Saquon Barkley isn’t into chasing numbers. On Sunday, though, he’ll have one in his sights.
That’s the jersey he wants after the game. Not his own, but the one that comes off the back of Washington running back and future Hall of Famer Adrian Peterson.
“Yeah, I’m not going to lie,” Barkley said shyly on Thursday when asked about the opportunity. “That’ll be pretty cool if I was able to trade jerseys with Adrian, but you never know.”
It would become the centerpiece of Barkley’s growing collection. He’s swapped shirts with opposing players after every game so far this season; in his locker hang autographed jerseys from Ezekiel Elliot, Mohammed Sanu and Calais Campbell. They’re all established NFL stars, but they’re also contemporaries of Barkley. Peterson, he’s different.
Even the thought of being on the same field as Peterson had Barkley grinning.
“That’s a crazy, crazy statement to even think about,” he said. “Growing up, watching Adrian Peterson, big fan of his game. Even now, he’s still a special talent. He’s been doing it for so long. To be able to watch him play live is definitely going to be something that I’m excited to see.”
The feeling, it turns out, is mutual.
On the same day Barkley had stars in his eyes talking about Peterson, Peterson was heaping praise on Barkley.
“You can just see with the talent," Peterson told reporters. “It's obvious, him being a rookie and what he's accomplished so far. That doesn't happen every year or even two or three or four years [where] that type of talent comes around… From what I've seen so far he shows some God-given ability. Great patience, his lower-body strength and balance is amazing. He flows.”
Sunday will be the just the fifth time Peterson will play against the Giants and the first since he ran for 104 yards and a touchdown for the Vikings in a 49-17 win in 2015. But plenty of Giants who have seen Peterson in action in more recent seasons — both with him and against him — have attested to his greatness.
Giants defensive coordinator James Bettcher was with the Cardinals last year when Peterson joined them in the middle of the season.
“Great pro,” Bettcher said. “I remember he had just gotten with us and he comes over to me and he goes, ‘Coach Bettch, do you care if I get some scout team running back reps against you guys?’ I looked at him and went, ‘What are you talking about, Adrian?’ He goes, ‘No, no, I just want to get a few extra carries in practice, a little extra work.’ That will always stick with me, a guy that you would think doesn’t feel like he needs more, a guy that works.”
Giants head coach Pat Shurmur was an assistant in Minnesota during Peterson’s final season in purple.
“He is an explosive downhill runner, although I have seen watching the tape that they’re doing some flat path-type stuff where he’s running around the perimeter,” Shurmur said. “He’s a violent runner and there’s a reason he’s one of the best of all time. It looks to me like he’s playing at a high level.”
Peterson has 438 rushing yards and three touchdowns in six games this season, putting him on pace for the eighth 1,000-yard season of his career. At the age of 33.
In mid-August, Washington signed Peterson to a one-year contract for the veteran’s minimum of $1.105 million. (The Giants, of course, signed their own veteran running back in Jonathan Stewart during the offseason, giving him a two-year, $6.8 million deal. Stewart, 31, is on injured reserve but had six carries for 17 yards before he hurt his foot in Week 3.)
Washington coach Jay Gruden said the production he has gotten from Peterson has made him “ecstatic.”
“His toughness has been obviously well-talked about, we know he’s a tough guy, we know he’s a future Hall of Famer, but his work ethic has been outstanding,” Gruden said. “A great example for the young guys, and his production has been off the charts. He’s falling into our system, we’re trying a few different runs with him, and he’s learning them and doing them without any issues whatsoever.”
Sounds like he might have made a good teammate and mentor for Barkley. And a cheaper one, certainly, than Stewart.
Instead, the Giants will have to try to stop Peterson on Sunday. And Barkley? He’ll be watching closely trying to pick up whatever tips he can from the player many scouts say Barkley is the best young running back since.
“He just runs through anybody in his way,” Barkley said. “Hopefully, he doesn’t do that this week against our team. I guess you can say that I just love how aggressive he plays, or his aggressive nature that no matter if there’s 12 guys in front of him, he’s going to just try to plow them over. That’s something that I can continue to add to my game.”
And when it comes time after the game for the players to shake hands and exchange jerseys, expect Barkley to make some moves and perhaps even plow someone over to get the one he’s been thinking about all week.