Leading up to the 2018 NFL Draft, Dave Gettleman, who at the time was the Giants’ general manager, referred to running back Saquon Barkley through an otherworldly prism. “He was touched by the hand of God, frankly,” said Gettleman.
“He’s a gold jacket guy,” the veteran football mind gushed, alluding to the ceremonial article of clothing awarded to Pro Football Hall of Fame inductees. Many talent evaluators also saw Barkley, then coming off of a sensational junior season at Penn State, as a transcendent talent.
The Giants selected Barkley with the No. 2 overall pick in 2018, and in his first season he made Gettleman look like a gridiron prophet. He had the second most rushing yards in the league (1,307), the most scrimmage yards (2,028), 11 touchdowns, tied Odell Beckham Jr. for the most catches (91) by a rookie in franchise history, set several more Giants and league records, and won Offensive Rookie of the Years honors.
After a strong sophomore campaign, in which he rushed for 1,003 yards and had 52 receptions in 13 games, he tore the ACL in his right knee in Week 2 of the 2020 season and returned last season to play 13 games but wasn’t the same dynamic game breaker the Giants had in his first two years. There were reports this past winter the Giants were considering trading Barkley, who is in the final year of his five-year rookie contract, after hiring new general manager Joe Schoen and head coach Brian Daboll.
There is uncertainty if Barkley will remain with the team beyond this season and if he can recapture his form as one of football’s best offensive players. Early in training camp he has impressed Daboll, who is an NFL head coach for the first time after serving as the Buffalo Bills’ offensive coordinator from 2018 through last season.
“He looks explosive,” said Daboll on Tuesday via the Giants website. “You know, he hit one yesterday and got out into the open field. I don’t know what his GPS numbers were, but it was high. He was moving pretty good. He’s explosive. He’s quick. He’s strong. He looks good to me.”
Although it is a long established cliche, Barkley is taking the mental approach of one day at a time. “I know what I am capable of doing and I know the talent that I have,” said the 25-year-old Bronx-born product this past weekend.
“The way I look at life is if I take care of the little things and take it day by day, the rest will take care of itself and control what I can control. In the last couple of years, a lot of things have been out of my control, specifically injuries, just some freak accidents…For me, I can’t look too far into the future, I can’t get caught up in, ‘Oh when I get back this is what I am going to do…’”
With many new pieces to the Giants’ offensive line, including tackle Evan Neal, the No. 7 overall selection out of Alabama in April’s draft, Barkley will have to operate early in the season behind a group still gelling. But by Week 1, when the Giants open up against the Titans in Tennessee on Sept. 11, he will be two years removed from his ACL injury and perhaps primed to reclaim a spot among the sport’s top backs.