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Is Saquon Barkley Washed?


Image by: Thomas Tipple

The 2022 offseason has started, and dynasty questions are rolling. The ones typically kicking off the offseason start with running backs. With constant change to the position, it’s tough to trust individuals year after year. The hottest question to kick off the offseason is whether Saquon Barkley is washed. Should you acquire him? If you have him, should you move off? Let’s dive in and find out.

It’s Week 18. The wind chill has it below freezing as you line up behind the sixth quarterback to take a snap for the organization since coming into the league four years ago. The ball is going to you because the coaches would rather hand it off on third and long than give the opposition another chance at a sack or interception; however, the defense knows this too. 

You’ve become accustomed to seeing seven defenders in the box ready to focus on tearing your head off because your offense sucks. Meanwhile, your body is breaking down from all the weight placed on your shoulders—literally and figuratively. 

 

The quarterback snaps the ball, and you say $@!%! it as you embrace, pushing forward through a color rush of burgundy and gold jerseys. Someone grabs your arm on the right as you shrug them off, only to be blindsided by your own lineman shoved back into you on the left. He knocks you off balance as you stumble forward, staying on your feet. 

You see the safety coming through a wide-open gap, so you hit ’em with a spin move and cut back right from where the safety came. Then, you see the light. You move towards it like a newborn giraffe ready to roam the grasslands and then boom. Just like the giraffe falling six feet to the ground, you get hit by a mac truck, gaining a whopping two yards.

Luckily for this baby giraffe, this only happens once. However, Saquon Barkley gets to do the exact same thing in thirty seconds. 

Barkley Might Look Washed, but Is It All on Him? 

Since Week 15, Barkley is the only running back in the NFL to have 50-plus carries, with none of them going for more than ten yards. Although he faces limited workspace, Barkley forces as many missed tackles over the three-week span as Jonathan Taylor; only Taylor has nine runs of ten-plus yards. Although Barkley averages the fifth-highest yards per carry against stacked fronts, he isn’t taking advantage of them like he did in his youth and turning them into breakaway runs.

Is Barkley Washed SmackZone

Is it all his fault? Absolutely not. Are we seeing how injuries to an already lousy offense affect skilled running back? Absolutely. However, these aren’t the right questions to be asked. 

Is Barkley washed; if not, how much juice does he have left?

Calling Barkley washed without diving into the evidence would be asinine. It would also be foolish to acquire him without the same proof he could bounce back. So let’s lay out what we know.

Barkley's Career Production

Barkley has been on a steady decline in production since his rookie year. Even if he didn’t miss three games in 2019, he would still be on track to hit well below 2018. Following an ACL tear in 2020, Barkley showed sparks in 2021. However, he is only churning out about 50-percent of what he did in 2019.

TrophySmack 26"-36" Matthew Berry's Loser Toilet Fantasy Trophy
Commemorate the season Barkley left you with an immaculate Toilet Bowl Trophy!

In fairness, he hasn’t seen the same opportunities, but how many of those lost are due to his inability to put the offense in ideal third-down positions? Regardless, for 2021, he is RB32 in points per game. If you selected him in redraft, you likely ended up with the Toilet Bowl Trophy

Some might argue Dalvin Cook’s timeline, as I saw on Twitter. However, Cook faced one of the easiest schedules for a back with one of the best running teams over the past twenty years in 2020; The Giants are currently nowhere close. So let’s explore some of the possibilities making me want to acquire Barkley.

A Hopeful Situation    

Barkley has hope for a couple of different reasons. One is his free-agent candidacy in 2023, which could allow him to move on from the Giants following his rookie contract. Of course, the Giants could franchise tag him, but that hasn’t worked out well for either party across the NFL when tagging running backs. 

In an ideal world, the Giants would tag-and-trade Barkley or just let him walk so they could accumulate a third-round compensatory pick. Regardless, the Giants would be wise not to resign him to a massive deal as (arguably) only Alvin Kamara has paid off. 

The Giants have 11 draft picks in 2022, so adding to the 2023 crop could be ideal for a complete rebuild. A rebuild wouldn’t be the worst thing for Barkley if they continue to focus on the offensive line, but his future isn’t looking great for fantasy with the current trajectory. 

Barkley Doesn’t Have the Same Usage as Other Washed Running Backs

Workload isn’t always an indication of a player’s longevity. However, players who earned second contracts were taking hit after hit, year after year. Derrick Henry is the only running back on a significant second contract who didn’t see an absurd amount of touches in their first couple of years. However, with his second contract, things have changed significantly.

