Saquon Barkley officially became a Giant on Thursday night when he was selected with the second overall pick in the NFL Draft.
But it actually was about a month ago that the team made up its mind about the Penn State running back. In late March, general manager Dave Gettleman, badgered by the coaching staff and scouts, finally sat down to watch tape of the kid everyone was buzzing about.
“I don’t know who it was against, but he breaks into the secondary and he’s got two linebackers there and a safety coming there and he strung together three moves,” Gettleman said Thursday night, still shaking his head in disbelief. “He just took it to the house. I had to go back a number of times and say to myself, ‘I know I wasn’t drinking.’ You get to that, you just watched it and you’ve seen all the other stuff, it’s like, ‘OK, put the clicker down and go to the next guy. We’re done.’ ”
After that, it was an easy pick. The Giants added a player they considered not only the best in this draft class but a running back for which they have no comparison.
“I haven’t seen a guy like this in a long time and I’ve been running around doing this for 30-plus years,” Gettleman said. “The kid is so unique because of his size and his speed . . . He’s got the feet and speed of a little guy with the power and speed of a big guy. That’s what makes him so different. He’s unique.
“He was touched by the hand of God, frankly.”
The Giants picked Barkley with one of the few benefits that came from last year’s miserable 3-13 season: their highest draft pick since 1981. Back then, they selected Lawrence Taylor and changed the course of the franchise. It’s not hyperbole to say that the Giants expect the same kind of impact from Barkley.
Saquon the Savior?
That’s the plan. The Giants hope he’ll be the missing piece in an offense that now includes five first-round picks in prominent positions — Barkley, Odell Beckham Jr., Evan Engram, Nate Solder and Eli Manning — not to mention former second-rounder Sterling Shepard and a retooled offensive line.
The Giants likely are not done building that last component, either. With three picks in the second and third rounds on Friday, they’ll have a good shot at adding a starting player up front.
Looking and listening back, it’s clear that Barkley was the Giants’ pick all along. He checked all of their boxes.
At the NFL Combine in early March, Pat Shurmur said he needed a running back who could catch the ball out of the backfield. That’s Barkley’s best trait. At the league meetings later in March, Gettleman raved about Barkley after having watched that tape. And last week, Gettleman said Barkley was “one of those guys that my mother could have scouted. She could have figured that one out.”
About the only thing that seemed to separate the Giants and Barkley leading up to the pick was the possibility of a trade. The Giants received calls for their choice after the Browns took Baker Mayfield with the first overall selection, but none of the offers was as enticing as having the do-everything Barkley in the Giants’ backfield.
“We had such a strong conviction on Saquon,” Gettleman said, “that at the end of the day, the only reason that pick wasn’t in with 9:58 [left on the 10-minute clock allotted to the Giants] was because we had to wait until the five-minute mark.”
Quarterbacks? The Giants had their choice of Sam Darnold, Josh Allen and Josh Rosen but passed on the passers, even while knowing (and hoping) that the organization might not be in possession of such a lofty pick to select a franchise quarterback for many years. It was the latest and most important vote of confidence that the team has given to Manning this offseason.
“If you have to try to make yourself fall in love with a player, it’s wrong,” Gettleman said. “You will never be happy with the pick . . . You shouldn’t have to talk yourself into a guy. If you are talking yourself into a guy, you’re making a mistake.”
No one had to talk the Giants into Barkley.
“If you think about it, this kid makes our quarterback better,” Gettleman said. “He makes our wide receivers better, he makes our O-line better, he makes our defense better.”
When the Giants called to tell him they were taking him, Barkley made a vow. “I promise you guys I won’t let you down,” he said.
To which Shurmur said: “We know that. That’s why we picked you.”
The Barkley File
College: Penn State
Heisman Voting: Fourth in 2017