Saquon Barkley
ESNY Graphic, AP Photo

After an amazing rookie year, New York Giants RB Saquon Barkley will be looking to break the NFL scrimmage yard record.

Last year, Saquon Barkley has shocked the world on various platforms. He was drafted by the New York Giants with the second overall pick. This alone was surprising that a running back would be drafted with a top two pick. Barkley was also drafted in a quarterback-heavy draft class to a team in desperate need of a quarterback.

Barring all of this, Barkley balled out in 2018. The Penn State product was nothing but exceptional. He put up twelve 100-plus scrimmage yard games which were the most ever by a rookie. He also totaled 2,028 scrimmage yards and 15 total touchdowns. This outstanding play earned him a trip to the pro bowl and the NFL rookie of the year award.

The crazy thing is that this all came with one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL. This unit was not one that deserved praise and they never had stability. The offensive line saw three new starters from the beginning of the season to the end of the season, none of which were elite. While the unit did see some improvement after the bye week the offensive line still finished 21st in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus (PFF). Of the bottom 10 offensive lines, only three of those teams featured 1000 yard rushers. The three players were Saquon Barkley, Phillip Lindsay and Joe Mixon. Saquon was by far the best with 1,307 rushing yards.

With the horrid offensive line play he dealt with, Barkley had to do it all. He forced 71 missed tackles in 2018 (the most by any running back). Barkley was hit behind the line of scrimmage countless times but was still able to make plays. Barkley had a league-high 936 yards after contact. This demonstrated the countless disadvantages the Penn State product faced but he was still able to prevail.

Barkley was not only incredible in the run game but was also unbelievable in the receiving game. He totaled a rookie record-breaking 91 receptions. The rookie turned the plethora of targets to 721 receiving yards. He was heavily relied on in the passing game and he proved that he was worthy of his role. He turned every catch he made for an average of 7.9 yards. A lot of these catches were dump-offs by Eli Manning. However, Barkley still managed to consistently make big plays from these short passes. To further display the skill that Saquon possesses, a simple look towards his yards after the catch is all one would have to do. Barkley totaled a net 787 yards after catch according to Pro Football Focus. This signifies how many times the rookie caught the ball behind the line and still made a play.

Now, in 2019, Barkley has the ability to only get better. All the signs point towards an uptick in touches for the second year player and an ability to get more yards.

To begin, Saquon will play behind a totally revamped offensive line. The Penn State alumni will be getting three upgrades up front with the best two players in the unit coming back. The starting running back will be getting his center, Jon Halapio, back. Halapio only played two games last season but he was evidently the best Giants offensive lineman during that period. The offensive line will also be adding Kevin Zeitler, a top-tier talent at the right guard position. Zeitler, acquired through a trade with the Browns, will be an instant upgrade for the Giants. Last year, the former Brown earned a PFF rating of 74.5, marking sixth highest amongst all guards. Moreover, Big Blue just acquired Mike Remmers for the right tackle spot. Remmers is solid and has earned a 72.1 PFF grade as a right tackle under current Giants’ head coach Pat Shurmur.

These three additions will prove to be serious upgrades over the Spencer Pulley, Jamon Brown and Chad Wheeler front featured last year. And the two returning starters saw a major improvement in the second half of the season. The rookie Will Hernandez got into his rhythm during the second half of the season. Overall, he put up a PFF grade of 65.2 (21st of all guards and second out of all rookie guards). For Nate Solder, he only allowed one sack and 13 pressures in the final eight games after allowing six sacks and 20 pressures in the previous eight. Also in week 10, Solder saw the best game by any offensive lineman in 2018 according to PFF. Hernandez and Solder can use their momentum from the second half and team up with the new left side to help Barkley break the single-season scrimmage yard record.

Currently, the record stands at 2,509 yards and is held by Chris Johnson. While a 500-yard improvement is a longshot, Barkley has the chance of reaching it. He can use his revamped front to see a serious uptick in the 1,307 rushing yards he put up. Half a thousand more rushing yards seems unlikely but Saquon may not only see improvement in the rushing game.

After a solid receiving output in his debut season, Barkley could look to improve as the Giants look to find receivers. The Giants have lost their number one receiver out of Odell Beckham Jr. this offseason. These yards will have to go into the hands of different guys and one of these guys could be Barkley.

In addition, the Giants may elect to bring in the rookie quarterback Daniel Jones sometime this season. If New York moves toward Jones, he will need steady hands for his first few games as he gets comfortable with his transition to the NFL. Short passes to Saquon Barkley may be the answer as Barkley has a catch percentage of 75 percent.

If all of this were not enough, Barkley is very confident in his ability to ball out. When Michael Vivalo of Elite Sports NY asked Saquon Barkley “Who is the best running back in the NFL?”

Saquon Barkley responded by saying, “I gotta go with myself.”

His response shows that he believes he has the tools to play the game at the highest level. Barkley has also said many times that he wishes to see improvement in year two. Only time will tell if Saquon Barkley can break the scrimmage yard record and be the best in the league.

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