ATLANTA — Saquon Barkley had one of the best rookie seasons in Giants history and one of the best by a running back in franchise lore. On Saturday night, he was recognized as the best in the NFL in 2018.
Barkley was named the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year and the FedEx Ground NFL Player of the Year at the NFL Honors awards show from the Fox Theater.
He led the NFL with 2,028 yards from scrimmage and set the franchise rookie record for rushing yards (1,307, second-most in the NFL). He had 91 receptions, tying Odell Beckham Jr. for the franchise rookie record and breaking Reggie Bush’s record for a rookie running back.
“It’s crazy to win this award,” Barkley said. “You dream about stuff like this when you are a little kid.”
With Curtis Martin, Barry Sanders and Adrian Peterson — some of Barkley’s childhood idols at running back — in the crowd, along with all-time greats such as Jim Brown and Franco Harris, the 22-year-old strode to the stage in a white-jacketed tuxedo to accept the first award of the night as Offensive Rookie of the Year (presented to him by Beckham). After a lifetime of cheering for them, for the first time in his life, Barkley was cheered by them all at the same time.
“You definitely get nervous up there,” he said of being on the stage and seeing those familiar faces and sitting near Sanders and Martin. “All the great players, the legends, a lot of those guys won this award. For my name to be underneath this and win this award and accomplish this with the help of my teammates and the Giants, it’s really big.”
The FedEx Ground award, given to the top running back in the entire NFL, was more of a surprise. Ezekiel Elliott ran for more yards and Todd Gurley carried his team to the Super Bowl, but winning that honor might be a bigger deal for Barkley than the rookie award.
Rookie of the Year came down to Barkley and Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield, and Barkley said he wished they had been named co-winners. Mayfield and Barkley were chosen first and second overall in last year’s draft.
Barkley became the third Giant to win a rookie of the year honor, following Lawrence Taylor (1981) and Beckham (2014).
Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes was named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player and Offensive Player of the Year after his first year starting at the position and second year in the league.
Aaron Donald of the Rams was named Defensive Player of the Year the night before he plays in Super Bowl LIII.
Chris Long of the Eagles was named the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year (Giants safety Michael Thomas and Jets offensive lineman Kelvin Beachum were the two local nominees).
The Giants have the sixth overall pick in the upcoming draft, so whomever they select will have to follow in Barkley’s rookie footsteps. Barkley offered advice to that player.
“It’s very simple,” he said. “Come in here with your head down and just roll with it.”