About the only knock anyone has when it comes to selecting Saquon Barkley with a high draft pick on Thursday night is his position.
Running backs, they say, are not worth that level of investment. Running backs, they say, do not last long in the NFL. Running backs, they say, will give you a few years of production before fizzling out and falling apart and approaching the dreaded age of 30 before you know it.
To which the Giants’ 31-year-old running back entering his 11th NFL season scoffs.
“I guess that’s a cliche,” Jonathan Stewart told Newsday on Wednesday before taking the field with his new team for practice in a voluntary minicamp. “It’s from the perspective of outsiders that it’s uncommon. But you have to do uncommon things to be uncommon.”
That’s a word that is often attached by scouts to Barkley, the Penn State running back who figures to be heavily in the mix when the Giants are on the clock with the No. 2 pick on Thursday night. Unique, uncommon, different, special, all of them.
But Stewart is a testament that a long career as an NFL running back doesn’t have to be the football equivalent of a solar eclipse. In fact, Stewart’s draft class in 2008 featured 10 running backs taken in the first three rounds, and five of them lasted a decade in the league. Of the five running backs selected in the first round, three lasted 10 years.
“It’s definitely manageable,” Stewart said. “It just depends on who the person is, whether it’s a running back or a tight end or an offensive lineman. If those guys are determined to play and have the mental focus to stay with certain things — because there are going to be injuries, there are going to be things that happen that don’t go your way — if you stay focused and get your job done and be a team guy, you can have a long career.”
Stewart said that when he came into the league as the 13th overall pick in 2008, he heard the same kinds of things in terms of durability. At the time, he said, 10 years was his “magic number.” Now he’s preparing for number 11.
“I achieved that and so now I’ll keep going,” Stewart said. “It means a lot. The longevity is a blessing. It’s a testament to staying on top of my body. God blessed me with opportunities to stay healthy and have people around me who help get me to where I’m at.”
Stewart has rushed for 7,318 yards and 51 touchdowns on 1,699 carries (4.3 average) in 131 NFL games with Carolina. He also caught 162 passes for 1,295 yards and seven TDs.
Stewart said he is excited about the possibility of the Giants drafting Barkley, calling him a “tremendous talent.”
“I think he can help this team,” Stewart said. “He can help any team at the end of the day.”
If Barkley comes to the Giants, he won’t have to look far for advice about or an example of a long career. Stewart will be in the room with him every step of his rookie season and is looking forward to sharing his insights. He’ll also be around to potentially help lighten the workload on Barkley early on, something Stewart points to as having helped him by splitting playing time with DeAngelo Williams for all those years in Carolina. Wayne Gallman, a second-year running back, also would be in the rotation.
Ultimately, it likely will be Stewart’s mentorship that is most valuable to Barkley if he becomes a Giant.
“I have 11 years of experience and definitely have a different outlook on how to take care of your body, who to listen to and who not to listen to,” Stewart said.
If Barkley listens, perhaps he’ll be getting ready to play in the 2028 NFL season one day.
A look at the running backs selected in the first three rounds of the 2008 NFL Draft
PLAYER, ROUND/PICK, SEASONS PLAYED
Darren McFadden, 1/4, 10*
Jonathan Stewart, 1/13, 10
Felix Jones, 1/22, 6
Rashard Mendenhall, 1/23, 6
Chris Johnson, 1/24, 10
Matt Forte, 2/44, 10*
Ray Rice, 2/55, 6
Kevin Smith, 3/64, 5
Jamaal Charles, 3/73, 10
Steve Slaton, 3/89, 5
*- Retired this offseason