Draft Saquon Barkley In Your 2021 Fantasy Leagues? Experts On Whether the Giants RB Is Worth the Risk
Brett Carlsen/Getty Images. Pictured: Saquon Barkley
- Saquon Barkley is arguably the most polarizing player of 2021 fantasy football drafts. But when is the Giants RB worth the risk?
- Our trio of analysts -- including Sean Koerner, the No. 1 draft ranker of 2019 -- explain how they're approaching Barkley.
Saquon Barkley was being drafted as high as RB2 behind Christian McCaffrey earlier this offseason, but has fallen to RB7 since.
The biggest factor driving Barkley’s descent down draft boards is the uncertainty surrounding the exact timing of his return from the ACL tear he suffered in Week 2 of last season — and, as a result, the uncertainty of how effective he’ll be upon his return.
With that in mind, our trio of fantasy football analysts answer how they’re drafting Barkley below.
Should You Draft Saquon Barkley In Fantasy?
Sean is our Director of Predictive Analytics and was the No. 1 draft ranker of 2019 according to FantasyPros.
I’m taking this situation day-by-day. As of writing, I am fading him at his current ADP — my draft approach has always been to take risks in the mid-to-late rounds, not in the early rounds.
There’s a chance Barkley may not be ready to go by Week 1 and an even better chance he won’t see a full workload until October. That’s why I’m drafting Austin Ekeler, Nick Chubb and Joe Mixon ahead of Barkley.
Let someone else roll the dice on Barkley.
Chris is the host of our Fantasy Flex podcast and was the No. 4 in-season ranker of the 2019 season.
It’s a hard pass on Barkley for me.
The first few rounds of fantasy drafts are all about locking in guaranteed production while minimizing downside. And between his uncertain recovery timetable, past injury history and the Giants’ shaky offensive line, Barkley carries significantly more risks than the alternatives in his ADP range.
Despite coming off the PUP list stemming from last season’s ACL tear, he could miss the first two weeks of the regular season. And even if he doesn’t miss time, his early-season effectiveness will be a concern.
Remember that this is a player who struggled to regain his form upon rushing back from a yet another leg injury in 2019 (this time an ankle sprain). Despite salvaging that year by closing with three straight monster performances, he was effectively a fantasy regular-season bust, managing only 610 rushing yards, 292 receiving yards and three touchdowns through Week 14.
Barkley is being drafted mostly based on the upside he showcased his 2018 rookie year, when he amassed more than 2,000 total yards and 15 touchdowns. But that was in a different offense, with a different quarterback, and a different coaching staff.
What put Barkley over the top in terms of fantasy value was his passing game usage: He racked up 121 targets (7.6 per game) in 2018 with the checkdown machine known as late-career Eli Manning, who targeted running backs 26.5% of the time that season. By comparison, Barkley has averaged only 5.5 targets with Daniel Jones, who has targeted backs on just 17.0% of his career attempts.
Due to a combination of Barkley’s feast-or-famine running style and the Giants’ poor offensive line play, he has the potential to be more inconsistent than your average first-round pick.
He’s produced some downright disastrous rushing games over the past two years, including:
- Week 1, 2020: 15 carries, 6 yards, 0 TD
- Week 10, 2019: 13 carries, 1 yard, 0 TD
- Week 9, 2019: 14 carries, 28 yards, 0 TD
- Week 3, 2019: 8 carries, 10 yards, 0 TD
Throw in his four-carry, 28-yard game when he tore his ACL last season, and Barkley has posted more games with fewer than 30 rushing yards (five) than games with over 100 (four) in his last 15 appearances.
Entering this season, the Giants rank dead last in PFF’s Offensive Line Rankings, so don’t be surprised if Barkley posts a few more ugly rushing lines even when healthy.
I have Barkley projected at the RB1/RB2 borderline. Even if he gets cleared for Week 1, he wouldn’t move up my board — he still may not be 100%, and the Giants open the season with the Broncos and Washington, two of the NFL’s most stacked defenses.
Samantha is a fantasy football analyst.
I am still moderately concerned about Barkley, even though the 24-year-old running back was activated from the PUP list in early August.
He has a handful of things working against him:
- For one, his season-ending knee injury and subsequent surgery was more complex than a standard ACL tear. The standard recovery for an ACL tear is eight to 12 months, per the Mayo Clinic, which would put a timeline for his return anywhere between training camp and October.
- There’s a strong possibility that the Giants are not competitive this season and would thus have little to gain by overworking their star running back.
- A Daniel Jones-led offense could have obvious negative impacts on all the skill-position players from a fantasy standpoint.
- The Giants’ offensive line — which ranked second-to-last in 2020 per PFF — remains a liability to Barkley and the entire offense. They made no high-profile additions via free agency or the draft, which could limit fantasy production and expose Barkley and others to injuries.
All this said, Barkley has proven he has sky-high upside when healthy, so he’s not a complete stay away for me. I’m willing to draft him late in the first round.