One of the most dynamic playmakers in the game, it’s been tough sledding in recent seasons for New York Giants ball-carrier Saquon Barkley. Despite being a running back whose frame was sculpted out of sheet rock, 2022 has raised a banner of optimism toward recapturing his success from nearly a handful of seasons ago.
As the No. 2 overall pick in 2018, it didn’t take long for the former Penn State standout to place his neck on opposing defenses. More than 1,300 yards and 11 touchdowns in year one more than put the NFL on notice, yet the three campaigns that have followed his illustrious rookie campaign have muddied his future in the Big Apple.
For New York, it hasn’t been peaches and cream since the retirement of Eli Manning. Really, it’s been more like taking a sip out of the Hudson River. It’s been ugly, and 14 wins combined over the last trio of campaigns have cast an overwhelmingly dark shadow on the leadership and foundation of the Giants from top to bottom. While the days of Pat Shurmur and Joe Judge remain disgustingly fresh on the taste buds of Giants faithful near and far, the presence of Barkley has always provided a sense of confidence moving into the last few seasons. He had to be the face of the franchise, for better or worse. Despite the limited weaponry around him to take eyes off the backfield, substandard play from under center, and a lack of push from the trenches, the finger of blame has been pointed toward Barkley.
In spite of swirling rumors about his departure as early as next year—or sooner—the additions up front for New York should allow the electric running back to potentially return to rookie form, or better. It’s really a laughable narrative from a 10,000-foot view when considering current opinions on the Pro Bowl talent. No movement in the trenches, no holes for the running back to exploit? Barkley just doesn’t have it. Bad play under center allows teams to stack the box against the run? He’s lost his juice.
Yet, here we sit in mid-August a few short days away from the Giants’ preseason opener and Barkley has reportedly looked as good as he ever has during the first few weeks of camp.
This will be the best Offensive line that Saquon Barkley & Daniel Jones have EVER played behind.
Evan Neal = DAWGpic.twitter.com/L8gafzoKHJ
— Derek Brown (@DBro_FFB) August 6, 2022
A flashback to April’s draft saw the Giants add two elite-level prospects before round one was halfway over. Edge talent Kayvon Thibodeaux could progress into the class’ elite sack artist, but my attention—and Barkley’s—focuses on the No. 7 overall selection and former Alabama tackle Evan Neal.
A dominant man-mover who is built more in the mold of a tight end due to his extremely lean frame and outstanding athleticism in space, Neal’s arrival has inspired optimism when projecting the success of the Giants’ run game this fall. He’s expected to start opposite of third-year man Andrew Thomas—who improved in year two after a disappointing rookie year. Attention to the trenches is attention to the win column, and newly-minted general manager Joe Schoen is building the right way. Neal’s addition, and the similar additions of free agent Jon Feliciano and Mark Glowinski, is as much a protection plan to truly evaluate Daniel Jones as it is in providing a massive boost toward Barkley’s trust in the bodies up front to create rushing lanes early and often this year.
While Barkley isn’t perfect—his habit of breaking everything to the outside is something he’s worked on since he entered the league—the correlation of the running back spot to the offensive line is often overlooked. Across football, the top front fives often pedestal the game’s top rushing attacks. It sounds simple, but Cleveland, Philadelphia, Indianapolis, New England—each team can run the ball with the best of them. And conversely, if you can’t displace bodies in the ground game, you’d be hard-pressed to find a team that can still run the ball with the success that relies solely on winning due to athleticism in the backfield. It just doesn’t work unless you possess an exemption to the norm like Derrick Henry in Tennessee.
For Barkley, it was a question surrounding his game as he entered the NFL. Sure, he was able to run around, over, and through Big Ten defenders where he was the strongest and fastest athlete on the field at all times, but the NFL. is different. Oftentimes, you need a little help from the big boys up front.