Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright: Why Saquon Barkley should be the second RB off the board in every league

By: Bradley Stalder @ffstalder

5/14/2020

 

    I knew from the first moment I saw her that we were meant to be. She was the most beautiful creature I had ever seen and I couldn’t help but to introduce myself. “Hi, I’m Bradley…” I blurted out eagerly. She met my nervous greeting with an equally eager “Hi, I’m Elizabeth!”.  I thought she was cute. She thought I was a college senior. That was my freshman year, now almost a decade ago. Five years into a wonderful marriage and three children later, the decision to go up to Elizabeth is still the best I have made in my entire life (I promise this is a fantasy football article, just keep reading). 

 

    In hindsight, it’s clear that this was one of those “don’t think twice” moments — as overthinking such a powerful gut feeling could have led to me missing out on a fruitful and wonderful family life. While I love Elizabeth and my kids more than anything in the world, there is one thing that comes in at a close second place: Fantasy Football (there it is). It may seem like a case of Deja Vu, but I can’t help but to feel that same ‘don’t think twice about this’ feeling about a certain New York Giants running back. Saquon Barkley could be your Elizabeth during this upcoming fantasy season. So don’t overthink it.

 

Entering the 2019 season, Barkley was drafted as the 1.01 in the vast majority of redraft and non-superflex dynasty startups after finishing as the RB1 in PPR during his rookie campaign. Yet the sands of time take no mercy, as we are now in 2020 and Panthers do-it-all playmaker Christian McCaffrey is the closest thing to a consensus 1.01 as we have seen in the last decade following a record-breaking 2019 season, kicking Barkley down the board. Cowboys superstar Ezekiel Elliot is entering his second year of a 6 year, $90 million extension looking hungrier than ever, Minnesota’s Dalvin Cook has wormed his way into ESPN’s #2 mock draft pick following his resurgence thanks to the Vikings reestablished rushing attack, and Alvin Kamara of the Saints remains one of the league’s best all-around backs even after an injury plagued 2019. With all of these zesty options on the menu, Barkley has become something of an afterthought heading into fantasy draft season, with many nervous draftees overthinking their choice due to Barkley’s struggles (if you can even call them that) last year. 

 

Food for Thought from Last Season

  • Don’t let 2018 fool you: Barkley is a beast. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
  • Barkley averaged a healthy 6.4 YPC on his first 37 carries of the season… against Dallas, Buffalo, and Tampa Bay (before he busted his ankle), three defensive units that finished in the top-12 for run defense. 
  • Barkley was supposed to miss 6-8 weeks with the gnarly high ankle sprain he suffered in a Week 3 victory over Tampa Bay. But Saquon is superhuman. He ended up only missing three games with the injury although it did clearly bother him for most of the season.
  • During the eight week span that Barkley was supposed to miss with his ankle injury, he ran for 165 yards on 64 carries (~2.5 yards per-carry). However, he remained a viable fantasy option, averaging over 80 all-purpose yards per game played during this stretch, which includes his game against the Jets where he carried the ball 13 times for just one yard. Somehow, Barkley remained a decent starter for fantasy while playing on one leg and running behind one of the league’s weaker blocking units. 
  • For the final five games of the season, Barkley averaged 5.5 ypc on 99 carries. In fact, his week 16 performance won many fantasy players championships: 189 rushing yards on 22 carries with a rushing touchdown while adding 90 yards on 4 receptions and another touchdown reception (that’s 44 PPR points if you’re struggling with the mental math here). It’s worth noting that this performance came against the hapless Redskins and their 31st ranked run defense (petition to trade the Redskins for a CFL team, anyone? Or at least like a Community College team from West Virginia? Attendance for either of the alternatives would probably be better than what these guys pull in…)

 

Why Barkley should BOOM in 2020:

 

Barkley still has no competition for snaps, with has-been Dion Lewis (yawn), Wayne Gallman (double yawn), and Paul Perkins (still?) as his backups. Unless you’re on board the Sandro Platzgummer hype train, then you’re gonna be hard pressed to find a player with any semblance of upside (besides Barkley, of course) in this backfield.

