Saquon Barkley’s fantasy outlook and projection for 2021

Saquon Barkley's fantasy outlook depends on his resilience from a torn ACL -- can he outpace his current ADP and be the No. 1 RB in fantasy?

Saquon Barkley is on track to be ready for the start of the 2021 season. The Giants running back broke the heart of fantasy football managers when he suffered a torn ACL in Week 2 against the Bears. He missed the remainder of the 2020 season and underwent successful surgery last October. The great news is that Barkley had almost an entire year to recover from the injury. However, a catastrophic injury makes Barkley’s fantasy outlook more difficult to project — we’ll unveil his ADP to see how others perceive the situation.

Saquon Barkley’s fantasy outlook for 2021

New York’s offense was a dumpster fire without Barkley. New York’s running game operated with a committee of Devonta Freeman, Wayne Gallman, Dion Lewis, and Alfred Morris. Quarterback Daniel Jones had a promising rookie campaign in 2019 but struggled mightily last season. He turned the football over 30 times and only averaged 15.8 fantasy points per game.

The Giants averaged a dismal 299.6 total offensive yards per game in 2020, 31st in the NFL. Can Barkley and the Giants bounce back in 2021? This article will examine that question and more.

The Giants’ offense is anxiously awaiting the return of Barkley. New York finished the season ranked 26th in both rushing attempts and rushing touchdowns. Barkley dealt with injuries the last two years, enduring a high ankle sprain in 2019 and the ACL in 2020. The former only slightly derailed Barkley’s season but didn’t end it.

Two things will motivate him in 2021. The first is that Barkley wants to prove he’s dependable. The second is that he would like to put together a statistically great season to have more leverage this offseason. He will likely sign a career-defining extension before entering the last year of his contract.

Do the Giants have an offensive line crisis?

Did the Giants make a mistake by not addressing the offensive line in this year’s NFL Draft? The short answer is no. Please allow me to elaborate. The unit was surprisingly a fairly strong run-blocking unit. Yet, the Giants did allow a great deal of pressure when pass blocking last year.

It’s important to examine their opponents. In the first half of the season, the Giants faced defenses who consistently pressured the quarterback. This included four games against division rivals in the Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Football Team.

The Giants’ schedule lightened up the second half of the season with favorable matchups against teams such as the Bengals, Seahawks, and Cowboys. New York likes to run a high number of play-action passes. The return of a legitimate threat like Barkley in the backfield will allow the Giants to do that efficiently.

Another element that is not discussed is that the Giants addressed the offensive line during the 2020 NFL Draft. Andrew Thomas, Matt Peart, and Shane Lemieux all played a high number of snaps. The Giants also had a first-time center in Nick Gates. The offensive line was trying to gel as a unit and learn a new scheme. That’s challenging even for veteran NFL players.

The offensive line will be more unified in 2021 under the current scheme. Moreover, Barkley’s return will alleviate some pressure and further Jones’ development as a quarterback.

Skill-position upgrades

The success or failure of the Giants offensively won’t solely depend on Barkley. New York has added weapons such as wide receiver Kenny Golladay in free agency and Swiss army knife Kadarius Toney in the draft. Both will help keep defenses honest and not stack the box.

It will also be critical for Giants offensive coordinator Jason Garrett to step up in 2021. He’s been provided all the playmakers any offensive coach could desire. Garrett has the tools to cause migraines for opposing defensive coordinators.

The Giants had the most success last season when they leaned heavily on the running game. Garrett’s offenses in Dallas were always balanced. That’s a mantra he should embody in New York. Barkley is the engine that can propel the Giants’ offense to the next level if he can stay healthy.

Saquon Barkley’s fantasy projection

It’s important to examine Barkley’s past briefly before discussing his 2021 projection. He was selected No. 2 overall in the 2018 NFL Draft out of Penn State. The former Nittany Lion finished as an RB2 or better in 81% of his 31 career games, including 18 RB1 performances. Barkley has averaged 22.6 opportunities, 115 total yards, and 21 PPR fantasy points per game.

Barkley became the first player in Giants history to rush for at least 1,000 or more yards in each of his first two seasons. Were you aware that Barkley, Christian McCaffrey, and Alvin Kamara are the only NFL players who exceeded 1,000 rushing and 1,000 receiving yards from 2018 to 2019?

Barkley is one of the top running backs in the NFL when active. Freeman, Gallman, and Lewis are no longer with the Giants. That is 294 unaccounted rushing attempts entering the 2021 season. Running backs Devontae Booker, Corey Clement, Gary Brightwell, and Ryquell Armstead will compete for backup roles.

Barkley hasn’t dealt with any setbacks, but ESPN’s Jordan Raanan suggested that the Giants could limit his workload early in the season. Still, Barkley’s floor is around 340 touches, with the potential of receiving even more.

Barkley is in an excellent position to average 110 total yards per game. He’s unlikely to approach 2,000 total yards, but 1,700 is not unrealistic. Barkley can be viewed as an elite RB1, with Dalvin Cook and McCaffrey the only running backs I’d draft ahead of him.

Saquon Barkley’s ADP in fantasy drafts

You’ll need a top-10 pick to land Barkley when you review ADP data from Fleaflicker. This trend is also similar in pay-to-play fantasy formats such as the National Fantasy Championship. Barkley has an ADP of 9.28 as the RB7 overall. In half PPR formats on Sleeper, people appear more bullish on Barkley, with an ADP of 5.8.

Should you draft Saquon Barkley in 2021 at this ADP?

Barkley will presumably meet or exceed your expectations relative to his price. Very few running backs in the NFL are provided the type of opportunity share he’s projected to see. Some view Barkley as a boom-or-bust player this year due to durability concerns and the possibility of either missing a game or two or a limited workload early in the season. Yet, you shouldn’t hesitate to select him.

Barkley rushed for at least 100 yards in 11 games. He has 4 rushing touchdowns of at least 65 yards from 2018 to 2019 — Derrick Henry is second with 3. Barkley also has 9 runs of 50+ yards, which is 4 more than anyone else over that span.

If you are on the clock and Barkley is available, don’t allow him to slip to another manager in your league.

Eric Moody is a Senior Fantasy Analyst for Pro Football Network and a member of the FSWA (Fantasy Sports Writers Association). He is also the co-host of the In The Mood for Fantasy Football podcast. You can read more of his work here and follow Eric on Twitter @EricNMoody.