“When you have that, when you can trust your body, your confidence just grows. I would say the difference [from college to now] was I was a way more confident player in college and early in my career than I was prior to last year. Now I’m starting to get that swagger back.”
That’s all great. But will the confidence translate into results as Barkley enters his fifth season with the Giants — and the final year of his contract? And can he do enough to remain with the team in 2023 and beyond?
Here is what a successful 2022 for Barkley would look like:
Take pressure off Daniel Jones. One of the big reasons why Jones and the Giants offense haven’t played up to standards in recent years is due to the lack of a true run game. Since the end of Jones’ promising 2019 rookie season, the former first-rounder has just 21 touchdowns to 17 interceptions with an average 82.6 season-wide quarterback rating. In both 2020 and 2021, the Giants were also second-to-last in total offense.
All of this has partially been due to a weak run game, one that averaged under 100 yards a game last year.
You cannot expect a young quarterback with decision-making and health issues (problems that have been well documented) to thrive in an offense that cannot establish any sort of consistent run game. Barkley must be a constant ground threat and prevent Jones from needing to throw upwards of 40 times each week.
Elevate the offensive line. The Giants may actually have some answers on the offensive front. Finally, after about a decade.
They drafted Evan Neal to be a bookend tackle opposite Andrew Thomas, signed Jon Feliciano to play center, signed Mark Glowinski to play right guard, and are returning Shane Lemieux to potentially start at left guard.
But if Barkley can’t make guys miss as often as he did as a rookie, the fanbase will be rolling its eyes at the group once again. The line can only do so much. If Barkley isn’t taking advantage of the space granted to him, no progress will be made in formulating a legitimate ground attack.
Be dynamic. But Barkley can’t just succeed in the run game — this is a multi-faceted offense led by head coach Brian Daboll and offensive coordinator Mike Kafka. Barkley must re-emerge as the dominant pass-catching back that made him so effective in 2018. This would provide Jones and the offense with yet another target, which would be crucial considering the question marks at receiver.
Stay healthy. And one of the more important components of elevating Jones: staying on the field. The organization has made a significant investment in Barkley and owes him $7.2 million guaranteed this season, and he’s played in just 28 out of a possible 49 games over the last three years. Even if he has a solid performance here and there, missing four or five games will affect how Barkley’s future looks, both in East Rutherford and the NFL as a whole.
Summing up. I’m not saying 2,028 scrimmage yards (his rookie-year total) has to be Barkley’s benchmark. The Giants just need him to provide enough of a spark to truly elevate the quarterback.
This team isn’t going to be a Super Bowl contender in 2022. But the Giants still must find out if their starting quarterback can retain his role for years to come. Barkley could play a big role in answering that question. He’ll also provide clarity about his own future. Even if Barkley has a big year, he may still be on the way out of town. But if he wants to stay with the Giants, he has to give general manager Joe Schoen a reason to pay him.