New York Giants must avoid becoming the Detroit Lions of the ’90s (PFN Film Room)

At the turn of the century, the Detroit Lions had the best running back in football. That was all they had. Likewise, the 2019 New York Giants have isolated their talented running back, Saquon Barkley. With 12 picks in the upcoming draft, the Giants must provide Barkley with some support. If they don’t, they risk the same fate as the 1999 Detroit Lions.

At 21 years of age, Saquon Barkley would go on to win Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2018. His 2,028 yards from scrimmage led the entire NFL and set a new league record for scrimmage yards gained by a rookie in a single season. He’d also catch more passes than any first-year running back in the history of the league. Despite the rookie’s success, the New York Giants would lose 11 games.

Saquon Barkley: Rushing

The phrase “generational talent” is often overused. I’m talking about a dominant presence week in and week out. In 2018, Barkley rushed for 100 or more yards seven times. He’d gain 100 or more yards from scrimmage in 13 of 16 weeks and would score in all but five games. Having said this, we know football is the ultimate team sport. Take week six for instance. The Giants would lose by three touchdowns to the Philadelphia Eagles.

Barkley would perform several jaw-dropping highlights during this match-up. His 130 yards rushing would be the second most of his rookie campaign. Furthermore, he’d carry the ball just 13 times that day leading to a double-digit average. Unfortunately, half of the Giants games would end with Barkley receiving less than 15 carries. This was directly linked to the team’s success, and the offense was routinely playing from behind. Barkley would need to catch passes to get his hands on the football.

Saquon Barkley: Receiving

Barkley would be targeted 12 times in this game. With nine receptions for 99 yards, Barkley’s 229 all-purpose yards couldn’t keep things close. This sort of thing continued throughout the season. In five wins, Barkley would average 20.4 carries per game. Compare that to the losses where he’d average six fewer carries (14.5). Of course, during the games where Barkley ran the ball less, he’d receive an increase in targets and pass production. Barkley’s reception totals nearly doubled when the team lost.

A “generational talent”

But, that isn’t why he’s on the field. He’s a running back. Pay the man to run the football. And boy, can he run with the football.

NFL fans have seen some great players over the past 50 years. With that said, labeling someone as “generational” is up for dispute. It’s not like Barkley is doing things not seen before, right?

The way Barkley can shift, cut and elude defenders has been seen before. Does this negate the title of generational talent? First of all, a generation is considered to be 20-30 years or so. Have we seen as gifted a runner in that time? Yes, the previous video was quite reminiscent of one player in particular.

Barry Sanders

The Detroit Lions selected Barry Sanders with the 3rd overall pick in the 1989 draft. Barkley, himself, was also a top 3 selection. Another commonality is that Sanders was awarded the Offensive Rookie of the Year in ’89. Sanders would join a team that won 24 games in the previous five seasons. Over the next decade, the Lions would benefit considerably by adding the running back. Between 1989-1999, the Lions would win two division titles and play beyond week 17 six times. While they would never play in a Super Bowl, the 90s proved to be the franchise’s most successful era. Talk about generational talent.

During the Super Bowl era, Detroit’s football franchise had made the playoffs three times before drafting Sanders. Since his retirement, they’ve returned just four times. That’s seven appearances in 43 seasons — all losses. Sanders not only took the Lions to the playoffs in five of his ten seasons but was conducive to the 1991 Divisional Round victory. This was the franchise’s first playoff victory, and it would also be their last.

Wasting generational talent

Barry Sanders was, in fact, a generational talent. In the summer of 1999, Sanders would retire from the NFL having set 12 league records, but winning just one playoff game. A single postseason victory hardly seems the consolation for the career Sanders had. This is precisely the predicament which the 2019 New York Giants find themselves.

I’m not saying that Barkley is Sanders. What I am saying is that Barkley will have a similar impact for the Giants as Sanders had for the Lions. If general manager Dave Gettleman fails to surround Barkley with what’s necessary, I can see the Giants traveling down the same path as the Lions of the 90s. Talent like Barkley’s needs to be contending for Super Bowls. Anything less would be a shame.

The Giants current situation

The Giants front office is at a crossroads. The decisions they make in the next month or two will have everlasting repercussions. For the sake of Giants fans, I hope they go after franchise players at other positions instead of complementary pieces to the run game. Barkley needs to be the dessert, not the main course.

The Giants sent five of its players to the Pro Bowl in 2018. Two were on special teams, one was Barkley, and the other two are no longer on the roster. Remember elite receiver Odell Beckham Jr? He’s gone. The Giants are rebuilding. There’s no doubt about it.

With a little over $12.6 million in cap space, don’t expect the Giants to make any drastic free agent acquisitions. Besides, Gettleman has made it clear that he wants draft-capital instead of actual capital.

Draft Day

When you’re rebuilding, having three of the first 37 picks undoubtedly helps. Gettleman cannot afford to miss. Doing so would risk his job, the coaching staff’s future, and Barkley’s prime. After completing several simulated mocks, I’ve concluded the following players could be just what the Giants organization needs to relieve its gifted tailback.

Early 1st round selection: LB-Devin White (LSU)

Without a sure-fire franchise quarterback on the board, get a quarterback for your defense. While I’m not a fan of drafting potential, White needs some elite coaching to match his elite abilities. Once he can make football his full-time job, watch out! He’ll fit in beautifully with New York’s hybrid front.

Late 1st round selection: Edge-Clelin Ferrell (Clemson)

When the Giants traded defensive end Olivier Vernon to the Cleveland Browns, they lost their most effective pass rusher. They also saved $11.5 million against the cap. Ferrell is a three-down edge defender with excellent technical skills when rushing the quarterback. He’s highly productive in the run game as well.

2nd round selection: WR-Kelvin Harmon (NC State)

Again, the Giants need receiver help having traded away jersey salesman Odell Beckham Jr. With newly signed slot receiver Golden Tate, rookie Kelvin Harmon could handle outside the numbers with ease. His ability to beat defenders with strength, burst, and savvy will play into the NFL. Being able to high point lobs and make back shoulder catches will cause the receiver room to be whole again.


Barry Sanders abruptly retired before the 1999 season after the Lions went 5-11 in 1998. He was merely a year removed from being named the league’s most valuable player. Under the second coaching staff of his career, it was evident that changes were once again on the horizon. After 10 seasons, Sanders was arguably the best running back ever to play the game. The Lions failed him.

The Giants are getting a fresh start. Soon they’ll need a quarterback to replace Eli Manning. The 2019 draft selections need to make an immediate impact and the organizations vision, whatever it is, needs to come into focus. Hopefully, it doesn’t take them more time than Barkley can handle.

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