Giants’ Saquon Barkley Poised to Become NFL’s Top Overall Running Back

The 2019 NFL season is just a few weeks away, so Andy Benoit makes a few predictions for each NFL team. Today he analyzes the New York Giants, who finished 5-11 and last in the NFC East last year.

Saquon Barkley becomes football’s best tailback. On run designs, Barkley is not quite as efficient or disciplined as Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott, but he has an unparalleled ability to create his own space. Having incredible east-west fluidity and the thick thighs to break tackles and burst downhill from any angle, the second-year star draws history’s first legitimate comparisons to Barry Sanders. And remember, Sanders never dominated as a multi-tooled receiver like Barkley. 

The Eli Manning-Daniel Jones controversy gains more life. With X-receiver Corey Coleman injured (ACL) and Golden Tate suspended four games, the Giants have the NFL’s worst receiving corps. They also have offensive tackles who lack the anchor strength (Nate Solder) or quickness (Mike Remmers) to secure the edges. Manning’s struggles with accuracy and messy-pocket decision-making worsen. However, head coach Pat Shurmur understands that Manning’s high football IQ allows New York to check in and out of any play at the line of scrimmage, which is critical in an offense built entirely around leveraging its mismatch-making pieces, Barkley and receiving tight end Evan Engram. It’s the Giants’ only lifeline, and they’d lose it by tapping Jones, who is liable to have the same difficulties as Manning anyway. 

The defense attacks. After employing safe zone coverage to survive the growing pains of young defensive backs last year, coordinator James Bettcher dips into the bag of blitzes that defined his defensive play-calling in Arizona. He can because he is more comfortable with the coverage behind his pressures now that veteran Antoine Bethea is at free safety. Bettcher also trusts the strong route jumping prowess of cornerback Janoris Jenkins and is more confident in the starter opposite him, be it first-round rookie DeAndre Baker or a now-healthy 2018 supplemental third-rounder Sam Beal. The blitzes yield highs and lows, but they’re Bettcher’s best option, as the Giants, aside from what they hope is a now-healthy Markus Golden, have no proven edge rushers.

The run D dominates. B.J. Hill and Dalvin Tomlinson, already one of football’s best young defensive linemen tandems, are bolstered by the arrival of first-round rookie Dexter Lawrence. The Giants align in condensed defensive fronts, leaving opponents with no option other than to run outside, where they must contest with speedy linebacker Alec Ogletree. 

BOTTOM LINE: With iffy tackles and bad wideouts on offense, the Giants are reliant on getting big plays from a defense that is, at best, good but not great.

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