The Giants offense has Evan Engram (sorry Kaden Smith people, he’s still a backup), Sterling Shepard, Golden Tate, and exciting sophomore Darius Slayton to catch passes from second-year QB Daniel Jones, who should also see some help from an improved offensive line. The G-Men will theoretically create more scoring opportunities than the latter years of the Eli Manning/Pat Schurmur offense (as exciting as a saltine with mayo) afforded them. Jones is a guy with a live arm and underrated mobility, which could really open up the offense for a fully healthy Barkley. Moreover, the injury prone supporting cast around Jones will likely need to be supported by Barkley’s contributions, as the former No. 2 overall pick will likely need to flex his receiving chops if (when) injury prone guys like Evan Engram and Sterling Shepard. Even if all of New York’s pass-catchers stay healthy (unlikely), redzone opportunities will close the gap in target share for Barkley.

 

Speaking of Danny Dimes…. His fumbling issues (12 in 13 games) will not be tolerated by the new coaching staff, as Joe Judge comes from the Bill Belichick coaching tree, where giveaways will earn you a one-way trip to the Arena League. The anticipation of fewer turnovers of that significance should lead to even more scoring opportunities for Barkley.

 

New OC Jason Garrett  will feed his workhorse back. Both Ezekiel Elliot and DeMarco Murray had RB1 campaigns as the lead back for Garrett’s offenses in Dallas. Barkley should be used in a similar fashion, with the offense running directly through him. 

 

The Dubious Competition for RB2…

 

Ezekiel Elliot

Ezekiel Elliott faces questions of his own in a crowded Dallas offense.
(Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
    1. New HC Mike McCarthy loves his three wide receiver sets from GB (and 2 RB sets are reemerging). He often rotated his backs (any Aaron Jones owners from 2017-2018 remember this painfully), as if playing your best guy on every down would draw a penalty. 
    2. Offense adds WR CeeDee Lamb to push the ball down the field, likely diminishing Elliot’s distribution in the passing game. 
    3. Tony Pollard remains on the roster as a handcuff (~6 carries per game), with a complementary skill set that could allow him to see more touches in 2020 as a change of pace option. 
    4. Violent running style puts him at risk for injury on every touch.

 

Dalvin Cook

(Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)
  1. Injuries (once again) plagued Cook during the fantasy playoffs for 2019. Three years of missing games are not exactly what you want to bet your season on in round one.
  2. Alexander Mattison (Cook lite version) remains on the roster as a handcuff (~7.5 carries per game in 2019). A younger player with a nearly identical skill set to Cook. 
  3. Lost OC Kevin Stefanski (now HC of Cleveland Browns) who installed the Cook-centric run-heavy offense. Unclear what direction the team will go in without him. 
  4. Lost field stretcher Stefon Diggs and added rookie slot receiver Justin Jefferson (a bit redundant with Adam Thielen still around). Short and intermediate passing game will be oversaturated and overcrowded target wise. 

 

Alvin Kamara

  1. Had more than 16 carries only once in 2019 (playing 14 games). Barkley had nine such games (and played one fewer than Kamara).
  2. Latavius Murray sticks around as a change of pace/handcuff    ( ~9 carries per game in 2019) not quite Mark Ingram but still a touch gobbler that will hurt Kamara’s point total especially if he steals redzone snaps.
  3. Offense gains a legit #2 WR option in NO with the signing of Emmanuel Sanders, while also adding a second playmaking tight end (Adam Trautman) and a healthy TreQuan Smith.
  4. Kamara dealt with his own injuries last season, sitting out weeks 7 and 8 due to knee and ankle injuries.

 

There’s no debate Christian McCaffrey is the consensus 1.01 following his 1,000 rushing- 1,000 receiving year, he is truly in his own class as far as the running back position goes. There also should be no debate, however, that Saquon Barkley should be the consensus 1.02 going into 2020. As Bob Dylan once crooned “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright.” And you will be more than alright drafting Saquon as the RB2 in your fantasy league this season. 

 

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