There are several analysts that are predicting a regression in New York Giants’ running back Saquon Barkley‘s production next year. After all, he set the league aflame during his rookie campaign, thus earning him Rookie of the Year.
He was such a standout that opposing team’s coaches will likely look for how to adjust their game to his prowess. This means that defenses this season will focus more on stopping the Giants’ run game in 2019 than in years past. Yet, if you dive in deeper than this, you’ll see that these analysts might not have it right. There are several reasons why Barkley will have an equally impressive second year.
New York Giants’ Improved Offensive Line
The offensive line’s performance last season began inconsistently at best. An offensive line with increased production will help Barkley be successful. Offensive tackle Nate Solder took various games to gel into the offense, while starters Ereck Flowers and Patrick Omameh were gutted before the midpoint of the season. While the offensive line improved after changes were made and injuries occurred, Barkley consistently performed throughout the season, rushing for over 1300 yards and receiving over 700.
This offseason, the New York Giants traded for guard Kevin Zeitler and signed free agent tackle Mike Remmers. Zeitler was Pro Football Focus’s No. 1 ranked offensive guard in pass protection last season and will be plugged into the starting lineup at right guard. Remmers struggled at guard last season, however by shifting back to his natural position at tackle, he should provide consistent play. With the offensive line revamped and drastically improved, Barkley will have more opportunities to run all over the field. As I mentioned two weeks ago, the offensive line will likely determine the success of the offense as a whole in 2019. At least Barkley will have more to work with this year.
Odell Beckham Jr.’s Absence
With the departure of star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., the offense will revolve completely around Barkley. While many are concerned with how defenses will stuff the run game to prevent Barkley from successfully running the ball, he proved last season he can be an effective pass catcher as well. According to Pro Football Reference, Barkley had a 75% completion rate in the receiving game. Furthermore, the New York Giants still have receivers Sterling Shepard, newcomer Golden Tate, and tight end Evan Engram to prevent defenses from focusing solely on Barkley. He will remain primarily a running back, but do not be surprised if his usage as a receiver becomes more balanced as with his rushes.
Saquon Barkley finished 2nd in receptions and 3rd in targets among RBs – and despite the high volume, still was the league's 4th-highest RB in terms of receiving grade last year pic.twitter.com/It2kwo8F6T
— PFF (@PFF) May 2, 2019
Giants’ head coach Pat Shurmur was hired in the same offseason in which Barkley was drafted. As a result, the entire offense had to learn a new playbook. Ask any football player, and they’ll tell you about the adjustment period they go through whenever the team changes schemes. By having a year of experience under Shurmur’s scheme, the offense as a whole will provide more consistency. Barkley, in particular, will benefit from having a year of route running under his belt.
Barkley was able to execute consistently under a struggling offensive line in 2018 both in the run game and in receiving. If the New York Giants miraculously make the playoffs in 2019, look for Barkley to be in the conversation for league MVP. Experts and fans alike will be keeping an eye to see if Barkley can join the 1000 yard receiving/1000 yard rushing club, becoming just the third NFL player to ever achieve the milestone. While Barkley will have a mountain to climb to reach the feat, the Giants will push him towards it one game at a time.
Oscar Lora is a writer for PFN covering the New York Giants. You can follow him @OscarRLora on Twitter.