In my second installment regarding the Face of the Franchise Series, I’m going with a second rookie in two days, this one being Saquon Barkley. Lately, the Saquon Barkley Jersey has been flying off both live and online sports store shelves and there’s good reason as to why. The kid was one of the best athletes when he tore up collegiate defenses and he’s since carried his talents to the Big Apple and the New York media. Don’t look now, but Barkley is going to be this generation’s version of LaDanian Tomlinson.
Barkley was born in…you guessed it… The Bronx, idolizing former Jets’ running back Curtis Martin. He grew up a Jets fan and wished to someday play his professional game in New York. Well, he got the city right, but he ended up on the Giants, whom many across the NFL landscape are historically superior to the Jets.
He played high school ball in Whitehall Township, Pennsylvania, just up the street from where I sit writing this post. Despite his success in high school, Barkley was a mid-to-upper tier recruit coming out of high school, committing to Penn State after initially stating he’d play at Rutgers.
Barkley’s college career took off the second he received playing time as a true freshman, averaging 5.9 yards per carry with 1,076 rushing yards and 7 touchdowns, supplemented with 20 receptions. In his sophomore season, he amassed 1,496 rushing yards to go with 18 touchdowns. He also recorded 5 additional touchdowns off 28 receptions. He gained 1,271 rushing yards in his junior season to go with 54 receptions and 21 total touchdowns.
Barkley’s college career was obviously decorated with accomplishment. In 2017, he was a 6-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week, and a 2-time Big Ten Special Team’s Player of the Week. He won the Paul Hornug award, was a consensus and First Team All-American with six different sporting outlets, and was a 2-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year.
He also set five records at Penn State, including most rushing yards by a freshman and sophomore, most career rushing touchdowns, most total yards in a single game, and the first player to record a returning and passing touchdown in a single game. Yes, Barkley literally did it all.
Many believed Barkley would go first overall to the Cleveland Browns, but they opted to take the quarterback, Baker Mayfield, who went on to break several NFL rookie records himself. Barkley went second overall to the New York Giants and became the same force in the NFL as he was in college.
If not for Mayfield, Barkley would be a shoo-in for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, with both fans and experts believing he deserves the award. He gained 1,307 rushing yards off 261 carries, good for an average of 5 yards per carry and 11 touchdowns.
Yet even more impressive were his receiving skills. In his rookie year alone, Barkley recorded 91 receptions for 721 yards and four touchdowns.
Best yet, he never fumbled, not even once.
So, what are Barkley’s accomplishments?
He earned a spot in the Pro Bowl for his outstanding rookie season. He set New York Giants franchise records for most rushing touchdowns by a rookie, most rushing yards by a rookie, and most touchdowns in a season by a rookie.
He’s also setting NFL records. Such records include most 100+ yard games from scrimmage by a rookie with 12, most scrimmage yards by a rookie with 2,028 in which he also led the league in that category. He tied Randy Moss for most 50+ yard touchdown runs with five, and recorded the most receptions ever by a rookie running back with 91.
It’s safe to say Barkley is already starting to state his case for Canton, Ohio.
A (Not So) Dying Breed
In the early 2010s many sports analysts believed running back was a dying position, with teams opting instead for the back by committee approach rather than the use of a single featured back.
However, there’s been a surge of backs taken early in the NFL Draft, starting with Todd Gurley in 2015. Zeke Elliott and Leonard Fournette were both drafted 4th overall in 2016 and 2017, respectively, and finally there’s Barkley, who was taken at 2nd overall. It’s also appropriate to note Carolina Panthers’ running back Christian McCaffery was the eighth overall pick in 2017 as well.
With a renaissance in the running back position, especially the classic featured backs, Barkley has a chance to shine and continue to reinvigorate what was once thought to be a hopeless position.
Only time will tell, but Barkley and his fellow first rounders are proving the running back position is still alive and well.