On the day Saquon Barkley sprained his right ankle, he stood on crutches in a locker room in Tampa and vowed two things: He said he would come back quickly, and he said he would come back “10 times better.” It is a promise he has repeated at least one other time in the three weeks since the injury.
It looks like he is on the verge of delivering on the first part, as he is expected to be available for Sunday’s game against the Cardinals. But that second part, the “10 times better” that seemed like a throwaway line . . . Is it even possible?
As crazy as it sounds, the Giants think so. And if anyone can do it, No. 26 is the guy. He’s already defied the timeline for his high ankle sprain. Why not defy reality?
“I don’t know what that would look like, honestly,” center Jon Halapio said, “but it would be very scary.”
Obviously Barkley can’t produce 10 times the yards and receptions and dazzling plays that have already made him one of the league’s most exciting players and the reigning offensive rookie of the year. There just aren’t enough plays in any given game. But maybe there is a new level that Barkley will be able to bring with him when he gets back on the field. So far in his young career we haven’t seen Angry Saquon, Something-to-Prove Saquon, Making-Up-For-Lost-Time Saquon.
That player is about to be unleashed on the league.
“He’s been special since Day One and coming back from this, he’s champing at the bit a little bit,” tight end Evan Engram said. “When you miss time, you just miss it so much when you come back it adds that extra juice. I know he’s going to be better and he’s going to have a little edge to him.”
Engram said he knows a little bit about what that looks like. He said he and Barkley have gotten into some arguments about college football, each of them defending their former conference, the Big Ten and the SEC, as the best.
“I've seen him get worked up, but I think this will be a good worked up,” Engram said. “It's good for us to have him mad at everybody else."
Guard Will Hernandez said he believes Barkley will be better upon his return.
“He’s kind of like a caged lion,” Hernandez said. “When you cage them up and you don’t feed them, they get antsy, and as soon as you let them out of that cage they go crazy and they eat more than they would have had they not been caged in the first place. Saquon feels like he wants to be out there, he wants to play, but he can’t. But the minute he gets a chance to run free he’s going to take advantage of it and he’s going to make it worth watching for everybody.”
Barkley came into the season with a number of goals he wanted to accomplish. Fullback Eli Penny said that from his conversations with Barkley, those goals remain unchanged despite his having missed three-and-a-half games. The actual goals remain a secret, but one can imagine that 2,000 total yards and possibly 1,000 yards both rushing and receiving are on the list. It will take some doing, but those could still be in play. Leading the Giants to the postseason is one of the goals that Barkley has openly declared. That, too, could still happen.
And now there is a new goal. The 10 times better bar.
“He’s a young player still, so every time he comes out here, he has an opportunity to get better,” Pat Shurmur said of the 22-year-old captain.
Shurmur had not heard Barkley’s desire to improve exponentially, but said he was happy to know about them when they were pointed out.
“When you hear a player talking about trying to get better, and better by a large margin, I think that’s great,” he said.
It still seems impossible. Barkley was already one of the top players in the NFL when he got injured. There is only so much a player can improve, right?
Doubt him all you want.
“I hope he comes back 10 times better,” Hernandez said. “That would be cool to see, fun to see.”
For the Giants, anyway. For the rest of the league? It could be a terrifying sight.