Will Saquon Barkley’s return mean anything against the Buccaneers?

Saquon Barkley might return on Monday, but his advanced metrics suggest that he might not be of much help to the New York Giants.

The New York Giants might be 3-6, but they went into their Week 10 bye on a high note after a surprise win against the Las Vegas Raiders. On Monday [November 22], they hope for the return of star running back Saquon Barkley. Unfortunately, the advanced metrics suggest that Barkley isn’t the consistent threat New York needs.

Injuries have hurt Saquon Barkley’s production once again

Barkley had one of the better starts to his career in recent memory, totaling 2,028 yards from scrimmage, leading the NFL in that category and winning Offensive Rookie of the Year. Unfortunately, in the seasons since then, injuries have hampered him significantly.

A sprained ankle caused him to miss three games in 2019, and a torn ACL sidelined him for almost the entire 2020 season. This season, Barkley was bitten by the injury bug yet again and hasn’t played since he sprained his ankle against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 5.

As a result, Barkley’s production this year hasn’t been stellar. In total, he has rushed for 195 yards and 2 touchdowns.

Of course, it would be unfair to judge Barkley on those statistics alone. We need another method to properly evaluate his impact on New York’s offense during those first few games.

Barkley’s advanced metrics have been underwhelming during his career

With Barkley only playing a few games this year, we need a way to compensate for his lack of playing time. As such, let’s turn to the Offensive Value Metric (OVM). The OVM is a grading system created by the (Bx) Movement to evaluate players based on how much they contributed to the creation of their statistics, rather than the statistics themselves. For running backs, it is a measure of how impactful they are when running the ball.

Historically, the metric hasn’t been kind to Barkley. During his rookie season, Barkley earned a respectable, if unspectacular, 15.59. He followed that up with an 11.31 the following season.

Then, in his only complete game of 2020, Barkley earned a grade of -42.85, the third-worst OVM grade on record. That performance only isn’t more notable because it pales in comparison to the almost unimaginably terrible -184.26 Barkley earned back in 2019, the worst grade by a wide margin.

I won’t go into too much detail on these games, as I have done so more extensively in a previous article on the Giants and Barkley’s 5th-year option. Nonetheless, it’s safe to say that Barkley is no stranger to highly inefficient performances.

Barkley didn’t start this season well either

Moving on from his historical performances, the OVM didn’t grade Saquon Barkley well to start this season. Through his first four games, Barkley earned a grade of 4.09. That ranks 45th out of 51 running backs who have qualified for an overall grade this season.

In other words, when Barkley has played this season, he has been one of the league’s least effective rushers.

Looking at each of Barkley’s grades

For a more comprehensive examination of Barkley’s performance in 2021, let’s look at his grades from each game he played, which you can see in the chart below.

OVM Grade
Week 1 -3.53
Week 2 7.4
Week 3 0
Week 4 11.17

Barkley clearly struggled with consistency early this season. His grades varied dramatically from week to week. His grade in Week 1 was in the negatives, suggesting that he actively hurt his team’s chances of success. In that game, Barkley didn’t face eight or more defenders in the box on a single snap. However, he didn’t use that space well.

He ran 6.15 yards for each yard he gained on the field, making him Week 1’s least efficient runner. And all that dancing around didn’t help him gain yards, as he only averaged 2.6 yards per carry, the lowest of the week. According to the NFL’s projections, that number was .66 yards lower than it should have been.

Compare that to Barkley’s best performance in Week 4. 11.17 isn’t a standout grade, but it is a substantial improvement. He saw 8+ defenders in the box on a relatively high 30.77% of his carries and actually performed better in most other categories.

It would be a stretch to call him efficient, as he still ran 3.85 yards for each yard he gained and averaged 4 yards per carry, which was only 0.2 yards higher than expected. Those numbers are, at best, simply mediocre. But if Barkley could match them each week, he would be one of the NFL’s more efficient running backs.

Unfortunately, his lack of great games combined with some truly impotent performances is why his overall grade is currently the lowest of his career.

Barkley’s receiving abilities

There is one factor working in Barkley’s favor that many other running backs don’t — his abilities as a receiver. As I said earlier, a running back’s OVM grade is purely a measure of how effective they are at running the ball. Their receiving statistics are not included in the calculations. As such, let’s take a brief look at Barkley’s performance in this area.

His overall box score through five games looks decent, totaling 14 passes for 130 yards and a touchdown. However, most of those statistics came in Week 4, when he caught 5 passes for 74 yards and a touchdown.

The rest of his games aren’t nearly so impressive. Take Week 1, for instance, when he was targeted 3 times and caught 1 pass for 1 yard — not exactly elite production.

Still, Barkley is undeniably more capable out of the backfield than almost any other running back. You’d just like to see him be a more consistent threat.

Can Barkley help engineer another upset?

Barkley is an incredibly versatile player who is capable of making explosive plays. Unfortunately, he also tends to be one of the NFL’s least efficient players. It is difficult to imagine that his return will help the Giants, particularly against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who allow just 79.8 rushing yards per game.

But, who knows? The last few weeks have been full of upsets, and both New York and Tampa Bay have played parts in them. And if the Giants are going to pull off another upset, some big plays from Barkley will be crucial to their success. Given his history, though, it’s tough to be optimistic.

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