Heading into 2021, New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley is one of fantasy’s most polarizing players. Despite missing a combined 17 games over the last two seasons due to injury, Barkley is still being drafted at an ADP of 6 (RB5) on ESPN Fantasy as of August 7th. On the flip side, there’s a case to be made that, given that Barkley’s torn ACL won’t be fully recovered for some time into the season, using a pick on him in the first round comes with too much risk to be warranted.
Though it seems long ago, Barkley was still a consensus top 2 player in the fantasy world just last season, before suffering the injury. With a pedigree that includes a 2,000+ yards from scrimmage, 15 touchdown rookie season, and an injury-riddled sophomore campaign that still saw him post over 1,400 yards from scrimmage and elite pass-catching totals, a gamble on Barkley is certainly enticing.
As the focal point of the Giants offense, touches will never be a concern for him – it’s all about staying on the field, and hoping that his O-line does at least a serviceable job at opening running lanes. Knowing the risks involved, let’s examine whether or not Saquon Barkley’s upside is enough to warrant the dart throw.
2020 Fantasy Statistics
To put it simply, there isn’t much to analyze in terms of last year’s production for Barkley. He didn’t even finish two games, and they just so happened to be against two of last year’s stingiest defenses: the Pittsburgh Steelers and Chicago Bears. The Steelers game, however, was indicative of just how consistent of a producer Barkley can be in fantasy. Despite only gaining 6 yards on the ground on 15 carries, he caught 6 passes on 9 targets for 60 yards, salvaging what would have been a dreadful outing with a dual-threat display in the likes of Christian McCaffrey and Alvin Kamara.
He got off to a much better start in Week 2, as he rushed for 28 yards only 4 carries until getting injured on the first play of the second quarter.
Last year was also former Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett’s debut in his new role as the Giants’ offensive coordinator. Garrett led the charge of the league’s second-worst offense by yardage, as they averaged just under 300 total yards per game on the year. Evidently, the loss of Barkley early on was one that the Giants couldn’t recover from.
2021 Fantasy Projections
A healthy Saquon Barkley would offer promise of performance in 2021x. Despite putrid offensive line play in his first two seasons, he still managed to be a force in fantasy, and this year’s team might have the team’s best O-line in recent memory. After drafting three linemen in the 2020 draft who showed promise last year, progression will only make things better.
Barkley’s output will depend a lot on whether or not quarterback Daniel Jones can improve towards consistently leading drives to give the Giants opportunities to score around the goal line. He’s always had weapons – Sterling Shepard, Darius Slayton, and Evan Engram all remain as gifted key contributors – but Jones has never been able to quite put it all together. The addition of Kenny Golladay should give Jones a chance at more explosive plays, however, and his ability to stretch the field should also give plenty of opportunities for short checkdowns to Barkley.
Many experts cite concerns with Jason Garrett’s ability to facilitate an explosive offense as an older style coach in a modern era that’s been defined by spread offenses and less emphasis on hammering out a downhill running game. While some of those concerns may be valid, they shouldn’t put any sort of damper on Barkley’s outlook, as Garrett proved during his coaching Ezekiel Elliott and the Cowboys that he enjoys employing a workhorse running back to be a weapon in all facets of the game. Zeke had 3 top-5 finishes in PPR points per game with Garrett as coach.
Look for Barkley, if healthy, to return to somewhere within the realm of 1,200 rushing yards, 650 receiving yards, 60 catches, and 10 total touchdowns over a 17 game season.
Rank at Position
Out of all the top-tier running backs heading into the upcoming season, Saquon Barkley is definitely the most difficult to rank. His performance over the course of a healthy season isn’t in question, but that most certainly won’t be the case.
As a player who’s suffered two significant leg injuries in consecutive seasons, and won’t be fully healthy for at least a few weeks to start the year, it’s hard to justify him as a top-5 back this year. McCaffrey, Dalvin Cook, and Derrick Henry are all no-brainers ahead of him, and Elliott and Alvin Kamara all arguably offer the same upside as Barkley with much better injury track records and supporting casts.
Any further past that, with the exceptions of perhaps Jonathan Taylor and Nick Chubb, Barkley is a gamble worth taking – or at least targeting in a trade. If you can look past the slow start he’ll likely have to the year, he could be an explosive league-winner down the stretch.