5 Reasons Saquon Barkley is Overvalued - Footballguys

5 Reasons you should avoid taking Saquon Barkley at his current Average Draft Position

Five Reasons why Saquon Barkley is Overvalued

  1. Offensive line issues still remain
  2. Eli Manning has plenty of other receiving options
  3. Mike Shula’s tendency to favor running back by committee systems
  4. The highlight film greatly overstates Barkley's abilities
  5. Rookie running backs tend to disappoint, even if 2017 was a notable exception


Summary:

Since Reggie Bush was drafted in 2005, there has not been a running back with as much hype coming into his rookie season as Saquon Barkley. It’s easy to fall in love with the guy as he has the perfect build for a running back at 5-foot-11, 230 pounds and runs a 4.40 40-yard dash with great hands and is a tremendous pass blocker. He has a ton of talent, but the fit is far from ideal as the Giants are looking for him to solve a running game that has been terrible for several years. The Giants have not had a top-20 running back since 2010 and have not had a top-five running back since 2004. With Saquon Barkley's average draft position continuing to rise, you should be extremely cautious if you decide to take him in the middle of the first round as he has shown inconsistency as a running back and will have to face a lot of competition in the passing game.

Offensive line issues still remain with the Giants

The Giants offensive line over the last few years has been an issue, and while the Giants spent both draft capital (Will Hernandez) and free agent dollars (Nate Solder), it is still expected to be a bottom-ten offensive line this season. Ereck Flowers is still likely going to be starting for this offensive line as he moves over to right tackle instead of left tackle this year which is still a major issue. Flowers last year was still one of the worst starting offensive linemen in football. At the center position, whether it is Brett Jones or Jon Halapio, it is likely going to be one of the worst starting centers in football this year.

This is a situation in which you get what you pay for, as the Giants are projected to spend the 19th most on their offensive line. This appears league average until you realize that it is top-heavy with Nate Solder and Ereck Flowers making up more than 50% of the offensive line spend for the Giants this season. This is essentially an offensive line that should be slightly better than last year. Nate Solder will be the only above-average player on the line and John Jerry the only average player. There are still three huge question marks including Will Hernandez who has had issues getting downfield as a blocker in college.

The offensive line issues not only impact the running game as they could have severe consequences on the receiving upside for Barkley. With all of the options that Eli Manning already has to throw to, the Giants may ask Barkley to stay in and block more than he otherwise would have which limits his upside in the receiving game.

Eli Manning and the Receiving Options Limit Barkley’s Upside

By all accounts, Saquon Barkley is an excellent receiver; there is no denying his ability when he gets into open space. However, let’s face it, the Giants are stacked at receiving options with a healthy Odell Beckham Jr Jr., Evan Engram, and Sterling Shepard. Footballguys’ David Dodds forecasts a total of 213 receptions between that trio with Eli Manning completing 328 passes. That leaves only 115 receptions to be divided amongst the rest of the team. Manning is on the downward arc of his career and only one Giants running back has had 50 or more receptions in a season since 2007 (Shane Vereen). Only two running backs had over 40 receptions during that time (Ahmad Bradshaw and Derrick Ward). While Barkley is the best receiving back that Manning has had since Shane Vereen, will he be given the opportunity to have 50+ catches this season with all of the other options?

Mike Shula Limits Barkley’s Ability to Finish Top-Five

Mike Shula has a long history of committee backfields. Bringing in Jonathan Stewart, who he has coached for the last four years as the offensive coordinator in Carolina, indicates a potential preference for a running-back-by-committee approach yet again in 2018.

Let’s go on a history tour, and take you back to the year 1997. In 1997, NFL teams averaged 454 carries per season. Just for comparison sake, in 2017, teams averaged 429 carries. In 1997, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had a phenomenal rookie in Warrick Dunn who was taken as the 12th overall pick and paired up with young offensive coordinator Mike Shula. Dunn went on to have a great year that year but only managed 224 carries, sharing time with Mike Alstott. Last year, the Panthers selected Christian McCaffrey early in the first round. McCaffrey only had 117 carries and was primarily used as a receiving back; under the watchful eye of Mike Shula. There's a clear trend with Mike Shula, and it's not supportive of Barkley as an offensive focal point.

