There are all kinds of numbers and statistics to illustrate how well Saquon Barkley is playing.
It’s been only three games, of course, but he does lead the league in all-purpose yards, is among the top backs in rushing yardage and is on a pace that could put him within striking distance of the franchise records in both categories.
The GPS tells us his speed is as fast as it ever has been, with those gadgets routinely clocking him at upward of 20 mph. The fancy NextGen data tells us he leads all NFL running backs in RYOE (rushing yards over expected) to show how elusive he has been.
None of it matters, though.
Because all one needs to do to realize Barkley is having a special season — the kind that could rival his splashy debut as Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2018, the sort that can erase all of the negativity that his numerous injuries wrought, the type that could propel him to a lucrative mega-contract either here or with another NFL team in the offseason — is simply watch him play.
That’s what he does.
“Not to be arrogant, but when I went back and watched film on the touchdown run I had on Monday, making that jump cut inside a hole and making those two guys miss and finding a way to score, those are the plays where it kind of puts a smile on your face,” Barkley said of his 36-yard scoring dash against Dallas. “And you’re like: ‘That’s the guy I know!’ ”
It’s a guy, Barkley said, who has always been there even as he looked like a shell of himself for most of his first season back from a torn ACL.
“He was there last year, to be completely honest,” Barkley said. “I just had a hard time finding a way to bring him out. That was from a mental disconnect. I lost confidence. It’s human nature, that happens. You’re going to have your ups and downs in life, but you got to find a way not to waver and continue to trust yourself, continue to trust the process and just find belief in yourself again. I feel like I’m starting to do that.”
The Giants clearly believe in him as he has become the undisputed focus of their offense.
“We’re capable of producing a lot more in the passing game and using that to our advantage, but we’ve also got Saquon Barkley and a good running attack,” quarterback Daniel Jones said. “His skillset gives us these opportunities to get him in space and allow him to make plays, make guys miss. He’s show a lot of ability to do that, so we’ll continue to work through it and use him in those situations as best we can.”
A big step in that pursuit of the Old Saquon occurred, ironically enough, where his troubles began. Last season the Giants played the Bears in Chicago in Week 17 and Barkley returned to Soldier Field, the site of his knee injury. In the six games before that contest, he averaged 44 rushing yards. On that cold January day, he ran for 102.
The Giants lost, 29-3, but it was a turning point for Barkley.
“Obviously, it’s all about the team,” he said, “but looking at it from my mindset, to go to that place, that kind of put everything in the past for me and I was able to go into the offseason healthy. I still was able to show glimpses of that, especially inside running. I just wasn’t breaking long runs. Now that I’ve got my confidence back, all that stuff is starting to happen again.”
On Sunday, he’ll face those Bears again, this time at MetLife Stadium.
This time with even more confidence.
Barkley said he is not surprised by the production he has been able to give the Giants this season. Once he took the field in OTAs in the spring and again in training camp in the summer, he knew right away that his physical abilities were comparable to the ones with which he was armed coming into the league.
He also added something to his game that he didn’t have in 2018.
“I would say I’m probably a smarter player,” he said. “I have a better understanding of the game. Your rookie year is when you come in in the best shape of your life. You’re 21, you’re young, I hadn’t had any injuries in the past or anything like that. I probably was in better physical hape than I am now. But just slowing down the game . . . … I don’t see myself doing anything different, I just have a better understanding.”
That touchdown against the Cowboys made it clear, too.
It was a play the Giants had run earlier in the game. Barkley gained 6 yards on the handoff but was angry at himself for allowing safety Malik Hooker to tackle him. When that play was called again, he knew what he had to do.
So did everyone else in the huddle, including Daniel Jones.
“To be honest, before that play, DJ was like, ‘I know you missed it before, hit that [expletive],’ ” Barkley said with an embarrassed smile over repeating the language.
There was nothing to be embarrassed about this time.
“I hit it and we scored,” he said. “It’s just little stuff like that that is coming back.”
The guy we know is back, too.