Fantasy Court: The Case For Saquon Barkley in 2022

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This article is part of the annual Fantasy Court series. For the opposing view be sure to check out The Case Against Saquon Barkley by Jeff Greenwood.

Opening Statement

Saquon Barkley entered the league as a generational talent in 2018 and performed as such over his first two seasons. The past two seasons, however, have been massively disappointing by comparison. In the table below you can see the stark contrast in his production over his career thus far.

Games Snap % Rush Yards Rush TDs Rec Yards Rec TDs Fantasy Finish
2018 16 83% 1,307 11 721 4 RB2
2019 13 68% 1,003 6 438 2 RB10
2020 2 50% 34 0 60 0 RB118
2021 13 47% 593 2 263 2 RB32

So is Barkley washed at just 25 years old? Is he injury-prone? Is he doomed to continue suffering on a woeful offense?

I don’t think so. In fact, I think his recent struggles can be easily explained and should not be concerns moving forward. I’m here to make a case for Saquon Barkley in 2022.

Injury Prone or Unlucky?

My counterpart will likely direct you to Barkley’s ugly fantasy stats over the past two seasons, but let’s take a closer look. He really never even got a chance to perform in 2020 after tearing his ACL eight snaps into the second game, so it’s tough to hold that lost season against him. In fact, that 2020 knee injury needs to be considered when looking at his slow start to 2021. He was unsurprisingly eased back into action, playing just 48% of the Week 1 snaps. 

However, over the first four weeks of 2021, his work was consistently ramped up and his fantasy production was rising right along with it. By Week 4, he played 89% of the offensive snaps, scored 27.1 fantasy points, and finished as the RB3 on the week. He was back.

Then came Week 5 and an unpredictable chain of disastrous events that would span the rest of the season. It started with Barkley suffering one of the unluckiest injuries you’ll ever see. He rolled his ankle on a Dallas defender away from the ball after a play early in the first quarter. It resulted in a nasty high ankle sprain that would end up costing Barkley nearly five full games

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By the end of that Week 5 catastrophe Daniel Jones, Kadarius Toney, and Kenny Golladay all joined Barkley with injuries that would force them to miss time.

By the time Barkley got back on the field in Week 11, the New York Giants were in shambles. Offensive coordinator Jason Garret was fired and an injury-riddled Giants roster limped their way to the finish line.  Barkley started and played in the final eight games of the season, but only two of those came with Daniel Jones at quarterback. In the other six, he was forced to take the field with Mike Glennon and Jake Fromm.

Headed into 2022, Barkley should be healthier than ever. But don’t take it from me, check out this quote from our very own injury expert Matthew Betz that can be found in the Ultimate Draft Kit’s Injury Report.

“Now, in his second year off the ACL surgery and a full off-season to let his ankle heal, Barkley is quietly the most healthy he’s been in the last two years, especially given that research supports performance is markedly improved in the second season off an ACL injury than the first.” 

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That sounds like a pretty positive endorsement to me.

The New Look New York Giants

Aside from Barkley’s injuries, there was another common theme for the Giants over the past two seasons. With Joe Judge as head coach and Jason Garrett coordinating, the offense has been bad. Really, really bad. They finished 31st in scoring in both 2020 and 2021.

The previous two seasons under Pat Schurmer, they finished 16th and 19th. That may not be elite, but it was enough to support Barkley as a top-ten fantasy running back both seasons. With Judge and Garrett out the door, new head coach Brian Daboll looks to lead New York to an improved offensive output. That shouldn’t be too much to ask for Daboll, as he led the Buffalo Bills to a top-three scoring finish in each of the last two seasons and there’s nowhere to go but up for Big Blue. 

Not only will Daboll’s offensive scheme allow more opportunities for Barkley, but New York’s improving offensive line should give him more room to run. They spent the seventh overall pick in the NFL Draft on tackle Evan Neal to play alongside fellow first-round tackle Andrew Thomas. After an underwhelming rookie season, Thomas improved in all his blocking grades according to Pro Football Focus. Throw in a few free-agent additions along the line, and the Giants’ front five is one of the most improved units in the NFL.

Volume is Still King

My final point in Barkley’s favor for fantasy in 2022 will be brief, but vital. He projects to regain his role as the three-down back for the Giants. During the three-game stretch before his ankle injury, Barkley was on a full-season pace for 311 touches. Only four players cracked the 300-touch milestone in 2021, and all four of them finished as top-ten fantasy running backs.

If the Giants had gone out and sought a replacement, or even a compliment, for Barkley this offseason, I might have some trepidation. Instead, the only move they made in the backfield was replacing Devontae Booker with Matt Breida, a move that does little to move the need for fantasy football. Breida, playing under Brian Daboll in Buffalo last season, saw just 26 carries on the season. The path is clear for Barkley to be one of the few three-down workhorse running backs in 2022.

Closing Argument

To recap the case for Barkley in 2022, let me remind you that he will be entering the season healthier than he’s been in years while still in his prime at just 25 years old. There’s no reason to predict he’ll suffer another random injury this upcoming season. He’ll be the focal point of a revamped offense led by one of the best offensive minds in the NFL and running behind an improved offensive line. He doesn’t face any competition for touches in New York’s backfield, giving him the rare opportunity to be a workhorse running back in a productive offense. He has everything you’d ever want in a fantasy running back.

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