Mike Shula’s Offensive Coordinator History

Year
Highest RB Carries
Touchdowns
2017
6
2016
9
2015
6
2014
3
2013
201 (Deangelo Williams)
3
1999
242 (Mike Alstott)
7
1998
245 (Warrick Dunn)
2
1997
224 (Warrick Dunn) Rookie
4
1996
176 (Eric Rhett)
3

Since 2013 order to finish top-five in PPR leagues, the math is relatively simple. You need at least one of these three things to happen. Only one running back has not met this threshold and finished as a top-five running back (Lamar Miller 2015).

  1. 280+ Carries
  2. 80+ Receptions
  3. 13 touchdowns

We have already addressed the risk Barkley doesn't get 80 receptions because of the depth at receiver and tight end. Based on Mike Shula’s history, it is equally unlikely Barkley will reach either 280+ carries or 13 touchdowns.

Do not just watch the highlight film, rely on all of the film

Having watched every game in college that Saquon Barkley has played, the one thing that you will notice is that he is a human highlight reel as he had 10 carries over 30 yards last season including a 92 yard run against Washington in the bowl game against one of the best run defenses in the NFL. These types of runs can quickly get any fantasy football player to fall in love with him based on his highlights. The question that you have to ask yourself is with the offensive line issues that we have already talked about will Barkley be able to continue these long successful plays. The Giants in 2017 had one run over 30 yards and two runs over 20 yards last season.

What is not shown in the highlight film is the downside of Barkley which is the inability to make something out of nothing. There are far too many instances in college where Barkley is dancing behind the line of scrimmage to try to make a big play instead of just taking 3-to-4 yards by barreling into the small hole and knocking a defensive player backward. Also, one thing to consider is that in the NFL, there are no cupcake games or multiple bye weeks. Barkley's five games that he went over 100 yards last season were either after a bye week or after a game in which Penn State beat the opposing team handily (Rutgers, Georgia State). The ultimate question is whether Barkley can avoid wearing down in a grueling 16-game NFL schedule since he showed signs of fatigue last year against tough competition?

Last year, 22% of Barkley's carries went for either no gain or a loss.

Barkley's CARRY DISTRIBUTION (All games 2017)

Play Result
Carries
Percentage
2 or less
96
44%
1 or less
74
34%
0 or less
47
22%
-1 or less
39
18%
-2 or less
34
16%
-3 or less
25
12%
-4 or less
19
9%
-5 or less
10
5%

Against top-25 rush defenses, Barkley struggled even more as 32% of his carries went for 0 or negative yardage. This includes a game against Ohio State in which Penn State was up 28-17 and 35-20 at the end of the third quarter. Penn State leaned on Barkley to grind out a win, but he was shut down and had (-2) yards rushing on 12 carries which ultimately allowed Ohio State to come back to win the game 39-38.

Barkley's Carry Distribution Against Top-25 Defenses

Play Result
Carries
Percentage
2 or less
51
55%
1 or less
38
41%
0 or less
29
32%
-1 or less
26
28%
-2 or less
24
26%
-3 or less
20
22%
-4 or less
15
16%
-5 or less
6
7%

The reality is that if you are considering taking Barkley early, do not just go out and watch a few highlight clips as you will immediately want to take him first overall. Instead, take a little bit of time and watch the 2016 Indiana game, the 2016 Michigan State game, the 2017 Ohio State game, the 2017 Northwestern game, or the 2017 Rutgers game. He's not a perfect player.

Rookie History Indicates Volatility

While 2017 was the year of the rookie running back, do not let this fool you as rookies have typically struggled. Even last year, first-round draft picks Christian McCaffrey and Leonard Fournette finished 9th and 10th, respectively. The simple solution here is if you draft Barkley as the 6th running back, you are looking for top-five upside. The reality is that if you look at the history of first-round running backs only two running backs have finished top-five since 2008.

