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Historical Comps for Saquon Barkley’s Rookie Season

With the 2018 NFL regular season now in the rearview mirror, it is time to look back on the performances of some of the players finishing their first season in the pros. Next player on our radar is the player who was taken with the second overall selection by the New York Giants last April, namely Saquon Barkley.

In order to find comparable players, I used the excellent RotoViz Screener app. I set the screener:

To find rookies from 2008 – 2018, and selected some basic production and usage numbers as variables. I also included the draft pick. The influence of draft pick on a player’s opportunity declines over time, but it’s still relevant heading into a player’s second season. Then I asked the Screener to find seasons comparable to my target player.

There were more than a few grumbles after the Giants took Barkley, especially given the number of potential studs at quarterback and their own issues at the position. But to put Barkley’s season in some context, let’s see who he matches up with in terms of rookie-season production.

saquon yr1

Despite fewer rush attempts than three of the players on the list, Barkley more than made up for any shortcomings with his deeds in the passing game. Barkley set a rookie RB record with 91 receptions. Of course, one season does not a superstar make. So, let us take a quick look at how these players did in their second seasons. Don’t think for a moment that I am saying that the 2019 Barkley will be exactly like the 2013 Doug Martin (for instance). I offer these as a possible range of outcomes.

saquon yr2

Any comparisons with Matt Forte are bound to be positive ones, given the career he enjoyed in the NFL. No RB had more receptions between 2008 and 2016 than the 517 Forte reeled in. Only Darren Sproles had more receiving yards than Forte’s 4379.

When they were on the field, Alvin Kamara and Kareem Hunt were just as good in Year 2 as they were in Year 1. Kamara is one of only two RBs since 2000 to have at least 1500 rushing and receiving yards in his first two seasons. Only David Johnson has more touchdowns in his first two seasons than Kamara’s 32 in this same span. Seventh on the list with 25 scores is Hunt, but due to his off-field issues, his Chiefs career came to an end after just 27 games. There is speculation that he is still on the radar of some NFL teams. Given the present climate, there is little doubt that he’ll be on a roster twenty seconds after the NFL decides on his punishment.

In seven NFL seasons, Doug Martin has two with over 1400 rushing yards and four with less than 500. He wasn’t terrible in his first season with the Raiders in 2018. But fans (and fantasy owners) will hope Barkley can do more than Martin has achieved.

Reasons to be Cheerful

It wasn’t exactly a season to remember for the Giants. But in terms of fantasy football, Barkley was everything his supporters wanted him to be in 2018. He saw double-digit carries in all sixteen games, with at least 15 carries in eight contests. In keeping with his workhorse profile, Barkley saw five or more targets in 13 games. In five games, Barkley saw ten or more targets, with a 14/80 receiving line against the Cowboys in Week 2 the highpoint.

Barkley saw plenty of volume as a rookie. Only Ezekiel Elliott had more carries than his 261. But he was just as valuable to his fantasy owners with his ability to produce the things we all need from our players. Namely, big plays and touchdowns. Barkley was third among all RBs with 18 runs of 15 yards or more. He had seven runs of 40 or more yards, four of which went for touchdowns. Barkley also saw 3.8 red zone touches per game, which helped him to his total of ten scores inside the twenty-yard lines.

Reasons to be Disappointed

To be brutally honest, it’s hard to look back at Barkley as a rookie and find too much to be disappointed with. I mean, he could have played on a slightly better team. But that’s not his fault. The Giants were 25th in total plays run on offense. But Barkley managed to negate this slight lack of volume by producing big plays. They were also the 5th pass-happiest team in the NFL, with a 1.78 pass/run ratio. This would be a death knell for some RBs, but Barkley was such a vital cog of the Giants’ passing game that he stayed involved.

If we are being critical, then we could say that Barkley was not exactly a super efficient pass catcher. This is certainly true from yards per attempt basis. Barkley was one of seven Giants to see at least 20 targets last season. Only two players gave Eli Manning a lower Adjusted Yards per Attempt.

eli 2018 aya

However, in fantasy terms, volume trumps efficiency.

Barkley also saw his numbers dip slightly in games when the Giants only other playmaker, namely Odell Beckham, was missing.

saquon wo beckham

Again, in Barkley’s defense, he still delivered an average of 20.5 PPR points in the four games that Beckham sat out. This would have been good for 8th most on the season.

Outlook

Despite the Giants 2018 struggles, the powers that be have decided to keep the band together for next season. That means another season for Pat Shurmur as head coach. This should mean the Giants offense will look largely the same. Given his usage last season, this is excellent news for Barkley and his owners. Barkley had just four games outside the top-12 RBs last season, with just a single week in which he finished as an RB3.

Among those hardy souls who have already begun mock drafting, Barkley is the second player being selected overall. Rams RB Todd Gurley is the only player being taken earlier. Thanks to his being almost three years younger than Gurley, Barkley has the edge on him in some dynasty platforms. He is the RB1 over at PlayerProfiler, for example.

If the Giants do the unthinkable, and actually take positive steps to improve their offensive line (and their quarterback), then Barkley’s second season will be another triumph.

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