Giants running back Saquon Barkley

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Keidel: Barkley Has What It Takes To Silence Those Who Wanted Giants To Draft A Quarterback

Jason Keidel
August 01, 2018 - 1:01 pm
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Penn State will be forever haunted by the atrocities committed by Jerry Sandusky. But if there can be any kind of karmic antivenom in character and capability, it's former Nittany Lion Saquon Barkley, who's quietly and humbly trotting through his first training camp with the New York Giants.

WFAN's "Boomer & Gio" on Wednesday morning interviewed the heralded running back Big Blue took with the No. 2 pick in this year's draft. Aside from marveling at his marble-made thighs, the hosts came away with the same smiling admiration everyone seems to have after meeting the rookie. Born in the Bronx -- though reticently admitting he was a Jets fan as a child -- playing for one of the two teams of his birthplace has to be a dream sequence.

 

And while some of us admonished the G-Men to not bag a halfback with such a high draft pick, it's not because we question Barkley's NFL bona fides. Nor is it because we all agree with the notion that running backs have been minimized, trivialized or squeezed out of NFL offenses. If anyone has seen the increasing import of players such as Le'Veon Bell, Todd Gurley, David Johnson, Kareem Hunt or Alvin Kamara, you see that the hybrid running back who can catch the ball as deftly as he can snatch the ball from the quarterback's hands is more valuable than ever.  

The point, at least the one made in one of my previous columns, was that you can find running back gold without spending high-end draft coin to do it. Of the five aforementioned running backs, only Gurley was picked in the first round. Last year's NFL rushing leader (Hunt) was plucked in the third round. The best all-around back in the league, Bell, the first NFL running back to gain 8,000 total yards in his first 62 games, was pulled in the second round. Johnson was grabbed in the third round out of Northern Iowa, hardly a conveyer belt of pro football players. 

MORE: Pat Shurmur Feels Better Prepared For His Second Head Coaching Job

Much of the football world smirked at the Cowboys selecting Ezekiel Elliott with the fourth pick of the 2016 draft. He's been a marvel between the lines and a stomach-churning variable between the ears, with his off-field appetites earning him multiple trips to the commissioner's office, including a suspension last year over domestic-violence allegations. 

The G-Men don't have to worry about that with their prized runner. No one doubts Barkley's heart or hard-hat work ethic. But when the Giants had a free hand to pick Eli Manning's successor -- Sam Darnold or Josh Rosen, for instance -- and with the quarterback being the one position where you can't lack ability or maturity, that was the argument against drafting Barkley. 

Since the Giants overhauled an offense that was embarrassingly bad last year -- most notably adding Nate Solder to fortify left tackle without spending a draft pick on the spot -- maybe they see Barkley as the last problem to solve in protecting Manning.  

And maybe Manning isn't as old as we think and need to adjust our emotional lens when it comes to the position. Indeed, 37 is slowly turning into late NFL prime. Tom Brady is better than ever in the shadow of his 41st birthday. Drew Brees is short-circuiting the scoreboard in his late 30s. Even Manning's two draft mates from 2004, Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers, are playing with the passion and precision of men 10 years younger. Even if you consider Aaron Rodgers the most skilled QB in the NFL -- and you should -- he was drafted 12 months after Manning.

LISTEN: Boomer And Gio Interview Eli Manning

With Barkley here, and the comic-book expectations on his shoulders, let's also realize that if he's as good as draft geeks project, he will have an instant, tangible impact on Big Blue's offense. Not only is he a bull between the tackles, he has speed to match his bulk. With Odell Beckham Jr. back and primed to stretch defenses, Barkley can slip into the flat and have a field day.  

Plus, new head coach Pat Shurmur, the man charged with taking a hammer to that 3-13 record the Giants posted in 2017, told WFAN that Barkley was their highest-rated player in the draft, adhering to the NFL maxim that you stay true to your board. So for those of us who think Barkley was a bit of a reach, there are times when we don't mind being wrong. If Barkley turns out to be worth the second bear hug from Roger Goodell, then good for him, for Big Blue and Giants fans. 

Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel