How Saquon Barkley reminded everyone in NFL (the NY Giants, too) of just how good he can be
EAST RUTHERFORD – Saquon Barkley loves competition. He lives for it, actually, and the Giants’ running back seeks out that thill everywhere from the football field and the golf course to the locker room and a game night with friends.
He once played Hall of Fame running back Curtis Martin in chess and openly talked about how upset he was with the loss the former Patriots and Jets star put on him. Former Giants teammate Grant Haley recalled a time when he did not speak with Barkley, his good friend and co-captain at Penn State, for two entire days after they got into a heated debate over a game of cards on a College Game Night in a group of other friends.
So did the presence of another star back like Derrick Henry in the same stadium during Sunday’s 21-20 Giants victory provide inspiration for Barkley to, in a sense, out-perform him?
“I’m very competitive, so at the end of the day, I guess probably a little bit,” said Barkley, who finished with 194 yards from scrimmage, including 164 yards on the ground. The Giants held Henry to 82 yards on 21 carries. “But the reality is, I’m not playing Derrick Henry. I have nothing but respect for him. He’s a heck of a player, one of the best players in the league. It’s not like just competing against him. I’m not looking to see what my numbers are, his numbers. It’s more like, you’re peeking a little bit more.”
Barkley reminded everyone of just how good of a player he can be Sunday, and the motivation of being the “other” running back on the field continues this week with Christian McCaffrey on the opposite sideline when the Giants meet the Carolina Panthers at MetLife Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
Is Saquon Barkley finally back?
The last two years have been spent on solving the quandary of whether Barkley could ever get back on the track of his rookie season when he was electric on the way to winning the 2018 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award.
High ankle sprain. Torn anterior cruciate ligament. The fluke of suffering a grapefruit-sized sprained ankle when he stepped on the foot of a defender. Everything that could go wrong – well, seemingly it did.
But something is different with Barkley right now. The 25-year-old is healthy and confident, and he’s been carrying himself with the swagger of a player who believes he is capable of the excellence once promised of his game.
Sunday’s performance was not just about Barkley’s heroics – he sparked the offense with a 68-yard jaunt, his longest run since 2019, and then scored the decisive points on the conversion flip from Daniel Jones with 66 seconds remaining. But the way he ran against the Titans stood out: powerful and determined, flashing the top end speed lacking from his game the last two years as he searched for an extra gear on the way back from injury.
“Well, he’s a really good player. I’ve said that since I got here and watched him take care of his business both on and off the field,” Giants coach Brian Daboll said. “And I don’t think there’s many runs that you – he looks good in a lot of different runs. And our job up front and on the perimeter is to get a hat on these guys, and it doesn’t have to be for a sustained amount of time usually because he is quick and explosive through the hole. But he ran hard like he has all camp. Mike and (Offensive Line Coach) Bobby (Johnson), (Assistant Offensive Line Coach) Tony Sparano (Jr.), (Tight Ends Coach Andy Bischoff) Bisch, (Running Backs Coach) Deandre Smith – those guys work hard and try to come up and develop a run-scheme each week. And that’s different week to week based on who we play and matchups, and that’s what we need to be. And Saquon just has to trust the blocking and run the way he knows how to run.”
Barkley once shared the story from his college days of how he cherished a duel with Cowboys star Ezekiel Elliott, then at Ohio State, in what many consider the former’s breakout game for Penn State, albeit in a loss. They were not competing solely about yardage or touchdowns, and who got the victory, but the highlights that came in that performance: specifically, their rare ability to hurdle defenders.
“The Iowa [hurdle] one got a lot of attention, but I had one against Ohio State my freshman year that was pretty dope,” Barkley told NorthJersey.com and USA TODAY Network in a 2018 interview. “The defender barely went down, he was kinda standing up, and I went over the top. The play was after Zeke [Elliott] did it, too, so that was cool. Zeke did one, I think it was on the previous series – he had a pretty good game – and then the next series I did it. We were going against each other a little bit, and I remember he took notice. We had some fun with it.”
Barkley has always loved watching the best of the best running backs to glean tips to hone his own skill and better his game: from Hall of Famers of the past via YouTube clips (Barry Sanders, Eric Dickerson, Walter Payton and Adrian Peterson) and those of his generation (McCaffrey, Henry and Dalvin Cook), he’s always sought an edge with how he plays on the field.
Barkley did not just look the part of someone who belonged Sunday. He looked even better than the Saquon Barkley who lit up the league in what seems like forever ago.
“From my view of Saquon all day, my reaction was, ‘Man, that’s a damn good back right there,'” Giants rookie right tackle Evan Neal told NorthJersey.com and USA TODAY Network. “And I just wanted to do everything I can to create the holes for him, create running lanes for him, that way he doesn’t have to do so much on his own.”
Barkley is playing for a new deal, the value of which for a running back is viewed as high risk, given the physical and fiscal toll of the position. Whether that’s here with the Giants or somewhere else is to be determined.
There will always be the debate over whether Barkley was the right pick, the positional value of running backs being what it is. In the three seasons since his celebrated rookie year, the Giants have done a lot of losing, with and without Barkley. The urgency to put everything together is obvious, and that showed up big time in Nashville.
The massive chip that resides on Barkley’s shoulder now: proving he can still measure up to the best at the position in today’s NFL. He outplayed Henry – thanks in part to the Giants’ defense, of course – and the goal is to give the audience Sunday something to talk about, especially with McCaffrey looking to do the same.
“Keep trusting that process made me be able to go out there and not even think about [injuries],” Barkley said. “I knew we were going to have a great game and we were going to make some plays. It was just when the timing was right. It wasn’t really just a mindset change, it’s going out there and just believing in myself, trusting myself and letting my God-given ability show.”
This content was originally published here.