One thing Saquon Barkley has been missing through the first 18 games of his young career has been somebody to share it with. Not the football part. He’s got 10 teammates on the field with him for every snap, guys who are getting him the ball. He’s not literally alone out there.
What he hasn’t had is a partner with whom to look ahead and work toward a future. Together.
Every handoff Barkley has taken in the NFL has been from a quarterback who had already made that journey to the top with others, who is 16 years older than him, and whose career always had a much more imminent sell-by date stamped onto it than his own.
On Sunday, that changes.
This game against the Bucs isn’t just about Daniel Jones making his debut as an NFL starter. That would be exciting enough for a team that finally gets to see its sixth-overall pick in action. But this also is about Jones and Barkley, born four months apart, making their initial appearance together. The team’s two top picks from the past two drafts will be on the field in a game at the same time for the first time.
Think about that. It never happened in the preseason, and it didn’t happen during Jones’ late cameo in Week 1 against Dallas. It hardly even happened in training camp practices, when Barkley worked with the first-teamers and Jones with the second unit.
Welcome to the era of the new New York Giants.
Barkley downplayed the event on Thursday when he spoke to reporters for the first time since Jones was named the starting quarterback in place of Eli Manning.
“I guess you could say it’s the future,” he said, “but I’m just more excited for him getting out there and playing in the NFL.”
And to finally have what many of his contemporaries in the NFL have, no doubt. Look around the league at the elite running backs and the one thing most have in common is a young, up-and-coming quarterback in the backfield with them. Usually it is one who was drafted by the team to be paired with him. Ezekiel Elliott has Dak Prescott in Dallas, selected in the same draft class. The Rams’ Todd Gurley has Jared Goff, drafted one year apart. Nick Chubb has Baker Mayfield in Cleveland, each drafted last year.
Now Barkley has Jones.
And, perhaps most important to his early development, Jones has Barkley.
The running back has been and will remain the centerpiece of the offense.
“I think we’ll keep the main thing the main thing,” said Barkley (who is, by the way, the main thing).
Jones, though, should change the dynamic of the offense if not the philosophy and the scheme. His ability to run out of the pocket and either throw or dash for positive yardage will help open things up in all areas of the offense, including for Barkley. The threat of Jones keeping the ball on a run-pass option play should make defenses less willing to commit to the running back.
“I’ll just try to be as much help to him with as much as I’ve learned in my first year and what I’ve learned from being back there with Eli,” Barkley said. “He’s been doing a great job at practice. Commanding the huddle and doing a great job of seeing the field. I’m just excited for him to go out there and get a chance to play in the NFL for once.”
The Giants have had back-to-back top 10 picks only a couple of times. Sometimes they work, like when they picked Phil Simms (seventh overall) and Lawrence Taylor (second) during a string of three straight high selections from 1979 to 1981. Or when they took Terry Kinard (10th) and Carl Banks (third) in 1983 and 1984. Those were the building blocks of championship teams. Sometimes they don’t work out, such as when they took Ereck Flowers (ninth) and Eli Apple (10th) in 2015 and 2016.
This is the first time since the 1970 merger, though, that the Giants have had back-to-back top-six picks in the draft. Both play on the same side of the ball, too. And both will play on Sunday.
“We understand there’s no need to panic, but we understand that we’re 0-2 and we have to get things going and get things rolling,” Barkley said. “Why not start it this week?”
Why not, indeed.