Saquon Barkley’s Best Ball Fantasy Outlook: Can He Return to the Top of Fantasy Football Rankings?

Should Best Ball drafters target RB Saquon Barkley early in 2024 drafts even though he's expected to play for a new team this year?

Former New York Giants RB Saquon Barkley hasn’t posted a truly elite RB1 season outside of his rookie year. Now a member of the Philadelphia Eagles, does the massive upgrade in offensive make Barkley someone fantasy football managers should be targeting in Best Ball drafts?

Saquon Barkley’s 2024 Fantasy Outlook

It’s not exactly a shock to know that Barkley’s rookie year is going to end up being his best. What is a shock is that he never really had another season where he got close.

Barkley averaged 24.0 fantasy points per game as a rookie, finishing as the overall RB3. While he’s put together three more top-12 seasons since then, his 18.8 points per game in 2019 was the closest he ever came to reaching those same heights.

To be fair, Barkley has had a bit of a bumpy ride. His 2020 season was essentially lost due to a torn ACL in Week 2. In 2021, he was very clearly hampered by the injury and averaged just 11.4 fantasy points per game.

Fully healthy in 2022, Barkley rebounded nicely. But while his 17.8 fantasy points per game were great, it still paled in comparison to the expectations set by his rookie year. He was an RB1, yes. But he was not an elite RB1.

Last year, Barkley really couldn’t have found himself in a worse situation. The volume was still there. His 84% opportunity share was second in the league. In 14 games, Barkley touched the ball 288 times. However, Barkley’s efficiency cratered.

He averaged just 3.9 yards per carry. Although he saw a healthy 15.3% target share, his 1.1 yards per route run was just 27th among running backs.

I still believe Barkley to be a gifted running back. But there’s no real way to spin 2.94 yards created per touch, 46th in the league, and a 14.6% evaded-tackles-per-touch rate, 48th in the league, into anything positive. He was very clearly not the same dynamic player we’ve come to expect.

Should You Draft Barkley in 2024 Best Ball Leagues?

Barkley is now 27 years old. He likely only has another 2-3 quality years left, if that. There’s a very real chance that 2024 is one of his last opportunities to put together a legendary season.

Fortunately, Barkley is now away from New York. He now joins an Eagles offense that has been one of the best in the league during Jalen Hurts‘ tenure as starting quarterback.

Barkley wanted to get paid, and rightfully so. It was serendipitous that he was able to not only get a lucrative contract but secure it with a team where he could actually win. With that said, the Eagles aren’t necessarily the best landing spot for his fantasy value.

One of the main draws of running backs experiencing offensive upgrades is touchdown upside. It doesn’t matter how talented the back is, the lead running back on a great offense will always be more likely to score touchdowns than the lead running back on a bad offense.

The Eagles have scored 46 and 57 touchdowns in each of the past two seasons, respectively. The Giants scored 25 and 38 in those same years. That alone is a boost to Barkley’s touchdown potential.

The bad news is Barkley isn’t getting any carries from the one-yard line. As powerful as Barkley is, the Eagles will have no reason to deviate from the most effective play at gaining a single yard in NFL history, the Tush Push.

Last season, Hurts had a whopping 11 one-yard rushing touchdowns. Fantasy managers considering drafting Barkley can only consider what might be. If those carries were going to Barkley, he would have an upside of overall RB1. But they won’t. As a result, Barkley’s touchdown upside probably caps out around 12-14.

Sure, Barkley should be more efficient on the ground. Last year, D’Andre Swift averaged 4.6 yards per carry. Barkley should be able to return to somewhere between the 4.6 and 5.0 yards per carry he averaged in his first two seasons. The problem is that doesn’t really move the needle for fantasy purposes.

If we take Barkley’s 2023 volume and efficiency and tack on an extra yard per carry, that would add 1.7 points per game. No one would complain about 17.6 fantasy points per game. But, again, those are not elite RB1 numbers. Plus, we’re presuming a significant spike in efficiency, which is no guarantee.

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We also must account for a likely reduction in target share. Swift, who is arguably at least a slightly better pass-catcher than Barkley, only saw a 10% target share. It’s entirely possible Barkley’s target share falls into the single digits. Even if he’s more efficient on his touches, that loss of volume would far outweigh any increase in efficiency, both on the ground and through the air.

Ultimately, Barkley is still worthy of being one of the first eight running backs off the board. If he’s the best player available when you’re on the clock, don’t hesitate to make the pick. I just wouldn’t take him over any of the top 7-8 wide receivers.

As we look ahead to the 2024 fantasy football season, why not start preparing for your rookie drafts with our dynasty rookie rankings? Additionally, as you look to improve your team heading into 2024, our dynasty trade calculator can help you find the perfect deal to boost your championship chances.

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