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Saquon Barkley Fantasy Outlook, 2021 Projections, Rankings & More

Saquon Barkley Fantasy Outlook, 2021 Projections, Rankings & More article feature image

Sarah Stier/Getty Images. Pictured: Saquon Barkley

Saquon Barkley Fantasy Rankings

Overall 8
Positional 5
Consensus rankings via Sean Koerner and Chris Raybon are based on half PPR scoring and as of early June.

Saquon Barkley enters 2021 as one of the most polarizing and risky players for fantasy football.

Fresh off an injury-shortened season in which Barkley tallied just 94 all-purpose yards, many fantasy managers will be conflicted about how to approach drafting the former first-round pick, who could be a high-risk, high-reward play.

Saquon Barkley’s 2020 Season

  • Games played: 2
  • Rushing stats: 19 attempts, 34 yards, 0 touchdowns
  • Receiving stats: 9 targets, 6 catches, 60 yards, 0 touchdowns
  • Fantasy finishes: RB115 in PPR; RB116 in standard; RB113 in half PPR

Heading into 2020, Barkley was a consensus top-three running back. He appeared in one full game and was carted off the field in Week 2 against the Bears. It was later revealed that the Penn State product had suffered a torn right ACL and would finish the year with only 19 attempts for 34 yards and six catches for 60 yards. 

Barkley underwent surgery in October to repair his ACL and is reportedly “on track to be ready for the start of the [2021 NFL] season,” sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter in April.

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Past Fantasy Performances

Barkley’s rookie campaign shot him into fantasy superstardom early.

The consensus All-American and No. 2 overall pick of the 2018 NFL Draft was utilized heavily in his first season for the Giants, appearing in all 16 games. He rushed 261 times for 1,307 yards and 11 touchdowns and caught 91-of-121 targets for 721 yards and four touchdowns that year.

He earned Pro Bowl honors, the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Award and finished as RB3 in half PPR through 16 weeks.

Barkley followed up his strong rookie campaign with a solid sophomore showing, and his second 1,000-rushing yard season. He appeared in 13 games while dealing with an ankle injury, tallying 217 rushes for 1,003 yards and six touchdowns. He also caught 52-of-73 targets for 438 yards and two touchdowns, finishing as as RB11 in half PPR.

Barkley’s 2021 Fantasy Outlook

The Giants exercised the fifth-year option on the star rusher’s rookie contract in April. Barkley will enter the season as the team’s unrivaled three-down back, as they did not make any major acquisitions to their running back depth chart during free agency (aside from adding backups Devontae Booker and Ryquell Armstead).

That said, Barkley’s injury history is serious, and recovery from ACL repair can take between eight to 12 months per the Mayo Clinic. According to this timeline, the most optimistic outcome would be that he’s ready to participate in training camp; less optimistically, it could take until October.

That range of outcomes is a major red flag for fantasy managers, who would be wise to keep this top-of-mind when the internet blows up over the inevitable preseason photo of his impressive quads — or Instagram stories of him sprinting and doing other drills.

Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Daniel Jones, Saquon Barkley

It’s worth noting that Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey — the consensus No. 1 overall pick for fantasy — is also recovering from a season cut short by injury. McCaffrey’s injuries are markedly less likely to impact his performance into the next season, however.

Injuries are far from Barkley’s only woes heading into 2021: The Giants’ front office has long attempted to make improvements to their porous offensive line, which has been a pain point for years. The unit ranked second-to-last in the NFL in 2020 per Pro Football Focus, and the Giants made no major additions during the draft or free agency. Their lackluster performance has had a deleterious impact on quarterback Daniel Jones, and may continue to be a liability to Barkley’s upside, especially in light of his injury concerns.

Barkley’s best season-to-date was in 2018, when he saw a Herculean workload: The former Nittany Lion had the second-most rushing attempts behind Ezekiel Elliott and was targeted the third-most among running backs (20th overall) behind McCaffrey and James White, with just three fewer targets than McCaffrey all season long. Barkley dropped to 18th in attempts and slid to eighth in targets among running backs in 2019 with three fewer games played.

Barkley could see a similar to rookie season based on the paucity of competition on the running back depth chart, which suggests that the team hopes to get a significant volume of touches from their 24-year-old rusher. He may see a dip in targets heading into this season with more talent in the receiving corps, however, which now includes 2021 first-round pick Kadarius Toney.

How to Draft Barkley

There is global disagreement among analysts where Barkley should be selected this season in fantasy football. Some have argued he deserves to go as high as RB2, while others argue he should fall outside the top tier of running backs altogether.

If healthy, Barkley is a threat on the ground and through the air, and your approach to drafting him should not vary significantly based on scoring format.

Even if 100% healthy, however, RB2 feels more like Barkley’s ceiling. And drafting him that aggressively carries immense risk when taking into account injury concerns and the Giants’ other shortcomings. Mid-first round feels like a much more appropriate range — at the bottom of the first tier of elite running backs.

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