In Greek mythology, Enceladus was a giant, the offspring of Uranus (Sky) and Gaia (Earth), who fought against Olympian gods. In the NFL, quarterbacks are also mythologized, held up as all-important conquering figures. So tonight at the league’s annual Draft, being held at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, the literal Giants, the New York football Giants, should further demystify the perception of quarterbacks by selecting Bronx-born running back Saquon Barkley with the No. 2 overall pick if he remains on the board after the Cleveland Browns make the first selection.
Barkley, who starred at Penn State, is considered by a plethora of NFL general managers, coaches and talent evaluators as the best player in the draft regardless of position. The running back position has been devalued in recent years as the offensive side of the sport has shifted from being run-oriented to pass-centric.
A plausible argument made by those opposed to the Giants or any team drafting a potentially great running back ahead of a potentially good, not even great quarterback with a high pick is first and foremost, quarterbacks have a much longer span of performing at a high level than running backs. The pounding backs endure makes them past their prime by age 28.
Starting quarterbacks in many cases are productive well into their 30s and beyond, evidenced by the ongoing success of the New England Patriots’ Tom Brady, 40, the New Orleans Saints’ Drew Brees, 39, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger,36, and the Los Angeles Chargers’ Phillip Rivers, also 36. All four ranked in the top five in passing yards last season. Conversely, the Buffalo Bills’ LeSean “Shady” McCoy was the only running back older than 28 ranked in the top 10 in rushing.
Furthermore, unlike quarterbacks, elite running backs can be found well past the first round. Brady, a sixth-round pick, is the rare exception. The NFL’s leading rusher in 2017, rookie Kareem Hunt of the Kansas City Chiefs was a third-round pick and the 86th player chosen. Offensive Rookie-of-the-Year Alvin Kamara, a running back for the Saints, was also a third-round selection.
Yet Barkley possesses the physical and cerebral gifts to be a transcendent player and future Hall-of-Famer. Despite an emphasis on throwing the ball, a strong running game is still a vital aspect of a championship contender. The Super Bowl-winning Philadelphia Eagles were third in the league in rushing and the runner-up Patriots 10th. The Jacksonville Jaguars, who lost to the Patriots in the AFC championship game, led the NFL.
Over the past two seasons the Giants have been ranked 29th (2016) and 26th (2017). Barkley and an improved offensive line will dramatically elevate their standing, alleviating the overly heavy burden placed on quarterback Eli Manning. Drafting a QB at No. 2 guarantees nothing. Although the 37-year-old quarterback Manning is near the end of his career, there are no assurances his long-term replacement can be secured in this draft. Perhaps he’s already on the roster in last year’s No. 3 pick, Davis Webb.
If Barkley is available at No. 2, he is the draft’s best player and should be a Giant.