Before you read the names on the table, we need to remove the hindsight bias of saying, “Well, of course, Trent Richardson didn’t finish top-five, he is not any good." At the time of their respective drafts, each of these running backs was considered a consensus first-round caliber player.

Year
Player
PPR Rankings Rookie Year
2017
10th
2017
9th
2016
2nd
2015
9th
2015
46th
2013
49th
2012
32nd
2012
2nd
2012
55th
2011
46th
2010
59th
2010
32nd
2010
Jahvid Best
20th
2009
18th
2009
60th
2009
Chris Wells
37th
2008
42nd
2008
32nd
2008
Felix Jones
78th
2008
124th
2008
11th

While the 2017 rookie class was impressive, there still is a significant risk in taking a rookie as even eventual studs like Todd Gurley, Melvin Gordon III, and Chris Johnson struggled in their first years.

2018 PROJECTIONS

Projector
Games
Rushes
RuYards
RuTDs
Recs
ReYards
ReTDs
FumLost
David Dodds
15.1
247
1,055
7.3
47.0
385
2.1
3.3
Bob Henry
16.0
280
1,220
8.0
55.0
490
3.0
2.0
Jason Wood
15.0
255
1,050
8.0
50.0
400
2.0
2.0
Maurile Tremblay
16.0
227
944
5.5
79.3
587
1.8
3.3

Final Thoughts

Saquon Barkley has a ton of talent and could be a tremendous player in the future. However, expect some rookie struggles for Barkley. He isn't nearly as polished as Ezekiel Elliott or Leonard Fournette were as rookies. Even though Barkley is 230 pounds, he is more of a finesse runner than a downhill runner. Barkley will be a play-maker, but do not expect week-to-week consistency as he has shown no trend that this will be the case. Combining this with all of the issues surrounding the Giants and it is a situation that you are going to want to avoid. Take more proven players in the first round like Alvin Kamara, Leonard Fournette, and Melvin Gordon III. Let someone else fall in love with Barkley. Hype Barkley up to leaguemates by sending his highlight package around before your draft. It'll ensure someone else reaches for him, giving you a chance at a value pick later in the first round.


Other THoughts from Around the Web

Des Bieler from the Washington Post sees a big year from Barkley in terms of volume, but is concerned about some similar things:

"I’m bullish on Barkley because I expect him to get a massive workload right away, including plenty of pass targets. Something like the 80 receptions that went to Christian McCaffrey, last year’s No. 8 pick, is hardly unthinkable, and Barkley can be expected to get many more carries than his Panthers counterpart, who had 117 in 2017. There is reason to be concerned about Barkley’s ability to run between the tackles, plus New York’s partially rebuilt but still sketchy offensive line, but those issues existed at Penn State and hardly prevented him from looking like a generational talent."

Jack Lane from FanSided sees Saquon Barkley as potentially struggling this season:

"Barkley is one of my favorite running back prospects in a long time, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to immediate fantasy production. The fantasy community loves Barkley thus far, as he’s the seventh player off the board in all formats. He steps into an odd spot on the New York Giants. On one hand, there is very little running back talent on the team. Barkley is clearly the best runner and should be the workhorse.

However, New York has a lot of weapons to feed as it is, without a great offense. Eli Manning has been a bottom-tier regular season quarterback for years now, so his passing does Barkley no favors. Odell Beckham Jr, Jr., Sterling Shepard, and Evan Engram all take away targets and offensive possessions from Barkley. Lastly, ageless wonder Jonathan Stewart could cut away at some of Barkley’s short-yardage work, including his touchdowns."

Evan Silva from Rotoworld sees Barkley as high volume, but concerned about inconsistency as a runner:

"Saquon Barkley’s multi-phase skill set gives him the potential to join Le'Veon Bell, Todd Gurley, David Johnson, and Ezekiel Elliott as one of the league’s few elite every-down backs who almost never come off the field and have 400 touches in their range of potential outcomes. Barkley’s college tape was similar to Johnson’s as a dynamic receiver and perimeter runner with inconsistent between-the-tackles production."