There are times when Saquon Barkley sounds ridiculous.
The running back talks about how things are going to turn around for the Giants, how better results are in front of both him and the organization, and it’s almost as if he is too blind to see what is happening right now. The Giants are mired in losing, on the verge of establishing a new franchise record for consecutive failures, and Barkley’s production — whether or not it's the cause or effect of the won-loss funk — is nowhere near where it was when he splashed into the league as a rookie last season.
But there are two words that he might be able to rely on as he heads into this offseason and all of the transition that is sure to accompany it, two words that lend credence to his claims that the Giants can pull off a quick about-face and go from the NFL’s afterthoughts to its championship contenders.
Those two words are Todd and Gurley.
That’s the name of the running back for the Rams whose first two seasons in the NFL were fairly similar to those of Barkley’s. And he’s the running back whose three years since that rocky start have been marked with successes on both the individual and team fronts.
“They turned it around, right?” Barkley said the other day when asked about the trajectory of Gurley’s career and the Rams in general. “That’s why I keep preaching believing. Keep coming into work every single day, because I’ve got to keep preaching to you guys, keep preaching to the team, that this thing will turn around.”
Barkley said he has not reached out to Gurley to discuss their similar lots.
“I know I can, I know he’ll definitely give me great advice,” Barkley said. “I’m not really looking for it.”
What he could use is some evidence to back his unrelenting optimism, some concrete to add to his abstract argument. Consider Gurley’s career to be Exhibit 30.
In 2015, Gurley’s rookie season, he ran for 1,106 yards, averaged 4.6 yards per carry, and scored 10 touchdowns for a team that went 7-9. The next year he saw a significant dip in his production with just 885 rushing yards and 3.2 yards per carry while scoring six touchdowns. The Rams went 4-12, seven of those losses coming with rookie Jared Goff at quarterback.
Barkley? He ran for 1,307 yards and scored 15 total touchdowns in 2018 when he was rookie of the year and the Giants were 5-11. This year he heads into Week 15 against the Dolphins with just 610 rushing yards, averaging 4.0 yards per carry as opposed to 5.0 last season, and he has scored just three total touchdowns. The Giants are 2-11, and 10 of their games have been started by rookie quarterback Daniel Jones.
Back to Gurley. In 2017, everything changed. Goff improved dramatically. The Rams brought in a new coach. Gurley rebounded with 1,305 rushing yards and 19 total touchdowns. And the team won its division with an 11-5 record. In 2018 they went to the Super Bowl after finishing 13-3. Gurley scored 21 total touchdowns and ran for 1,251 yards in just 14 games.
Is the same turnaround in store for the Giants? It certainly seems like they will have a new coach next season, and they will have their young quarterback return for his second NFL season. And they will have Barkley.
Makes him sound less ridiculous, right?
The Giants have been compared to many teams in recent years. They tried to go with the “Kansas City model” when they drafted Jones and kept Eli Manning to tutor him for a year. That plan changed into something closer to what the Browns did last year, making the early change to a rookie quarterback and catching fire. It lasted two games in September. Since then the Giants have been the worst team in football. Maybe that’s a little bit too much like the Browns. And they are constantly being compared against their own history, a conundrum that has been easier to make with Manning on the roster to embody the successes of the recent past.
But perhaps the Rams offer the best blueprint for the Giants, with the way they drafted and the way they built. The way they have won.
And for Barkley, the best role model to point to might be Gurley.
The two are different types of runners, and Barkley most assuredly wants to avoid the injuries that have crept up on Gurley over the past year or so.
“I don’t want to just be a great running back for two to three years, I want to be a great running back for 10 years plus,” Barkley said this week. But the arcs of their early careers suffered to similarly sour tones. Perhaps the second phases of them can enjoy similar successes.
If Barkley catches up with Gurley this offseason, maybe they’ll talk about that. If Barkley decides to reach out to his L.A. counterpart, perhaps he’ll ask how Gurley fought through two years of losing and a drastic dip in production to emerge with a team that was transformed into a perennial contender. Or he could just know that it’s possible and take comfort and hope from that.
“Obviously, it’s not going the way we’d like it,” Barkley said of this Giants season. “But just because it’s not going the way you’d like it, and you’re facing adversity, doesn’t mean you’ve got to change your ways or should succumb to, I guess, the losing culture. We’re not having that, we’re not going to do that.
“When it does work, it’s going to work and it’s going to work for a very long time.”
It did across the country. Maybe it will here too.