What are we going to do with Saquon Barkley? (fantasy soccer)

I was recently on the phone with my fellow writers at Fantasy Footballers. It was an annual gathering where we talked about our lives and writing and generally focused on the upcoming NFL season. We talked about the draft, the big trades that had happened during the offseason, and players we weren’t sure about – players we weren’t sure where to draft. Many names were thrown around – Tua, Jalen Hurts, Michael Thomas, but there was one name that stood out more than the others. That name was Saquon Barkley. Neither of us knew what to do with him. Barkley is an anomaly stuck in a paradox, with an injury-riddled history in a team desperate for their identity, led by a QB who could be on his last leg. None of this conjures up fantasy certainty. If anything, it sounds more like the recipe for a fantasy disaster.

But in a league of catastrophic injuries, divided backfields and hot hands, is there even fantasy certainty? With CMC going under for consecutive years and no name like Amon-Ra St. Brown leading people to league championships, the answer is no.

So what do we do with Saquon Barkley?

Before we figure out how to tackle Barkley, we need to look at how we got here in the first place. After finishing second in the 2018 NFL draft, Saquon set multiple records as a rookie, rushing for 1300 yards and 11 TDs and 721 receiving yards and four receiving TDs. He finished that season as RB2. His fantastic rookie season paved the way for him to the 2019 Fantasy Drafts, where he was the top pick according to fantasyfootballcalculator.com. The standards for the Giants RB were high. The 2019 season wasn’t as exciting for Barkley as the year before, but it was still a successful fantasy outing. He still rushed over 1000 yards and had over 400 receiving yards. He had eight total TDs and became the only RB in Giants history to have 1,000 rushing yards in his first two seasons.

There’s a lot to consider when it comes to placing Saquon Barkley in your draft queue. Let’s break it down.

Is he actually healthy?

In September 2020, Barkley suffered a cruciate ligament tear in his knee and a MCL sprain and was sidelined for the remainder of the season. In 2020, he was on the field for just two games, wreaking havoc on Fantasy owners everywhere. When he returned in 2021, we were curious if he was the athlete we remembered. Spoiler alert, it wasn’t him. At least not for the 2021 season. He ended the year as RB33 in half-point PPR and RB32 in standard leagues. It was an aggressive slap in the face for owners who still believed in the talent. But should the expectations have been a little more subdued for a man returning from an ACL and MCL injury? History hasn’t been too kind to these RBs returning from injuries like Barkley’s. Aside from Adrian Peterson, most RBs who recovered from an ACL injury posted lower rushing totals in the post-injury season than they did in the pre-injury season, and that’s exactly what happened to Saquon. This 2012 season for AP was one of the best seasons for RB so it’s a bit of an outlier.

The injury return could be an easy chicken-and-egg scenario – are the coaching staff holding the RB back to avoid further injury, or does the past injury hamper his RB’s current ability to work? I looked at the quick totals of six different RBs who tore ACLs and have come back for at least one more season. The initial dip post-injury is clear, but the most intriguing statistic is that almost all RBs statistically bounced back up next season, and some were higher than they were before their injury. The two escapees here are Rashard Mendenhall (retired) and Deuce McAllister (further injury). So where could this take us with Saquon? Keeping these stats in mind, he could be primed for quite a recovery season. Look, I’m definitely no Injury expert Matthew Betz over here, but what I found out is that it might take longer to recover from an ACL than gamers and fantasy owners think. This season we will have two more RBs to add to our injury sample, with JK Dobbins and Gus Edwards attempting a comeback from a cruciate ligament rupture.

injury age yards from injury 1st season after injury
Edger James 23 1709 989 1259
Jamal Lewis 21 1364 1327 2066
Adrian Peterson 26 1298 2097 1266
Rashard Mendenhall 24 928 182 687
Two McAllisters 27 1074 1057 92
Knowshon Moreno 24 779 525 1038
Saquon Barkley 23 1003 593 ?

In his own words – “I definitely feel a lot different, a lot better. I feel like myself again,” Barkley said. “Of course I don’t want to rush things, I just want to focus on the little things and get better every day. Regardless of what happens to injuries for the rest of your career, every offseason is going to be some kind of rehab or pre-habbing.

Is he a workhorse?

Opportunity is key

Saquon’s health means little or nothing unless he gets the opportunity with the ball. When Barkley was healthy in 2018 and 2019, he played 83% of the snaps and had a metric around 40% in our workhorse percentage – the percentage of all team rushing attempts and goals. You can find this statistic for each player on the Usage tab of the Fantasy Footballers website. He also received 80% of RB reception goals in 2018 and 87% in 2019. Many signs point to this returning as the Giants ditch Joe Judge and hire a new head coach in Brian Daboll. As we saw with Josh Allen and the Bills, the ex-Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator knows how to turn teams around. Daboll also has plans for Barkley. Seeing the gold mine that was partially tapped when Saquon caught the ball, Daboll made it clear that he wants to use Barkley more as a receiver. This simple concept is particularly good for Saquon and the Giants in two ways — first, Saquon has proven to be a great pass catcher, so why not capitalize on it, and by definition, it reduces the number of times Barkley will open up for massive shots at the ground and possibly more injuries. Barkley had 91 receptions on 114 shots in his rookie year and averaged just under CMC’s 7.6 shots per game.

Easy. But effective.

look over his shoulder

The bane of backup RB will no doubt hang over the heads of Saquon owners this year. Last season, Devontae Booker looked pretty good running the ball behind Barkley; He finished the season with 145 attempts and 593 yards. He was also targeted in the passing game and received 45 hits. This year the primary endorsement is another Bills veteran, Matt Breida. Though he’ll get some work in the running game, Breida doesn’t have a notable history as a pass catcher, having never had a 34+ goal season and having under 10 goals in each of the last two years. RB goals are ripe for Saquon this season. I expect Daboll to direct that offense through Barkley and get him back to about 70 goals just like in 2019. It’s what he’s doing to them that will take our breath away. If the only RBs Barkley competes with are Matt Breida and Gary Brightwell, he could be set for success.

Is the future bright?

Saquon is slated to be a free agent in 2023. So if there could be a little extra motivation to excel this season, this is it. In mock drafts, I find myself constantly passing Saquon on, and I’m beginning to wonder why. According to fantasyfootballcalculator.com, he leaves as 18th RB off the board at the start of the fourth round. Look, I see. We’ve been burned before. Poorly. But like Matthew Betz said,for players recovering from injury, (they) always consider the opportunity cost. Last year he was a bit of a fade in round one but now the risk is baked in.” While I’m letting that marinate, if Saquon falls on you in the fourth round or early in the fifth, I think it might be a wise decision to take a chance. As usual, it depends on the draft capital and composition of your league. If you’re surrounded by owners who are simply afraid of Barkley, you could get him at a hefty discount and ride this potential workhorse straight into the fantasy playoffs.

Leave a Comment