Remember, Henry has now seen north of 950 touches across the past 39 games while missing the last half of 2021. Since coming into the league, Barkley only has 835 touches across 39 games—and he’s three years younger. So there’s a chance the injuries Barkley sustained earlier in his career might not be detrimental to his ability to produce on a second contract. If the goal is to acquire Barkley, the hope is that he isn’t washed, and you can get at least a couple more years out of him. Jakob Sanderson brought up a great point, so I will pose a question: 

Could we see an explosion from Barkley later in his career, similar to what we saw with an Edgerrin James?   

In order for Barkley to produce, he would have to land with a dynamic offense—similar to James with the Colts. Plenty of red zone opportunities and passing down work would be required. Trying to predict the 2022 offseason is difficult enough, so 2023 is just about impossible. However, it can’t hurt to discuss.

Where Could Barkley Land?

Historically, teams who have young quarterbacks entering rebuilds make plays in free agency for stud running backs to relieve pressure—Jerrick McKinnon in 2018, Le’Veon Bell and Mark Ingram in 2019, then Melvin Gordon in 2020. For the sake of this section being repetitive, this applies to all teams but the Bills.  

Houston

Houston should be looking like a completely different team one year from now. Davis Mills looked like a competent quarterback who can move the offense. However, when they are in scoring position, a big reason as to why is the running game. From Weeks 15-17, on drives where the Texans are put in scoring position, the offense average 18.1 rushing yards per drive. On drives where the Texans don’t reach scoring position, they average just 3.9 rushing yards. 

Davis Mills needs a running back.

The Texans desperately need draft picks, and they are in a position to acquire some. Between Laremy Tunsil and Deshaun Watson, they could be looking at anywhere from four to five first-round picks and multiple seconds. Although they would have to eat the cap in 2022, it wouldn’t hinder the Texans ability to move forward, making an ideal landing spot to sign Barkley in 2023 

Tampa Bay

The Buccaneers will do their best job to keep this core together. But, similar to what we saw in Arizona with Bruce Arians, he will try to patch the bleeding by adding athletes to his roster—particularly at the running back position.

Arians has no fear and could make a move to bring in a stud running back if Kyle Trask takes over at quarterback. No, it likely won’t work, and we will watch this short-lived empire fall to the ground. However, it would still be fun to see Barkley get intense volume behind a solid offensive line and work in the receiving game for a couple of years.

Atlanta

The Falcons will always be a mystery to me. It’s a decently run organization, always stuck in the above-average range because they are never willing to rebuild. Instead, they keep signing free agents and trading draft picks. Well, Barkley could be the first player brought in for 2023. 

The Falcons haven’t drafted a running back in the first three rounds since 2015. They haven’t looked interested in doing so after getting bargains on Cordarrelle Patterson, Mike Davis, and Todd Gurley as of late. Plenty of free-agent options should be available in 2022 on one-year deals, opening an opportunity for Barkley to enter the discussion in 2023.

If Barkley has another down year, he could come at a value - or at least a perceived one - based on how the Falcons target backs.

Las Vegas 

The Raiders are a complete wild card. We don’t know who the head coach will be or the philosophy to come. What we do know is Mike Moyock is willing to sign running backs to big contracts as he brought Kenyan Drake in as a backup to Josh Jacobs on a lucrative deal.

Barkley carries both Jacobs and Drakes’ skillsets combined and has shown more dynamism than either. However, the Raiders would likely be a lateral move from the Giants regarding fantasy value. 

Buffalo

A move to the Bills has a chance to be great or terrible. The Bills have recently discovered running backs exist and have utilized Devin Singletary more often. As Josh Allen continues to age, he might realize he doesn’t have to run on every play he sees pressure. There aren’t many running backs better than Barkley in space, and he could take advantage of empty boxes. 

By the time Barkley would join the Bills, he would be 26 and likely welcome the idea of not having the world’s weight on his shoulders anymore. However, keep in mind, the Bills offensive coordinator could change, they could revert to ignoring their running backs, or Barkley could join a committee—none ideal for Barkley’s current asking price. 

Trophy SmackZone

Bills are one of those teams leaving you with a Participation Ribbon or a Championship Trophy.

In All Reality, Even If Barkley Isn't Washed

Under Dave Gettleman, the Giants have been a stubborn organization who have made bold moves to “create a culture.” The only thing evident is the Giants think they are a lot closer to competing than they actually are. 

Their mindset will likely result in Barkley getting tied down to the Giants for years to come until he is used up and no longer in the league. Just think David Johnson’s career trajectory without as many injuries. 

There is little doubt Barkley isn’t washed at this point in his career. However, if you’re acquiring him, the hope is that he switches teams or the Giants change courses in the 2022 offseason. Historically, either happening is a long shot. 

At his current value, I’d be happy to take what I can get and move on. 

For more fantasy football advice, follow Chase Vernon on Twitter!


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