Saquon Barkley is expected to make his long-awaited return on Monday Night Football against the Buccaneers. Many fantasy football managers are hoping to get solid returns on a player they drafted in the first round. What can we expect from Barkley in Week 11? Is he a must-start RB in fantasy?
Saquon Barkley’s injury history is, at minimum, concerning
Deemed a generational talent coming out of Penn State University, the No. 2 overall pick in 2018 was a can’t-miss prospect with 99th-percentile SPARQ results. We all know this, and it bears repeating: Saquon’s talent has never been in doubt. When fully healthy, he can rival any fantasy RB.
Remember, as a rookie, Barkley rushed for 1,307 yards while catching 91 balls for 721 receiving yards. He also found the end zone 15 times. Nothing inherently has changed. That remains his ceiling.
Except . . . we might never know for sure. A high ankle sprain in 2019 led to three missed games. An ACL tear in 2020 kept him out for 14. And another ankle injury this year has sidelined him since early in Week 5. Barkley’s yards per carry since the start of 2020 has been abysmal (3.1), while his pass-catching role has dipped to just under 3 catches per game during that stretch.
How much of this regression is due to injuries and getting reacclimated to NFL action, and how much of it goes beyond the injuries? I believe it has more to do with the former. The old Barkley has occasionally flashed this season. Give him a full slate of games in December and early January, and he should return to greatness as long as his health holds up.
Is Barkley a must-start RB in Week 11?
Barkley is facing three obstacles in Week 11. The first is clear: will he suffer a setback? That’s always a higher-than-normal risk with Barkley. So his floor is lower than most starting RBs’ floors.
The second obstacle is that the opposing Buccaneers are No. 2 in the league against the run, giving up 3.7 yards per carry and only 6 rushing touchdowns. As a result, opposing teams have run on the Bucs only 193 times this year — the second-lowest total in the NFL. Can Saquon fight through this defense and be the high-impact player fantasy managers need?
The third obstacle is Devontae Booker, who’s questionable with a hip injury. The Giants’ backup RB has played increasingly well since taking over for Barkley in the middle of Week 5, culminating in two impressive performances in Weeks 8 and 9. The Giants might opt to ease Barkley back into the offense, knowing Booker can pick up the slack. This would be a disastrous fantasy development for managers who need volume from Barkley to be successful in Tampa Bay.
Assuming both Barkley and Booker are active Monday night, I would advise managers to set realistic expectations for Barkley: a top 12-16 ceiling, a likely top 24-28 performance, and an RB5 floor. The hope is that he doesn’t get re-injured and can gradually return to his former RB1 self by December.