getting Darnold, who many scouts believed was worthy of the first overall pick. The Browns also helped the Jets by taking a gamble on Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield with the No. 1 overall pick.
The Jets were enamored of Mayfield and might well have taken him with the third pick if Darnold had been off the board. The Jets also were interested in UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen, who went to the Cardinals at No. 10 after Arizona traded up with the Raiders to take him. But with Darnold available, there was little doubt that Maccagnan had scored big by putting the Jets in position to get him.
Darnold has the luxury of learning from Josh McCown, one of the best leaders in the game. McCown is more than willing to share the secrets of the trade with a player he realizes is the Jets’ future.
Darnold certainly is mindful of the long history of frustration for a franchise whose only Super Bowl win occurred in January 1969, nearly a half-century ago. But the only way he knows how to approach his new challenge is by tuning out the noise and tuning into his playbook.
“I’m just going to continue to work how I usually do,” he said. “I believe that good things are going to come out of that.”
He said he looks forward to working with new offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates, known as a quarterback whisperer.
“I’m going to go out there and work hard and make no excuses,” Darnold said.
He also looks forward to watching his new friend succeed.
“Saquon’s a great guy,” Darnold said. “It was really cool to be able to meet him and hang out with him.”
Saquon and Sam — forever linked in New York football.