No reason for Giants to keep playing Saquon Barkley in 2021

Saquon Barkley Giants
Saquon Barkley
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Saquon Barkley walked off the gridiron and Lincoln Financial Field shaking his head, looking dejected.

He had just accrued a measly 32 yards on 15 carries in a Giants’ blowout 34-10 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles; his team dropping to 4-11 on yet another embarrassing season. 

Barkley’s statlines have often reflected such disappointments as a 2021 campaign that was supposed to be one of redemption has spiraled into one of confusion and ineffectiveness. 

Coming back from a torn ACL that destroyed his 2020 season, Barkley’s tireless rehabilitation process got him back on the field in time for the start of 2021. However, he doesn’t look anything like the barnstorming rookie who set the league ablaze after being selected No. 2 overall in 2018. 

The 24-year-old is averaging a career-worst 3.5 yards per carry this year in seasons he’s played at least 10 games in. While battling more ankle injuries, forcing him to miss five games, he’s been left to fend for himself behind an offensive line that is one of the worst rushing units in the NFL. The Giants’ line was ranked 24th by Football Outsiders with an average of 1.12 second-level yards per rush and 25th on runs stuffed at or behind the line of scrimmage (h/t Patricia Traina, Sports Illustrated).

But Barkley hasn’t been able to exhibit the same sort of playmaking explosiveness that made him such a can’t-miss name just three years ago. His yards after contact of 1.7 yards per rush this season is his lowest yet. So are his four broken tackles this season. 

The frustration seemed to crescendo to the point where Barkley refused to take the podium on Sunday and Monday to field questions from the media — instead leaving the likes of backup quarterbacks Mike Glennon and Jake Fromm to face the music for a Giants offense that has averaged just 11.5 points per game over their last six outings. 

Head coach Joe Judge shrugged off questions about his absence while also fielding inquiries about the rest of Barkley’s season. It’s clear that he still isn’t 100% and with nothing to play for, shutting him down early would certainly be a logical avenue for the Giants to pursue.

“That’s more something that our medical team has not approached me about,” Judge said, shutting down such an idea. “At this moment, there wouldn’t be any medical reason, at least that they brought to me, about shutting him down. Anytime we have those conversations, that’s for a player’s immediate and long-term health consideration.

“He’s out there, he’s playing. He’s dinged up in a lot of ways, as most of the players in the NFL are this time of year. No one’s 100%, but he’s battling through a lot of things for us.”

But if Barkley is in the long-term future of the Giants — and that’s no guarantee with one year left on his contract — he needs to have an offseason in which he is as healthy as possible to rebuild his game back up to the All-Pro level seen in his rookie year. 

The last thing the organization needs is to trot him out for another 15-carry, 45-yard afternoon just to run the risk of another injury to not only set his preparations for 2022 back, but to impact either his trade value if they aren’t willing to commit to a long-term deal.

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